In a time and place where his wrongness would lead to him being stoned or burned unto his death, Ezekiel found a way to fulfil all of his duties as given to be him by God, and yet still be true to himself.
This is the story of Ezekiel's Victory.
In the meantime, back at the village:
In the meantime, back at the village:
Nobody made their way up the hill that first morning after the hanging. Most felt at least some shame at the way they behaved the night before. They watched Samuel and his family leave the village and did not speak to each other for they knew not what to say. They went about their morning duties in contemplative silence.
The first to go up the hill was Abigail. She felt confused and disoriented. At first she had felt glee to see her rival brought down so abruptly. But she had expected the people would chase her rival from the village – not lynch her and hang her as they had done. That had truly shaken Abigail.
Abigail stood under the tree and stared in confusion at the cut end of the rope hanging from the tree. Nobody had gone up in the morning to remove the body. What had happened to Constance?
Then she noticed the message drawn thickly onto the trunk of the tree with a brush dipped in ink.
First was the year, 1662.
Under that, it said, "Evil was done here. Innocence murdered. God abandoned. Pray! The only way back to God is though Grace but you have destroyed the only Grace in this cursed place."
Abigail was sorely troubled and she fell to her knees and prayed. In that moment, she saw her actions for the evil that it was and she wept. She prayed but heard no answer. Her heart was empty and she knew that she had abandoned God and that God had abandoned her. She cast herself into the dirt at the base of the tree and wept again.
Abigail finally stood and read the message again. She staggered down the hill in a daze. She knew the message was aimed at her but she did not fully understand it – most of it was obvious but the overall message was a mystery.
Others who later read the message also felt that it was aimed at them but felt the same confusion.
Noah saw the message and remembered the words Isabelle had spoken to him as Samuel drove his wagon away from the village. Noah told the others that he had set aside Charity as being unworthy to be his bride. He said nothing of the conversation between himself and Samuel.
There was a lot of praying in the village, but the prayers did not bring answers.
Later that day it was discovered that Saul had slipped out of the village and was gone. Saul was a young man who had disputed with Symeon over the placement of the border between their farms.
The elders of the village talked and wondered if they had done a great wrong. Perhaps Saul was responsible for Symeon's death. In which case they truly had murdered an innocent. They were sorely troubled. The message on the tree had even greater import. But still none could decipher its true meaning.
The next morning Abigail carried a small ladder up the hill and some other supplies. She lit a fire in a small brazier and stoked it until she had glowing embers. Then she heated a short poker in the brazier until it glowed. Holding the poker carefully, she climbed the ladder and burned into the trunk of the tree over the ink markings made by Constance's family. In this way the message, scorched into the trunk, lasted for as long as the tree did. It was a constant reminder to the village of what they had done on that terrible night. It took Abigail many hours to complete her task because she had to frequently climb down and reheat the poker in the brazier. She did it as a kind of penance for her part in the evil. When she finally finished, she stood there, her hands blistered from handling the hot metal, and knew that she hadn't done enough. God had not forgiven her. Her penance was not over.
Nobody else was ever hung from that tree and from that day onwards the villagers were careful to invite a judge and hold a proper trial for any major crime.
Nobody dared to visit Samuel's old house until two days after he and his family had left in their wagon. The first little group who did make their way up the track included Noah who was vaguely thinking that maybe he could claim something from within the house as partial payment towards his lost bride.
The group stopped before the house and stared. The flagstones in front of the doorway had been lifted and a fresh grave dug directly in front of the doorway, beyond which the door was clearly nailed shut. Standing upright before the grave was one of the missing flagstones with the following message scratched into it. There were no dates, no names, just the following message.
"Here lies our beloved – daughter, sister, inspiration. She now rests safely in the arms of God, all duties fulfilled. And yet still she strives to carry out God's purpose from beyond the grave. What greater victory can there be?"
There was a gap, and then a second message scratched into the stone in smaller writing than the first.
"In the end she led us to Grace. But for you who abandoned God, and who destroyed the only Grace to be found, the only way back to God will be through Grace. We pray you will find your way."
It was the same message as on the tree, except perhaps in different words. It was a mystery.
Noah kicked the stone in frustration. The stone jerked and then sank down until it lay flat at the foot of the grave. Noah saw the fallen gravestone as a final accusation. He could hide behind his bluster no longer. He turned and walked away, leaving the others to ransack the house.
The remainder of the group stared at the house and then at the grave that guarded its threshold. They had come to see if the family had abandoned anything worth salvaging but to investigate the house they would have to step over the grave of the victim of their madness from the other night.
Their already frail courage deserted them. They backed away and left.
And so, even in death, Ezekiel fulfilled his duty to his hearth by guarding the threshold from thieves and brigands.
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