Thursday, May 23, 2013

"The Four Faces" by Retha Groenewald

The Four Faces
by Retha Groenewald

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The king continued: "From this day forward we will refer to our four sons as The Four Faces. The future of the kingdom is in the hands of The Four Faces. It's vital that they find the right answer. I don't even want to think of the possibility that they could come back without the answer."
Human, Lion, Ox, and Eagle are sent on a journey to find out what their purpose is. On their quest, they journey through interesting and wonderful places; they meet strangers, friends and foes; they are challenged with the unknown and with themselves. Will they succeed?

Chapter One
The Question That Changed Everything

He was the ruler of the kingdom and the most powerful man in the whole empire, yet he was powerless when it came to his son. As he looked down at his son and his three friends, the loving father concealed his emotion and asked, “Son, what is your purpose in life? What is your three friends’ purpose in life? Think carefully before you speak because your answer will determine what type of king you will be, and whether you are ready to assume a king’s duties.”

The son smiled broadly and answered with confidence, “Oh, that is very easy Father, Lion is there to protect us, Eagle is there to provide food, Ox is there to carry our possessions, and I am there to rule them, and to tell them what to do.”

A shocked silence descended on the throne room. Mostly out of respect for their king, and so they would not add injury to insult, the elders bowed their heads, preventing them from seeing their own shock in one another’s faces.

The king felt as if a fist had hit his heart and smashed it into pieces. A single tear began to form, but the king quickly gained control, and with a soft voice, he addressed the four young ones in front of him. “Lion, Eagle, and Ox, do you have anything to add to my son’s answer?” A gasp ran through the room because asking for their thoughts was totally unprecedented. The heir to the throne needed to answer this question; it was not the place for others to take part in the conversation because it was between father and son.

Lion, Ox, and Eagle looked at each other and shook their heads, and then each smiled broadly. The elders and leaders saw the smiles and sighed with relief. Clenched fists and raised shoulders, relaxed. The tension that had built up disappeared.  The relaxed atmosphere returned. One by one, Lion, Eagle, and Ox stepped closer to the throne. They looked up to the king, and answered him with confidence, “We four are friends, and we three are bound to your son. His answer is good enough for us because we have no other purpose than to be friends with your son.”

The parents of these three were part of the king’s council, and they had to control every nerve in their bodies to resist stepping forward and forcing some sense into their sons. Eagle’s father snapped his beak shut from shock. At the same time Lion’s father clenched his teeth but the growl slipped through. Ox’s father snorted so intensely his nostrils flared. Nobody else made a sound. The parents stood with the rest of the leaders and elders, aghast at the folly of these four, the future of the kingdom. Then the king looked at the parents of his son’s companions. Each bowed deeply before the king, showing their respect for their king. The king knew they were in agreement and in affirmation he gave each a slight nod before he turned his face back to Human, Lion, Ox, and Eagle, who were staring at him.

The reaction of their fathers did not go unnoticed. Slowly Human, Lion, Ox, and Eagle came to the realization that perhaps their answers were not so clever after all. “I think we are in trouble”, Human whispered. Their smiles disappeared. Different emotions ran across their faces. Their faces settled into questions marks, which said it all. “What did we do wrong? What is the correct answer?” they wondered.

The king looked at each one individually, hoping for a flicker of understanding, but he saw nothing. Therefore he gave his verdict: “Gather what you need and leave the palace and the city before nightfall. Do not come back until you know who you are and what your purpose is. Remember, the future of this kingdom rests upon you finding the truth. Now go!”

Totally astonished, Human, Lion, Ox, and Eagle stared at the king as if they did not comprehend what he had said. They were flabbergasted. Their blank expressions changed into unbelief and finally fear was written all over their faces. They were scared, but they did not want to show it. Stiffly they bowed before their king and left his presence.

The king called a private meeting with the fathers of Lion, Eagle, and Ox. Behind closed doors, four fathers came together in privacy to discuss the future of their sons, and the interlinking future of the kingdom. The king and his three advisors ruled the kingdom with wisdom and love. They had grown up together. They knew each other well. Together they had seen and done many things, but they had never been in a situation such as this. When they looked at each other, for a split second the mirror image of their emotions reflected in the other’s eyes. They were fathers. They were also the leaders of the kingdom. Each sat down with a heavy heart at the table, ready to discuss the future of their children and the kingdom.

It was a difficult meeting. Ox’s father asked the question on everybody’s minds: “Have we failed as parents? How is it possible for our children to be so immature, and so clueless regarding their purpose in life?”

