Tuesday, November 09, 2004

 

the child, thirteen


Starr froze. She could only sit where she was and watch as the daughter of the enemy descended upon her. The woman moved so swiftly, her feet barely seemed to touch the ground.

In an instant that hate-filled face was inches from the Child's. 'What are you doing here, weakling?' the woman hissed. 'Did I not tell you never to come here again?'

Mutely, Starr nodded.

'Then why are you here? Mathilda is a fool for bringing you here again. Mathilda!' The woman straightened and glared about, searching. 'Mathilda!' she demanded.

Finding her voice, though it had gone quite hoarse, Starr stammered out, 'Mathilda's not here.'

'She's not?' Slowly the woman turned again to stare at the Child. 'You're here alone?'

The unholy light suddenly gleaming from the woman's eyes so frightened the Child that she made no answer. The sharp tip of the woman's tongue flicked out, licking her lips. There was something so feral, so hungry-looking about the gesture, that Starr truly wondered if the woman had in mind to eat her.

And how red the woman's eyes were!

'Alone,' she whispered, sounding for all the world like a very large cat purring. 'How sweet. The little weakling comes here on the mountain again, alone and unprotected, and quite without permission.' She smiled a smile both hideous and fascinating as she sidled a bit closer again.

'I had permission,' Starr whispered, edging backwards.

'Oh, I'm sure!' the woman purred. 'Mathilda hasn't the authority to grant you permission, you know. That isn't good enough.' She reached a hand out, reaching to grasp the Child's wrist.

Something Mathilda had told her bubbled up in Starr's mind. 'You don't dare touch me,' she said.

'Oh, don't I?' the woman laughed. 'Who told you that one? Of course I can touch you!' But, Starr noticed, the woman's hand had arrested in mid-air, inches away, no longer drawing closer.

'Little fool,' the enemy's daughter hissed, those red eyes and that sharply pointed tongue glittering, drawing the Child's attention. 'You never should have come here again. Not alone. This is my place. I say who goes here. And who doesn't.'

That was not true, and Starr knew it. But it was hard, while face-to-face with that face, to remember what was true and what wasn't. 'This isn't your place,' Starr managed to say.

'It isn't? It isn't? And who told you that?' The hand was inching closer again.

A distant movement caught the Child's eye. There, beyond this vicious woman, there was the Master! Leaping down from the mountain heights, coming to her rescue! Leaping like - like ...

Starr blinked. For a moment, just for a moment, instead of the familiar figure of her Beloved, she thought she saw - yes, a lion!

The sight of him filled her with courage and strength. Not her own courage and strength, she knew, but his. Straightening, she faced the enemy. Looked in those red and hungry eyes. Felt the courage drain away again...

Looked again to the Master, who was leaping and spinning as he came closer and closer. Starr's heart leapt as well, for she realized suddenly what he was doing. He was dancing. Dancing! Yes, she saw it now. She need not stand here and talk with the enemy's daughter. She need only go to him who loved her, to join with him, joining into his dance of joy.

Laughing, without another glance at the woman who hated her, Starr slipped past her, saying, 'My Beloved brought me here. This place is his. If you have a problem with me being here, take it up with him.'

The woman's hand, like a claw, stretched to clutch at Starr as she passed. But in that instant the Master was there, gathering the Child in his arms, whirling her up into a glad embrace. Gently he set her again on her feet. Smiling, he set upon her head the garland of flowers he had gathered for her and lovingly woven with his own two hands.

'You have something to say, Jessie?' he said to the woman, his eyes not on her but on Starr.

'She's trespassing.'

'She is? If she is, I am.' He turned then to face that woman, his voice mild, but his eyes the eyes of the lion. 'But if I cannot trespass on the mountain that is my own - who then is trespassing here?'

'She is weak,' the woman went on, trying another tactic. 'She does not belong here. This place is for the strong, not for her.'

'Her place is here at my side,' the Master replied, smiling down on Starr. 'Will you presume to tell me whom I may love, and whom I may not?'

'I presume nothing...' the woman began.

'Jezebel,' the Master interrupted her. 'You lie and shade the truth and seek to confuse - but the truth is that this mountain is mine, and this Child is mine, and she is free in me to go wherever I want her to go. You seek to upset and confuse and steal away the place I have for my own. But if you truly want to live here and enjoy this mountain and my garden - you need only lay down your own ways and come into love with me. As Starr has done.'

The red eyes blazed. 'There is nothing wrong with my own ways! I walk this mountain as I please! It is mine!'

The Master shook his head. 'Oh, Jessie! Do you believe your lies so strongly that you think to confuse me with them?'

'I am strong! She is weak!'

'You are willful and stubborn. She is willing and obedient.'

'I...'

'You have no part in me, Jessie. Nor shall you until you surrender yourself totally and stop clinging to your lies and half-truths.'

'Lies? Lies? How dare you?' she began. But the Master merely looked at her. And such a look! Not anger but sorrow. And such a deep deep profound haunting sorrow.

For her part, the woman's eyes grew larger in her face. Her jaw clenched as her skin turned a horrid livid color. 'Don't you pity me!' she hissed suddenly. 'I am strong! I need no one's pity!'

And she turned and fled from before his face.

The Master's arm slipped round the Child's waist. 'Sweet daughter,' said he. 'You did well.'

'I did?'

'Yes. You did not accept her lies, but spoke the truth in response. You spoke my words to her. I am pleased.'

Starr blushed and cast down her eyes.

'Ah, so lovely...' said the Master, pleased with her modest response. 'Now, precious one,' he added. 'Tell me what you learned.'

Oh! She looked up into his face again, thinking it over, sorting it all out. 'Well... I learned that when I look to you, your strength comes into me. But when I looked at her, that strength drained away. So I need to not look at her, but at you.'

'Yes. Anything more?'

Again she thought, reviewing the events in her head. 'That she can try to frighten me, but she really couldn't touch me.'

'She was hoping you would not know that. You could have allowed her to touch you, if you hadn't known that she couldn't.'

'She came very close. And you were so far away...'

'Not really. It only seemed I was far. But I am ever at your side, even when you do not see me.'

'You are?'

'Oh yes. Never fear being alone, for you never shall be alone. Not anymore; not since you became mine.'

'I don't understand.'

'You don't have to understand. You need only trust. I will do the rest, both in you and through you. Trust is your protection, dear Starr. That is why she questioned the truth you spoke - a trick she learned from her father.'

'Her father the enemy,' said Starr.

'Yes. He is a liar, and the father of lies. He ever tries to take my words, which are truth, and twist them. And sow doubt. Where he can get my people to doubt my truth, there he can strike at them, to wound them. To steal, and kill, and destroy.'

Starr shuddered, as if a cloud had come across the face of the sun.

The Master's arm about her drew her still closer, enfolding her in his loving protection. 'You see that you must never doubt me, my love. Always look to me and draw strength, even when you do not see me with your eyes. Your trust in me is your strength; your willing obedience to me is your strength; your joy in our love together is your strength. The more fully given to me you are, the more the enemy will fear you. He will strike at you because of that fear. But keep your eyes on me and neither fear him nor listen to him, and he will have to flee from you. He will put up a good show of it first, claiming he does not fear you. But because of me in you, here in your heart - Starr, he will fear and he will flee. Trust me.'

'Always will I trust thee,' she promised, her face shining.

But promises made in the light of day up on the mountain top are not always so easy to keep when the dark closes in, in the depths of the valley.

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