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Chapter Seven

A Boy Has Been Chosen

“What shall we do with the sword and shield?” I asked father.

“‘Tis yours to bear now, my son,” Father said solemnly, “You have retrieved it from its sacred keeping, and even more so have you been the first to wield it against a foe since the time of the Sower.”

“But the Picker knocked it free from the wall when he attacked. I couldn’t get it to come loose.”

“Did you free the shield?” invited Father as he took back his axe and then lifted Madeline to his hip. She had fainted into the corner of the cove.

“I did.”

“Then the sword is yours as well, for the shield and sword are one. Come, let us make haste. We can discuss this further from the safety of the land above us. Your thoughts are beginning to brew and I have much to explain.” Pointing to the weapons, Father said quickly, “Gather the sword and shield. You must bear them through the flames.” Father took a calculated step backward and then jumped through the flames holding Madeline. It is obvious that she had been overcome by our affair with the Pickers. Turning back, he motioned for me to follow. I gathered the weapons and prepared to jump. Holding the shield up, I clutched the sword to my bosom and lunged into the fire landing a considerable distance past where Father’s leap had carried him.

Through the great room and to the doorway we ran. Father hesitated at the exit and allowed for me to leave. As soon as I stepped through the doorway, the flames in the room extinguished harshly as if a sudden breath of wind had poured down from above. With this, the room was blackened and the only light came from the woodshed doorway at the top of the ladder at end of the hallway.

“Move quickly,” I heard Father say again from behind me. “They’re coming.” Once I reached the ladder, I could hear the same clicking and scratching that I’d heard before just after Madeline called to me in the big room. I climbed as fast as I could, with Father just below me. The sounds of the Pickers drew nearer and I could hear their grunts and snarls. At the top, as Father closed the door, their panting echoed in the darkness below.

“Should we barricade the door?” I asked. I feared that the beasts would climb the ladder and seek us further.

“It is not necessary,” Father said. “They cannot pass this door. And if they could, they would not seek to leave their darkness below. It is not in their nature.” I sighed a breath of relief and sat back against the woodpile.

“To the house, Joshua,” Father said, “There is much I need to tell you and we must care for your sister.”

Nearer to the house, I saw Mother sitting at the table snapping beans for the evening meal. She saw us approaching, gasped and rose to her feet. I remained outside as Father took Madeline into the house.

“Everything is fine, Mother,” Father said attempting to reassure her. Mother scooped Madeline from his arms and carried her to her bed.

“What has happened?” she asked crossly as she looked up to Father.

“The children have discovered the door that leads to the chamber below the Vasior.”

“And this is your doing, I suppose?”

“Yes, and so it should be as I am the Caretaker to whom belongs such duty. Am I not to test my own children before calling upon others to do so of their own beloved?”

“And must you test the little ones? Shan’t it be a man of sturdy stature that is to bear the weapons?”

“Dear woman, curb your angry tongue and recall the words written in the Annals.” Father reached into a leather satchel hanging on a chair near their bed and opened a parchment text. Flipping the pages, he paused to read: “The One to be is of the Sower, of early age and noble birth. The One will hold with great strength the salvation of Ganchimi and strike, and the One will wield its wall of defense, and the One will lift up His voice and by His word strike down the darkness of Ganchimi, and the One will revive the lost from dreadful sleep and restore the Kingdom.’”

“Is it Joshua, then?”

“It is,” father sighed. Mother closed her eyes and her countenance became downcast.

“He is a child to be sure,” Mother continued as tears began to swell, “but he is not of nobility.” She paused curiously, as if we needed convincing of what we already knew to be true, “Unless you, dear husband, are a deposed or exiled king and I have been fooled by such lowly living into thinking otherwise, this is foolishness. We have a king in Gamchimi, and he is sturdy enough to bear the weapons. I’m sure he is well aware of our dire situation.”

“But the Annals declare that even if our beloved king removed them from their keeping, they would be to him as heavy lead and he would be unable to bear them. No one can bear them accept the One for whom they have been prepared. Those that try will lose all strength, becoming weak and unable to so much as lift the blade for polishing.” Pointing to me in the doorway, Father exclaimed, “Look! See for yourself that the boy stands unaided. Joshua has been chosen!”

Putting her face into her hands, Mother began to cry. I could see the anguish wash upon her as if she had seen the end of all that would bring her joy and comfort. She wept bitterly. Father knelt beside her and consoled with gentle words of confidence and hope.

