“Stay out here, Boy,” Avi said to Bhoora.
“I’ll have someone bring him something to eat,” Eliah said. “Does he like Aubergine baba ganoush?”
After making the arrangements, Eliah led them into an opulent room where a low table was already being set with food. A young man poured wine into several large goblets.
“Adelaide, would you please go retrieve their surprise?” Eliah said to the young lady who had attended them at the door.
“Certainly, Sir,” she said. Avi noticed that they smiled at one another for a brief second.
“Make yourselves comfortable,” Eliah said. They all reclined on cushions around the table, which was packed. The offerings included all kinds of olives, hummus, falafels, stuffed vine leaves, and three dozen different options for kebabs, and dozens of other things.
“How was your journey?” Eliah asked. He pulled on a large helping of grapes fresh off the vine.
“It—well—it has been amazing,” Avi said. “Hard at times, though.”
“Pilgrimages always have their challenges,” Eliah said.
“So, are you a descendant of King David?” Carina asked.
She was never afraid to drive forward with bluntness. “Yes,” Eliah said, smiling.
“Do all of David’s descendants live here?” Rachit asked.
“Goodness, no!” Eliah said. “There wouldn’t be enough rooms to house a tenth of a tenth, even in this huge household.”
"So, how did you come to dwell here?” Carina asked. “Is it because you are a close descendant of King David?”
“I am a close descendant, but that’s not why I dwell here. No longer do the great houses fill prominent positions according to hereditary blood.” Eliah explained. “I’m here because I’m a servant of the Emperor, and his governor, David.”
“You—uh—said you are a close descendant of David,” Avi asked. “How many generations removed are you?”
“I’m his son,” Eliah said. Rachit sat upright.
Carina's eyes widened.
But how is that possible?” Carina asked. “You are a mortal, aren’t you? I thought resurrected immortals don’t have children.”
“They don’t in this kingdom, but they did during the Old Earth Era,” Eliah said.
“You’re one of king David’s mortal children?” Avi asked. “I’ve never heard—”
“You’ve probably heard of me, but not by name,” Eliah said. “I was David’s first son with Bathsheba.”
“You died as an infant,” Carina said. “Meaning no disrespect.”
“Oh, it’s ok. I’m over it,” Eliah said with a laugh.
“But how is it that you’re mortal in this age?” Avi asked.
“It's because of the mercy of the Emperor,” Eliah explained as he took another drink of his wine. “All the children from Old Earth, who died during their time of innocence, were brought here.” Each of you has descended from those original Kingdom children. The kingdom belongs to such as these.
”What is the time of innocence?” Rachit asked.
“Well, in the old world, any child who died before they were old enough to be held accountable for their sins and beliefs was preserved and given a second chance at life in this kingdom. Millions of us have been allowed to live out our mortal lives here. The vast majority, nearly all I would say, have come to believe in the Savior for life during this age. It’s because of his grace.”
“When you came to Sundar, you were accompanied by your brother,” Avi said.
“Yes, Yacob,” Eliah said. “He is away on errantry.”
“Was he the son of David as well?” Avi asked.
“Yes, he too died in infancy. He also was unnamed in the old world scriptures.”
“Two infant deaths in one family?” Rachit asked.
“Oh yes, it was common in those days. The world was a different kind of place. In the time of David, only about two in ten babies survived infancy.”
“What?” Carina said. Her mouth hung open with half-chewed food visible.
“That’s right. Although, by the end of natural history, before the Emperor returned, they had found ways to increase the survival rate of children. Though even then, most people died around the age of eighty.”
“Do you mean eight hundred?” Carina asked. She set down her wineglass. Avi’s fork hung in midair.
“Goodness, no,” Eliah said. “Eighty was considered old age.” Avi and Carina looked at each other. Rachit leaned forward once more.
“How could they get anything done?” Rachit asked. Before Eliah could respond, Avi was speaking.
“How could they learn anything in that time?” Avi said.
“But—but—eighty, really?” Carina said.
“I know. It was a brutal world,” Eliah said.
“But at eighty, you’re hardly more than a child,” Rachit said.
“Why were their lives so short?”
"Sin,” Eliah said. “The world had rejected their Savior. They chose that broken, filthy way of life instead of the Emperor's rule.”
“But why?” Avi repeated.
“Well,” Eliah said. “I am not the only one who has answers. Why do you think the world chose their own destruction instead of the King?”
“Sin,” Rachit said.
“That’s right,” Eliah said.
“What do you mean?” Avi asked.
“There is a kind of deceptiveness to sin. It darkens the mind. It twists the thinking. Most of the people of the old world didn’t want to come into the light because their deeds were evil. They didn’t want their ways to be exposed and rooted out,” Eliah said.
“They didn't want to be ruled,” Carina said, recalling the conversation with Rachit around the campfire the first night of their journey. Rachit looked at Carina and raised his eyebrows. “See, I do listen—sometimes.”
“That’s right,” Eliah said.
“They wanted to be their own god,” Avi said in a whisper. It felt shameful to even speak such words.
“That’s it.” Eliah sat up straight. “You see, it was often dressed up and hidden, but that was what was behind all of it. After all, that was the original sin.”
“Yes. There was an evil warlord; a fallen angelic being was loose in those days. He attempted to raise himself above God. He did it in the dawn of history, and the Emperor of Heaven commanded the angels to cast him out,” Eliah said.
“Cast him out to where?” Avi asked.
“He came to earth and turned many of the people of God to his own side. After eons, he was able to make a second attempt. Toward the end of the Old Earth era, he found a way to possess a man's body and set himself up in God's temple. He claimed that he himself was God.”
“What happened?” Carina asked.
“It wasn’t long after that the Emperor returned to earth and captured him. He had his angels lock him up. He’s been imprisoned for about seven hundred years now,” Eliah said.
“Will he ever return?” Avi asked.
Something caught Eliah's eye. “Ahh, here they are,” Eliah said as he quickly stood. Avi, Carina, and Rachit were still under the mesmerizing spell of Eliah's storytelling. His sudden pivot startled them, although, they looked in the direction Eliah had gestured. What stood in the doorway brought a sharp gasp.