“Alright kid, you can go. Thanks for the help,” First Sergeant Gideon Hargrave said. Billy’s arms felt like noodles as he watched the grizzled, old first sergeant begin to move crates off the pallets into the storage rooms at the back of the mess hall.
“Okay, old man,” Billy said, determined to continue the name calling as long as his opponent. Blake, the driver who continued to help the first sergeant, laughed. Gideon either ignored the quip or didn’t hear it, Billy couldn’t tell which. He didn’t much care either as tired as he was. Billy turned and walked through the storage area out into the deserted eating area, wondering where he was in the base and how he’d get back to the barracks area. He was halfway across the large, vacant room with its row upon row of empty tables and chairs when it hit him and he stopped dead in his tracks.
Billy looked from one end of the room to the other and saw not a soul. He turned about searching for another person, and found none. All thoughts of the weakness in his arms were forgotten as he dashed around the serving line and looked to find anyone he could, but no one was around. He went back into the eating area and through a set of swinging doors into the dishwashing room. Nobody. He ran back into the eating area and behind the serving line again to another set of swinging doors he’d seen there. He pushed through them and the cacophony of noise washed over him as he saw a small horde of men and women busily preparing various foods. No one looked up as Billy came in. Everyone continued to tend the huge ovens or giant vats of food they were stationed at. Gideon came through another set of doors adjoining the storage area with the kitchen.
“Need something, kid?” Gideon asked.
Billy blinked, then focused on the short, stocky man. “Yeah. Got a room nobody uses I can have some privacy in for a while?”
Gideon put his hands on his hips and set his jaw. “We don’t go in for that kind of stuff around here,” the man said.
“What? No, I need a quiet place to…” Billy wasn’t sure he wanted to explain but he was also fairly certain the man wouldn’t react well to secrets. “There are just too many people everywhere I go here. I need someplace I can be by myself for a while.”
“Aw, shoot, kid, that’s easy, but you’re gonna have to level with me on why,” Gideon said. Billy pulled him aside and turned him away from the other workers.
“I need a place to pray,” Billy said quietly.
Gideon squared away to face Billy and regarded him for a moment, looking him up and down. Billy felt like the man could see through his skin and was examining the very core of his soul. Just as he started to shift away from the old man, Gideon nodded his head silently. He moved around Billy and motioned for him to follow as he went back through the doors leading to the storage area. Billy followed without a word.
Gideon led Billy past the pallets where Blake was shifting the last of the crates into one of the storage rooms. He walked past six sets of doors on either side of the hallway. Each door they passed had a label on it describing the sorts of goods to be found inside. They came to a halt before a door at the end of the hallway. The label on this door read simply Root Cellar. Gideon opened the door and stepped inside. Billy followed.
Inside the room were stacks of burlap and mesh bags. Some of the bags held onions, while others were labeled potatoes and others said rutabaga or turnip. In the back corner of the room was a stack of neatly folded, empty burlap bags before a stack of three potato sacks. The earthy smell of root-vegetables and burlap permeated the room as Gideon crossed over to the stack of burlap, turned and stopped.
“This is where I do my praying every morning. You’re welcome to use this room, I just have two rules and a question,” Gideon said solemnly. Billy crossed the space silently and nodded his agreement. “You let me know when you come and when you go. You leave it like you found it; neat and clean.”
“What’s the question?” Billy asked.
“Why do you want to pray?” he asked. Billy didn’t hesitate.
“I need to see my angel,” Billy said.
Gideon looked startled and dropped one hand to his back right pocket. “Why do you need to see your angel?”
Billy hesitated. He felt the unfamiliar weight of the cross in his pocket against his thigh and slid his hand over it. He felt an unfamiliar surge of confidence and said, “Because everything here makes me scared, but she doesn’t.”
Gideon slowly drew his hand from behind his back. He held a small, worn leather book and held it out to Billy. “I’ve had this a long time, but I’ve always known I was keeping it for someone else. This morning I prayed over the marked passage. This is yours now.”
Billy took the book as the man walked out, closing the door behind him. He looked down and noted the black leather was well worn and supple. The cover had no lettering on it of any kind, having been worn off long ago. He opened the book to the marked page and read the passage where his eyes fell.
“But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John,” Billy read.
He thought about the passage and what it might mean but wasn’t sure. After a short time he remembered the pad of folded burlap and moved over there. Instinctively, he knelt on the burlap and found the stack of potato sacks just the right height to lean on with the little Bible clasped in his hands. He closed his eyes and began to recite the Lord’s Prayer. As he spoke the words he focused on the feel of the supple leather in his hands; he concentrated on the words and on the idea that he could see Theliel if he wanted to.
The words flowed through his mind as they had in the past, but this time he slowed them down to a deliberate speed, focusing on the meaning of each word or phrase. As he moved through the prayer he felt a sense of calm descend over him; felt the chill of the root cellar recede and a warmth of belonging take its place. He opened his eyes but all he saw was the little Bible held firmly in his hands. Frustrated he rose and turned to leave, feeling foolish. As he turned a radiant flash of light froze him in place. For a few moments he saw Theliel standing before him. A broad smile spread across her face from behind her hands that she held, pressed to her lips. Billy saw tears of joy streaming down her face just before she faded from his view.
Guardians of the Herald is a weekly serial published and copyright by The Cavalier, Mark Malcolm. For more information about this story please join us on our Facebook page community at www.facebook.com/firstchevalierbooks.