The Christmas Warrior, Part 2 — continued by Stephen J. Stirling

Klaus’s powerful legs catapulted him to the top as if he were in combat.  Arriving at the summit, he swung his head around, surveying the situation instantly in the moonlight.  A young man in his twenties and a young woman, no, a girl, no more than a teenager, were being accosted in the night by three Roman soldiers. A donkey, startled by the brawl trotted fifty feet away.  A glance told Klaus that these soldiers were no mere thugs of the Empire.  Rather they were mercenaries in Herod’s employ.  But to Klaus, there was virtually no difference.  A suppressed anger he hadn’t known for years flared in his heart.  He reacted instantly.  The two soldiers beating the young man were closest to him as he charged over the hill.  Dropping his own gear he was upon them in one massive step.

The soldier within reach had just knocked the young man on the ground, fallen upon him, and was about to strike him in the face.  Snatching the soldier by his outstretched fist, Klaus yanked him from the spot with one powerful jerk, practically pulling his arm from its socket.  The startled soldier pivoted like a swinging gate, until his face came into sudden contact with the gladiator’s enormous fist, which sent him sprawling to the ground unconscious.

Klaus instinctively knew he did not have a second to lose.  Out of the corner of his eye he saw the other soldier turning his attention from his brutality to lunge quickly at him.  The big gladiator avoided a dagger thrust by only inches, but inches were all he needed.  Lashing out with a speed and strength that terrified the Roman mercenary, Klaus grabbed his dagger hand, twisted the knife from his grasp and then quickly snapped his wrist with an audible crack.

He didn’t wait to survey his work as the man screamed and stumbled down the hill.  (Klaus knew he wouldn’t be interested in either fighting or holding a dagger for a while.)

He turned immediately to the final, large soldier who was manhandling the young woman, struggling with her over a small bundle in her arms.  Klaus’ legs churned into the sand with superhuman strength, but the hulking soldier and his victim were several paces away.  He felt himself moving in agonizing slow motion as the Roman brut finally shoved the girl to the ground with a cruel slap.  The bundle fell to the ground beside her, and then Klaus heard a sound that chilled his heart – the cry of a baby piercing the night.  The soldier did not stoop to examine the infant or pick it up.  Instead, Klaus watched helplessly as the trained murderer unsheathed his sword and took dead aim to kill the child.  Yet as the blade thrust downward, Klaus stretched out his hand with all his effort, catching the hilt and stopping its descent in mid air.

Klaus held the sword there with a strength that not even he knew he had as he brought his second hand to the hilt and his eyes level with those of the huge Roman.  The man’s face was hard and cruel.  He grit his teeth, glaring with hatred at this red-bearded intruder while his eyes burned with a will to follow through with his execution.  Klaus stared back intently into those fiery eyes – eyes whose depth and meaning and earnestness he knew from the arena.  This man was determined to kill!  Klaus only had seconds to respond.

Unloosing one of his hands from the quavering sword hilt, and concentrating with all his might to hold the deadly blade in place with one hand, Klaus reached to his belt where his own dagger hung.  As he did so the sword inched toward the baby.  The Roman grinned.  Now was the moment.  Klaus felt his fingers on the hilt of his knife, but even as he grasped it and drew it forth to strike, a voice whispered to him in a command he could not ignore.  No more killing.  Responding impulsively like the gladiator he was, he rotated the dagger in his fingers and with all of his strength smashed the Roman in the temple of his head with the hilt of the weapon.  The sword fell to the sand on its side and the soldier crumpled to the ground beside it without a groan.  He lay motionless.

Klaus stood, straddling his vanquished foe, breathless and exhausted.  But momentarily he gathered his thoughts, glancing up at the young man, righting himself a few yards away, and the girl, who was stirring just within reach.  He was about to turn to her when he was diverted by the cooing of the baby at his feet.  Feeling drawn to the child, to the exclusion of all else, he stooped down and lifted the bundle from the cool sand, cradling it in his massive arms.  Strange.  He had never held a baby before, but it felt so natural – so comfortable.

He shielded the infant from the night breeze with his immense body and looked into its eyes.  Reaching out with its tiny arms the baby looked up at him and smiled, and then the smile vanished, but the eyes – innocent, bright and brown — continued to study him.  He paused, captivated in the gaze of those eyes that seemed to be peering into his very soul.  And then to his astonishment, he heard a voice — a peaceful, still, small, yet clear and powerful voice – speaking to the very center of his heart.

Klaus, for the service you have done me this night you shall be blessed uniquely among men – for the life which you have saved shall give life to the world.  In immortality, you shall likewise give.  Your laughter shall give joy.  Your great heart shall share kindness.  Your good nature shall warm the troubled spirit.  And your generosity shall impart glad tidings in all nations. You shall never be forgotten in the memory of mankind, and you will live in the hearts of children everywhere forever. 

(concluded tomorrow)

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