The Story of ValentinebyRedHairedandFriendly©
Author's Note: This story is based on one of the legends of Valentine's Day. It focuses on St. Valentine, a Catholic Bishop who was later granted Sainthood. It isn't meant to sway you toward any religious beliefs; it is simply a fact-based story about how this holiday may have come about, including the jailer and the answered miracle he requested of the story's hero. Special thanks to MagicaPractica, Tseranc, and SEVERUSMAX. ~ Red.
Nicholas watched the young soldier lift the tiny woman into the air and he too laughed with her as she was spun in a circle. The young man's hands kept a firm grip on her tiny waist and he felt his heart swell with happiness that he had helped in making their dreams come true.
"How many is that now?" his friend and student, Matthew, asked as he too watched the couple walk back into the forest.
"Fifteen," Nicholas answered quietly and then turned to walk back into the small barn that served as his home. Matthew followed him and soon the two were sitting across from each other and enjoying a bowl of stew and hard bread. "There will be more tomorrow, and the day after."
"And the day after that. I fear that news of your acts will soon reach the Emperor's ear and then all will be lost." Matthew took a spoonful of his meal and marveled at the talents of his mentor and Bishop. They had so little and yet every evening Nicholas Valentine provided a meal that tasted rich and full of zeal. He would have made a great cook if their Lord had not called him to serve in His house instead.
"Not all will be lost. I have married many that would otherwise not find a path to Heaven, but instead one that led them down a road of sin. But you are right, many more will come and the Emperor will eventually hear of my defiance to his law. Therefore, I must ask you to leave me." Nicholas watched Matthew's eyes widen and he knew the young Priest was about to protest. He quickly lifted his hand to stop his words from pouring out.
"Brother Matthew, your work on this Earth is just beginning. There are many that will benefit from your knowledge and your love for the Lord. I am an old man. Age fills my joints and yet the Lord wants me to remain here. I feel it. I have spent hours praying for guidance and I know that you are to leave me. I am to continue on my own. The end is near for this old man, but for you... there is a whole life ahead. If you stay here, you cheat the Church and yourself. In the east there is talk of several followers without a leader. Go and guide them toward the Promised Land."
Matthew wanted to protest, but he knew it was pointless. Nicholas Valentine was a respected Bishop, one that was admired even by the more noteworthy pagans. If he "heard" the Lord speak to him, then Matthew had no choice but to listen. He knew that in the morning he would leave the man he'd come to love with the affection a man has for a blood-brother, not just a love for a fellow Believer. He would miss Nicholas, but he would go forth and spread the word of God as was his duty.
That evening, as Matthew slept, Nicholas sat outside and stared up at the stars. He remembered the day he was asked to go against Emperor Claudius II's new law. The soldier had come to him, with a girl who had just agreed to marry him, but they both knew that under the new law that their joining in matrimony would be illegal. So they came to the Church and asked to be married in the eyes of the Christian God, since they could no longer be married in the eyes of their gods. Nicholas at first turned them away and then felt the weight of the Lord's will on his shoulders. He knew that if the young couple became intimate outside of wedlock he was condemning them to Hell. He asked them to wait and then he spent an hour in prayer before finally accepting his newest role in life.
Three days passed and two more couples came to his church. He didn't hesitate to marry the young soldiers to their sweethearts. He only asked that they no longer send their friends to the church for he feared for the safety of his congregation. They agreed and took him to an abandoned barn where he began to perform secret ceremonies every few days. Over the coming weeks he learned he was called "The Friend of Lovers." His followers sometimes called him "foolish and sentimental." But, for Nicholas, he was simply doing his Lord's will, nothing more, nothing less.
He saw the logic of Claudius's law from a military standpoint. A military man he was not but he was a logical scholar. Claudius felt that young soldiers who were married made poor soldiers. He wanted their minds focused on the battle, not the wife or the children they'd been forced to leave behind. Nicholas, however, knew he could not knowingly turn anyone away from the laws of God. After the moon shifted to a lower position in the sky, he knew it was time to retire for he wanted to send Matthew off with a warm breakfast and a strong prayer.
