Saturday, December 25, 2004

 

the strangers in town


***a story i've had in mind to write for years now...***

*it occurs to me that i should include a sensitivity warning on this story, as it describes a childbirth. i tried to be tactful, but some may still find the part about the birth a bit too... well... icky*


Oy! What a mess, what a mess! Too many relatives, all crammed into the house, spilling out into the yard...

Rivkah was making bread as fast as her well-practiced hands could move. Dvorah was stirring the soup; Miryam was working on the vegetables. Busy, busy, busy!

And all because of that Emperor, miles and miles away in Rome. Hmph! Him and his census, sending everyone in Judea back to their ancestral hometowns to be registered. Bethlehem was bristling with people here for the census, and so was Rivkah's own house. So many relatives!

Just for a few days, she reminded herself. A few more days, and they would finish with the registering, and then all the house guests could go back to their own homes.

'At least,' Rivkah muttered under her breath, 'no one's close to having a baby just now. That would really be too much!' There were a handful of young mothers-to-be that she knew of, but none close to their time, not at the moment. To be called out right now to attend a birth... Oy!

Quickly, quickly, Rivkah finished making the loaves and set them aside to rise. She draped a cloth over them and looked about. What next needed doing? 'Miryam...' she began, turning towards her younger daughter.

When a breathless young face appeared at the doorway. 'Where's the midwife? We need the midwife, up at the inn!'

Oy!

~~~

The boy from the inn led the way back, chattering all the way. A young couple, he said, here for the census. The wife was impressively huge. The inn-keeper had turned them away, since the inn was full and then some for the census. But they were so young, and so pitiable...

'So Moishe sent them out back to the stable,' the boy was explaining. 'Better than nothing, and no need to clear half the inn to make it private enough for... well, you know...'

Rivkah nodded. Yes, you didn't want any men present for this. And most of the inn was little more than one huge room, the floor lined with pallets each night. The stable though...!

'Here we are,' said the boy. He stopped short of the door, not wanting to get too close to where a woman was in labor. That was for other women, not for men, not for boys.

Rivkah bustled forward and called out at the stable door. The door sprang open, and a young and anxiously frazzled man peered out. 'You're the midwife?' he asked. 'Please say yes.'

She muffled her smile. 'Yes,' she said. 'I'm the midwife. I'm called Rivkah. It's your wife in labor, I'm guessing?'

'Yes.' The young man held the door open for her to come in. Spotting the boy beyond, he nodded his thanks to him for fetching the midwife here. The boy nodded back, then hurried away, back to the inn, back to safety.

Closing the door, the young man said, 'I am Yoseph, and Miryam is over here...'

Miryam. The same name as her younger daughter. Rivkah followed along past the stalls of oxen and horses. There, in the backmost corner, there was a young woman, sitting in a freshly swept patch of floor, her head down, deeply involved in her labor.

Oy, so young, so young! Hardly older than her own Miryam! Setting down her bag and the birthing stool she had hurriedly brought with her, Rivkah rushed to the mother-to-be's side.

Young Miryam looked up, dazed, confused - startled even - at the appearance of this strange woman. 'This is the midwife,' Yoseph murmured soothingly to her. 'She is Rivkah.'

'Rivkah...' the young woman repeated. 'Good day to you. I apologize for not rising to greet you...'

Rivkah smiled. 'It's all right, Miryam,' she said. 'Everything is going to be all right. Did not the Blessed One promise us, through Isaiah, that He does not bring the time of birthing without causing us as well to bring forth? Now...' And Rivkah glanced about. 'Yoseph. Is there water?'

'I can fetch some.'

'Please do. Some water, to bathe your wife's face right now. And to heat up, to bathe your baby once it's here.'

Yoseph nodded and went for water. Rivkah opened her bag and brought out a large cloth. With a snap of her wrists, she spread the cloth on the floor and then helped Miryam to move on top of it. Much better. More comfortable. Murmuring, half-praying, half-soothing, the midwife sat with the laboring woman, holding her hand, talking her through the fright of the pangs, watching the signs in Miryam's face and manner, gauging how soon it would be now.

Yoseph came back with the water. He hunkered down near to his wife, touching her face gently. 'Miryam?'

There was something so sweet, so protective, in his way towards his wife! Rivkah had to blink away tears. And Miryam - ah, how she leaned into that touch! Oh, such a sweet love there was between this pair!

'She's all right?' This question he posed to Rivkah.

'Oy, of course she is. We women have been doing this since Eve. No need to fret - though you men have been fretting through the births since Adam, I'll be bound! She'll be fine. Just fine. No worries, my son. Just prayers, yes?'

His eyes locked with hers and he smiled. 'Ah. Once again, the Blessed Father shows His hand, leading to us a praying midwife!' And he relaxed, visibly.

And mostly to himself, he added, 'He has been leading us, every step of this way...'

'Where are you from?' Rivkah asked.

'A long way from here. Nazareth.'

Rivkah blinked. 'In Galilee? That is a long way!'

'Very long. Especially for Miryam. But the Emperor will have his way, won't he?' A rueful smile. And then, very softly, not intended for the midwife's ears, he added, 'How little the August one would guess, how his orders bring about the will of the Blessed...'

But Rivkah did catch his odd words. She frowned, and began to ask him what he was talking about...

...when Miryam seized her hand hard and bowed herself for another pang.

Oy!

