book all “The Necklace and the Haunted Cathedrals”

The immense bulk of Chaozz the Black glided smoothly through the air over Highpattern.  As he slid between the twin spires of the Cathedral at Sarbad, enslaved gutterspout gargoyles watched him in fearful silence.

Chaozz was a black dragon– all the way from the blackness of his black claws to the infernal blackness of his black chambered heart which pumped black dragon blood.  The problem, of course, with black Dragon blood is that, with the consistency of liquid tar, it is extremely flammable.

For hundreds of years, Chaozz had longed to knock the cathedral spires over with his black tail.  But, and this is a really big “but”, he knew that the ancient magic guarding them would cause his tail to explode or something.   Well, he would settle for the next best thing.  If  he could convince all the people to forsake worship, then they themselves would knock the cathedrals down.  Ha! He could see it now.  Ignorance is bliss…no more church days for those humans.  No days of rest.  Just Chaos.  And, pleeeeze… no more singing!  

It had now been 13 years since the Patternstone had been used to renew the cathedrals. Worship was being forsaken.   True, King Titus and Queen Lydia of Adelphia were thwarting his evil designs.  True, there were others who continued the ancient patterns, even a few names in Sarbad.

He gave a final thrust of his powerful black wings and folded them neatly, coming to rest on his eryie.  He could bide his time.  More and more gargoyles were being enslaved by him every day.  He enjoyed seeing their heavy wings become more and more like vultures wings circling the cathedrals.

Though he always slept with one black eye open, he let himself drift into a peaceful sleep. Peaceful?  He advocated total chaos for everyone else. He knew down deep that there would never be peace for his wicked old self…

1

“Anyone want to go for a walk?” asked Dad.

Martha always looked forward to these walks with Dad.   After dinner, on winter nights, they would all bundle up in snow pants and go traipsing about in the woods behind the chicken coop.   Old apple trees formed Gothic arches with their knobbly branches.  Rumor had it that Johnny Appleseed himself may have planted them.  The 100 plus years since had made the trees arch overhead.

On this particular winter night, the powdery snow looked like moon dust flying off Martha’s feet as she followed her older sister Mercy.

“Hold on!” said her little brother Malachi, as he stooped to grab an old frozen apple.  She noticed that his hat was about to come off.

“Don’t lose your helmet!” Martha laughed as she pushed the fleece back on his head.  “You might need protection from whatever’s in the woods!”  She pushed his hat down– a little too far forward.  His brown curls showed themselves, and snow got down the back of his neck.

“Yeow!”  said Malachi, throwing snow at Martha’s face in turn.

Quiet now,” said Dad, “we don’t want to be spotted.”

The trail led to an old mansion which used to be the home of the mayor.   Cautiously, as if they were stalking a creature, they emerged from trees.  Their feet softly crunched the snow 15 or 20 more times, as they moved toward the cover of the nearest hedge.

As they knelt down behind the hedge, Martha asked, “Dad, why do we pretend so much?”

“Develops character.”

“Character?”  Sometimes Martha felt that they were the weirdest family.  They were constantly pretending one thing or another: you name it, elves, dwarves, far-off kingdoms.  She had to ask: “…but how come other people don’t pretend much anymore?” she persisted.

Dad let that question be absorbed into the snow and silence of the grounds for a long moment.  Pretending stealth, he waved them forward toward the next clump of shrubs.  Martha couldn’t resist rephrasing her question.   “So, umm…Dad?”

“Yes.”

“Why do you encourage us to pretend?”

“Marrr-tha!  You’re making too much noise!”  whispered Mercy, who generally took these pretending times more seriously.

Dad signaled a huddle and spoke in a low, conspiratorial voice:  “Martha is asking why we pretend.  Well, when you pretend to be a shield maiden who uses her wits, dresses prettily, and shows compassion…

“Yes…”

“Well, you develop the character of a shield maiden who uses her wits, dresses prettily, and shows compassion.”

“I do?…well…okay,” Martha said in a very non-pretending way.  She laid comfortably down on the snow to look up at the moon.  “So far away,” she thought.  “And yet I almost feel I could reach out and touch it.”

“Princess Mercy,” Dad continued, “have you seen any more tracks?”

“Just some Ruffled Grouse.”

“What’s Gruffled Grouse?”  Asked Malachi.

“Ruffled! It’s a puffy bird with brown and white feathers,” replied Mercy with a giggle.

“Almost sounds like ‘snuffled mouse.”

“It gets ‘ruffled’ easily, I think.”

During these walks, Malachi usually pretended to be a ranger armed with a longbow, which, he felt sure, would be good for a real shot if it came to it.  When you were pretending, anything was okay– as long as it did not give you too much of an unfair advantage over enemies.  After all, any battle worth winning had to involve a real struggle.

The girls often pretended to be shield maidens delegated by the King and Queen for some important mission.  Shield maidens were often princesses in disguise .

They moved on more quietly now, walking behind the chainsaw sculpture of the bear.    They had always wondered about that bear.  Was he a sentinel for something important?  When they passed him, they felt like they were passing into a different world.

They descended some stone steps into a garden.  At least, they knew it was a garden from previous experience.  Right now, it seemed to be sleeping under a blanket of moonlit snow.  In the middle of the garden, they came to the Victorian style table.  It was set on a rock ledge overlooking the smooth shadows crossing the lawn.  The delicate wrought iron webbing, and circular shape made one think of tea on Saturday afternoons with Parasols.

Now, when you’ve been traipsing about in the woods, and you’re dressed for winter, it can feel good to sit down at a table just breathe the crisp winter air.

They all began to laugh at one another as if their breath were pipe smoke reflected in the moonlight.  Hmmm…Let’s see…what could they pretend now?  Well, this was a Saturday night.  They had just eaten Sabbath dinner–church tomorrow…

“Let’s pretend we’ve come from a long journey.”  said Mercy.

“Yeah, yeah, a pilgrimage,” put in Martha.  “And this table, (she paused…), this table could be the center of a great outdoor Catheeee-dral!”  Her voice was high-pitched and they all began to laugh again.

“Yeah, and we can take communion!” said Malachi.

At first, Dad hesitated, “you mean you guys want to pretend to take communion like we do on Sunday?”

“Course Dad!  It’s like a wedding rehearsal,” said Mercy, on a roll now. “You know, you’re not really being married at the rehearsal, but you say the same vows, and everyone knows you’re just practicing.”

Dad shrugged.  “All right, just practicing.”

They all sang a Psalm at the table, and were just about to give thanks, when, suddenly, they heard a loud cracking sound coming from the woods.

“What’s that?” Asked Martha.

“craackkthuummswiishh!”

“I’ll be right back, you can go ahead without me,” said Dad, as he went off to investigate the sound.

“Let’s pray for dad,” said Mercy. She began to ask that God would protect dad if there was anything in the woods. “It’s probably just a dead tree falling because of the snow,” she said.

“Well, anyway,” said Malachi, still play acting, “they don’t wait for communion if someone’s going to the bathroom.”  He gave thanks for the bread in the same way the minister would.  Then he broke and distributed the pretend bread. “Mmmm. Good bread!” he said in the same way he would on Sundays.

As they pretended to eat, the air around them began to stir in a most peculiar manner.  A breeze began swirling the trails of their breath.  Gradually, the sparkling snow and the moonlight turned into a whirling cloud (as you know, of course, when garden tables are round, this makes the ideal place for whirling clouds).

Mercy and Martha looked at each other.  They noticed that the hair escaping from under their woolen caps was moving the direction of the spinning air.  Everyone began to laugh and smile.

“This is cool!” exclaimed Mercy.

“Even c-c-cold!” said Martha, shivering a little.

The spinning moonlit snow reminded them of pixie dust.  They were lost in wonder.

After a while, the moonlight on their faces began to change to firelight.  It was inexplicable.  The white spinning snow gradually turned into spinning torches.  The centrifugal force was combined with a feeling of downward motion.  After a moment, they experienced a slight lurch similar an elevator coming to the first floor.  With a thump and a bump, they found themselves sitting around a solid oak table.

“Where are we?”  Asked Malachi.

The two girls shrugged and remained a little too shocked to speak.  On the table in front of Malachi were two warm ends of real bread–just as if they had really broken it.

Chapter 2:  Feasting in Highpattern

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 steamy air with delicious food smells.  Sounds also came to their ears: the clatter of pots and pans and banter of voices. From the other end of the passageway, more distant, there came a faint sound of fiddle music.

Before anyone could speak further, a young lady around Mercy’s age 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?”  she 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, … we’ve fallen here from…”  Mercy began.

The servant silenced her with a gesture, holding up her index finger as a signal to ‘wait’.  Then quickly turned around and ran back up the passage, as fast as she could while still balancing the tray.

“I think she’s some kind of waitress,” 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 this is a Palace and she’s the queen!”  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 serving girl had seemed friendly, but caution won out with Mercy: “Get back in here!” she said.  “Let’s wait at this table, we don’t want to go around 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 how big this castle…”

Before she could say anything more, the servant 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 in terror.

The largest of the three, who appeared to be a captain, spoke. “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.”

“Snow?”

“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.”  Malachi carefully set down his foam practice sword.  “Thank you.  One moment please.”

He deliberated with the other soldier in a low voice.  The serving woman was 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.  These were no Lego toys, but real men 6 feet tall.   The guard motioned for him to lay the foam sword against the wall.  Malachi did so without taking his eyes off the guard, who couldn’t keep a slight grin off the edge of his face. 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.  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. At its center, between richly ornamented candlesticks and golden bowls, sat the King and Queen, 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 in it, 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!” 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.”

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.”

“Yes Sire. Right this way,” he said leading them.

But Martha was rooted to the spot.  She and the Queen were still gazing at one another smiling.  Martha was absolutely transfixed to see a real Queen at such close range.  Finally, the Queen winked at Martha.  “Go find a dress child,” she said, pointing toward Twombly.  “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 having to keep up.  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.  They were lit by oil lamps which had reflective metal venting so that the flames burned bright.

At first, they passed people in fashionable attire filtering toward the feasting Hall. 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 with women in dresses.  The smell of mahogany and rich wood carving met their noses.

In the middle of the alcove was a sundial.  Twombly showed them that the shadow was between 2 and 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 fairly mature, 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.  They 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!” Martha called.

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 rumpled 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 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 at no. 101 Bustle St. in 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.   The bodice had clasps that could be undone with one hand.  How ingenious!  She reached into the pocket and pulled out the lump.  It was too heavy for just a pocket handkerchief.  She unrolled the bundle, and at the center she was astonished to find a diamond necklace!

And not just any diamond necklace.  The diamond in the center was skillfully set.  Its shape was heptagonal, with a flat central plane surrounded by seven triangular facets.  These corresponded to its gold setting, which had rays radiating outward like the sun.  She had seen this represented on the uniform of the soldiers and on the crowns of the Royal couple. Carefully inscribed were the seven days of the week and seven words which Martha did not know except one: Adelphia.

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!

3

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?”

“Dip-lo-matic?”

“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: “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.

Martha fainted.

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.

4

Martha woke to find herself on a comfortable bed staring at a beautiful hanging tapestry.  It was woven with ornate trumpets being blown by angels.  Morning sun was backlighting it so that many tiny points of light filtered through.

She felt breath on her ear and turned to see Malachi with a worried but hopeful expression in his big brown eyes.  He was peering into her face:  “There she is… her eyes are opening…I see you…” Martha blinked.  Her little brother’s happy grin was good to see.  “This Palace is really awesome,” Malachi said, no longer able to contain his enthusiasm.  “I’ve talked to one of the guards.  He showed me his sword.  They’ve had to double their watch since…”

“Malachi, shut up!”  said Mercy.

But it was too late.  The scene flooded back to Martha’s memory.  Her face went pale. “Arrrhhh!”  she yelled as if to try to yell the memory out of her system.  “Arrrhhh!”

Labesh came over from her seat near the window and stroked Martha’s face, calming her.  “There now… Hush,” she said.

But Martha was wide awake now.  “What kind of a beast was that?”  she asked.

“They say it was a gargoyle,” said Mercy.

“Gargoyle?”

“You know the stone creatures made for gutter spouts on the cathedrals?”

Martha reflected: “It wanted the necklace. I know it.”

There was a knock in the outside chamber and Labesh went to answer it.  Apparently, it was a Palace guard with an urgent message from the King.  Labesh tried to shoo the guard away, but he insisted on reading his message:   “Begging your pardon, Miss, but there is a summons here from the King.  It states that if the children are awake and able, he awaits them in his council chambers.”

“Brego, have you been out there listening to know if they are awake?”  Labesh said with a playful accusation in her tone.

“To be honest with you ma’am, yes I have,” he replied.  “The Council is already begun.”

“Well, you can tell King Titus that the entire kingdom will have to wait a half an hour,” replied Labesh.  “Land sakes,” she said turning to the children, “you’d think I trained him better when he was in wee britches!  The King ought to know that these things take time.”

She bustled over to the table and poured a cup of tea.  Martha had already noticed its fragrance which was filling the chamber.  “Here, drink this,” said Labesh.  “It is made from peppermint along with some other herbs.”

Mercy and Malachi had already been drinking the warm tea.  “Try it Martha,” said Malachi, “it makes you feel better.”

The nurse gave the heavy ceramic cup to Martha after she had sat up.

“Don’t try to talk too much.  Just drink.” said Labesh.

“She should go back to sleep,” said Mercy.  Us two can go to the Council,” she added, gesturing to Malachi.

Tears welled up in Martha’s eyes. “No, no, I’ll go,” said Martha drying the tears with her sleeve.  “We have to find out what this is all about.”

Martha noticed that the attendants had washed the blood and food stains off the sky blue dress.  It was hung neatly at the foot of the bed.  She moved her arm and winced.  “It does hurt a bit.”

“We have completely cleaned and dressed the wound with calendula Miss,” said Labesh.   “I can’t say as I’d recommend being up and around too quickly.  But, my!  You children do seem to get the red back in your cheeks!”  She wiped Martha’s brow with a warm cloth.  She continued in a soft prattle, “You’ll be glad to know the dishes in the Palace are washed with boiling water every day.  That’s what cut you– palace dishes: clean as can be.  Won’t you go back to sleep for a while longer?”

Martha began to edge from the bed, looking at the nurse with level eyes.  “No, ma’am.  I do so want to go to the Council,” she said, swinging her legs off the bed.  “The King has summoned us.”  She stood up, and, with Mercy’s help, began to put on the dress.

The nurse carefully checked the bandage on her arm.  “Well, the King’s business is the King’s business.   But if it was up to me, I’d have you sleep longer.  I’m going to escort you.  And if you begin to faint again, little missy, I intend to bring you right back here,” she said in a motherly tone.

As they left the healing chambers, they were escorted this time by Brego and two other palace guards.  It was so exciting going through the Palace in daylight.  There were large paintings, shields and hanging banners in nearly every corridor.  They came to a large foyer with several paintings.  Noise of conversation was coming through an archway where guards stood.  They could sense numbers of people in the chamber beyond.

“Look!” Mercy exclaimed, pointing off to the left.

The guards seemed reluctant to pause, but the three children stood staring at a painting of a woman in queenly attire who was wearing the very necklace Martha had found.

“Who is that?”  Mercy asked.

Brego spoke up; “That’s Queen Tirzah, Miss.  She was the last queen to wear the necklace.  She disappeared on pilgrimage over 13 years ago when I was a boy.  We all loved her.”

The painting was larger-than-life.  The Patternstone necklace was shining on the Queen’s breast.  The children felt like the eyes of the Queen were actually looking at them, they were so lifelike.

“How did she lose the necklace?” Mercy prompted.

“It was stolen, Miss. But you see…”

“Then how did it end up in the dressing chambers?”

“Begging your pardon, Miss, but I’m to bring you to the Council as soon as may be,” said Brego.

Martha could not stop looking at the painting.  The Queen’s eyes had come alive and were beseeching—pleading with Martha to understand.  “You are to pick up where I left off.”    The voice was in Martha’s head, but it seemed very real.

After a few moments, seeing that there was nothing else for it, Mercy placed her hands over Martha’s eyes.  “C’mon, we need to go.”

Pulling their eyes from the painting with difficulty, the three children proceeded into the council chamber.  The chamber had many wooden tables forming a circle with high seats for the King and Queen.  There were also several distinguished looking people and many men in the livery of the guard.

The lines of concern etching King Titus’ face gave way to rounded crinkles as he smiled at his guests.   “Welcome, children. We are so glad to have you with us.”  He pointed out places to sit. “We must do away with preliminaries.  We have but an hour.”

The King gestured for a man with flowing white hair and a long beard to come forward.  His reading spectacles, quills, and other odd items protruded comically from pockets on his gray robe.  There were several scrolls laid out on the table before him.

“As many of you know, Ezra, our Chief Historian and Recorder, has understanding of these things. Let us all give heed to his brief history lesson!”

With the deepest of bows, the old man stood up.  His beard only missed dragging the ground by a nifty fold which doubled it over at the belt.  He smiled warmly toward the children.  Martha thought she had never seen such a combination of beard and bald head.  As he began to speak, his obvious age seemed to fall away in his enthusiasm.  He could speak from memory, and began:

“A great and grand cathedral

spires to the sky,

as if to pierce the firmament

this joyful tent,

toward heaven bent,

has for us a pattern sent,

to mark the seasons by.”

Ezra paused to let his voice reverberate, testing the acoustics.  He had placed his hands behind his back as if he was reciting a memory verse for grammar school.

“Many years in building,

on great foundations deep,

hewn with stone,

by back and bone,

in years we see a steeple cone,

from pastures with our sheep.”

“From whence derives these patterns?

From whence, this building plan?

From heaven’s throne,

to call our own,

Ancient builders made them known.

Reflected in the floor of stone,

and ceilings vaulted span.”

500 years of building?

‘Twas but a little time.

The people knew to make a place

to decorate with cloth and lace.

To meet their maker face-to-face,

singing praises by His grace,

‘ere hammers rang the chime.”

The acoustics in the chamber were excellent.  Ezra paused to let the word “chime” reverberate fully.  Then he began again in a pedagogical tone: “Ahh, yes, let me see …The construction of the seven cathedrals began approximately 2300 years ago.  Phesus, Myrrh,  Gamos,  Attyra, Sarbad, Adelphia and Laodice.  It was at least 490 years between their beginning and completion.  As gifted craftsman contributed their skills over the years, parts of the architecture gradually took on magical qualities.  It seems that Angels gave gifts to men.”

“Over the years, as the stone- masons continued to sing and chant in time with their chisels and hammers, perhaps coming down for a draft of ale at lunchtime, and rejoicing in their labor, they began to develop a sense of humor about the things they built.  They were confident of God’s blessing.  They began to carve stone gargoyles.  It became almost a competition between the masons to see who could do the best carving.  They were placed as gutter spouts to throw water away from the beautiful stone carvings below.  Many of them were carved to laugh at the old dragon, Chaozz the Black because he never could get into God’s church.  Some of their faces are sad, perhaps expressing sorrow at the plight of humanity.  Some are stern, reflecting God’s judgment.  But many of them were actually a competition between the masons to come up with the most interesting looking creatures.”

Malachi had perked up at the mention of a dragon.  Forgetting protocol, he blurted out a question:  “Did the dragon try to fly at them when they were working on the roof?”

Ezra did not seem at all flustered by Malachi’s interruption and responded.  “Yes, occasionally he would fly down, breathing fire!”  But he could not damage the buildings or the workers.  The blessing of God created some sort of invisible shield around the cathedrals.  In fact, as soon as a Cathedral was started, there would be a shield around the whole city in which it was being built.  Chaozz had to resign himself to burning up farmsteads in the countryside.  But he soon realized that this would only motivate people to build more churches and to worship more fervently.  Soon even the smallest villages began to have a church.

“Of course, Chaozz was greatly dismayed by the progress of these buildings.  He knew that if communities of people would gather in them to sing and worship, he would be rendered powerless.  He had to completely change his tactic.  He began to make friends with men using the gold and silver and diamonds found in the Black Mountain just north of Sarbad.  He would offer to give people gold if they would train to be his magicians.  He offered a life of pleasure and ease.  And, sadly, as we all know, there are always people who will sell their souls for these things.  Under his influence, these magicians began to put demonic spirits in the gargoyles.  This is what we are now facing.”

At this moment Twombly sounded a low note and a silver trumpet.

“Ezra, pardon the interruption.” said the King.  “What news, Twombly?”

“Sire, several hundred gargoyles have surrounded the cathedral!  A messenger has ridden hard from Cathedral Square.”

One of the outer doors was opened.  The sweaty scent of horse and the sound of its breathing could be heard.  A man in full equestrian withers strode in, gathering his breath.  “The gargoyles are flying hard into the large stained-glass window.  Sire, I fear they may have already destroyed it.”

“Are any worshipers trapped?”

“There were only a few people praying.  We managed to get them out the side door.”

“Have the archers had success?”

“They are tough to hit, sire, as you know, because they generally don’t come close to the ground.  We have released over 200 silver tipped arrows.  Many of the brave young lads are running about trying to find the overshoots and bring them back to the archers.  We simply aren’t prepared for an attack of this type.  We cannot understand why they have left their gutter spouts.”

“Where is Shepherd Amos?”

“He should be on his way.  I think he began by praying and then realized that the sanctuary had been breached.  We are all wondering, Sire: what has changed?  What allows the gargoyles to violate the sanctuary?”

“That is what we are met to discuss.  Please, take some refreshment!”  said the King.  A serving girl offered him water and wine.  “Listen here,” Titus continued, “and you will learn much.  This young girl has found the Patternstone.  Ezra, please continue your description!”

“Yes, Sire.  Well, when Chaozz the Black found a way to put his demons into the gargoyles, the stone masons were at a loss. But, there was a wise man among these craftsmen of old named Tubal.  He remained faithful and so saw through the deception.  He had understanding of the magical properties of different kinds of stones and minerals. He sought for a way to thwart these designs.  In short, he needed a way to turn the gargoyles back into stone.”

There was a hush in the counsel.  Everyone was intrigued.  At this point, he turned to Martha.  “Come forward and hold it up child!”

Martha had put the necklace back under the bodice which had a concealed pocket in the front.  All three children now stood up and Martha held up the necklace for all to see.  Its radiance filled the room. Gasps of astonishment could be heard as the people saw its brilliance.

“Behold the stone!  Fashioned by Tubal of old, it shows us seasonal patterns for life and blessing of God.  Against all probability, it has been found by this child from Earth.”

Martha felt a little self-conscious.  Her blushing cheeks only added to the colorful reflections of the magic dress and bright necklace.

Ezra continued: “Tubal fashioned the Patternstone from the finest magical diamond available in the mines of Yahalom.  He also fashioned the seven smaller diamonds, each of which has a precise fit in the floor of the seven cathedrals.  When the Patternstone touches one of these seven, it’s cathedral becomes renewed.  All its gargoyles will be turned back into stone.  If this is done annually at the feast times, the gargoyles will remain in their native habitat—as stone gutter spouts.   They love to sit in the sun laughing at Chaozz and performing a useful function keeping the water away from the buildings.”

“But if this is not done annually, the gargoyles become open to the demons, and, as time goes by, the demons can even manifest through the gargoyles physically.  When this happens, they jump from their gutter spouts and begin to do Chaozz’s bidding.  The gargoyles in Adelphia were prevented from this because we have continued to worship and have festivity around the Cathedral.  We all know that Sarbad and other cities have had terrible trouble with gargoyles in the last couple years.  But ours had never become demon possessed until yesterday.”

Martha was on the verge of tears again as she thought of the winged creature in the feasting hall.  Her eyes wandered from Ezra and she caught sight of Miriam winking at her.  She gathered her courage looking at Miriam and remembering about the diplomatic face.  Meekly, she raised her hand to ask a question.

Ezra noticed her hand:  “Yes Miss Martha.”

“So, did Queen Tirzah travel around to the seven cathedrals?”

“Yes, she did.  And even after the necklace was stolen, she continued to make the pilgrimage and encourage the people to worship.  She trusted that the stone would be found one day, and indeed, it has!”

Ezra paused.  Martha raised her hand again.  “Here, sir,” she said as she tried to hand him the necklace.

“Oh no….No, that is impossible. The necklace truly is magical.  God causes it to be passed down into the hands of someone faithful.  Each time the gargoyles assert themselves, another brave person is raised up.   But 14 years ago, the necklace was stolen.  It was found by you, so you must complete the task.”

King Titus had been listening thoughtfully.  “But how could it have ended up in the dressing chambers?”

“The one who stole it was probably someone within the Castle,” replied Ezra.  “Somehow, this person was not able to get from the Castle with it, and so simply hid it.”

When Ezra said this, Martha suddenly felt uncomfortable.  She now sensed that not every eye now gazing upon her was friendly.   Then, she saw him–one of the Kings counselors.  At the mention of the dressing chambers, he had flinched.

One of the soldiers raised his hand.  The King nodded permission to speak.  “The gargoyle that flew into the hall seemed to know who was wearing the necklace.”

Then Levi, the archer who had shot the arrow in the Hall, spoke up: “I think it was more  a shrewd guess.  They knew the necklace had been found because they are attuned to it.  What then?    The gargoyle felt its presence and simply guessed that the finder was attending the feast.  I sincerely believe that it is he who we saw in the Hall.  Did you notice how the beast looked around before descending toward Martha?”

Levi turned to her.  “Do you think that the creature saw the necklace?”

Martha shuttered.  Her eyes filled with tears as she said, “I’m sure it did.  It flew straight toward me.”

“So,” said Levi, “they know we have it and they may know who has it.  We must assume that they do.”  He turned again to Martha: “do not fear, young mistress!  We will guard you with our lives.”

Mercy spoke up, “Sir, couldn’t we put it under a bushel or lock it up ?”

The King spoke up, “locking it up will accomplish nothing.  It is meant to be brought to Cathedrals.  In fact, we must attempt to bring it to all the seven.  If we were to lock it here, in the palace, the enemy would simply continue to send gargoyles until they finally overthrew us.  Our only course of action is to attempt the Cathedral here at Adelphia first before the gargoyles gain greater numbers, then send Martha on pilgrimage to the other cathedrals.”

“Sire, surely not the haunted Cathedral at Sarbad?”  Twombly broke out.

“That is the end for which is intended.  We cannot see how this will be accomplished.  We can only guess that each Cathedral, when set free, would weaken Chaozz‘s position.  But we cannot discuss the big picture today.  Let us focus on Adelphia!  We must act quickly! ”

At this point, another counselor spoke up.  The one Martha had not felt right about.

“Rasha,” the King gestured, “you may speak, but please be brief,”  (King Titus wondered to himself why he had not taken Rasha out of his counsel before this).

“Most glorious King,” Rasha began, “with all humility, I suggest that we avoid acting too hastily or rashly.  The Patternstone is a historical matter requiring the greatest of care and consideration as we determine the course of our kingdom.  We must patiently procure all of the literature in the archives pertaining to the possibilities which the Patternstone may afford us.  It is a particularly delicate political situation.  Surely, you are aware, sire, that the philosophical and religious underpinnings connected with its potential abuse may, in the abstract…”

Before Rahsa’s monotone could lull them into complacency, another messenger burst through the door and begged for leave to speak.  He was out of breath, his arm was bloodstained, and is whole body was covered with grime.

“Speak Honathan!”  said the King, obviously grateful for the interruption.

“They’ve penetrated the cathedral again, Sire.  They are beginning to reinforce their defenses.”

“This is the hour!” said the King.  If his eyes could have been fencing swords, they could not have more clearly silenced Rahsa.

Then he shifted his gaze to the three friends.  “Are you willing to help us?  We cannot guarantee your safety, for that is in the hands of God, but we will defend you by life or by death.  Martha, our only hope is to get the Patternstone to the center of the Cathedral floor.”

Martha glanced at her companions.  They looked at her with determined expressions.

“Sire, my father taught us that we should be ready for such adventures.   We have read books about this sort of thing.  We are willing!”

Cheers went up in the hall.

“Hear me, everyone!”  boomed the King.  “There is no time to lose.  Chaozz is surely calling up gargoyles to prevent the renewal of our Cathedral. Can we assure safe passage to the Cathedral?”

Honathan spoke up again, “the entrance to the Cathedral has been blocked, sire.”

There was silence for a few moments, but then Levi stood up: “Sire, I beg leave to counsel with yourself, Ezra, Duman, and the three children in private.”

Immediately, the King stood.

“Sire, I object!” said Rasha.  “In many counsellors is wisdom, as it is said.”

“Objection denied,” the King replied without a glance.  He motioned, and the seven retired to a smaller room off the Council chamber.

Martha could feel the tension in the room as if a balloon was about to pop.  She was glad to leave the larger chamber behind.

“Let us take a deep breath,” said the King, helping them to relax.  Martha thought he was calm under pressure Levi began, “Sire, as you know, I have patrolled the access tunnel on regular intervals.  We have rightly guessed that the main doors could be blocked…”

The King nodded for him to continue.

“Our only hope is to get Martha and the necklace to the center of the transept by using the Key of David and going through the Open Door.”

“I can see that to attempt getting past the gargoyles in the open square would be folly,” said Titus.  “But, what of the Labyrinth?  Is it safe now that the Patternstone is found?  When was the last time it was used?”

“I myself checked it three days ago.  There were no major obstructions, though there is one deep crevice which requires rope to get across.”

“Where does it come into the cathedral?”

“The Labyrinth ends in the crypt under the very center of the Cathedral.  We will need the Key of David to open the entrance to the crypt.  Across the crypt, there is a spiral staircase leading up to the Cathedral.  It comes out at the Open Door upon the wall of the southwest corner, the place where the transept crosses the nave.  The gargoyles are sure to be surrounding the mosaic at the center of the floor.  We must do something which would tend to distract almost all of them.  They will not be suspecting our entrance there, but when we get in, we must try to cover the 10 yards or so without being seen. With your permission sire, I will lead the children through the tunnel along with Duman, his dog Scrapper and Miriam.  More numbers than that would not avail.”