Nicholas married a dozen more couples over a course of seven days. He missed his friend's face and his humorous antics, but he had heard from a passing merchant that Matthew was leading many to Christ. Nicholas was thrilled by the news and often found himself lost in prayer, thanking God for his protection. It was during one of those prayers that sound interrupted his devotions and he jumped up from the thick moss he'd been resting on. He felt a vise wrap around his heart as he took in the Emperor's most elite guards, all of them poised and ready to let loose either their arrows, or their swords.
"Bishop Nicholas Valentine, you are under arrest for crimes against the Emperor of Rome, Claudius II. You are hereby ordered to come with us, or perish where you stand."
Nicholas said nothing, he merely picked up his worn Bible and began to walk toward the warrior that had spoken. He was pointed toward the back of the group and noticed a gray mule, speckled with white dots. It was being held by another soldier, this one smaller than the others and dressed less garishly as well. He walked over to the man and the animal, climbed on and then was surrounded by a number of burly men. If he had thought back on the situation, he would have laughed over the audacity that surrounded him. Claudius had sent his top warriors, armed to the gills and he was a simple Priest, bent on spreading the word of the Lord. Yet, to see him surrounded by so many men, it was as if he were a diabolical and seasoned warrior, not a man of the cloth.
They arrived a few hours later inside the walls of the great city. Nicholas had been there several times before and, like always, he was saddened by the pagan ways. He said a quiet prayer and then felt a new quest fill him. He closed his eyes and listened to the voice that spoke to him. It told him that this was a new church, an untouched one and it was his job to reach out to those in need. Nicholas felt a flame flicker to life and it spread throughout his system. He nodded his head, agreeing once again to be his Lord's messenger.
When they reached the city prison, Nicholas willingly dismounted and, without anger or resistance, walked into the cell that had been cleared out for him. He was shocked that he was given such a spacious room, having visited prisons before he knew that there were other cells, more archaic ones that were built into the ground and the prisoners were lowered into them with ropes. To say he wasn't thankful would have been an understatement. He was thrilled to be given a room that was normally held for Kings or Princes that were waiting to be traded or sold.
He was left there for two days. Food and water were brought to him each afternoon. On the third day Claudius himself, came to see him. They shared much as far as their beliefs and convictions. Nicholas tried to convert the Emperor to his way of thinking about the marriages and vice versa. Over time though, the meetings between them ended and Nicholas was left to entertain himself.
He became good friends with Asterius, his jailer and their friendship helped to heal his loneliness. One day, Asterius came to Nicholas and with him was his daughter Julia. He held her hand and led her to a chair that rested against the north wall of Nicholas's prison home. Nicholas had never seen Julia. He had heard of her. How could he not? Asterius spoke very highly of her. She was beyond marrying age, having celebrated her nineteenth year. Asterius however had known since she was a little girl that she would never marry, for she was not perfect. She was flawed.
Nicholas saw only her beauty and was stunned when Asterius physically shook his shoulder. He shook his head and blushed, then apologized to his friend.
"I am sorry, Asterius. I am just overwhelmed by the honor of meeting your daughter." His gaze moved back to the young woman who toyed with the folds of her toga.
"For what do I owe this pleasure?" he asked, pulling his gaze back to his friend.
"You speak often of your God and his son Jesus. You speak of miracles that he performed as well as his prophets. Are these true?" Asterius asked, his eyes pleading for confirmation.
Nicholas glanced at Julia, he knew her imperfection plagued her father. Suddenly, he knew what his friend wanted. "It is true Asterius, but it was through faith and the will of God that the miracles happened. Without those things . . . "
Asterius fell to his knees. "I believe that through your faith, you can heal my Julia. She suffers and . . ."
Nicholas looked to the woman who had finally spoken up. He watched her stand and slowly as well as cautiously walk toward where they spoke. He saw her reach out with one hand, searching for anything that would block her path. When she reached their side, her father stood and took her fingers, squeezing them. Nicholas gazed at her thick black hair, her full figure and her plump lips. His gaze locked with the white-clouded orbs that were her eyes.
