Martha sat in what felt like a dream. She had never been to a royal banquet before. A richly dressed servant had pointed out four seats on the side of the hall next to the musicians. The glorious chandelier at the center of the hall threw light down on the guests, bringing out the colors of both clothes and personalities. Her own deep brown eyes, rosy cheeks and missing tooth reflected back to her on each plate. Fiddle music wafted from one end of the hall.
Martha’s gaze was drawn by a fiddler in poofy purple knickers. As she listened, she noticed a woman on his left who singing sweetly of harvests, which of course made Martha feel all the more like eating. She also felt like dancing, but not both at the same time. She glanced down at the necklace and realized that it glowed and shone like the sun. Her dress, which had reflected sky blue in the dressing chambers, now reflected candlelight and starlight.
The king called for silence and gave thanks. He gave a brief toast mentioning that it was high feast day. He welcomed all the guests. And then, to the astonishment of the children, everyone in the Hall began to sing thunderously. It sounded like a Psalm of Thanksgiving. They cheered and toasted and everyone began to dig in to the many delicious platters of food. The hallway buzzed with merriment and good conversation.
“Have you tried the red stuff,” said Mercy.
“This?” said Martha, glad to forget that people were looking at her.
“Yeff,” said Mercy with a face full.
Malachi, of course was digging around in the ‘brown stuff’. You couldn’t be too sure with brown stuff. Sometimes it was stew and sometimes it might be chocolate pudding: you never did know until you tried.
The music transitioned from the Psalm to a slow quieter song on the fiddle. Both girls followed the female singer with their eyes as she walked from the musical platform and bowed before the King and Queen. With a gesture toward Martha, she seemed to ask the King a question. King Titus looked up keenly at them and winked. The singer, with this approval from the King, began strolling calmly toward them.
“How do you think that chandelier works?” asked Martha.
“I think that globe at the top is filled with oil. It goes through those pipes to the lamps,” said Mercy. “There must be hundreds of them!”
“You are right,” said a voice. “The oil runs down through the pipes to a wick at the end of each.” The singer unfolded a napkin and took the empty chair across from the girls. “My name is Miriam. The king has allowed me to speak with you.”
She gave them a knowing look. Her mannerisms instilled confidence and the girls began to ask questions.
‘We’re having a great time,” said Mercy, “you have a beautiful singing voice.”
“Thank you,” she said simply. “Would you like to try these butter beans?”
Mercy tried them and took a larger helping. “We still are not sure why we’ve come to Highpattern.”
“There will be time to work through that, but, first, our Royal hosts would want you to enjoy yourself. Don’t worry about anything for the present. Would you girls like to dance?”
They glanced at each other. “Why not?”
When they went to the dancing area, Mercy, being a little older, was immediately asked to dance by a fine young gentleman dressed in green. Martha and Malachi twirled slowly with Miriam.
“It’s good for digestion,” said Miriam over the music.
The simple dance did not take long to learn. Most of the guests were still feasting, but Martha noticed many eyes upon her dress.
Once the three were sufficiently out of breath, Miriam escorted them back to the table. After a few long gulps of delicious sweet wine, Martha began: “Sooo… This is wonderful and all… The food is delicious, of course, but…”
“But, you want to know about the necklace and what it has to do with you,” said Miriam.
Both Mercy and Martha looked into her eyes expectantly and nodded. Truth be told, Martha couldn’t keep herself from staring at the necklace on and off. It was so intriguing. Would it show her another vision? Gazing at it now, she began to feel dreamy again.
Miriam’s gentle voice brought her back to the present. “I can begin to explain some of what we know. People have come to Highpattern from Earth before, but it’s been hundreds of years…” She seemed to be choosing her words carefully. “…Every time there has been a task to accomplish…your presence here tells us that great events are near.”
“Do you know if we can get back to Earth?” said Mercy. She generally preferred to let Martha put her foot in her mouth, but this question was really bothering her.