Twombly spoke up.  “The army must launch an attack on the gargoyles which will completely engage their attention toward the outside of the Cathedral.  And yet, we cannot sling munitions at the cathedral itself.  How can this be accomplished?”

“That is a question for the Army.  Let us go back to the main chamber.  But I charge the seven of you to say nothing of this secret plan,” said Titus.

Ezra spoke up, “beware of evil now that the Patternstone is found.  Remember the battle of 2543.  Anytime the Patternstone is found, evil creatures (and the men who side with them) tend to come out of the stonework, so to speak.”

When the Council had reconvened, King Titus spoke again:  “we have come up with a plan that cannot be revealed to all.  In order for it to be successful, we must allow the gargoyles to think we are attacking them directly in the square in front of the Cathedral.”

Uriah, the captain of the Army, spoke up, “we can prepare a frontal assault within two hours.  We must make it appear that we are going to follow them right into the Cathedral and attack with our silver tipped swords.  Hopefully, they will be drawn out, especially since it will be night.”

Levi spoke up again.  “Honathan has told us that they have already have they broken the round stained-glass rose window.   I will shoot a flaming arrow through the opening as our signal.  With the trajectory from the southwest corner, I should guess the arrow will come down about 50 yards to the Northeast in the square which would put it about 30 feet due East of the fountain.  Uriah, make sure no one is there to be the unwelcome recipient of the arrow.  When you see the arrow, begin singing victory Psalm 7 at the top of your lungs and see if the gargoyles will be drawn out of the cathedral.”

“But what will you be doing in the Cathedral?” said Rahsa.

“That will be revealed in time,” said the King.  “The plan is good.  We will muster in two hours at Palace Square. From there, we march directly into Cathedral Square.  Let the gargoyles assume we are making a direct assault.  Sound the silver trumpet!”

A note sounded high and clear, followed by a melodic series of blasts.  From atop the Castle it rang throughout the kingdom.  In the silence that followed, the kingdom was beginning its reluctant preparations for battle.

5

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.  You are not required to go, but if you do, you must be ready to defend your sisters at all cost!”

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.   “Yes Sire, I am willing, 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.

“That can be mended,” said the King, motioning for the children to follow him.  “Have you used a sword in your world?”

“Yes,” replied Malachi, but then added, “only wooden practice swords with my dad.”

“Well,” said the King, stopping before a large set of double doors, “then you shall need some instruction. Welcome to the Armory.”

“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!”

“Yes, sire!”

“Outfit him as quickly as you may. Give him to Levi for instruction!”

“Yes, sire.”

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?”

“Have you played instruments on earth?”  asked Miriam.

“I have,” replied Mercy.

“Well, it could be powerfully useful as an accompaniment when we sing.  I do not know how to play it myself, but perhaps you will learn.”

“My dad always played guitar and it helped us to sing Psalms.”

“Great!  But now there is little time to practice.  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?”
asked Martha.

“Yes?” Said Miriam. “Levi 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 Levi, I think I hear a summons.”

Just outside the shield maiden armory, on a smooth bench sat Malachi with Levi.  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 Levi.

“Apprentice?” said the man laughing. “Apprentice? Hah!  We’ve only been through 85 full-scale battles together. Levi just likes to pull my leg!”

Levi 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.”  Then he returned the cheery bow to Levi.  “Especially when I am waiting for Levi to catch up!” he chided, giving Levi 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 prayed, 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, Levi 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 Levi.  See you soon.”

“I need to give you a proper introduction to Scrapper,” said Duman. “This little guy can save your life.  He’s smarter than he looks.”  He 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 sword and a  dog!

6

The King took a few stout warriors and led the companions through many hallways into a small chapel on the east wall of the Palace.  The chapel had Gothic style windows with beautiful stained-glass images of warriors, singers, and saints, all performing baptisms and the like.

“This is where the people of the Palace come to chant their prayers,” said the King.  “The passage between this Chapel and the Cathedral is a labyrinth.  Are the three of you feeling strong?”

Mercy looked at the other two, “we are, your Majesty.  A little overwhelmed, but we seem to be in good health.”

The King turned to Martha.  “Hold out the necklace again, child,” he said.  It was glowing bright.  “Too bright,” he said.  Phesus, Myrrh, Gamos, Attire, Sarbad, Adelphia and Laodice,” the King recited as he pointed to these words written in the gold setting around the diamond.  “Right now, the ‘Facet of Many Colors’ , corresponding to ‘Sunday’, also corresponds to ‘Adelphia’.  That facet of the diamond represents time for rest and worship and festivity one day in seven.”

“Wow!”  said Martha, once again astonished by the beauty of the stone.

If you succeed in Adelphia, the ‘Facet of Many Colors’ will correspond to a different city.  This will show where it needs to go next.

“History shows us that when the Patternstone is found, evil is awakened,” he said,  dropping his voice to a whisper.   “Chaozz is seeking it!  We have made a mistake.  My Queen remembered only minutes ago –we should have put  it in the bodice of the dress.  We have exposed the diamond too long.  It is exposed in the magical realm.  This is why the gargoyles are so busy. Queen Lydia has been searching through the Royal apartments.  She found something crucial to your mission.” He carefully handed Martha a purse: leather on the outside, but sky blue on the inside.   “It is an heirloom of Queen Tirzah.  It is made of the same rare fabric as the bodice of the sky blue dress.  It hides the Patternstone, even in the magical  realm.  I think it will fit on your belt.”

The King knelt down and showed Martha how to attach it. Martha placed the necklace in the bag.  Its inner light not only went out, but Martha could feel that it was hidden.

The King’s eyes looked like deep wells, as he continued to explain, “When magical evil is close by, the Patternstone will throw a bright light.  Its brightness is connected to the faith of the one who carries it.  But, this light can also be a detriment to its bearer when you wish to remain hidden.  Bring it out only at need.”

“I understand,” said Martha.  She couldn’t help it:  she gave the King a hug.

“Remember, God in heaven above is directing your steps,” he said with a warm smile.  “Your journey to the Cathedral may be dangerous, but…”

As if to confirm the King’s words, a loud “thudd” was heard.  Dark shadows could be seen through the stained-glass windows of the chapel.  Scrapper began to bark fiercely.  The companions could feel the presence of evil.  “Keep it Hidden!” said the King.  “Those shadows are gargoyles and they are seeking it.  Levi, now is the time!  Take them down the stairs and explain more to them on the way!”

There was another “thud” on the outside of the main stained-glass window and they began to hear a cracking sound.  Levi grabbed a torch from the wall and led them through a double-doored archway into the darkness beyond.  The torchlight revealed a landing and a set of spiral stairs.  Just as they began to descend the first few stairs, they heard a huge crash coming from the room behind them.  One of the King’s guards slammed the iron double door shut behind them.  From inside, Duman dropped a solid iron bar securing it.

“No time to lose!”  said Levi, scooping up Malachi in his arms.  “Let your left hand glide along the rail and focus on taking the stairs evenly.”  He began to lead them down the stairs, which spiraled around to the left.  He went slowly at first, giving time for their eyes to adjust.  The crashing sounds grew slightly fainter behind them as they descended.

“Try pulling your sword out,” said Duman.

Malachi did so, and it flickered grey on both sides of the blade.  “It is one of the Ramfaya blades forged by Meshek, brother of Tubal,” said Duman.  “It will brighten with different colors in the presence of different enemies.  Grey is for stone.  It flickers now because gargoyles are behind us in the chapel.  It should grow dimmer as we descend.”

“Do you think the King escaped?”  Mercy asked.

“He has a few escape plans up his sleeve,” said Duman.  “May God help him!”

Mercy noticed that Levi was humming to himself.  “Why are you humming?” she asked.  Levi did not answer, but Duman spoke up: “he is humming to count measures of time.  A measure is four beats of his song.  400 till we hope to meet the guards, and 200 more till we must try to fire the arrow into the square.  Timing is everything.”

“Why don’t you just use a watch?”

“A what?”

Mercy realized Highpattern did not yet have electronic devices.   Come to think of it, there was no electricity.  She looked at her wrist and realized that she had not brought her own watch.  Then she gazed back at Levi.  His humming was rhythmic and methodical.  For a few moments, both men hummed together.  Then, at a signal, Duman began to take over the humming.

Levi spoke: “it is time for me to fill you in as we go.  You will need to practice walking quietly without speaking.  Can you do that?”

“We can try.” said Martha.  She was painfully aware of the padding of their feet on the stone stairs and noticed how quietly the three guides walked.

“It is not as easy as you might think.  The skill of walking quietly usually takes years to develop, but we are asking you to try with no practice.”

They all listened.  Their footfalls began to seem like megaphones announcing their presence to whatever was in the dark.

“That’s a little better,” whispered Levi, as the walking began to get quieter.  “Secondly, you will be tempted to talk in places where we shouldn’t.  Questions will come into your mind.  You must signal to me like this (he showed them a questioning gesture) or pull right here on my cloak (he showed them where to pull) to get my attention.  When you have done that, you must wait until I speak to you.  If I do not speak to you, you must assume that it is not time to speak.”

Once again, the children were struck with the seriousness of the situation and realized how little serious training they had in these areas.

“Mom wants us to do this when she’s on the phone,” said Martha.

“The what?”

“Oh, something from our world,” said Martha.  “I’ll explain later.”  As

“100 measures,” announced Duman in a low voice.  He began humming again.

“We will be descending just about 400 feet,” said Levi.  The Cathedral is down in the village square.   The steeple of the Cathedral is higher than the Palace, but the ground floor of the Palace is 300 feet above the floor of the Cathedral.  The Palace serves as a lookout to guard the city walls.”

As they descended, the air began to change in its character.  The smell of dampness greeted them, and the walls of the spiral stair on one side became open at waist height.  They felt the largeness of cavernous  surroundings and a draft of cold air.  Duman was still humming, but so softly as to be barely audible.

Finally, they came to a landing.  Miriam gestured them to remain quiet.  They huddled in a circle and she handed them each a rice cake. Martha’s stomach had been queasy with fear, but cake seemed to settle it.  Miriam also passed around a flask of liquid which tasted like sweet wine.  Martha felt confidence return with the food.  The wine brought warmth to her tummy which spread into her limbs and feet.

After they had eaten in silence for a few minutes, Levi called attention to Malachi’s sword.  The greyish flickering had almost ceased, but Levi seem dismayed by a very slight green tint on the other side of the blade.

“Looks like something ahead,” he said.  “something that was not there when I scouted this labyrinth three days ago.” In a very low voice, he said, “we must put out the torch now and be silent as we walk.”  He took out a coil of rope and instructed each person in the line to hold it with the left hand.

Martha concentrated.  Her feet had begun to ache.  She knew she had to descend the stairs as soundlessly as possible, but the muscles around her knees were beginning to be uncooperative.

Levi gently put his hand on each shoulder as they came down signaling them to stop.  The darkness now seemed complete.  The floor of the tunnel here was damp.  They stood and listened.

After a while, Duman sent a hand squeeze down the line indicating that 200 measures had finished.  There was no sign of the Kings soldiers.  After waiting in silence a good while longer, Levi checked the hand of each person on the rope, and, without a word, led them forward into the tunnel.

The trick here was to avoid splashing puddles which they frequented.  The children noticed that the boots they had been issued were well oiled and kept their feet dry.  After about another ten minutes of this, Levi stopped again.  The green on Malachi’s sword had grown brighter and it now revealed a huge pile of stones.

Wordlessly, Levi placed his hand on the shoulders of each person until had put them in a huddle.  Scrapper obediently sat.

“This rubble blocking the passage was not here three days ago.  This is a true labyrinth–meant to protect entrance into the Cathedral by enemies.  Passages can shift.   We must carefully retrace our steps and look for a door.  Put your hand on the hilt of Malachi’s sword if you would like to speak.”

“Why is it green?”  asked Martha.

“The green on Malachi’s sword indicates a cave dragon, or some such creature nearby, judging by its brightness.  This could be what has killed the other soldiers, or at the least, they are trapped at the other side of the creature.  The finding of the Patternstone may have awakened this evil as a protection to keep it out of the Cathedral.

“Well, uhh, we have this sword to take care of it, don’t we!”  Said  Malachi, forgetting to whisper.

Levi gave him a stern look.  “What about you young ladies?  I can tell you that if you have never faced a creature like this, it will not be a pleasant experience.”

“I want to go home,”  said Martha.  Mercy put her arm around her sister.   She was really having a big moment of doubt.  What were they doing in tunnels under the city?  How had they got into this mess?

“I think we should allow torchlight,”  said Miriam. “Don’t you think it is probably aware of us already?”

“Yes, risk it. The beast, whatever it is, will certainly find us if we intrude his territory,” said Levi.  “We have only about 300 measures before I must fire that arrow into the square.”

The companions began working their way back– retracing their steps and carefully looking at the walls on either side looking for a way through.  Malachi held the bright green light of the sword against the right hand wall, while Miriam kept the torch against the left-hand wall.

After only a minute or two, Mercy exclaimed, “stop, Malachi!  What are these two trees here?”

“I think you’ve got something,” said Levi.  Let’s see…”.  He examined the tree carvings on the wall.  They were carved in the stone with very intricate grooves.  “Though I cannot see any crack in the stone, these trees may very well be guardians of some passage.”

On the left, there was a carving of a young sapling with the inscription:

“Humbly and gradually serve,

Be brave and find the nerve,

to yield to others, though free.

Wait for authority.”

On the right was a carving of a mature tree with the inscription:

“Take your destiny now.

Don’t wait: I’ll show you how.

Make others follow you,

take charge, and go right through.”

“It’s like the two trees of the garden of Eden,” said Mercy.  “The Tree of Life…well…it gave Adam life and opportunity to learn.  The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil gave Adam authority, but…well, he picked the fruit too soon.  You shouldn’t pick it until you’re ready.”

“280 measures,” said Duman, still humming softly.

“Yes,” said Levi, “there may come a time for that other door, but I feel much better about the small sapling now.  All agreed?”

As if in answer, Scrapper was pawing at the sapling. Everyone nodded.  Levi stood before the sapling and said in a clear voice, “We choose to wait and gradually serve!”  There was a grinding noise, and the stone wall slid inward.

Instantly, Malachi’s sword glowed more brightly.  Scrapper ran back from the door whimpering as if he’d been stung by a bee.  “Whatever beast it is, it’s here!” said Malachi. “Shouldn’t we go the other way?”

“I understand now,” said Levi. “No, Malachi, we need to face it.  The beast is here because of the stone, it wasn’t here three days ago, but the Patternstone had not yet been found.  Follow me!”

Levi took Malachi up in front with him.  His sword provided plenty of light.  The tunnel was quite often curving around the right.   They would come upon an archway in the side wall of the passage and Levi would lead them through it as though he knew exactly where he was going.

“How do you know where to turn?” said Malachi.

“Because the same labyrinth is represented in the floor of the Adelphia Cathedral.  I have carefully studied it,”  said Levi.  With a wink at Malachi, he added, “you should always study the patterns in cathedrals which were built based upon God’s patterns.”

The stone walls and floor were smooth and even polished in places.  Though it was underground, it didn’t seem to be damp or dank, but rather warm and dry.  Scrapper was whimpering and reluctant to go forward.  Miriam picked him up as they continued.  As they rounded another set of right-hand turns, they began to perceive a roar of challenge.  Malachi’s sword was blazing green now.

“What is it?”  said Martha, no longer able to contain her terror.

Levi pulled everyone to a halt.  They gathered around the light of the Ramfaya sword.  Miriam gave everyone another swallow of new wine.  Duman was still humming softly, and Scrapper was silent and trusting but seemed to be saying “why are we doing this?”

Based on my study of this labyrinth,” said Levi, “we are about to face what is called a Minotaur!  Martha, unless I miss my guess, the diamond itself will be our real weapon now.  When you bring it out it will seem to be as bright as the sun, so everyone must close their eyes and keep them closed.”

Everyone did so.  Duman carefully put his hands on Scrapper’s face.

“Okay, Martha, bring it out!”

Martha put her hand around the necklace.  For some time now, it had been humming with power against her breast.  When she pulled it out from its pocket in the bodice, they could all feel its radiance against their eyes.

“Now, turn away from it like you would turn away from the sun and gradually look around,” said Levi.

It was as if daylight had come.  The startled amazement of everyone, the passageway had beautiful mosaic pictures.  Levi began to walk in front with Martha lighting the way by the necklace.  As they rounded the bend, they began to feel the beast’s presence.  It’s roar was like a rumble of boulders.  It seemed to be a roar of challenge. They could hear its flanks knocking against rock.

Now, when you are faced with a terrifying beast for the first time in your life, the experience can actually paralyze you with fear.  Miriam put her arm around Mercy–without this Mercy would not have been able to go forward.  As for Malachi, his sword seemed to hum with excitement and all he needed to do was keep his hand upon the sword hilt and it was like confidence flowing through his veins.

Despite all of this, Levi kept them moving forward.  The curving passageway ended abruptly at a large Gothic arch.  They looked into a chamber made of red earth in a bowl shape.  In its center, bisecting it, was a wide chasm with flames leaping from it.  The Company paused in the archway.  Scrapper began to bark fiercely.

Out of the chasm vaulted the beast.  It had the head of a bull and a triple sized human form.  It had intended to come straight for them, but it’s eagerness was its downfall.  It was immediately blinded by the unexpected brilliance of the Patternstone.  Levi’s bow gave its familiar ‘thrumm’ as he sent an arrow straight into its chest.  Duman’s arrow took the left side of its face

It gave a hideous wail as it retreated back down into the chasm. It’s angry thrashings could be heard not too far below.  Quickly, Duman unraveled a spool of string and threaded it through the end of one of Levi’s arrows.

“Point the Patternstone upward!”  Levi said to Martha as he knocked the arrow then shot it directly into a small crevice–illuminated by the necklace–in the roof of the chamber.  It stuck.  Duman ran back through the archway with the string through the end of the arrow like threading a needle.  The string was specialized and grew progressively thicker and stronger.  Levi hooked up a leather harness and tested it.  With a running jump, he swung across the chasm.

“It works!  Now, or we’ll never get across!”  he yelled.

Placing a rock in the harness, he swung it back to Duman.  But before he was able to start Martha across, the creature returned.  It had continued thrashing but now was coming up again to the top.

Miriam had encouraged Martha to hold the diamond out high.  Martha felt its immense power in her trembling hand.  Fear was about to engulf her shaking legs.  Her will began to waver.  The terrible bull’s head was now bloody on the left side, but it’s eyes were still red as fire with a commanding will.  Martha sensed that the creature was commanding her to put the diamond away out of sight.  Her hand began to draw back and it’s light began to waver and dim.

As the Minotaur closed in, Duman threw his body in front of Martha.    He parried the Minotaur’s first blow with his small shield, but this sent him sprawling on the ground.

At the same moment, Miriam had perceived what was happening.  Beckoning to Mercy, the two of them held Martha’s hands up as Miriam began to sing a Psalm of praise to God using the little horn from the armory.  Her clear voice was like an arrow of confidence piercing the fear infested darkness.  The change in the Patternstone was immediate.  It blazed with a light like sun in a winter sky.  This was the fourth time the girls had heard Miriam sing this particular psalm, so now they began to join their voices with hers.  All of this caused Minotaur to cry out in blinded agony and retreat far down into the abyss.

“Ready?”  said Miriam.

“It’ll be just like our tree swing back home,” said Mercy.

“Don’t worry,” said Miriam as she hugged Martha.  “I’m belting you in extra tight.  Don’t look down.”

When the companions sent Martha across, the bright light from the Patternstone shifted with her.  Martha couldn’t help it.  She looked down.  The necklace illuminated the creature below.  It had closed it’s eyes and creature was about to spring for her!  She screamed out in terror, but at that moment, another of Levi’s arrows sunk into its neck.  What had started as a leap for Martha became a writhing agonized fall deeper into the abyss.

Levi gently caught Martha.  “Keep the necklace out,” He said firmly as he undid the harness.

Malachi had watched all this and utter astonishment.  When you are a little boy, you dream of real conflict like this, but you are unprepared for the gut wrenching fear.  The sword in his hand was like green fire still flowing confidence through his arm.  But the knocking of his knees was causing it to move like a shaky glow stick.

Duman had scraped himself off the ground from blocking Martha with a fresh idea.  “Now that Martha is across, the creature may think it can strike this side.  Malachi, sheath your sword.”  Malachi did so, and the green fire quickly went out.  “You and I must rush out with your sword out point first when the creature comes to our side.”

He was right.  When the creature perceived that the bright light was on one side and darkness on the other, it’s attention shifted to those who still hadn’t gotten across.  Now Malachi was shaking with fear.  He felt Duman’s steady hand pressed over his.  They advanced towards the crevice.

The light from the Patternstone on the other side showed the Minotaur stealthily climbing toward Malachi.

“Now!”  shouted Duman.  Adding to the strength of Malachi’s arm,  they pulled the sword, now a bright green flame, from its sheath.  The creature was completely caught by surprise.  Malachi felt the great strength and timing of Duman’s arm as they swung the blade in a blinding arc.  It caught the creature’s advancing arm severing it.

This time it’s cry was one of defeat.  All the companions now sang loudly.  By the light of the Patternstone, they saw the creature descend out of sight.  Soon Mercy and Miriam were swinging across.

“Catch!”  Duman shouted to Miriam as he sent Scrapper across in the harness.  The small dog seemed to be smiling victoriously as he flew through the air.  Duman turned to Malachi.

“Ready? Keep the sword out,” he said as he harnessed himself and scooped Malachi up.  The pair looked like a blaze of green fire as they swung across the abyss in triumph.

Soon they were all running up the tunnel which led to the Cathedral, the blazing light of the necklace leading the way.  The agonizing wails of the Minotaur receded behind them.  Malachi held the Green flaming sword as a rearguard as he jogged along with Duman.  Once again, there were grey flickers on the blade as the green dimmed.

“More trouble ahead,” thought Malachi.  But the victory over the Minotaur had given him faith that they could handle it.

7

King Titus was no fool.  He read old Proverbs.  He read history.   He prepared regularly for drought or famine by laying up stores to share with the people in their need.  He prepared for sickness and plague by building a huge hospital to the west of the city.  And he wisely prepared for invasion.

For many years, beginning over 1000 years ago, Adelphia had cultivated intelligent Castle building.  The kingdom had created a labyrinth of tunnels and secret passages known to guards, servants, and the royal family.  King Titus now carried special keys giving him access to hidden rooms.

He knew that the stability safety of his kingdom partly depended on keeping the Royal family, including himself, safe.  Some thought it a very noble thing for a King to sacrifice his own life in defense of his people.  Titus was prepared to do that.  On the other hand, he knew that if he could live to a ripe old age it would be better for the kingdom.  Consistency, peace and stability meant good conditions for people to prosper. He wasn’t going to throw his life away in some vainglorious way.

Because of this, the royal palace in Adelphia had many secret passageways.  The Chapel was no exception.  His father, King Thomas, had taken the precaution of creating a trap door on the side of the altar which connected by passageways to his bedroom chambers.

As the gargoyles were smashing on the Windows, his childhood memories came flooding back like a dream.  One night, when Titus was about 12, his father had waked him and they had come to this very Chapel…

Together, they sang the vespers.  Titus liked singing vespers with his father– snippets of Psalms and prayers.  Just sitting in his dad’s lap or feeling his big hands and just being with him!  When the two of them were in the Chapel alone, it was like heaven and earth were connecting around them in the room. Thomas stopped singing and sat in silence for a few minutes.  Titus felt a sense of awe and wonder in his father’s arms.

With a small chuckle, Thomas broke the silence saying, “where do you suppose you would go if the palace were under attack right now?”

“I don’t know, Dad,” said Titus.

“Look here,” said King Thomas.  He showed Titus the trap door skillfully placed on the side of the altar in such a way that you could roll into it.  “Ready?”  And to Titus’ lasting delight, his father rolled into the trap door and disappeared!

Normally, he was afraid of dark unknown places in the Palace, but chasing his dad caused him to overcome his fear.  He rolled in sideways and found a little slope kept him rolling like a grassy lawn.   At the bottom, he bumped into his father and the two of them laughed and wrestled!

King Thomas then lit a small lantern light and began to work with Titus teaching him the number of steps to each turning of the passageway.  The two of them had already done this in the three passages leading out of Titus’ bedroom…

With a start, King Titus is mind snapped back to the present.  Three gargoyles smashed through the windows from different sides at once.  It was a well-coordinated attack, but 15 seconds too late.  Martha and the necklace were already 10 stairs down past the iron door.

These gargoyles operated mainly by a sixth sense, but the other five weren’t particularly keen. The Patternstone drew them.

With a deafening crash, they came through the stained-glass windows, pounded across the short space, and hurtled themselves against the iron door which Duman had just secured from the other side.  They did this a few times, bruising themselves (if stone could be considered “bruised”), before they realized its futility.

The poor creatures reluctantly turned their attention back to the Chapel guided by the evil will of their master.  Unfortunately for them, King Titus hadn’t wasted a second.  As soon as the gargoyles had broken the plane of the Windows, He had immediately somersaulted to the trap door as he had done with his father so many times growing up.  He lifted the latch, rolled in sideways, pulled the trapdoor shut and locked it from the inside.

One of the creatures smote the side of the altar, sensing where the King had gone.  It did some damage, but the heavy mahogany was not to be broken easily, even by stone creatures.

King Titus’ two guards had hidden themselves in the corner.  Now they sprang out and lunged with their silver tipped swords. The silver bit into the gargoyles and burned.  Not wanting to be thrown forever into the abyss, and foiled in their mission, the creatures quickly flew back through the void where stained-glass windows had been.

Meanwhile, with practiced motions, the King had first rolled, then crawled, then run down the hidden passageway which led toward the front gate.

He arrived at the gate with a fairly severe bruise on his left side, but otherwise, he  had hardly broken stride in fleeing from the Chapel.  Bartholomew, the captain of his personal retinue of guards had already arranged to meet King Titus where the secret passage could be pushed from inside to come out just before the palace gate onto a large porch of sorts overlooking the city.

“How many did you see fly at the Chapel?  asked the King.

“Must’ve been at least three, Sire.  Look!” replied Bartholomew.

The King looked out over Adelphia, now bathed in moonlight. The gargoyles appeared like a flock of overlarge birds.  They appeared black above him, but reflected silver when they were below him in the city.  He could see that some of them had flown toward the palace, but were now wheeling in confused spirals.  The largest portion of them surrounded Cathedral square.

“The Patternstone is probably down in the labyrinth by now and so they can no longer sense its presence,” said the King.  My mother, Tizrah used the labyrinth to hide herself and the Patternstone from unfriendly eyes.  She would actually sleep down there until the gargoyles gave up, then come up and the Cathedral and turn them all back to stone.  Do you have a regimen in the square?”

“Uriah is there with perhaps 200, Sire,” responded Bartholomew.  “They have left a large space 30 yards to the east of the fountain for the flaming arrow as arranged.  They are generally along the edges to avoid being hit by one of the creatures.”

“Well, it is time,” said the King.  “I don’t relish attacking them openly.”

“Nor do I, Sire,” said Bartholomew.

8

“Is everyone alright ?”  Asked Levi.

“A little shook up!”  said Mercy.  The companions were stumbling a little as they held the rope and followed Levi through the other side of the labyrinth.

Mercy had heard her parents talk about an adrenaline rush and how it left you weak and shaky.  “Weak and shaky?”  she thought,  “How about ready to faint and shook?”  As if in answer to Mercy’s thoughts, Miriam took out the flask and gave everyone another drink of the new wine.

“Grab the rope everyone,” said Levi.  “Timing is everything now.”  It was uncanny the way Levi knew exactly where to turn in the labyrinth. He spoke up again, “Duman says there are only 34 measures left before I must shoot the arrow into the square.    There are two doors that we must go through.  The first gets us into the crypt chapel below the level of the sanctuary floor, under the Cathedral.  The King has given us the Key of David for that.”

The greenish glow had faded from Malachi’s sword, which was comforting.  They had got past the Minotaur.  Now the edge of the steel began to glow with a grey light.

“Gargoyles ahead,” said Malachi forgetting to be quiet.

“Talk low,” said Levi.  “I don’t think we will meet gargoyles until we hit the Cathedral floor.  They will not be able to get into the crypt because the Open Door will be shut for them.”

“Oh, I get it.  The Open Door is a one-way door,” said Mercy.

“Not really.  It is a magical door,” said Levi.  “It’s purpose is to give access to the sanctuary for anyone who is fleeing and has not received a fair trial.  That person could go either direction anytime–the door will be open.  The door is also open for worshipers.  However, if someone has evil intent, the door will be shut to pursuers.”

“25 measures,” said Duman.

The group had now arrived at David’s Door which signified the successful completion of the labyrinth and away in to the crypt.  At its center was a beautiful mosaic depicting a King on his dais with a purple robe and golden crown.

“Take courage,” said Levi.  “Now for the last lap.”

“Can I come with you when you shoot the arrow?”  asked Malachi. Weariness had almost consumed Martha and Mercy, but he was still ready for action with his little energetic frame.

“Yes, you’re my man,” said Levi, patting Malachi on the back.  “Here’s what we’re going to do.  Together, you and I go into the crypt chapel, cross it, run up the spiral stairs, and through the Open Door.  You guard me with your sword and I fire the arrow into the town square.  If the King and his troops stand ready, it should take less than a minute for the gargoyles to be distracted and run to the front door of the Cathedral facing the square.  If some of them come toward us, Malachi, sadly, we must dispatch them with your sword.  Otherwise, they will raise the alarm.  My silver tipped arrows can only slow them down.”

He looked at Malachi, “the only weapon we have which can dematerialize them is your Sword.  It will send them into the abyss forever.  Don’t do this unless you have to. After all,” he said with a wry smile, “we need good gutter spouts!  Our objective is simply to get Martha to the center of the floor.”

