THE GREAT PRIZE
By Forrest Wayne Schultz
My Great Uncle Albert's Last Words
My Great Uncle Albert was one of the finest human beings I have ever known. The best treats my parents ever gave me as a boy were our visits to Uncle Albert. Perhaps the reason he was so beloved by children is that in many ways he was like a child himself. And the enjoyment of being with him was in no way diminished when I became a young man and visited him on my own. In fact, the pleasure was even greater and more sophisticated because he was a very profound person and my conversations with him were immensely important to me in finding out what life is all about. He was especially helpful in teaching me the great legacy bequeathed to my generation by our ancestors and our consequent privilege and responsibility to carry it forth into the future.
The last time I spoke with him he hinted that "strange doings" have happened in our family's history and that I would play a key role in fulfilling our family's destiny and that there would be opposition to overcome. All three of these hints turned out to be true, as I found out soon after receiving the sad news of Uncle Albert's death from his attorney. The attorney informed me that Albert had made me his sole heir, and that the FBI had just uncovered a plot against me by a cabal of very bad and very intelligent men who had the abilities -- both high tech and arcane -- to engage in "strange doings".
Two teams of FBI agents arrived at my house immediately after the phone call from the attorney. One team, using the latest electronic gadgetry, checked out me, my phone, my computer, my car, and the rest of my property to insure that no "bugs" or other nefarious devices had been planted by the enemy. None were found nor was there any evidence that that anyone had been on my property or otherwise attempting to invade my privacy. The other FBI team escorted me to the attorney's house for the reading of the will, after having made the kind of careful preparations used by the Secret Service to protect the President on his trips. Both teams were very professional, took the threat against me very seriously, and were determined to catch the cabal. This was the first time they had information on what the cabal planned to do. In the past they always arrived on the scene after the crime had been committed and the incriminating evidence removed.
In the meantime two other FBI teams were at work -- one at Uncle Albert's place and the other at the attorney's, doing the same thing they had just done at my place. By the time I arrived at the attorney's house, these two teams had completed their check for bugs and buggers and had found none at either place, after which they placed both houses under surveillance.
The attorney -- appropriately named J. P. Lovelaw -- has been the family lawyer throughout his career, following in the footsteps of his predecessor ancestors who have provided legal services to our family every since the Lovelaw firm was established in the early 19th century. Mr. Lovelaw, also following in his ancestors' footsteps, has his law offices in several rooms of the ornate ancestral mansion which was built at the same time the law firm started.
Uncle Albert's will was very simple and the reading of it took only a few minutes. The transfer of his assets to me was extremely easy because, unbeknownst to me, Uncle Albert five years ago made me a co-owner of all his assets so that they automatically became mine (as sole owner) upon Albert's death without all the legal baloney usually involved in wills. Strictly speaking, what the attorney read to me was not actually a will -- it was merely a legal and financial document which merely informed me of what was already the case. Mr. Lovelaw already knew all this, of course, because he was the one who set up the co-ownership arrangement for Uncle Albert.
Having completed his explanation of this arrangement, Mr. Lovelaw went to his safe and extracted a large sealed envelope which he handed to me, informing me that Albert had instructed him to do so at this time, and that I was to open this envelope immediately in a room with no one else present. To fulfill this stipulation Mr. Lovelaw escorted me into what had been the mansion's "drawing room" and locked the door and left me alone with the envelope. The room, though exquisitely furnished, was a bit chilly, except near the fireplace in which a fire had recently been kindled. So, I seated myself in a chair near the fireplace and proceeded to open the envelope and by this time I had become very nervous.
The envelope contained only one object: a beautiful fragrant rectangular stiff thick one-page manuscript in the midst of which was emplaced a gorgeous golden ring. The manuscript contained these words written with flawless penmanship: "Put the Ring on your finger now and never take it off. Do Not Let Them Take THE GREAT PRIZE. Destroy this manuscript in the fire and never divulge to anyone its contents."
