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Most people consider me a private person.  I wouldn’t disagree.  I’ve been keeping secrets for so long I guess by now the habit is hardcoded into my DNA. It baffles me why He thinks anyone would be remotely interested in my story, especially since I’m so uncomfortable sharing it. As some of you know, I’ve been practicing not pestering Him with a constant barrage of why, why, why…Sometimes, in His infinite mercy he takes pity on me and though I don’t ask out loud, or even in the silence of my prayers, He offers me the explanation I would ask for if I wasn’t practicing not asking.  Here is the explanation He gave for His request of me to share my story.

“The way must not be lost.  There is much that is passing from this world, but the door must not close completely, the gate must not be locked against those who seek Me in the quiet of their souls.  How will they find their way home if the ones who have been taught the way are unwilling to show them?”

So though I’m still not sure how knowing my way will help anyone else along theirs, I am ever His dutiful servant (or at least I try really hard to be).  Here is my beginning.  The earliest memory I possess of how it all began for me…

The lovely young woman laughed up into her lover’s concerned brown eyes.  “Really, Marcus, you worry too much.  Of what interest could our little island possibly be to your superiors?  Surely you misunderstood their intent.  We are just a school, a temple to the goddess, certainly no threat to your invincible army.”

The young man gripped the fingers she trailed cajolingly along the battle hardened flesh of his forearm and squeezed warningly in a futile attempt to convince his young lover of the precariousness of her situation.  “Catherine, I did not misunderstand their intent.  The island is of strategic importance to my superiors.  If you do not come with me now, you will likely be killed when the assault takes place in the morning.”

The young woman’s confidence wavered at the seriousness of his tone and confusion took its place. “But Marcus, why would they kill me? Why would they kill any of us?  We are no threat to them.”

Her lover was reluctant to spell out the atrocities his comrades were capable of committing against the young women who saw to their even younger charges being trained as attendants of the goddess, all of them selected for their beauty and purity.  Of what concern to a conquering army was the wrath of a mythical goddess his own people did not bow before especially when such supple fruit awaited their soldiers’ lust?  He risked the unpleasant death reserved for traitors at the hands of those same comrades for bringing this warning to Catherine and attempting to save her from the fate of the others.  But time was running out.  They must leave now before he was missed.

“Catherine, please.  There is no time for further argument.  We must leave before the tide changes or both of our fates are sealed.”

“I cannot leave the girls unattended, Marcus.  It would be wrong of me.  I would be severely punished.”

“The punishment you fear, Catherine, is the least of your worries, as I’ve been trying to convince you of.  Come, we’re leaving now.”  He stood and lifted her to her feet and began dragging her in his wake.

“No, Marcus, I cannot leave.”  Catherine pulled against his restraining arm.

He stopped and turned to face her.  They were lovers but not in love.  He cared enough and felt responsible enough to make this effort, even at the risk of his own life, but he would not remain behind to die in this foreign place.   When dawn broke over the tiny island he would be among the marauders who brought death and destruction to this sacred place.  “There is no more time for argument.  I must return now and you must decide whether you will accompany me or not.”

“I cannot.”

“Then you will surely die in the attack, or at least you will wish death is the fate your goddess bestows upon you for your loyalty.”

“You must go, Marcus and I must stay.  Please do not worry so.  I’m sure you’re mistaken.  Even if you’re not, I know you will protect me.”

Marcus thrust an impatient hand through his shoulder length hair.  “Catherine, your only hope of escaping what is coming is to accompany me now.  I will not be able to protect you once the attack has begun.”

The young woman met his glance, her eyes dropped to the strong hand outstretched towards her, the hand of an enemy whose arms she found comfort in these past months.  “Go Marcus, and may the gods protect you.  I must stay here.  If what you say is true, my place is here.  These girls are my responsibility.”

Marcus’ eyes held hers, read the certainty there.  He could admire her courage, even as he acknowledged she could have no understanding of the horrors she would face at dawn.  Though they were only a few years apart in age, they were decades apart in terms of their life experiences.  Catherine was still a child who viewed the world with the innocent faith of a child.   It would be more merciful for him to kill her now than to allow this war to sacrifice one more innocent victim.

“Go, Marcus.  My place is here.  I cannot accompany you.”

There was no final fond embrace, only a brisk nod of regret from Marcus and a silent, faith-filled acknowledgement from his young lover that when the time came he would save her.

The following morning Catherine awoke to the sound of screams all around her and she comprehended instantly their import.  Marcus wasn’t mistaken after all.  Instinct took over, followed the briefest moment later by stark terror.  She jumped from her pallet and ran towards the temple, intent on locking herself and her young charges inside, certain the other temple attendants were doing the same.  The acrid smell of fire assaulted her senses, and her eyes protested the stinging smoke.  Tears blurred her vision as she looked around in horror.  She had no experience of violence or death.  Her short life was lived within the peaceful confines of the island, devoted to the temple goddess.  She ran towards her benefactress now, praying to the goddess to save them.

The girls were gathered at the entrance.  Some were screaming their terror, others huddled on their knees before the large locked doors in prayer.  Catherine ran towards them, ignoring the demand of the enemy soldier behind her to halt.

“I commanded you to halt, now!”

Catherine risked a glance back, saw the soldier gaining on her, a spear in his hand.  She lifted the skirts of her gown and ran faster, her fear almost choking her.  The girls saw her coming towards them and she read the hope in their eyes, as if she was the answer to their prayers, as if she could somehow turn back the enemy assault. She reached them and they clung to her.  Tears filled her own eyes when she understood too late what Marcus tried to warn her about…what their fates would be at the hands of his comrades, men with bloodlust in their eyes and no fear apparently of the gods’ wrath for assaulting this holy place.  She looked at the temple, her sanctuary, the only home she had any memory of and knew it would not provide a safe haven against the enemy.  She pushed the girls behind her and turned to face the enemy soldier.  He stood sneering at her, his victory assured, an arrogant glint in his eyes and a feral grin curving his lips.

Their eyes met across the distance separating them.  Catherine didn’t plead for mercy. She read none in his expression.  She didn’t attempt to run away, only stood there with her arms around the girls’ shoulders even as he raised his spear, cocked his arms and threw it at her.

The little girl woke on a gasp of terror, her hands shook, and her heart was pounding.  It was the dream again.  She wrapped her arms around her body to still its trembling.  She was freezing.  She huddled down beneath the blankets and pulled them up to her chin.  She didn’t run to her parents’ room.  She knew what her mother would say.  It was just a dream.

I don’t remember how old I was the first time I woke up from the dream, but even though I was very young I recognized it wasn’t the first time. It was as if when I entered this life as an infant, the dream accompanied me even then.

Over and over, week after week, month after month, year after year, I woke with my heart pounding as an enemy spear sped towards me and I knew in spite of my youth and innocence, once it traversed the distance separating us, I would die. The goddess wouldn’t save me. I would die.

Then what?

Before an answer to my fateful question ever presented itself, I always woke up…afraid, terrified, shaking, huddled beneath the blankets.   Until one morning, when I was nine or ten years old, I woke up and the answer simply hung in the air around me.  I wasn’t afraid.  Like any riddle, when the mystery was solved it was difficult to understand why it took me so long to figure out.  I started laughing.  Of course.  How stupid of me.  It wasn’t a dream. I was Catherine.  I didn’t die. …Well I did die.  I mean, Catherine died.  But here I was again.  I was still Catherine, but now my name was Lynn.

Where did I go between then and now?

I guess I’ve been searching for an answer to that question ever since.

I never had that dream again….