Malachi understood.

Levi turned to Martha: “you must wait here until we come back for you.  When you do go up, stay on course–no matter what.  All the minions of hell may be thrown at you in that moment.  Sing with Miriam.   Don’t let fear get the best of you. You must expect the gargoyles to rush toward you, for they will sense the stone.  This is a community effort: Trust us to block for you.”

“You’re going to block for me?”  Martha asked.

“Here’s where you come in,”  he said to Mercy.  “You must be the backup for your sister.  Martha, use the blinding light of the Patternstone and sing as you did with the Minotaur.  If Martha faints or falters, you must guide her hand with the Adelphia stone to the center of the floor mosaic in the middle of the Cathedral.  Malachi and Duman will ward off the enemy with the Ramfaya sword.”

“12 measures left,” said Duman.  “The Lord be with you!”

Miriam pulled a beautiful golden key out of her pocket.  “Behold the Key of David,” she said, as she placed it in the lock.  As soon as she turned the key, the organ in the Cathedral began to make beautiful music.  “Sing!”  She shouted.  Miriam began to sing a warrior Psalm that was simple enough for the others to join in.  It was majestic!  As she sang, Levi sprang through the door taking Malachi and Scrapper with him.

They sped across the crypt, up the set of spiral stairs, and there stood a huge imposing door.  It was a double door standing under a Gothic arch with beautiful lettering and a carving of the Patternstone radiating into pictures of life such as farming, marketplaces, sewing and the like.  The seventh ray radiated into the Cathedral itself.

Malachi’s sword was a burning grey fire. He swung it in an arc like a glow stick.  “They’re in there,” he whispered.

“We seek sanctuary,” Levi whispered in the direction of the door.  Silently, it swung open of its own accord.

They looked through the door into the Cathedral.  They could see in without being seen.  Levi touched the tip of his arrow to the fire on Malachi’s sword.  It had been prepared with oil and quickly lit up.

There was one gargoyle standing sentry by the door.  He was fully awake and alert, sensing their presence but not knowing where they were.  “He can’t see or hear us,” Levi said to Malachi.  He can’t even see this flaming arrow.  Now, sadly, we must slay him. It is the only way I can get the shot off. I will grasp the sword with you and thrust, then, you jump back through this door while I shoot the arrow! Got it?”

Malachi nodded.  His hands were trembling.

Together they stabbed in through the door opening and the magical sword went through the gargoyle with a searing flash.  The creature wailed before it turned into a wisp of smoke.  Quickly, as planned, Malachi jumped back through the Open Door and turned to watch Levi.  He could see the black shadows of the other gargoyles rushing towards him from across the Cathedral floor using their wings to glide over pews.  But Levi’s years of training showed themselves.  He remained focused on the shot.  Despite the tons of hideous stone racing toward him, he didn’t miss a beat.  Malachi saw him stand in his archery stance, pull back the bow mightily, and fire: one, two, three… The flaming arrow shot nearly 200 yards right through the center of the broken rose window out into the town square.  Reflected moonlight provided the target.  The rose window was perhaps 70 yards away, so even though it was some 4 yards across, it was like hitting a bulls-eye at the usual 30 yards.

Levi was an experienced archer.  With the gargoyles running toward him, he had to resist the temptation to drop the bow right after the arrow release because it might still affect the shot.  He held the bow steady another full half second as a gargoyle struck, knocking the bow out of his hand.  He just had time to step aside from the path of the first gargoyle.  He avoided the head-on collision.  But, even the outstretched arm of a stone creature running toward you can do plenty of damage.

What saved his life was the Open Door.  The gargoyle slammed him back through the doorway.  For Levi, this meant sliding through into the crypt landing.  But for the gargoyle, this meant a very solid magical door, which he took full in the face.

Malachi watched, frozen with terror.  The gargoyle had broken to pieces on what looked like nothing but air.  Levi was thrown into the landing with a dented breastplate.  Malachi saw other gargoyles coming up and throwing their weight against the door.  He could sense hundreds of pounds of mass thudding on the door making deep booms.  The Open Door, however, remained shut for  them.

He tried to wake up Levi: “Get up!  Get up!  Oh please get up!”

Levi did not stir. Scrapper whimpered near Levi’s face.  Malachi leaned in and felt Levi’s breath against his cheek.  He was alive but unconscious.

Malachi was riveted to the spot as he realized the next decision was up to him.  Scrapper looked up, and Malachi followed his gaze.  Something had turned them the attention of the gargoyles away from banging on the door.  There was a tumultuous noise of battle coming from the front of the Cathedral.  Silver tipped arrows were flying in from the square.  Some were finding their mark. Malachi could see the forms of a few gargoyles sprawled on the floor.

Suddenly, one of the arrows stuck in the Open Door with a thud, seeming to be suspended in midair.  That did the trick.  Malachi woke from paralyzing fear and knew what he had to do.

“C’mon Scrapper!”  he said.  Using the flaming sword for light, he ran back down the spiral stairs to get help.

9

“Oww!”, said Gothlond to himself as he accidentally hit the branch of a sycamore tree.  He was still fairly clumsy.  He hated this whole business of being demon possessed.  How lovely it had been to bask on sunny days his archway.  Or, on rainy days, just to let the cool rain water flow through his guttermouth, that was bliss!

Somehow, in his haste to possess him, Chaozz had given him an untrained demon who wasn’t much of a flyer.  He kept running into things.  Delicately, he tried to land on the roof of a Baker’s shop, but botched it again– knocking several bricks out of a chimney.  One of his lieutenants, Zlag, was already on the roof awaiting instructions. (Zlag had been part of a threesome on one side of an archway: Zlig, Zlag and Zlog.  Their counterparts on the other side of the archway had been Blig, Blag and… Oh, nevermind, I need to get back to narrating).

“Why aren’t you attacking soldier?”  said Gothlond.

“We really don’t like to fly out at ‘em, sir,” said Zlag,  “They stay in close to the buildings then prick us with those silver arrows.  None of us wants to be a pincushion.  And they got Grog.  Right in his plexus!  Whisp o’ smoke he was.  Then we didn’t see ‘im no more. ‘Eees done for and we all know it.”

Gothlond looked across the roof at Zlag.  “Keep to your orders!  Continue to circle the Cathedral.  Take Zlig and investigate the ground at the west side.”

“That’s all right for you to say,” replied Zlag.   Ain’t you a pretty sight up ‘ere out of the line o’ fire.  Send us littler ones to do your dirty work…”

“Silence!”  yelled Gothlond.  “Don’t forget: I can report you to the black fellow.”

“On my way sir,” said Zlag meekly.  He saluted with one wing tip to his hideous deformed forhead and departed.

“Curses!”  he thought to himself.  “This demon possessed job!  Flying near the houses that humans lived in– repulsive!  He preferred the open-air.  Taking their food?  Yucky, disgusting stuff that humans enjoyed consuming from tables!  When humans ate, they would later sit on their pots – hah!– what a laugh! But this last assignment, the nerve!  Flying right into the palace with all the singing and food smells?  And all to try to get a necklace from a little girl?  Chaozz had better pay him well a job like that!”

Gothlond knew that the Patternstone would start the whole thing all over again. All of this singing and feasting and enjoying one another’s company–Yecchhk!  He had tried, he really had!  And now he was ordered to try again.  The failure in the Chapel of his three soldier gargoyles sealed the matter.  That confounded little girl was going to touch the Adelphia Stone in the floor of the cathedral.  If she did this, he would turn back to motionless stone.

As if through a crack, something in Gothlond’s memory awoke.  Underneath the demon, he realized that this would be a good outcome.  Deep within all demon possessed gargoyles, ready to be awakened, was the memory of the gutter spout.  If only Chaozz the Black hadn’t begun his program of enslavement.  Gothlond had looked so beautiful!    His stone mason had given him large wings and a hideous face, thank you very much.

“Wham!”  Another gargoyle, Pigsnout, crashed into the roof because his teeny-weeny wings were far too small for his large girth.

Gothlond shook his head.  What was he thinking?  The memory was gone.

“Why don’t you watch your floppy flaps you overgrown grapefruit!”  Gothlond yelled toward the fat, struggling  gargoyle.  “Get back to your duty!”

“Yes sir,” said Pigsnout trying to salute, only he couldn’t since his wing wasn’t long enough to reach his head.  Then he clumsily rolled off the bottom of the roof into a large rain barrel.  From there, spilling it, he finally broke free and managed to get airborne again.

How embarrassing!  As if to demonstrate his superior rank, Gothlond expanded his very large wings, and, with a few powerful flaps, flew back up to take stock of the situation again.

With lots of prodding, the other local gargoyles had surrounded the Cathedral.  It was excruciatingly difficult to try to get them to cooperate.  Only the threat of the abyss motivated them at all.  Even his three soldier-gargoyles had needed extra threats to attack the Chapel.  And two of them had been pierced by silver.   The Abyss for them.

And now, flying around Cathedral Square, exposing themselves to silver tipped arrows and swords.  This was not safe.  And then when the King’s Army began singing!  Well, let’s just say it was the opposite end of the spectrum from what demons liked: nails scraping over slateboard or un-tuned violins.

He swooped in lower for a closer look.  Hearing another couple of soldiers singing Psalms, he didn’t look where he was going. Wham!  “Owwuch!  Well, at least the tree got the worst of that exchange!  What was it about sycamore trees?”

He flew up to one of the flying buttresses surrounding the Cathedral in order to think.  Hmm…he knew, from one of the soldier gargoyles, Morlond, that the girl and her friends had got into the tunnel below the Chapel.  He sat looking out into Cathedral square.  Suddenly, a flaming arrow came Through the broken rose window in the front of the Cathedral and stuck in a sycamore tree down East of the fountain.  The tree began to catch fire.  What was it about sycamore trees?

Dang!  Someone had got through.  The jig was up.  Someone was inside.  And now the King’s Army began to sing those confounded warfare mountain Psalms with loud gusto.  His ears were ringing.  And no sign of Chaozz the Black.

No, there was nothing left to do but to try to stop the girl from getting to the center of the floor to touch the Adelphia stone.  He couldn’t wait any longer.  If he couldn’t get these lazy slouches to move, better do it himself.  Time for action!  In a fury, he flew a straight course for the front door of the Cathedral.

10

“He’s breathing!  Malachi, if I may…your sword,” said Duman.

Malachi looked at Levi, stunned.

Effortlessly, Duman used the fiery blade to  slice through the straps on Levi’s dented breastplate.  Then he gently adjusted Levi’s body.  “Scrapper, guard him!”  he commanded as he bent down to check for a pulse.  He gave a scruffy little pat.  Scrapper sat, knowing to stay put.   “We must leave him unconscious.”

All of the companions were standing now,  just inside the Open Door.  “Time to go in,” said Duman.  “Martha, you must hold the necklace upward in order to fend off the gargoyles.  They will not be  able to stand its light, but do not look at it yourself.”

“Like this?” Martha demonstrated.

“Yes. When you get to the very center of the floor mosaic, pull out the Adelphia stone.  It will fit exactly into the small depression at the center of the mosaic.  The seventh facet of the stone must face East.  Mercy, you must be ready to guide her hand if she falters.  Malachi, you and I must protect them with your sword.”

Duman gazed in.  Nearly all the gargoyles had gone to battle in the square.  Only two were left as sentries inside.  These stood between the companions and their goal.

“Malachi, you and I will have to go in first.  Let’s try to lure those two away!”

Malachi had never felt so afraid or courageous at the same time in his life.  Adrenaline pounded through his limbs and head.  Only Duman’s calm actions kept him from fainting on the spot.

As soon as they stepped through, the gargoyles charged at them.  Duman moved them quickly to the left: away from the door.  Malachi knew that there was no way out of this.  He took the courageous step through the door.

Instantly, the leader spotted him.  The creature was about 7 feet tall with big fangs protruding below his chin.  It obviously feared the Ramfaya sword which was burning with its familiar grey fire.  It dove to Malachi’s left, attempting to outflank the sword.  Duman simply kept both Malachi and the sword at the ready, rotating his stance.

As with Levi, Malachi had actually got used to Duman’s promptings and moved to where Duman wanted him.  It was like a circling dance., luring the creatures away.

Miriam, who had waited with the girls behind the Open Door, could see that it was time to act. The second gargoyle would attack from behind in seconds.  “Now!”  said Miriam and began singing  a psalm into her little horn.  As soon as the three girls crossed the plane of the Open Door, there was a gasp of silence from the gargoyles.  The singing startled them for about three running strides.

Miriam’s singing was interrupted by a loud wail from the front door 70 yards away. The presence of the Patternstone so close to its objective was like a spiritual shockwave.

Malachi saw the attention of the two gargoyles turn to his sisters.   He realized that he must try to stop their motion. Moving as quickly as he thought about it, he slashed the wing of the smaller gargoyle.  With the backslash, he tried to kill the larger one.  The stroke fell short, however, and he was only able to cut off a few inches of tail. The creature became airborne while the smaller gargoyle was still running toward his sisters.  Duman picked Malachi up and charged.

Meanwhile, Martha followed instructions, keeping the necklace raised up with its blinding light.  It felt magnetic, drawing her to the center of the floor.  She saw the beautiful mosaic: circular and radiating out from its center like a Sun with seven rays.

“Look out!”  yelled Mercy.

As soon as she had yelled, Mercy swung Martha around with the necklace just in time to blind the gargoyle descending upon them.  The Patternstone held up in faith is a gargoyle’s worst nightmare.  It’s light and power were like a bomb going off and seemed to actually physically strike it.  The creature reeled to the side. Unfortunately, it was the side where Miriam was.  The heavy leg of the gargoyle struck knocking her senseless.  Her singing was cut short.  Martha was stunned as she saw Miriam hit the ground.

“Martha, it’s now or never!”  said Mercy.  She saw that they needed to cover the few yards and finish the job.

Just as they got to the center of the floor, so did Gothlond.  He swooped in through the broken rose window.  The other gargoyles were confused, but not he.  He had failed in the feasting hall, but not this time. He did not look at the bright Patternstone, but simply reached out and took it from Martha’s grasp.

There was nothing she could do to resist the strength of the stone creature.  Though she wanted to hold on, she knew somehow that he would simply break her hand and arm.  “Nooo!”  She cried.  But she let go and rolled out of the way.

Things would’ve gone really badly here, except that Duman and Malachi had been charging in from the side.  Just as Gothlond  got his prize, but before he could gloat or move out, Malachi’s sword pierced him.

“You better not hurt my sisters!” he shouted.   At the moment of impact, he thrust the burning grey fire upward.

This isn’t a pleasant subject, but the physical sensation of thrusting a magical sword into an enemy made of stone is very satisfying.  This time it felt a little less like butter and a little more like, well, poking a chocolate cake when it has come out of the oven to see if it is done.

When Gothlond had grabbed the Patternstone with his hands, Malachi had simply thrust upward, straight into the middle of Gothlond.  The sword hilt actually felt cold.  Gothlond gave a hideous wail as he dematerialized into a wisp of smoke.

The necklace lay on the floor.  Everything was in slow motion.  Other gargoyles were rushing in, about to pounce.  But Mercy had been paying attention, waiting for her chance.  She dove for the necklace and in one motion, took the Adelphia Stone from its setting as King Titus had shown them.  Then she looked for Martha who was just snapping out of a state of shock.  She looked up just in time to see Duman and Malachi pierce another gargoyle.

“Martha… now!” said Mercy.  She tossed the necklace to Martha. The Adelphia Stone fit perfectly.  There was a brilliant flash of multicolored light and a noise like a rushing mighty wind.  The gargoyles which had been swooping toward them were suddenly sucked out through the front entrance of the Cathedral like sand going down into an hourglass.

And, then, a great calm.

Colorful sunlight streamed in through the stained-glass. There were no gargoyles left inside the Cathedral.  The battle sounds, which had been almost earthshaking, had completely ceased.  Rays of sunlight showed the dust settling in the cavernous hall. Martha’s head grew wobbly, and, for the second time that day, she fainted and knew no more.

11

This time, when Martha awoke, Scrapper was licking her face.

A nurse was trying to shoo him away.  “You’ll wake up my patient!” she whispered to the dog.

“Blur…rit’s okay, I want to pet him,” said Martha, blinking.

“Well bless my soul!”  said the woman.  “You ladies seem to have a remarkable ability to recover!”

Mercy was peering at Martha over a scroll: “I knew you’d come around,” she said.

“Have I *yawn* blurr…missed anything important?”  asked Martha.

“Well…we’re in the cloisters,” said Mercy.  “Miriam is behind that curtain over there–I think she’s wounded.”

“She got kicked pretty hard.  Stone leg?  *yawn* Whaddya figure? 600pounds?   That haz to hurt.”

“Yeah.  Major bruiser.  Martha?”

“Wha?”

“We’re still in Highpattern.  I mean, this is either a dream or it’s not.”

“Yeah, your hands feel like your hands,” (she was holding Mercy’s hand as the two sisters looked at each other), “and your face feels like your face.”

“Burr…really? I have to, ahh…pee,” said Martha.

The nurse helped Martha to her feet.  She could hear the sound of singing coming from the Cathedral. “Are we going to go listen to the sing…?  Martha tailed off as she began to fall over in a dizzy spell.

“Whoa– a little woozy are you missy?” asked the nursemaid.  It took several attempts to get Martha to the point where she could get to the chamber pot. “Go back to sleep now.  That singing is just the early-morning vespers.”

——

Later that morning, they found Labesh gently waking them up.  The room smelled of lavender.  She was brushing their forheads with a warm washcloth.  “You can go back to sleep if you like,” she said.  “But the worship service begins in a little while.” Both girls were looking at her in various states of partial comprehension.  “Perhaps we can see if you feel well enough?”

As they moved they felt sore and stiff, but excitement about going to church in a different world quickly took over.  They loved going to church—the singing, the dresses, the chance to catch up with friends.  They managed to sit up on the edge of the bed.  Mercy put her arm around Martha, supporting her.

“I think we’re okay, ma’am,” said Mercy.

“Are you sore?” said Labesh, noticing some grimaces.  On the bedside table was a serving tray laden with some kind of tea which smelled of raspberries and honey.  “Drink it down,” she said; “helps with the soreness.”

After they had sat a few minutes sipping tea, the nurse looked them over sternly.  “Time to see if you can stand,” she said to Martha.

Martha stood slowly with one of them on each side.  “I’m not dizzy.”  said Martha.  The swooning nausea had completely gone.

“Have an Apple!”  said Labesh offering a firm reddish green apple.  “Goes good with nuts, but don’t eat the seeds.”

As Martha munched, she remembered the apple trees behind her house.  “Have you ever heard of Johnny Appleseed?”  she asked Labesh.

Soon, Labesh led them down the hall to the ladies bathing chamber. The cloisters were arranged around this room with a hearth for boiling bath water.  Martha stepped into the steaming basin.  Oh! The bliss!  The water was hot and green from herbs.  The tub was made of copper.  It was like getting into a brazen cup of herbal tea.

The stiffness in the muscles began to go away. Mercy began to sing one of mom’s bath songs from home.  Then they looked at each other and cried.

“Mercy.”

“Yes (sob) Martha?”

“We’ve got to see it through.”

Mercy nodded and washed the tears away with soap.  “I mean… what happened to the kids in other books we’ve read?”

“They usually got back to earth when they had completed some kind of mission,” Martha said as she looked at Mercy.  “I wonder, who should we talk to?  I mean, if we’re going to find out what to do next…”  She drifted off…

Mercy raised her eyebrows.  As if on cue, Martha’s eyes widened and she knew what Mercy was thinking.  “Queen Tizrah!”  they said in unison.  The paintings depicting Queen Tizrah with the necklace came flooding back to their minds.

“Maybe she left some kind of instruction on what is to be done with the Patternstone,” said Mercy.  “And Miriam may know more about it, and Queen Lydia,” she continued, thinking aloud.

“And a good Queen she is too,” said Labesh, who had just come in to the bathing chamber.  “She and the King personally came and watched over you while you were sleeping.” She put towels on racks for them.  “Ring that bell if you need anything else,” she said.

When they were done, Labesh escorted them down the hallway.  The cool stone of the floor felt rough on their bare feet.  Back in the room, they found that Labesh had laid out dresses for Sunday worship.  They were pretty, yet not nearly so richly adorned as the courtiers dresses they had used in the dining Hall.  Simple linen blouses with long, light brown skirts.

Labesh allowed the girls to pick out a shawl as a complement.  “Most of the young ladies choose the more colorful ones.”

Martha was confused.  Why hadn’t she laid out the sky blue dress?  “Begging your pardon Ma’am, these…” Martha was embarrassed to continue.  It was one of those moments when you wish you hadn’t started saying something.  “Well they—they’re not as ornate as…”

Labesh nodded understanding.  “The rich and the poor worship together, Miss,” she answered with a smile.  “On Sundays, we don’t dress to flaunt wealth or position.  With the King’s blessing, nobles in the city give Sunday clothes to anyone who needs them.  This way, nobody stays home because they feel inferior about clothing or station.”

“What a great idea,” said Mercy.

“Does away with lots of gossip, too, I can tell you!”  It takes a fine King to see these kinds of things, but what a difference it makes!  Why, Queen Lydia herself comes to worship without her royal attire.  She and the King actually remove their crowns at the door of the Cathedral every Sunday morning.  By this they are showing us subjects that wealth or station is laid aside in the house of God.”

“Do they sit up front?”  asked Mercy.

“They sit in different places, Missy,” she held up a shawl meaningfully.  “He does keep a retinue of guards wherever he goes, but he’s always shaking hands with everyone.”

“But when does the Queen put her crown back on? I mean…”

“…she puts it back on when she heads for the feast at the Palace.  You’ll see. Of course, some of the rich still flaunt a bit too much.”  Labesh offered them some kind of rolled breakfast pastry, which they heartily devoured.

“Mmm…So, clothing reflects your station except on Sundays?”  asked Mercy.

“You’ve got it Missy, ” said Labesh as she tucked in Martha’s blouse.  “Now, I have orders from the King to keep the necklace hidden.  It would distract folks.”

As they looked at the necklace, The Patternstone was quiet.  It felt as if it was sleeping, but even now, their eyes began to lose themselves in the beauty of its facets.

“And to think that was in the dressing chambers all that time…” Labesh mused.  “Here,” she said, “this pouch was given to me by Queen Lydia.”  She handed Martha a belt pouch made of sturdy leather with deep black velvet inside.  It felt old and worn, but the seams were triple stitched with some kind of sturdy thread.  The belt was of soft leather with metal rings running through the inside.  “This is another specialty of the Aragite weavers on Bustle Street,” she continued.  “it’s very old and we think it has magical properties.  Metal runs through the leather, so the belt can’t be cut by thieving pickpockets.”

Martha put the necklace carefully in the black pouch.  Sunday dresses in place, the three went out to the foyer of the cloisters.   Martha noticed that other ladies were dressed with similar dresses and shawls.  There they found Malachi accompanied by Duman.  He had been given simple britches with suspenders over a linen tunic.

“By your leave, I will act as your guard today, ladies,” said Duman. “I’m sorry, but Scrapper is not allowed in the Cathedral during worship service,” he said, anticipating their question. “If everyone bought their dogs, soon they would bring their geese and sheep as well,” he laughed.

“We have a song called ‘All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir’,” said Mercy.  “Somehow, I don’t think people are supposed to bring them to church, though.”

“Shall we?”  said Duman.

As they walked back through the Open Door, the sound of singing was robust.  It resounded with a warmth, kind of like chocolate cake coming out of an oven.  Duman escorted them to the back of the crowd unnoticed, as the people were happily focused on the opening Psalm.

When they got to the balcony seats, Duman whispered to Martha, “you see! You did it, young missy!  And the gargoyles are back on the gutter spouts where they belong!”

He handed Martha the book of Psalms.  Voices joined together. Mercy had caught on to many of the words by now.  Soon, they were all entering in with gusto.  Martha looked over at Malachi who couldn’t read very well yet.  He smiled at her and sang the refrains.

When the singing stopped, Martha looked up from her Psalter.  She couldn’t believe the beauty of what she saw. A table had been placed near the center of the floor mosaic now.  It’s satin tablecloth reflected the rainbow colors of sunlight streaming in through stained-glass.  Small particles in the air seemed to dance with color.

Shepherd Amos led them in robust scripture responses.  He would call out, and the congregation would respond heartily.

Martha noticed that mothers and the elderly had parked themselves on the benches along the side of the center mosaic.  Children tended to stand in front where they could see.  During many parts of the service, there was a very low murmur as little children were being carefully led back and forth.  Curly hair and piggy tails bobbing as soundlessly as possible.

The floor of this Cathedral was not completely flat like the ones she had seen pictures of.  Rather, it stepped up slightly around the columns so that more people could see.  Shepherd Amos’s voice resounded. Eventually, Martha did find the King and Queen among the crowd, trying to be unnoticed.  A few extra guards sat near them.   The message they were sending was clear: this was God’s special time.

During the prayer, Shepherd Amos thanked God for bringing deliverance to Adelphia and beautifying the Cathedral by setting the gargoyles free from their demon possession.  As Shepherd Amos prayed, Martha noticed that normal Christian prayer also worked in Highpattern.  The siblings realized that God was still God no matter what other world you found yourself in.

12

When the service had ended, Phoebe and Labesh encouraged our companions to remain in the alcove (otherwise known as a “Chapel” in cathedrals) in which they had been seated.  They watched the cheerful villagers filter out into the square as the organist continued to play its massive pipes softly.  The music was just enough to encourage you to take most of your conversation out into the square, lest you make your throat raw from speaking over it.

To Mercy, the large Adelphia Cathedral almost seemed like a happy living being.  Despite the orderly flow toward the huge doors leading to the narthex, many people did stop to chat.

“Martha, look!”  She said.  The King and Queen were proceeding out surrounded by large retinue of Palace guards.  For the first time, the girls noticed that the Queen was being carried.  It was not that she was carried so as to look like a pompous, triumphant, parading Cleopatra type, but, rather, right next to her husband the King, she was simply carried on a small chair supported by staves and carried by four guards.

After the great organ played its last note, the Cathedral fell into a restful ‘hush’.  A few scattered townspeople remained in various places praying or talking quietly.  The pictures in the stained-glass windows were very fully recognizable now at midday. Phoebe and Labesh were talking in hushed tones.

The girls turned around expectantly to see if it was time for them to go.  As they did, they noticed for the first time the stained-glass window directly behind them.  It depicted a young warrior withstanding a fierce dragon.  He was resisting the dragon’s powerful, tongue of fire with a shield while preparing his sword for a stroke.  But what made the picture different was a woman seated off to the side holding out the Patternstone.  It’s rays were illuminating the dragon. The girls tried to identify the woman, but her flowing cloak and vail made the woman ambiguous.  The warrior too was ambiguous, being covered in armor.

Phoebe spoke up, “it might be a picture of you.”

“I want to be that warrior!”  said Malachi with a sober expression.

“You’re too little,” said the girls in unison.

“Don’t discourage him,” Labesh said with a smile.  “You never know…”

The party began to walk down into the Cathedral.   As Martha drew near to the center of the floor, she found the Patternstone was humming in her bodice.  Not knowing what prompted her, she took it out and there was a bright flash as it illuminated the stone floor once more.  Her eyes were commandingly drawn to the face of the Patternstone.  Again, It began to play a little movie.  They all gathered round this time.

In the screen was another large cathedral.  In contrast to the bright, sunny joyful day they were in, the atmosphere at this Cathedral was charged with dark foreboding.  The gargoyles here were not smiling in the sun on their gutter spouts.  They were flying and circling like vultures on their prey.

“That’ll be the Cathedral at Phesus,” said Labesh.

As they looked, the faces of the people outside the cathedral seemed very indifferent.  The people were not looking up and so did not notice the gargoyles.  It was as if doom was coming to that city and the people were blissfully ignorant.

There was another flash, and then the Patternstone was simply reflecting beautiful rays of light back on their own faces.

“It’s calling us,” said Malachi.  “We have to bring it there.”

“Children, look at me,” said Labesh.  “As you know, I am keeper of the royal wardrobe, as I was also for Queen Tirzah.  She and I used to watch the little pictures in the Patternstone.  This is how she learned to go on pilgrimage.  The Patternstone would show her where to go next.  I think somehow you are to go to Phesus if you are willing.”

“But what about Queen Lydia?” said Martha.  “She is the queen.  I must give the Patternstone to her!  This is her job.”

“I cannot say more at this time,” said Labesh.  “There is a summons for you to meet with her this very afternoon.  Let us go.”

They walked under the large Gothic archway which opened into the narthex, past the baptismal font,  and out into the square.  The archway was carved beautifully with people and animals as if to tell stories.

The transition from the belly of the Cathedral out into the sunlight felt like stepping out of a comfortable armchair.  Martha couldn’t help looking back toward the archway.  There was a peace that now radiated from it’s interior which warmed her very bones.

On the Cathedral steps, along with the twittering of bluebirds, Labesh gently broke the hush, “We’ll be going back to the cloisters. We need to examine you again to see that you are fully healed before you return to the Palace.” The party walked around to the left side of the Cathedral, under the flying buttresses.  Flagstones had been carefully laid in a slightly curving patterns through small gardens.

Stone benches frequented the alcoves, flanked by azaleas and rhododendrons.  Clergy and townspeople would gently wave and smile to them as they conversed on these benches.

Looking up, the children had to crane their necks to see the gargoyles.  Some happy, some sad, some strange: all at the ends of buttresses: ready to spout water when it rained.  They were struck by the immensity of the building itself.  Like a  giant sleeping dinosaur –snoring in the wind.

As the party reached the cloisters, a guard handed a message to Labesh.  She read it aloud to the children as they return to their rooms. “It is requested that Mercy, Martha and Malachi dine with the King and Queen again this feast day, if they are well and rested,”  Labesh read aloud.  “Are you ready for a nap?” she asked.  “The Royal couple says that you must be rested!”  She gave them meaningful smile.