By now I was so nervous I could barely bring myself to remove the Ring and place it on my finger. As I did so, the Ring became invisible although I could feel it there and sense its presence, which served to calm me down, almost as though it were a person talking to me and assuring me that all would be well. I then began wondering what THE GREAT PRIZE was and how in the world I could prevent it from being stolen if I did not even know what it was or where it was. But I quickly overcame my curiosity and puzzlement and proceeded to follow Albert's penultimate instruction: I cast the manuscript into the fire. I then pledged to Albert that I would obey his ultimate (non-divulgence) command and that I would strive to obey his antepenultimate command although I did not know how I could do so until I discovered the identity of The Great Prize. And I promised to follow his second instruction never to take the Ring off my finger. As soon as I had finished making these promises, the fire finished burning the manuscript, leaving a pleasant cedar aroma in the room. Apparently the manuscript had been composed of paper which came from pulp made of cedar wood.
The Ring Defeats The Cabal
And then -- with no forewarning -- POW !!!! The Ring granted me a vision of the cabal members at their secret mountain headquarters (about 100 miles away) preparing to depart on their mission against me. The cabal was composed of 13 members -- 12 "warriors" under the supreme command of a "teacher-ruler" called Navimalek, a Semitic word meaning "prophet-king". Before he sent forth his warriors the Navimalek demanded that the warriors obtain the MP at all costs. He uttered these initials "MP" with great awe because, as I learned later, they were rarely spoken by the cabal, and the name which they abbreviated was never spoken aloud --Magnum Pretium, which is Latin for The Great Prize! I had once seen the term Magnum Pretium when I was a teenager reading a very old and rare document, which I should not have been permitted to read -- it had somehow gotten misplaced. Since I knew Latin, I knew this meant "The Great Prize" but there was absolutely nothing in this document which explained what it was or even hinted at what it was. Well, now I still did not know what it was but I did know that whatever it was, the cabal was intent on obtaining it.
In the remainder of his speech to his followers, the Navimalek no longer used the initials "MP" but rather, implying them, he referred to the MP as "It". He reminded his warriors that their mission was to accomplish these things: Apprehend me, find out from me where It was, kill me, bring It back to headquarters. He concluded his harangue with these words: "Go forth, O Warriors, and accomplish your mission!!". They then raised their fists into the air and yelled: "We will accomplish our mission, O Navimalek!". As this exchange was occurring, the Ring allowed me to see into the hearts of the cabal members and what I saw was so hideous as to defy description.
The Navimalek then went back inside the building and the 12 warriors got into their specially equipped vans and began slowly descending the mountain on the narrow road winding around the side of the mountain. There were three vans, four warriors per van. As each van departed it reported this departure by radio to the Navimalek as he sat at his computer station where he was monitoring and directing the mission. One computer screen displayed the paths taken by the vans: one heading to my house, another heading to Albert's house, and the third heading to the attorney's house. After each van had traveled for one mile, the unit leader of each van reported in and switched over from short range to long range radio.
As soon as the vans had traveled past this one mile point and switched over to long range radio, the Ring suddenly sent forth power and slew each warrior and "fried" the electronics in each van. Soon the three vans careened off the road and fell straight down past the cliff into the deep river below in which they were rapidly entombed. When the Navimalek saw, with great astonishment, the tracking dots disappear from the computer screen, he tried in vain to establish radio contact with the vans. Becoming enraged, he suddenly -- don't ask me how! -- levitated himself and began flying through the air like Superman above the road searching for his warriors. The Ring sent forth power again and destroyed him and his "magic" (if that's what it was) and he fell down the cliff and joined his warriors in their watery grave.
Yesterday the FBI's top computer expert hacked into the cabal's computer, which is how the FBI learned they were heading for the three houses. His hacking also enabled him to follow the conversations on the short range radio, but, alas, it was not sufficient to enable him to get into the long range radio system nor into the system recording the Navimalek's speech. So, the hacker knew nothing about the MP nor did he know the fate of the cabal members. But he did know the departure time and the descriptions and license tags of the three vans and that each van contained four warriors. So, this was the only info communicated to the three FBI teams surveilling the three target houses.
