Sunday, December 12, 2004
the child, part 1, chapter 8 - ‘that evening’
She woke. The light filtering in through the window of her room told her that it was now late afternoon. Ah, she had slept! she thought, stretching.
And then she gasped. Lunch! She had missed it!
Hurriedly she washed her face and strapped her sword again round her waist. Her clothes were a rumpled mess - for she had been so tired earlier, she had simply fallen into bed without bothering to change. Not bothering to change now either, she merely shook out the rumples as she slipped from her room and along the corridors, hurrying to get outside.
And even as she did, she told herself how silly she was being. When Stone had mentioned taking lunch together, he hadn't necessarily meant today! And yet she hurried, hoping to see him, hoping to find that perhaps he had been looking for her.
She pushed through the outside door of this house and began roaming the grounds, looking about, scanning for his face. There were so many faces surrounding her! And so few of them that she might recognize - only Stone, or the Master, or Mathilda. Or, she reminded herself with a shudder, Jessie. But none of those four did she see now.
So many people - so many strangers, here in the Master's house!
Or were they strangers? For the some of the faces, as she studied them, did begin to look somehow familiar. Most familiar of all were the bright four-fold faces of those who were like Mathilda. The cherubim. There were several of those, she saw, moving unobtrusively among the ordinary people. And unnoticed by the ordinary people as well, Starr decided. For no one else seemed to be amazed at the shining of those bright beings. They were no longer blindingly bright to her - not since the day the Master had kissed her eyes. But they were bright nonetheless. Why did no one else seem to notice?
It was only gradually that Starr began to notice other faces, faces that would stir up a touch of a tickle in the far back of her memory. Faces she had once known...? Or had she?
She turned at the sound of a woman's voice. 'It is you, Elisabeth - isn't it?' the woman said. A dark-haired woman, her head tilted inquisitively, was studying Starr's face. 'You are Elisabeth, aren't you?' said the woman.
'I...' So familiar this woman looked! Starr stared back, struggling, grasping at elusive memory. Only to have it evade her again. 'I'm called Starr now,' she replied lamely.
'Oh, of course. I'm forgetting! We shed our old names when the Master brought us here. I'm Lucy now. It means light. Starr - what a lovely name you were given!' She tucked her arm through Starr's as if they were old, old friends.
And maybe they were. If only she could remember!
'I'm so glad you're here, Elis... Starr. The last I saw you was the day the Master set me free and spirited me off to this house. I saw you just as we were leaving. The Master stopped to say a few words to you. So I hoped you would be coming here as well. It's so good to see you again.'
'You... you remember...?'
'Well of course, I do! Don't you?'
Starr dropped her eyes and made no answer.
Lucy stopped walking and turned Starr to face her. 'Don't you?' she repeated.
'I...' And Starr, ashamed, dropped her head as well. Also shook her head.
'No? You don't remember?' The woman tilted Starr's chin up to look her in the eye. She studied her intently for nearly a full minute. 'Yes,' she said at last. 'You are Elisabeth. There's no doubt of that. But you don't remember me?'
'No,' Starr whispered.
'Well, how strange that is! I'm Carol. We lived side-by-side for years, you in your cell and me in mine. We shared everything - hopes, dreams, gossip...' She paused and laughed. 'Well, we won't be doing the gossip part anymore, shall we? But I'm surprised you don't remember me! Don't you remember anything?'
Starr's head dropped again. 'No,' she whispered, even more silently than the last time.
'How curious,' said Lucy. 'Hmmm...' And she steered Starr on as they walked randomly over the grounds.
Lucy came suddenly out of her reverie. 'Oh, but it must be time for supper. Come along, dear. We'll eat together. It'll be like old times.' She smiled engagingly. 'Except now it's new times - and far better times than either of us ever knew before. Come and meet my friends.'
Lucy led the way to a room that Starr had never seen before. It was huge! People. People everywhere. Tables everywhere. Chairs everywhere. Talk everywhere. Starr could feel her heart quicken, and her breathing as well, at such an overwhelming mass of people. She drew back, pulling away from Lucy, ready to retreat to the familiar solitude of her little lonely room.
'Starr, what's wrong?' said Lucy. And she took Starr's hand firmly, pulling her into the room, into the swirl of people, people, people.
Starr clung to Lucy now. If escape was being denied her, then she wanted at least to be able to stick close to the only person she knew here. She held fast to Lucy's arm as the woman led her deeper and deeper into the crowds, dodging past tables, a call of greeting here, a friendly laugh there. Till they came at last to a certain table where the men and women made room for them, finding a pair of chairs to push together to welcome them.
'These are my friends,' said Lucy, settling into her chair. She made rapid introductions, none of which lodged in Starr's head. A rapid succession of hands gripped hers in greeting; a rapid succession of eyes looked into hers.
