Sir Uther Penmoosen knelt with his head bowed as Sir Mooska had just tapped him upon the shoulder with a sword. “Arise, Sir knight,” said Sir Mooska. “You are now charged with the grand duty to right wrongs, quest for knowledge, and bring laughter to the world.”
“Thank you,” said the oliphant. He leaned forward to pick up the other sword lying upon the questing stone. “I shall make sure to use the trust well.”
Sir Mooska stepped back, his armor clanking. “You will have a great responsibility to spread Moosiness across the worlds.”
“The question now is, where shall I start? Do you have a task whereby I might properly begin my path, or is it meet now that as I do rank most properly as a full knight that I shouldst direct my steps by the dictates of my own heart and honor? Shall I go Walking as you Moosier ones do? Say unto me which manner of direction I shouldst best follow, for as thou doth best know, my spurs are but newly won, and I am most eager to live up to the great honor now bestowed upon me,” Uther said as he donned his baldric and scabbard and stood up to look down at his armor-clad mentor.
“Well, you certainly have a good grasp of the knightly language,” Sir Mooska muttered, running his poof down the seam of his helmet where it ran below his left antler, an old gesture denoting thoughtfulness. Sir Mooska rolled his shoulders resettling his armor and went on in a louder, more martial tone. “Is there already a particular task or direction which calls unto thy sense of duty, or perhaps a desire to test thy mettle in solo journeying which pulls at thee. Shouldst thou truly be content to follow the dictates I might put to thee as you have done so well when my pupil thou still wert? It is, in some measure, thy choice which shall decide the matter from this point forward.”
Sir Uther Penmoosen sheathed his sword where the hilt would protrude over his left shoulder.
“My heart calls me to seek out old friends and to insure that their lives have gone well since I last saw them.”
Sir Mooska’s helmet made a slight rattling noise as he nodded. “That starts small, but by aiding those you know well to face their challenges, you shall set yourself upon the road of the questing knight.”
“Thank you, mentor,” responded Sir Uther. He sat a poof upon the armored moose’s left shoulder. “I am deeply indebted to your noble teachings.”
Sir Mooska patted his former squire on his arm. “You have been a treat, pupil. But now let us go get you outfit with your armor. Marmaduke has time today to fire up his forge for a bit of blacksmithery and to begin casting the plates for your armor, but we shall need to take your measurements first.”
“It was in my mind that a truly well fit and well constructed suit of plate armor might take as much as a year’s effort from a master craftsman. Must I wait so long to begin my quest, or set out more simply clad on this my first journey?” Sir Uther asked as they strolled along together.
“That span of time has been necessary in some times and places, but we, here in the Valley, have the benefit of more advanced methods than found elsewhere. If all goes well thou shouldst depart upon thy chosen task when the dawn next colors the sky, and do so clad as befits thy new station.”
Sir Uther accepted this pronouncement with some relief. The two paced along together until they came out from under the trees onto the Great River Road of Moose Valley in comfortable silence. Then a memory tugged gently at Sir Uther’s awareness and he gave voice to his concern.
“I would be the first to admit that I have not made the acquaintance of all those who make this broad Valley home, but it is in my mind that I have heard tales of Gentlemoose Marmaduke. I should not think that such as he would be of the temperament required to create a…dependable suit of armor such as my duty requires for me.”
Sir Mooska smiled with a bemused expression. “I have known Marmaduke for many years. His enthusiasm for energetic solutions is driven by his emphasis on finding working solutions. Never fear. He may destroy multiple pieces of armor as he approaches the final construction, but it shall be a durable and enduring suit of armor that shall serve you well in your trials ahead.
“Come, my former squire. Let us get you measured, then see if we can find you some proper repast to celebrate this momentous day.”
Marmaduke certainly seemed to know what he was doing. He took copious measurements with a long piece of unmarked string, writing the results and the occasional stray idea in a little notebook as he went. Marmaduke asked question after question, and if he often failed to pause long enough to receive an answer he always seemed to have one to write down. When he finished with Sir Uther, Sir Mooska led the poor oliphant away in a slightly stunned condition.
“Come along. We will take the slide from the drawbridge to town and get something to eat while he works. How does that sound?” Sir Mooska steered his large companion the right way until Sir Uther proved able to guide himself.
“If we could find a blanket and a basket somewhere, we could get a picnic to take up near the lighthouse,” Sir Uther suggested sounding more young and less knightly than had become usual of late as his promotion grew closer.