The hacker had also learned the exact location of the mountain and the cabal HQ. The FBI sent in a special forces type team to raid it while the warriors were gone and were surprised to find the Navimalek gone and no opposition to their entry. They brought back all kinds of documents, both paper and electronic, but almost nothing was of any help in solving the mystery of what the mission actually was. In all the stuff there was only one mention of the MP but nothing indicating what it was or even what the initials stood for!!
What Is THE GREAT PRIZE ???
As soon as the Ring's exploits and visions ended, I used the Ring's calming power to regain my equanimity and left the drawing room to rejoin Mr. Lovelaw to thank him for his services and bid him goodbye. My FBI escort team transported me to take possession of Uncle Albert's house. Shortly after my arrival there, the telephone rang. The caller was the leader of the family's Council of Elders, my Great Uncle Eugene. I like and greatly respect Eugene but I do not know him nearly as well as I do Albert. In accordance with Albert's instructions, after I left his office, Mr. Lovelaw called Eugene to inform him that I was Albert's heir. He also told him about the cabal and the recent FBI activities. This was the reason for Eugene's telephone call to me.
When he requested to see me right away for a very important discussion, I suggested that he come to Albert's house escorted by an FBI team. When I told the FBI escort leader of this request, he readily agreed and quickly made the arrangements with Eugene. They brought him here in a matter of minutes because he lives a very short distance away.
After greeting me, Eugene got right to the point. "How are you going to protect The Great Prize?", he asked? I responded with my own query: "What IS The Great Prize???". For some time now Eugene has been regarded as the leading scholar in our family -- in fact he is one of the best scholars our family has ever produced as well as one its deepest thinkers. If anyone would know the answer to this question, it would be Eugene!
But Eugene was embarrassed to have to admit that even he did not know the answer, in spite of the many years of thought and study he had devoted to the subject. And, it turns out that there is only one primary source document which deals with The Great Prize, although this is a good one because it is a verbatim transcript of a prophetic message delivered to the first meeting of the Council of Elders, which assembled the day after our ancestors arrived in the New World in 1706 in a specially chartered ship. The prophet was a friend of the family who sailed with them already believing that they had a special destiny. But he did not receive the message from God until after they landed -- that evening, in fact.
This verbatim transcript of the message to the Council of Elders was recorded by the Council's Secretary. Not only did he sign it and not only is it signed by the other Council members, but the prophet himself also signed it, thus attesting to its authenticity.
Although the meetings of the Council are now conducted in English, that first American meeting and all subsequent meetings for the next 200 years were conducted in High German. But the message itself was delivered in Latin. At that time in history Latin was a very prestigious language and thus the language of choice for important utterances and writings.
The Great Prize (Magnum Pretium) is mentioned twice in the prophecy -- at the beginning and at the end. The prophecy opens with these words:
Thus sayeth the Lord to the family: Because you have obeyed My Word,
I bestow upon you The Great Prize.
Then follows a series of exhortations taken from Scripture, such as walking in the Light, loving one another, and pressing on. The concluding verse consists of these words:
Love God and Do Right
And Guard The Great Prize.
Eugene informed me that the original document was first placed into a specially crafted case with a glass front, then three copies were made and given to a special commission of three Council members called "Guardians of The Great Prize". The original was placed into the Council safe and each Guardian placed his own copy into his own safe.
Beginning with this first Council meeting the question has repeatedly been asked ,"What is The Great Prize?". No one has ever been able to answer it despite all the pondering upon it down through our family's history by its greatest minds. And the reactions of the Guardians -- the first three of them and all of their successors -- has been the same: "How can I guard The Great Prize if I do not know what it is?".
Regarding that question Eugene informed me that the unanimous decision of that first Council of Elders was that because of its revelation by divine prophecy The Great Prize must be very important even if we do not at present know what it is. Therefore the Guardians were given a threefold task: (1). to remind the Council of the importance of The Great Prize, (2). to endeavor to identify The Great Prize, and (3) to be prepared to guard The Great Prize once its identity has been ascertained.
