It was the fourth hour after sunset.
A child, no older than the age of nine, watched in silence as her mother stitched rows of a scarf. Her mother worked robotically, illuminated only by the light of a single flame.
They were a poor family, and poor families kept close.
Especially at night.
Barricaded together in small rooms, mothers and children would huddle together for warmth and safety. Their men, who wouldn’t be seen until sunrise, would station themselves outside, taking watch. Little ones, like this child, were told to sleep. Sleep and enjoy sweet, peaceful dreams that carried them into the light of a new day. Sleep and escape the darkness. Sleep and do not wander off. Sleep, for adults cannot protect their young from what they cannot see. Sleep and remain close, because a mother’s worst fear was to awaken alone.
Children understood what their parents dared not to speak. Children, even as young as nine, sensed that terrible things happened in the dark.
The nights were cold, and this child’s mother made what little pocket money she could by selling blankets and warm clothing. She worked diligently. Allowing herself, every night, to fall into the rhythm of her knitting needles and to get lost in her thoughts.
She was a happy woman; a kind woman. Level-headed and even-tempered. Though she suffered a great deal, she never let her daughter see her struggle. Even in the dead of winter, when her fingers went numb and the hours stretched on, she’d smile to herself, pick up her work, and softly hum.
Tonight, she hummed a triumphant tune. She rocked in her chair and tapped her stockinged foot to the beat.
It was some time before she noticed her child watching her.
The humming stopped, but she continued to smile, rocking ever-so slowly in her chair. “Did I wake you?”
“I’m not tired.”
Her motherlooked at her disbelievingly. “It’s not good to focus in the dark, you’ll damage your sight.”
“You do it.”
“I’m your mother.”
The child didn’t dare argue. The humming started again.
“Mom, what song is this? I don’t know it.”
Her mother started on the scarf’s next row. “It is a song your grandfather taught me when I was about your age. When I would watch him prepare for The Watch, and start to cry. It is a song of courage, and of hope.”
The child did not understand.
“There will be a time, my daughter, when life will not be this way. When we will be saved from the great sadness that we bear. When we won’t be afraid, cold, or separated. When the light of the earth will be restored.”
Could her mother’s words be true? This was fantastic news! The child could hardly contain her excitement. She threw off her covers and crawled to the foot of the bed.
For a moment her mother’s smile faltered. She recalled her own excitement when her father told her these words. She looked into her daughter’s eyes, full of love and trust, and regained her composure. She couldn’t help it. Her greatest reminder of life and prosperity was staring so intently at her.
There was no missing her daughter’s disappointment. “It is time that I tell you a story. It is a story beyond your imagination. So unbelievable, that no human could author it. So imaginative, that it must be true. It is a story that keeps the people of our village going, even when we feel like giving up. It is our lullaby and our hope.” The mother waited for her daughter to settle herself back into the bed. “You must think of a night similar to this. Close your eyes and picture this land, many, many years ago.”
The daughter laid back and did as she was told. Her mother continued.
“People, like you and I, mothers and children, walked freely. The darkness did not overwhelm them, for they were guided by the lights of the sky. In those days, the stars were friends of the people. Often, they would come close. Brighter than you ever could imagine, so to hear the words of the humans below. The greatest of the night’s sky came to visit regularly. The people looked upon her affectionately, relying on her presence for sight. They called her the Moon.
“It was a wonderful coexistence. Life bound together in a great harmony. But on the night in question, a night no different than any other, tragic events unfolded.
“There was chaos above the earth. People everywhere stopped to listen. The stars were in an uproar, and there was no consoling the terrible anguish of the Moon.
“Her trembling unsettled the waters; her wailing disturbed the silence of the sky. Those who had been settled into the warmth of their beds awoke in fear. The shepherds and grave attendants, who were accustomed to the tranquility of midnight, promptly fell to their knees.
