Chapter 17: Friday Friends and Festive Findings

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 already had taken the precaution of putting an iron kettle on the hearth and so 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 there rubbery legs. But Labesh wasn’t messing around. She scrubbed and she brushed and she poured water over their heads. She had mixed some kind of stuff that she poured on their hair. To the girls’ surprise and delight, she began to sing:

“Lavender and tea tree oil,
bring that water to a boil.
sloshing
for washing
the toil.

Stir in soap and send it round
copper makes the clanging sound!
clanging
and banging
bath found.

Fume-ee steam fills up the air
sudzing bubbles in your hair.
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 the old motherly pinch which brought gruff-ling guffaws from all parties present.

—————–

This night, the dining hall was perhaps 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, it’s an honor to give our life in the service of the mission of the Patternstone. We’ve been taught the stories surrounding it ever since we were little.”

“What kind of stories?” 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 follow 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 in Highpattern. When Queen Tirzah accomplished the mission last, and all the cathedrals were humming with worship, that old Dragon was still plotting in Black Mountain above Sarbad. 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 continue, allowing them more privacy.

“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 tell 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 be in highpattern. God himself may kill him or banish him forever in the end, but that is not for us to know. I’m telling you the truth, God allows Chaozz to live 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 minute, 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!

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Map of Highpattern

Map of Highpattern

“rough and ready for adventure”

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16 The Blacksmith’s Shop

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.

“That will be the Smithy,” said Twombly. “They often must work into the night to finish a set of horseshoes or iron wheels.”

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

Brego knocked on the door of the Smithy. A young boy answered. “We’re on the King’s business, is the proprietor in?” he said.

The boy disappeared into the glow of fires and dull ring of hammers from within. When he reappeared, he came with a tall thin man wearing a leather apron.

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

The little boy had come back out and was smiling at Malachi. For a moment, Malachi was shy, but then he remembered that it would be good to have friends in this world. He plucked up his courage. “I’m called Malachi,” he said holding out his hand. The boy gripped it firmly in a sooty, but strong grip and said, “I’m Jeremy. May I look at your sword?”

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!” The blade picked up the red glow coming from the blacksmith shop and the starlight. But 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 his 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 donkeys 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. “Malachi and scrapper were rather heroic last night helping us to find the bad egg in the dozen as they say. 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 knowing look. “But I guess you would like to get past trap door at the top of the first set of spiral stairs.”

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 go down, we will come to the stables. But now we are going up, where we will come to the Armory next. Above that, the Council chamber leading to sleeping quarters for the guards. At a moments notice, the guard could be woken up, receive instructions, get his gear from the Armory, a bag packed with food from the kitchen, get on his horse, and head for the drawbridge. Do you see how it works?”

After they had gone out, he turned another key, which led to

This particular morning, Twombly met them during breakfast. There was a large dining area for employees near the kitchens. Molly had already joined them, after cooking the eggs.

” Are there enough eggs for breakfast eater like myself?” Asked Twombly with a grin. Molly got up to throw some more on the grill when Twombly asked, “Molly, would you like to come along today? Have you mentioned the possibility to 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. “Malachi and scrapper were rather heroic last night helping us to find the bad egg in the dozen as they say. 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, the boy who works in the blacksmith shop. We met him last night when we were going to find Duman.

“We are going to dress you in combat leathers,” said Twombly. “It’s the layer of leather that goes under chain mail. Your Palace produce uniforms can go over the leathers for now. Leathers 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, do you know where the back passage is?”

“Right this way,” said Molly, forgetting for the moment that she wasn’t supposed to know where the guard passages were. She looked up at Twombly with a guilty expression: “yes… Sir, well, umm…,” she trailed off.

“Curiosity is to be expected for those who work in this Palace,” said Twombly with a knowing look. “But I guess you might like to get past trap door at the top of the first set of spiral stairs and see where it leads?”

“Yes, sir!” said Molly.

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 go down, we will come to the stables. But now we are going up, where we will come to the Armory next. Above that is the Council chamber leading to sleeping quarters for the guards. At a moments notice, a particular guard could be woken up, receive instructions, get his gear from the Armory, a bag packed with food from the kitchen, get on his horse, 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.

“I’m not 100% yet, but I would enjoy 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. This time they descended two flights. They passed the door to the kitchen and continued to the next level down. As soon as Twombly opened this door, the smell of hay and animals met their nose. A short tunnel led them into the stables. Waiting for them was Brego. He began by setting Malachi on 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, but 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 already stroking a pony. It’s big eyes were so beautiful. Martha was mesmerized.

“Looks like he’s for you, Missy,” said Brego, throwing a saddle on the pony and offering Martha his hand. She easily straddled the black pony.

“What’s his name,” she asked, straddling it’s saddle a little shaky with excitement.

“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.”

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 are not used to many of the rigors they are likely to encounter on the journey. Teach them well!”

Mercy and Molly looked at each other. They had become chatty friends in a very short time. The idea of having to spend time training ponies together was quite appealing.

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 petting

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.

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.

 

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Chapter 15: Kingly Conversation

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 Listener,” 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.

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Chapter 14: Sneaky Business

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 Listener 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.

 

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Chapter 13: Of Palace Vegetables, Brownbeard and Becoming Unnoticed

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 Listener are recovering, but their wounds, especially Listener’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 picks.”

“Brownbeard?”

“He’ll be there.”

“Good.  15 minutes?”

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

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

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

“I’m sure you won’t mind a little bit of extra labor today, will you, Molly?”

