Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Kingdom

The Kingdom
Crossway Books (June 30, 2012)
Brian M. Litfin


The rulers of the earth took counsel together, and the Pact they made defined the centuries to come. Jean-Luc Beaumont con- vened the historic meeting at which the Pact was signed. It was his second greatest achievement.

His first was still being alive.

In the summer of 2042 no one knew the world was about to end. Beaumont, the cocky young CEO of a Swiss chemical company, didn’t pay much attention to the story he read in the Tribune de Genève about the strange virus devastating Japan. But the human race was about to learn what the murderous X-Virus could do.

The new supervirus raced around the globe like a bullet train, claim- ing every life it touched. Death came with agonizing cramps and a gush of vomit and blood. As the body count rose, panic set in. Citizens rioted, governments crumbled, and the horrified superpowers watched their worst nightmare come true. When a few ruthless dictators pulled the nuclear trigger against their long-hated rivals, retaliation was impossible to resist. In this way modern civilization met an ugly death under poisoned skies.

For several decades apocalyptic chaos reigned across the globe. Food was the only thing on anyone’s mind. Tribal bands pursued agriculture by primitive methods while ruthless warlords guarded the communal fields. Farming and fighting—those were the two occupations in the brave new world. Each tribe was separated from its neighbors by empty spaces that eventually returned to forest, though that did not prevent raids. Brutal wars over the food supply characterized the middle decades of the twenty- first century. The anarchy devoured the weak and timid, yet it opened doors of opportunity to men with the iron will to survive—men like Jean-Luc Beaumont.

By the time he was fifty, Beaumont was king of Europe’s Genevan tribe. Old Geneva was gone, of course. A ballistic missile had erased all traces of the Jet d’Eau, the Reformation Wall, and the splendid St. Pierre Cathedral on the hill above the lake. But a tribe of warriors and farmers had coalesced in the region, producing crops in the Rhône Valley to fill their stomachs and wines along Lac Léman to numb life’s pain. For tenyears Beaumont ruled his tribe with ruthless efficiency until a coup in 2070 forced him out.

The exiled king sailed up the Aar River with forty tough warriors and nothing to eat. The year was waning, and winter’s chill was already in the air. Harassed from behind, Beaumont pressed upstream until dense wilder- ness finally swallowed the refugees. They approached the foothills of the Alps with little hope of survival but were surprised to discover a rabble of German-speaking peasants making a decent living off dairy cattle in the Bernese Oberland. Beaumont thanked his god and ordered his men to halt.

The winter that year was a hard one, with too little bread for supper and too much cheese, yet the refugees survived by assimilating into the mountain culture. When spring came, Beaumont knew where he would establish his new kingdom. La Nouvelle Suisse, he tried to call it, but the peasants preferred their own name: Schweiz.

Most of Beaumont’s warriors were young, which meant they had no memory of the vanished world that existed before the Great War of Destruction. But as a former chemical engineer, Beaumont recalled ancient secrets he could turn to his advantage. He amassed charcoal from willow and hazel, saltpeter from stables and chicken coops, and sulfur— always the hardest ingredient to obtain—from nearby hot springs. The king picked three men to gather these substances, empowering them as archpriests of a new religious triad whose gods were borrowed from classical mythology. However, the secret of combining the ingredients into gunpowder remained unknown to each priest. Such arcane knowledge could only be entrusted to one person. For this, Beaumont chose Greta, the peasant witch he had taken as his lover.

Greta had long served her village as the mediatrix of the dawn god. She was a dark-haired vixen dripping with occult magic. Beaumont rec- ognized Greta’s beguiling power, and he used it, though not without cau- tion. Together the king and his consort established a new religion under a divine overlord, the Bright Star, Astre Brillant. He was the Bringer of Light, or Lucifer as the Bible described him. Beaumont and Greta hated that book and hated even more the God of its pages—for Astre Brillant, the deity who supplied their power and position, hated him too.

