Total bewilderment cannot even express how they felt. All three were still a little dizzy. The table was in a small alcove just off a stone passageway. No snow. No garden. From one end of the passageway, there came a warm draft of air with delicious food smells. Sounds also wafted up: a clatter of pots and pans. From the other end there came a faint glow of light and the faint sound of fiddle music.
“Where are we?” said Martha, who was always the first to speak in such situations.
Before anyone could answer, a stout woman came bustling up the passageway toward them balancing a serving tray. Upon seeing them, she gave a gasp of surprise. The children were suddenly aware of how strange they must look in their wet snowsuits combined with astonished expressions. Let’s just say it made quite a comical picture.
“What in heaven’s name?” the woman asked. She began squinting and shaking her head as if she was seeing spots. Then she stared again. There was no denying it–three large pairs of brown eyes were gazing right back at her.
“Hello, ma’am, we’ve fallen here from…” Mercy began.
The woman silenced her with a gesture, holding up her index finger as a signal to ‘wait’. Then quickly turned around and ran back down the passage, as fast as she could while balancing the tray.
“I think she’s some kind of servant,” said Martha. Where’s Dad?”
They looked at each other in stunned silence. Tears welled up in Mercy’s eyes. “He’s…not here. And we…it’s like other stories we’ve read.”
“I think it’s happening to us…” said Martha, now through tears as well. She hugged Mercy as if to make sure she wasn’t just dreaming. The flesh of Mercy’s hands felt warm as ever. There were still a few water droplets from snow on her hair.
Soon their tears ceased as they began to look around. The alcove in which they were sitting displayed a painting of a richly dressed Queen wearing a beautiful diamond necklace. “Maybe she’s the queen of this place!” said Martha. The Queen’s eyes had a penetrating quality, as if it were not just a painting. Was she watching them? She did not seem evil.
“I wonder if they have swords here?” said Malachi, who had gone out to explore the hallway. He was touching one of the torch supports. The mention of swords gave the girls a twinge of fear.
The woman with the food had seemed friendly, but caution won out with Mercy: “Get back in here,” she said. “Let’s wait at this table, so we’re not trespassing.”
Reluctantly, Malachi came back to the alcove and sat down. “I’m getting hot,” he said, unzipping his snowsuit. He was digging around for one of his lego guys.
They sat looking around in a prolonged silence. “Well… I’m definitely me,” said Mercy finally, taking off her wet hat. “That end of this passage smells like a kitchen, don’t you think?”
“It smells delicious!” said Martha. “I wonder if this is a palace…”
Before she could say anything more, the servant woman was back. She was leading three soldiers in full armor. One of them came and stood at the ready, arrow knocked in his longbow. Another went toward the end of the passageway where the faint music was coming from. Our companions sat frozen with terror.
The largest of the three, who appeared to be a captain, stood and said with a clear voice, “Do not be alarmed, we mean you no harm. Please state your names and your reason for trespassing in the palace.”
“Sir,” said Mercy, bowing, “I am called Mercy, and these are Martha and Malachi, my siblings. We… are not sure how we arrived here. We are just as you see us. We have no weapons.” With a deliberate gesture, she took Malachi’s toy bow and handed it to the guard. “You see that we have winter clothing on because we were walking through the snow in the woods near our home.”
“Yes,… Sir. Is it snowing here?”
The Captain looked hard at them with an expression which was half hard suspicion and half astonishment. “No, it isn’t. Thank you. One moment please.”
He deliberated with the other soldier in a low voice. The serving woman stared at them–still amazed, but now smiling slightly as she looked upon the children’s rosy faces.
Finally, the captain spoke up, “We must bring you at once before the King and Queen. Please remove your outer garments slowly and empty your pockets.”
“Okay everybody,” said Mercy. “Snowsuits off.”
The sweltering children wanted nothing more than to get the hot snowsuits off as soon as possible.
Malachi looked at the guards in awe. He held his foam sword listlessly. These were no Lego toys, but real men 6 feet tall. The guard motioned for him to lay the sword against the wall. Malachi did so without taking his eyes off the guard. The man’s chain mail was shiny and well maintained. At the center of his breastplate, he wore an emblem of the sun with seven rays. When the guard was satisfied that there were no concealed weapons, he led them down the passageway toward the music.
You can only imagine their wonder as they gradually walked out into the royal feasting hall. Brilliant chandeliers illuminated long mahogany tables laden with various dishes which seated many guests. Off to one side, the minstrels softly finished the tune they had been playing. As they proceeded in, the music and conversation gradually turned to a hush of curiosity. Many heads turned toward the children. They felt their knees nearly buckle as they became conscious of themselves. Their play clothes were certainly not appropriate to the situation.
One table was raised slightly higher than the others with richly ornamented candlesticks and golden bowls. At the center of this table sat the King and Queen, who were regarding them keenly.
The stillness in the hall became deafening. Rows of courtiers observed the small party. (It is one thing to have a quiet room with no one in it, but a quiet room with hundreds of people all dressed for festivity is another thing altogether.) The soft crackle of the large hearth at the end of the hall could be heard. Large dogs approached calmly, sniffed a few times and resumed their comfortable slumber near the hearth.
