“I’m a nomad,” the man said. “My name’s Fred.” What a strange-sounding name, Avi thought. Uninterested, Bhoora grazed nearby on some local plant life as Avi and Carina gave their attention to the stranger.
“I’m Avi, and this is my sister Carina.” He decided not to introduce Zariah, who had hidden. Avi could tell that the nomad was no mere mortal. He had the glow. Light emanated from his skin, and his hair was silvery white. He shared some resemblance to the shepherds of Sundar, but he was missing some characteristic signifiers of the King’s immortal royal class.
“Are you a shepherd?” Carina asked as she studied him closely.
“I am like those you know as shepherds, but I don’t have a flock,” Fred said. His glow was not nearly as bright as the leaders he knew from Sundar. Avi thought of the golden rings and gems worn by the shepherds of his town. This nomad looked bare, with none of that resplendent regalia.
“Every—uh—all the shepherds I've known wore crowns and gemstones. What—I mean, why aren't you dressed like that?” Avi asked.
“I was not given any crowns or gems by the Emperor,” Fred said.
“What do you mean?” Carina asked. She and her mesmerized brother watched this eternally living creatures with wonder.
“I lived in Old Earth,” Fred said. “During my mortal time on Earth, I believed in King Yeshua but, as soon as I had accepted his free gift, I used it as a get-out-of-jail-free card.”
“What does that mean?” Avi questioned.
“Oh, it means I lived like I was a rebel even though I was redeemed,” Fred said. At the mention of rebellion, Avi couldn't help but follow the thought.
“Why do some rebel against the King?” he asked.
“Rebellion in this renovated Earth is less common than it was in Old Earth, but it still happens. I’m betting, from your question, that you’ve seen some rebellion?” Avi nodded, almost embarrassed to admit it. Fred continued. “It’s sad when folks oppose the King,” Fred said.
“Yes, we met one in Endale—” Avi said, but then amended his statement. “Or what’s left of Endale.” The thought of the woman twisted a knot in his stomach and made him scrunch his face into a tight mess.
“Ahh, that is where I'm headed. I have some stories to tell to the ones that stayed,” Fred said. Avi's demeanor lightened slightly, something that was not missed by his new friend. “Rest assured; I will do everything I can to bring those rebels back into His Majesty's kindness. After all, who better to demonstrate the amazing Grace of Lord Yeshua than me, one who was unfaithful to Him?”
“How could you believe in the King, but also live like a rebel?” Carina asked.
“Things were different then. I had faith in Yeshua, so I was declared righteous for all eternity. But, at the same time, I lived out the rest of my mortal life like a dirty rotten scoundrel.”
“Scoundrel?” Avi asked.
“A rebel,” Fred offered.
“So, you believed in the Lord for his gift of eternal life, but then didn’t obey him?” Avi reiterated.
“That's right. It's a good thing; it was a free gift!” Fred said.
“So, is that why you didn't get rewarded by the King?” Avi asked.
“Exactly,” Fred responded. “At the end of the age, the King returned to the Earth and gathered everybody he'd given forever-life to. By then, I had just about forgotten I was saved. I was tickled pink to be included in those who were saved, but—" Fred said. He lowered his head. A single tear streaked down his face. Somehow, impossibly, his demeanor maintained a look of utter joy, and at the same time, holy sadness. Avi had never seen a resurrected immortal cry.
“I had to stand in front of the King,” Fred said. “I was shaking in my boots?”
“Shaking Boots?” Avi asked.
“It means I was scared. I had to give an account of how I spent my life. We all did. Most got at least a bit of reward. Not me. He couldn’t find a single rewardable act in my saved life.”
“Do you have no purpose then?” Carina asked.
“I live in the land of light, but I drift in the outer shadows, so to speak. No reward, no flock, and no place to rule is not the same thing as no purpose, though. He’s letting me be a walking object lesson. I wander round the kingdom telling my story to any mortal I find,” Fred explained.”
"Oh, wow,” Carina said.
“The Lord is always with me, but I’m missing the privileges I could have had if I’d been faithful to him,” Fred explained.
“Will you go on like this forever,” Carina asked. “I mean, will you always remain outside the inner light?”
“I don't know. However, there is this ancient prophecy. One day soon, The King's going to make all things new. He'll wipe away all the tears from our eyes,” Fred said. “Not only mine but yours too, kid.” Avi reached to his own face, finding a single tear gathering at the corner of his eyes.
"What's this about!” Rachit asked loudly from the hilltop he had just climbed for the second time. His voice bounced among the towering trees. The interruption startled Avi. Their heads turned in the direction of Rachit's voice. “I'm trying to lead an expedition here. First, I realize my followers have abandoned me; then I find them sitting lazily in the woods, chatting with the trees like a gaggle of squawking grackles.”
“Actually, a flock of grackles is called a pod, not a gaggle,” Carina said.
“Actually,” Rachit said. “I don’t care. Let’s go.”
“We were just talking to our new friend,” Carina said, gesturing behind her.
“If you want to make friends with the plant life, that’s fine, but I might as well go home if that’s how you intend to spend your time!”
“No, not the trees. I mean—” A hard tap hit her on the shoulder.
“Look,” Avi said. “He’s gone!”
They both looked only to see they were sitting alone in the woods. The wanderer had vanished. Only Bhoora was there among the foliage, mouth completely packed with berries. Another second passed before Zariah came out from her hiding place.
“Come on!” Rachit bellowed. “We’re nearing the lake. We should make it by late afternoon.”
As Avi rose from his place, he prayed a quiet prayer, “Lord, allow me to be always faithful.”
“Why did you hide?” Carina asked Zariah once they were on the path again.
“Just being careful, that’s all,” Zariah said. The answer satisfied Carina, but Avi wanted to understand.