Below are two chapters of a sixteen-chapter short story I wrote a few years ago about the great Czech king and martyr Weneceslaus (or St. Vaclav as he is also called in the Orthodox Church). His title was actually Duke of Bohemia but he was named “King” posthumously as an honour. The short story is based on true events and people in his life. (Podevin, for example, was believed to be the name of the saint’s faithful page). The famous Christmas carol Good King Weneceslaus tells of a miracle the saint worked on the “feast of Stephen” which we in the Orthodox Church celebrate on December 27. St. Vaclav’s feast day is September 28, and his holy grandmother St. Ludmilla’s feast day is September 16. Enjoy!
“He who gives to the poor will lack nothing” (Proverbs 28:27)
The night was dark, the sky rich with the light of many stars. The white snow lay sparkling as it reflected the glow of the half moon. Every now and again a gusty wind swept the snow up into a spiral, dancing.
“Even the earth rejoices in Your birth, O Lord!” the Duke of Bohemia whispered as he gazed out from a large window of Prague castle.
“Sire, could I offer you a cup of hot wine?” the page asked, interrupting Duke Václav’s thoughts, having entered the room without notice.
“No, thank you, my good page,” the Duke responded, leaning forward and straining to see a moving figure, hindered by the high snow.
“Podevin, that old man there, gathering wood, do you know him?”
“Why yes, Sire. That’s Old Hermit Jiří. He lives not far from here,” the young page responded, now standing by his master’s side at the window.
“Where exactly does he live?”
“Oh I would say a mile or so hence, just at the foot of Blaník mountain, quite close to St. Agnes’s spring, in fact.”
“Well then, why don’t we go pay him a visit, and wish him a happy Christmas?”
“But Sire, it’s awfully cold out tonight. Are you sure you wouldn’t rather have one of your men in arms go in your stead?”
“No, no, my boy, after all, the Lord King our God became incarnate Himself, He didn’t send someone else in His stead, so neither shall I,” the Duke said, patting the page’s back.
“Say, go fetch some wine and bread. It’s best if we bear some gifts with us for the old hermit,” the Duke told the page.
“Oh, and grab a bundle of kindling as well, would you?” he added.
“May it be blessed, Sire,” Podevin said, bowing to his master and exiting the room.
Václav, finding himself alone, walked over to the illumined corner of his bedchamber and stood before a wooden board in front of which burned a small, red glass oil lamp. On the board was painted an image of the Incarnate Lord, gently held in the arms of His mother.
He who holds all creation in His hand, today is born of a virgin. He whose essence none can touch, today is bound in swaddling clothes as a child. He who in the beginning established the heavens, today is laid in a manger.
“I worship Your birth, O Christ, my King!” the Duke finally said aloud. Crossing himself, he bent low, resting his knees on the ground as he lowered his head.
Hearing footsteps echoing through the corridor he quickly stood up, not wanting anyone to see his moment of reverence.
“Here we are Sire, ready for our visit,” the page said, gesturing toward the basket he held, clearly weighed down by generosity.
“Well done, my boy. Let us be off then.”
They walked down the long passageway together, stopping before exiting the large castle in order to dress appropriately for the cold night.
“We should be plenty warm, don’t you think Podevin?” Duke Václav asked cheerfully.
“I should hope so, Sire,” Podevin responded, betraying a look of doubt.
“Well then, may an angel of peace accompany us, directing our way before the Lord,” the Duke proclaimed, and taking the glass lantern from off the wall he set out.
“Amen, so be it,” the young page contributed, a response he had grown accustomed to sharing.
“He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do” (John 14:12)
Bundled up, bearing light and gifts, the two set off into the night. Vácslav walking confidently ahead while the page, about ten years the Duke’s junior, trudged along behind him as quickly as he could.
The walk to St. Agnes’s spring was nothing short of a stroll in fine weather. Why, the page had often gone there with his father as a child. But the snow made the walk much longer, and the cold much less pleasant.
As time passed the page, only a teenager, fell further and further behind. For each step he took in the snow, it seemed he slipped two feet back.
“Come now, Podevin, give over the basket. You shouldn’t have been carrying it to begin with!”
“No, Sire, please, it’s disgraceful and inappropriate for you to carry it,” the page protested.
“Now, now, don’t think that way. Why, how is it that you expect me, a ruler, to treat the ruled as less important than myself? And especially on this the very day we celebrate the divine condescension of the King of all!
“He who is worshiped by angels, saw fit to be born in a cave alongside dumb beasts. No, I don’t think myself worthier than any other. I’m just His lowly servant, ruling on earth, but desiring only to be ruled by Him,” the Duke finished, taking the basket from his page.
“I’m sorry, Sire, it’s only that the wind blows hard against us and I find the snow too high to walk through at such a brisk pace.”
“Of course, I understand. Why don’t you step in my imprints instead, I think you’ll find it easier to continue that way,” Václav suggested.
To Podevin’s surprise, not only was walking made easier by stepping in the Duke’s footprints, but indescribable warmth emitted from each one.
How can this be? the page thought. How can the snow, imprinted by the Duke’s stride, give off warmth?
But knowing his master well he abstained from asking such burning questions. He knew from experience it always made the Duke uncomfortable when someone pointed out the benefits and comforts that came of his words, his ways, his very gaze.
“Where to?” Václav asked, gesturing toward the wall of forest they had come upon. “Can you remember where the old father’s hut is from here?”
“Yes, Master, it’s there, through the trees and to our right. We’re not at all far now.”
They continued trekking along through the snow, now significantly more high – though noticeably contributing to the Duke’s joy.
“How I love this blessed white!” he exclaimed.
“There, Sire, draw your light over here. I believe that is Old Hermit Jiří’s hut.”
“So it must be,” the Duke said.
And drawing closer the two were both surprised to see the door to the hut open before they were even a stone’s throw away from it.
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” the old man called out, opening wide the door of his small hut. His thick grey beard and scruffy hair were illuminated by the light coming from behind him.
“Greetings, my good man,” the Duke said in his deep and cheerful voice. “Christ is born!” he called out, still in the thick of the forest.
“Glorify Him!” the old man responded, smiling and bowing low to greet the ruler of his homeland.
“You were expecting us?” the page asked, surprised by the way the hermit conducted himself, as if he had invited them and was anticipating their arrival for some time now.
“All who arrive are invited, and not even one passes by who is not,” the old hermit answered, his eyes sparkling the reflection of light from Václav’s lantern.
“Come in, come in! May my humble abode be as comforting to you as your majestic castle,” the hermit said, guiding them further into the one room that appeared to make up the entire hut.