“The other people who came from Earth went back.”
“Mom will be worried,” said Martha.
“Possibly,” Miriam said, “but I don’t think there is anything you could do about that.”
Both girls suddenly felt the seriousness of this. Martha gazed at the necklace again. Malachi had paid little attention to any of this, being amazed by the knights in armor all around.
“Try to enjoy the food and act as casual as you can while I speak to you. I must tell you important things, but you must not show alarm on your faces.”
“Everything I feel shows up on my face,” said Martha. Mom says I’m a drama queen.”
“I understand,” said Miriam. “Let’s practice. You look at me with a calm, happy face.”
Martha looked at her calmly for a second but then broke into a laugh as she saw the affection in Miriam’s eyes.
“Laughing too much won’t do either,” she said “let’s try again.”
Miriam looked at Martha in a way that insisted she calm herself. Her jaw and cheeks were relaxing…okay…maybe she really could do this.
“Just try your best–it’s part of what you might call diplomatic skills,” said Miriam.
“Keep working at it. Let’s arrange this hand signal for the two of you. When Mercy makes this signal (she demonstrated a flat palm hand gesture), you remember to keep your diplomatic face, okay?”
“Yes, a face that doesn’t give away what you’re really thinking.”
“Do I need this?”
“Yes, you do. You are here for a reason. Our world has conflict. There are enemies here– people who are not out for your good nor mine. Miriam looked directly into Martha’s eyes and gave a wry smile: “I could be your enemy!” Miriam seemed to grow taller and a dark shadow seemed to cross her face. “What would you do if I was an enemy?”
“I would r-run to the king!” stammered Martha, “he…obviously trusts you though.”
Immediately Miriam relaxed her expression, smiling. “You will have to trust someone while you’re here. That is unavoidable.”
Martha let her eyes settle on a reflection in one of the desert plates. When she lifted her head, she gazed seriously at Miriam. “So… what does the necklace have to do with me?”
“Okay, well, you need to know that it has been sought after for over 13 years since Queen Tirzah died. Do you see how the center stone has seven facets radiating in seven directions?”
Martha studied more carefully. The stone was absolutely magnificent, and large –about an inch across. “Yes, I see, seven directions. And when I looked into the center facet back in the dressing room, I saw a little movie.”
“Movie? You mean a little vision?”
“Yes, it played for a few minutes, and it…”
“Let us not speak of it here,” Miriam interrupted her. “Wait for King Titus to ask. It will become clear in time. All I can say now is that I would give my life for what that necklace stands for. But you need to realize that it does bring you into danger.”
“Danger?” The girls’ faces began to show alarm again, but Miriam smiled in a way that reminded them to keep the diplomatic face. They all chewed their food thoughtfully. She paused, and, with practiced grace, took a few bites of vegetables. In a gentle tone, she said “let’s begin again. Where did you discover the necklace?”
“It was in the pocket of this dress.” Martha pointed to the bodice of the beautiful dress.
“Good, you remained calm too.”
“Hey, I did,” said Martha laughing a little bit. She was looking again at the beautiful diamond. In appreciation, Miriam was gazing at it with her and said softly, “The seven facets stand for seven days of the week. The facet at the top will turn special colors, unlike the other six. It represents a day for festivity and worship set aside from the others.”
Mercy also had been looking at the beautiful diamond. “I’m not sure I’m following you, Miriam. You’d give your life to ensure that everyone would have a day of worship and festivity set aside from the others?”
“Yes, I really would. People need these regular patterns, though we are prone not to think we need them. Without them, our lives become a chaotic jumble. On the other hand, when we set aside time to sing together, it creates a sense of community and belonging. But, unfortunately, when we get busy, or into our own thing, we tend to forget to set aside time to sing together. Each person becomes a lonely island.”
“Okay,” said Mercy, “I get what you mean. On earth, our family does everything different on Sunday. We go to church, we sing together and we rest. And we have the same problem you do because most of the people who live around us don’t go to church. But I’ve never heard of anybody willing to give their life for that.”
