“Where have you been?” Rachit asked with a sharp edge slicing through his voice as Avi and Carina entered the elaborate guest room. Bhoora was still grazing in the courtyard and would have filled too much of the room to be welcome inside.
"I was the guest of honor at the banquet of the beloved,” Avi said. “Low King Hans wanted me to sing a song for all the redeemed who were there, but then they brought in Bhoora, and I sang to him because he got hit by a cruiser, oh and Zariah showed up, and we had this amazing conversation, but then she had to go, and Carina got invited to join the banquet which was nice cause I didn't feel so nervous then, we danced and sang with the redeemed, and then after a while, we decided to get some rest, but King Hans said that their banquet would continue all night. Oh, do you want to hear my new song?”
“No,” Rachit said, as he rose from his chair. Carina and Avi watched him with confusion. There was more Avi wanted to tell his uncle, but he sensed that it wasn’t a good time to go into more detail.
“I'd like to hear the song again. It was really good,” Carina said with a smile. Rachit's heavy footfalls left indentions in the luxurious carpet.
There was a long silence in the borrowed room as Avi and Carina moved quietly toward the couch. The wealthy accommodations fit the estate's gorgeous colors and rich decor. Rachit looked out of place. His face was red, and his breathing elevated. His mood was taking a dark turn.
“Am I supposed to be happy for you? Should we call you, Avi, the marvelous?” Rachit spat.
“No,” Avi tried to respond, but Rachit cut him off.
“It’s amazing how you’re able to slither your way into a place of praise. Well, I’m sick of it!”
"What crawled into your boot, Uncle Rachit,” Carina said. Even she was seeing his seething temper now.
“Uncle Rachit, have I offended you?” Avi asked. “If I have, I’m eager to beg your forgiveness.”
Rachit turned at the honest plea and continued in an uplifted tone that left Avi wanting to back out of the room entirely.
“I ate dinner in the staff's quarters with a bunch of strangers while you had fine dining at the banquet of the whatever,” Rachit brandished his hand toward Avi with an elaborate flourish in mockery. He then turned to Carina, “I was glad that at least I knew someone until you got mysteriously called away.”
“Avi needed me,” she said. “Bhoora had been—”
“I don’t care about that stupid bear!” Rachit spat. “Seriously, you’re just like your brother!”
“Well, that’s not so bad,” Carina pushed back. “At least he doesn’t yell at me.” Rachit turned his back and made a few more laps on the thick carpet. Even through the soft rug, his feet were pounding out an angry rhythm.
“I don't care if you were asked to sing. I don't care if you're this year's Jerusalem delegation. I don't even care if you tap-danced on the ceiling. I'm tired of being pressured into things I don't want to do.”
“Uncle, please. I did not mean you any offense with my excitement. Forgive me—I beg—”
“I should have said, ‘no’ to this ridiculous trip,” Rachit interrupted.
Avi felt a stab of pain at that one. He took a breath, hoping to complete his apology, but Rachit continued.
“You two don’t listen to a word I say. You’re going to get me killed,” Rachit said, with his face ablaze.
“Please, Uncle Rachit,” Avi tried again. “I beg your forgiveness for what I’ve done. Had I known that I was hurting you, I would have—”
“What do you mean, we’re going to get you killed?” Carina scrunched her nose and twisted her face. “You’re not making any sense.” Rachit began gathering his belongings wildly.
“You want my forgiveness?” Rachit shouted toward Avi. “Well, you can’t have it, you little fool.”
Avi and Carina gasped. Never, save once, had Avi heard such caustic words. His eyes met his uncle's for a short moment. Rachit's face melted from anger into fear, as if he was just now hearing his own words. He glanced around frantically as if he expected someone would break through a window and kidnap him.
“Oh, no!” Rachit screamed. “Oh, no!” He dropped his belongings and ran full speed toward the door without another word. He nearly ripped the doorknob from the face of it. He twisted and yanked the bolt as the door swung free. It slammed hard against the wall. Avi jumped with the concussion.
Avi and Carina stared, dumbfounded. The experience left him feeling numb and utterly emptied. It was too much to take in all at once. Rachit left Avi in a sweating chill. Suddenly there was the sound of a commotion from the courtyard, into which Rachit had just passed.
“Let me go?” Rachit asked. “Take your hands off of me!” They could both hear Rachit struggling against some unknown assailant.
