Wednesday, October 20, 2004

 

the child, five


The path wound upwards through great boulders and sparse bushes and little twisty trees. The Child stood at the bottom, looking up, hesitating. Was she truly ready for this?

Slowly she took the first step. And then the next. And the next...

Strange, she thought as she climbed higher and still higher. If this is the Mountain of Spices - why are the plants so sparse, so few, so far between? Should it not be lush?

Before long, she was puffing and panting as she mounted still higher along the path. To take the next step was soon an effort. To take the next breath was as well. Chest heaving, she paused in her walk, wondering if she had foolishly tried to do too much too soon.

'You enjoy the view?'

The Child spun about, coming nigh to losing her balance. But even as she did, a steadying hand touched her arm.

'Mathilda! What are you doing here?'

'Following you,' said the voice like many waters. 'That we might offer strength as you weaken.'

The Child cast down her eyes. The other slipped an arm through hers, bearing her up, renewing her strength.

'Soon will you have the strength to make this climb, little one. Very soon. You are making good progress. But for now...'

The Child leaned on Mathilda and let the tall one guide her where she willed. And so Mathilda brought her to see the myrrh plants, with the golden tears of sap clotted on the thick stems. 'Myrrh means bitter,' the tall one explained, 'for the tears are bitter to the taste. They ooze out where the stem has been gashed - wounded, if you will. And yet - the bitterness of the myrrh, when crushed to a powder - brings healing.'

They moved on, Mathilda bearing the Child gently along. 'We shall see the cinnamon next,' the tall one said.

'Please...' said the Child. And hesitated.

'Ask what you will,' Mathilda replied.

'Where are all the plants? I mean, there are plants, yes. But not as many as I thought there would be. If this is the Mountain of Spices, shouldn't it be overflowing with spices? But there are so few...'

'You see truly. It was not always thus. Nor will it always be so. But for now, the plants have indeed withered, many of them, as before the blast of an angry wind. But fear nothing: soon will this Mountain flourish once more with verdure. And now here,' Mathilda added, 'is the cinnamon...'

The Child suddenly gasped and clutched at Mathilda's arm. 'What is that?' the Child cried. She pointed with a shaky hand.

Someone was coming towards them, swiftly over the rocky path. A woman, strong and angry. She too was pointing with her hand, as she came up to Mathilda and the Child. Pointing with fury in her face at the Child.

'What is that weakling doing here?' she cried. 'What are you thinking, Mathilda, to bring such a weak little excuse for a human being up here? This place is for the strong! Not for her!'

"Good afternoon,' said the voice of many waters. Softly. Meekly. Subdued and gentle.

'Take her away! She does not belong here!' the newcomer demanded. 'Are you mad, bringing such a frail little child up here? And you!' The woman swung viciously to face the Child. 'Look well and see what you came to see. For this is the only time you shall ever come here. Puny one!'

'Thank you,' said Mathilda sweetly, her eyes meeting mildly with those of the strong woman. There was a bemused look upon the tall one's face as she added, 'Thank you for your compassionate concern for the well-being of this little one. We will go down the mountain now.'

The strong woman stared at Mathilda, trying to fathom what spirit was behind such words. 'Well,' she said at last. 'Well. So long as you take her down the mountain safely. Do not bring her back up again!'

Mathilda smiled and turned away, leading the Child from the strong woman's presence.

The Child craned to look behind them, at the lone figure standing with folded arms, smirking with pleasure to see them go. 'Who was that?' she asked of Mathilda.

'One who hates you.'

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