Wednesday, December 08, 2004

 

the child, twenty-four


'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.

'Starr?'

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.

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