Truth be told, exhaustion had taken its toll upon them.  The soft flaxen beds were calling.

When they awoke, the sun’s golden rays were streaking through the west facing windows.  Phoebe had tea kettles singing.  The smell of herbs and various preparations filled the apartments.

“Duman will be here to escort you to the Palace,” said Labesh.

“How are Levi and Miriam?” Asked Martha.

“The doctors are in the process of binding their wounds,” replied Labesh You can’t go in to see them now. However, I think they shall come through.”

“Ahh! good to see on your feet,” said a voice. They looked up to see Duman bowing low before them.  “Shall we?”

Soon, as they walked through the winding streets, they felt a little awkward being protected by several guards.  Duman helped them to relax–chatting with them as they walked. “It’s going to be a long healing time for Levi and Miriam,” he said in response to their questioning.

Cheers began to go up from some of the townspeople as they noticed the party.  More and more faces lined the wide street leading from the Cathedral to the Palace.  Some of the people wanted to shake their hands, but this was prevented by guards. “Don’t be alarmed,” said Duman.  “The guards are for your protection.  Try to wave and smile.”

Malachi noticed that Scrapper, Duman’s little dog, was trotting alongside. Suddenly, the dog veered to the right and stood still growling directlly before the man called Rasha among the crowd.  It was as if Scrapper was pointing out  that something was not right.

“Congratulations children,” Rasha intoned with a painted smile.

Duman simply gave a low whistle calling Scrapper back.  He paid no attention to Rasha, but continued walking evenly, gesturing for our companions to do likewise.

When they had gone perhaps another 50 yards, they came through small gate into the palace grounds.  The crowds were exchanged for trees and shrubs.

Duman now spoke to the children, “Miriam told me that she taught you about the ‘diplomatic face’?  Yes?”

The children nodded.

“Well, think of this as a diplomatic walk.  You must learn to continue on your course at times, though you are used to stopping and saying hello.”

As these words sunk in, the huge front gate and drawbridge to the Palace stood open, beckoning to the party.  Martha could now feel the rough beams of the drawbridge under the leather of her shoes.  The timbers were quite warm because of the heat of the day.  As they transitioned through into the Palace, the cool stone of the Palace floor was a welcome relief.

The retinue of guards dispersed in practiced maneuvers, taking up stations in the corridors. Hand signals were exchanged.

Before the companions entered the great Hall, Mercy asked if they could stop to gaze once more upon the picture of Tizrah the Queen.  There she was again, wearing the Patternstone.  The deep eyes, the expression which called to the children.

The evening meal was not as crowded in the Hall this time.  Looking up, the children could see that some hasty repairs had been made to the upper windows.  As before, the dogs came and sniffed.  Fiddle music was playing softly. The King and Queen were smiling warmly as the children approached the royal table.

This time, they were escorted to sit directly across from the Royal couple. “Welcome again, children!” said King Titus.  When the guests had been seated, he led the singing of a Psalm and gave a blessing.

Never before had the children been so motivated to mind the forks and napkins!  The gaze of the King and Queen was not discomforting or even stern, but sitting directly across from them was awe-inspiring.

When everyone had begun to eat their fill, the King asked, “are you children beginning to feel recovered from your adventure yesterday?”

“Yes sire.  We are quite well thank you.”  Answered Mercy.

“Well, my Queen?”  Said Titus to Lydia.

As Lydia began to speak, the children felt sadness and depth in her tone.  “I have spent many hours in prayer since you children arrived in Highpattern.  I feared for your life when you went through the labyrinth.  I would like for you  to be able to remain in the protection of the Palace.

She paused, and Martha was thinking, “yes, yes that would be wonderful.  We will gladly stay here and be taught the ways of the Palace!”  But somehow she knew that she was not to speak yet.

After meeting each of their gazes, Queen Lydia continued, “Alas!  The Adelphia stone has been restored, and that is a great victory, but…” (she looked at them meaningfully) “the struggle has only begun.  The other six stones surrounding the Patternstone must be matched to their corresponding cathedrals.”

She paused again.  Even Malachi did not play with his silverware.  The fiddle music wafted into the conversation. Suddenly, Martha reached inside her bodice and handed the necklace to the Queen. “My lady,” Martha said with a bow, “as your mother wore it before you, so may you wear it now.”

Queen Lydia stared at the necklace in front of her, letting it rest on the table–making no move to put it on.

“Children,” she said, “please come around to this side of the table.” When they did so, they were astonished to see that the Queen had pulled up her queenly robes for them to see her lower legs.  “Do not be embarrassed,” she said.  One leg was perfectly normal and graceful, but the other was wooden.  So you see,” she said, “I cannot undertake the pilgrimage.”

Without the least bit of recoil, Martha ran up to Queen Lydia and gave her a big hug.  “Is it okay to sit in your lap?  Does it hurt?”  Martha’s little hands gently stroked the Queen’s brow smoothing wrinkles of care and pain.

“No, it doesn’t hurt child.  Thank you for sitting in my lap and hugging me,” she replied.  “I’m so glad to find someone who doesn’t treat me as though I was made of China or dried tea leaves.”  Tears streaked down her face.

“So, why can’t you take the necklace?” asked Martha.  “It would look beautiful on you.”

The Queen took a few more minutes to weep.  “Well, bless God for giving us a good cry once in a while!”  Then she looked directly into Martha’s eyes.  “I could wear it, but I would not be able to complete the task.  On me, it would simply be an ornament that would teach the people for a time, but eventually, if it does not go on pilgrimage to all seven cathedrals, it only becomes something to draw evil.  A temptation for evil men.”

“What would they be tempted to do?”  Asked Martha. “They would be tempted to take it.  Chaozz the Black would reward the theif with gold and simply hoard it in the Caves of Chaos.  His goal is that we would forget the patterns given to us by God. In Highpattern, the necklace serves as a great reminder.”

The Queen gently stood Martha on the floor in front of her again.  She continued to hold her hands.  “When I was a little girl, I wanted nothing more than to go on pilgrimage with the necklace.  But, it was not to be.  As I continued to prepare for this, riding horses, reading the histories, worshiping and feasting with my parents, there began to be more and more reports of Chaos coming from other kingdoms.  We heard that some had stopped gathering for festivity and some were not even going to Cathedral.”

She paused, and her eyes had a faraway look.  “My mother was a beautiful Queen!  She gave me the most precious gift in the world.  She taught me how to love others.  She showed me how to sacrifice my own comforts for the good of other people.”

“Yes, yes said Martha.  We saw her …uh, I mean the paintings of her… in the corridors.  Do those paintings have magical properties?  She seemed to be communicating to us.”

“My mother may not be dead,” said Lydia. “She fled for her life at the time the Patternstone was taken.  Sometimes I feel her talking to me when I look at those paintings as well.  It’s more like a memory — when she talks to me, it echoes in my mind.  How I long for her to come out of the paintings.  I long for her to hug me and stroke my hair like she did when I was a girl.  How she used to shoo Labesh out of the room!”

Mercy piped in.  “Queen Lydia, ma’am.”  The queen gestured for her to continue.  “Maybe your mother would speak to us if we went now to the painting.”

“Yes.  I hadn’t thought of that.”  The Queen gently raised her hand and was given immediate attention by Twombly.  “We would like an escort to the painting alcove.” “Yes Madam.”

Very quickly, four men in Palace livery came to carry Queen Lydia.  Her chair had rings for staves similar to the Ark of Israel in the Bible.  The guards simply pulled the staves through the rings and the four men picked up the Queen.  The hallway suddenly grew quiet.  Everyone stood.  The gentleman bowed and the ladies gave courtesy. King Titus stood proposing a toast for the successful placement of the Adelphia stone.  He gestured to the three children and also to Duman at an adjacent table, commending their bravery.  Cheers went up in the Hall and Martha held up the Patternstone. The Queen gracefully waved and smiled.

The three children were actually able to walk alongside her chair in between the guards. The retinue of the royal party continued through the corridors until they reached the alcove.  Here, the largest painting of Queen Tirzah was watching them.  The Patternstone shone brightly:  both in the painting and the real one Martha was wearing. As they stood in front of the painting, a dreamy light atmosphere filled the alcove.

The necklace seemed to hum with excitement.  Martha held it out in her hand.  There was a bit of a joyous quality.  It was as if the angelic choirs were singing in the background.  “What do we do now?”  Asked Martha.

Queen Lydia thought for a moment.  “ My mother used to speak a command.  Try a command. “

Of course, the command that was foremost in Martha’s mind was, “Show us where Queen Tirzah is!” At this command, the Patternstone went black and still.  The Angels stopped singing.  The contrast in the atmosphere was so sharp that everyone gasped. As they huddled, they beheld in the flat seven sided facet Patternstone another little movie.  They saw a cave entrance in the side of a dark mountain.  Behind the first mountain, they could see a second mountain with fire and rumblings in the distance.  It was obviously an active volcano.  The little video took them through the cave entrance and into a large iron door with a troll sitting in front of it.

“It’s taking us into the cave entrance, right past the troll!” said Martha excitedly.

“Twombly!” said Queen Lydia.  “Jot down all you can.” Twombly busily removed a wooden slate from his side bag and tapped his quill pen. “Left just past the entrance.  Second door.    Key needed…” Queen Lydia kept speaking as the vision moved forward.  “Now straight ahead 20-30… 30 feet then to the right…”

After approximately 3 right-hand turns in seven left hand turns, the vision had descended a set of stairs and came to a very dark cell.  There, on the floor, they saw the figure of an old woman huddled.  The vision in the diamond had stopped moving.  They could hear the woman breathing softly. “It is!  Mother!”  said Queen Lydia.  The woman in the vision did not move.  “Try saying something to her Martha.”

“Can you hear us?”  said Martha loudly.

The woman got up and looked around. “She hears!”  said Lydia.  “Tell her who we are.  Ask her to say something back.”

Martha explained who they were and that Lydia was right by their side and could see her.  She smiled and spoke to them but they could not hear the words. “We cannot hear you, so you’ll have to respond with… signs,” said Martha.

“Ask if she is getting enough to eat,” said Lydia. “Are you eating every day?”  asked Martha. Queen Tirzah went and lit a candle in the cave.  Then, she nodded “yes”.  By the candlelight they could see that she was a little gaunt and underfed. “Ask if she gets out of the cave daily,” said Lydia.

Martha did so and Queen Tirzah nodded “yes” and made motions of shoveling dirt to show that it was for hard labor every day….

13

By the time Mercy awoke on Monday, most of the day’s business had already been accomplished Adelphia.  Exhaustion had caused her to sleep into the early afternoon.  She swung her bare feet to the stone floor and noticed a big mug of water on her bed table.  It was cold and clean.  She wandered over to the oaken window bench and gazed out upon the city.

Their chambers were high on the eastern wall of the castle overlooking the city of Adelphia.  Mercy could see rooftops and winding streets.  At the edge of her field of vision, she could make out the city walls and farm fields beyond.  The Cathedral with its flying buttresses and spires seemed to waive back to her.

“More water?”  said Labesh,  who had been laying out clothing for them.

“Yes, please,” Mercy replied looking up into Labesh’s clear blue eyes.  She could see lines of care etched in the face of the middle-aged woman, but some of that care had recently been replaced with joy.  “Is Martha all right?”

Labesh motioned Mercy to the other side of the bed where Martha lay.  A basin of warm water and a flask of balm were on the bedside table and Martha’s cut shoulder was exposed but rubbed with the balm.  Martha was snoring contentedly.

“Who would’ve guessed so much would’ve happened since the 3 of us went to the dressing chambers on Saturday evening when you had just arrived,”  said Labesh .  “We shall have to get better acquainted.  Are you hungry?”

Come to think of it, Mercy found herself ravenous.  The pea soup in the adjacent chamber was full of nutrition.  She told Labesh more about her life on earth, relating family members and some of the more prominent events of her life.  It wasn’t long before Martha awoke bleary-eyed and went through a similar sequence of cold water and pea soup.

The rest of the day was spent with Labesh.  She took them for walks in the palace corridors and read them stories of the history of Adelphia and surrounding kingdoms.  Soon the shadows of evening gave way to torchlight within the palace. Their beds were calling, but not before Labesh gave them hot baths and dressed Martha’s cut shoulder which was healing nicely.

By the time they had finished their morning routines on Tuesday, they were ready to do something.  Labesh sent word that the children were feeling much better.  Within the hour, as the ladies were just finishing tea, Duman stood outside their chambers asking for an audience.  He had brought Scrapper along with him.

“Scrapper!”  said Martha, hugging the dog. They were all happy to see the dog — Martha most of all.

“Can you ladies possibly be spared from all this Palace finery to go visit an old friend?”  asked  Duman.

“I don’t know…, seems like the last time we followed you we got into a ton of trouble!”   Mercy laughed.  “Where are we going?”

“I was going to take you to see the city and meet some inhabitants,” Duman said with a slight bow.  “But we will need to go down to the guard house and see about how safe it is to proceed.”

Duman led them by corridors which were used by the Palace staff.  After many twists and turns, they came to a set of spiral stairs which led to an alcove inside the Palace gate.  He made gestures to the guards stationed at various points along the way.

Mercy noticed many things about the guards.  She could see that they used hand signals so that no words had to be spoken.  The guards silently rotated positions at irregular intervals.  They were clothed with very practical, close-fitting armor and overcoats of brown, green and gray.

“Any news this morning?”  asked Mercy as they walked.

“Miriam and Levi are recovering, but their wounds, especially Levi’s are somewhat severe.  Plans for a pilgrimage are moving forward.  I understand that we will try to leave during the night Tuesday next week — seven days from now.  The idea will be to take the Patternstone to the six other cathedrals over the next few months.  It won’t be easy.  But, never mind that for now.  Follow me.  I have a good plans for today! ”

When they reached the drawbridge, Duman once again signaled the guards.  He spoke in low voices to them.

“The guards have noticed a couple of unfriendly pairs of eyes who may be watching your movements.  I apologize for this, but we are going to have go back into the palace.   We will dress up as kitchen servants going to obtain food in the markets.  We have some young apprentices back in the kitchen who are approximately your size and weight.

“Where are the kitchens,” asked Malachi, thinking of a second breakfast.

“You will find out soon enough,”  Duman said with a hint of amusement in his voice.  Mercy looked at him with her eyebrows raised and grinned. She liked Duman, but had not really got to know him that well yet.  He reminded her of her older brother Mark.

The children began to realize that though many people in Adelphia were unassuming and glad for the discovery of the Patternstone,  they were still in a real struggle.  The struggle was for the establishment of patterns of worship and festivity. But Chaozz had spies.

“In order to begin the pilgrimage unnoticed, we must try diferent ways of disguising you.  We want to get you on your way out of Adelphia unseen.  One thing that happens on Tuesdays is that vegetables and meats are bought and sold from the surrounding farmers.  We have to find a farmer to work with, and I think I know just the one…” Duman trailed off.

Inside the large gate before the drawbridge, there was an alcove with what looked like an iron grate in the floor for drainage.  Two guards removed the grate to show a set of stairs descending into darkness.  Duman signaled the companions to follow him down.  He lit a small torch and reminded them to stay close to him.

“Is this one of the passages the King uses?”  asked Malachi.

“Yes, the Royal family and the inner guard.  Now quietly,” whispered Duman.

The companions had to go in single file.  Scrapper sniffed about 10 paces ahead.  After a few turns they felt warm air coming toward their faces.  It smelled like onions.  “It’ll be rabbit stew today,” Duman said in a quiet voice.  He signaled a halt.  “Malachi,” he said, “ just out of curiosity, I would have a look at your sword.  It will let us know whether there are any enemies in the Palace which derive their magical powers from Chaozz.”

Duman took a clay pot which was at the side of the passage along with other useful items such as swords and axes and carefully put it over the torch flame.  “Now draw,” he said.

Malachi did so.  There was no light at all coming from the sword.

“The Adelphia stone has done its job well,” Duman mused.  He pulled the clay pot from his torch.  “I may ask you this question many times, Malachi,” he said.  “In fact, tonight, you and I will carefully walk around the city with your sword.  Are you up for that?”

“With you?  I love doing things with you.”  Malachi responded with obvious affection in his eyes.

“We are going into the kitchen,” continued Duman.  As they began to ascend toward the heat, a man dressed in a leather apron and leather gloves waved and made a hand signal to Duman.

“This is Barnabas, the oven keeper,” said Duman.

“How do you do?”  He reached out a warm hand to the children.  It was about five times the size of Malachi’s.

“I want to keep this as close as is possible, Barnabas,”  Said Duman.  “I’d like these children to do the produce run.  Is that possible?”

“Er, sure,” said Barnabas.  “So long as you take my own youngsters to help make the produce picks.”

“Brownbeard?”

“Yep, he’ll be there.”

“Good.  15 minutes?”

“That’ll be about right, sir.”  said Barnabas.  “Molly!”  He called. A girl around Mercy’s age with bright red pigtails came in,  wiping her hands.   “I want these three children dressed as produce snappers.”

“Yes, father,” said the girl.  “They’ll want woolen cloaks today. The wind’s coming from the sea.”

“Perfect.”  Said Duman.  “The more covered they are, the better.”

“You won’t mind a little bit of extra help today, Molly?”  asked Barnabas.

“Oh, no father!”  Molly said with a big smile toward the companions.

“Bring your brother over here,” said Duman.  “We need to swear everyone to secrecy.”

Behind the Palace kitchen, there was a pantry room.  During winter, it needed to have room for great store.  The main room was more than 50 feet wide.   In addition, there was a ramp leading down 20 feet into the ground for root cellar storage.  The root cellar was carefully crafted so as to be above the flood level of the Palace moat.

Barnabas led the party down to the root cellar and shut the door.  Here, Duman swore them to secrecy and explained the mission to Barnabas, Molly and her brother Peter, a toehead who looked to be about 14 years old.  “The companions were given the livery of kitchen servants.

“Take the two pony wagon,” said Barnabas to Peter who looked to be about 14 years old.  “We’ll need to get plenty of produce  to make it look like we need five hands.”

Soon the companions found themselves riding in the back of a large empty wagon across the drawbridge and down into the city of Adelphia.  They did not use the main street as they had used in procession from the Cathedral, but rather what seem to be more of a service road.  The wide road had gentle switchbacks wending its way to Cathedral square.  Along the way, they noticed several blacksmith shops,  tanners, carpenters and stonemasons.  Wagons were coming and going laden with various farming supplies.

Scrapper trotted out alongside the ponies, obviously enjoying himself.  He would detour occasionally to smell something along side of the road.  Occasionally, he would run ahead to investigate some people.  Scrapper wore Palace livery– doggy style.  It identified him and the people seemed to know that he was coming along with the produce wagon today as he did occasionally.

On this morning, Cathedral square was by no means empty.  It was full of produce vendors bringing in their wares from the country surrounding.  Duman did not hesitate, but guided the cart deliberately to a produce stand marked “Brownbeard and Daughters”.

Duman strode and exchanged hearty handshakes with Brownbeard. His girth exceeded that of most men and his sword belt was large.  The two men laughed chortled over the latest things that they had seen or read about.   The man had many daughters who were very busy arranging the produce:  squash, butter beans, rhubarb and kale to name a few.   At the center, a barrel of ale which Brownbeard would proudly proffer to his regular customers.

There was some talk in the town that Brownbeard had recently had his first son.    Speculations were made as to whether there would be a company name change forthcoming.  Brownbeard’s philosophy was simple:  give them brown ale and let them choose the produce.

Peter and Molly went with Malachi,  Mercy and Martha to teach them how to pick out produce.

“See how this broccoli’s green and firm?”  Said Molly.  “You want to put the heads in the basket like this–“ (she demonstrated how to layer it with damp cheesecloth for the ride back to the palace).

“Here is some more cheesecloth, miss,” said a voice.  “We keep it in ice water whenever we can.  There’s still plenty of ice on Mount Carmel this time of year.  Papa sends Suzi climbing up there to get it.”

“Thank you!”  Said Molly.  “That’ll keep the broccoli fresher than fresh!”  She gave deep courtesy to the girl at the stand.  “Missed you last week, Millie.”

“We had to bring the goats all the way up to the mountain pastures,” said the young lady.  She had dark hair and dark eyes with a countenance that was fiercely good.  It was as if she was bound and determined to serve others with zeal. “It’s amazing how you can see the stars from up there!  And who is your friend?”

Following suit, Mercy gave courtesy as well.  Only when she did so, were her eyes level with Millie’s.  “My name is Mercy Jones, and I am in training to work for the Palace kitchen,” replied Mercy, remembering to stay in character.

“Hmmm…, Your accent seems different,” said Millie.  “Lots of strange goings-on this week…”  She winked at Mercy. “But I’m glad to see the gargoyles back on their gutter spouts!  “She said, changing the subject and pointing to Zlig, Zlag and Zlog sunning themselves near the archway above.

When Mercy followed Millie’s finger, she noticed the them. However, she also noticed something that wasn’t right.  On the other side of the archway, the three corresponding gargoyles were missing: Blig, Blag and Blog. Mercy was tempted to call attention to them, but remembered the need for diplomacy and secrecy.  She made a mental note to tell Duman as soon as she could.

“How do you get the lid to stay on?”  Mercy asked, hoping to change the topic.  “It looks hard.”

“Its not,”  said Molly. “You just do it like this.”  She demonstrated how to top off the stalks of broccoli and latch the lid. “How are the leeks and onions?” asked Molly.

“It’s been a little dry,” said Millie.   “We planted a second square of onions this year in a low spot.  It was a good idea even though they’d get wiped out in a heavy rain, but if it’s dry, we still have onions!”

Mercy noticed a man dressed like most of the townspeople with worn linen shirt and brown  knickers going through the produce very near to them.  She was not sure how much of their conversation he had overheard, but she wondered if he was trying to overhear.  To test this theory, she asked Molly if there was another type of produce that she could work on.  Careful to have her back to the stranger, she winked at Molly as she said this.

Molly understood.  She took Mercy 20 yards away to begin going through the potatoes, asking Millie to finish the leeks.  Sure enough, the man quickly shifted to sweet potatoes which were again quite near to them.

“Keep doing potatoes and fake your response to what I say next,” said Mercy below a whisper.

Molly nodded.

“You know, it’s really amazing the way things happen around the Patternstone!”  said Mercy in a louder more casual voice.  “Why, I heard the King was going to make a special box for it.”

“Really?”  Said Molly.  “What kind of box?”

As Mercy responded, (“I think he’s going to use mahogany”) she definitely noticed the man’s attentiveness.  He was good at what he did.  He managed to keep putting sweet potatoes in his basket, but his body language gave him away.  He was listening.  Mercy looked over and noticed that Duman was still laughing with Brownbeard, but that he was looking toward the girls.  Mercy adjusted her body position away from the man who was spying and tried to catch Duman’s attention with her hand, all the while continuing to work on potatoes.  Duman looked at her keenly and nodded.  She had succeeded.

Brownbeard and to Duman strolled over to the man.

“Can I help you to find some of the best?”  Asked Brownbeard.  “Where might you be from?”

The man was obviously uncomfortable.  Mercy and Molly quickly moved back over toward the leeks and onions where Millie was finishing up.  Duman and Brownbeard were standing either side of the man who was obviously frustrated at not being able to hear the girls conversation.

The girls loaded produce for another 15 minutes.  Malachi joined them, having polished off one of the largest apples he had been able to procure.  The girls looked over and noticed that the spy had paid for his produce and was leaving.  As soon as the man had trundled off around the corner, Duman came over to the girls.  Mercy quickly explained to Duman how the man had been listening to their conversation.

“I’ll have to track him,” said Duman.  “That’s Brego over there,” he said, pointing to a guard in Palace livery.  “The guards will be on the alert.  Just keep packing produce.”

Quickly, he patted his leg three times and Scrapper ran over looking up at Duman expectantly.  Off they trotted around the corner by which the man had left.

“Now I know that something is up,” said Millie, smiling at Mercy.

“Oh Millie,” said Mercy with a sigh.  “I’m beginning to realize that secrecy is pretty important in all this stuff.  I’d love to tell you all about it, but I need to talk with the others first.  Can you keep what you have seen and heard to yourself for now?”

“Yes… but you gotta know I’m real curious.”

Brownbeard, Peter and Martha had strolled over after packing the turnips and squash.  “My instructions were to send you back to the Palace with the guards,” said Brownbeard.  “Where there is one person up to no good, there may very well be more.  Let’s be as relaxed as possible and finish loading the wagon.  Peter, you know how to drive it?”

For the next half hour or so they packed produce quickly and efficiently.  Millie and Molly showed Martha and Mercy how to load the baskets with the hardier vegetables on the bottom and the delicate ones on the top –and never above the top.

As they were working, Millie spoke quietly to Mercy.  “Here,” she said, “take this.  I made it.”  She handed Mercy a beautifully crocheted scarf.  The quality of the stitching was very even and practiced.  “My dad says you will be going on pilgrimage with the Patternstone.”  She had lowered her voice even more.  “I want to go with you.  I want to see the Aragite weavers. “

“Oh, I hope so!”  Said Mercy, pausing to give Millie a hug.  “I know that there will be a counsel to decide who goes.  Would your dad let you come to the Council?”

“All I can do is ask.”

“Yes,” said Mercy, “have you ever been to Phesus?”

“No, I have grown up farming and bringing produce to the Palace here at Adelphia all my life.  But you hear people talk.  Phesus has the biggest harbor in highpattern.  It sits at the east end of the Lediterranean Sea.  They have an outdoor theater, temples to false gods, and that the biggest library in highpattern.”

“Can you read?”  Asked Mercy.  (She had noticed that the people in highpattern were still using scrolls and it didn’t seem like everyone could read).

“Every time we bring produce up to the Palace, or over to the Cathedral, I always ask Ezra or Amos to teach me.  They send me home with scraps of scroll.  I teach my sisters.  Ezra gives me histories about dragons and great battles and princesses….  “

At this point Millie was cut short by Peter.  “Wagon’s full,”  he said.  “Everyone in.”

“I want Peter and Molly leading the ponies,” said Brownbeard.  “Part of the Palace guard has arrived, but they will follow at a distance.  You three need to get in here.”  He showed them a place between boxes of produce.  “If Peter and Molly holler to you, be ready to jump out the back.  But let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.  The more normal we can keep things, the better.”

Malachi stepped forward and gave Brownbeard a hug.  “You think Duman will be okay?”  He asked.

“Oh, yes I should say so.  Keep your chin up, laddie.  Now in you go.”

“Are you coming up to the Palace soon Millie?”  asked Mercy from the rear of the wagon.

“We bring produce for the festival on Friday.”  Millie replied waving.

As the wagon progressed through the streets up to the Palace, it could be seen that the royal escort was very watchful.  The comrades bounced along with the many vegetables.

“This stuff smells really good,” said Martha.  She had ended up with her face right near a bunch of basil.  The four donkeys were obviously working hard to make it up the winding road.

“I think Millie knows where we’re going for the next Cathedral,” said Mercy lying on a pile of potatoes.  “She’s read all about it.  If we get to choose some of our companions, let’s see if she wants to come.”

“What did she say?”  Asked Martha.

“She said that Phesus was a seaport town with a big library and outdoor theaters.”

The companions felt a sense of relief as the wagon safely re-entered the Palace storerooms.  They helped Molly unload and worked in the kitchen for the rest of the day.  Molly showed them how to slice and dice the vegetables in preparation for the cooks.

“I’m still worried about Duman,” said Malachi.

“The palace guards know what they’re doing,” said Molly. “They’ll find him. And if anything’s afoot, we’ll know about it soon enough.”

When Twombly came to request the children make themselves ready for dinner, Martha asked, “May we invite Molly to dine with us?”

“Certainly,”  said Twombly.  “All the palace staff has days off to rest.   I’m sure we can arrange this.”

“I’ll put on my best dress.”  Said Molly joyfully.  “See you soon.”

14

Scrapper turned his head and looked at Duman who was exactly one block behind.  This eye contact was all that Duman needed to know that  Scrapper was going to turn left and it was safe for him to proceed.  Duman and Levi had developed a system with Scrapper.  They would track somebody and the dog would go one block ahead.  If the person they were tracking kept going, Scrapper would simply look back and turn the corner or go straight.  But, if the one they were tracking was finally in sight, Scrapper would stop and raise his right forepaw.

Scrapper had grey fur and a mishmash of breeding:  somewhere between a Scottish Terrier and a Collie (though in Highpattern it wasn’t called Scottish) He was so purposeful and harmless looking as he trotted down the streets of Adelphia, that people rarely gave him a second glance.  Those who were bidden of the King to trap animals in the city (the occasional stray fox or wolf hunting for livestock) knew scrapper as a Palace dog, mostly because of the brand on his ear.

Sometimes, Scrapper would get lost in the busy market day crowd.  The wise dog deftly avoided a wheelbarrow push by a  young maid with a  load of geese.  Market day geese were generally not very sociable with dogs! As the block’s whent by Scrapper ‘s sensetive nose picked up the growing scent of water and boats.  After about 12 blocks of this, Scrapper turned a corner which led to a shipping yard by the river.  Here, Scrapper raised his right forepaw. The man had come to a stop.

Duman had to think quickly.  The spy might possibly come back to Brownbeard’s stand with reinforcements.   “No, the man knows he was spotted.  He won’t come back,” he thought.

Duman silently signaled for Scrapper to come back to him.  Then, ever so quietly, Duman lifted an iron storm sewer grate by the side of the road.  The sewer was just big enough for a man to walk through hunched over.  King Titus had worked hard to give Adelphia good sewers for drainage and sanitation.  Scrapper knew the drill.  Able to move through the pipe fast, the little dog quickly jogged to the place where the conversation of the spy could be overheard.  When Duman caught up with his faithful friend, he lay still listening.

“… I’m telling you, there wasn’t more than three.  I’d have expected at least a score.”

