Monday, November 01, 2004
the child, part 1, chapter 3 - 'the master'
The days flowed by. The strength of the Child's arms and legs grew greater. As did the longing within her for the return of he who had brought her here, the one that Mathilda spoke of as the Master. The days passed, and the Child often gazed upon the Mountain of Spices where the daughter of the enemy roamed freely, acting the part of owner. The Child longed to go there again, but the memory of the woman's anger held her back.
Wake, eat, go outside, come inside, eat, sleep - the days passed. Many, many days.
Sometimes in the evenings alone in her room, the Child would bring out the sword that Mathilda had dropped into her lap that first day. The scabbard was simple: plain brown leather edged with some sort of metal. Often she placed one hand on the hilt, as if to draw forth the blade. But she never did. The sword made her a bit nervous - what if she held it wrong as she drew it, and cut herself? And so she never actually drew the sword, only looked at it and put it away again, hiding it between the mattress of her bed and the wall.
One long evening, after Mathilda had shared her suppertime (but Mathilda never ate, not that the Child saw) and then left her to her rest, the Child spent a bit of time looking at the undrawn sword, then put it away. And then, out of curiosity, she went to the corner where the cast-off chains had lain all these many days. She took them up, examining them. Curious indeed they were, with intricate designs upon them. Parts of the chains even gleamed like gold!
How strange, thought the Child. The sword she had been given - and she was sure it was a gift to her - was so utterly plain. But the chains - quite the opposite of a gift to her - were rich and beautiful.
She held them, turning the chains this way and that. Yes, beautiful was the word for them! Exquisitely beautiful...
A sudden hunger to see how they had looked on her wrists seized her. Here was the one shackle; it must have fitted just so...
'Your arms are fairer without them.'
The Child jumped and dropped the chains, partly shamed with the guilt of having been caught trying them on, and partly frightened with a complete and utter fright.
For that was not Mathilda's voice!
Who could be here? Here, in her room - here, in the depths of this house? Here, where no one else came but her and Mathilda?
Shaking with dread, she forced herself to turn, to face the unknown someone who had spoken to her.
A man. Smiling, his eyes kind and wise and deep. 'Little one,' he said softly. 'Dear Child. Why do you burden again your arms with the chains I broke off of you?'
'You?' Her hand flew to cover her mouth. 'You? You are the one?'
'I am, dear.'
'You have come for me?' Oh, but her heart was pounding suddenly!
'I am come, yes.' His smile both deepened and broadened. 'I am glad to see you so well, little one. Mathilda has been taking good care of you, I see.'
A blush crept across the Child's face. She felt so embarrassed to have been caught playing with those foolish chains! And caught by him! He - the one whom Mathilda called the Master.
'Come, walk with me, my sweet Child,' he said. He held out his hand, and she took it. Then he turned and opened the door and led her from the room.
It was beautiful out here, under the moon, under the stars, under the shadow of the mountain. Slowly they walked, her hand in his. Slowly, softly, quietly.
'There are many questions in your heart, precious Child,' said he. 'What would you ask me?'
Ah, the questions crowded together within her! Which would make it first out of her mouth?
'Who are you?'
He paused in his walk to touch her softly on the forehead. 'I am the one whose name you bear, here.'
Her own hand flew up to touch the same spot. 'Your name is here?' she asked, astounded.
He smiled, his eyes crinkling merrily in the corners. 'Oh yes.'
'I never knew! I never saw...!'
'Not all can see it, dear. Not yet. Not now. But soon shall the letters blaze from your brow as written in fire. Then will all see my name upon you, and know whose you are.'
He took her hand again, and on they walked.
'Ask what you will, dear heart,' he prompted.
A sigh. 'Who am I?'
'One who is well loved.'
That was true, and she knew it. The depth, the richness of his love for her was like a flooding stream, flowing over and through her, washing away every ancient ache from her heart, from her soul. She sighed. 'I don't remember who I am, though.'
'You are one of those, my little one, of whom it is said: Hearken, O daughter, and consider, and incline thine ear; forget also thine own people, and thy father's house; So shall the king greatly desire thy beauty...'
A very deep blush spread over her cheeks. 'I have no beauty,' she whispered.
'You have more than you know,' he replied. Gently, lovingly, his hand touched her cheek, her sweetly blushing cheek. She leaned into the touch, her eyes closing. How she longed for that hand to stay there forever!
'Sweet Child...' he said. And then he added with a chuckle, 'Forever is a very long time, you know.'
Her eyes flew open. She stared up at him. 'How... how can you know what I was thinking?'
'I know everything about you, little one.'
'Everything?' she said hungrily. 'Everything? My name? My age? You've been calling me Child, so I suppose I am young. But I don't even know how old I am...'
'I call all those who come for refuge under my roof my children. Even the very old ones, dear. You are not old. Nor are you a tiny child. You are a gracious young woman, beautiful and blessed.'
Again she blushed.
'But these things that you do not now remember, mine own - do not let them trouble you. What you need to remember, you will remember in the time that you need it.'
'I don't understand.'
'You will. In the proper time, you will.'
