Chapter Nine: And So It Begins…
My unpacking was soon finished and I gave the princess another archery lesson. After that, we ate together in her room. It was during that time that my brother came and interrupted our conversation with news that the king of Akred had just declared war on our beloved king. War had begun and our men would be marching out to fight within the week.
In stunned silence, I listened. I had been expecting war. But so soon? Worried thoughts began tumbling through my mind as I processed this news. I forced them away and focused on what I knew would be needed of me now.
The princess made a choked sound and fled from her room towards the counseling chamber where we knew she would find her father. My brother made a move to stop her, but I grabbed his arm and shook my head silently. Chrystal needed some time alone with her father. Now the two of us were alone and Malcolm gave me a questioning look.
“I’m ready to move into the castle at any time,” I assured Malcolm to answer the question I knew would come eventually after that look. “Everything I might need at any point during your absence is in the chamber adjoining the princess’s apartments.”
My brother smiled, but his smile was touched with worry. He walked over to me, laid his hands on my shoulders, and studied me carefully. “Are you going to be alright?”
The question took me by surprise. “Of course!” I exclaimed, pasting on what I hoped was a believably cheerful smile.
He looked skeptical. “You looked worried.” He forced me to look him in the eye. “You still do in fact…despite the smile.”
“I’ll be fine,” I promised.
“I’ll write you, whenever I get the chance, while I’m away,” my brother continued. “That way you’ll know what’s going on. I expect you to do the same,” he ordered with a grin. “I’ll be counting on all your news to keep me cheerful.”
I groaned. “You know my letters only too well Malcolm,” I said. “I’m terrible at writing anything interesting.”
My brother laughed. “I know, but Chris will help you with that. She’s pretty good at writing interesting letters.”
I raised an eyebrow. “And just how would you know that?” I queried, just for his reaction.
I was not to be disappointed. Malcolm blushed as if on cue. “Oh, she’s written me before…a few times. But just from a friend to a friend, you know.”
“Of course,” I answered with a roll of my eyes, stifling a snicker.
“Did he just call me Chris again?” the princess asked, coming from the hall and closing the door behind her. I noticed traces of tears on her cheeks, but she smiled past them in a valiant effort to remain herself.
I nodded in answer to her question and she shot an accusing look at Malcolm. “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times…” she began.
Malcolm’s good-natured laugh drowned out the rest of her protest. “It won’t work Chris; I’ve made it a habit now.”
The princess groaned. “I suppose I’ll have to put up with it then,” she sighed.
I smiled, leaving the two of them alone. It was time for my lesson in swordsmanship.
* * * * *
The following days went by in a blur. Malcolm and I had few times together. He was busy talking with the king or helping with the preparations for the war, I was busy closing down our cottage and helping the princess remember everything the king was telling her to do during his absence.
The day arrived that signaled the beginning of all our men going to war. Well, not all the men. Some had to been ordered to stay behind and guard those at home. Selfishly, I wished that my brother had been chosen as one of those men…but the king needed his strategic genius beside him during the battle. I knew very well my brother’s abilities; I had fallen victim to his gift of strategy during countless chess games in our childhood. Every single one of them I had lost. The memories brought a temporary smile to my face, which was soon touched with sadness. I was watching him leave…perhaps never to see him again.
“I’m going to miss him so much.” A voice jerked me from the past and I realized that the princess had joined me beside the window in my temporary residence that over-looked the men who were lining up and marching from the city. The king rode back and forth between the lines of soldiers, giving words of cheer and courage. My brother rode close behind him.
I nodded wordlessly. Looking out at the other women saying goodbye, I was suddenly struck by how selfish I was acting. While it was only right to feel grief when seeing a loved-one leave, it dawned on me that I was being blind to everyone else’s. My eyes filled with tears as I watched the men being called from their homes, some of them even younger then my brother…a few not much older than myself. Mothers, sisters, and sweat-hearts were giving their men what could be the final goodbye. Many of these men would never return.
“You’re not the only one,” I said suddenly, half to myself, half to the princess beside me. “Look.” I gestured towards the weeping wives and daughters.
A tear trickled down Chrystal’s cheek. “Why?” she whispered. “Why does there have to be war? Why do people have to be so stubborn? Why do people like the king of Akred have to disobey those they should obey?”
I did not know how to answer this onslaught of questions…questions that I myself was wondering. “This universe isn’t perfect. The people in our world are not perfect. We’re all fallen and sinful.” I sighed, wishing to say something cheerful, but finding no appropriate words to speak.
“If God cared about us as much as He says He does, why does He allow war?” the princess demanded, more tears dripping down her cheek and off the end of her quivering chin. “Why can’t the human race live in peace with one another? Isn’t that what God wants? Peace?”
I sighed wearily and leaned against the window. “Yes, God wants us to be at peace with one another. But we ruined our chances of living in a perfect world when we sinned in the Garden of Eden. Now we have to live through the consequences of that sin. War is a result of imperfect humans. Men die because of it. War is a choice. Men don’t have to fight…but because we live in a fallen world, often they choose to declare war between one another and lives are lost because of their rash decision.” I felt as if I was repeating myself, so I stopped talking and watched the recruiting of men in silence.
The princess also was silent, and for a moment I could hear the faint shouts of the higher officers getting their men into their places for the march out of the city.
“Thank you,” Chrystal said quietly. “I needed to hear that.”
I looked over to her in surprise. “Why do you say that?”
“I’ve been struggling these past few days with those questions. My faith has been weak. You’re answers have built it up again.” The princess smiled through her tears. “I think you being here is going to help me have enough courage to last while Father is gone.”
I returned her smile. “I’ll be as much help as I can.”
We both turned back to the window. Enough had been said. Right now both of us wanted to be silent.
Our men were now lined up, and with King Frederick in the lead they marched out of the city leaving everyone with a feeling of loss. Who knew when we would see them again, if ever? We could only wait while praying and hoping for their survival during the ensuing battles.