“No one dared do anything that would provoke her inevitable wrath. No one spoke. Hardly anyone moved an inch. Rather, all watched in apprehension as the Moon continued to alert the galaxy of her great disbelief and unbearable sadness.
“Her friend, her most beloved human, laid face down in the muds of a river bank. His movements frozen, and his breath stilled. His body was soaked from prolonged exposure to the water, but the scene reeked of foul play. This was no accident; but investigators of the scene agreed that it was staged to appear as one.”
“’Murder!’, the stars hissed. Their whispers echoedto each corner of the earth.
“Yet, the man’s attackers were long gone. They had skillfully maneuvered their attack in the safety of the shadows and wisely fled into the cover of night.
“It had been obvious to the Moon that the heinous act hadn’t been premeditated. The assailants did not know her favorite.
“Her friend kept no enemies.
“No, this was an encounter driven by selfishness, fear, and greed.
“Through her tears, the Moon made several observations. Though distraught, she made an educated guess as to how the murder played out. Her Council of Stars carefully took note as she spoke those observations out loud.
“Life below could do nothing but listen.
“’The monsters did not spill his blood. How fortunate for them. They hadn’t been coated with evidence; they hadn’t left a trail. It is fortunate for them, because if my last image were to have been of his golden hair matted, or his blemish-free skin stained in red, I would have flung myself into the unforgiving blazes of this world’s Morningstar. I would have ended my suffering indefinitely. And in extinguishing my life, gladly would have destroyed all else as well. My sympathy is limited. My sadness is quickly dissolving, and within my core I am vibrating with rage.
“’Oh, mercy me!
“’I hear the reports of my celestial court. My eyes affirm their findings.
“’How heartless! How brutal!”
The woman paused. She looked toward the flame of the candle, seemingly lost in thought. The daughter stared up at her mother with wide, excited eyes. She grew impatient. “Well?! What happened to him?”
“You must close your eyes and let the Moon tell her story. Relax. That’s it. Now picture this scene. The Moon is unnerved. Seemingly talking to no-one, and yet crying out to everyone.”
“’These monsters – they overpowered him, three against one. My sweet friend was misled into thinking that the smallest of the trio had been hurt by an animal of the wood. The other two were asking for provisions. But my friend, my loving friend, only carried a bejeweled carcanet around his neck and a sleeping babe in his arms.
“He came here, to our sacred meeting place, to introduce me to his firstborn; his new daughter. He couldn’t offer them currency or weaponry. He was surrounded, and his most valuable possession had been swaddled and defenseless.
“’They forced themselves upon him.
“’He tried to run, but they had blocked his path. He couldn’t fight his attackers off and he refused to abandon the child.
“’The one who had pretended to be limp wrestled the babe away from him. He flailed helplessly as the other two restrained his arms behind his back. In fear that his screams would gather unwanted attention, the two dragged him to the river and mercilessly dunked his head. He fought – oh did he fight – to save his life and to rescue his child. He twisted and he kicked, but my friend could not free himself from the strength of these brutes’ grip.
“’They drowned him.
“’They deposited his body on the shore, but not before snatching the carcanet, the precious jewel,from his defenseless corpse. The two who committed this final act advanced on the child. They wished to leave no survivors; even a survivor who hadn’t been more than a month old. But the kidnapper refused to surrender her. Their arguing woke the baby, and she began to stir. It is lucky that she had! When she reached out for the comforting grasp of her father, but wasn’t met with the green of his eyes or the softness of his voice, she whimpered.
“’They began to worry. Surely, someone would investigate the distinctive sound of a disturbed infant?
“’The kidnapper got his way, and together the three of them ran.
“’With the child.
“’With the necklace.
“’With innocent blood on their hands!’ With that sentence, the moon moaned. The truth was almost too much for her to bear. The stars murmured their agreement.
“She collected herself.