Eugene expressed his great surprise and concern that I was designated as Albert's sole heir, because this meant that I also have inherited his Guardianship. Albert was one of the three current Guardians, the other two being Eugene and Lloyd. Eugene told me that each Guardian designates the man who will succeed him. Now there was nothing illegal in what Albert had done but it was very unconventional because I am only 26 years of age. Our family, by convention, is patriarchal and old-fashioned in many other ways as well. For instance, in our family you are not really considered to be a man in the full sense of the word until you are thirty. And you are not considered to be really an elder unless you are at least fifty.
On the other hand, Eugene said, the Council has always regarded Albert as the wisest and godliest among them. For this reason he hoped that the other Council members would be willing to accept me as one of them despite my youth. If not this would present a real problem because by convention a Guardian has always been regarded as ipso
facto a member of the Council. In fact, the Guardians have always been the most highly regarded Council members because of their purpose. To get to the point, he told me he would now call a meeting of the Council to discuss this matter of my becoming accepted as an Elder at such a young age.
Eugene felt very strongly that in light of the great importance of this matter especially in light of the threat from the cabal, that this special Council meeting should be held immediately. This would not be difficult to arrange because at this very moment the other Council members were at Eugene's house where they had been assembled to pray for Albert when they learned of Albert's stroke and hospitalization from his attorney early this morning. After receiving word of Albert's death and the cabal threat, the men then began praying about that. Since the FBI had just been to Eugene's house to bring him here, they already had the route, etc. already planned so it would be easy for them to return to bring the remaining five elders here. They also figured they had plenty of time because the projected arrival of the cabal's van was still over an hour away. They proceeded at once to Eugene's house and there were no complications and soon the remaining five elders were brought here and joined with Eugene in the special Council meeting he had called.
The Council of Elders Meets In Emergency Session
Eugene quickly called to order the emergency session of the Council of Elders and got right to the issue of what he called "the crisis confronting us". The other five had been discussing the matter of my Guardianship/Eldership on their ride over here so they were primed to go. After a brief and poignant lament over the loss of Albert, the Council proceeded to tackle the issue at hand and they quickly agreed to honor Albert's wisdom in selecting me as his sole heir and Guardian successor. Eugene then called me in to join the meeting where the first item was their welcoming me to the privileges and duties of Eldership.
After this brief but hearty welcome, Eugene got right to the point and asked me very bluntly, "Did Albert leave you instructions?". My reply was likewise forthright: "Yes, but he also forbade me to divulge them to anyone!". Another shocker!
Eugene moved quickly on, before anyone had time to recover from that, to the matter of the cabal and the FBI. It was unanimously agreed that we would thank the FBI for what they are doing and that we would continue to co-operate with them. After this motion passed I was sent out to bring in the FBI unit leader for Albert's house to the Council room for a powwow.
This man, unlike some FBI agents, did not act like he was the only one allowed to ask questions. He listened to our questions and he also played for us the conversations between the van leaders and the Navimalek on the short range radio and he showed us the photographs of the vans. He also admitted that the FBI had lost contact with the vans and did not know where the Navimalek was. He also said he would welcome any info the Elders had which might be of help to the FBI and -- get this -- he even asked for the Elders to pray about the matter!
WOW. We were stunned! If only all FBI agents were like him!! After the agent left, we had a season of prayer. But there was little we could tell the agent because the Council rules forbid the mentioning of the MP to any non-Council member and Albert's manuscript forbade me from mentioning its contents to anyone at all. We did tell the FBI that we "sensed" opposition, such as the cabal, against us and we quoted Scriptures dealing with spiritual warfare and Satanic opposition.
The Geschichtehaus and The Ausschiffungmalen
The emergency session of the Council of Elders was about to conclude when a call was received from Mr. Lovelaw concerning the Geschichtehaus (History House) and the Ausschiffungmalen (Disembarkation Painting). A large parcel of land belonging to Uncle Albert's grandfather Abraham had been leased out in 1906 for a hundred years. This lease was to lapse (without renewal) tomorrow at twelve noon, meaning that the occupancy of it would revert to his estate (meaning me) at that time. Albert in his "will" mentioned this and instructed Mr. Lovelaw to notify me and the Elders on the preceding afternoon, meaning now, of this, and of Albert's instructions that I be given the key to enter the special house located on this property precisely at 12 Noon.
