The King turned to the children. “The first thing we must do is prepare you with gear and instruction.” He turned his gaze upon Malachi. “You are young. Would you like to go with your sisters? You must be ready to defend them with your life!”
Malachi felt small under the penetrating royal gaze. A memory flashed in his mind. Just the other day, Dad had read about hobbits—little folk that were only about half the size of other people going on adventures. A shot of courage. “Yes sire, b-b-but…” he stammered, “b-b but I do not have a sword!” He blurted out with a flourish, hugging the King’s leg as little boys will do when they are shy.
“Come with me,” said the King. The three children followed as the king walked and conferred with several of his warriors and counselors. After several turns, the party stopped. “Welcome to the Armory.” he said.
“Twombly!” called the King.
The children gazed around at the statues and coats of arms surrounding the entrance.
A few moments later Twombly came: out of breath, but now clothed in brightly colored armor. “Yes sire.”
“Have you a sword befitting someone of this one’s stature?”
“We have been searching armories since his arrival, sire. He is less than 4 feet tall. The only sword we could find matching his size and strength, begging your pardon (he glanced at Malachi), is this one here.”
Twombly handed the King a small leather sheath. The hilt protruding from it had an unadorned round pommel and well-worn leather wrapping the grip. With practiced hands, King Titus drew it from the sheath. To the stunned amazement of everyone, the blade glowed like burning fire.
“Sire, I – I did not realize…” Twombly trailed off.
Along the blade, the King read, “Give me understanding, and I shall observe thy law.” A Ramfaya sword of justice! It must have been overlooked it because of its small size…” The King trailed off and began to speak almost to himself “…but of course …the boys train with wooden swords…a prince sometime in the past. Then in a louder humorous voice “Well, Twombly, justice ought to be swift and short. Our legal proceedings do tend to be far too long, don’t they?”
Twombly laughed, “yes, sire.” Of course, he was required to laugh whether he got the joke or not. But in this case he couldn’t help himself.
“Perhaps this short sword of justice has a message for us… but, I am forgetting the hour, time presses.”
Turning to Malachi, he said, “Do you have some idea of the protocol for receiving a sword?”
“I- I believe I kneel, sire.” Malachi stammered.
“Yes,” said the King, “there is no time for long ceremony. Short is your sword and you shall shortly receive it. But it is indeed a kingly gift!”
Malachi fell to one knee. “Swear fealty!” said Titus, placing the flat of the blade on Malachi’s shoulder. “I do solemnly swear … (Malachi repeated after the king) In this oath and covenant… with this sword…to protect Adelphia… Her King, her church and her people… So help me God!”
After the oath, the King turned quickly. “I must go now and attend to the Army. Twombly!”
“Outfit him as quickly as you may. Give him to Listener for instruction!”
He motioned to the girls, leading them further down the hall. “We avoid placing women in combat situations,” said the King as they walked, “but, Martha, you must be the one to carry the necklace. We do have an armory for shield maidens. You will receive training in defensive skills.”
“Miriam!” both Mercy and Martha exclaimed as they rounded the corner of another alcove. Dressed in palace livery and a broad smile, Miriam curtsied before the King.
“Time presses. Miriam, you have one hour. Prepare them as best may be in that time,” said Titus. The girls quickly mimicked the curtsy which Miriam had just performed.
“Let us to arms!” said Miriam. She led them into an armory with many suits of different kinds of armor befitting women. “You’ll need to start with the base layers.”
Mercy and Martha were eager to try on the clothing they were now given. As Martha took the necklace off, she could feel a slight vulnerability as if someone was searching for her. Next to their skin, they were to wear silken finely woven fabric. Over this, they were fitted with leather jerkins under a light chain mail protecting the core of their body and shoulders. The outer layer was a traveling cloak made of a mottled brown flannel which blended with its surroundings.
Martha reached for the necklace to tuck it away in the jerkin. She ended up staring at it again.
“No necklace gazing now,” said Miriam, pulling Martha out of her reverie. “Use this.” She handed Martha a belt with a pouch for it. Then she put up Martha’s hair under the protective headgear.
“We look like boys,” said Mercy.
“Exactly,” said Miriam. When you must reluctantly defend yourself, you deceive in any way you can. Warfare is all about deception.”
“Now, time for your weapons.” She attached what looked like a small speaker cone which could hook into the chain mail using small hooks.
“These? These are weapons?” Said Martha.
“Indeed, they are the most important of weapons. When you are fighting demon possessed gargoyles, the most important thing to do is to magnify your singing voice. In their natural state, gargoyles love to hear singing from their perches on churches. When Chaozz possesses them, singing confuses them. I will teach you a few basic Psalms which you must learn to sing with me.”
