Their trousers still sodden and dripping, the four adventurers made their way up the riverbank and under the spreading boughs of the great dark forest. Dappled sunlight filtered down through the branches and illuminated the little roadway before them. Green blankets of moss, spotted here and there with a fallen leaf, spread out like a vast living carpet on every side. Every now and then a bird would call, breaking the silence of the forest’s spell.
The four were quiet for a long time, each one thinking about their near escape at the river. The children watched Mack as he strode forward, each one regarding their hero with silent awe after the way he had opened a path through the flood for them.
After a long time, Sim spoke up. “Sir Mack…do you think I could ever be a knight like you?”
Mack grinned down at him. “Well, let’s see, little man. Even now, you’re serving on a quest to save the royal house and restore the one true king. If you’re not a knight already, I don’t know who is.”
“Really and truly, my brave friend. And that goes for all of you. Your courage, honor, and valor has already outshone most of the knights of the kingdom, who simply bowed their knee to the steward without a second thought.”
“But there must be more to being a knight than just that,” protested Joe. “Wouldn’t the king have to, you know, knight us?”
“And you have to have a sword,” Lady added in a knowing way. “And a helmet. And a shield. And a shiny, tinkly shirt like yours, Sir Mack.”
“Hmm,” Mack replied. “I can see that you three already know a lot about what goes into making a knight. All those things are important. But they’re not the most important thing of all.”
“No?” asked Sim. “What is?”
They had stopped walking now, having come to a little glade where the golden sunlight streamed down in its full splendor onto the wooded pathway. Mack lowered himself with a groan onto an old stump, and the three children sat amid the flowers at his feet.
“Sure, if you’re a knight you’ll probably wear armor sometime, just as Lady said,” Mack continued. “But the armor doesn’t make you a knight. After all, I once saw a hunter who went about wearing a bearskin for a coat. But did that make him a bear?”
“No!” the children laughed together.
“Of course not. It takes more than armor to be a knight.”
“What does it take, Sir Mack?” pressed Sim. “Tell us!”
“The quality of knighthood is in the heart, son. It’s about character. It’s about virtue. It’s about knowing who you are and what your duty is, and then never failing to do that duty, even when you’re shaking in your armor.”
He took his staff and laid it across his knees, regarding the children’s expectant faces.
“If you’d like,” he continued, “I can teach you the ancient and honorable code of the knights—the most important, most sacred laws that we have. The rules that make us into knights.”
“Yes, tell us!” said Joe.
“There are ten,” said Mack. “And if you keep these ten, then you will be keeping every duty of the heart that heaven and earth will ever ask you to bear:
First: Love and follow the great and good God, the Maker of all things, and serve him alone. Every act of service you do for king or country or family is also an act that you do as part of your service unto your Creator.
Second: Render no fealty to any lord who would draw your heart away from the path of divine love and virtue.
Third: Every word you say, and every deed you do, must be a word and a deed set forth in the purity of highest devotion.
Fourth: Submit yourselves to all the teachings and practices of true-hearted piety, that you may reserve your deepest and dearest self unto God alone.
Fifth: Honor those whom God has set above you in your family, in your country, and in every place you find yourself.
Sixth: Always remember that God’s love for every person is unbounded, measureless, and strong, and so you must never harm another person unjustly.
Seventh: Remain absolutely faithful to those to whom God has bound you in the wisdom of his holy covenants.
Eighth: As a servant of God and king, you represent their honor, and so you must never disgrace yourself by stealing, cheating, or appropriating anything by unrighteous means.
Ninth: Let the words of your mouth be honest and true, and spoken forth in the unbending valor of righteousness and of love for your fellow man.
Tenth: Guard your heart against the temptation of desiring anything beyond what God has allotted to your station and to your holy vocation.
This is the code of the knight.”
“Wow!” said Lady. “There are a lot of big words in there.”
“And a lot of submitting to other people and giving honor to everybody else,” said Joe. “Don’t knights ever get honor for themselves?”
“Ah! There’s the heart of the matter. The true knight’s greatest honor is in securing honor for all those around him, glory for his king, and true worship for his heavenly Lord. There is no greater honor than to be a useful instrument of the Master.”
The children were silent for a long moment, thinking about these things.
Then Mack smiled at them once more. “Shall I give you the simpler version now?” he chuckled.
“Yes, please!” said Sim.
“Here it is. Most knights recount these commands in a simple list of ten virtues that can be repeated at will. We’ve committed them all to memory. Service, worship, devotion, piety, honor, kindness, faithfulness, goodness, honesty, and purity. Those ten things make a man a knight. Even if you don’t have the title of a knight, if you’re keeping those ten things, you’re still a knight in the deepest and truest sense of all.”
“And what about a woman?” asked Lady.
“The very same virtues apply, dear one!”
“But even if we keep all of those,” Joe pressed, “we would still need the king or someone to actually make us a real knight, wouldn’t we?”
“I suppose. I’m just an ordinary knight myself, with no power to commission others to the knighthood. However,” Mack mused, tapping his chin, “knights always begin as squires. And one thing that I do have the power to do is to appoint squires.”
“Yes!” Sim shouted. “Make me a squire!”
“I shall do so for all of you,” the knight replied, standing up. “Now, children, on your knees, please. As I tap your shoulders with my staff, simply say, ‘I pledge to honor God and king.’”
Mack tapped Joe’s shoulders, and he said, “I pledge to honor God and king.”
Next was Sim. “I pledge to honor God and king.”
Then Lady: “I pledge to honor God and king.”
“Rise, my friends,” said Mack, beaming a broad smile. “Rise, holy squires of the knighthood of Arrens, commissioned to serve and uphold the royal house and your liege-lord, Prince Halbrinnon!”
Sim gave a grin of rampant anticipation. “Now we’re ready, then! Let’s go find him!”