“Who is he talking to?” Carina asked.
“I don’t know,” Avi said. “Let’s go see.” With Rachit’s urgent words, Avi started for the door. Behind him came Carina in a hurry.
They were just in time to see three scorching figures blazing around Rachit in the courtyard's colonnade. Though they bore a resemblance, the three figures were not shepherds, not the soft and subdued second born. These were the King's elusive celestial guards. Zath was among the mysterious beings, though he looked different from before, now wrapped in a blinding light. Even though Avi saw, the sight was shrouded in confusion. The star-born guards surrounded Rachit and glowed with a white-hot brilliance.
They hovered above the ground, though they had no wings. Two of them had their luminous hands wrapped around Rachit's upper arm. They did not wear the traditional regalia of the royal class but clad themselves in an armor made of the pure fury of nuclear light. Not knowing what to do, Avi stepped into the courtyard and moved close.
“Hey, what’s going on?” Avi asked. The blinding sight of them turned his stomach. He could feel heat pouring from the nearest of the three luminous figures. It was as if he had stepped into the untamed violence of a scalding sun. The closest officer’s glow shifted toward an orange hue as he turned to Avi.
“Do not involve yourself, this is royal business,” the glowing figure said. He quickly turned his back on Avi and gave his full attention to Rachit, who was surrounded by the three royal celestial guards.
With a blinding flash of atomic white light, the three officers disappeared, and with them, so too Rachit. The colonnade was impossibly vacant. Avi stood in the space with Carina at his back. Bhoora, who had been grazing in the courtyard, meandered to Avi, not sensing the gravity of the moment. Avi patted his bear absently as he thought about what he had just seen.
“What—" was all he could whisper. His mind crashed through the last few minutes, trying to gain clarity.
“Where did they take him?” Carina asked in a whisper. “And why?”
“I don’t know,” Avi said breathlessly, still staring at the place where Rachit had been standing.
“What are we going to do?” Carina asked after a long moment of noiseless standing.
“I don’t know,” Avi whispered once again.
“But—” Even Carina’s words failed her, a rare occurrence.
“Come on,” Avi said finally with a start. “We need to find Amos.”
“Amos?” Carina said as she followed Avi’s quick pace down the echoing colonnade. “Shepherd Amos?”
They ran as fast as their legs would carry them. Bhoora stayed behind, chewing his cud. They found their hometown Shepherd still enjoying the banquet in Low King Hans's feasting hall. After getting his attention, they beckoned him aside, and hurriedly explained what had happened.
“Then he shouted at us, and called me a—" Avi said to Shepherd Amos, but couldn't bring himself to repeat the acidic name. They were standing in the banquet hall's doorway, where the festivities were still in full swing. Avi continued. “Then, three star-born guards appeared in the courtyard and told me not to interfere.”
Avi was about to add to the story when Carina jumped in.
“Then they vanished and took Rachit with them. They didn’t tell us where they were going,” Carina said with wide eyes and scant breath.
“What are they going to do with him?” Carina asked.
“Well,” Amos said with a soothing tone. He did not portray any bewilderment or even the slightest shade of anxiety. “The judge will decide.”
“The Judge?” Carina asked. “He’s going to be judged?”
“Yes, he will have to stand trial,” Amos said. Both gasped at the word.
“He’s raised his voice before,” Avi began, but Amos put up his hand to interject. He explained gently.
“He was not arrested for the tone of his voice, but for the content of his mind. The angels took him into custody for something deeper, something that the King cannot allow to go unattended in this grand Kingdom.”
“What is his crime?” Carina asked.
“I will not speculate on that, since I do not know, however, the charge will be explained at his trial. Most likely, the trial will be in the morning. Why don't you two go get some sleep, and I will come get you before the trial. I think it would be a comfort to Rachit for his friends to attend.”
“I don’t think he wants to see us,” Carina said with sorrow in her voice.
“Give him a night in jail under celestial guard, and things will probably look different in the morning.”
Avi and Carina agreed and ambled quietly back to their guest room. Neither was eager to discuss the night's activities any further. By the time they returned, Bhoora had finished his late-night grazing and was waiting by the door of their room. Avi gave his bear his affection. Neither Avi nor Carina could stand to spend the night in the room, so recently soiled with terrible memories, so they leaned against Bhoora and slept under the stars that peeked through the open sky of the courtyard.