“He is the One, blessed Mother. He will be our strong defender. He has shown great courage against the Pickers already and is certain to complete the task at hand.”

“But the Pickers are not dragons!” Mother said muffling her voice with her hands. “And where you should not be burdened with the same pain as I? Your son will face the dreadful Otem and we will be helpless to sustain our beloved child of only twelve years. He is barely from the cradle’s confines.”

“Indeed, I fear greatly for the boy, but I am even more confident that the Annals are true, and in this I find hope. Of course we must begin to prepare him, but not before we are to be presented to the Assembly of the Caretakers and then the Council.”

All the while Mother and Father debated, I stood silently in the doorway. My fate was playing out before me and I knew not what to speak. My Mother’s tears brought great sorrow to my heart and yet the words of my Father rose like incense into the air, giving me a strange vigor as I inhaled and savored the substance. The sword still hovered within my palm and the shield gathered my body from neck to knees, and together they seemed lofty and light. Was I truly chosen? How is it that Madeline was able to bear the shield against the Pickers with me? Would not the shield have thumped her to the ground when she held it alone? And yet she braved the fierce attacks of those brutal beasts. Many questions I would ask of my Father, but my tongue remained silent for the moment. Unlike my daring words of confidence that I could fight (which if you recall I said to Father while we visited in the Vasior tree that very morning before breakfast), I was losing my valor with the thoughts that refreshed in my mind regarding the fiendish Otem. The stories of old that haunted the dreams of little children would become a reality. How is it that a small boy can find victory against such an incarnation of wickedness? With this, I dropped the weapons to the floor. I was overcome with despair.

Knowing the heart of her child, Mother called me forward to be with her. Going to her, she folded her arms around me, pulled me close and gathered my ear to her mouth.

“I love you, dearest Joshua.”

“And I love you, Mother,” I returned.

“You must complete the task at hand. You must fight for Ganchimi.”

“But I’m afraid, Mother.”

“And so you should be, for the burden is heavy when set against the terrible Otem. But you are the One set apart from others. You will be our stay when the battle is enjoined. It is to this end we send you.”

“How can it be that such a lowly one as I should fight?”

“Do not ask such questions, for so it is not for us to determine. Rather, busy your mind with prayer and training, for now you must prepare. Yes, you are a boy, but so it is that you are also now a warrior.”

“How am I to do this?”

“You will leave with Father for the Borough tonight. The Assembly will know what to do.”

“The Caretakers?”

“Yes. These are they that will present you to the King.  At the King’s command, the armies of Ganchimi will be geared into motion. The Caretakers will prepare you.”

“Gather your things, boy,” Father said as he paced to the doorway of the house, “for we will be departing shortly.” Leaning over, he attempted to take the sword by its grip. Giving a grunt, he was unable to move it. “And take your sword and conceal it with the shield within a blanket. You may take the sheath from my sword under the bed to guard its blade. We will secure it to the horse for travel.”

Mother released me from her arms. “Go, prepare,” she said and motioned for my departure.

“What about Madeline?” I asked.

“I will stay and watch over her.”

“I believe she should go with us.”

“Pray, tell me your reasoning.”

“When I fought the Pickers, Madeline was enabled to hold the shield with great strength. I commanded the sword and she held the shield.”

“Is this true?”

“It is,” I said, “For I have seen it with my own eyes.”

“And what of this?” Father interrupted.

“Joshua lays claim that Madeline bore the shield alone while he wielded the sword,” Mother replied.

“This cannot be,” Father said puzzled, “For only one can bear the weapons. The words of the Annals are clear.”

“I tell you the truth, Father. Madeline bore down in the corner of the cove holding fast to the shield while the Pickers attacked.”

“If this is true,” Father continued, “then we must take your dear sister with us. I’m sure the Assembly will want to question her and they will certainly have commentary to shed light upon this event.” Mother’s face returned to its solemn form.

“My fears are growing,” she said as she looked to Father in despondency.

“When she awakes,” Father said, “bathe her. Joshua, you prepare her things. Mother, you shall go with us as your attention to Madeline will be needed while I am with the Assembly. Also, it will be good and right for you to hear their proclamations.”

Madeline rested well into the evening. Darkness fell upon the Nefton Woods, and with this, Father decided against leaving for the Borough until morning. That night, I lay in bed considering the days that lay ahead. My eyes became heavy at the sound of Mother’s soothing voice singing to Madeline as she bathed her. The gentle tones carried me into a deep and comfortable sleep. Much had happened that day, and there was much more to come with the rising of the sun.