She was glad when the greetings were over. Embarrassed, she sat quietly looking down at her hands, her fingers twisting together in her lap as the other's conversations swirled around her.
'Starr, dear,' said Lucy. 'Michael's talking to you.'
Starr looked up, trying to guess which one was Michael. Two of the men were looking at her at the moment, and she glanced from one to the other, hoping someone would take pity on her and tell her which man was which. 'Starr...' said Lucy. And she turned her around to see yet another man standing behind her chair. 'This is Michael.'
'Hello, Starr,' said Michael.
'Oh,' she responded. 'Hello. Is the Master looking for me?'
For Michael, she saw, had a multiple face with multiple eyes, swathed in brightness.
He - it? they? - smiled solemnly. 'The Master sends his compliments, little one, and bids you peace.' And as the voice of rushing waters spoke that final word 'peace' - she felt it settle over her. Peace indeed. Calming her, sweeping away the nervousness, flowing into her a sweet quietude. A joy.
She smiled back. 'Thank you,' said she. 'And tell the Master my thanks to him.'
He inclined his head. 'I will.'
'Oh, but Michael! Stay and eat with us!' called Lucy as the cherub turned away. He only shook his head and disappeared off into the crowd.
'He never eats with us,' Lucy complained. 'Only comes and goes, delivering messages.'
'Yes. That is what he is here for - to serve the Master,' said Starr.
'She speaks!' said one of the men she had thought before was Michael. And as she cringed in embarrassment, the other man said, 'True - but we all serve the Master here. Every one of us. That's why we're here.'
'He could at least sit down and eat with us once in a while,' said Lucy. 'I don't understand that.'
Starr looked at all of them. No, they didn't understand that. She had been right - none of them saw the cherubim for what they were, the way she saw them. They thought the angels were simply people like themselves.
She dropped her eyes again. Not in embarrassment this time, nor in fright. In acceptance. She was different.
And she smiled to herself, just a bit. In relief! She had felt so completely different, so alien, among the rest. But if she was in fact different...
That made it easier then. She wasn't feeling a difference that wasn't there. She was merely feeling a deep awareness of the truth. Different she was. Strange. Weird even. That was fine. She could live with that. She had always been...
Hmmm. She had always been different. She remembered that now! Frowning slightly, tilting her head a bit as if listening to a voice that no one else heard, she scrambled through her mind after that elusive memory. Always different - why? in what way? where...?
A hand landed on her shoulder, holding her back as the memory spurted away and was gone. Starr glanced up, expecting to see the remarkable face of the cherub Michael again.
Instead, she saw the delighted face of Stone.
'Starr-girl! Here you are!' Stone pulled a chair over and made himself at home at her side. 'I looked all over the place for you at lunchtime. I couldn't find you.' His eyes, so direct, smiled into hers.
'Well...' She felt her cheeks wanting to go crimson as she dropped her eyes from his frank gaze. 'It sounds silly, I know. But I was sleeping.'
'Oh? You usually sleep in the middle of the day?'
'Not usually, no. I just didn't sleep well last night.' And she forced herself not to hold her breath, hoping he would not ask her why.
'I'm sorry to hear that. I hope you sleep better tonight. With lots of lovely, peaceful dreams. Will you do that for me?'
For him? Oh, how she longed to fling her arms round his neck and promise to do anything for him! But of course she didn't do that. Instead, she asked, 'How can you know what you're going to dream?'
'Oh, I don't know if you can. But I do find dreams interesting. Me, I dream all sorts of stuff. And some of it the silliest stuff you've ever heard...'
'Like what, Stone?' That was one of the men who wasn't Michael.
Stone laughed. 'Like a star dropping out of the sky to land in the palm of my hand,' he said. And suddenly he was on his feet. 'A bit busy, this table. Why don't we find a quieter place?'
And suddenly Starr found herself on her feet, her hand in Stone's as he led her to another part of the room. Here was a table, small, unoccupied, only two chairs. Stone sat Starr in the one chair, then dropped into the other. 'I like conversations better when they aren't for the whole crowd. Don't you?'
'I...' She really had no answer to that, though. This was the first experience she could remember that had a crowd in it.
'I really did have a dream like that, you know. And then here you show up, with a name like Starr!' He smiled. 'Grabbed my attention.' He tilted his head, looking at her. 'Where are you from?'
She shrugged. 'The enemy's dungeon.'
'So are we all. But what part?'
She was about to answer that she didn't remember - when abruptly she did. Only a flash across her mind's eye - a place of air and light - iron bars mimicking lacework - a pretty prison.
And that is what she described to him.
'Oh,' said he. 'There. Yes, that part is the pretty prison. And chains like beautiful ornaments, so that you forget that this is the dungeon, and you one of the slaves. I remember that.'
'Is that where you were?' she asked. But he was looking beyond her, his eyes now hooded, clouded. And as he sat there, his memories washing over him, Starr felt a chill go through her bones. 'Stone...?' she whispered.