They approached the King’s table. “Welcome guests!” said the King in a deep baritone voice. “Welcome to the kingdom of Adelphia! I am King Titus and this is my wife, Queen Lydia.”
“Thank you, your Majesty,” replied Mercy as she curtsied. Martha followed suit, though good bit more wobbly. Malachi stood dumbfounded for a long moment. King Titus looked at him meaningfully, and he remembered to bow on one knee.
The girls, holding their curtsies, were just about to fall over when the King said, “you may rise.” The King and Queen were dressed in some of the most exquisite attire that the children had ever seen. Patterns of moonlight and sunlight, stars and galaxies, grass and flowers were woven into their robes. Both were smiling gently and did not seem to mind the passing of time as they regarded the companions. The evident wonder in the children’s eyes brought pleasure to the Royal couple.
“Well met, well met, indeed! We can tell from your apparel that you are from somewhere else. This has not happened in the lifetime of anyone here, but we know from our history that it is something that we should expect from time to time over the generations. Therefore, we are very glad to have you as our guests.” At this, King Titus motioned for conversation and music to be resumed. The fiddler began playing and the people obediently turned back to their conversational groups.
“Come closer,” said the King. The children felt the penetrating gaze of the Royal couple, was not malicious, but inviting. “What were you doing when you came here? Can you briefly tell us how it happened?”
Mercy carefully explained about the winter walk, and the pretended communion meal. The King did not interrupt but the look on his face showed that he took it all very seriously. Finally, he asked, “Had you any idea that pretending and communion could bring about such mysterious changes?”
Mercy and Martha both shook their heads, brown eyes fixed on the King. Finally, Mercy plucked up the courage to ask a question. “Are we in New York State, anywhere near Groton?” she asked.
The King looked at her meaningfully. “I have never heard of the places you speak of,” said the King. “You are at the royal palace in the kingdom and city of Adelphia in the land of Highpattern.” The King held their gaze for a moment, then gently smiled as if to break them out of stupefaction. “I shall look forward to hearing more, but first, hospitality! Twombly!”
“Yes Sire,” replied a well-dressed attendant.
“Please escort them to the palace dressing chambers where they may choose suitable attire.”
“Right this way,” he said leading them. “The feast will begin when the sun’s shadow reaches the third mark!”
Before the companions could inquire what the third mark was, or ask any further questions, they found themselves walking quickly to keep up. All eyes in the feasting hall were following them, but many of the dinner guests were smiling now. They passed through a low archway into spacious corridors and hallways lined with paintings of historical events and festivities in Highpattern. They were lit by oil lamps which had reflective metal venting so that the flames burned bright.
At first, people in fashionable attire were filtering toward the festivity. Some bowed to Twombly as they passed. He would briefly nod his head, but took no time for introductions. Mercy had the overwhelming impression that the people were happy. From the young ladies with serving trays to the older guards, all seemed content in their station.
“What is the third mark?” asked Mercy, as they walked.
“Wait a moment,” replied Twombly.
They were led to an alcove with two sets of double doors–richly carved. One was carved with men in courtiers clothes, while the other had women in dresses. In the middle of the alcove was a sundial. Twombly showed them that the shadow had almost hit 3. The window was made with glass no bigger than 8 inches across in any direction, but it was enough for the light to strike the dial.
“Malachi, would your sisters give leave for you to come with me?” said Twombly.
The companions looked at one another. Their looks registered, “this feels safe,” without speaking anything. “Yes sir,” said Malachi.
“And may I introduce Labesh,” he said, as a woman approached with a deep curtsy. Mercy and Martha curtsied in return and Malachi remembered to drop to one knee. They were getting used to this procedure.
She wore a full-length dress with gold colored sleeves and sash, olive green bodice, and delicate embroidery.
Twombly addressed her: “My lady, have you been informed? They are to dine as courtiers.”
“Yes indeed,” she replied. “I’ve received word.” Turning to the girls with an inviting smile, she said, “we can’t have you as dinner guests without proper attire, now can we?”
She led the two girls into a large room with rows of dresses, all hung carefully from wooden poles with complementary sashes, shawls and even jewelry. There were small changing closets with three sided mirrors.
“Please be careful if you touch them,” said Labesh. “Mercy, your size is that of a small woman, which… should be in this row here.” She gestured and began showing Mercy down the row. Momentarily, she looked at Martha, “The dresses for girls are toward the back,” she said gesturing in that direction. “You may explore a little while I attend to your sister.”
Martha looked around in wonder. Dress ups! Mom found dress ups all the time at thrift stores, and garage sales. The Jones girls were constantly dressing up. To explore a wardrobe used by Royal courtiers–this was almost too exciting!
Martha began thinking. If they were going to allow her to choose, well she certainly was not going to take the first dress that came to hand. “No sir-ee… What a beautiful sash… maybe I can push the time limits just a little… This one is nice…” When she had browsed a few minutes, she had made her way to the “older” side of the large room. Here, the dresses were less glamorous, sometimes rumpled, faded and even torn. However, they were older, and that made them interesting.