~~~

This was moving fast now. The pangs were coming quickly on young Miryam. Rivkah held her hand while she gently bathed the sweat from the soon-to-be-mother's face.

Yoseph had made a fire to start the water heating, and was now pacing, up and down, back and forth, all along the long row of stalls, his prayer shawl round his shoulders, his fingers twisting the tassels as he poured forth his prayers.

The latest pang released its hold, and Miryam sagged against the midwife. Lifting her tired eyes to Rivkah's face, the young mother whispered, 'I can't do this much more.'

Rivkah smoothed a sweaty strand of hair back from Miryam's face. 'You won't have to much more, my daughter. This part is nearly done now. And you're doing very well. And soon...' She pointed at the birth stool she had brought with her. '...you'll be pushing. And then comes the baby.' Rivkah smiled. And Miryam did her weary best to smile back.

Yoseph's pacing brought him back to this far corner. 'How goes it?' he asked.

'It goes very well,' said Rivkah. 'Your wife is nearly ready to start pushing, and your baby nearly ready to be born.'

'Pushing?'

Rivkah smiled patiently. Many a time had she dealt with a new father like this young man. Why would a man know what birth would be like? 'Yes,' said she. 'Her body will tell her to push the baby out. And that's what she will do.'

'Oh.' He stood there, wavering. 'Do I stay? or go?'

'This is your baby. It is up to you, what you want to do.'

'My baby,' he repeated. And gave such an odd smile, and a sound that might have been a laugh. 'Miryam? What do you want me to do?' he asked.

What an odd question! Rivkah thought. How many men did she know, who would ask their wives such a question?

But Miryam did not give an answer. Instead, she bowed herself under another strong pang. 'Yoseph!' she whispered. And then spoke no more.

He sprang to her side, grasped her hand. This one was the most powerful yet! And again the oddness struck Rivkah - how quietly Miryam was taking this, barely crying out through the anguish of even the hardest part of labor.

The pang seemed to last forever. And towards the end, the exhausted young woman began to make little grunting noises. When at last Miryam relaxed, Rivkah asked her, 'Feeling the need to push, my daughter?'

'That's what it felt like, yes,' she answered.

The midwife nodded. 'Time for the stool then.'

Together, she and Yoseph helped Miryam to get up and sit on the stool. The young man ran a hand over the wooden stool, his practiced eye examining the workmanship. 'I've never made one of these before,' said he. 'But I see what the idea is. The cut-out in the seat, to let the baby come through. And the little rests here, halfway up the legs in front?'

'For her to rest her feet on, as she pushes. You are a carpenter, my son?'

A nod. 'Yes.'

'And looking forward to your new apprentice here, I'll be bound,' Rivkah joked.

'New appren...? Oh! The baby.'

'If it's a boy, that is.'

'Oh, he's a boy. Miryam's firstborn son.' And he gazed fondly again on his wife.

'Oh, now. Might be a girl, you know...'

Yoseph shook his head. 'Not this baby. We've been told, both of us, that this one is a boy. And told by... by those who would know for sure. Right, Miryam?'

'Little Yeshua,' she murmured in reply.

Rivkah's eyebrows arched across her forehead. 'Ah! Salvation of the Blessed One. That's a good name you've picked out.'