“I am sure we can. Let us stop by and talk to Song. She should have a good selection of picnic blankets and baskets in the Community Center. We may even convince her to join us in our festivities,” Sir Mooska led the way over the troll bridge to the main road and the slide entrance.
The Moose Valley slide network served as a quick, reliable, and fun mode of travel from place to place within the Valley, and many other places beyond if one knew where and how to access it. However, as the network has grown it has proved to be a little bit alive, and a little bit aware, so the methods of access and modes of appearance varied from person to person. Sir Mooska, as a knight and a soldier, used a dramatic method of flourishing his lance or sword to activate a slide and set the destination of the slide point beyond Marmaduke’s troll bridge. A rippling in the air, like a broad line of heat haze hung in the air behind Sir Mooska’s sword point, even after he re-sheathed the weapon.
“Come let us go get our picnic. We have another stop to make in town before you set out as well,” Sir Mooska said and slipped into the ripples of space and out of that place into another.
Sir Uther hesitated long enough to be certain Sir Mooska would have the chance to clear the far end before following. The slide journey over such a short distance ended too quickly to leave a clear impression in the mind, just a brief sensation akin to riding a charging mount at high speed.
The far end of the slide deposited the two knights near the middle of a wide, open, octagonal space paved with a pattern of stone octagons and squares. In the exact center, stood a great fountain made up of a series of basins of varying sizes on multiple levels. Each basin held a figure sitting, standing, swimming, or wading in the water. The streams of water jumped from figure to figure as they somehow played a great, complicated game of catch with it in the center of what would be called the town square if it did not have eight sides instead of four.
“Let us start at the Community Center,” Sir Mooska suggested after he waved the slide back into passivity.
“Have I met Song? The name sounds familiar. She is a Lady Frog, is she not?” Sir Uther asked, keeping his steps short to match Sir Mooska’s best pace.
“You certainly saw her, but may not have been introduced. Frog Song is responsible for organising all of the big events here in the Valley. Her hand was very much in evidence at the great celebration for Lady Moosette’s Birthday just past. She, also, cares for and keeps track of all the equipment used for such events, everything from kites to cots to cookout gear. When not in use for events, it is all available for individual use as long as one takes care of and returns things in a timely manner.”
“The Lady must be very busy. What if she is not within?” Sir Uther asked as they mounted the wide, graceful stairs up to the pillared front of the multi-story building that took up one entire side of the plaza.
“Then we hope that we can find what we require without launching an entirely separate quest or sending in an archeological expedition. The collection is vast and the scrupulously designed and maintained organization is only helpful if you understand the logic behind it. If we find what we seek, then we simply sign the book, and indicate what we have taken,” Sir Mooska said, striding through the door.
As it turned out, the expedition was not necessary. They found Song at her desk working on plans for a visiting theatrical company. A festival would accompany their visit to showcase their talents along with the history and majesty represented in the plays in their book. Song quickly found both Picnic: Baskets; Medium and Picnic: Blanket; Medium in her inventory and directed them to the correct room, aisle, and shelf for each. When she found out what the picnic celebrated, she even added a bottle of homemade lemonade as a congratulation and a promise to stop by the picnic later after she finished her current task.
A similar pattern followed the knights as they gathered their repast. They went from the Community Center around the octagon to the next section of store fronts where sat the General Store. All the people who did not maintain their own storefronts brought their goods to this place for dissemination to those with a desire or need for them. Much of their basket was quickly filled with vegetation for Sir Uther, since even Moose chickens did not agree with such a traditional Oliphant.
The tan furred puppy taking his turn running the store that day quickly added an insulated dish of well-salted, baked potato redolent with herbs as his gift, making Sir Uther wonder how he knew to have it hot and ready just then.
“Thank you very much for your kind wishes and generous gift. This is one of my favorite dishes,” Sir Uther told the storekeeper even as he noted the darker spot of fur around the store keeper’s right eye. The matching left ear struck a chord of memory in the oliphant’s head that he could not place.
“I remembered. You and Sir Mooska rode out with my squad of the Bunny Brigade last year.” He reached up and rubbed his head between his ears. “Sometimes people find me hard to recognise out of uniform; no bunny ears.”