“Oh, no Sir!”  She said with a big smile toward the companions.

“Bring your brother here and we need to swear everyone to secrecy.”

Behind the Palace kitchen, there was a pantry room.  During times of siege and winter, it needed to have room for great store.  The main room was more than 100 ft.²   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 water level of the Palace moat.

Barnabas led everyone down to the root cellar.  Here Duman explained the mission to Barnabas, Molly and her brother Peter.  He swore them to secrecy.  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 Anni to climb up there and 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.”

Posted in fiction, children's fiction, epic, character, swords, dresses | 4 Comments

Chapter 12 The Plight of Queens

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 Listener 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 Listener 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….

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Chapter 11 Rejoicing on the High Day

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, to their great satisfaction, 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 attentively at her.  “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 your friends.  They sat on the edge of the bed and Mercy put her arm around Martha, supporting her.

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

“Sore?” said Labesh, reading their thoughts. She gave them each a cup of delicious tea which smelled of raspberries and honey.  “Drink it down,” she said; “does away with the stiffness.”

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.  With Mercy, she gently stood Martha up.

“I’m not dizzy.”  said Martha.  The swooning nausea had completely gone.

Labesh  led the girls on to a bathing chamber in the cloisters.  They were given hot baths—Oh! The bliss!  The water was hot and green from herbs.  The tub was not white, but rather made of stone.  It was like getting into a hot 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.  “We’ve got to keep taking this seriously.  I mean… what happened to the kids in other books we’ve read?”

“They usually went back to earth when they had completed some kind of  mission,” Martha said as she looked at Mercy.  “I wonder who we should 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 Together with gusto.  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 much more about it, and Queen Lydia,” she continued, thinking aloud.

“And a good Queen she is too,” said the nurse who had just come in again.  “She and the King personally came and watched over you while you were sleeping.”

The woman put towels and garments on racks for them.  “My name is Phoebe.  Ring that bell if you need anything else,” said the nurse.

They returned back to their room and their undergarments and found that Labesh had laid out dresses for Sunday worship.  They were  pretty, yet not so richly adorned.  Linen blouses with light brown skirts.  The color was in the shawls.  The girls got to pick a shawl that fit a color scheme they wanted.  Some were tans and browns and others were blues and greens, but nothing too day glo.

Before she got dressed, Martha had to ring the Bell.  She wanted to understand why she had not laid out the sky blue dress.  “Begging your pardon Ma’am, they…” 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 the dresses in the Palace.”

“The rich and the poor worship together, Miss,” Labesh 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, no one stays away from worship because they feel inferior about clothing.”

“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 citizens that our wealth or position is laid aside in the house of God.”

“Do they sit up front?”  asked Mercy.

“They sit in different places, Missy,”  Labesh answered, holding 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…”

“…puts it  back on when she heads for the feast at the Palace.  You’ll see. King Titus is always thinking of ways to help the church.  Of course, some of the rich still flaunt a bit too much, and occasionally some of the poor are overlooked for a few weeks.”

“So the clothing reflects your station except on Sundays?”

“Yes,” said Labesh as she tucked in Martha’s blouse.  “The King said to keep the necklace hidden.   We don’t want to call attention to you during the service.  Just try your best to sing and listen.  May I have a peep?”

As they looked at the necklace, the six smaller gems reminded Martha that the Adelphia stone was now in the floor of the Cathedral. The Patternstone was not humming, or blinding or showing movies. It was as if it was sleeping completely.

“And to think that was in the dressing chambers all that time…” Labesh mused.

Martha put the necklace carefully in the black bag pouch to be worn on the inside.  Sunday dresses in place, the three went out to the foyer.  Phoebe had laid out some kind of delicious croissant’s which they heartily devoured.  Martha noticed that she too was dressed with the simple skirt and shawl combination.  Malachi had been given simple britches with suspenders over a linen tunic.

He was accompanied by Duman.

“I will act as your guard today, by your leave 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 brought their dogs, soon they would bring their geese and sheep as well,”  he laughed.

“Shall we go to church?”  he said.

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 the oven only, for your ears.  Duman escorted them to the back of the crowd.  They were glad not to attract attention.  The people were happily focused on singing.

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

“Do we just leave the Adelphia stone in the floor?”  she asked.

“Yes,” said Duman.  “I’ll explain later.”

He handed Martha the book of Psalms.  The warmth of the hundreds of voices joining together was a wonderful sensation.  Mercy had caught on to many of the words by now.  Soon the girls were 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 at the center of the floor.  The Adelphia stone picked up so many hues and colors in the center of the floor that it looked like a tiny rainbow.  A table had been placed near the center of the floor mosaic now.  It’s satin tablecloth reflected the rainbow colors of the Adelphia stone which in turn reflected sunlight streaming in through the 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 warmly.

Martha noticed the benches along the side of the center mosaic where mothers and the elderly parked themselves.  She noticed that 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 to the restrooms.  The little ones had curly hair and piggy tails

The floor of this Cathedral was not completely flat like the ones she remembered from earth.  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.  She noticed a few extra guards near them.  But they were trying to be unnoticed.  The message they were sending was clear: this was God’s special time.

The children looked for allusions to the Patternstone and what it meant.  During the prayer, Shepherd Amos thanked God for bringing deliverance to Adelphia and beautifying the Cathedral by setting the gargoyles free.  As Shepherd Amos said the prayer, they realized that their normal Christian prayer also worked in Highpattern.  They realized that God was still God no matter what other world you found yourself in.

 

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