For a long time they had been fighting an enemy he had never seen. They lived in the jungle - but it was unlike the forest he still occasionally dreamed of. This jungle was full of terror. When they went along a path they never knew if death lurked around the next bend. When they crossed a clearing they never knew if they were stepping into a minefield.

Mind your step 

At the camp they slept on mats on the damp earth under simple stick and thatch shelters. The food was never more than a handful of sticky rice and a pinch of salt. Each day people were denounced as traitors and taken into the forest and bludgeoned to death.


One of the men at the camp befriended the boy and showed him how best to use and clean his weapons. The boy was curious how he knew so much but the man made a wry grin.

“I wasn’t someone you would want to meet very often when I lived in the City,” he said.

“Why?” asked the boy, puzzled.

“I was the Chief Executioner,” the man explained. ‘The job been in the family for generations,” he added proudly.  

Obey! 

“In those days it was all beheadings and disembowelling. he said with a certain relish. “Nowadays, a lot cleaner - a pistol shot. Some days I’ve been that busy packing them off to paradise by the barrel load. We’ve had all sorts the mighty and the not so mighty. They all get to be very humble when I come to call. He winked at the boy. “One of my ancestors even executed the Son of God!” He laughed at the boy’s astonishment. “There’s this legend that, long ago, God came to the City in disguise.”


“Why?’ asked the boy. The executioner shrugged. “To try it out, I suppose. Just like everyone else. Everybody had been told to expect Him but when He finally came no one recognised Him.” “No one recognised God?” repeated the boy, startled “Nobody?” “You can’t blame them entirely,” said the executioner. “As no one had ever seen Him they could only imagine what He might look like.” “How did He arrive?” asked the boy. The executioner scratched his cheek. “That’s the joke. God’s joke. He arrived like everyone else - born a baby.” He guffawed, “And not in some palace but to a family of street people.” The boy frowned. “Anyone can pretend to be someone he’s not.”

Off with his head! 

“Yes,” agreed the executioner. “Gut it’s what He did, you see. He cured the sick, fed the hungry, even turned water into wine, they say.” The man licked his lips. “Told people to live as if God was inside them and to love their neighbour.” “Anyone?” said the boy, astonished. “Everyone, I suppose,” said the man. “Then why was He executed?” “Rubbed too many important people the wrong way. Can’t have the son of street people claiming to be the Son of God and knowing more about Him than all the priests put together.”


“Mob popularity. The Government of the day felt threatened. Half my clients, one might say, are ‘political.’ ‘Course He was innocent. No one denies that. The judge even called for a bowl of water and washed His hands of the verdict - before handing Him over to a rent-a-mob and my great grandfather. I don’t suppose judges are any different nowadays. Do what they’re told mostly. Anyway sometimes you have to sacrifice the good to save the bad.”

“Why save the bad?” asked the boy. “I suppose the good are saved already. Anyway my grandfather did the business. Crucifixion it was called - nailing the client to a wooden cross and letting them hang. Very painful, I believe.’

Nailing! 

The boy thought for a moment. “I expect He screamed and cursed His tormentors?”

“Not a bit of it,” said the executioner. “Told everyone to love their enemies. Called on God to forgive His murderers. My grandfather was most impressed. ‘Never met a client like Him before.’ He came away convinced he had executed the Son of God. Never worked again. Handed the job over to his son and became a monk.” The executioner chuckled. “Now let’s not forget that rifle of yours - out here it’s your best friend. Once you get me talking I’m hard to stop.”


But he did stop soon after. For next morning one of the soldiers denounced the executioner as a ‘persecutor of the poor’ and a ‘tool of the rich and powerful,’ and he was led off to face the same fate he had handed out to so many before.

Life in the jungle was very hard. If you were too sick to work you were considered a traitor to the revolution.  

Don’t slip!

Nearly everyone was sick with malaria and chronic dysentery but there were no medicines. One day one of the boy’s friends from the City fell out of a high palm tree that he had climbed to cut coconuts. He lay writhing on the ground clutching his broken thigh.

They carried him to the hut and strapped up the leg as best they could. The injured boy lay on the floor groaning mostof the night and by dawn he had a raging fever.


They wiped him down with wet cloths but they could not set the broken bone. Every time they tried to splint the leg the broken ends seemed to jerk free in spasm. Finally one enc of the bone punctured the skin. Later the boy started to twitch and his jaw locked so they had to prise his mouth open to pour in water. His eyes had a haunted, scared look.  