"He said faith and the will of God . . . His God; not ours." Julia turned to where she thought the Bishop was and spoke softly. "Bishop Valentine, I do not believe in your God, therefore there is no need for my father to discuss his ridiculous ideas with you any longer."
"Nicholas is a devoted follower of Christ. He could do this. I know it. I have faith in him." Asterius voice was full of conviction, surprising not only himself but also Nicholas and Julia.
"What are you saying?" Julia hissed, her voice low and full of anger. "You cannot believe in his foolishness."
"It is not foolishness, child." Nicholas reached out and touched her hair. He dropped his hand when she jerked away. "Asterius, what is it you are saying?" He kept his gaze on Julia's face and though she could not see him, he knew she could feel the heat of his stare.
Asterius shifted nervously on his leathered feet. He had spent weeks listening to Valentine pray and during that time he had come to respect the Christian more than any of the most renowned scholars. Nicholas remained strong and confident even though he was treated with disdain by so many. His faith never wavered. "I am sorry Julia, for I believe I have led you down a sin-filled path." He turned to Nicholas and said with a voice full of commitment. "I would like to learn more about my Savior."
Julia gasped and stepped away. One of her hands came to her throat as if it were able to hold back the words of outrage that threatened to bubble up from deep within her. She stumbled and Nicholas reached out to grab her before she fell to the hard floor. She slapped his hands away and hurried as best she could from the room, using the wall as her guide. The door closed behind her and Nicholas heard her ask for assistance. "Will she be safe?" he asked Asterius.
"Yes. She knows the path from here to our home. It is ingrained in her memory. I have been the jailer here since before she was born. After her mother passed, I took her with me every day to this place. It wasn't a proper place to raise a child, but there was no one willing to keep her in their home. She was an outcast. Many claimed the gods were not pleased with my marrying beneath me and so they took my sweet Julia's mother and then cursed the babe with no eyes. She has eyes though, they simply are not able to see like you and I can. She sees with her soul."
Nicholas smiled and told his friend that he could see that she was indeed a special girl and a beautiful one too. Asterius chuckled, but agreed. They sat together and Nicholas began to teach Asterius about the Christian faith.
Nicholas stretched the worn muscles in his back. His night had been plagued with dreams of an unholy nature. They had been since Julia had walked into his prison cell and he got a good look at the daughter his jailer loved so very much. Every day that Asterius visited him, he asked about Julia. Every evening he battled desires of the flesh, something he'd conquered years ago as a youth. Often he became lost in daydreams about Julia and her visage when Asterius spoke of her and how she was asking him more in depth questions concerning God and his son Jesus. Many times he knew he simply nodded his agreement with Asterius's take on a passage or Psalm, because his heart was on capturing the scent of Julia, which was often on Asterius because of the goodbye hugs she gave her father.
One morning, Asterius came to Nicholas. Julia was once again by his side. On this particular morning, she didn't sit in the corner, but instead held out her hand to Nicholas. He took it and held it gently, before leading her to the small table that served as his desk.
"It is a pleasure to see you again," Nicholas told her and watched as she turned her head toward his voice and smiled back at him.
She then turned back to where she thought her father was. "Father, could I speak with Bishop Valentine alone?"
Asterius agreed and quickly kissed his daughter's cheek. His whispered, "I'm so proud of you" brought a glow to Julia's cheeks that Nicholas couldn't help but admire. When the door to his cell closed Nicholas found his palms sweating and wiped them on the breeches he wore.
"What is it, Julia?" he asked as he held his hands clasped across his lap. He watched her pull her lower lip into her mouth and gnaw gently on the soft pink petal.
"My father is a changed man. He seems more jovial and I know it is because of you that this has happened. He speaks highly of your teachings and has shared with me some of the stories that you have told him. Also . . . " she paused and reached out as if she were searching for something to hold.
Nicholas took her hand in his and told himself the spark that flickered across his skin was because he could sense her desire to come to the Lord and it was not his growing attraction to her. "What Julia? Tell me what you want from me."
She squeezed his fingers back and turned her head toward where their clasped hands lied. "I want to learn. Father is not the sad man I grew up with. He speaks of meeting mother again and she will be perfect and he says that if I believe then I too can become perfect."