It was the man’s voice who had been at the produce stand.  Duman had to focus his hearing for the second voice, it was much more low and sinister: “Three guards…hmm… wish we’d had a dozen stout lads.  We might’ve gotten them out from under Titus’ nose!  Dressed up as servants getting the produce?  What are they doing?”

“It just seems like they’re wantin’ to make him friendly with the common folk.  What this gets ‘em I can’t tell,” said the first voice.

The sinister voice continued, “I expected Titus to take the stone and the Army and march right into Phesus.  Instead, he sends those upstarts to get produce.  Well… We can’t nab ’em now… he trailed off… Or maybe we can.  Three guards you say.  Any of those confounded ranger guards?”

“Didn’t see any,  your Excellency.  But that don’t mean they weren’t around somewhere– you know how they hide.”

Duman had to stifle a chuckle.  He himself had dressed up as a palace produce person (ppp for short) and had chortled loudly with Brownbeard.  In the next instant, however, his chuckle became earnest readiness.  The low sinister voice had retorted, “one of them might have followed you here.  Did you see anyone following?  Might’ve heard our conversation…” The voice dropped to whisper.  Duman could hear their footsteps moving out to look for him.  Quietly, man and dog began to climb back up the sewer pipe way from the river.  None too soon.

“Oi, there’s a sewer pipe here,” said a voice at the end of the pipe.  Duman could hear it quite clearly.  The sinister voice chimed in, “fire a bolt into it.  Might get them.”

The pipe had curved around to the left up the hill.  Duman held scrapper and himself as far to the left side of the pipe as they could, pressing their bodies to the wall.  Sure enough, the crossbow bolt skittered around the right side of the pipe whizzing past them.

“Better give it a couple of bolts,” said the sinister voice.

Duman had quickly searched for loose rocks or bricks and piled them at his feet on the left side.  None too soon, as another bolt struck the makeshift rock pile.  A third one was ricocheting furiously and grazed Duman in the shoulder, drawing blood.

Scrapper still did not bark.  His training held as Duman continued to scratch his ears–a signal to remain quiet.  Apparently, the man had given up.  The sound of their footsteps receded.

Thinking fast, Duman said to Scrapper, “lick.”  The dog obediently licked his shoulder wound.  As scrapper was licking, Duman was writing.  He took one of the very small parchment scraps he carried and wrote: “D in pipe at river 2 bl E. from Market Way.  Bring 10+ men armed. Rasha +3 men bad.”

He put the scrap in the dog’s mouth.  Scrapper was trained to carry his message or spit it out if he was about to be caught.  Then he said to the dog, “Malachi… Malachi… Malachi.”  Scrapper turned to go up the pipe but Duman held him for a moment. “To the Palace,” he said to Scrapper in an earnest tone.

Scrapper went up the pipe to where they had climbed in and then simply quietly came back to Duman.  The coast was obviously not clear.  “Another waiting game,” he thought.  Five minutes later, Duman nudged the dog to try again.  This time, Scrapper was gone.

15

Colors radiated through the palace windows making brushes of color on the silverware.  The deep mahogany tables and chairs gave luster off their waxy finish.

Queen Lydia was beaming.  Seeing her mother alive had seemed to awaken her spirit.  She noticed that all the girls were watching her and took full advantage to teach them the manners of nobility.  She carefully unfolded her napkin, and nodded to the servants as they poured water and wine.  With a quick smile and glance, she graciously prepared everyone for the blessing.   After King Titus had given thanks, the Queen gestured to them beginning the conversation by asking our companions how the day had gone.

“Molly, please give my compliments.  The produce seems as fresh as ever,” said the King with a smile.

“Thank you sire,” replied Molly.  “We are so honored and blessed to serve under such a gracious King.  Even the farmers in the field feel confident while you are on the throne.  We saw Brownbeard today and it seems that he has been given a son!”

Both the King in the Queen clapped their hands together.  “Ah, that is news indeed!  Twombly, would you extend an invitation to the Palace for the Friday night feast.  Tell Brownbeard I want his entire family including infants.”

“Now, Molly, you have said that I am a gracious King.  I am honored by this.  But can you tell me… what is the real difference between a good King and a bad King?”

“You are a good King,” said Molly.  “That much is sure.  You treat your servants with respect so that everyone wants to work in the Palace, but you constantly find ways to help the local people.  Most of the farmers would gladly give you their produce in exchange for the peace and safety you provide them.”

“Ahh, thank you,” said the King.  You have touched upon one major quality of a good King: he seeks ways to provide for his people.  What else can you ladies think of?”

“Sire, a good King will defend his people,” said Mercy.  “I mean… from invaders and armies, right?”

“Okay, Mercy,” said the King.  “So here is a difficulty.  Many kings have armies.  In fact, I have never heard of a king who didn’t have an Army.  But the question is, what does that Army defend?”

“Well, in your case I suppose it defends the city of Adelphia.”

“Right you are.  So the question is,  am I my just defending my Palace?   or am I finding a way to defend all the people in my kingdom?”

“You must defend your people!”  said Malachi.

“Well said, well said, lad,” answered the King, turning his large hazel eyes to look directly into Malachi’s.  “The trouble is, many kings simply defend their own interests.   But now, there is something else the King must defend if he is truly to be a good King.”

Titus paused and looked around at the children smiling broadly.

It was Molly who spoke up.  “Sire,” she said meekly.  It was obvious that she loved her King but felt shy to speak up.  Titus looked at her with an encouraging smile.  “A good King defends the church!”  Her voice gained confidence as she said this until she was smiling broadly back at the King.

“That is the point most kings miss,” said Titus softly.  “Think of it this way.  If the church is the bride of God, don’t you think God wants his bride provided for and protected?”

Strong understanding filled Malachi.  He began to understand some of those things dad had said about protecting and defending his sisters.  He was bursting with the next question: “but how do you defend the church?”  He asked.

The King was very pleased to have all their attention.  He sat back in his chair and proposed a toast.  “A toast to the value of good questions!”

“Here, here!” said Twombly and the Queen, who knew the routine.  Hesitantly, the children raise their tumblers and chimed, “here, here!”  They all clinked and clanked their pottery together.

Titus began, “There are so many ways in which a good King can defend the church.  First of all, I set an example for my people by attending church myself.  I give a tithe of my increase to the church at all times.  I actually require everyone who works at the Palace to attend worship at least once during the week.  When I attend church, you notice that Lydia and I are not arrayed in our Royal apparel.  We are simply worshipers before our great and mighty God.”  He looked around with a grin, inviting the children to speak.

“You, you did remove your robe when you entered the Cathedral,” said Martha.  “I noticed.  And you sat back in the pews with the rest of us.  But you were guarded.”

“Yes.  Set the example.  Give the people a pattern to follow.  Do it.  Live the pattern.  Oh that I might be true to God’s patterns and so really live till I die!” King Titus finished with a flourish as if quoting a play.

Queen Lydia, as if to bring the conversation back to the present, said, “now, who do you suppose helps the poor and cares for the sick in our city?”

Mercy had raised her hand: “when we were injured, we were cared for in the cloisters.  Is it the Church?”

“Yes… the Church, not the Palace.   People donate all kinds of medical supplies needed for the healing of patients.  I couldn’t possibly bring everyone to the Palace for healing.  The Cathedral communicates with smaller churches in the farm community surrounding Adelphia.  What a bother it would be to have everyone coming to the Palace all the time!”

The King lowered his voice. “So you see,” he said with a wry smile, “here is where the Patternstone comes in.  It’s magic restores hope to the people and reminds them of the patterns for worship and festivity –for kingdom and culture.  These patterns were given by God in ancient times and we are prone to forget them.  When you take the Patternstone on pilgrimage, you will find that other kingdoms have not remembered these patterns the way we have here in Adelphia.  They have been lost and forgotten in personal greed and corruption.  No time set aside for worship and festivity.  Your task is to remind them of the patterns.  Send them to Adelphia if they want instruction.”

The companions sat in silence.  Queen Lydia was smiling.  She made a gesture with her hand and the fiddler began playing a soft tune.  The King began to chant.  Our companions remembered it from the Council:

“From whence derives these patterns?

From whence, this use of time?

From heaven’s throne

to call our own

reflected in the Patternstone.

Ancient builders made them known.

‘ere hammers rang to chime.”

King Titus continued, making up verses the children had not heard before:

“What then becomes the mission?

What then becomes the task?

To live the patterns in the stone.

Through weariness of back and bone,

To show them and to make them known,

not overblown,

but slowly grown,

within, till on the surface shown

for those who think to ask.

The road to other kingdoms,

to those of North and South.

In company of caring souls,

avoiding dragons, beasts and trolls,

deeping pitfalls, deeping holes,

not heaping coals,

but spreading word-of-mouth.

Its fraught with dangers great and small,

yet still the call to go.

Now hear the call,

with traveling shawl,

ambling over mountains tall,

helpful to the weak and small,

though progress may be slow.”

When the king ended his chant, the companions found themselves staring at reflections, candles and the hearth fire.  The call to adventure was in their bones yet they knew the first priority was for their bones to rest.  “May your sleep be sweet,” said the King with a wink.

The companions got up and had started toward the large double doors, when Twombly came breathlessly into the dining hall leading Scrapper.  The dog looked very forlorn and tired.  His shaggy fur was matted and dirty.  He walked straight up to Malachi and spat the scrap of paper at his feet.

“Now you guys will understand how he got his name,” said Malachi.  “He brings scraps like this one.”  By now everyone in the hall had gathered around the dog, and Malachi read the message, “”D in pipe at river 2 bl E. from Market Way.  Bring 10+ men armed.  Rasha +3 men bad.”

“I am saddened by this,” said the King.  “I have suspected for some time that Rasha may have had foul connections.  Give the dog something to drink!”

The dog gratefully lapped up a bowl full of water and another bowl of beef stew which Molly brought out from the kitchen.  “Good boy,” said Molly.

“Twombly, take ten guards and follow the dog.  There is something afoot.”

Malachi wasn’t sure if the Palace guards knew how to use Scrapper to his full potential.  He felt shyness overwhelm him to the point where he wasn’t going to say anything.  But then Mercy touched his shoulder and whispered, “tell the King you’ve been training with Scrapper.”

“I’m too chicken,” Malachi whispered back.

Mercy took the initiative.  “Your Majesty!” she said loudly with a deep courtesy.

Luckily, the guards had not yet been discharged. The king knew that every minute counted for Duman.  But Mercy had begun to win his trust.  “Speak quickly, Miss Mercy,” he said.

“Sire,” she replied, “who here is familiar with Scrapper’s tracking methods?”  The guards remained silent.

“There is none but Duman and Levi,” replied the king.

Mercy gave Malachi a look that said ‘speak up’.

Malachi came forth and knelt.  “Rise,” said Titus. “Duman has been training me with Scrapper,” said Malachi.  “He goes one block ahead and keeps you from being seen first.”

“Twombly, take the boy, but only halfway to the river.  Send him back with Brego and escort him to bed.”  Titus looked meaningfully at Malachi.

16

The starlit night was in glorious flourish as they crossed the drawbridge. Malachi shivered despite his warm traveling cloak. Twombly, Brego and the rest of the guards all passed out of the palace torchlight and into the very faint shadows which stars will produce.

“Now, here’s where we stop,” whispered Malachi. “Just let Scrapper go on. He knows what to do.” Then, turning to Scrapper, he said, “take us to Duman one block at a time.”

The little dog moved off like a tiny shadow into the darkness. Thankfully, Malachi’s eyes had adjusted just enough to see the dog one block away. He could see the profile when Scrapper stopped, turned, and raised one paw.

“You see? That means there are no enemies and you can proceed for the next block.”

“Ingenious!” replied Twombly.

“You don’t keep the street lamps lit?” asked Malachi.

“The King has a general curfew of 10 PM. It saves oil. But some people stay up into the night working when they have to.”

In the middle of the fifth block, they were beginning to reach a level area closer to the Cathedral. There were some lights on and they could hear a dull rhythmic ‘thud’ here. Scrapper was paused in front of this light as if questioning.

“This is the Smithy,” said Twombly. “Many times they must work into the night to finish a set of horseshoes.”

“Good boy,” said Malachi out loud. “Wait for us.”

Brego knocked on the door of the Smithy. A burst of warm air spilled over them as a young boy answered. “We’re on the King’s business, is the proprietor in?” Brego’s armor gleamed as he revealed the royal crest.

The boy disappeared into the glow of fires and ring of hammers from within. He reappeared in moments with a man wearing a leather apron.  The sweaty sinews of his sooty forearms were striking and defined.

“Good evening John, sorry to pull you from your work,” said Brego. He then began to speak in hushed tones.

The little boy held out his hand to Malachi. Malachi plucked up his courage and gripped a sooty, but strong hand.

“I’m Jeremy. Looks like you’ve got a serious blade there. May I look at it?”

Malachi took his whole belt off, not wanting to draw the sword or give the wrong impression. Jeremy examined the hilt and then slowly drew it from the sheath. He gave an involuntary gasp and exclaimed, “I’ve never held a real Ramfaya sword! This must be over a thousand years old!”  Malachi could see the deep appreciation in his greasy face The blade picked up the red glow coming from the blacksmith shop and the starlight from above. But, Malachi now realized, it also had a glow from within.

“Could you turn a little bit?” Asked Malachi. “I’m trying to see if it is glowing from within.” As Jeremy turned, it became obvious that the blade had a red glow from the inside. Enemies. And not too far away. Malachi carefully began to train his eyes up and down the street. He noticed also that scrapper was very attentive. He looked in the direction scrapper’s ears had perked, but saw nothing.

Brego had finished speaking with John, so Malachi showed him the sword. Twombly immediately came over. “The Ramfaya blade is glowing, Sir,” said Brego.

“Continue on down to the river with nine men, “ said Twombly. “I want one more to come with me. Malachi, I regret to have to escort you back to the castle. We may discover something of use on the way it seems.” Turning to the blacksmith, he said, “Goodnight John. Perhaps you could spare the lad to keep an eye on the street.”

“Will do Sir,” he said putting a hand on Jeremy’s shoulder.

“Thank you Malachi for teaching us Scrapper’s abilities,” continued Twombly. “May I try the next command?”

Malachi smiled and gestured toward the dog.

“Continue toward Duman, boy! Go!” said Twombly, mimicking Malachi’s tone with the dog. Scrapper sped off toward the river.

Jeremy handed the sword back to Malachi. “Come visit soon,” he said.

Malachi had always wanted to see a blacksmith shop.

By the time Malachi and Twombly arrived back at the Palace, the glow in Malachi’s sword was even stronger. A red glow meant enemies who were human. As they approached the drawbridge, suddenly they heard voices:

“Sir I’m sure you know the King’s rules. No one is to come into the Palace after curfew unless he’s been authorized,” said the guard at the drawbridge. “We have beds in the keep down here. There is water for washing and food.”

“Why should one of the Kings counselors be denied his Palace chamber?” said Rasha in a plaintive voice.

Malachi began to put two and two together: perhaps Rasha was holding Duman down by the river.

Twombly gently pulled Malachi by the shoulder out of the line of sight and away from the drawbridge, finding a bench in one of the Palace Gardens. They could still hear Rasha arguing with the guards.

“Do you think he’s the troublemaker?” whispered Malachi.

“We’ve trusted him at times. Sometimes he has had useful information about the policies of other kingdoms,” whispered Twombly.

“Do you think he has come here from the river to take the stone from my sister if he was admitted to the Palace?” whispered Malachi.

“Ahh, well we shall see what the men turn up regarding Duman. Meanwhile, you and I must remain hidden here until Rasha is out of sight and hearing in the keep.”

Malachi was feeling quite comfortable with Twombly now so he began to ask questions. “Why do you suppose Rasha wants to steal the Patternstone? I mean, what would he do with it?”

“That question, I think I can answer to some degree,” said Twombly. “I think he would simply want to hide it. Bury it beyond hope of recovery. The thing is, the Patternstone reminds everyone in highpattern of the way God made the world and how we are supposed to live in it. If Chaozz the Black and his servants can cause us to forget these patterns, well, we would forget God and live for pleasure and money. The rhythms or patterns of our life would tend toward isolation from one another. Simple things– like having all the people work six days and rest for one– create a basis for being together, feasting together and worshiping together.

Malachi overslept. He woke to the quiet sounds of Twombly opening the curtains for daylight and setting down a pile of breaches and tunics which had been prepared for Malachi by the Palace seamstresses.

“Well young master, seems you are beginning to sleep soundly in our world!” Twombly said, eyeing him with a grin.

“What happened to Duman?” he said, rubbing his eyes.

“Apparently, Scrapper led the guards right to him. Brego thought he saw some men fleeing across the river in a skiff. That crossbow bolt grazed his shoulder, but I think he’ll be fine. At least we know who one of our enemies is and we have him in the keep!”

“I knew it,” said Malachi. “Rasha. I thought sure he would obtain entrance.”

“This is where the King’s strict discipline pays off,” said Twombly. “Many people of tried to bribe the Palace guards or reason with them, but they never give in. When Rasha kept trying to attain admittance, the only thing he really succeeded in doing was getting himself led to the keep by six guards who were immediately alerted when Garth whistled.”

“But the other men, they got away across the river.”

“Yes, we don’t know what their relationship is to Chaozz the Black, but we suspect they will continue to try to obtain the Patternstone.”

“Where is Martha?” Said Malachi. He realized how long he had been away from his sisters.

“I suspect they are taking lessons with Labesh or Miriam. They’ve been getting lessons in Highpattern history and other things.”

“Miriam? Is she getting better?”

“Yes, thankfully she is recovering from her injuries. How would you like to go meet Jeremy today?”

“At the blacksmith shop? Yes, very much!” said Malachi.

“We cannot wait too many more days before you begin the pilgrimage. Chaozz will be expecting us to head straight for the Cathedral at Sarbad. We will have to fool him by going over the mountains to Phesus. Would you like it if Jeremy came on the pilgrimage?”

“He could come?”

“Yes, the party will have at least 15 people. Jeremy, young as he is, is an expert Ferrier. When the ponies cross the mountains, they will need to have their hooves maintained. Also, he will be able to maintain our armor and equipment. We were thinking that Jeremy could teach you some of his skills.”

Within an hour, they had breakfasted and Twombly was leading Malachi and his sisters back into the village.

This particular morning, after breakfast near the kitchens with Molly, Twombly met them: “Molly, it would be good for you to come along today. Have you asked your parents?”

“Yes, sir,” said Molly. “They are aware of the risks involved, but they have always been missions minded. You know they are strong supporters when it comes to establishing the patterns.”

“The risk shouldn’t be too great today,” said Twombly with a meaningful look at Malachi. “Good job to Malachi and Scrapper helping us capture Rasha last night!  So, let’s be off to the Armory.”

“I thought we were going to keep up our disguise as produce vendors,” said Martha.

Malachi piped in, “he’s taking us to see Jeremy. We met in last night when we were going to get Duman. He works in a blacksmith shop.”

“And that is why are going to dress you in combat leathers,” said Twombly. “It’s the layer of leather that goes under chain mail. This will allow you to work in the blacksmith shop safely without getting burned. It’s possible we could even find some leather gloves in the Armory. I’ve instructed Bartholomew to dig up what he can. Molly, can you take us by the back passage?”

Molly looked up at Twombly startled “yes… Sir, well, umm…,” she trailed off.

“Curiosity is to be expected for those who work in this Palace,” said Twombly with a wink. “You didn’t think we noticed you exploring last week…”

“I, well, I guess I let my curiosity get the best of me.”

“All forgiven!”  said Twombly.  “Now you get to explore with permission.”

“Thank you sir,”  she replied.

The companions went to the back of the kitchen and through another door. Twombly placed the key in the latch. “These spiral stairs connect with every important thing that a soldier would need,” he said. “If we went down, we would come to the stables.  However, we are going up to the Armory next. Above that, on the next level is the Council chamber leading to sleeping quarters for the guards. At a moment’s notice, the guards can be waked, receive instructions,  get gear from the Armory, bags packed with food from the kitchen, jump on horses, and head for the drawbridge. Do you see how it works?”

“Why do you use spiral stairs?” asked Mercy.

“They can be defended easily by a right-handed man coming down the stairs. If the Palace were really breached, they would still give our men the advantage.

After they had gone up, he turned another key, which led into the alcove where the Armory was. This time, however, their outfits were laid out for them: leather tunics and breaches. These felt heavy and warm against their skin.

Twombly helped them fasten the various ties and buttons. “Eventually, the leather will form to your body,” he said. “You will need the leathers for riding the ponies and staying warm in the mountains. Eventually, wearing chain mail if we can find enough. Today, just leathers.”

When the girls came out of the shield maiden Armory, they met Miriam. “Miriam!” Exclaimed Mercy and Martha.

“Yes,” she said, “I wouldn’t want to pass on the chance to remind you two to keep up diplomatic face and bearing! Besides, I love the blacksmith trade.”

“Are you completely healed?” asked Mercy.

“My side still hurts, but I need to be moving around. Glad to see the seamstresses have stitched your leathers in such a short time.”

Twombly waved them all down the spiral stairs again.  At the door to the kitchen they met Molly and Millie and continued down to ground level. As soon as Twombly opened this door, the smell of hay and animals met their nose. A short tunnel led them into the stables where Brego introduced them each to a pony.

“Feed them a carrot.  That’s it,” he coaxed.  “Just talk to them and get to know them for a while.”

“They love to be scratched right here,” said Millie to Martha.  The smile in Martha’s face could not be wiped off!  “Try to drop your voice into a lower tone and put your hand on them firmly like this,” said Millie demonstrating.  “They would rather that you were direct and forceful in your communication with them.  They want to know what you want so they can earn your carrot…… and your trust.”

Brego noticed that Millie was at ease.  “Can you demonstrate how to mount Missy?”

“No problem,” said Millie.  She patted her pony and dragged her hand back toward the saddle.  She patted its flank while continuing to say, “good boy…” Then she simply stepped in the stirrup and swung her leg over.  The pony remained standing still as if it was completely natural and used to the drill.

When Brego got to the end of the line, it was Malachi’s turn.  He lifted Malachi onto a small pony. “Can you fit your legs around his belly my lad?” Malachi’s knees were pulling in his feet could not reach the stirrups. Brego made a few adjustments and then lifted him off.

“I have one smaller pony, but I’m concerned. He may not be stout enough for the journey,” said Brego. You will have to give your bags to another young master.” His name is Little Thunder.

Brego had Malachi lift his leg. It barely reach the stirrups, but Brego had attached a sturdy piece of rope to the pommel which enabled Malachi to pull himself up.

Meanwhile, Martha was stroking her pony. His big eyes were so beautiful. Martha was mesmerized.

“Looks like he’s for you, Missy,” said Brego, throwing a saddle on the pony.

“What’s his name,” she asked.

“Jack. A more nimble footed youngster you will not find. We breed our mountain ponies for character as much as muscle,” he said with a wink.

“Black Jack,” said Martha, petting his neck and scratching his ears. “You and I are going to get to know one another.”  Finally, with Millie’s help, she swung her leg up, straddling it’s saddle.  She was shaky with excitement.

Molly and Mercy were each given ponies further down the stable. There were only about 20 ponies and these were at the back. Light and air came from one side of the room only which was on the Palace wall. Brego patted them and said, “these have been raised in the mountains. They will not throw you, but they need to be confident with you for the mountains.  Teach them well!”

There was a small yard within the keep for the exercise of the ponies and horses. “Twice around the yard for each of you before we head down to Market Street,” said Brego.

The ponies had been so well-trained that sitting on their saddles was easy. Soon they were headed for the drawbridge. Just inside the keep, they met Duman. His arm was bandaged, but he looked well enough.

“Take Scrapper with you,” he said. Rasha may not be the only spy lurking around.”

“Aren’t you coming?” Said Malachi.

“I’ll see you at the Council tonight,” he replied. “Tonight we debate how to get the Patternstone to the next Cathedral. I suspect it will be full of challenging questions. I shall rest and bathe my wound. You look natural on a pony,” he said to Malachi.

“Little Thunder,” said Malachi.  “I like him a lot.”

They pulled their produce vending outfits over the leathers, practiced mounting again, and started forward.

The sheer weight of the chains of the drawbridge and the muscle needed to lower the heavy planks were impressive. The ponies went across single file beyond the drawbridge there were gates leading to the city. He said already been opened for the day. Smiles could be seen on the faces of the Palace guards as they proceeded out.

The road from the Palace immediately curved to the left because of the steepness of the slope. The houses along this Main Street were ornately decorated, being owned by nobility and well maintained. Their turrets held flags which were waving in the breeze. Occasionally, servants and the nobles themselves could be seen in windows and on balconies.

The produce cart had been attached to Molly’s pony to make things look as “usual” as possible. Perhaps some of the nobles guessed that there were new faces in the crowd, but none stirred.  Brego had guards placed along the way.

Approximately 3 blocks down from the Palace, they reached the second set of gates leading to the market area. The slope of the Hillside had become very moderate. The first shops were bakeries, butchers and produce stands which sold to the nobility.

Scrapper’s ears were keenly listening as he sniffed and snooted around, ready for any sign of unfriendly eyes upon the children. At Miriam’s admonition, they had remained quiet and attentive as they rode with no talking.

“You will have to get used to knowing when you can talk safely and when you can’t,” she had said at the drawbridge.

Malachi remembered the blacksmith shop from the night before. This morning, however, he heard the ring of many hammers and felt a tremendous movement of warm air coming from the shop. It took up nearly half a city block and several horses were tethered it stalls which took up the other side of the block.

As they tethered their ponies, Jeremy came out to greet them. He brought carrots and oats. The ponies were very contented and seemed to know exactly where they were.

As Jeremy took them inside, he began an excited dialogue explaining to them the various duties of the smithy. Immediately adjacent to the tethering posts were hundreds of various types of horseshoes.

“Your ponies will need shoes, especially if they attempt any mountain passes. Ponies hooves grow extremely fast, so they will require trimming and refitting at regular intervals.”

“What are these?” asked Martha.

“They are the rings for your bridal ropes, stirrups and bits I’ve been experimenting with different size bits, and of course Malachi’s stirrups are a special order. I mean no disrespect to your size.”

“Well, at least my pony won’t be overburdened,” said Malachi.

Jeremy led them past the room devoted to horses into a room which was devoted to armor. One corner contained many boxes full of little rings.

“This is what I spend the most time doing,” said Jeremy. He showed them some of his fellow smiths who were banging out ribbons of steel to be made into rings. “Chain mail takes a long time to put together. But it really is a lot more comfortable to wear than plate armor. Also, the freedom of movement is important.”

Finally, Jeremy led them into his own little room. “My dad owns the place, and he’s given me this room for experimentation.” The room was filled with ropes and pulleys, a table with drawings, spears, swords, funny looking helmets and even prototypes for new wheel designs.

He held out rope and pulley system. “I think these will be very handy in the mountains,” he said.

“Can I try this on?” said Martha. She had been intrigued by a harness made of leather and iron rings.

“Sure,” said Jeremy. “You see, if you put that on and then hook up that wheel, you can basically fly when you stretch a rope between two points. Just step into it this way…” He showed them all out to take it off and put it on quickly. “These clamps allow you to descend or ascend a little at a time. That’s the trick: it’s one thing to have a rope, but you need a way to pull yourself up or let yourself down slowly and safely.”

“Cool! I’m so glad you’re coming on this journey,” said Martha. “From what I’ve heard, we can’t just take the main roads.”

“Cool? What do you mean?”

“Oh, that’s what we say when something is really interesting.”

“Well then, yes, I agree, cool!” said Jeremy. “Let me show you guys somethin’ else.”

At the far corner of the room, there was a closet of sorts. It contained trowels, pics and shovels, along with pieces of bone and stones.

“There’s caves up in the mountains. A long time ago, more people used to live up there. I found all this stuff, and there’s lots more in those caves.”

“Jeremy?” Said a voice from the far side of the room.

“Yes, Dad,” Jeremy motioned the others to come with him back to where his father and Miriam were speaking.

“Son, we’re invited to the Palace tomorrow night. I have accepted the invitation. It seems they may want your rope and Ferrier skills for the pilgrimage,” John was beaming. “My son the service of the King!”

Jeremy gave his father a big hug and began to cry on his shoulder.

17

By the time the sun came over the edge of the tilting yard on Friday, Malachi was reaching exhaustion.

“Lift it again, young Master Ki!” said Duman as he brought his practice sword in for another strike.

Malachi gave every effort to deflect the blow again. He had been given a heavy oak practice sword weighing approximately 10 pounds. “Need to develop your wrists and arms,” Duman had said. They had been at it for an hour and everything ached. Malachi’s hands ached in the leather gloves. His wrists, shoulders and back were finding whole new ways to ache.

This was the 3rd morning of training. The children had been fully recovered by Wednesday, and Duman had insisted that they be prepared for the rough road ahead. But it was obvious that Malachi was really struggling to lift the 10 pound sword even one more time.

“Shake your hands out and stretch like this…” said Duman. After they had stretched a little, he handed Malachi his Ramfaya sword. It was small and light, weighing less than 4 pounds. After the 10 pound practice sword, it felt great. “Now go through the defensive sequence again.”

Malachi found that the perfect balance and weight of his own sword enabled him to move it nearly twice as fast and have good control. Duman brought his wooden sword in for an attack which Malachi parried fairly well. “Remember, any real enemy will probably not pause to allow you to decide how you’re going to block the stroke,” he said. “Just keep your stance and the sword in middle position ready to move with any attack. And never turn your back to the enemy unless it is time to run.”

Lastly, he brought Malachi to a straw practice dummy. “Go ahead and thrust a few times. Where would you stab your enemy if you really needed to kill him?” Seeing Malachi’s hesitation, he explained: “as a king’s Ranger, I have had to make the decision many times whether I actually needed to kill someone. If you are in battle with an enemy who has declared war, that is generally to the death. You don’t have time to decide how to incapacitate someone when you are in the middle of 50 people charging you.”