This building was called the Geschichtehaus (History House) because prior to the inception of the lease in 1906 the north half of it was devoted to a library containing historical documents and memorabilia; the south half was a family dwelling place. The house had the quality, size, and grandeur befitting a mansion and the thick walls were constructed of marble and granite, but it was only one story high. It was large in length and width but not in height. It was built by a wealthy ancestor in the year of the immigration (1706).
This Geschichtehaus contained an exquisite art work -- the Ausshiffungmalen (The Disembarkation Painting), which was completed in 1806 to celebrate the centennial anniversary of our ancestors' safe arrival in Pennsylvania, which they called Freiheitland (The Land of Freedom). The Appendix contains information about this painting and the artist, which is too lengthy to include here. The only point relevant here is that because of the later fame of the artist, that the painting had become very valuable by the early 20th century -- in fact even more valuable than the house in which it hung and the land on which the house was located.
My great-great-grandfather Abraham owned the house, property, and painting in 1906 when the lease began. He needed a lot of money at the same time a very wealthy man wanted to live in the house. Unwilling to allow the ownership of the house pass out of the hands of the family, he established the lease arrangement whereby the wealthy man could move in without owning it, and Abraham moved himself and his family and the library and the painting into the house which later became Albert's.
Abraham had only one son, Isaac (born that same year 1906) who thus inherited everything from Abraham. Isaac had three sons: Sam (the oldest) who inherited the painting; Albert (the next oldest) inherited the house and the library; and Henry (the youngest) who inherited his money. Henry begat John who begat me. Albert was childless. Sam's eldest son, Nathan inherited the painting, who then bequeathed it to his daughter Rebekah.
Rebekah is the most brilliant person our family has ever produced. She graduated from a prestigious advanced private high school at the age of 12, then from Harvard (with a double major in history and in art interpretation) at the age of 14, whence she entered a doctoral program (in German history) at a prestigious German university (the youngest ever to do so). Then she slowed down, this time attending all lectures and doing a prodigious amount of research on her doctoral dissertation, which placed our family's history within the context of German history. She completed this dissertation at the age of 21 under a professor who was noted as the toughest thesis advisor ever at that university (and maybe in all of Germany). She then wrote up her dissertation as a scholarly book which became one of the best selling works of scholarship ever published in Germany and she embarked on a lecture tour for the next five years which took her not only all across Germany but to other European countries as well and finally into the USA.
Like me, Rebekah loved Uncle Albert and spent a lot of time with him soaking up his wisdom. He, of course, was also her Great Uncle as well as mine. In fact it was at Uncle Albert's house that I first met her and we became good friends and enjoyed talking about the same things although she was ahead of me intellectually. By the time she left for college at age 12 she had read all of the historical documents in Uncle Albert's house, i.e. the History House Library documents. And with her great knowledge of our family's history she is well aware of the important event to take place tomorrow at 12 Noon when the History House and its land will once more be occupied by our family as the lease expires.
Rebekah was readying herself to go to the airport to fly home when she received word of Uncle Albert's death. As soon as she arrived home (i.e. at what had been her father Nathan's house) she made arrangements for transporting the Disembarkation Painting and her research materials to Albert's house, where they would stay overnight and from whence they would be transported along with the library materials which Albert had packed to be taken to the History House tomorrow at Noon.
The Painting is by now worth several million dollars. Long ago Nathan and then Rebekah had it insured and also placed into a special container to protect it both from theft and also damage from air. Rebekah has made arrangements with her insurance company both to transport the painting here and then to the History House. The company is providing a special truck, like a Brinks armored truck, and special guards and drivers for this purpose. One of our relatives, who is the second in command in the Sheriff's department, has also arranged for a special sheriff's escort for both trips. This is helpful because the FBI will not have to worry about that. Their agent has left the Council meeting and is now preparing in high gear for the cabal van to arrive. I wish I could tell them something but I gave my word to Albert. As I was walking the FBI agent out of the meeting and thanking him, the phone rang and the caller was Rebekah. It was so great to talk with her again -- it had been awhile!