He took her hand and they walked on again, under the stars, the great and close stars. 'Now,' he said thoughtfully, 'as for your name...' And he lifted his face to the velvet-deep star-strewn sky.
'Pick one,' said he.
Hesitantly she pointed to a star at random. 'Oh, that one.'
He smiled. 'No, my dear. Pick one. I mean literally. Pluck a star from the sky.'
Astonishment paled her face. 'What? But how?'
'Simply put forth your hand and pick.' He smiled confidently. 'Trust me, Child. Do so.'
She stretched forth her arm to the heavens above her, feeling silly even in her obedience. Not knowing what else to do, she aimed for a largish star right overhead - closed her eyes - closed her hand...
There was a weight inside her hand now. She could feel it. She drew her hand back to herself - opened her hand - opened her eyes...
And there nestled in her palm, glowing like the glows yet shimmering in the skies, was a ball, fuzzy and silvery, faintly pulsating.
She gasped and looked up into his sweetly bemused face.
'Now eat it,' said he.
'Eat it?' she faltered.
'Yes,' said he. 'If you can pick a star in obedience to me, you can also eat it at my word. Yes?'
Slowly, her eyes on his face, she raised her hand to her mouth. Placed the fuzzy star-ball within her lips. Chewed. Swallowed.
He smiled and drew forth a pure white cloth to wipe the star-juice running down her chin. 'My good girl,' he said. 'Never fear to obey me, no matter how silly it makes you feel.'
'What just happened?' she asked.
'They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament,' said he. 'And they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.' He smiled on her. 'I have given you a star to eat. That is a symbol to you which you shall never forget. And with the eating of the star, I give to you a name - a new name. You are to me my little star-like one.
'I name thee Starr.'
In the morning, when Mathilda came to awaken the Child, the tall one did not bring a tray of food for her to eat, as she usually did. Instead, she stopped in the doorway and said, 'The Master requests that you come and break your night's fast with him this morning.'
The Child - Starr - gasped. And then she flew from the bed, hurriedly washing up and dressing, making herself ready. The Master...!
Soon she was ready, flushed and breathless, and Mathilda led the way through the corridors of the house. A different way this day, one the Child had never taken before. Just when she was beginning to wonder where in the house they were, Mathilda stopped before a door.
Nervous, Starr stepped into the doorway and peered in. The room, to her surprise, was not large nor lush nor opulent, as she had imagined it would be. It was just a very plain room, about the size of her own. Here was a table set with two chairs. There a fire on the hearth. There a small window much like her own, spilling in the morning sunlight.
And there, of course, he himself. The Master. He came forward, smiling warmly. 'Starr, my dear Child,' said he.
Deep crimson her cheeks flamed, just at the closeness of him. And her heart - oh! surely he could hear the beating of it! She felt that she ought to bow to him, or curtsey perhaps - but she feared that if she tried, she would tumble right off her feet.
He took her hand in his, his eyes owning hers. 'You may serve the meal now, Mathilda,' he said. And the tall one bowed and went out.
'Master...' the Child ventured, her voice sounding strange to her own ears.
'You slept well?' said he, leading her to the table, helping her into a chair. He then took the other chair. It was a very small table.
'What would you like to ask me now, dear one?'
Last night the questions had crowded into her mouth, competing to be spoken. And now...now quite the opposite. Her mind was a blank.
'Then I will tell you,' said he. 'I bought you here, after rescuing you from the fortress of my enemies. They had held you there long, since you were an infant. The chains you wore kept you bound to them, to do their will. And you were content there, for a long time.
'And of this you remember nothing.'
She watched this wonderful face before her, nodding. 'Yes,' she said. 'Nothing. Nothing at all.'
'I have been to that fortress many a time, my dear, to rescue those held captive there. One time very recently, as I was in the belly of the fortress to rescue another, you saw me.' He smiled the more deeply, a precious, secret smile. 'Well. I let you see me. We spoke briefly, you and I; I told you of this house. You asked to go with me; I made promise to return for you.
'That promise I kept.'
She blushed and dropped her eyes.
'I bore you here as on eagle's wings, to bring you to myself.'
Her heart was beating so, she could scarcely breathe.
A soft knock at the door. At the Master's word, the door swung open and in came Mathilda, bearing the laden tray of their breakfast. This she served quickly, silently, efficiently. She bowed, turned to go.
'My Master,' said the tall one, turning again and bowing.
'You veil yourself.'
'Yes, my Master. For the comfort of the little one's eyes.'
'Yes. She sees the light.'
A bow. 'She does, my Master.'
'Few do. But this gift is given her. Unveil yourself now please, Mathilda.'
The tall one lifted her hands and began to remove the veil. As she did, the light grew, grew until it was dazzling to the Child's eyes.
The Master rose and went to the Child, who was shielding her eyes with her hands against the light. 'Look at me,' he said softly. She obeyed, squinting up at him. To her surprise, she found that though all else in the room was quite lost to her sight because of the light from Mathilda, the Master himself she could see with no trouble. She gazed on him.
'Stand up, dear,' he said. She did so. 'Now close your eyes, Starr my love,' said he. She obeyed him.