“Would your parents be willing to give their lives to be in order to be able to worship?” Asked Miriam shrewdly. “That is the key question.”
Mercy and Martha looked at each other remembering mom and dad. “Yes, they would,” they thought simultaneously. All three girls became silent again, chewing their food, gazing at the diamond and glancing around noticing that many were discreetly looking in their direction.
“Who was Queen Tirzah?” asked Mercy.
“She was Queen before Lydia. She was beautiful and kind. She regularly wore the necklace to remind the people of the patterns.”
The girls glanced over at Queen Lydia. She was already regarding them. When their eyes met, the Queen’s smile broadened with warm reception. Her countenance showed stern gravity and pain, yet, her eyes seemed as eager as a young puppy. Mercy, who was naturally shy in new situations, waived pleasantly. To her delight, Queen Lydia lifted her hand in a gentle return wave.
Martha had been reveling in the raspberry marmalade on her plate, feeling very special in the sky blue dress and enjoying the dialogue. She returned the Queen’s smile.
Suddenly, they heard a huge smash coming from above their heads. A window, perhaps 70 feet above them in the roof of the Hall, had been smashed to bits. A hideous black form with wings had burst in. It seemed to pull the dark of night into the hall. Its flaming eyes searched this way and that as it flew.
The smash above her head didn’t register until she saw shock on the Queen’s face. Glass fell in shards. She saw King Titus standing and drawing his sword. A shard of glass hit the table in front of her. Quickly, Miriam pulled her under the table.
Martha suddenly realized that whatever it was, it was looking for her, or, more specifically, the necklace which felt warm against her.
“Don’t panic!” said Miriam, holding her tightly. Martha was so grateful for the security she felt in Miriam’s brave arms.
The table was knocked over with a crash. One of the dishes cut into Martha’s arm. The creature then swooped up again, and, with a few flaps of its huge wings, put out nearly all the oil-lights on the chandelier. Then it dove straight towards her. She knew it by the greater darkness that filled her field of vision.
Not really knowing what she did, Martha held up the necklace. It was like bringing a warm summer afternoon into dark stormy night! The brightness was a blinding.
Many things happened at once. A deep ‘thrumm’ followed by a ‘wisssh’ sound flew over their heads. An arrow, expertly shot, hit the creature in the chest. The scene was well lit by the blinding light. It gave a hideous wail as it’s descent was thrown off course. It crashed into the neighboring table, sending dishes flying and splitting solid oak.
Now Martha could see the creature much more clearly. It looked like a demon with wings and it seemed to be made of stone. It’s eagle beak was stuck in a wide open position. Before she could even blink, the creature had reached out a huge stone talon in a desperate grab for her.
But Miriam was faster. She actually threw Martha into Mercy’s arms, then slammed into the two girls herself, knocking them all out of the way.
Despite its obvious pain from the arrow sticking in its chest, the creature leapt toward the girls. But other arrows hit the creature from different directions. When one hit the side of its head, it’s will was broken. Four, five arrows were sticking in it now. Giving up, it labored to flap its wings and ascend. With desperate effort, it managed to get back through the broken window before giving another hideous cry echoing on the castle roof beyond.
The King’s voice boomed, “Peace! Fear not!” As Malachi, who had been shocked with fear, looked at the King, his stature and a bearing seemed to bring calm to the situation. “Guards, allow the medicine maids through,” the King said and as he did so, heart rates began to slow, and order was restored.
Mercy found herself weeping. She held a napkin tightly on Martha’s wounded arm. Broken dishes and plates of food were everywhere. Three medicine maids came to relieve her. They began placing Martha on a stretcher.
“Can you walk?” Miriam asked Mercy.
Mercy began to answer, and as she did so she swooned and fell. A well-trained attendant immediately softened her fall. When she woke moments later, she found herself, also on a stretcher, being carried back through the main gate of the feasting hall.