"Julia, you already are, but I know what you mean. You mean your eyesight, don't you?"
"Yes, Bishop Val..."
"No, please, call me Nicholas. Your father is my friend and I hope in time you will be mine as well." Nicholas let go of her hand and then rose up from the chair where he'd been sitting. "I only have this one book," he said as he walked to the table by his bed. He took the Holy Bible from its resting place and brought it back to where Julia sat. "I have often wondered why the Emperor has allowed me this, but until he takes it from me, it is my most cherished possession."
He took her hand and laid it on the worn book. "It is soft," she whispered, "and warm. Would you read it to me?" she asked.
Nicholas's lips rose up in a wide grin and he wished Julia could see how happy her request had made him. He sat down on the floor next to her feet and began to read to her. Hours passed before Asterius returned and together; Nicholas and Asterius prayed with Julia as she accepted God into her life.
A few more days passed and those were filled with Nicholas teaching Julia more about the Lord's book. Asterius saw a difference in his daughter, one that he knew was brought on by not only the time she was allowed to spend with Nicholas, but the new beliefs she held dear to her heart. One afternoon he came to Nicholas after taking Julia home.
"My friend, it has been many weeks since you came to us and you have touched my life and the life of my daughter. She loves the Word of God, but I also fear she is falling in love with you too. This worries me, because . . . "
Nicholas sighed and finished his friend's words, "I am sentenced to death. I too have fallen in love with your daughter and I know it is wrong of me. I am a dead man. It is just a matter of time."
"Nicholas, I want so many things for Julia. I know she wants you, but she feels incomplete still. Deep inside she knows God loves her no matter what, but she still feels imperfect. My friend, we have faith . . . would you pray for my Julia and heal her."
Nicholas started to speak, but was stopped by a sound at his prison door. He turned and saw a guard opening it and letting Julia in. "She claims that you wanted her?" the guard said, staring long and hard at Asterius and Nicholas.
"Yes, come in and then leave us," Asterius said, walking over and taking his daughter's arm. The guard's brows furrowed, but he said nothing else as he shut and locked the door behind him.
"Julia, why are you here?" Asterius asked.
"I felt you needed me," she answered and then turned to gaze about the room, not seeing anything, but knowing Nicholas was to her left.
"Hello Nicholas," she whispered and both men watched her cheeks grow slightly pink.
"Julia," Nicholas answered and took her hand in his. He raised it to his lips, and kissed the top, then continued to hold it as he stepped closer to her. "Your father has asked me to heal you. Through my faith in our Father I wish to try," he told her and then felt her fingers grow cold as they clenched tightly to his.
"I know if it is God's will then it will be," she whispered.
Nicholas continued to hold her hand, while his other hand moved to her head. As he prayed, he felt the Spirit of the Lord wash over him. He sensed a stronger power moving through his soul; he knew even before he finished his prayer that Julia's eyesight would be restored. He swept his fingers slowly down her face, and then slipped them behind her head. Nicholas leaned down and kissed first her right eye, which she'd closed when he began the prayer, and then he pressed a kiss against the left lid.
"Amen," he whispered against her temple and then pulled away, still holding her fingers.
He watched her face, her eyes still closed, her lips slightly parted as she breathed steadily the cool air around them. Nicholas glanced at her father, his friend. He shrugged his shoulders at Asterius's questioning gaze. When he looked back at Julia, her lids were open and a clamp locked tight around his chest. He gazed at the clearest set of brown eyes that he'd ever seen. His hands reached out as if they were another's hands and he ran his fingers over her eyes, which instinctively closed, then opened again.
"Thank you Jesus," he whispered and then smiled wider than he ever had before.
Julia's lips trembled as she stared at the man through which Faith had healed her. She swallowed the lump in her throat and then turned to gaze at her father. A cry of joy escaped them both and Julia wrapped her arms around Asterius. Her tears fell like rain, soaking his tunic and covering her round cheeks and soft lips. She knew she'd been giving a gift unlike anything she'd been given before and it was because of Nicholas's imprisonment that she was now a complete woman. She turned back to him and, without thought as to the right or wrong of the situation, launched herself into his arms.