Malachi continue to think about where he would stab the dummy.

“But, when I have to deal with thieves or other crimes in Adelphia, I almost always looked for a way to knock them unconscious or incapacitate them.”

It was actually difficult for Malachi to stab the practice dummy. It caused him to think hard about what his sword meant.

“You see, is a great responsibility!” said Duman after watching Malachi contemplate really having to put someone to death. “In fact, someone like yourself who hesitates when he is young will probably be someone who avoids unnecessary killing when he is old. You have a tender conscience! Don’t lose that!”

Carefully, Duman showed the points where most soldiers are vulnerable on the dummy. Once again, as with the gargoyle, he took Malachi’s sword and Malachi’s hand and confidently stabbed the dummy.

Malachi broke down in tears.

“Good man. I’m so glad this is hard for you. Always take it seriously,” Duman said as he lifted Malachi off the ground and hugged him. “Join your sisters and Miriam. One more time up the tower steps to the Chapel,” he said. “Say your prayers and then go wash off in your rooms.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Malachi. He was also required to continue the practice of diplomatic speech under the formal surveillance of the tilting yard.

At the entrance to the chapel stairs, he found Martha and Mercy waiting for him along with Miriam. “Glad it took you so long,” said Martha. “Gave us a chance to rest!”

“Okay now, it’s only about 150 stairs,” said Miriam. “But there is a catch. We will all sing victory Psalm 7 as we ascend the stairs. Try to continue to sing even if you’re getting out of breath.”

The children followed Miriam up. Her pace was a steady climb which seemed easy for about the first 10 steps. But the difficulty increased.

“I trust in you, deliver me!
Oh, king of kings I sing to thee…”

Miriam’s voice rang up the spiral stairs. She paused at the end of each line for breath, but soon, even these pauses were not enough. Martha began to experience aching each time her knees bent. Her lungs were bursting for air. Everything in her screamed “stop running”.

“Keep running!” panted Miriam.

“How did she know my thoughts?” said Martha to herself, but she willed her legs to keep pumping.

By the time they reached the Chapel, everyone rolled on the floor gasping for breath. One of the things they liked about Miriam was that she wasn’t too proud to be practical. Miriam rolled too.

After about 20 seconds of this, Miriam insisted that they stand up. “Grab your knees like this,” she said, demonstrating. “Quiet your breathing. What if you really were being chased?” Gradually, she had them stretch their legs. Then she led them over to the altar and led them through sincere Chapel prayers and a gentle Psalm of praise.

When this had ended, they sat in silence for a few minutes. They went back to the alcove which overlooked the tilt yard. The windowsill was nearly 2 feet deep, hewn of rough stone. Martha could hear some of the sounds of practice from below. She felt the warmth of the Patternstone against her. Miriam had been standing feet beside her, and now put her arm around Martha. “Would you like to experiment?” she asked. “I would be curious to see how our singing affects the brightness of the stone.”

This time, Martha took up the tune. As they sang, sure enough the Patternstone blazed. “Okay, now put it in the bag,” said Miriam. It’s light went out inside the black bag. When Martha brought it out again, it looked like a normal diamond. “Now let’s just quietly hum the tune,” said Miriam. They did and the stone gave out a little light.

“Yeah, I can see how this could be useful,” said Martha. “We just hum a Psalm and we don’t need a torch!”

“Any enemy who could see a torch burning would see it before they would hear us hum,” replied Miriam. It will be handy for traveling in the dark.”

They had been humming by the In the distance, they heard the call of the Palace guards. Someone had come to the Palace.

“Malachi,” said Miriam, “may we look at your sword? I want to know if the new arrivals at the Palace have any evil intent.” There was no inner light from Malachi’s blade. “You see, down there, inside the gate,” Miriam pointed to the place just beyond the drawbridge which could be seen from their parapet. There, the guards were speaking with a man who looked like he had ridden his horse through a furnace. His tunic and jerkin were scorched and tattered.

“He is a messenger,” said Miriam, “his livery looks like it is from Sarbad. Hopefully his information will help us.” Others were beginning to stream in through the Palace gate. People were coming in for the Friday evening festivity. Occasionally, someone would hand a weapon to one of the guards for safekeeping.

“I think I’ve kept you here too long,” said Miriam. Labesh will be expecting you girls in order to dress for the feast.”

“Look!” Martha said before Miriam could escort them down the stairs. “It’s Millie with her father!” Sure enough, Brownbeard was smiling broadly and shaking hands with the guards.

“Millie!” Yelled Mercy and Martha together. Though they were approximately 200 feet away, Millie did see them and waved, jumping up and down with excitement. Martha and Mercy pointed toward the dining Hall.

“Hold on!” said Miriam. “I have something to say. Martha, tonight King Titus will ask you to reveal the stone to everyone at the feast. I will stand with you. I’m going to ask everyone to sing, and when they do, you can be sure that the light will be powerful. It is the key to our whole mission– the Patternstone will gain power as more and more people in highpattern worship and begin to feast together in community.”

Going down the Chapel stairs was so much easier! Their legs still felt like rubber, so it was rather humorous. One couldn’t be too sure if one would need one’s brother or sister to steady oneself because one’s legs would respond in unbidden spasms.

Soon, the girls found themselves in the dressing chambers again. Malachi had gone off with Miriam. Labesh had laid their pretty dresses out. “You’ll need to be wearing the sky blue dress tonight,” said Labesh. The Patternstone has been found and we need to present this good news as winsomely as possible!”

When the girls peeled off their tilt yard Jerkins, they were covered in sweat and grime. “Goodness gracious! What does that Miriam do with you girls? Into the tub with you!”

Labesh had already put an iron kettle on the hearth. It didn’t take long for the bath water in the copper basin to be quite warm.

“Ahhh!” Sighed the girls as the warmth surrounded their tired legs. However, Labesh wasn’t in the mood for silliness. She scrubbed and she brushed and she poured water over their heads. She had mixed some fragrant liquid that she poured in their hair. To the girls’ surprise and delight, she began to sing:

“Lavender and tea tree oil,
bring that water to a boil.
some sloshing,
for washing
the toil.

Stir in soap and send it round
copper makes the clanging sound!
some clanging
and banging
around.

Fume-ee steam fills up the air
sudzing bubbles in your hair.
for sudzing
away all
the care.

Tubbling makes for rosy cheeks,
scrub-bling face until it squeaks!”
scrub-bling,
and bubbling
TWEAK!”

With that, Labesh gave Martha’s nose a “tweak” which brought giggles and guffaws from all parties present.

—————–

This night, the dining hall was almost twice as crowded as it had been on the night of their arrival. The smells were just as delicious. Once again, Miriam was gently playing the fiddle along with some other musicians. The Royal table was much larger this time. As Labesh escorted them to their seats, they noticed Twombly ready to push in their chairs. Many eyes were upon them, Martha in particular felt the color beginning to rise in her cheeks, unselfconscious though she usually was. To their delight, however, they were seated in between Millie and Molly. Malachi was placed next to Jeremy. And in no time, all the children were busy with catch-up conversation.

Millie and Molly had similar stories: Twombly had come to visit their fathers and requested an audience. A little while later, each of their fathers had come and had a talk with his daughter. Twombly had asked them to consider sending the girls on pilgrimage. They had discussed the risks involved and likely duration.

“Dad said that they wanted you to have company your own age for the journey,” said Millie.

“Yes, and my skills in food preparation could be put to good use,” said Molly.

“And mine knowing how to pack food and store it,” said Millie. “Plus, my sister Annika is in Phesus with our uncle Frederick.  She’ll be able to show us around and help us out.”

“Isn’t Anni the one who keeps climbing the vines on the Castle wall outside the pantry?”  Asked Molly.

“Yes, mom keeps telling her not to do that at the Royal Palace,” Millie chuckled.  She even climbs up and hangs from the basket hangers every night when dad’s telling us the stories.”

“What kind of stories does your dad tell?” Martha asked.

“Well, you know….How God made the Highpattern world, when he worked 6 days and rested for one. My dad says God wants us to follow his patterns. He wants us to have a day of rest and work hard when it’s time to work.”

“But then Chaozz the Black fell from the sky,” put in Molly. “Why some people like him, I’ll never know! He doesn’t want any regular patterns. He wants chaos.”

“Or Chaozzzz, if you take the meaning” said Millie. “I seriously wish he would just fall asleep and snore forever!” She made a snorty–sort of snoring sound: “HONNN-PPPBBBZZZ!” They all laughed uproariously.

As their laughter began to recede, they realized that everyone within 20 feet was looking at them.

“Ahh, scuse me,” said Millie with humility, folding her napkin.

But Malachi was completely oblivious to everyone’s attention. “Why don’t we just kill Chaozz and be done with it!” he said loudly.

Stunned silence. Nearly the whole dining Hall became quiet.

The look on Malachi’s face was quite comical as the ring of his voice died away.

“That’s….the…part that’s really hard for us to understand,” said Millie, aware that all eyes were upon her. “You can’t kill him.”

King Titus had been watching the children’s conversation from the head of the table. “Millie is right,” he said. God allows Chaozz to remain. When Queen Tirzah accomplished the mission last, and all the cathedrals were humming with worship, that old Dragon was still plotting. We shall all hear more in the counsel later.”

The King gestured to the musicians, who immediately struck a more lively tune. Final preparations for the feast resumed. He gave Millie a very broad, knowing smile and a wink.

She gave him a nod which silently communicated, “thank you, your Majesty.”

Conversations around them began to resume. But Malachi was oblivious.

“Well, how about the sword they gave me the Armory?” said Malachi. “It’s a Ramfaya sword. Couldn’t we just stab him in the heart with it? I’ll bet Duman could get through even if I couldn’t.”

“No, I’m telling you, you can’t kill him,” Millie’s eyes were deep and reflective now. “Even with that sword. Shepherd Amos and my dad say that God purposely allows him to stay around. God himself may kill him or banish him forever in the end, but that is not for us to know. I think it’s so we can learn to fight evil with good.”

“Yes, yes, but come on….” Malachi trailed off. He took a big gulp of his water and looked at Millie. “How are we supposed to fight him, then?”

“It’s a different battle than you would think,” replied Millie. She seemed to be searching for words. “God wants us to remember the patterns he gave us and show them to the world. Tubal fashioned the Patternstone in the mines of Yahalom and each generation has to live the patterns. That’s the only way. It’s kind of a battle that takes a lot of patience and you can’t just win it all at once.”  Millie nodded as a servant offered her a bowl of soup. “Molly, you know what Shepherd Amos says. Help me out here!”

“She’s right,” affirmed Molly. “It’s why we are going on pilgrimage. Chaozz has the upper hand now. I’ll bet he’s got all the gargoyles working for him in every place but Adelphia.”

Miriam had just come over from the musicians stand and overheard the last few sentences. They all looked at her as she took her seat. They couldn’t help but notice how diplomatic and courtly her mannerisms were. Years of practice in the Palace court showed in her graceful motions.

“Yes Molly,” she said. “I believe you are right. This will not be easy. We need to put a stone from the Patternstone necklace in the floor of each Cathedral to set each one free. This will require that we remember the patterns, live the patterns, and teach the patterns to the people we meet. Then, in time, God will give us a way to get into the Cathedral at Sarbad, where Chaozz dwells.”

“But the Queen! said Malachi. “I’m not afraid of the Dragon!”

“You have not seen the dragon up close yet!” said Mercy. “What makes you think you can just march off half cocked and defeat a Dragon that even God is allowing to live until the end of time?”

“But what about Queen Tirzah?” said Martha. “Where is she? Is she in Sarbad? Remember, we saw her through the cave entrance. And there was a volcano behind the mound where she was. Is there a volcano near Sarbad?”

“Yes … There is!” said Millie, who had learned her highpattern geography. “But I don’t think you can march straight into Sarbad and rescue her. I mean…”

“Why not!” said Malachi, getting a little huffed and still not quite understanding.

“Haven’t you been listening!” put in Mercy. “We need to set the other cathedrals free first. Then we’ll gain the power of God’s patterns and numbers of people to knock the Dragon out of his seat!”

“Well, resist the dragon,” said Millie. But that’s it. No other way. Chaozz wants us to attack him at Sarbad. We have to fool him. What he doesn’t want is for great numbers of people to begin remembering the patterns. He doesn’t want them worshiping and singing Psalms and helping the poor and feasting together: those kinds of things.”

They all sat in silence for a few moments. Voices around them were now buzzing, but some were still looking at their little group attentively.

“Do you want me to take it out so we can look at it?” said Martha. Her desire to look at it was strong.

“No, no not yet,” said Mercy. “You don’t want everybody in the Hall looking at you, do you? Everyone wants to see it.”

“I see what you mean,” said Martha as she noticed all the eyes glancing in her direction and pointing occasionally.

“Let’s change the subject,” said Millie, sensibly trying to distract Martha from stage fright. “Have you guys been learning defense techniques in the tilting yard?”

“It’s totally exhausting,” said Malachi. “Duman kept going over how to sidestep when someone is charging you. You step to the side quickly which leads them to step to that side, then, right at the last second, you pull back to where you were. You’ll have your footing because you’ll know the ground you were standing on, and hopefully he won’t be able to react in time.”

“That’s a good one,” said Jeremy. “One of the Palace guards showed me that one when he came down to pick up his sword from my dad’s shop. If you bring your left arm up quick enough, sometimes you can get his sword out of his hand. But I haven’t tried it. I havn’t had to deal with real ruffians much yet.”

“My dad shows us a lot about how to deal with belligerent people at the produce stand,” Millie chimed. “We try to avoid any kind of argument with the customers. But, if they still want to be belligerent, we tell them to talk to my dad.”

“If we meet real ruffians on the road, they’ll attack first and ask questions later,” replied Jeremy. “What would you do with that?”

“If they pull a weapon, dad taught us to duck and roll. That gets us rolling under the tables. Within a few seconds, we could be 3 tables over pulling my dad’s leg! They generally don’t want to challenge his quarterstaff!”

“How often do you practice that?” Jeremy asked.

“We should practice more,” said Millie. “If it really happened, I’m not sure I’d react right. It’s just that we don’t want to get our dresses dirty first thing in the morning, especially when most people want clean and washed produce from clean and washed people.”

“Well,” put in Mercy, “you would look silly as a produce seller with dirt in your hair!” Everyone chuckled. Somehow it was hard to imagine at the moment because Millie’s hair was finely braided for the banquet.

One of the Palace servants set some dinner plates in front of them. “That reminds me, what kind of food will we bring along?” asked Mercy.

“The kitchen staff is already beginning to pack nuts and dried fruit,” said Molly. “And were making lots of salted jerky out of meat. If we do get a chance to have a fire, we have some jerky that will soften into stew. But fires are always risky if you’re trying to stay hidden.”

The Royal trumpets rang a beautiful sequence as King Titus stood to give his blessing on the feast. When the king stood, everyone stood. He gestured with his hand to the fiddle player who gave the first line of the melody and everyone began to sing a Psalm of Thanksgiving. Shepherd Amos gave the benediction and everyone began to dig in.

Some of the same delicious dishes greeted their taste buds again. Martha could not help remembering Gothlond’s interruption and, despite her attempts to the contrary, kept glancing up past the oil chandelier, half expecting hideous black wings to smash the stained-glass. Thankfully, the cheerful mode of her friends and laughter kept her from dwelling on this.

Twombly had come over to Martha’s side. “Pardon me miss, but the King will be calling you up. Are you ready?” Martha had known this moment would come. It was a little easier now that she had some friends in Highpattern. She hoped her knees would not give way. She was thankful that Mercy and Malachi would also be standing with her.

The dinner guests were beginning to push away their plates, when the trumpet began to play a low, warm song which was an unspoken signal for everyone to stand.

King Titus spoke with a serious gaze and posture. “God has given us opportunity to be part of his story!”

The words rumbled through the hall. The King would pause after each phrase to let the words sink in. Twombly had pulled Martha to a position behind the King’s table and instructed her to place the necklace in full view. When the King reached the appropriate point in his speech, Twombly took Martha by the arm and escorted her forward. Her knees did seem ready to buckle, but Twombly’s arm was steady.

“… and now an answer to many prayers, the Patternstone has been found! Let me introduce to you three remarkable children from a world called Earth.”

The three children stood forth next to the King and smiled to all the dinner guests. Thankfully, the King did not ask them to speak, but continued: “you all see the beauty of the seven facets in this diamond which God has caused this young lady to find.” The Patternstone was picking up patterns of light from the chandelier on Martha’s dress. She had to remember to continue to smile and gaze toward the people.

“Now,” continued the King, “I want to show you something which you older folks will remember with my mother-in-law Queen Tirzah. I’m going to ask everyone to sing again.”

As before, he motioned for the fiddle player and began to sing the victory Psalm. As he did, the Patternstone blazed with glorious light. Had it not been for Twombly’s arm, Martha might truly have been knocked over. The stone was humming and vibrating and radiating glorious light!

18

When the Psalm ended, a quiet hush descended upon the whole company. The King simply took his seat motioning for everyone to follow suit. The whole assembly sat in silence reflecting upon the profound solemnity of the occasion.

After many minutes, the King motioned for Shepherd Amos to pray. This he did, requesting God’s aid and wisdom for what was to be done.

After this, Twombly stood up as the reader. He had been given a prepared speech which explained the need for secrecy regarding the proposed pilgrimage of the Patternstone. If fewer numbers of people knew what was happening on the pilgrimage, there was less chance for information to fall into the wrong hands. Consequently, the ensuing counsel would consist of a small group who had previously received invitation from King Titus.

The remaining people in the feasting Hall were encouraged to enjoy the music and pray for God’s wisdom regarding the Council. A small group were escorted once again into the Council chamber.

“From whence derives these patterns?

From whence, this use of time?

From heaven’s throne,

to call our own,

reflected in the Patternstone.

Ancient builders made them known.

‘ere hammers rang to chime.”

As Ezra finished the poem again, the chamber continued to resonate with his voice.  A hush fell again and he spoke:  “Over the centuries, we have made annual pilgrimages to the seven cathedrals. We have always renewed them with the Patternstone.”

“Now we face a new situation, however,” continued Ezra. “Though there have been years when the pilgrimage was not made, never has it been neglected so long. After a year or so, the gargoyles begin to leap from their gutter spouts. Never has it taken more than a year of this scourge to motivate us to pilgrimage.  As you know, we have endured increasing trouble from the gargoyles for 13 years.”

I hand was raised. Twombly, who was moderating the Council, motioned for Brownbeard to ask a question.  “Has anyone had trouble Monday through Saturday?” he asked with an air of humility and deference. “They trouble us on Sunday. They don’t bother my produce stand.  The bother us as we come in to Adelphia to attend the Cathedral. Many of my friends began worshiping on their farms to avoid them on Sunday mornings. Some have continued to worship in small groups, but many have begun to make Sunday like any other day. Good friends of mine have forsaken worship altogether.”

Brownbeard paused and gazed at Twombly, Ezra and the King as if to be sure he should continue. “Please continue,” prompted Twombly.

“Well, thank God, the stone has been found.”  I know three families who are planning to attend this Sunday now that the threat of gargoyles has passed here in Adelphia.”

Cheers went up at this.

“It is not easy for me to send my daughter Millie on this venture. But she sincerely desires to risk her life in this cause. She has been singing Psalms and studying the history of Highpattern.”  My suggestion is this: could we obtain the help of the local farmers outside of each city before we attempt entrance into the cathedrals?  I know many of them may help much when they realize that the Patternstone has been found.”

“Absolutely!”  replied Ezra. “When Queen Tirzah and her retinue would march toward Phesus or Myrrh the farmers and townsfolk would begin to fall in with them. By the time the Queen reached each Cathedral to renew its floor, you’d have thought it was fair day.”

“By your leave, Ezra,” interjected King Titus. (His role as King gave him privilege with respect to councils. He could interrupt them at any time.) “So now we come to it.  As Brownbeard says, some farmers still remember after 13 years. But let us keep in mind, Adelphia where we have been more faithful than most cities to remember the patterns– with the possible exception of Myrrh. The difficulty we are facing is that many have already forgotten the patterns. I suspect that most of the local farmers and tradesmen near Sarbad have given up on them.”

At a wave from the king, a man clothed in a cloister robe stood forth.  “Please let me introduce to you Harnold who has ridden in haste from Sarbad.”

Martha remembered the face of the man she had seen from parapet near the Chapel that afternoon. The man still looked weary though he had been washed and given a meal. The hair on the left side of his head was singed.

“The wrath of Chaozz the Black is terrible!” Said Harnold. “Never in our history can we remember such a display of his terror. Over the past 13 years, people have observed him flying further and further from the Black Mountain. But, last Friday evening, he simply went on a rampage! Reports poured in of his terrors all night Friday night. By Saturday morning, we saw that he had gained a large following of gargoyles and seemed to be headed for Adelphia. We sincerely feared for you, but we had no way to warn you. Who could ride faster than they could fly?”

“I was chosen to ride here as fast as I might. Around midday on Saturday, I saw the gargoyles descend upon Adelphia. I thought perhaps all was lost. Chaozz, true to his ways, was circling the perimeter of Adelphia, but not attacking the city himself. Suddenly, a brightness appeared from your Cathedral. The best I can do is to say that it was like a rainbow emanating from it and flinging all the gargoyles away. Many of them rushed back toward Sarbad.  Chaozz himself was thrown back from the city by the rainbow. It was as if he had been stung by it.”

Alas, I had not yet attained the borders of Adelphia. The rainbow simply stopped at the border, like a shield of protection around the city. One of the gargoyles who had been flung back toward Sarbad fell onto the road not 15 feet from me. In his mindless frenzy, he injured both me and my horse before he could see that I did not intend to stand in his way. Thankfully, he continued to try to fly off after Chaozz. After this, I spent the day tracking their movements. Chaozz has definitely retreated to Sarbad, but he has dispatched a steady stream of gargoyles to patrol your borders. Knowing that today was your feast day, I endeavored to journey here and warn you of his movements. I stand ready to help in any way I can.”

“Thank you Harnold,” said King Titus. After this, the King called upon Duman to convey his discovery of Rasha’s movements during the sneaky business on Tuesday. Comically, Scrapper stood dutifully and almost seemed to nod and confirm Duman’s report.

Next,  Miriam reported on the advantage singing gave in battle situations with the gargoyles and the Minotaur. Everyone nodded in agreement with this after the demonstration in the feasting Hall. She also demonstrated the use of the Treeano and small silver horns to magnify the singing voice.

Lastly, Levi was brought forward. He was bandaged and mostly immobilized on a rolling chair. His voice was weak and his face was white. He gave a brief account of his part in the adventures, calling attention to the use of silver tipped arrows and swords when dealing with gargoyles.

In honor of her mother, Queen Tirzah, Queen Lydia was called forward to propose the pilgrimage. Her beautiful queenly festivity gown shimmered in the torchlight of the Council chamber. She sat next to the King and began:

“I think all of you know that I would very much like to rescue my mother. The Patternstone truly is magical and we have seen Queen Tirzah and know that she is held captive in a cave somewhere near the black mountain. But, I fear if we attempt to rescue her first, our rescuers would be overpowered by Chaozz and his minions. If there is a chance of rescuing her, I believe it comes with fulfilling the mission. We must set all seven cathedrals free for worship again.”

“Therefore, I believe it would be best to begin by traveling toward a Cathedral that Chaozz will least expect. He hopes to lure us to Sarbad, and that is closest, but it is too much to risk with the children. What then?”

She motioned to Twombly who used a long pointer on a very large map which everyone could see.

“Laodice?” asked Lydia. “It would be the next obvious choice. But Mayor Kleearos has not been consistent in promoting worship. We can’t count on his aid. We have attempted to be neighborly and we do a fair amount of trade with them.  We must remain friendly toward them.  Please, all of you, welcome them to come worship at our Cathedral. They must see the value of the patterns.  Let us be hospitable and winsome.”

“But I do not think that they have the commitment to withstand a full-scale attack of gargoyles yet. Therefore, let us consider a third option. It is an option that Chaozz will not expect. Let us start with Phesus. The road is more difficult. In fact, there is no road in places.  I propose going through the mountains.”

She looked around the room.  No one spoke.  Heads were bowed in contemplation of what she had said.

Finally, Ezra spoke up: “As to the passage of the mountains, I can say that it has been done, but the way as dangerous.  Others know more of this.  But as to gaining the Cathedral at Phesus next, I think it is a good plan.  Some there will be receptive and it is a cultural center.  If we were able to win those who perform the plays and paint the pictures, it would help communicate the patterns to others.”

King Titus spoke up, “can anyone here see a major flaw in this plan?  We do not want to take such a venture lightly, but too much deliberation could also paralyze us.”

Levi, who was still present, gave his thoughts: “I have been through the mountains.  The going is very rough.  But the advantages of secrecy would seem to outweigh the danger.  I have not fully explored the caves which descend into Phesus, but there is opportunity for shelter and secrecy.  Jeremy, would you show us a few of your display items?”

With that, Levi motioned forward Jeremy, the blacksmith’s son.  He brought rope and pulleys and stakes and a harness which he had made and set them on the table in the middle.

“With my guidance over the past few years, Jeremy has fashioned a system of rope and harness whereby we may descend into caves and navigate cliffs or steep terrain,” said Levi.  “If these items are used wisely, the mountains can be traversed safely with God’s help.”

“You have answered the only objection I had,” said Brownbeard.

“Can we then decide here and now upon this pilgrimage?” said the King.  “Any further objection?”  He paused to give ample time.  “It is decided then.  To Phesus we send our pilgrims!”

19

Hammers were ringing bright and early Saturday morning at the blacksmith shop.  John had called many that had worked for him in the past to come and help out.  His regular crew consisted of eleven people give or take depending on the season.  Many local farmers would work for him during the winter months to earn extra pay and keep warm as well.  After the day’s work had been done, John would let many of them stay to make shoes for their own horses giving them iron in exchange for their work.

Today there were perhaps twenty-five people working on the equipment necessary for the pilgrimage.  John was careful to designate one of the farmers simply to keep a good eye on ventilation.  Smoke and steam were billowing from the forges.  Thankfully, the weather was fairly cool for late summer.  All the doors were open and there was a crowd of passersby watching what action they could from the street.

But none were busier than Jeremy.  His ideas for pulleys and stakes and rope gripping clamps were finally being mass-produced.  For him, it was thrilling to have some of his ideas being put to use.  His father had given him charge of five of the best smiths in the kingdom.  These men were skilled, and had quick techniques for molding the iron, but the parts needed for the rope clamps were small.  It took the utmost skill to fashion these and Jeremy was not sure if they were all going to be useful.

He found that if he simplified the design to its bare essentials, he could obtain more items in shorter time.  For example, instead of fashioning rounded stakes (these were a little over a foot long looking like a sewing needle of today with a place for rope to be strung through), he would settle for squared off ones which could be fashioned in half the time.

Malachi and Duman were stationed just outside Jeremy’s side of the shop loading these iron implements.  “These will be too heavy to carry on our backs, so we must start off with mules,” Duman told Malachi as he carefully wrapped two more of the stakes .  “The local shepherds from all around Adelphia are loaning us their animals.  But if we ever need to descend into the caves, we will have to choose our implements carefully and send the mules back.”

Malachi explained to Duman how many of the implements on earth were much lighter though he didn’t know whole lot about it at his young age.

“We’re going to have to pull Jeremy from his work,” said Duman as he closed the back of the wagon.  We all need to practice in the tilting yard this afternoon, including him, if he is coming on pilgrimage!”

“I’ll get him,” said Malachi.  “I’m sure he’s breathed in his quota of smoke and steam for the day!”

At Malachi’s signal, Jeremy left instructions with the remaining blacksmiths.  The two boys hopped into their familiar places in the back of the wagon with Scrapper.  They chuckled and giggled as they found comfortable place to lie down as the wagon rumbled up the cobblestones toward the Palace.

“Are you going to miss blacksmithing?”  asked Malachi.  “I mean, you have no way of knowing how long this adventure might go on.”

“I love blacksmithing,” said Jeremy.  “But, I was born for adventure!  It sounds like  my rope climbing implements may be put to the test.  The other thing is that I enjoy making swords, but I also enjoy swinging them.”

“Yeah, but how many silver tipped swords to we have?”  Malachi asked thoughtfully.  “I have a feeling we’re going to be battling tortured gargoyles.”

“That’s what my dad is about today,” said Jeremy.  “He’s forging silver onto the iron swords and arrowheads as fast as he can.  He’ll be busy with that for the next couple weeks because King Titus is going to prepare the Army to confront gargoyles again if necessary.”

The boys could feel the wagon wheels roll onto the softer surface of the drawbridge.  The horses hooves made a rhythmical ‘thud’ instead of the clip clop of the cobbles.  Once the guards had searched the wagon, they gave news to Duman.  “Always circling,” said one of the guards.  “They don’t stop night or day.  They can’t get through the rainbow barrier, but they’re ready to cause trouble for anyone who leaves the city.  Many of the peasant folk just outside the walls have had to go stay in the woods near Fern Berry or Auckland.  Gargoyles don’t really follow them.  They just keep watching the walls.”

“Let’s hope the tunnel will get us past their snooty noses,” said Duman in return.  “Somehow, I think they will sense when the Patternstone leaves.  All we can hope for is enough delay to get us out of sight on the road to the mountains.”

Duman introduced the boys to the guard and, once again, had Malachi draw his Ramfaya sword to check for enemies around the Palace.  Nothing but the small red flickers indicating men with evil intent.  They all thought of Rasha being held in the Palace Ward.

“Well, it’s time for lunch and then the tilting yard, said Duman.  We have many signals and drills to learn as we get to know one another.”

That afternoon, for the first time, all the people going on the pilgrimage were assembled together in the tilting yard. Each person chosen to go had demonstrated a history of being committed to worship, hard work, festivity and community.