La Nouvelle Suisse grew strong, and with it grew Beaumont’s lust for vengeance against the Genevans who had evicted him. In time he made a treaty with the German tribes of the north. They were rough men who dwelled in tangled forests, but they fought with violence and vigor. In the ninth year of Beaumont’s reign he ordered the troops of his Royal Guard, allied with German mercenaries, to invade the Genevan lands. The thun- derous explosions and acrid stench of Beaumont’s gunpowder bombs sent the Genevan warriors fleeing the battlefield. Crops were destroyed, blood was spilled, and the elderly king savored his revenge.

But then Greta brought disturbing news. Missionaries of the Christian God had arrived in Geneva, having navigated up the Rhône from Marseilles. “Astre Brillant came to me in a dream,” Greta said. “He com- mands us to eradicate that religion once and for all.” The prophetic words of Greta’s decree launched Beaumont on his last great quest.

After the missionaries were rounded up and murdered, an expedition set out for Marseilles. A hundred German confederates joined the Royal Guardsmen sailing down the Rhône. At last Jean-Luc Beaumont, king of La Nouvelle Suisse and conqueror of Geneva, met the prince of Marseilles with great fanfare. In no time he managed to worm his way into the city’s politics and manipulate the foolish prince into summoning delegates from the three kingdoms that ringed the nearby seas.

Soon the ships began to arrive, each bearing an important guest. Ambassadors came to Marseilles from Liguria, from Rome, and even from the Isle of Sicily, which sent as its delegate the firstborn son of the crime boss who ran the Clan. When the chessboard was laid out and the pieces were in place, Beaumont made his opening move: he summoned Greta to invoke the forces of darkness upon the momentous council. Greta’s magic impressed the gathered delegates. Their awe made it a simple matter to convince them to sign a treaty.

The Pact was an alliance based on common interest. The Romans, Sicilians, Ligurians, Marseillans, Germans, and Swiss all realized they had little to gain by fighting each other. Stability had finally been achieved in the post-nuclear world. Riches flowed to the elite at the top. The iron fist of oppression ensured that the peasants’ crushing poverty produced extreme wealth for the lords. To maintain this lucrative status quo, the delegates agreed not to meddle in one another’s affairs, a policy that would lead to deep and long-lasting xenophobia.

Yet a nonaggression pact wasn’t all Beaumont wanted. He knew a single powerful force could overthrow the wealthy rulers’ reign: Christianity, the faith that dignified human beings by giving even the lowliest peas- ant a sense of value before God. That religion had proven it could unify people across economic, political, and social lines. Beaumont recalled how Christianity had appealed to Middle Easterners, Africans, Westerners, Latinos, and Asians alike. “The last Pope was even Chinese!” he com- plained to the men at the council, though most of them were too young to know what he meant. Yet when old Adolfo Borja of Rome nodded his head, the gathered rulers couldn’t help but notice. Beaumont must be right: Christianity was their greatest threat.

Greta returned to the room then, resplendent in the garb of a Swiss High Priestess. Her aura was terribly exotic. The scent of the netherworld was upon her, and the men in the room were transfixed. Beaumont smiled, confident the Pact he desired would soon be achieved. Greta produced a razor, its silver blade reflecting the light from candle sconces on the wall. A single pitcher and six glass vials were placed on the table among the men. A hush fell upon them.

Beaumont offered his arm. Greta opened a vein.

And so it was that on that fateful day each man left the room bearing a vial of intermingled blood as proof of his sacred vow. A secret society of assassins would be formed. All followers of the Enemy would be extermi- nated. Their scriptures would be destroyed. The name of Jesus would be blotted from the earth. At last the rulers of the nations had burst the bonds of the Creator God. Christianity had come to an end in Europe. The faith would be forgotten by everyone. And for many years it was.

But then, more than three centuries later, a young army captain named Teofil followed Anastasia of Edgeton into the Beyond to rescue her from evildoers. Teo and Ana wanted only to return to the land they called Chiveis, yet a mysterious hand seemed to lead them in the opposite direction. In the ruins of an ancient cathedral, high upon the single-spired roof, they discovered a mysterious book. Though they did not know what it was, they brought it home, opened it, and looked into its pages.
And things began to change.

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