With that admission, her face took on the lines of thought, as if deep in remembrance. Without words, Shepherd Oksana stood and walked among the people around the fire. Avi and Carina stopped chewing as they watched her. She wove through the people and patted some affectionately as she maneuvered through the crowd. She leaned over and kissed a child on the crown of her head and took the little hand of another in hers.
She spoke as she moved, “I am filled with such tremendous joy each day as I lead, guide, and govern the people of Jazira. It’s an incredible honor. There are no words that could explain how amazing it is to fulfill this duty on behalf of the King.” She returned to the front. “Though, the joy I experience here is in direct relation to my faithfulness in Old Earth. When the King returned to the Earth, everything suddenly became clear.”
She sat as she continued. “There are many shepherds like me in this Kingdom. There are so many that govern small townships, not so different from Jazira. Each shepherd of my rank and station was somewhat faithful during the era of Old Earth, but we could have done more. Because I was faithful in a little, I was given a little flock.”
“Are you unhappy here,” Carina asked.
“Not at all!” she said with a laugh as if the idea were ridiculous.
“But would you be happier now if you had been more faithful to the King then?” Avi asked.
“The reality of the experience is not as simple as that,” shepherd Oksana said. “It's like your cup. May I?” she said as she reached for the wine. Avi handed her the goblet. She then gestured to a girl to come and fill the glass. Once it was full, Oksana said, “This glass is full, isn't it?” Though the crowd nodded, one child insisted on checking for himself. He scampered up to the delighted laughs of a few.
“It’s really full!” the kid said as he looked into the glass. A laugh followed as Oksana continued.
“Now watch,” Oksana said. She waved her hand in front of the wineglass. To their astonishment, the glass grew to twice the size it had been. Another wave, and it doubled again. It now dwarfed Oksana's luminous hand. Once again, she gestured to the child to come and check the fullness of the glass. “Now, the glass is really, really full.”
The crowd nodded and laughed more vigorously this time. Oksana was ready to make her point. “Each person who has been redeemed by the King's sacrifice will find that their glass is full in this kingdom. However, those who showed great faithfulness in their previous life will find that their capacity for the fullness of joy is greater.” The audience, awed by the clear illustration, clapped at the lesson and begged for more.
Oksana handed the enormous glass back to Avi, as the crowd laughed once again at its awkwardly enormous size. He had to grip it with two hands to keep it upright. Avi took a drink from the gargantuan goblet. “It’s really, really good, too,” he said. He set the cup down beside him.
“So, your joy is full?” Avi asked.
“Very good,” Oksana said. “The wine represents the fullness of my joy. I am filled to the brim with gratitude and contentment. I am experiencing the amount of joy I am destined for. However, there are those who's capacity is greater because their faithfulness was more.”
“The nomad I met, he governs nothing. He said he lives in a kind of darkness outside the center of the Kingdom,” Avi explained. “Is his joy full too?”
“Absolutely. All those who the King has redeemed are experiencing a fullness of joy, but they would be the first to tell you that their capacity for joy is less than mine. Mine is less than the shepherds of Sundar where you are from,” Oksana explained.
“My joy is full,” Carina said as she slapped at her belly. The audience laughed.
“What about you, Avi?” Oksana asked. “Is your joy full?” Avi didn’t answer immediately. Carina glanced at him and then filled in the silence.
“He’s sad because he wants to marry a girl from Sundar named Amoli,” Carina said.
“I—uh—” Avi said. “I’m ok.” How could his sister, his twin no less, be so oblivious to the source of his enduring melancholy?
“Do you know what we do when we need a refill of joy?” Shepherd Oksana asked.
“What?” Carina asked.
“We sing!” the crowd erupted. “If that doesn’t work, we dance.”
They brought out musical instruments from the houses. They sang and made merry around the fire. There was a mix of funny songs, called tall tale tunes, by the locals. Interspersed were songs of praise to the Emperor and His Father God. The celebration swelled into dancing as the music played.
In the middle of the celebration, Carina pushed Avi to the front of the crowd. Carina had heard him occasionally sing when they were kids. She insisted that he sing for them.
“I’m not a sing poet, I—I—” Avi protested as a lump rose in his throat, and his tongue grew impossibly dry. He gulped and smacked his mouth, trying to get his faculties working again.
“Look, there are only thirty-eight people here. You've sung to more than that at the house,” Carina said. It was true, but it had been years, and only for his family. He had never done a public performance, and the idea was giving him a rash.
“I—uh—” His heart was thumping so hard he felt as if he would pass out. His stomach threatened to empty its contents. “I’m not sure what to—” His violent breathing nearly choked him.
“Avi,” Oksana said as the townspeople watched. “You are among friends, and under no obligation to sing.”
I want to, he thought, but the words didn't come. More than anything, at that moment, he wanted to open his mouth and let a melody spill out. He wanted to give these beautiful people the gift of a new song. In that stifling instant, he did the only thing he could do. “Dear Lord, help me overcome this fear.”
He closed his eyes, envisioning that he was on the farm, in the orchard. He pretended as if the King himself was the only one there with him. He wasn’t sure what was coming out of his mouth, but at once he recognized the sound of his own voice. A song drifted sweetly across the city square.
There were tear-streaked faces as Avi sang out the last word. Euphoria washed over him when he realized what had just happened. An entirely original song had passed his lips, without a single thought of the watching crowd. He had sung. He had offered the gift of a song to these faithful followers of the King. Such a warm glow emanated from his inner being.
They received him with many hugs and warm thanks. They requested the song many more times before the gathering dispersed. As the night went on, he shared other songs with the crowd. With each singing, he grew more comfortable. By the end of the night’s celebration, he could sing for them almost casually.
The festivities continued deep into the night. They shared many more laughs as they ate, drank, danced, and sang by the fire. By the end, one islander invited Avi and Carina to spend the night at her home. They concluded the evening with such a radiant feeling in their hearts that they could hardly stand to see it end. They bedded down reluctantly, excited for what the next day might hold.
As they finished the night, Avi’s only remaining wish was that Zariah could have been there with him.