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If You Loved an Angel… How Far Would You Fall with Him?
What happens when the daughter of the village priest falls in love with an archangel banished from heaven? Milja’s heart is struck when she catches a glimpse of the preternaturally beautiful prisoner her father keeps captive beneath his church’s altar. Torn between tradition, loyalty and her growing obsession with the fallen angel, will Milja risk losing her family, and her eternal soul, for the love of this divine being? Janine Ashbless will transport you to a world where good and evil battle for true love.
The first time I saw him fettered there in the dark, I wept.
I was seven years old. My father led me by the hand down the steps behind the church altar, through a passage hewn into the mountainside. I’d never been permitted through that door before, though I knew that the key was kept under a loose floor tile beneath the icon of St. Michael. In those days that picture made me nervous: the archangel’s painted eyes always seemed to watch me, even though the rest of him was busy throwing down the Devil and trampling him underfoot.
All along the narrow tunnel beyond the door there were niches cut into the rock walls, and near our church these were filled with painted and gilded icons of the saints and of Our Lord, but farther back those gave way to statuettes of blank-eyed pagan gods, growing cruder in execution and less human in appearance as we walked on. I clung to Father’s hand and cringed from the darkness closing in behind me, as his kerosene lamp picked out the rock-cut steps at our feet and our breathing sounded loud in our ears. The journey seemed to take forever, to my child’s mind. I couldn’t help imagining the carved and painted eyes in the tunnel behind me: glowing pinpoints of light that watched my retreating back—and I kept looking over my shoulder to see.
Finally we came out into a roofless chamber, where the walls leaned inward a hundred feet over our heads and the floor was nothing but a mass of loosely tumbled boulders. I looked up, blinking at the light that seemed blinding, though in fact this was a dim and shadowed place. I could see a wisp of cloud against the seam of blue sky overhead, and the black speck of a mountain eagle soaring across the gap.
There he lay, upon a great tilted slab of pale limestone, his wrists and ankles spread and bound by twisted leather ropes whose farther ends seemed to be set into the rock itself. It was hard to say whether the slab had always been underground or had fallen long ago from the mountain above; our little country is, after all, prone to earthquakes. Dirt washed down with the rain had stained him gray, but I could make out the muscled lines of his bare arms and legs and the bars of his ribs. There was an old altar cloth draped across his lower torso—and only much later did I realize that Father had done that, to spare his small daughter the man’s nakedness.
“Here, Milja,” said my father, pushing me forward. “It is time you knew. This is the charge of our family. This is what we guard day and night. It is our holy duty never to let him be found or escape.”
I was only little: he looked huge to me, huge and filthy and all but naked. I stared at the ropes, as thick as my skinny wrists, knotted cruelly tight about his broader ones. They stretched his arms above his head so that one hand could not touch the other, and matching tethers held his ankles apart. I felt a terrible ache gather in my chest. I pressed backward, into Father’s black robes.
“Who is he?” I whispered.
“He is a very bad man.”
That was when the prisoner moved for the first time. He rolled his head and turned his face toward us. I saw the whites of his eyes gleam in his gray face. Even at seven, I could read the suffering and the despair burning there. I squirmed in Father’s grip.
“I think he’s hurt,” I whimpered. “The ropes are hurting him.”
“Milja,” said Father, dropping to his knee and putting his arm around me. “Don’t be fooled—this is not a human being. It just looks like one. Our family has guarded him here since the first people came to these mountains. Before the Communists. Before the Turks. Before the Romans, even. He has always been here. He is a prisoner of God.”
“What did he do?”
“I don’t know, little chick.”
That was when I began to cry.