“’Life has been lost, tonight. Tears have been shed. I cannot bring my friend back by causing more destruction. I will not destroy the people and the things that my beloved had cherished. But heed my words, justice will be done! My friend will be avenged!’ She directed these words to the human listeners. ‘Hear me, mortals. Until the day when I can rightly decree that justice had been brought, the world will suffer. Suffer as my friend did, suffer as I do. I cannot descend. I cannot capture these criminals myself. It will be your task to right this wrong. You will be vigilant in your pursuit of these men. They will live out the rest of their freedom unnerved, paranoid, and fleeing for their life. They shall trust no one, and never again will they peacefully rest.
“’When you locate the criminals, concern yourselves with only rescuing the child. Retrieve the pendant from the stolen carcanet. Call the Council of Stars so that they can present it to me. Without this evidence, I have no proof that justice had been done. This pendant is the only way to end the suffering. You cannot fool me mortals. Do not bother me with fakes. I chose the stone; I know it intimately. The pendant had been my gift to the lost child. There is no other like it on your land.
“’Attempt to deceive me at your own peril.’
“Every living body shuttered. No one could guess as to what she meant by this threat. The people began to search the land, checking on the welfare of their loved ones.
“But when the people looked back up toward the sky, the reality of the situation mortified them.
“The Moon had left.
“That night had come to be known as The First Blackout.
“It was only when all life on the land had been accounted for, when the people received confirmation that the Moon kept her word about the fatal consequence of the lost child, that chaos ensued.
“The first noticeable consequence of the Moon’s absence disturbed even the naivest of children: the world had gone dark.
“In comparison to the intensity of daylight from the Morningstar, all nights are dim. However, the people of the land were unprepared to navigate such poorly-lit terrain.
“A night without the illumination of the moon is not-unlike the vision of one who rests their eyelids. Eventually, the person must decide to either embrace the light or succumb to sleep. It is unsettling to remain in a perpetual state of conscious darkness. To do nothing but feel around, lost, and without a guide.
“On the night of The First Blackout, people across the land huddled together in panic. Yet, the Morningstar rose and relief came with it. For nearly fourteen hours, all was as it should have been. For most, the Moon’s threat was quickly forgotten. Some went about their day choosing to believe that the events of the previous evening had been nothing more than a nightmare. “Around eight o’clock that evening, the Morningstar began to set. As hues of pink, purple, and orange slashed across the horizon, dark clouds rolled in from the east.
“After a slow progression, an impenetrable blackness succeeded in engulfing the sky. It appeared that even the Council of Stars, siding with the moon, retreated further from the planet’s presence. The people had never before known a night to be so life-draining.
“On that night after The First Blackout, the earth’s clans rallied together. Within the hour, a motion had been secured. It was agreed that the elders would keep public consciousness of the lost child alive. For even if the darkness were to be prolonged, a promise from the Moon was an assurance of hope.
“Our elders have passed on this knowledge to us. My father to me, as I to you. That no matter how dreadful the world appears, hope lives in the existence of a baby. For this baby, so beloved by the Moon, has in her possession a flame that is inextinguishable. Her father died so that she may live. And we may live because that baby lives. One must simply seek out the source of her flame to understand how we too can keep fighting to live.
“Sleep now, my child, and remember my song. My song is a song to this baby. My song is a song of life. As long as we are alive, we have every reason to have hope that we will come to know an endless light.”
Nicole Bazis is the Coordinator of Parish Services at St. Margaret of Antioch Parish, a suburbanparish within the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. As a staff member in full-time parish ministry, she wears many varied and unique hats. Her days are spent as an RCIA instructor, youth minister, committee leader, communications specialist, pastoral caregiver, and event organizer. Before employment, she received her masters of theological studies from Princeton Theological Seminary and a bachelors studying theology at Fordham University. Apart from her work place, she finds joy being in formation with the Secular Franciscan Order, spending time with her newly rescued tabby cat, Coral, and writing about the intersection between faith and mentalhealth. You can follow her thoughts on rubyandteal.home.blog