Help me 

The boy, who had been at his side since the accident, stepped out of the hut. Tall palm trees framed the clearing and above them fluffy white clouds swam in the clear blue sky. After the gloom of the hut the boy shielded his eyes against the bright sunlight. He felt resentful that this world of nature outside could be so detached and indifferent while in the hut his friend lay dying in agony.


At dusk the boy left the clearing alone, and kneeling in the forest, he prayed that the boy be healed. He prayed for the Black Swan to fly down and lift him away in his webbed feet and take him to the Garden and cure him. He prayed with such intense concentration he could feel drops of sweat pouring off his face. Never had he prayed so hard, or with such single-mindedness for anything or anyone.  

Help him

By now night had fallen and stars glittered in the jet black sky. The boy approached the hut hoping and hoping that a miracle had happened. But to his dismay the sick boy was worse. Spasms racked his body. Only his eyes stared at them in a desperate plea for help.


The boy knew the exact moment his friend had died, far in the night he was bitten on his elbow by a giant millipede and the sting was excruciatingly painful, especially as he couldn’t reach the wound to suck It. It was as If the spirit of the deed boy had given him a nip as It flew away - a nip to remind him he had not tried hard enough to save him 

A timely nip?

The day the boy was buried they ware ordered to attack their enemies, who were grouped in a nearby village. As they approached across muddy rice-fields, firing started and landmines exploded under them. The boy saw his Mends shot or blown up one by one until they all lay limply as bundles of bloodstained rags in the rice fields.


After the firing stopped the boy pushed his way through the mud towards them but he bin they ware all dead. and they were killed for what? The boy threw down his gun in disgust and walked away, back the way they had come. How he wished they could all go back - back to the life they had before.  

Rain on tears 

The boy stood still, revolving many memories. Above him raindrops dripped from the trees as If grieving for his fallen comrades. But nature never grieves, he reflected bitterly It was too busy with Its own affairs to concern Itself with mankind’s problems. For a moment the callous indifference of nature made him resentful. He felt an urge to hit a tree - but stroked It instead. This pointless slaughter was not natures fault This is cane from man. His gaze passed slowly over the field of dead.


Is this what they had struggled for each day, collecting in the City? Each one with their hopes and expectations. To end up like this, lying in a field, their life drained out of them The boy could not have felt more alone and abandoned as he set oft slowly back towards the camp, not caring if he arrived or not. In his mind he already saw - like a photograph of fate - his own corpse lying in the mud. 

Mind your step 

That night the Black Swan came to him as in a dream. I have done terrible things,” whimpered the boy through his tears. “I deserve to be punished for I have failed.”

But the Black Swan only drew his wing more tightly around him. “Nothing outside you can make you unclean, It is what is in you. The intention is more important than the act.”


The Black Swan whispered, “The good I would, I do not,” and then, holding the boy firmly he told him, “I am not wholly I, and you are not wholly you. But I am a part of you and you are part of me. And you will always find me and come to me through the part of me that is in you and I will always find you through the part of you that is in me.”

Please… 

“And remember-, neither death nor life, neither the present nor the future, neither good people nor bad, neither suffering nor joy, neither problems nor promises, neither anything near us nor far from us nor anything else in all creation can separate you and me and everyone else from the Love of God.”


But when he awoke in the morning worse was to come. At the parade he was denounced by the boy next to him. ‘He is a monk,” accused the boy. “He prays. I followed him and saw it and heard it.”

“Monks are parasites!” screamed the commander. ‘Leeches living off the people, bloodsuckers living off superstition and myth - claiming the best food, the best seats, always claiming to be superior. Anyone who is a monk is a traitor to the revolution!”

Traitor! 

The boy was stripped of his red scarf and thrown into the back of a truck crammed with other so-called traitors, and driven back to the City, where they were unloaded and sent for interrogation at the high school near the temple.


The school was now barricaded with razor wire, and guardposts. Wire-netting covered the outside corridors on the upper levels, To prevent anyone trying to throw themselves off!” a guard informed them grimly. Each classroom on the upper floor had been divided into tiny bricked-off cells six feet long and three feet wide where the prisoners were chained to the floor.  

No hope 

The rooms on the ground floor were used for interrogation and all day long the building echoed with the hideous cries and screams of people being slowly tortured. The boy was shown an interrogation room to frighten him. The guards were washing out remains of blood and gore. There were pincers for tearing off flesh and nipples, bins of water for prisoners to be lowered into manacled and upside down, racks, electric chairs, cement strait-jackets with holes for instruments to be inserted.  


Pinned to the wall was a list of rules. These included:

‘While getting lashes or electrification do not cry out. Sit still and await my orders. If you disobey any point of regulation you shall get 10 lashes or 5 shocks of electric discharge.”