The room was obviously well aired with proper humidity… Martha had the feeling that some dresses had not been tried on for centuries. Occasionally, when she lifted a sleeve and smelled, the fragrance was like an attic or an old library. Some dresses still carried a faint whiff of the perfume worn with them. She had become lost in her thoughts when she heard Labesh calling her name. “Oh… Right! They were trying to get back to a feast!”
“Over here, my lady!”
She was about to go toward the area where she could try one of the girl dresses, when her eye was drawn by a glint of sky blue in one of the older racks. When she investigated, she found that there was a little sky blue dress inside a larger brown dress. She quickly unbuttoned the outer dress and stared with awe at the dress underneath.
Such a sky blue! It seemed to reflect the color of the sky where the light was coming in at the castle window. When she placed her body between the dress and the window, its hue changed to blend in with new sets of shades and shadows. Amazing! She moved back in front of the window to test her theory –it reflected sunshine and blue again. She heard footsteps, and realized that Labesh had come to fetch her.
I don’t think you’ll find much over here miss,” said Labesh, as she bustled toward Martha through the rows.
“May I wear this one?” said Martha, holding up the dress.
Labesh came up short, her eyes widening. “Where did you find that?”
“It was inside this older dress.”
“This small one is an Aragite dress. It was spun and woven perhaps 500 years ago by the Aragite weavers north of Adelphia. Some say the fabric is magical. There are only a few dresses like it to be found in all of Highpattern.” Labesh ran the fabric through her fingers admiring it. “Truly,” she said, “God has sent you here for some special-purpose. Hmm…, the size does seem to be close…”
Once they had adjusted it, the dress did fit. Martha went over to a three-sided mirror to admire herself and adjust.
“Well, this is no coincidence,” said Labesh, “Wait here if you please. I’m going to go check on your sister.”
Martha looked at the mirror again. Something was not quite right. The right-hand side of the dress had a lumpy, cleverly concealed pocket in the bodice. It had clasps that could be undone with one hand. How ingenious! She reached into the pocket and pulled out a diamond necklace!
The diamond in the center was skillfully set. Its shape was heptagonal, with a flat central plane surrounded by seven triangular facets. At the points of the seven facets which radiated out from the central heptagon, its gold setting had carefully written the seven days of the week and rays radiating outward appearing like the sun. She had seen the diamond represented on the uniform of the soldiers and on the crowns of the Royal couple.
As Martha gazed into it, mesmerized, the central plane gave way into what looked like a motion picture screen. She began to see people in a village square. She saw lamb roasting on a spit and musicians playing their instruments on a small stage. There were young men and young ladies curtsying and bowing to one another in preparation to dance. But then, quite suddenly, darkness overshadowed the square. The people began to cry out in terror and run for cover.
Martha could feel a cold sweat building on her brow as her heart raced. She could feel that whatever had darkened the sky was looking for this diamond, which meant it was looking for her.
“Don’t look at it anymore child!” said Labesh, covering the necklace with her hand. She too was breathing hard and hugged Martha close. “I know what that necklace is,” Labesh said quietly. “I was here when Queen Tirzah used to wear it.”
Martha felt her heart pounding in her chest. She felt a strong desire to look at it again, but Labesh held her hand firmly. “Wait,” said Labesh. She explained that many of the dresses came complete with jewelry for the use of the courtiers, so that was not unusual. But this necklace was quite unusual.
“Should I put it back?”
“No, you must bring it before the King. Some of the diamonds are… well, magical.”
Slowly, Labesh moved her hand away. They looked at it again, but nothing unusual happened this time. Mercy had come over to their corner and stood staring in amazement. “What did you find, Martha?” she said.
“It is called the Patternstone!” said Labesh. “It has been lost for thirteen years until you found it just now. Where exactly was it?”
“This dress was inside this older one like this…” Martha demonstrated how she had found the whole thing.
“Heavens!” said Labesh “we only have a quarter hour till the feast.” She skillfully clasped the beautiful dress at the back and combed Martha’s ginger blonde hair. “The dress fits exactly… (she adjusted the bodice),…rarely do I see such a good fit. Normally, such a dress would only be in the royal apartments, but, this one was meant for you. What do you think?”
“I love it!” Said Martha, twirling and curtsying with her sister. She saw that Mercy had found a beautiful lavender gown with lace, which set off her brown hair and eyes.
Labesh seemed to be in a bit of a dilemma. “What to do?” she said out loud, then came to a decision. Nervously, with trembling hands, she placed the necklace over Martha’s shoulders.
Martha couldn’t believe her luck! To be able to wear clothing of royalty was amazing to begin with, but this dress actually seemed to adjust its shade of blue to go with her hair. And the necklace! That was the final frontier! Would she be mistaken for a Princess?
“I’ll be filling you in on palace manners as we walk through the hallways,” said Labesh. “Now, throw your shawls around like this (she demonstrated). You mustn’t call too much attention to yourselves. Shall we?”
The girls eagerly nodded. They were going to be dinner guests with royalty!