I discussed with her an idea I had to see what she thought of it. My idea is to devote the entire History House to history instead of having a family dwelling in half of it. My idea would be to have the library and painting in the north half as before, but then to use the south half for scholars-in-residence to live and do their research there. My proposal is that the first two of these scholars-in-residence would be her and Eugene's son, Eugene, Jr., who is now a professor with a teaching load which does not give him enough time for the research he would like to do. She went for it! I then told her the astounding news about being Albert's heir and being on the Council and having to get back to the Council meeting and wanting to know if I could present the idea to them -- that is, if this was OK with her. She said: "Great; go for it"!
The Council was taking a break while I escorted the FBI agent out and then took the phone call. When I returned, I told them I had some great news and a suggestion. I hoped they would not think me too brash for already introducing a motion so soon after joining the Council and for being so young. They said, "No Problem. Let's hear it." I then told them of Rebekah's arrival at home, her trip here with the painting, and her intentions to donate it to the History House tomorrow. They cheered!! Then I introduced my motion and, after a surprisingly brief discussion, it passed unanimously.
Campers discovered the vans sunk in the river and the body of the Navimalek impaled on a tree branch. Thus endeth the threat from the cabal.
Everything went well with the re-occupation of the History House and the re-hanging of the Disembarkation Painting and the ceremony celebrating the tricentennial of our immigration here to the New World. There were numerous exhortations to remember the great legacy from the past and to forge ahead in learning and following the truth about all aspects of human life in order that we may serve man and bring glory to God.
1. I got a lot of the ideas for this story from the religious group which I come from -- The Schwenkfelders. I got the idea of the Disembarkation Painting from an actual painting called The Landing of The Schwenkfelders, which was painted in 1934, the bi-centennial of their arrival here in 1734 on a specially chartered ship. They too landed in PA, which they called the Land of Freedom. They have two buildings devoted to history -- a historical museum for artifacts and a library for documents. And, although they do not have a Council of Elders, their church services were conducted in High German until around the end of the 19th century. The names I used -- Albert, Abraham, Isaac, Nathan, John, Henry, Rebekah, Eugene, Lloyd were very common among my ancestors.
2. The idea of a magic ring drowning the bad guys in a deep river I got from my two Cyanoring stories and my Purple Ring story, but those are very different stories from this one.
3. The Great Uncle Albert in this story is patterned after a real Great Uncle Albert I had. He was my favorite relative when I was a boy and was a lot of fun. He was my mother's uncle and she looked up to him and lot and sought advice from him. But he died while I was still a boy so I never had the kind of experience with him as a young adult as my character does in this story. What I did was imagine him still alive when I was a young man -- that is how I created the Uncle Albert character in this story.
4. It is not easy to say exactly what I am trying to do with the unknown Great Prize idea. The closest I can come to it is the concept that God has a mission for each of us to accomplish and we may not know what that mission is -- or what the later part of it is -- until we are quite along in years and we may even accomplish our mission without ever knowing we have done so. I guess in part the idea comes from my rebellion against the simplistic "Finding The Will Of God For Your Life" notion that I was taught as a young Christian. For a long time I kept trying to find what it is. A lot of people have ridiculed the whole concept saying either that God has a lot of different things He wants you to do not just one (THE Will of God) and that we should not talk about trying to FIND the Will of God (because this implies God is playing a hide-and-seek game with us). Also, I think the real idea of a Great Prize is not so much something to seek as something we already have and are supposed to actualize and be careful that no one takes it away from us or that we slowly lose interest in it and gradually drift away from it and into other things.
5. As to the term The Great Prize, this is not quite what I mean. Actually the Latin word Pretium is better than the English word Prize. Pretium is the root from which we get words like precious. We have been given something precious. We need to guard it and not lose it or let someone or some set of circumstances cause us to forsake it.
6. I came up with the age of 26 for my character assuming great responsibilities based on two actual persons -- Calvin was 26 when he published the first edition of his famous Institutes, and Noah Webster was 26 when he wrote his famous blue-backed speller.
7. I came up with the year 1706 as the immigration year because I wrote the rough draft of this in the year 2006, which I wanted to be the tricentennial year. I worked on polishing it up, finishing it, and typing it onto a MS Word Document during the past few days.
June 2, 2008