Eagle’s father stopped staring outside and turned his head to join the conversation: “Now is not the time to discuss that question. What is more important is how this will affect the kingdom?”

The king sighed. Within seconds the father became the king. “You are right. We are in the unique position of considering the future of the kingdom simultaneously with the future of our sons. Years ago, before our children were born; we had discussed the possibility of such a situation. Are we all still in agreement that if we have to choose, the kingdom comes first?” The other three nodded their heads and answered in unison, yes.

The king continued, “From this day forward we will refer to our four sons as The Four Faces. The future of the kingdom is in the hands of The Four Faces. It is vital that they find the right answer. I do not even want to think of the possibility that they could come back without the answer.”

“Are we going to lend them any assistance on their journey?” Ox’s father wanted to know. This was a serious and very important question. They discussed it for a long time and decided nobody would accompany The Four Faces.

“So we are in agreement, The Four Faces will not be accompanied by any servants or soldiers. We have enough trustworthy servants throughout the kingdom that can assist them if their lives are in danger. Send messengers to these loyal servants, and inform them that they are only allowed to observe. They may only assist if The Four Faces’ lives are in danger, and there is no other option. The Four Faces will not be told about this arrangement.

“What happens if they come back with the wrong answer?” Lion’s father asked.

The king looked down for a split second, then he looked up, and facing the other three, he answered the question: “Then, my son will not succeed me as king, and your sons will not be his council. We will then have to find a new successor for the throne and a new council. “Abruptly the king stood up, “This meeting is adjourned.  We have a few hours to spend with our sons before they leave. I suggest we use the time well.”

With heavy hearts, the meeting was adjourned, and each father left to say good-bye to his son, and to give last minute advice.

Trembling slightly but with excitement to go on an adventure, The Four Faces packed their bags, and said their good-byes. They would not easily admit it, but their mothers’ embraces were comforting.

Ox’s little sister clung to him as if she would never see him again. He hugged her and whispered in her ear, “Don’t cry, I will be back before you know it. I promise to tell you about all our adventures.” Ox hugged her again, and left before she saw his tears. By the time he reached the gate, his emotions were under control. Ox was not the only one.

“I guess the time has come to be kicked out of the nest,” Eagle joked. His mother knew her son very well. She saw through the charade, she saw the little boy who needed his mother’s comfort and approval. His mother looked at him with sad, tearful eyes, and stroked his beak.

Lion’s mother gave him last minute instructions regarding hunting while she brushed his mane. Lion pretended to be irritated with the attention.

What is going to happen to us? What if we do not find the answer? Will I ever see my family again?” Human could not restrain his emotions any longer. He began crying in his mother’s arms. The disappointment on his father’s face is something he would not easily forget. His mother’s arms comforted him, but he could not stay there forever. It was time to let go, and say goodbye. He took control of his thoughts and his emotions, kissed his mother goodbye and left for the gate.

The Four Faces were glad they could say their goodbyes in the privacy of their homes. It would be very embarrassing if one of them would break down and cry in front of the crowd of people who had gathered at the gate. They were thankful only their fathers would greet them at the city gates. The Four Faces had their emotions under control by the time they reached the city gate. With great bravado they said goodbye to their fathers and waved to the crowd.

It was late afternoon when The Four Faces walked through the gates of the capital city to begin an adventure of discovery. They had mixed emotions, they were sad to leave family and friends behind, and they were also excited to go on an adventure. Deep down they were slightly anxious of the unknown. They had never been alone outside the city gates. They did not know what to expect. Not one of the Four Faces was prepared to admit these emotions, not even to themselves. Instead of dealing with it, they pushed negative thoughts away and put their trust in each other. What could go wrong if we stay together? Lifting their heads, they looked at each other, and excitement took over.

They began walking down the King’s Highway, chatting merrily about the adventures that lay ahead. “This is so exiting; we are on our way to see the world without chaperones. For the first time in our lives we are going to make our own decisions without adults intervening.” Human announced to his three friends.

“I wonder where we are going to find the answer,” Eagle thought out loud.

“Who cares? We have all the time in the world. After all, my father, the king, ordered us not to return without the answer. I don’t know about you three, but I am planning to enjoy myself. I am not in a hurry to return. I will return when I want to,” Human declared.

“We can camp outdoors as often as we like,” Lion commented.

“What do you think we will find on our journey? Perhaps some treasure?”   Ox mumbled out loud. His comment stirred The Four Faces into an unending conversation about treasures.   They were so busy discussing treasures; they did not even notice their surroundings until Eagle, with his keen eyes, brought everyone back to reality. The sun was setting, and they were not close to a town or a roadside inn.

