Far away in the Limmerey Isles, a young man grew up happy and carefree. He had become feudal lord in place of his noble father (for his parents had given him full control of their lands while on a distant quest), and he was much heralded in the villages that were part of his domain. Women and girls waved their handkerchiefs, and men and boys their hats, when he rode forth on his sturdy charger, lending a helping hand to the poor, and sharing a small portion of his wealth with widows and orphans. Occasional deeds of charity by day and feasts with friends by night filled his life with cheer.
When far from home, Étienne (for he it was) sometimes spent the night on the sandy beaches along the way. The water was warm and the sunset golden as he emerged from a leisurely swim one day in late summer. After climbing the grassy bank to the place where he had left his garments, he was astounded to find that a type of pavilion made entirely of vines had grown up where the heap of his clothes had been.
Reaching the pavilion, he cautiously pulled back the vines to look inside. Fragrant flowers bloomed on the vines in his hands as he stood dumbfounded. The bright red blossoms filled the room (for it was a room, though it had a vine roof) with a piercing sweetness.
Étienne saw that the room contained two long settees of sturdy, knotted roots, covered with broad leaves and piled high with feathery ferns. His clothes were neatly folded in a reed basket by one of the settees. A light and savory stew simmered in a large clamshell over a low fire, and two smaller clam bowls and shell spoons were set beside it. Two shell cups glistened with a fruity drink.
Étienne blinked and stepped back, fearing that the enchanting arbor held a trap, and at the same time, that it would disappear. He was indeed famished after the long day and weary after many hours on horseback. At that moment, Glarden, his steed, neighed from his tether as if in encouragement, and Étienne stepped inside, put on his garments, and sat down gingerly on one of the settees. Soon drowsiness overcame his hunger, and he lay down and slept.
Brilliant stars were twinkling through the vines above when Étienne awoke and stretched, reinvigorated. Waves crashed in mid-night quietness upon the shore, when suddenly the sound of a deep and jovial voice calling just outside the room jerked him to his feet.
“Étienne, arise, it is time to sup!”
In the firelight’s glow, Étienne saw a brightly clad nobleman, perhaps ten years older than he, entering the pavilion with a bearing that bespoke an honorable character. The nobleman sat down and motioned to Étienne to be seated also. “Come,” he invited in rich tones, “I have prepared this repast, and we must enjoy it.”
“Who are you?” gasped Étienne. “Ah, you will recognize me anon,” exclaimed the noble gentleman cheerfully as he stirred and served the soup to his wondering guest.
The delicious warmth trickled down Étienne’s throat, and he felt refreshed and more relaxed in the presence of the kindly stranger. “Sir,” he began carefully, accepting the shell cup he was now offered and savoring the drink’s cool, tangy flavor on his tongue, “May I know how you came to be here on these shores this evening, and why you have prepared this welcome feast for me?”
“Étienne,” replied the nobleman, “I have seen your efforts in your father’s stead. You have lent the strength of your youth to those unable to help themselves. You have shared time and resources with those in distress. You have lessened the cares of many who were struggling. I commend you.”
“Sir,” cried Étienne. “I do not even know who you are! How do you know me? How do you know of my endeavors?” The nobleman smiled, and his eyes held Étienne’s as he spoke again. “I am aware of all that takes place in my realm.”
Fear rose in Étienne’s heart as he realized to whom he must be speaking. The ancient chronicles he had learned as a child came crashing in full relief into his mind. “Am I in the presence of my lord the king?” he asked, rising and bowing low from the waist.
“You are,” said the king with a nod, acknowledging Étienne’s deference. “Please be seated, my friend. I have come to you this night with two questions,” said the king. “But, first, I would hear of your adventures.”
Hours slipped by as Étienne conversed with the king, who listened with utmost attention. He found himself recounting his most mirthful stories and asking answers to the profound riddles he had often pondered. Dawn was nearing when he realized he had shared his heart with the king as with an intimate friend and mentor.
“This has been most enjoyable,” said the king. “But soon it shall be day. It is time for you to know the questions I came to ask. Étienne, I would that all might enjoy true fellowship with me. As a lad, you declared that you trusted me with your whole heart, not only as king, but as redeemer from all that is wayward, in you and in your life. It is time for me to know: Do you embrace these beliefs now, as a man? Are you ready to formally enter my service?”
Unsure, Étienne considered a question to delay his response. He had learned from the chronicles that the king’s service was not easy. His mind flashed back to his comfortable home and merry friends, the village folk who hailed him gladly, and of a truth, the relative little it cost him to earn their approval. Indeed, his deeds were chiefly done that he might feel himself a great benefactor. The hurrahs he heard at his arrival in each village caused him only to crave more adulation.
He felt his face flame under the king’s steady gaze. “Sire,” he asked hesitatingly, “May I know what might be the benefits of one enlisted in your service?”
