Thursday, November 25, 2004

 

the child, nineteen


She didn't have time to think what to do - whether to walk away, or run, or hide. For Stone spotted her immediately. 'Yo, Starr!' he called. And a smile that made her heart stop splashed over his face. 'How you doing?' he asked.

She couldn't think how to answer him, for to say 'fine' would be a lie. She was certainly not fine; she was all in a turmoil inside, just from the sudden sight of this man.

She did not want to lie, so she answered not at all.

Stone didn't seem to notice, though. In fact, he went right on talking, giving her no time to answer him anyway. 'Your timing's perfect, Starr-girl,' he said. 'We were just about to start my lesson this morning. And Josh had just said he would like me to do a bit of sparring with one of the other new learners. And just at that moment, here you come! Wanna train with me?'

Her mind seemed to be working as fast as a snail this morning. 'Josh?' she asked, puzzled. 'Who's Josh?'

Stone chuckled. 'Well, the sword master, of course!' he said, half-turning to glance at the Master standing nigh him. 'He's been training me with the sword...' And then it was Stone's turn to be puzzled. 'I've seen him working with you as well. Didn't you know his name is Josh?'

'Starr has a different name by which she knows me,' the Master put in, coming forward to greet her. A hug and a kiss on the cheek he gave her, and with the kiss a few words he dropped into her ear: 'Say little; learn much.'

She glanced into his face to be sure she had heard him aright. He nodded to confirm that she had.

'Really?' Stone was saying. 'Another name? What is it?'

'It is time for the lesson,' the Master said, sparing Starr from having to answer. She was relieved. Somehow, for some reason, she did not want to reveal to Stone that she called the Master her Beloved.

'Now, my children,' said the Master, 'these swords you have been given are strange and unique. For they sharpen in the use of them, but dull with neglect. As you practice together, you will find that the blades will become honed, even as your skills are being honed. A word of caution then: when iron sharpens iron, the sparks may fly. So be careful to take no offense. Starr, do you understand me?'

She was embarrassed to confess it in front of this man. But she dare not lie to the Master. 'No, sir,' she admitted, her eyes cast down.

'Take nothing to heart, nor aim for the heart - in other words,' the Master said. 'In practicing with these swords, do not set out to wound. And if you receive a wound, forgive. Quickly. Yes?'

'Yes, sir.'

'Sure.'

'Very well. Then begin.'

They both took their stances as the Master had taught them. Both drew their swords. And then each took a moment to admire the other's sword. For where hers was filigreed, with a look of delicacy to it, his was more rugged and hardy-looking. A man's sword.

Starr turned her eyes from the man's sword to his face. And again her heart skipped and gamboled within her at how handsome he was. Well, maybe not classically handsome. But oh, his features were certainly pleasing to her eyes!

And yet... It wasn't just the surface of him that she found pleasing. There was something about him - some indefinable something - an inner quality of this man that her heart was reacting to.

She closed her eyes briefly to steady herself.

'Ready?' That was Stone's voice.

She opened her eyes. Looked into his. They were dancing, animated. Like a young boy's. Anticipating...

She nodded. 'Yes. I'm ready,' she said.

Ready - and yet neither of them moved for a long moment. Finally, to her own surprise, it was Starr who made the first move, stretching out with her sword to tap the flat of her blade against his. Tentative, questioning, that tap was, and Stone grinned and rapped back against hers in answer.

She felt the strength of the man in that small opening clash, and immediately wondered was she in over her head. He was far stronger than she! Dismayed, she glanced to the Master. Read his smile. Felt his strength flood into her.

Again the blades clashed. And again. They were moving now, Stone and Starr - close and apart - circling, darting, closing, clashing, dancing...

Yes - dancing. This was like a dance. Stone's eyes were sparkling. He was thoroughly enjoying this.

Starr was enjoying it too.

Suddenly, without really meaning to - for she had nearly forgotten that these were in fact swords in their hands - she saw a break in his defenses and took advantage. Reaching in, she smacked him sharply with the flat of her blade, there just below his shoulder on his sword arm.

'Hey!' he cried, his free hand springing to cover the spot she had hit. His sword arm dropped, leaving him defenseless - though he did at least manage to keep hold of his sword.

Starr dropped hers entirely, stricken. 'Oh, Stone! I didn't mean to! I'm sorry!' Her hand went out to him, to touch the wound she had caused. And her heart, to heal it, if only she could. 'Are you bleeding?' she asked.

Stone was inspecting the damage now, such damage as it was. For not even the cloth of his sleeve showed any harm. 'Aw, it's only a bruise,' he said. 'Don't worry about it. I'm a big guy, Starr. You'd hafta do a lot worse than this to phase me. No, what you need to worry about, Starr-girl...' And he grinned as he brought his sword back up and got into his stance again, '...is the fact that you dropped your sword. En garde!'

'Eek!' She spun and scrambled to snatch up her weapon again, getting it into her hand and whirling to face him just in time.

For he was right there, pressing his advantage, grinning, laughing, enjoying this, enjoying the dismay in her face.

Teasing.

With a laugh, he reversed his blade and sheathed it. Held out his hand to her. 'Good game,' he said as she fit her small hand within his large one. A big guy he certainly was - a full head taller than she - and she saw that it would not be hard for him to hurt her, quite without meaning to.

'Is your arm all right?' she asked, still amazed that she had managed to wound him.

He flexed it and shrugged. 'Yeah, it'll be fine. Maybe a bit sore later on. But no worry. It's inevitable to take a few hits, doing sword play like this.'

'Faithful are the wounds of a friend,' said the Master, coming forward to inspect Stone's shoulder. He laid his hand over the wound briefly. 'You forgive her?' he asked.

'Oh, sure,' Stone replied. 'No big deal. Hope we can do this again soon. Oh, hey, Starr!'

'Yes?' she said, feeling shy suddenly.

'Maybe we can have lunch together.' And with a friendly wave, Stone turned and trotted off towards the house.

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