“We are not an Army,” said Duman addressing the group for training.  “If it was our purpose simply to fight, we would send only soldiers.  But that is not our main purpose.  God has shown us that the business of freeing cathedrals can be entrusted to children.”

With a prearranged signal, he turned the speech over to Miriam.  “However, all of us will have to endure hardness as a soldier would.  Going through mountains in the dark is an extremely difficult task for anyone, let alone for us who have not trained specifically for this.  You will become weary, footsore and likely want to give up before it is over.”

“May I have those who were with me through the labyrinth to come forward,” said Duman.  He lined them up and placed in their left hand a rope which he had knotted at 5 foot intervals.  The rope was soft but exceptionally well woven.  Duman and Miriam and handed out pairs of leather gloves which allowed the fingers free motion.

“We’ve got to where the leather gloves at all times, even during sleeping, when we’re in the wild.  We must be ready to hold onto the rope or possibly climb a tree at a moments notice.  Also, if the mules need to be corralled, grabbing the reigns could otherwise cause blisters.”

The smaller group demonstrated walking together in line holding the rope.  “Now watch what happens when I trip and start to fall,” said Miriam.  Mercy remembered the feel of it and being on the other side from Duman helped to pull her to her feet.  Soon the whole group was following Duman around the yard, rope in hand.  Miriam began to lead them humming a Psalm.  She instructed them to stop and march in silence after every verse.  It would give them time for listening to their surroundings.

“There will be times when we march in silence, but there will be other times when we need the encouragement of singing,” she said.

On the side of the tilting yard, there were three large sycamore trees which had been pruned in such a way as to allow climbing practice.  “If we are chased by wild animals, we may need to climb trees,” said Duman.  He demonstrated a quick jump into a tree from a run.  The leather gloves were very important for this, but another important factor was to loop a piece of rope around the branch in such a way that the knot at the end would catch.

Martha tried the maneuver, but found it was much more difficult than it seemed.  She began to slip, but Duman caught her and set her on her feet again.  He continued to work with her, helping her to get the rope positioned correctly.  When this happened, Martha found that she could put her feet on the trunk of the tree and pull herself up using the knots on the rope.  When she finally settled on a branch, she was gasping for breath.

“Now, here is where you seasoned warriors come in,” said Duman looking at the experienced soldiers who were coming along.  There was Brego the captain of the King’s guard and whom the King had reluctantly spared for the adventure, and three more men from his retinue: Johnston, a slender, exceptionally fit man, Harry the Mason who was stocky and understood geological structures and stonework, and finally Medgrave who was an expert in equine tactics and all horse lore.

Duman demonstrated to them how to catch the younger children utilizing a harness from Jeremy’s shop and pulley them up the tree.  Martha found this infinitely easier than doing it herself and simply cooperated with the rope and harness.

“When we go through parts of the wild, we may want the younger ones to wear harnesses at all times,” he said.  Then to the delight of everyone he demonstrated the practice maneuver of pulling Scrapper up into a tree.  It was funny to see a dog calmly licking its paws 20 feet up.  It had taken Duman and Scrapper less than a minute to be well off the ground.

The afternoon went by quickly practicing all sorts of cooperative efforts for various situations that they may encounter on the road.  The children were taught self-defense techniques using their equipment.  They also practiced forming inner and outer circles for defense setting the soldiers and experienced warriors in an outer circle with the children protected inside.

When they had completed their practice, weary and exhausted, another of the new companions came forward.  His name was Philemon.  “I have been sent by Shepherd Amos to represent the church.  Let us pray…” Philemon gave thanks and asked for God to prosper their training.

That night, when Mercy and Martha went off to their sleeping quarters thoroughly exhausted, they were overjoyed to find that Millie and Molly were allowed to stay with them.

“I’m so excited!”  said Molly.  “It’s like my insides are turning flips.  Part of me can’t wait for adventure, but another part of me is scared.”

“I know what you mean,” said Mercy.  “The fact that God brought us to your world gives Martha and me feeling like we can face anything.  Like God will definitely bring us back to our world when we’ve done what were supposed to do here.  But you know, we could really die.”

“I know I could,” said Millie, lifting up a pile of suds almost a foot high and putting it on her head.  “It’s not like we’re immune from being hurt or anything.  Levi was kicked pretty badly by the gargoyle.”

“Honestly,” said Martha, “I would be happier just staying here at the Palace.  It’s such a great place!  And the King and Queen really care about their subjects.  But it’s almost like we have to go out there and remind people about the patterns even if we want to keep Adelphia glorious.”

“Yeah, Adelphia won’t stay glorious if Chaozz rules everything else,” Molly chimed in.

“You think he’ll fly down and blast us with fire or something?”  asked Mercy.

“Not if we love one another, sing Psalms, stay together and do what God asks us to do!”  said Millie with determined certainty.  “From what I understand, Chaozz can only defeat those who give in to his way of looking at things and don’t forgive one another and don’t remember the patterns.”

“I’ll be honest, Rasha troubles me,” said Molly, beginning to dry herself off.  “He’s scheming up something and he seems to really want to work with Chaozz.  I’ll bet there are more like him in other kingdoms, and I don’t look forward to meeting them.”

“But let’s remember that people can change!”  Said Millie.  “My dad has people working for him who used to be thieves.  He showed them a better way of life and give them a good job.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” conceded Molly.  “There are lots of people on the Palace staff who used to be troublemakers.  All the same, some people just don’t want to change.  We won’t win everybody over.”

“You won’t win anybody over if you don’t get your red cheeked faces onto pillows within a quarter of an hour!”  said Labesh, walking into the room with nightclothes.

“Can you come along on the pilgrimage?” asked Martha.

“No child, I’m a little too old for the hardships of the road.  But I’m not too old to get down on my knees and pray for you every day in the Chapel.”

Four sets of eyes looked at Labesh wishing she could come along.  Finally, Mercy asked if she would escort them to church in the morning.

“That would be a great honor,” Labesh replied.  “Now off to bed!”  Despite their excitement, they all fell asleep within a half hour of their bath.

Martha awoke sometime in the middle of the night.  Noisy silence.

In the beds next to her, she could hear the loud breathing of her tired friends.  As she lay there, she imagined that she heard:  “Mollll…llly, Merrrr…rrrcy, Millll…lllie,”  replacing the sound of their breathing.  She was determined to learn to distinguish which was which.

As she did whenever she woke up, she checked the Patternstone necklace under her pillow.  On this particular night, there was an insistent light coming from the middle of it.

“Get up and go to the window…”

Martha was not sure if the voice was in her own head, or just herself talking to herself (as she did regularly).   She tried talking to herself:  “roll over and go back to sleep.  Your waaay over-tired.”

She rolled over.

“Get up and go to the window…”

It was her own voice, sure enough, but the stream of thought was different from the one she’d been wading in.

“Well,” said her own stream, “I guess it’s a relatively safe thing to do.  You’re really up to your neck in adventure, Martha Jones!”

As she arose, she could hear the slumbering snores of her friends:  “Mollll…llly, Merrrr…rrrcy, Millll…lllie…”  Yup, they were all asleep.

Quiet as a mouse and holding the Patternstone, she tiptoed over to the window.  As with most of the windows in the Palace, it was narrow and began over 3 feet from the ground.  When she pulled back the velvet curtain, the crescent moon filled the floor with silvery light.  The Patternstone was dazzling with its facets bouncing moonbeams every which way.  But there was something else.  In the sky, but less strong than the silvery light was a rainbow.

The height of the window prevented her from looking down at the landscape.  She could only look up at the moon.  Wanting to see the fields and houses below, she moved a small chair under the sill.  She carefully set the Patternstone down on the floor.  Immediately, the light became only silvery.  No rainbow colors.

“Where did it go?”  she thought.

In the moonlight, she could see the outlines of the farm fields visible from the south wall of the Castle.   Only the East wall looked over the city.  Further out, she could see the rolling forests looking like darker black in the moonlight.

She stepped off the chair to test what would happen when she was holding the Patternstone.  Why had the quality of light been different?  As she clambered back up and looked out, immediately she knew why.  She could see a rainbow surrounding the city and the Palace.  It was like a large dome over the whole area.  It seemed to be centered on the spire of the Cathedral, though she could not actually make out the spire from her vantage point.  She fancied that she could see small black specks moving in the air outside the rainbow.

To experiment, she gently set the Patternstone necklace on the floor again and looked out:  all she saw was the normal moonlit night.

At first, Mercy was not too happy to be woken at such an hour, but they reluctantly complied with Martha’s insistence.

“You gotta see this!”  said Martha.

Mercy was bleary, but could look out the window without the aid of the stool.  “Okay,” she said, “nice moon.  Fields and forests.  Now can we go back to bed?”

“Now hold the necklace,” said Martha.  She handed it to her sister.

“Goll!”  exclaimed Mercy, a little too loudly.  Soon they were all viewing the scene with and without the Patternstone.

As they were trying, Martha explained, “I’m pretty sure the rainbow is the protection that comes upon the city after the Cathedral is set free.  Those black specks are gargoyles who want to get in but can’t.”

“Yeah,” said Mercy, “as soon as we step beyond the borders of that rainbow, it’s back to gargoyle war.”

They all sat in silence.  They could hear some Palace guards exchanging calls in the distance.

“Well, I’m sure they’ve got a plan for getting past that border without being spotted,” said Molly.  “The only thing is that the Patternstone itself might draw them.”

“I don’t think it will draw them when I roll it up in this bag,” said Martha.  She showed them the black bag.  As soon as she rolled up the Patternstone in the bag, it was like turning off a large electric current.  “Let me try something,” said Martha.  She unrolled the stone and held it up.  Then she said in a commanding tone, “show us how to get out of the city!”

“Not tonight.  Go back to sleep,”  said the stream in Martha’s head.  Nothing but bouncing moonbeams filled the Center facet of the stone.

“It told us to go back to bed,” said Martha.

“You mean it speaks to you?”  asked Millie.

“Yeah, I guess so.  It kinda feels like my parents talking to me—it’s sensible and all that.”

“Well then, we’d better listen,” said Mercy who was coming to trust the magic of the Patternstone.  “Besides, I’m still whupped.”

The girls clambered back into their beds after unanimously agreeing that they wanted to let the moonlight stream into the room.  As soon as Martha put the necklace back under her pillow and her head on top of it, she was back in dreamland.

Worship the following day was absolutely glorious at the Cathedral.  Crowds overflowed into the village square.  Nothing in their experience from earth prepared them for the magnitude when the whole city worships together.  Mercy wondered if this kind of unity would ever exist on earth, but here in Highpattern, in the city of Adelphia, it was truly amazing.

The Psalms had a certain resonance being sung by so many voices at once.  Mercy noticed that the organist had to slow down the tempo for so many people to sing in unison.  The warm feeling like chocolate cake coming out of an oven was even stronger this week.  Mercy loved the sensation when she added her voice to the throng of voices.  She could feel where her pitch fell – somewhere in the soprano range – as it blended with the other voices.

Queen Lydia had requested for their Sunday afternoon to be spent with her.  There was a large living room in the Royal apartments of the Palace.  It was not overly gaudy, but practical.  Scrapper rolled around and played with the palace dogs in a foyer.  Ezra told tales of the centuries leading up to the present.  There was a map of Highpattern set up on a table which Ezra would refer to as he told the stories.  Once in a while, Lydia would ask a question or interject something.  The children also were encouraged to ask questions.

Along with tea and hot chocolate, Duman introduced the children to ‘Defend the Kingdom’, a game of strategy for repelling invaders from Adelphia.  It had been devised by King Thomas to provide real instruction while at the same time entertaining his soldiers.

As night fell and the torches were lit around the Palace, the children realized that they had genuinely rested.  They actually felt more tired and ready for bed because of the restful attitude with which the whole palace seem to be filled.

Monday and Tuesday were spent in the tilting yard, practicing more techniques for hiking, climbing, packing, cooking and all other aspects which the Pilgrims would need for their journey.

They practiced unrolling their sleeping bags to bed down for night and they practiced packing them back up until they could do it in five minutes.  They practiced what would be the signal that the camp was under attack.  They practiced ways of waking one another up depending on the seriousness of the situation.  They practiced putting on and taking off harnesses for climbing.  They practiced mounting and dismounting the mules.

Later Tuesday afternoon, Miriam gathered the children together to practice singing Psalms.  Mercy had become more accomplished with the Treeano.  Martha told Miriam about how the Patternstone revealed the rainbow.  They had packed for the final time.

Before they went to bed, Duman explained how they would get past the rainbow border.  There was indeed a tunnel leading out from the west wall of the Palace which would emerge in a cave nearly a quarter mile past the rainbow border.  This tunnel was normally used for escape from the palace in times of siege.

“Please try to sleep soundly,” said Duman to the children.  “Drink the herbal tea Labesh makes for you.  And don’t worry, we will wake you up when the time comes.”

It was all Martha could do to still the pounding of her heart knowing that they would be departing two hours before dawn.  But the herbal tea had its effect, along with the steady “Mollll…llly” of Molly’s breathing next to her.

In what seemed like only a few minutes, though it had been hours, Miriam was gently waking them all.  As she had practiced, Martha put on her leather and chain mail.  They joined the whole company outside the sleeping chambers and were led further to the westward wing of the Palace.  They descended and long set of spiral stairs.

The whole group was subdued and hushed, well aware of the seriousness of what they were attempting.  They all held the rope in their right hands as they spiraled around to the left.  Martha felt glad for the rope which reminded her constantly of the presence of her friends.  At the bottom, a single torch was burning brightly.  And there stood King Titus, Shepherd Amos, along with Ezra, Lydia and several important courtiers.  Shepherd Amos directed a sincere prayer to God asking for the success of the mission.  They drank a cup of parting which was the same sweet wine Miriam had given them when they had gone into the labyrinth.

King Titus asked the three children to come forward.  “We have been so glad God has sent you from earth,” he said warmly.  “We cannot see all ends, but we trust that you are sent to our kingdom for such a time as this!”  He embraced the three of them in a warm group hug.

Titus addressed  the entire group:  “Each of you has a small leather envelope on the inside of your leathers.  In it are papers to give to Rudolphus, the King of Phesus, or whomever may have questions about your legitimacy.  In it also are promissory notes for money.  Should you be robbed, my name has good credit in most of highpattern and you can use the notes for lodging.

“Malachi, hand me your sword!”  The King said.  It’s glow was grey with some red flickers.  “Gargoyles will be above you soon and I believe the red flickers are from Rasha still in the dungeon.  Well, young man, lead the way!”  said the King, giving Malachi pat on the shoulder.

Duman grasped Malachi’s hand. King said.  It’s glow was grey with some red flickers.  “Gargoyles will be above you soon and I believe the red flickers are from Rasha still in the dungeon.  Well, young man, lead the way!”  said the King, giving Malachi pat on the shoulder.

“To Pilgrimage!” said Malachi.

“To pilgrimage!  said everyone.

Malachi found the first step felt like stepping off a cliff, even though it was on solid stone. Scrapper, as ever was an eager beaver at his side.  He was thankful when Miriam began to sing a Psalm.

He found it easiest to hold his sword at his side like a flashlight.  The grayish glow increased as they walked forward while the red flickers began to cease altogether.  The tunnel was very straight and true having been constructed for three soldiers to walk abreast.

The company walked along silently, each occupied with his own thoughts.  They felt the unity that the rope provided and walked in single file though the passage did not require it.  Within ten minutes, the grayish light in Malachi’s sword became much more pronounced.  They were going under the rainbow barrier.

Martha had placed the Patternstone carefully in the black bag and rolled it in three times as Miriam had instructed her.  The sincere hope was that the enemy would not sense the movement of the Patternstone.  All the same, she could feel it pulsate as they went under the barrier.

20

After another ten minutes, they began to feel the draft of cold air coming in from the entrance to the cave.  “The first thing we will have to do is descend this craggy ravine,” said Duman.  “Brego and Folsom have gone ahead with the ponies.  If they are safe, they will be waiting for us in another cave hidden 2 miles from here.”

“In this rain?”  asked Martha.

“We couldn’t ask for a better cover,” replied Duman.  “Our woolen cloaks will shed most of the water, and, hopefully we can dry them out tomorrow.  But the gargoyles will certainly not expect us to leave in this.”

“In full dark?”  Molly put in.

“Yep, you’ll all have to learn to trust the rope just like we did in the tilting yard.”

It was rather shocking, when cold rain suddenly pounded around Martha’s hood as they walked out into the night air.  Her ears were filled with the sound of rain.  Her boots protected her feet from the sharp rocks, but the walking was extremely uncomfortable, because her foot rarely fell in a flat place.  She held the rope in her left hand and it moved along very slowly.  Duman took frequent pauses, especially if someone fell or stumbled.

Martha thought of the times when she had gone hiking back on earth.  She had thought nothing of wading in a small stream when it was 50° outside.  But it was amazing how quickly she felt cold now.  It was 45° and rain.  She had begun to shiver slightly despite the activity.  She was very glad for the leather gloves with which to hold the rope so that her hands didn’t freeze.

Darkness.  Noise and total darkness.

Martha didn’t even see any light reflecting off raindrops.  There were no streetlamps.  They were out in the wilderness.  Martha had to completely rely on her senses of hearing and touch.  Every few minutes, Duman would mention a turn in the path or a sharp outcropping or something.  Martha began to listen carefully for these admonitions.  A few times, she found herself drifting off and forgetting to listen.  If she didn’t, she almost always paid with a stubbed toe or loss of balance.

Well, what did she expect?  Did she expect adventures to just be fun– jumping around and laughing at bad guys?  Somehow, more than anything else, this rain made her realize that this was not just going to be a light fairytale.

But as the rope moved forward, Martha was developing more and more a sense of trust.  Miriam was directly in front of her, and Millie was behind her in the line.  They seemed to be working their way gradually down a rocky slope.  At one point, Miriam actually fell.  She had lost her footing because of a jagged rock.  Martha felt the rope go down in front of her and instinctively grabbed it with her other hand as the whole line came to a halt.  It was enough.  The friends on either side of Miriam had prevented her from hurting herself on the sharp rocks.

“Everyone okay?”  called Duman through the rain.

“I’m allright!”  Miriam replied.  “Be ready for a few sharp ones where I am.”

No one really wanted to pause very long in the rain, so they kept moving again.  After another half hour or so, Duman brought the whole group to a halt.  “This is the rocky ledge.  It is twenty something foot drop with no footholds.    Jeremy, you are next.  I’m using one of your iron stakes.  Malachi, it’s time to use your sword again and risk a little bit of light.  It should show a faint grey.”

As Malachi drew the sword out slowly , it seemed bright to their adjusted eyes.  “Yes, mostly grey,” said Duman.  “But I am troubled by these slight green flickers.”

He put Malachi’s sword in his own belt and began to descend.  With the faint light, they could see Duman going down the rope hand over hand using Jeremy’s iron forged rope holding devices.  A moment later, Duman’s voice came from somewhere below.  “Jeremy, show the others what to do!”

“Okay Martha,” said Jeremy.  “Ease yourself off the cliff edge, then hand over hand with these clamps just like we practiced in the tilt yard.”  He handed her the pair of iron ‘descenders’, as he called them.   They were heavy, but held you firmly on the rope when you kinked the rope in them.  “Duman will be ready to catch you at the bottom, take your time!”

Martha could see the outline of Duman below by the grayish light of Malachi’s sword.  Using the ‘descender’ devices, Martha could almost walk down the cliff.  She had descended perhaps 10 feet when she really blew it.  She looked up.  The heavy rain coming straight into her eyes caused her to try to wipe them with her hand.  For some reason she forgot that her hand could not let go of the rope.

Instantly she began to fall.  The scream didn’t really come out of her mouth until she was almost to the ledge below.  She felt the paralyzing sensation of fear and freefall.

But Duman was ready.  Part of his training had been practicing catching other men when necessary.  His arms, chest and bent knees absorbed the momentum as he crouched, then rolled with Martha’s flailing personage.  When they hit, the back of her head hit the side of Duman’s ear.

Bam!

“Oow!  Are you all right?”  Said Duman.

“Yes!  Actually…” Martha checked herself.  Her ankle felt bruised where Duman’s leg had crushed it a bit.  She found she could stand.

Doing yelled back up to the others, “she’s okay!  When you are descending, do not look up at the rain!”

In the end, Duman did have to catch Molly, though from a lower height.  The rest managed the descent.

“What about the rope?”  Asked Malachi.

“Ahh, that’s where Jeremy’s iron stakes come in!”  Said Duman.  “Why don’t you demonstrate, Jeremy?”

Malachi noticed that there was a string with a piece of stick hanging on the cliff face.  Jeremy simply pulled the string back through the eye hole of the iron stake and pulled the rope back through!

“So you see,” said Jeremy, “the only thing we leave behind is the stake.”

“We’re not safe yet,” said Duman, sheathing Malachi’s sword again so that full darkness returned.  “We should reach the cave in 10 minutes or so.”  With that, he began to lead them all forward with the rope again.

The cave entrance was well hidden halfway down a gully.  Harry the Mason had been keeping watch.  “Halt!”  He called into the darkness.

“Patterns, pilgrims and patience!”  replied Duman with their prearranged password.  “Do you have the woolen blankets ready?”

The companions came in under the mouth of the cave.  Martha had never in her life been so glad to get out of the rain.  Harry the Mason led them away from the mouth of the cave into what felt like a room in the darkness.  They could hear the breathing of the ponies and smell their husky sent.  They could also hear human snoring amidst the ponies breathing.  This turned out to be Johnston and Medgrave.

“They’re here!”  said Harry.  “Time to wake up and help me hang their wet gear.”

Still using the rope, Harry let them to a place where there were woolen blankets laid out on the floor. In the dark, he instructed them to remove their wet outer gear and put them in a pile.

Martha rolled into the woolen blanket and was soon fast asleep.

21

Malachi awoke.  Faint rays of light were filtering through the mouth of the cave.  His sleep was fitful, partly because his sword kept pulsing and flashing grey if he pulled it out from his blanket.

Only Brego was awake.  Malachi quietly crept forward to where he stood on guard duty.  “Can I go pee?” asked Malachi.  Secretly, he planned to explore a little.  He was just too curious.

“Only if I come with you,” whispered Brego.  His tone indicated they should keep quiet.  “Remember, we are in some danger here.  I’ve spotted gargoyles in the air not more than a mile away.”

Brego woke Duman. “Malachi and I are going to scout within 200 yards.” Duman gave a nod.

Soon, the two were climbing over the boulders near the cave entrance.  They dropped into the group of long needled pines which hid the cave entrance.  Scrapper, always eager, followed Malachi as he picked a path through the branches.  The greyish pulses on Malachi’s sword were growing stronger with every step.

After meandering through the trees for a couple of minutes, they came upon a pile of large stones which seemed to go all the way up as high as the treetops.

“This was once a tower,” said Brego.  They picked their way slowly upward.  “This was used to defend the outskirts of Adelphia during the Sarbadian Wars.”

Soon, Scrapper had discovered a path among the stones.  “Good boy,” whispered Malachi.  He began to run eagerly after the dog. When they came out at the top, he was indeed level with the tips of many trees.  Looking around, he saw a cracked cannon ball, bones and even a skull from some forgotten battle.  Looking up, he saw Mount Marat to the south as it picked up the rays of the morning sun.  Back to the north, he noticed some small black birds flying in the sunrise.

Suddenly, many things happened at once.  Malachi had climbed more quickly than Brego had anticipated.  Brego yelled, “Malachi! Get down!  You’ll be spotted!”

Malachi waved to Brego, and was about to say, “I’m fine,”  when he realized that he wasn’t.  What had been black specks a few moments ago were now three hideous gargoyles speeding through the air toward him.  He turned to run back down the ruined stairs, sword flailing above his head.  But he was not fast enough.  The gargoyles swooped in at full speed.

Brego leapt toward Malachi, thinking to roll him to the ground and shield him with his body, but one of the three gargoyles scooped up Malachi in it’s talons.  Brego attempted to grab its wing and prevent flight.  But a second gargoyle hit Brego with its beak and pinned him to the ruins.

“Heelllp!!”  Yelled Malachi, flailing frantically.  As Malachi rose into the air, he saw Duman standing at the cave entrance with his Longbow at full draw.  But he did not shoot.  “They don’t want to risk hitting me,” thought Malachi.

He had been caught from behind and so was facing downward, watching the trees disappear below him.  The third gargoyle had caught Scrapper.

Malachi’s head was spinning: “turn over and kill it?” he thought to himself.  With a quick squirm, he reversed his body in the talons, and he still had his sword arm free.  The Ramfaya blade was a burning fire.  Had Malachi known it, he was creating a grey fiery streak in the sky.  The sword was showing his exact direction of travel to Duman and Brego.  He was just about to strike at the gargoyle in the face, when it spoke:

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you, kid,” it said.

Malachi realized that if he killed the gargoyle, he would surely die as well. No good falling from a half-mile in the air.  Then it came to him.  He knew this gargoyle.  It was one of the three from the side of the archway on the Adelphia Cathedral.  Still in a fury, Malachi was sooo tempted to just swing his sword and end it all.  He remembered the words from Dad back on earth, “Malachi, think it through.  Use your wits!  Don’t just lash out in frustration!”

Malachi looked over his forhead to see where they were going.  No doubt about it, upside down, he could see a black mountain far off in the distance.  “Think, think!”  he thought to himself.  The dizzying height was beginning to make him faint.  Then another thing came to him, what Ezra had said: “They’d rather be sunning themselves on their gutter spouts.”

“Are you Blig, Blag or Blog?”  Malachi yelled over the wind.

That got the creature’s attention. “How did you know that?”  It asked.

“Because…; you were one of the three gargoyles missing from the Adelphia Cathedral.”

“Oh, yeah,“ it said, pretending not to be surprised.

“I bet you’d rather be sunning yourself on the Cathedral right now,” said Malachi.

The gargoyle began to falter ever so slightly.

“When was the last time you had a nice bit o’ fresh water going through your mouth?”  He paused for effect. “Did you know Zlig, Zlag and Zlog are back on their sunny gutter spouts?”

The frantic beat of the creature’s wings began to slow.  “Yeah, well, we can’t get back to our gutters. There’s a barrier around the city,” said the gargoyle.  It flapped its wings in silence.

Malachi also remembered what Miriam had said: “In their natural state, gargoyles love to hear singing from their perches on churches.…singing confuses them”  Malachi began to sing the Psalm Miriam had taught him.

To interrupt the singing, it sneered, “Bet you can’t guess which one I am!”

“Oh, yeah? You’re Blog,” replied Malachi without hesitation.

“Ain’t tellin’,” it said.

“You know,” said Malachi out loud, “you really don’t have to be a slave of Chaozz …”

With this, Malachi began humming the Psalm again and tried to act relaxed, putting his arms behind his head.

“You shut up, kid!”  said Blog.  “Wait till Chaozz gets a hold o’ you.”

“I bet you’d rather be Zlig or Zlag right now,” said Malachi as if he hadn’t heard.  “It’s a sunny day and there’s no better time to be a gutter spout!  In fact,” he continued after humming the Psalm a little more, “I’ll bet the people are walking by admiring their wings right now.   Zlog probably has that wonderful feeling of being admired and waving to them without waiving because he’s just blissfully…”

“You stop that!!”  Blog couldn’t take it anymore.  He squeezed his talons and said, “I told you, there ain’t no way for me to get back.”

“King Titus would let you through if I convinced him,” said Malachi.

“He would?”

“Yeah, sure he would!”

“But Chaozz ‘ll catch us,” said Blog.

“Not if we turn around right now,” said Malachi. “You don’t have to be his slave.  Anyway, I could stab you with my sword right now.  I’d rather die than go to Chaozz.”

That did it.  Seeing his advantage, Malachi knew what to do.  He began again to SING the Psalm with all his heart!

“Change of plans, boyz,” said Blog.  “Looks like we’ve nabbed a ticket back to our gutter spouts.  This little one can get us back.”

With that, three sets of wings headed back for Adelphia…

22

When Martha awoke, Brego had called everyone together near the cave entrance.  Millie, Molly, and Mercy stood huddled in their blankets blinking in the morning light.

“There is no easy way to say this,” he said.  “The gargoyles have taken Malachi and Scrapper.”

“No-oo!”  The girls began to wail.

Brego spoke before they could continue grieving.  “I don’t think he was taken to Chaozz!”  Brego recounted what had happened at the tower ruins and how the gargoyles had flown off in the direction of Sarbad.

“But,” he continued, “here’s the thing.  I followed them carefully with my eyes until they disappeared.  I stood grieving and thinking about what to do next when I saw them coming back toward me!  I knew that it was the same three, because I saw the grey flash of Malachi’s sword.  They were flying back toward Adelphia, and passed me to the North.”

“So you think he’s alive?”  blurted out Martha through tears.

“Yes, I do.  No one else would light up his Ramfaya blade.    Somehow, he convinced them to change directions from Sarbad back to Adelphia.”

“May we look in the Patternstone?”  Asked Martha.  “The other day it revealed the Queen to us and we knew that she was alive.”

Miriam spoke up, “No.  You must not do it.  The Dragon can feel the Patternstone.  He hates it, but he can smell it when it is being called upon.  If we take it out of the black bag now, he will sense our position.”  She turned to Martha: “can you trust God for Malachi?  We know he was heading back toward Adelphia.  And, actually, Chaozz will want Malachi alive.  He would want a bargaining chip.”

“Well,” said Mercy, “I suppose we’ve got to try to rescue him.  What can we do?”

Duman spoke up, “if we abandon the mission and go back to Adelphia, I don’t think we can help Malachi any more than King Titus can.”

With unspoken gravity, everyone’s eyes turned toward Mercy.  “Yes,” she said, “we can’t be paralyzed by fear. But I don’t want to move another step without praying for him!”  Mercy looked to Philemon.  The minister stood erect, his tall wiry form silhouetted against the cave entrance.  He raised his hands toward heaven beseeching God with earnest entreaties on Malachi’s behalf.