“Ah,” said the king, looking at Étienne with compassion. “If you would be my soldier, you will not always have a meal such as we have enjoyed here tonight. You will fight a malicious enemy, whose legions have spread throughout the land. Travel will weary you, and trials will overtake you. Many will turn against you!” Étienne’s heart felt as if it lurched and froze as the king spoke.
“Yet, your heart will rejoice in sharing my intimate counsels,” continued the king (for he saw the distress of Étienne’s heart). “You will know the deep fulfillment of living out your days in commitment to me and the most significant enterprise that has ever existed. Once you have tasted the satisfaction of fighting at my side, you would not wish to return to the life you have lived. Your ability to help others will have significance beyond time itself.
“When you breathe your final breath,” the king went on, “I will close your eyes, and you will open them again in paradise, a crown upon your head.”
Involuntarily Étienne touched his head. His gentle mother had often reminded him that his Gallic name meant “crowned one.” He ran his fingers through his hair, saying softly, “It is what I was created for.”
“Yes,” said the king. “Your heart has strayed from the child’s devotion that once was yours, indeed, which you now scarcely remember. But, dear Étienne, if today you choose to surrender your life to me, this world will never be the same! You will fulfill your high and holy purpose.
“You fear this surrender, but listen to me closely. You feel you are happy now, but when once you are in my innermost circle, your joy will know no bounds, in trial or triumph. Your gifts and capabilities, shining dimly now, will come forth as bright as a burnished shield, catching the noonday sun!
“You are comfortable now, but in my service, your heart will continually be strengthened by my comforter, my very spirit. Daily my chronicles will nourish and delight your soul with their sweetness and truth. You will have the high privilege to serve with companions, like-minded warriors all, who will mature with you in wisdom, love and courage.
“Étienne, you have known of me from afar. But now, I will be your closest friend.” Étienne marveled at this. What would he give for such a friend!
“People praise you now,” the king said, shaking his head, “but in my heavenly kingdom they will never stop thanking you for bringing them into the eternal light.”
“Étienne, this, the establishment of my kingdom, is the only hope of this earthly realm. When all is prepared, it will be transformed into a kingdom of utmost delight — but only for those who have bowed in surrender to me. The end is certain. One day my rule will be complete.
“Ah, my friend, if you would live life to the fullest, come with me!” cried the king. “Repent of these years of living as your own king. Your good deeds have helped many, but of a truth, they will avail you naught in my realm. You have already been paid by men’s applause. I am aware that you did not serve from a pure heart. Yet I gave my lifeblood to cleanse and make you new.
“Étienne, give me your heart! Then come, join my warriors, and turn this world rightside-up! Come rule one day in my eternal kingdom!”
The king spoke truly, Étienne knew. He had laid down his life, then arisen in victory, that no one need live under the unspeakable bondage of sin. No other king’s devotion could compare with this king’s love for his people, though he was not even from this world. He it was who had made the earth and seas and even the stars still perceptible above.
Étienne wondered if he could turn away this night from the eyes of this majestic friend who looked at him so lovingly? Whose flesh had been torn to pay for his posturing and greed for fame? Who could make him the man he was created to be, and one day reward him in heaven?
Hearth and village faded in his mind’s eye as he counted the cost of the choice before him. Gazing at the king, he sensed that darkness loomed behind him, while a brilliant light beckoned him ahead. Indeed, the sun’s early rays streamed through the vines, brightening the pavilion and touching the king’s head with gold. The one true king had come for him. He must make his choice. Should the king make him yet another invitation some day, it would not be like this one.
His heart now burning, Étienne leapt to his feet. “I will not miss your call, my king!” he cried. The king also rose, stretching out his arms toward the young man. Trembling, Étienne declared, “No longer will my foolish heart deny you. Your sacrifice merits all I am and have!”
Kneeling before the king, he cried humbly, “Forgive my selfishness and pride! I pledge you my life, my lord and my king!”
The radiance of sunrise streamed into the pavilion as the king raised and embraced the young man. Étienne’s heart filled with a joy and peace he had never known before. His face shone with the brilliance of the fresh, new day.
“I will never leave you, my king,” he vowed with deep emotion, looking into the eyes of his king. “Nor I you,” the king replied tenderly. “Nor I you.”
Many years have passed since that momentous night meeting on the seashore. Étienne was at last laid to rest, grizzled and beloved, having fought courageously for his king to the very end. Yet his soul rejoiced as never before, for day after heavenly day, he lived face to face with his dearest friend, the glorious king. And together with the multitude of kinfolk, friends and strangers who named him as the one they had followed to their heavenly home, Étienne never tired of recounting a lifetime filled with the wondrous and loving surprises of his king.
“But as it is written: ‘Eye has not seen nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.’” 1 Corinthians 2:9
If you haven’t discovered life in Christ, don’t hesitate to check it out. Life is too short to miss His love and perfect plan for you. Read About “The Nearness of God” or see everyperson.com for more information. You can also read my story of coming to faith in Christ: How My Song Began.