I pause before I answer, fearing both his disapproval and the chance of a pre-pubescent squeak in my voice (a bad first sign for a gladiator). But answer I do:
"Gladiator" (not loudly, but no cracking either)
"Hmmm." he says as his eyes scan me much more deeply than I'm used to. He truly is a marvel of a man, towering inches above me with keen eyes and cut arms. I realize as he weighs me that this man could only be Keeper of the Arch if he was found faithful in the ring. . .
"You did not come to this decision lightly" he states.
These were his first words after the testing silence. I knew then he was more than faithful in that stadium beyond his shoulders, he had gifts beyond sword and shield.
"Yes. And to be honest I am still plagued with concerns" I answer.
(as 3 new gladiators run in through the arches and shout a quick "Gladiator!" to the Keeper.)
"Then let me tell you of the plagues I know of and see if it helps cure your mind, young one," he says, "You will always struggle with pride, whether standing silent or speaking up. . .Better to struggle with the pride of a word well-spoken than the sullen anger of 'I could have done better'. "
"Your identity will always be in The Truth and the One who sent Him to us, but all who work out that eternal Identity in the here-and-now will always be baited by the fading glories of this passing age. Yes, if you enter that arena, you will grapple with the applause, the disapproval, the comments, or the lack of comments. You must handle correctly that which was entrusted to you and swing anyways."
"You will have weak-spots and bad strokes. . .stumbles and weariness. . .you will be tempted to use the shield more often than the sword. . .and yet through all of these, the gladiator fights on, not for his own renown, but for Truths greater than he."
"You are even now asking if you have anything worth proclaiming in there. . .it is a good thing. I would rather have a few of you fighting within yourselves before you stand full-force in the stadium lights than a thousand young would-be-warriors flailing untempered swords in untested arcs."
He pauses and I soak in all of his words. . .they are true to the mark, and although they are unflinching about the inevitable challenges they are nonetheless encouraging.
"Thanks. What do I do when I'm in deeper waters than I can swim in?"
He smiles, "Don't pretend you can swim in them in the first place. Tread cautiously in the dangerous waters (and pools with no danger are scarce these days) and know your limits. The patron Gladiators of Doxy and Praxis will guide you. . .though as I look at your gear I sense your desire is to bridge the gap between the two, no? Let me see that rat-sticker", he says.
I pull out the sword and hand it to him gently, it has served me well and proven true for so long. It looks frail in his hands. A thin blade with an acute point. The hilt is non-descript but has protected my hand when needed and flows nicely into the drab blade.
"The rapier is not the weapon of choice these days," he begins.
His eyes going to places beyond the Arch.
"They carry the two-handed broad sword these days, and favor wild offensives, with massive blood spurts and dismemberings. The crowd loves it. . .all the favorites carry them, and pretty much anybody with anything else is doomed to the outskirts or to be ganged up on by the big blades."
I begin to respond but he continues. . .
"But when a man's arms tire from wielding a weapon beyond his inner strength, why then a man may wish he had a free hand to use a shield. . .because if he can't kill his target with that first onslaught and that prey has a rapier. . .well, it's only a matter of time then."
"I've seen a man use one of these with such precision and quickness that he fell all the popular broadsword brutes in an era with nothing but accuracy and integrity. Not that it made him popular or perfect. . ."
He stops this speech not strongly but with a gentle tailing off. . .and with that mumbled silence he hands me back my blade.
"It's not about you, so only strike when you know what you'll hit. And whether they cheer your deeds or chant for your death, it's still not about you."
"Now, get in there"
The last thing I see as I step beneath the Arch and blinking into the Blogosphere Arena is a perfectly made rapier-hilt between the now distracted back of the man they call the Keeper. . .