Despite the subdued mood of the group, breakfast was satisfying.  Molly and Peter had packed some hearty nut bread and cheese. “The more we eat this morning, the less we’ll have to pack!”  said Peter, trying to lighten the mood a bit.

Martha was savoring a mouth full of cheese, when Brego called everyone to the cave entrance.  “Up here,” he said.  He led them all up a path which brought them out on a rocky ledge above the cave.  He motioned them all to be quiet.  They could hear a booming noise in the distance.

“Stay low,” he said.  “Just let your eyes go over the crest of this ledge.  It’s Chaozz!  He has better vision than we do, but right now he is occupied.  Martha, is the Patternstone hidden?”

“Yes,” she replied, patting her cloak.

When they came over the lip of the ledge, an amazing sight met their eyes.  They could see Chaozz the Black aiming his fire at the city walls of Adelphia a mile in the distance.  Several patches of trees were already burning outside the city.

“Now here’s the thing,” Brego continued, motioning them down below the ledge.  “Malachi must have gotten into the city!  Chaozz would not continue to beat the walls if he had captured Malachi.”

“So, you think he’s safe?”  asked Mercy.

“Hopefully, he is unscathed.  But he’s in there.  Now, it is we who are not so safe.  The Dragon will figure out that Malachi wasn’t alone…”  Brego’s voice had quieted.  The booming noise had stopped.  He let his head go above the ledge one more time, and then said, “Everyone! Back into the cave!  I think the dragon is already turning around!”

In their haste to run back down the path, Millie tripped and cut her knee.

“I’m okay,” she said, as Molly picked her up.  Brego directed everyone to the back of the cave.  While Miriam bandaged Millie, Brego spoke quickly:   “The dragon’s senses are 100 times sharper than ours.  He will be searching.  If he can’t see anything from the air, it may take him a while to find us.  But eventually, he will sniff us out.  Martha, do not remove the Patternstone from its bag now for any reason.”

“Yes, I understand,” she said.

“Chaozz cannot fit his body into this cave unless he pulls the mountain apart,” continued Brego.  “But his head can fit in the entrance.”

“He’ll blast us with fire and smoke!”  said Medgrave.

“Thankfully,” continued Brego, “this cave has another way out.  It winds inward for a half-mile or so.  After that, only spelunking will bring us down to the exit.  Johnston?”

“Yes,” replied Johnston, “Jeremy and I have done it.  We can use Jeremy’s rope system to get down.”  Jeremy held up his ropes and pulleys.  “But we will have to leave the ponies,” continued Johnston.  “We can lead them to the furthest point of the path and hope.  Chaozz may try to smoke us out for days if he thinks we’ve been here. Now, we all need to get to work!  Remove all trace of ourselves from the cave entrance.  Perhaps he will overlook us.”

The companions busied themselves packing everything on the ponies.  Molly and Peter carefully looked for any trace of food near the entrance.  Within about ten minutes everything was packed and they followed the light of Brego’s torch down the path at the back of the cave.  The going was rough.  Sometimes, loose rocks provided for stubbed toes.

Martha found that Blackjack didn’t want to be led down into the cave.  Medgrave handed out apples and they stopped every few minutes to stroke and reassure the ponies.

“Good boy!”  Said Martha as Blackjack chewed his Apple.  She could feel the pony shaking just a little with nervous agitation.

“Pet his side like this,” said Millie.  She gave her pony rhythmical firm pats on the shoulders.  Millie had the knack for talking to her pony and calming it.

They all felt a sense of relief when they had gone around the first large bend.  But it was short-lived.  After they had gone a few more yards, they heard what they all feared.  A loud resounding “boom” shook the mountain behind them.  “He’s found us already!” said Brego.

“Whoa!  Easy!”  said Medgrave in a commanding tone.  All the ponies had been cared for by him at one time or another.  Still, some of the poor beasts were beginning to want to bolt as the thundering booms continued above them.

Medgrave moved them all steadily forward.  Martha found she had to be careful not to get her feet too close to the ponies hooves as they skittered back and forth.  After about five minutes of this, they rounded another bend and came out into a large open space.

The booming ceased.  What replaced it was a gust of air coming from the tunnel they had just been through. They could feel the upward draft of air.

“Over here!”  called Duman.  “Do not inhale the air from the tunnel!  It will be laced with the Dragon fumes.” As they brought the ponies away from the tunnel, Duman and the other soldiers quickly roped together tarps, stretching them over the tunnel entrance.  Then they ran back to the other companions.

“Medgrave, you may have to wait a day or two before you can lead these ponies out again,” said Duman.  “It will be tough to keep the Dragon fumes out entirely.  If you feel that your life is in danger, follow us down.  Hopefully, Chaozz will stop blowing smoke after a while.”

“Good luck!”  said Medgrave.  “It won’t be my first night sleeping with ponies.”

“Who will be the first to descend?”  asked Johnston.

“There are four harnesses,” said Jeremy.  “This drop is longer than anything we’ve practiced, so I’ll go first.  The difficulty is the torchlight.  It’s too hard to carry a torch down.”

“We may as well get out the Patternstone now,” said Miriam.  “Chaozz knows where we are.”

Martha pulled the necklace from the black bag, but to her dismay, it provided only dim light.

“Let’s not forget to sing!”  said Miriam.  “Shall we offer a Psalm of Thanksgiving?  Mercy, your treeano would be quite useful right now.”  Mercy had been practicing with the Treeano from the Palace Armory in Adelphia.  She played a G note and everyone began singing Psalm Seven.

The light in the Patternstone grew brighter in a rhythmical way almost as if it was enjoying the music.  As they sang, Martha could feel Blackjack calming down as she nuzzled the horse.  “Goodbye for now,” she said to the little pony.

“Well Jeremy,” said Johnston, “I think Martha should go in the first group and shine that thing back up.”

24

Wind whistled through Malachi’s hair.  He rolled over in the talons so that he was facing downward again: able to see where they were going.

“You got a plan for getting’ through the barrier, kid?”  asked Blog.

“Barrier?”  Malachi hadn’t heard what the girls had discovered with the Patternstone.

“Yeah, we can’t just fly back to the Cathedral.  We have to go through one of the magical gates in the city wall.  You’ll have to explain to the guards.”

“Fly to the gate nearest the Palace,” yelled Malachi.  Their speed was carrying them quickly toward the other gargoyles which were circling the city.  As they began their descent in toward the main southern gate, other circling gargoyles began to notice them.    Malachi noticed that these were staying out of range of the archers on the city wall.  As they dropped near to the gate, arrows began to be fired at them.

“Don’t shoot!”  Malachi yelled as loud as he could.  But the arrows continued.  Then Malachi realized that they weren’t able to see him.  “Blog,” he yelled, “fly back out of range for a moment!”

Blog had already checked his course.  “Retreat!” he yelled to Blig and Blag.  “You got it, kid!”  he said, banking in a sharp turn to the right.  The centrifugal force quickly made Malachi sick and nearly knocked him unconscious.

Suddenly, some other gargoyles were attacking them. He caught a glimpse of Scrapper hanging in Blag’s claws.  The poor dog was as limp as a wet rag.   Then, with a jolt, he realized that Blag had been hit by another gargoyle and was spinning out of control toward the ground.  All Malachi could do was say a prayer for the dog: “Save Scrapper oh God!”

When they swept away the other gargoyles, Malachi noticed a terrible sight in the distance.  A black spec was quickly becoming a big black object flying straight toward them.  “The Dragon!”  He said out loud.  That was a mistake.  He could feel Blog shaking with fear.

“We gotta fly in the gate now, or I’m done for,” said Blog, who had once again turned to sharply.  Malachi momentarily blacked out.  When he woke a few seconds later, he could see the archers firing again.  He began waving his sword frantically.

“Keep going!”  He yelled.

“But the archers…” began Blog.

“Go right in!  I’m waving my sword!  Trust me!”  The sword not only glowed grey, but it was now also burning with regular fire.  “The Dragon,” he thought to himself.  He began to twirl the sword in smooth circles.  This time he had the archer’s attention.  One of the bow men near the gate was pointing at him and shouting something.  They stopped firing.

Malachi was beginning to faint again from the intensity of the situation.

Something terrible was happening behind them.  Like a smooth black storm, Chaozz came in at storm wind speed.  Malachi realized that they would not have time to explain to the guards who they were before Chaozz would come up and possibly destroy them.  He could actually see the shadow of the Dragon which had got between the southern sun and the walls in front of him.  This gave the effect of darkness descending in midday.

Levi and the other guards were charged with defending the city gates.  Under no circumstances were they to allow any dragons to get close to the doors.

“It’s Malachi!”  Levi yelled.  “Keep them open!”  His fellow guards had begun running the doors closed with all speed.

“Dragon!”  They shouted in response.

There was no way to make the guards under his command understand in time.  He picked up the crossbow next to him on the parapet from which he was firing and strung the arrow which he had had fitted with light rope.  Taking careful aim, he shot at the city gate itself, pulling the bow to full draw.  He hit the massive oak door hard, lodging the shaft deeply.  He then looped the rope left in his hand around a battlement pillar and jumped.

The worn leather of his handgrips sounded like a bumblebee as they slid down the 50 feet or so of rope.  As he was sliding, he yelled with all his might, “catch me!”  Of the ten or so guards closing the gate, only two looked up at their captain, so great was their fear of Chaozz.

Levi came to the end of his rope slide with a ‘thud’, hitting the gate.  Mercer, not a very large man, but quick on his feet had been one of the ones to look up.  He stopped pushing on the gate, pivoted to his left and reached his arms just in time to check Levi’s fall.  The two rolled on the ground.

This commotion was just enough to get the attention of the other four guards which were closing the large gate door.

“Reverse it!  Trust me!”  said Levi, jumping to his feet and beginning to push the door open.  At this, his guards realized what their leader was doing.  It seemed so counterintuitive, but their years under Levi had made them trust the man.  They quickly ran around to the other side and began to open the door.

_______________________________________________

As they swooped in, Malachi was kept from fainting by sheer terror.  Blog’s claws had gotten a little too tight, but thankfully, his head had already been facing forward so that he could see what was happening.  To his dismay, the gate doors were closing.

All the archers except one had dropped underneath the ramparts.  One lone archer stood just outside the gate waving them in with a circular motion of his arm.

“Straight in!”  yelled Malachi.  The three small gargoyles were at top speed but the black shadow behind them was still gaining.

“It’s closing!”  Blog yelled back.  Malachi craned his neck to look back and realized that only a few seconds separated them from Chaozz.  It would be close.  Just when it looked like the doors would be closed, the door on the right stopped its closing motion and began to open again.  The three gargoyles look like small grey fighter jets being chased by a black canopy of cloud.

“To the right!”  Malachi yelled.  This time, Blog’s only response was to veer slightly to the right.  Malachi could feel the heat of flame on his backside as they swept in under the archway.

Levi and his men quickly reversed the direction of the door, switching again to its backside.  But there wasn’t enough time.  Dragon fire ripped through the opening before they could fully shut it.  The door was partly iron and partly oak beams.  The iron became glowing orange.  The oak, well let’s just say it began to incinerate, as did the drawbridge which led to the gate.

Carriages 100 yards from the gate away caught fire as the dragon’s blast came through.  Blig Blag and Blog disappeared as soon as they let go of their cargo, because when they came through the barrier, the magic that had held them was released.  They dropped Malachi and Scrapper about 20 yards in. It was hard to say who was more still in the next split second.  Blig Blag and Blog were now gutter spouts nearly a half mile away on the sunny side of the Cathedral near the cloister Gardens.  Malachi and Scrapper had become a half dead puddle consisting of boy and faithful friend.

Levi and his men had slammed the gate shut just in time to avoid being consumed by the Dragon fire.  But not in time to avoid the smoke.  Levi held his breath.  Several of his guards did not.

Unfortunately, Malachi was unaware of the peril of Chaozz’s breath.  The black smoke goes right to the head.  The brain forgets to do what is right.  The central nervous system forgets to resist the Dragon.  The eyes become curious, wanting to see the Dragon up close.

Malachi had sucked in a good lungful.

Levi rolled away from the black smoke and took in hyperventilating breaths from the clean air on the inside wall.  He had to get enough stamina to run in and drop the gate latch. When the latch was dropped, the magical shield around the city would become complete again.  Chaozz angled his tail and threw the gate open, crushing two of the guards against the inner walls.  However, using his tail in the air, Chaozz was off balance.  He had to circle around for another pass.  He could not land on the sheer stone walls and the drawbridge was already weakened from flames.

Levi saw the opportunity, but just as he was about to slam the latch shut, he realized that two of his own guards were tottering toward him.  The black breath had blinded their minds, and now they wanted to get to the Dragon at all costs.  To make matters worse, the Dragon had looped about and was coming straight in again.  Flames were already coming through the half ruined gate.

Levi had no choice.  Using the pommel of his own sword, he knocked out the first of his own guards.  The second was going for the burning door to open it, oblivious to his potential death.

Levi swung around as his fellow guard, Jenkins, reached the door.  With a burst, Levi jumped onto his shoulders, and used the extra height to drop the latch bar squarely in place.  BOOM! The tongues of fire preceding the dragon suddenly stopped.

From the outside, Chaozz hit the magical barrier.  He knew the feeling all too well from past experience.  It was like being electrocuted.  How he hated being reminded that he wasn’t invincible.  He fell with a huge ‘hisss’ into the moat below.

Levi was now in a desperate struggle with his own guard.  It is nearly impossible to jump onto somebody while holding your breath.  Yet that is what Levi had done.  He knew that the black breath would be disastrous.  As he jumped off Jenkins, intending to roll for safety and good air, the possessed guard grabbed his foot.

For Levi, it was like struggling underwater.  He knew that if he took a breath now, he would be under the black influence and likely do something to open the gate once more.  He squirmed, giving Jenkins  his boot, and rolled away from the black smoke.  It was a near thing, and he had to lay panting for a few seconds before he could tell the small crowd which had gathered to stay away from the smoke.

“Someone needs to stop Jenkins!  But hold your breath while you do it!”  Said Levi to his other guards.  Jenkins was just approaching the smoldering door and latch.

From the outside, Chaozz could sense that someone was under his influence.  He took to the air again, ready to blast more breath in if he could.

Thinking fast, one of Levi’s other guards took a large rock and knocked Jenkins senseless with a trained blow.

The wrath of the Dragon was terrible.  He circled around breathing fire and slamming trees and farmsteads with his tail.  But the power of the Patternstone could not be broken.

Chapter 25: Annie’s New Job

Annika Brownbeard was feeling lonely.  Growing up in the family produce business, she had never been lonely, learning to work with her four sisters.  At a very young age, she had discovered her talent for climbing and acrobatics.  By the age of six, her father would take her up Mount Carmel to get ice to keep vegetables cold.  With her gifted feet and hands, she would climb up with her pickaxes and chop out a block of ice.  She would carefully remove it from its crevice and slide it down to her dad.  The plan was, if she ever slipped, he would catch her just like another block of ice.  But she never did.

Then she had taken to singing and acting when she went climbing.  She would pretend to be a glorious Princess in a far-off kingdom, or an elfin shield maiden jumping from tree to tree.

Then, in Annie’s 12th  year, they had gone to visit Uncle Frederick in Phesus.  Frederick worked in the theater Guild and was in charge of the production of many plays which were done in the outdoor amphitheater near the harbor.  The Phesus theater put on at least ten plays every year.  Brownbeard had brought his family to see “Taming of the Blue”, a play about the difficulties in the life of a sailor.

Frederick had immediately seen Anni’s talents when she had climbed up scaffolding to retrieve a scarf which the wind had taken from one of the noble ladies of the town.  The attention of the whole crowd was drawn to her small form 20 feet in the air.  Her parents were probably the only people in the crowd that were not worried for her.  When she brought the scarf back to the woman, she curtsied, completely unselfconscious of the gawking crowd.  Later, she  sang a few melodic lines from the play, goofing around with her sisters.

“Oh, tis a fair fief for fiddler’s fare…”

Uncle Frederick had overheard.  His knees could not only climb, she could sing!  Later that afternoon, he asked her if she would enjoy being trained to become a player.  Frederick was a decent sort of fellow, but like most people from Phesus, he did not attend church.  Her parents had let her stay on the condition that she was to be escorted to the Cathedral every Sunday morning.  Frederick had reluctantly agreed to this condition.

Later that evening, parents tucked her in bed.  “Mom, I’m not sure I wanna do this.”

“We’re coming back in 2 months time to buy more spices… we can get you then,” said her mom.  “It really is okay with us if you give it a try.”

She remembered the first Sunday morning when she had to wake up Uncle Frederick.  She had arisen with the sun knowing that the Cathedral in Adelphia generally had service about two hours after sunrise.  Frederick’s dog, Maggie, a shaggy spaniel, was very excited that somebody had arisen at this hour.  Anni made scrambled eggs, buttered toast, tea and started a bit of soup broth, assuming that Uncle Frederick would smell them and come to the kitchen any minute.  The eggs grew cold.

Finally, after she could no longer cook to make good smells without burning breakfast, she tiptoed into Uncle Frederick’s room and found him sound asleep.  His facial hair made him look scraggly. The combination of body odor and flatulence was downright disturbing, especially after the delicious smelling kitchen.

“Wake up uncle Frederick,” she said, trying to be gentle and soothing, but somehow, what came out was a squeak.

“Go back to bed!”  he said, turning over.

“But Uncle Frederick, you promised my parents you would take me on Sundays!”

As if to emphasize this point, Maggie took a running leap, landed on Uncle Frederick, and began licking his face.

“Of all the confounded nuisances!”  he said, brushing Maggie off his head and glaring at Anni.  “Look, I’m sick,” he said, as he turned back over.

“I made you breakfast,” she said.  “Would you like some tea?  I’ll heat it up on the hearth.”

No response.  Anni had had it!  She walked around the bed pulling his covers off.  “You leave me no choice.  I’m going to the Cathedral by myself!  Wait till my mom hears about this!”  She stomped out of the room to finish breakfast.

About five minutes later, Uncle Frederick came into the kitchen.  He had washed his face and water streamed down from his hair as he dried it with a scrap of linen.   “You’re just like my sister,” he said, “stubborn!  I can’t let you just walk off on your own.”

“That’s good,” replied Anni as she started some more scrambled eggs, “because I’m walking off in ten minutes with or without you.”

In the end, they had to move at a pretty good clip to arrive in time.  The church bells rang three rings for a half-hour, two rings for ten minutes and a single ring for five minutes.  When the call to worship finally arrived, the ringer would ring all the bells, ringing and dinging with gusto!

“How annoying!”  said uncle Frederick, echoing what most of the people in Phesus felt about the bells.  For many, it was simply a signal that it was time to turn over and go back to sleep.

“I think the sound is pretty!” said Anni.

The sound was still reverberating slightly as they made their way through the huge double doors of the Cathedral. There was no one to greet them at the door.  If not for the bells, they might have thought it was empty. No one was around. They stepped into the narthex, it was so dim and gloomy that Anni was tempted to go back and open the front door for some light.

The second set of doors which lead into the nave were actually closed.  “On a Sunday morning?” she thought.   Anni gently pushed on the huge right-hand door and it creaked open.  The Cathedral had been built to hold thousands.  There were perhaps thirty people gathered near the front of the huge space.  The minister was giving a Scripture reading so quietly, they had to walk closer before they could discern the words clearly. The responsive readings were done in a complete monotone.  The minister showed no emotion, so, although Anni could not accuse him of being overly showy, she also felt that he himself was, well, bored.

After a while, it came time to sing a song.  The organ was deafening to the point where no one could be heard singing over its screechy tones.

Anni cringed as she looked over at Uncle Frederick.  His frown showed that he was unimpressed.  How she wished she could bring him to a one of the heartfelt worship services in Adelphia.  She longed for that warm sensation of singing with everyone else.

After the service, Anni stopped to greet two girls her own age on the steps.  They were dressed in exquisite gowns and their hair was curled to perfection.

“Hello!”  she said, “my name is Annika.”  She performed a very slight curtsy with a smile in hopes of making new friends.  Unfortunately, these were the daughters of nobles.  Often, this meant snooty.  They nodded ever so briefly, said nothing, and continued to walk away with their families.

Anni had matured at the produce stand, and so knew that some nobles could be friendly.  But not these. Not today.  A deep sadness came over her as she followed Uncle Frederick back through the streets.  He said nothing and she knew it was best to remain quiet herself.

“Dag!” she thought to herself.  “Now I just feel like an embarrassing tag along.”

Most of the town was beginning to wake up. People were already telling bawdy jokes as they bought and sold.  It seemed like they still paid just a tinge of respect to the fact that it was Sunday, but, once the Cathedral service let out, they went about business as usual.  The market opened late, but it was open.

When they arrived at the house, Anni fed Maggie some scraps and gave the shaggy dog water.  “Well,” she thought to herself, “if I’m going to win over Uncle Frederick, I’d better hop to it!”

She made hot soup for lunch.  The man’s kitchen was woefully inadequate.  “What had he been eating?”  Well, at least she could throw almost anything in soup.

Now she lay looking up at the cracks in the plaster ceiling.  Another Sunday midday nap. She’d been in Phesus for almost a week.  She began to see why Uncle Frederick slept in on Sunday mornings.  It was because he was waiting for Sunday afternoons, when the Actor’s Guild put on a play in the big amphitheater.

It seemed like half the town of Phesus showed up for these!  They had been performing “The Taming of the Blue”, a play about life at sea.  Anni really did enjoy her role where she had to climb up in the crows nest and say “land ho!”

BEAUCUCCHIO:  “Lower the mainsail thou swarthy varlet!”

RIGGER (Anni): “Aye sir!  Winds will wend us whither we wot not.”

BEAUCUCCHIO:  “Aye.  Winds will wend whither whether we would or no.  What weather Wends?”

RIGGER (Anni) (worrisome):  “Punchy power portends.”

Enter deckhands.

BEAUCUCCHIO:  “Lift you lubbers! Lift! Lest we list left! Tie the tarps!  Wind the winches!”

The whole stage was set on makeshift bellows, so that it could be moved like a ship from the sides, behind the curtains.  Nearly everyone in the actor’s Guild who wasn’t on stage would push at this point.  Anni would dangle from the crows nest before neatly climbing down, giving the audience a bit of a fright.

After the play was over this particular Sunday, she was helping to pack up stage props, ropes and rigging, when an older woman named Bergita began to speak to her.

“We can wind this rope together,” the woman suggested, showing the figure 8 pattern for stacking rope.  “Are you beginning to see that being in the actor’s Guild is a hard life? It’s very difficult to raise a family…”  She trailed off and sadness crossed her face.

Annika, who was sensitive to these things, laid down the last coil of rope and ran into Bergita’s arms.  Bergita sobbed on Anni’s shoulder.  Bergita was one of the few in the Actor’s Guild who had been present at the Cathedral that morning.

“Why was church so dull?”  asked Annika.

“It used to be exciting,” replied Bergita, “but it just seems to have dwindled.  The people outside the city work hard on their farms.  They feel that their time in town is better spent coming to the plays.”

Annika told Bergita about Adelphia, the produce business, and how much they enjoyed singing Psalms.

She was on her way home with Uncle Frederick when Bergita approached.

“Dear Sir,” she said, addressing Uncle Frederick, “is this young maiden your daughter?”

“She’s my niece,” said Uncle Frederick, turning to continue walking as if that meant the end of the conversation.

But Bergita persisted, walking alongside.  “Frederick, please listen to me!  A girl needs a bit of motherly love now and then.”

“Go away!”  said Frederick.

“I’ll be calling tomorrow afternoon before supper,” replied Bergita, unflustered walking a few more steps.  She blew Anni a kiss with a wink as uncle Frederick pulled her forward.

26

In the end, Malachi had been saved by the fact that he had been knocked unconscious.  Otherwise, the Dragon breath would have caused him to run right back into Chaozz’s claws. Two other gate guards had actually tried to get back to the Dragon and open the gate.  Knocking them out without killing them had proved no easy task for Levi.

When Chaozz finally flew away, Levi collapsed, exhausted.

King Titus brought all of the wounded and those who had inhaled some dragon breath into the cloisters.

It was another day before Malachi woke up, feeling completely dazed.  Labesh was once again at his side.

“Where are my sisters?”  Asked Malachi, still not totally focused.

“Hush,” cooed Labesh, putting her hand on his forehead.  “You’ve had a nasty run-in with the Dragon.”

“Where are my sisters?”  Malachi repeated, more insistent now.  There was a fierce determination in his eyes.

“Your sisters are on pilgrimage, remember?”

“They’re going to think I’m dead!  That was so stupid to run off on my own!”

Labesh brought more tea.  “Hush,” she said again, more firmly this time.  “Drink your tea.”

It was almost evening before Malachi woke up again.  The fiery feeling caused by the Dragon breath was leaving his blood.  Still, he couldn’t help worrying about how his sisters would feel thinking they had lost him.

He asked Labesh if he could go for a walk in the cloisters.

“Take your friend!”  said Labesh bringing Scrapper’s leash.  “You’ll find him by the kitchen.”

Malachi found Scrapper and waved to  as he put his leash on and went out the rear kitchen entrance. Slanting rays of sun splashed upon late-summer trees.  The air was growing less humid and more crisp.  As Malachi approached the rear kitchen entrance, a fat man in a short sleeved monk’s habit with a rope for a belt sat peeling potatoes.

“Ahh, you’re the young fellow who outsmarted the Dragon!”  He said with a wink.  “Come lad,” he said putting down his potatoes, “I’ll show you around.”

They passed piles of empty produce bags and wagons being loaded with bread until they came to a pile of composted produce.

“Mind helping me carry?”  He handed Malachi two wooden buckets full of onion peelings and grabbed two more himself. He led them along a small path of well-worn flagstones.  They stopped to rest on a bench which sat facing the Cathedral.  As Malachi looked up, the  gargoyles on the ends of the buttresses looked happy.

“What’s troublin’ you laddie?  “The man asked, seeing Malachi’s obvious glum expression.

“My sisters probably think I’m dead.”

“Aye.”  He paused. “Well, why don’t we pray about it laddie.”  The man put his arm around Malachi and recited prayers for the pilgrimage, asking God to let his sisters know somehow that Malachi was okay.

“I wish I was back with them.” said Malachi.

The monk just gave him a hug.  His brown habit was rough and smelled like onions.  He reminded Malachi of Friar Tuck from the Robin Hood stories.

They picked up the buckets again, carrying them back to the compost bins.  As Malachi came to the bins to dump his bucket, he almost fell backward from the strong odor.

“Whew!”

“Ahh! That’s the smell of good earth!”  said the monk.  “Just take a deep breath and hold it if you need to.”

Malachi grabbed a lungful of air from nearby, then, holding his breath, he dumped his bucket into the steaming slop.  The monk came over with a pitchfork and began turning the stuff over.  This released a good bit more of the fragrance.  Malachi followed him down the line of bins.

“This stuff here’s almost done,” said the monk, holding up a forkful of some very brown looking compost.  It’s smell was more fermented.  Past the bins were some of the most beautiful vegetable gardens Malachi had ever seen.  Neat mounded rows of lettuce, kale, turnips, onions and all kinds of vegetables.  When he looked up, Malachi remembered that he was still right in the center of the city on the southern side of the Cathedral. As they turned around and began to head back, a little red haired girl stood in their path.

“You’re the little boy who came from earth,” she said with a direct gaze.  She had crystal blue eyes and a large grin on her face.

“Aren’t you Millie’s sister?”  asked Malachi.  He remembered her from the produce stand.

“Yes, I’m Suzannah! My dad just made a delivery.  He’s right over there,” she said pointing.  Brownbeard gave a small wave.  “Hey, Malachi, I can get a message to Millie, or at least I think so…” she trailed off.

“You can?  That’s great!  But… how?”

“Millie’s pigeon.”  she replied.  “We keep pigeons.  I’m the main one that trains ‘em.   You just train ‘em to fly back to their home.  Well, I tried putting their nests at the foot of each of our beds.  So, now each pigeon knows its person.  Anni and Millie have been gone, so their pigeons feel confused.”

“I’m confused!”  said Malachi, who was also still a little wobbly from Dragon breath.  Standing in the sun did not do much to help this.  He dropped one of his buckets.  The monk came over to steady him.

“Hello, brother Thomas!” said Suzannah. They went over to sit in the shade.

“Strawberries and cream, that’s what you are lassie,” said brother Thomas, alluding to Suzie’s red freckles. He steadied Malachi on a large oak bench.  “But remember, the strawberries need maneur and straw to grow properly!”  he said with a wink.

“Yes, but what about the pigeons?”  asked Malachi.

“Well, Millie’s pigeon is trained to find Millie,”continued Suzie.  “Anni’s pigeon is trained to find Anni.  You get the picture.

Malachi nodded.

“So, you just write a message and tie it to her leg.  Then dad can help us throw her in the right direction.  We should do it in the morning so that she spends all day trying to find Millie.  If she comes home with the message still on her leg, then we will know that she failed.”

“Great!  Can we try it?”  Asked Malachi.

“Well, I’ll have to ask my dad, and we probably should get permission from the King,” said Susie.

Suddenly, Malachi simply fainted.  He had not been recovered enough to walk about.  Brother Thomas picked him up to carry him back to bed.

“Go child,” said Brother Thomas.  “Ask your father.   If he approves, we will seek audience with the King.  I’ll be back to your stand as soon as I put him to bed.”

Susie ran back to her father.  “Father, father!”  she said, Brother Thomas thinks it’s a good idea to try Millie’s pigeon.  We could send a message.  We could tell them Malachi’s all right and what Chaozz did yesterday, and…”

“Ho…slow down,” said Brownbeard, handing a basket of green beans to one of the nuns.

“But, Papa, we’ve got to go see the King right away.  We might not have much time…”

 

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One Response to book all “The Necklace and the Haunted Cathedrals”

  1. Pingback: Okay everybody…. | highpattern

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