Miriam began to sing through her cone. The girls were surprised to find that they could sing along– the tune reminded them of Psalms which they sang in church back on earth. As they sang, they felt confidence course through their veins and the very air of the room seemed to be charged with life.
Miriam ended the song abruptly. “I’m sure we’ll find time to sing more. Can you throw?” She said, handing them belts which had small stones firmly held by moveable leather pockets.
“Yes, dad has us practice baseball,” said Mercy.
“Baseball…? From your world I suppose. These stones are mostly iron. So far as we know, only iron and silver are effective against gargoyles. Don’t use them unless you have to– we would rather not damage the poor creatures.”
“Aren’t they evil?” asked Martha.
“Chaozz makes him do his evil bidding, so remember that they just want to get back to their gutters. It’s good and grand to be a guttermouth: if you are a green- mossed gross-face grey gargoyle. Oh! Don’t get me talking. Let us practice.”
Miriam began to lead them in a series of movements designed to find out their readiness for battle. She was delighted to find that the girls knew basic stances from practicing Tae Kwon Do. Many of the moves she taught them involved evasive maneuvers such as duck and roll, simple side stepping, and leaping. She taught them four simple hand signals corresponding to four words: jump, sidestep, duck and roll.
“Okay, now let’s sing as we do them!”
The girls began to enjoy ducking and rolling while they sang They began to laugh and smile, but Miriam stayed on point and did not allow them to become giddy.
As Mercy rolled toward one of the walls, which was hung with various weapons, she noticed a little wooden knobby thing that looked like it would fit a handgrip. She couldn’t resist: “what’s this?”
Miriam looked slightly annoyed at the interruption to the exercise, but answered, “it’s magical. We call it a Treeano. It has the 12 notes of the musical scale in those little knobs.”
“May I put it on my belt?”
“Yes, but let us return to sidestepping.”
Once the girls were breathing hard, Miriam abruptly ended the exercise and handed them each a dagger. “Use these only in dire need. They are silver tipped.” She showed them briefly how to use it in a tight situation.
“How about the arrow shot in the feasting hall. It hurt the gargoyle. Was it also tipped with silver?”
“Yes?” Said Miriam. “Listener has special arrows he uses depending on which type of enemy he is shooting. Arrows with silver tips are expensive, but the King’s best archers have them. Speaking of Listener, I think I hear a summons.”
Just outside the shield maiden armory, on a smooth bench sat Malachi with Listener. Martha finally had a chance to thank him for saving her life in the feasting hall. They had just a moment to admire Malachi’s sword before they were headed back down the hallway. As they were walked, another stout warrior approached clad in mottled green.
“Please allow me to introduce you to my apprentice,” said Listener.
“Apprentice?” said the man laughing. “Apprentice? Hah! We’ve only been through 85 full-scale battles together. Listener just likes to pull my leg!”
Listener bowed cheerily to his friend.
“My name is Duman,” he said. “It means ‘wait quietly’. Ninety-nine percent of what we rangers do involves waiting quietly for events to unfold. Especially, the fact that I am constantly waiting for Listener to catch up!” he chided, giving Listener an old friend sort of look.
Malachi noticed that he too had the same type of stout Longbow slung over his shoulder. He also noticed a serious expression on Duman’s face underneath the momentary laughter. Briefly, they bowed their heads to ask God’s blessing on their mission. As they bowed their heads to pray, Malachi looked down. To his great astonishment and lasting delight, he saw that Duman hadn’t come alone. There was a small shaggy dog dutifully sitting at his feet.
“His name is Scrapper,” said Duman. “Would you like to pet him?”
As Malachi set about scratching his ears, Listener spoke up. “The King has sent three soldiers ahead through the tunnel to see if they can get through. The bell will chime in a few moments and we are to count out 100 measures then began our descent. We wait at the bottom of the stairs for 200 measures. If we do not see the King’s soldiers coming back to us, we will know that there is serious danger ahead.” He looked at the children. “We sincerely apologize for throwing you into this so quickly.”
Malachi spoke up: “We are honored to go with you sir!”
“That’s the spirit, son!” replied Listener. We must go to the king’s chapel.”
“Malachi and I will catch up,” said Duman. He then placed Malachi’s hand directly behind scrapper’s ear and put his face close beside Malachi’s face. He looked hard at the dog and said, “Scrapper, this is Malachi… Malachi… Malachi.” Before Malachi realized what he was doing, Duman had pulled a piece of Malachi’s hair off his head and put it in the dog’s mouth.
“There, it is done. I can send scrapper to find you. Also, he will obey you when I’m not around. I will teach you what types of things to say to him.”
Malachi couldn’t believe his luck. Off on an adventure with a dog!