Chamber of horrors

Each day the boy lay chained in terror in his cell, expecting every minute to be taken away for torture. Speaking was not allowed but there were cracks in the brick partitions and pressing close to these it was possible to whisper without the guards hearing. In the next cell the boy heard a voice praying - but he was not praying in the ancient language of the monks.


He seemed to be talking to God, just as the boy spoke to the Black Swan. “Who are you speaking to?” the boy whispered.

“I am praying to our Saviour - a simple prayer that He taught us.”

“Who is this saviour?” the boy asked “Will He help us?”

Through the thin wall came the reply. “Long ago the compassion of God was revealed through a child born in the City. He called God his Father and some people call Him the Son of God. But that is just a way of explaining how God dwelled in Him - as He does in each of us.”

 

whisprss

 

“Oh, I’ve heard all about that!” protested the boy with disappointment as he remembered the executioner’s story. “He was murdered. Why do you still pray to Him? How can He help now?”

“By His example,” the priest continued, “Growing up in the City among ordinary people He understood our problems, our needs, our fears. He urged everyone to live a simple life, showing care and consideration, and to rediscover harmóny with God. He suffered and He shares our suffering.”


“That’s what the great Guru preached,” the boy exclaimed, remembering the old monk’s teaching. “He called it the Middle Way.” “The great Guru” explained the priest, ‘revealed the path to ENLIGHTENMENT, but for many of us this is hard to achieve nc matter how many times we are re-born. It’s like the game of Rope and Ladders,” he suggested. “The rope is the long gradual path to Enlightenment needing many re-births. The ladder offered by our Saviour is a short cut, revealing God’s mercy for us.”  

Which way? 

“But they killed your Saviour - just as they’ll kill us,” whispered the boy, stifling his tears. “How can He save us when He’s dead?” “It was a sacrifice,” replied the priest softly, sensing the boy’s terror. “He sacrificed His life in exchange for God’s mercy to mankind.” “How?” sobbed the boy, “How can one life equal all mankind.” “We believe it was God in Him that was the sacrifice. God dying for man. And He overcame death.” “As a ghost?” asked the boy, astonished. “No, but to show us we have to die to be reborn. His promise was for us to be reunited with God forever - as God always intended.”


“I believe in a Garden,” the boy answered slowly, “where I came from and where it was promised I will return to.”

After a pause he heard the priest reply, “Before our Saviour died He promised to send us a Comforter, a Guide, to remain with us. We call this friend the Holy Spirit who will always help us somehow when we are in need.”

 sacrifice 

“Do you know about the Garden?” the boy whispered. He waited a moment, almost scared to continue, and then he poured out his story - about the Garden and the Black Swan and how he came to the City.

“I think your Black Swan is a messenger of God,” said the priest, “the breath and inspiration of the Godhead. Trust him.”


At that moment the guards returned, unlocked the prie door and started to kick him and shout crude insults at him. ‘Tomorrow you will wish you had never been born,” they called back as they left, slamming the cell door behind them

The boy didn’t care who heard him. He had to know. “How did they kill Him?” He shouted through the wall.

Take that

“They whipped Him and tortured Him,” cried back the priest. “They made Him haul a heavy post outside the city and nailed Him to it and hung 1-lim up for everyone to see Him die, mocking and tormenting Him. And He called out for them to be forgiven!”


“Where did He die?” asked the boy. “Have I been there?”

“It doesn’t matter where He died, because our Saviour lived and died for all people in all places in all time; past, present and to come. So that the sacrifice and the salvation are equally available to everyone everywhere.”

As the boy grappled with these strange concepts, he sensed comprehension slowly growing within him. “Forgiveness is for everyone? No matter how terrible their crimes? How can that be?”

Forgive? 

“It must be,” emphasised the priest, “for the heart of God reaches into the heart of everyone, tortured and torturer alike.”

“But if God loved the world why does He let such

terrible things happen?”

“God is a sacred mystery but His compassion was revealed in our Saviour, who declared He came to the world not to judge us, but to save us. When He saw children enslaved and people suffering He was very angry. He said ‘offences will always be done, but cursed be those who commit them.’”


“But you said everyone will be forgiven?”

“May be forgiven,” corrected the priest. “The spirit of forgiveness is shared alike by the giver and the reciever. It is essential for all who set out on the road to Enlightenment, for all who wish to discover their immortal soul. The power of God is compassion,” continued the priest. “It is a strength that doesn’t interfere but is always there when we most need it. God did not even spare Himself - living and dying to show us the path to follow.”