An exchange of glances between the young couple. 'That's the name his Father chose for him, yes,' said Miryam. And then her eyes widened. 'Oh! This feels different,' she said. And then she brought her feet up onto the little rests, and she puuuuuuuushed.

She had grabbed Yoseph's hand, so he stayed at her side. Rivkah moved around to kneel in front, a cloth held ready in her hands. Not that she expected the baby to arrive in just one push; not with a first-time mother, especially. But this was her place now, and she got her hands into position. She also ducked her head a bit to have a look. Sometimes the cord would come first. You didn't want that, of course. It was something to watch for.

The waters were still intact. She could see them, beginning to bulge out...

What?

Rivkah was so startled by what she was seeing that she literally fell over backwards. Yoseph, his one hand still firmly in his wife's laboring grasp, tried with the other hand to catch the midwife.

Too late. Stunned, she sat down hard on the hard-packed floor and gazed round-eyed at this couple before her. Her hand, quite on its own, came up and pointed at Miryam.

'She's...' Rivkah cried, still not quite able to believe what she was saying, 'she's a virgin!'

'You can tell?' said Yoseph.

'Tell? Of course I can tell! That's a hymen, and perfectly intact, or I'm a, a Roman soldier!' Gathering her wits, as well as her feet under her, Rivkah managed to stand up. 'But how can this be? Pregnant, and a virgin?'

'You know what Isaiah said.' That was Miryam. The first push past now, she was leaning back against Yoseph.

Oy. Yes, yes, Rivkah did know what Isaiah said. About a virgin conceiving and bearing a son. 'Immanuel,' the woman whispered, 'G-d with us...'

'Yes,' said Yoseph. 'Exactly.'

Rivkah shook her head. 'But how? How could... No offense, my son, and none of my business either... But how on earth did you - oy! - did you get that baby in there without breaking your wife's hymen?'

They exchanged looks. Blushed. Joined hands.

'I didn't,' said Yoseph.

Rivkah was taken aback. 'You didn't? This isn't your baby? But you two - you are so loving towards each other. And this is another man's baby she carries?'

'Not another man's, no,' said Miryam. And she bowed herself into the next push.

Rivkah, baffled, got back into her place. The waters still had not broken. The hymen was bulging as well, the delicate skin stretching under a pressure no other hymen had ever known - the pressure of a baby bearing down on it. Not Yoseph's baby? And not another man's baby either? Then whose baby was this? the midwife wondered.

She held the questions till Miryam relaxed again. And then, then she asked.

'Who is his Father?' Yoseph echoed. And again the exchange of glances.

It was Miryam who gave the answer. 'The Holy Ghost came upon me,' she said softly, demurely, 'and the power of the Highest overshadowed me. And so this holy thing which shall be born of me - He shall be called the Son of G-d.'

