Wednesday, October 13, 2004
the child, part 1 chapter 1 - 'the awakening'
The Child woke, startled at the strong light in her eyes.
'Good morning,' said a gentle voice. 'Be not afraid.'
The Child turned to see who spoke to her, but her eyes were too dazzled. 'Who are you?' she asked. 'And where am I?'
'You don't remember? Or the better question: what do you remember?'
The Child closed her eyes, trying to remember - but then opened them again, shaking her head. 'Nothing,' she said. 'I don't remember. Not anything.'
A sigh in the brightness. 'We were hoping you would remember for yourself. For the moment then, know this, little one: a man brought you here, carrying you on his back. You had chains upon your arms, which he broke off you with his own two hands and flung into the corner there.'
Where? The Child turned her head this way and that, but was dazzled by the brightness yet and saw no chains.
'...and you have been sleeping since then,' the voice went on.
'Where is the man who brought me here?' the Child asked at last.
'Gone,' said the voice.
Oh. For some reason, the Child turned her face to the wall, as tears sprang up in her eyes.
The voice shifted closer. 'He left some money to use for taking care of you. And...this.' Something weighty landed on the Child's lap. In the dazzle of the brightness, she ran her hands over it blindly, trying to fathom what it was. Long... thin... flat... What could it be?
The voice shifted again, this time away from the Child. 'Now that you are awake, we will bring you food. Soup, to wake up your stomach.'
A fading of sound, and the Child could tell the other was gone. The light, the dazzling nature of it, diminished until the Child could now see the room around her. The abandoned chains she now saw tossed away in a corner. The room itself was small and neat, with daylight streaming in at the single window, splashing across the floor and chair and up onto the bed where the Child lay, the light at last coming to rest on the long, thin, flat something that had been laid in the Child's lap.
It was a sword.
The soup was warm and savory, pleasing to the Child's nose as well as to her tongue. A hand she could barely see in the returned brightness spooned it up for her, as the same voice that had spoken to the Child before spoke to her, soothing words, savory and pleasing to her ear.
'After you have eaten and rested again, we will take you out into the sunshine for a while. Your legs will be happy for the stretching, and your lungs for the fresh air. We have...'
'Where am I?' the Child interrupted.
The voice paused, and when it spoke next, the Child could hear the smile in it. 'We have the Mountain of Spices as our neighbor, as we were about to tell you,' said the voice. 'That is where you are, at the foot of the Mountain of Spices. You know where that is?'
The Child shook her head.
A hand came out of the brightness to rest on the Child's brow. 'There is much you do not know, and the time is short. Much you should have remembered. They were very cruel to you, we believe.'
'Who?' asked the Child. 'Who was cruel?'
The hand withdrew, then spooned up more soup to her. 'Those who put upon your arms such chains.'
Again, in the brightness surrounding the voice, the Child could see no chains, though her head turned automatically to look at the corner where she knew her old shackles lay.
'Who...' and the Child swallowed hard, her eyes troubled. 'Who brought me here?'
'The soup is finished now, and you need rest. Yes, even still, after sleeping three days. When you wake and rise, we will take you outside. You will like that.'
The voice rose and moved away towards the door. Taking again the brightness with it.
'But who brought me here?' the Child asked again.
At the door, the voice paused. 'When he comes again for you, he will explain all.'
'He is coming back?' the Child asked.
The sound of the door opened, the brightness hovering in the doorway. 'Yes. Many has he brought here in chains, little one. Many has he left in our care. Always he has returned to bear them on further. He will return for you as well.'
'But when? When will he return?' the Child asked in eagerness and wonder.
'When you are ready,' the voice replied gently. And then the door closed, shutting off both the voice and the accompanying brightness from the Child's sight.
Sleeping and waking brought the sunshine of early morning peeking in at the window, beaming down on the Child. In the light of the bare sunlight, without the brightness that seemed to come and go with the voice, this room looked quite ordinary. The bed here, chair there, a small table, the window inviting in the soft light draping over all. Quite ordinary. Except...
Except - how did she know it was ordinary? She could remember nothing of what had happened before. So how could she know what was ordinary, and what was not?
How could she know anything?
The Child was burying her face in her hands when the door opened, and the brightness walked in. The light of the window was swallowed up by the light at the door.
'You are awake. Good,' said the voice, plainly smiling. 'Here is food. You are able to sit up to eat of it?'
The Child shifted up onto her elbows, then up to sitting. She was surprised at how much effort that took. But once she was sitting up, a tray of appetizing food was set on her lap. Ah, it smelled wonderful! though she could hardly see the food for the brightness of the light. Whether she could see it or not made little difference, though. She found she had good appetite for it - very very good appetite.
'Why is it,' she asked between bites, 'that every time you come in, there is so much brightness that I can barely see anything?'
'Ah!' said the voice, sounding a bit startled. 'This is so? That explains much. Your pardon then. We will see to it.'
And in a few moments, the light became less, and then less again, till the Child could see normally the things around her. And there, standing by the side of the bed, was a tall person dressed in a plain brown robe. A large shawl was draped over the person's head, framing a face that was somehow neither old nor young nor male nor female. 'This is better?' asked the voice.
The lips of this person moved with the sound, so this was surely the one speaking. But the voice, now that the dazzle of light no longer distracted the Child - ah, the voice! Like the sound of the rushing of many waters, it was.
Suddenly the Child was no longer interested in the food she'd been eating - not with such a strange and unearthly being before her.
'Who are you?' she asked.
The face smiled on her gently. 'You may call us Mathilda,' said the voice, rising and falling as the waves of the sea.
'Mathilda is a woman's name,' said the Child - and then wondered that she knew that.
'Such it is,' Mathilda replied.
'You are a woman?'
'What we are, we are,' the voice replied.
The Child opened her mouth to question further - why did Mathilda speak of herself as 'we'? But the very sound of Mathilda's voice stopped that question. For the rushing of the voice certainly sounded as if there was more than one speaking...
'When you have eaten, we shall go,' Mathilda prompted.
Go? The Child frowned, trying to remember. Ah! Go! The promised trip outdoors!
The Child set the tray aside and swung her legs over the side of the bed. 'I'm ready now,' she said eagerly.
And stood up.