Lion could barely contain his excitement. “It is our first night away from home and we are going to spend the night camping in the open air, away from civilization, noise and people who ask embarrassing questions!”

The Four Faces decided to find a spot to settle down for the night. They were prepared. Their fathers had helped them pack camping gear, and their mothers had filled their backpacks with food and snacks. Eagle flew into the air, had a quick look around, and saw the ideal spot, not too far from the road. They stashed their backpacks against a tree, and went to gather wood while it was still light enough for them to see.

Lion could not stop smiling, he was so happy. Life is so good. We have found the ideal spot to camp. Firewood is everywhere. There are tree stumps, loose branches, and dry sticks on the ground. The weather is absolutely perfect for camping. What more do we want?

The Four Faces gathered more than enough firewood for a campfire. Human was the first one back at the campsite. He dropped his outstretched arms, and the firewood rolled off onto the ground. Lion and Eagle joined him shortly thereafter. While Lion and Eagle made the fire, Human went in search of Ox. He saw Ox between the trees. Let’s see how tough he is. Human hid behind a tree. When Ox walked past the tree, he jumped out from behind the tree.  Ox almost dropped the bucket with water he was carrying. Human burst out laughing. Ox was trying to keep his balance by zigzagging and lifting the bucket of water higher and higher. A few drops had spilled on top of Ox’s head before Ox had everything under control again. He was surprisingly agile.

“Not so tough are you? Where did you get the water?” Human asked Ox.

“There is a little brook not far from here. I could have spilled the water! Lucky for you, I am steady on my feet.”

“Here, let me help you carry the bucket.”

Then Ox saw the humor and he began to giggle. He was roaring with laughter by the time they had returned to the camp. While they waited for the water to boil, Human amused the others by mimicking Ox’s efforts not to spill the water.

The Four Faces had a wonderful time around the campfire. They sang their favorite songs. They made up stories about kingdoms and treasures. After a hearty meal and with warm drinks in their hands, reality crept in.

What was wrong with our answers? Why did our fathers send us away?”

Human stood up yawning. “I am going to bed. Let us make plans tomorrow morning. I am too tired now.” The other three agreed.

The Four Faces woke up refreshed the next morning, early enough to experience the beauty of the dawning day. They had finished their breakfast and were ready to take the next step, but the questions was, where to? Where should they go?

“We are on the King’s Highway. We might as well continue on this road until it stops or leads us back home”, Ox suggested. This was the best suggestion, and it was the only suggestion.

The days that followed were exactly the way they had imagined it. It was wonderful, an adventure that allowed them to see the kingdom; there were so many towns to explore. They had food and shelter in abundance because in every town they were recognized and treated as royalty. They did not need to pay for anything and slept in warm beds every night. When the town life became too boring, The Four Faces would camp outside a town and enjoy the beautiful weather and nature. Life was good, and The Four Faces were not in a hurry.

Days had become weeks. The Four Faces had completely forgotten about the reason for their adventure, until one day …

The Four Faces is Retha Groenewald's debut novel. A Christian fantasy, it explores the journey of four characters known as the Four Faces. The characters are sent out by their king to discover their purpose in life. Their journey takes them to various regions and places, symbolic of the seasons that we might find ourselves in during our lifetime.
A company of wonderfully colourful characters that they meet up with on their travels makes up the cast of this delightful tale. These individuals serve to either help or hinder them on their journey.
Groenewald's writing is simple yet not simplistic, and her narrative style completely easy and natural. Her no-nonsense approach to writing makes this a most enjoyable read.
Gripping from the start right through to the end, The Four Faces is suitable for readers of all ages.
The Four Faces speaks to the heart of the reader. Based on Biblical principles, it may be read and reread at different stages of life, conveying a different message every time. At no point does the outcome of the tale become predictable, thus causing the attention of the reader to be bound through to the final page.
The multifaceted nature of this novel grips and delights the reader as the interweaving of the plot becomes clear.
The Four Faces is a most original and inspired debut novel from Retha Groenewald. She has proved herself to be a skillful storyteller.

About the Author
Retha Groenewald has been passionate about the Bible since childhood. She was a storyteller before she could read or write, two skills which followed soon thereafter. She has degrees in nutrition, business, law, and theology. She is a member of Elim in Durbanville. She lives in Western Cape, in beautiful South Africa. Released in March 2013, The Four Faces is Retha's debut novel.