She felt his hands, strong and firm and gentle, as they cupped her face between them, tilting her chin up. And then she felt - oh! - the touch of a kiss, one, two, upon her two closed eyes. A gasp escaped her at the touch, all too brief. She would have preferred for those kisses to have lasted forever. Familiar thought.
'Starr my sweet - breathe my breath after me.' And a deep sigh she heard, sweet and gentle and fragrant. She lived in the breath of that sigh, drawing it deep into her lungs, into her being. His breath...
'Now open your eyes, my Starr.'
She obeyed. To her surprise, though the light was still there and strongly present, she no longer needed to squint against it, but could see all things quite plainly. Even so, she looked not at the things surrounding her, but only at the Master's dear face.
He smiled and sighed again, a deep and contented sigh at the adoration in her gaze. 'Starr,' he whispered, so pleased with her. So pleased.
'Now turn and see.'
She turned. She saw. She gaped in astonishment.
There stood Mathilda, tall as ever. The veil was laid aside, as was the robe. And the person Starr could now see through the light...
...was not a human being.
Wings - that was the main impression to Starr's mind. Full of wings. And eyes! Eyes everywhere. On the wings, on the hands, on the ...
On the faces. Yes, more than one face. For Starr now saw that Mathilda had no less than four faces! The veil had hidden the three others from her sight before. The face in front, the one she was used to seeing, was certainly human. But to the right was the face of a lion. And to the left the face of an ox. And there was also the face of an eagle.
Starr stumbled backwards from the sight, her mind reeling. Something firm and solid and living caught her from behind lest she fall. The Master. His arms wrapped round her, steadying her. And strength flowed in.
'Do not be afraid, love,' he pressed the words into her ear.
'Who... What...' was all she could manage to stammer out.
'That is still Mathilda. The same one who has taken care of you all these many days. Mathilda is one of my cherubim.'
'One of your... what?'
'Cherubim, dear. Or more simply put, an angel.' She turned within the circle of his arms to look up into his face, her own face puzzled and uncomprehending. He smiled down warmly, disarmingly. 'I command angels,' he said.
And there was nothing of bragging in the statement. Not at all. Simply stating a fact.
Starr leaned against him - really, sagged against him, as if the knowledge he was imparting to her was more than her body could bear.
'You may go now, Mathilda,' said he. 'Thank you.'
'My Master,' said she, bowing. And she was gone, taking the extraordinary light with her.
'I... I don't understand. You have angels?'
'Then... who are you?'
'I am he - the Master. Keeper of this house. Seeker out of lost souls. Rescuer from the fiery pit. The one who walks through the stars and is not afraid. The commander of the armies of GOD. I am...' and a smile, 'your humble servant.'
'You? But you humble me!' she returned. 'Who am I? - nothing and no one - and yet you have brought me into your home, dressed me anew, fed and sustained me...' Her eyes dropped, then came up again. 'I... I... what is this? What I am feeling within me?'
He gently took her hand, held it. 'Little one. You are falling in love.'
She nodded. 'With you. Yes, I am. But how dare I? You must be very angry.'
'Angry? No, not at all! In fact, it was for this purpose that I rescued you and brought you here.'
'So that I would fall in love with you?'
'So that you would become my bride.'
She gasped. Her heart, everything within her, shattered at that word. His bride? His? Was that possible? Dare she hope...?
'Will you?' he said. Simply. Sweetly. His hand still holding hers.
'It will not be easy at times, my love, to be wedded to me. There are those who will call you a liar. Those who will take your words, which are mine, and twist them out of recognition. Those who will hate you - because they hate me. Understand this.'
'I don't care. To be yours...!' She gasped again, and covered her mouth with her free hand.
'Then your answer is still yes?'
She met his eyes, tilting up her face to his. He towered over her, a full head taller. Still holding her hand.
'Yes,' said she.
He smiled down fondly on her. 'My Starr. I pledge to thee all that I am, heart and breath, soul, strength and being. With my life's blood I sustain thee. With all my heart, I love thee. And call thee to my side as wife.'
'My Master...' she whispered.
'No more shalt thou call me Master, my darling. From now on, my name in your mouth, shall be - my Beloved.'
Her entire face lit up. 'My Beloved!' And with that saying, something sprang to life within her, setting her free, free. 'I pledge myself to thee, my Beloved,' she responded. 'All that I am: heart, soul, mind, body. Spirit. All. To my dying breath. To live for thee, and serve thee. And bear thee children...' She blushed, and cast down her eyes.
He smiled. 'Ah, little one - you know not the truth of what you just spoke! Children you shall bear for me. But not in the way you are thinking.
'But now... Starr, little one. Breathe again after me. Breathe in my spirit, into yourself.' And he sighed deeply, deeply, from the depths of his being. The sweet fragrance of his breath surrounded her. She breathed it in deeply, deeply, eyes closed, rapturous, living in that moment...
'I kiss thee, Starr,' he said. And then he did.
For a long time they stood, eyes delighting in each other, saying nothing. And then he spoke, chuckling. 'I invited you here for breakfast. We should eat.'
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