He stirred. Looked at her. Washed the clouds out of his eyes with a blink and a smile. 'No,' he said briefly, shaking his head. 'That's not where I was. Where I was... let's just say I'm glad I'm not there anymore.'
And Starr heard the clash of a heavy iron door firmly swinging shut and locked - and the groans and shrieks of men in anguish, in a horrible pit of despair.
And now it was she blinking away the clouds. 'Yes?'
'You gave me a fright there, girl! You went so pale, I thought you might faint. Oh, wait,' he added. 'You said you slept through lunch. You need to eat something or maybe you will faint. Here...' And before she could do or say another thing, he hopped up from his chair, said, 'I'll be right back, Starr-girl,' and disappeared through the crowd.
He was back in minutes, bearing with him two laden plates of food. 'Hope you like fish!' he grinned, as he set one plate in front of her and took the other seat. From his shirt pocket he produced silverware and napkins for two. 'There we are... Oh!' And abruptly he disappeared again, reappearing this time with a pair of glasses and a pitcher of the same fresh sweet water Mathilda always brought to the Child for her solitary meals.
The Child. She had hardly remembered that name for herself lately. Not since meeting Stone. She had felt not at all childlike since then, but... but suddenly, awkwardly, keenly aware of herself. Of her feelings, which were so strong as to carry her away. So frightening as to send her fleeing to hide. So...
'The Master sends his compliments, little one, and bids you peace.' Those words, spoken a few minutes before by the angel, flooded back into her mind. Peace. That was what she needed just now - peace.
If only the Master were here!
And then - he was.
The Master was at her side. He did not come there; he simply was there. Smiled down on her. Pulled up a chair and sat by her. Slipped his arm around her and breathed his breath upon her.
'Thank you,' she whispered, looking adoringly up into his face.
'My peace upon you, Starr, and within you. And through you. My peace.'
She leaned against his strong shoulder, feeling as ever his strength flowing into her.
'What just happened?'
That was Stone. He was looking at her with such a peculiar expression on his face. 'Starr?' he said. A nervous laugh escaped him. 'You're, uh, acting like someone just came and sat down with us.'
'Someone just did. The Master did.'
He laughed nervously again. 'But I don't see anyone...'
'He doesn't, no,' said the Master.
She looked up at him, so real and present to her eyes. Her favorite saying of, 'I don't understand,' formed on her tongue.
But she never spoke it. 'You don't need to understand,' the Master said gently. 'Only know this, dear - that of all people, Stone must know who and what you are. And so I am showing him, here and now, what it will be to be with you. All his life.'
She had no answer to that. She did not need one.
Stone leaned closer to her, staring intently at the space beside her that she was obviously holding a private conversation with. 'What is he saying?' he asked.
'That he's...' But the Master shook his head, and she fell silent. And then it struck her. 'Stone? You asked what he is telling me? You believe he's here then? You don't think I'm crazy?'
'Crazy? You? Of course not!' he replied. And then, 'Look, Starr. When I first met you, it was plain to me that you see things I don't. There was something you were looking at then that was scaring the daylights out of you. And I didn't see a thing.'
'I saw the Master. He was showing me something. And, yes, it frightened me.'
'What did he show you?'
This time a nod of permission. 'His true size,' she replied.
Stone tilted his head and looked away again, thinking on what the Master's true size must be, seeing with his imagination what had been withheld from his eyes that day. And then he grinned. 'Oh, that must have been a sight!' he said. And then he added, 'All right. I understand now why you nearly collapsed. But you're not frightened now. And he's holding you in his arms right now.'
'How...? You can see him!' she exclaimed.
'No,' he chuckled. 'But I can see you. And the way you are leaning on him, if you were just pretending to lean on someone who wasn't really there, you'd be falling over sideways out of your chair.'
Stone fell silent for a bit. And when he spoke again, his voice was so wistful that Starr's heart ached for him. 'I wish...' he said, 'but I hate that word wish. I long...' he sighed. '...to be able to see the Master the way you do. And hear him, the way you obviously hear him. Me, I can't say I've really seen him since he pulled me out of the mire of my dungeon and brought me here. And as for hearing him - I would love to hear his voice ringing in my ears. And maybe some handwriting on the wall to go with it, just for confirmation. But I don't usually have something extraordinary like that - like what you're seeing - happen to me. For me, it's little things, here and there, adding up into a pattern. And then I follow the bit of pattern I can see, following it where it leads - and it's only afterwards, usually, that I will look back over it all and see, yes, this was what the Master wanted me to do.'
He paused. 'I would like for it to be clearer. I would like to see him stand before me, even if I scared me till I fell on my face, like you nearly did. But it doesn't happen like that for me.'
She looked into the Master's face. A nod to her.
'Maybe,' she said, 'some day it will.'
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