Sir Uther closed one eye and bent down slightly to get a better look at the young canine storekeeper and then he snapped straight up with a wide smile. “Hail and well met, good Sgt. Sandy! You spoke sooth when thou didst propose that thy lack of uniform didst form the gap my powers of recognition could not bridge. Moreover, that blasted heath and the heat of battle with a foe so formidable had nothing in common with this neat, well kept establishment and our present quest for victuals to form the centerpiece for a picnic lunch is far less urgent than our tasks that day.”
Before Sir Uther and Sgt. Sandy could drift too far into reminiscing, Sir Mooska cleared his throat. “We have several stops yet to make before we take our ease. If it is thy wish to consume our repast in a leisurely fashion ere the armorer’s process dictates a need for your return, we must be off.” He turned and bowed neatly to Sandy, easy in the armor he had worn so long. “Moose Hugs and Nose Rubs be ever yours.”
“And yours also, brave Knights,” Sandy responded politely, smiling to show he took no offense.
The pattern continued around all eight sides of the plaza, only more so. In Lady Moo’s creamery, they found the Lady herself at the counter and after producing the goat’s milk cheese Sir Mooska favored, she produced complimentary ice cream cones for both knights along with her congratulations (Strawberry for Sir Mooska and Peanut Butter for Sir Uther). Lily, the Valley’s premier chocolatier and confectioner just happened to stop by while they exchanged a few words with the Lady and presented Sir Uther with a wide, hand decorated box of assorted candied fruits with her congratulations.
When they visited the Poulterer’s to find some chicken for Sir Mooska, Huntress slipped through from her shop next door so that she and Hunter could present their gifts together, it was too much. Sir Uther stopped his mentor, teacher, and friend once they regained the stones outside.
“Why didst thou alert all these good folk afore times that on this day we should be visiting their establishments? Didst thou bid them to bring forth these tributes and make much of me?” Sir Uther asked, trying to keep his tone civil and his countenance pleasant, but obviously he was in the grip of some strong emotion as he hugged his shining new shock lance to his chest with one arm even as he clung with the other to his complete suit of quilted, down stuffed self-cooling garments for wearing underneath his armor. “‘Tis unreasonable to believe that gifts such as these might be produced all of a sudden, upon the spur of the moment at learning of my elevation.”
Sir Mooska patted his former squire on the arm and explained in a soothing tone Sir Uther hardly recognised. “Even without speaking the wish aloud, you made it plain that you prefered a private investiture ceremony. We all respected that desire, but in your time as my squire you have made many friends here and they all wished to share with you their pride and joy at your promotion. I have no doubt that as soon as we left Marmaduke’s smithy all the Valley knew of your achievement or perhaps even sooner, knowing him as I do.
“I had no part in it, but they required no great feat of inspiration to realize that such a step was coming in good time to choose and prepare your gifts. Most will be small things as best suit both you and their skills. They did not wish to embarrass you or leave you feeling beholden, but I suspect most anywhere you visit between now and your departure will have similar tokens awaiting you.
“There are some exceptions, of course. The metal suit over which Marmaduke labors, the lance and padded suit from the two great hunters of our Valley, and one more which we go to acquire presently, are hardly small things, but each is something your new position requires and your friends more than happy to provide.”
“To where do we venture now to provide what?” Sir Uther asked in a small, mildly stunned voice. He was one who had faced down a fire-breathing dragon, a rampaging troll, or a marauding titan with total equanimity, but the idea that so many might attend to his personal achievements in such a manner overset him utterly.
“We are expected in clever Miltin’s workshop. There he shall fit you with your Moose radio, mobile slide, and dimensional pocket. It is not just the winning of your spurs that we officially establish this day. You have been long acknowledged as a true friend to this Valley and a shining example of those ideals it represents. It is about time that you should be equipped as one. Congratulations, Sir Uther Penmoosen, Moose Friend.”
Sir Uther still looked more than a little uncomfortable, possibly even on the edge of unknightly tears, and when he caught sight of more familiar faces approaching down one of the adjoining streets, he ducked his chin and rubbed his cheek against his lance.
“Do not be afraid, Sir Knight,” Sir Mooska said smiling with both sympathy and a little pride. “I shall stand with you in this time of trouble. You are accustomed to prevailing against all hardships in the pursuit of your quest, but in this case, it is they who quest. They have ventured forth on a quest for a knight.”
Sir Uther rubbed his cheek once more. Then another, even larger, group caught his eye approaching from another direction. Sir Uther took a deep breath, stood up straight. He shook his head until his broad ears flapped against his head. With great effort of will, the new knight smiled and laughed, mostly at himself.