The events of the past hour finally slowed down for Nicholas. In the solitude of a cold, dank prison cell- a room all-too-familiar to him- He was able to parse out the emotions of the moment and remember what had happened, try to make some sense of his actions.
"SILENCE! ENOUGH!" Constantine had shouted, and the room just stopped. Many of the assembled prelates fell to their knees, their hearts cold with the consideration that the acceptance of their faith was new, and Nicholas may have just signed all their death warrants. Nicholas glared into the face of the still-stunned Eusebius, his own head so full of blood that he could scarce even hear the emperor's command. At this moment, he felt, he might have lopped off the ear of Malchus- and that thought finally gave him pause.
Arius, who had nothing to lose, spoke first. "Your most excellent majesty," he addressed the Emperor, "This is unacceptable! How should a priest- a bishop of Almighty God- strike a fellow, as if he were some bungling heathen slave? Surely this man merits a rebuke." At the last, he smiled- this action would surely rob his opponents of one of their brightest defenders. It was a gift from God, he thought, and swelled his confidence even more.
Constantine, who had risen from his throne to command, now settled back into his high seat to render judgement. "Were he a civil servant," he began, "I would mete out judgement myself. But he is one of your own. You decide how he should be reprimanded. Minding, of course, that I shall act myself if I consider your decision inappropriate."
The three leaders of the council- Alexander, Eustathius, and Macarius- huddled together in brief convocation; then Alexander stepped forward. "Your majesty," he bowed to Constantine, then turned to the others, who now stood at either side of Nicholas. "It is our judgement that Nicholas be stripped of his tokens of authority, and be imprisoned until such time as we later decide." Nicholas hung his head as the two High Bishops took from him his books of the Holy Gospel, and the robe that was the vestments of his station.
"Make it so", Constantine said to the guards attending him, and that is how Nicholas found himself in the familiar arms of a prison cell this night.
"Father," young Nicholas asked his father Epiphanius. "Saint John says that Jesus attacked the money changers in the temple."
"Aye," his father nodded.
"That he made a whip from knotted cords to strike them."
"But He taught to turn the other cheek, father. So why did He then want to strike them?
"Because, my son, His love for his Father was so great, he could not abide the blasphemy of what they were doing. David prophesied, 'Zeal for Your house will consume me.' This was not a sin, but rather the righteous anger for God that we should all have. In all things, Christ is our example. But we must weigh our actions. James and John wanted to rain fire down on a city that rejected jesus, and Jesus rebuked them. The difference being, they of the city did not insult God; they merely exercised the free will which is man's birthright, albeit to their own folly."
"I think I see", the child said.
"It is the difference between according the proper respect for God, and seeking revenge, which the Lord says is his alone..."
Nicholas pondered the memory. What were his motives? Had he struck due to an insult of God, a blasphemy, or merely to silence the speaker? He ran the words of Eusebius through his mind again. "Manufacturing a God from nothing," he had said. Surely, had the bishops any courage, they should have torn their garments- were that still in fashion. Why had he not merely done that? He prayed for guidance once again. Suddenly a light shone forth. Had the council reconsidered at this late hour? No, this light was too bright, impossibly bright. Two figures strode forth, and one 'had the appearance of a Son of Man'. In his shackles, Nicholas fell to the ground.
"Rise," the Figure commanded him. "Why are you in jail?"
Nicholas had to, in a moment, weigh once and for all his actions. "For loving You," he finally answered.
"Take this," the Figure answered, handing him his book of the Holy Gospel. The other- was it Mary, the Mother of God, or an angel?- draped upon him the omophorion, the vestments of his Bishopric that had been stripped from him. As he rose to receive them, the shackles fell from his limbs, and the Figures disappeared.
When the Emperor's clerk called the session of the council to order the next morning, Arius turned red with rage to see Nicholas, with the trappings of his vestment, standing in the assembly. "Your majesty!" He shouted without thinking, "How is this man not in prison? Nay, he even wears his sacred scapular, that you had removed from him? The effrontery!"
Constantine, not a man who enjoyed being shouted at to start the day, answered in a low growl, "An effrontery which you come close to imitating, at your peril. Alexander, explain this, if you would."
The leader of the orthodox prelates stepped forward, bowing. "Your majesty, I was consumed by a dream last night. This morning, I talked to several of these others, and many of them shared the dream. We went to the cell of Nicholas, and found him thus- just as in our visions."
The room, those who were unaware, gasped. Constantine arched an eyebrow, and put a hand to his chin. Arius rolled his eyes. "Just what was this vision?" the Emperor asked.
"Sire, that Christ himself, and the Holy Mother, appeared to Nicholas, and returned his tokens."
"Ridiculous!" Arius shouted. "A clearly visible ruse!"
"SILENCE!" Constantine shouted again as he made his way slowly, regally, from the throne to the main floor. The assembly made wide way for him as he strode towards Nicholas. The bishop kept his gaze down in humility even as Constantine faced him. "Is this true?" he asked.
"Your majesty," Nicholas began, not knowing how to express what had happened. "The lights... so bright..." Constantine saw it, as had the others- the subtle aura, the light that clinged still to Nicholas like a fading dream.
"Majesty," Arius said, "Do not be led astray by these liars. They manufacture a miracle as they do a God. Why, I..."
Without turning towards Arius, Constantine rumbled, "You should know, prelate, that if ANY know a sign when they see it, it is I..."
Realizing his mistake, Arius bowed low. "Of course, your majesty..."
The Emperor spoke directly to Nicholas now. The Lord has deemed your actions righteous. I hope that the Council will recognize that." The assembly began to answer softly, "Yes, we recognize it.."
Arius, slowly retreating, muttered, "I... will recognize..", more out of self preservation at this point than any conviction.
"Will you forgive us, Nicholas of Myra?" The Emperor asked for the multitude.
"There is nothing to forgive, your majesty," Nicholas answered.
Constantine regarded Nicholas for a long moment. "Then let us resume," he said, turning back to the throne. "Keeping in mind that the Lord Christ has His eye on these deliberations".
The bishops replied, "Amen."