Then the guards returned and dragged the priest away. The boy listened to the sound of his body bumping down the stairs.  

Lowed away 

Knowing he would be tortured the next day the boy wept in terror. But even his sobs had to be silent otherwise the guards would lash him. As the boy lay chained to the floor groaning in terror, unable even to control his bowels for fear

he suddenly felt a breath of air and something soft as a feather brush his face.


Instead of a stench of mess and urine this was a breeze from the heart of the forest filled with fragrance. Out of the soft dark he heard the familiar voice of the Black Swan whispering, “Do not look forward to what might happen tomorrow. The same everlasting Father will take care of you. Either He will shield you from suffering or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it.”

The boy felt the Swan’s wing shielding him. “Do not be afraid for you are mine. Wherever you are, I am at your side. You are mine, my child, and I love you with a precious love.”  

Hold me 

The next morning as the boy was led to the interrogation room he saw the priest through an open door. The man, chained to a bed frame, was hardly recognisable. His face was battered and bloody, his lips torn and swollen. Lying on his side he recognised the boy. “Try to forgive them,” he gasped. “It will put you beyond their reach to hurt you. What they do to the body does not matter. It is the soul that will fly.”


Then the door slammed shut and he could only hear the terrible mechanical sounds of torture, interspersed with grunts and screams, going on within.

The guards wrapped a heavy chain around the boy’s neck and pushed him into a room to be photographed.

Smile please

The walls were lined with photographs, each one with a number and a date. The boy’s polaroid print was stuck up on the wall. As he looked the boy recognised many of the faces staring back at him; the explorer, the banker, the builder, the woodseller, the monk from the temple, the trader from the yarc the painter, the blind musician, the foreign lady. All had been photographed and numbered before being tortured.


Outside in the yard a truck horn sounded. The truck was already being loaded up with its human cargo. There was no time for the boy to be interrogated. Just before the prison gates opened the broken body of the priest was dragged out and dumped on board. One eye had been torn out but his remaining eye stared at the boy. He tried to speak. Death will not defeat us,” he whispered, before one of the guards smashed a spade over his head.

Day trip to…? 

Among the people crowded into the truck the boy recognised familiar faces. The foreign lady, despite a black eye, looked as defiant as ever. The elderly monk, his safron robe torn and his face bruised, managed a kindly smile. “We are on the way to Enlightenment,” he said softly. “Try not to be afraid. Your suffering is my suffering. Your joy will be my joy.”


Outside in the yard a truck horn sounded. The truck was already being loaded up with its human cargo. There was no time for the boy to be interrogated. Just before the prison gates opened the broken body of the priest was dragged out and dumped on board. One eye had been torn out but his remaining eye stared at the boy. He tried to speak. Death will not defeat us,” he whispered, before one of the guards smashed a spade over his head.

The killing fields

Among the people crowded into the truck the boy recognised familiar faces. The foreign lady, despite a black eye, looked as defiant as ever. The elderly monk, his safron robe torn and his face bruised, managed a kindly smile. “We are on the way to Enlightenment,” he said softly. “Try not to be afraid. Your suffering is my suffering. Your joy will be my joy.”


When this was deep enough they were lined up one by one, smashed over the head with the spade and thrown into the pit. There were some babies. These were torn from their mothers and thrown into the air to be speared with bayonets, or held by their feet and smashed against a tree to break their heads. Everyone was looking at the ground, weeping or praying.

Dig!

With a great effort the boy forced his head back and stared up at the sky. Dark lowering clouds blacked out the flat horizon, but as he looked, trying to ignore the sickly thuds of the bludgeoning spades, he saw a gleam of golden light edge the clouds and cast an unexpected glow of brightness over the landscape over the flat green rice fields and the muddy river beyond.


And in that instant the landscape transformed; the river narrowed, hills and forests rose up from the plain. He saw fruil bats hanging from the topmost branches, cooling themselves in the breeze, and he saw elephants rolling in the shallows. And looking further off he saw the great cataract cascading into the green forest. Above the cataract he noticed a dark dot in the sky growing steadily larger.  

But…

Then a voice that seemed to be part of the glow of light spoke to him.

“Do not be afraid. I have called you by name. You are mine.”

Now he knew that the light and the sky and everything around him, even himself, were all a part of the word of God.


His bruised and haggard features broke into a smile once again as the boy watched the Black Swan beating its great wings through the blue vigour of the sky, coming to take him home.  

Going home…

  


 … the end … 


 
 

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6 - Part 7 - Part 8 - Part 9

 
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