Oy!

~~~

It was a birth like no other. On the third push, the hymen broke, torn in two from the inside, a thing never before done nor seen. The waters broke. And soon the baby came. Slick as usual - pink as usual - plump and healthy, praises be to the Blessed One! Rivkah received him into a cloth and wrapped him quickly against the sudden chill of the outside air on his wet skin. Once the afterbirth came out as well, she settled into the regular routine. The cutting of the navel cord, the washing of the infant, the salting. She was about to do the swaddling as well, when Miryam appeared at her shoulder.

'Up already?' Rivkah asked, stunned.

The new mother smiled. 'I want to do this,' she said. 'Show me how to wrap him.'

And so the midwife helped Miryam to swaddle her new-born son. Taking him up, Miryam put the baby to her breast and ah! the little one began readily to suckle.

Miryam went back to sit alongside Yoseph. They leaned together, looking in rapture on their little son. Rivkah sighed in satisfaction. Such a sweet smile there was on the face of the new mother! And such a proud and relieved smile on the face of the fa...

Of the father. And now Rivkah frowned, thinking. They all looked so perfectly normal now, the three of them. Had any of this strangeness really taken place?

Turning away, the midwife threw herself into the task of cleaning up everything from the birthing. The remaining hot water she used to wash up from all the liquids of the birth - and frowned again at that unique stain of blood from the breaking of the hymen. Blood was usual for a birth - but not that blood!

She gathered all that was her own and packed up, ready to go on her way back home. Glanced over at the happy little family again. Yoseph was busy at the manger there in the corner. And what, she wondered, was he doing?

Ah! Having filled the manger with the cleanest straw he could find, he turned to Miryam and helped her to get up and settle the now-sleeping babe into this little nest he had made. Sweet looks again passed between the two of them, the man and his wife.

Rivkah pushed a tear away from her cheek. And gathered up her bag and the birthing stool. Time to go.

'What do we owe you?' Yoseph asked.

'Owe?' Her usual fee for midwiving quite flew from her head. 'Just keep on loving your wife and the baby. That's pay enough,' she said.

And she went out. It was night now, and the stars were wheeling overhead. As she walked away from the ordinary little stable with such an extraordinary little family within...

...Rivkah heard a commotion. And here, to her amazement, came a group of shepherds, loudly moving through the streets of the town, darting here and there.

'What are you doing?' That was the innkeeper, stepping out and drawing the door closed behind him. 'You're making noise enough out here to wake the dead! And where have you left your sheep?'

'The sheep are in the fields,' said one of the shepherds, 'like they always are at night this time of year. And fine they'll be without our protection for now. No doubt of that!'

'We saw an angel. An angel! And it told us a Savior had been born.' That was a second shepherd, his eyes sparkling even in this light.

And a third said, 'The angel said to look for a babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger. A manger, of all things! So we've been checking every stable all through town. Where's the next stable?' he asked.

Wordlessly, the innkeeper pointed them to the stable behind the inn. The one Rivkah had just come from. The one where Rivkah knew the shepherds would find exactly what they were looking for.

A Savior! Immanuel! All praises to the Name, to the Blessed One!

Amen and amen!

Thursday, December 23, 2004

 

the child, twenty-six


They talked a long time that evening, the two of them. The crowd had dwindled off to a mere handful by the time Mathilda came in and quietly called for Starr to come away.

Ah, there was no doubt about it - Starr had fallen in love with Stone. And Stone...

The next morning - as well as many mornings afterwards - he showed up at sword practice to share the lesson with her. Many noontimes he would come looking for her to share lunch together. Or evenings, to share supper.

And many nights - many nights! - they walked together, the two of them, in the cool of the evening under the radiant stars. Talking, or not talking. Simply being together. His hand holding hers.

His hand held her heart as well. But he did not yet know it.

One evening, as they walked together under the stars across the thick dewy lawn, Stone said to her suddenly, 'I've been thinking of something.'

'Yes?' said Starr.

He glanced at her, smiled shyly, and glanced quickly away again. 'Something that someone said to me not so very long ago.' Curiously, he did not look at her as they went on walking. But he held her hand the more tightly. 'Not long before I first began to notice you practicing with the sword master, someone came up to me one day and said to me that the Master wanted me to hope for a wife.'

Starr's heart gave a leap within her. Forcing her voice to sound normal, she responded, 'He did?'

'Yes,' said Stone. 'And then I had that dream of the star falling into my hand. And then I met you...' He glanced her way again. 'Well. Actually, every time lately when I meet an unattached woman, I can't help wondering - is she the one? So it isn't just you. But...' And now he stopped, and turned to face her straight on. 'Starr. You hear from the Master much more directly than I do. And I was wondering. Has the Master said anything to you? About me?'

Heart in her throat, Starr replied truthfully, 'Y-yes.'

Stone dropped his gaze, then met her eyes again. 'Because if he's already given you a no about me...' And he sighed. 'Well... I'd like you to tell me. So I'll know not to look in your direction anymore.'

'He...' Starr's ears were roaring from the pounding of her heart. 'He hasn't said no...'

'Oh!' He smiled, and then began to walk on, her small hand still tucked in his. 'Hasn't said no, hmmm?' And then, to her dismay, for she knew she was not to tell Stone all that the Master had said about the two of them, about the Master's plans for them together, Stone asked, 'What has he told you, then? About me?'

She was silent. So silent, that Stone stopped walking again and turned to face her. 'Starr?'

'Is...' she paused to swallow the lump in her throat, 'is it fair for me to tell you that? You need to know such things for yourself, don't you? Without me telling you?'

He studied her face silently for a long moment. 'You're right,' he said at last. 'If you are the one for me, it's not for you to tell me so. It's just... you're good at hearing the Master. And I'm not.'

'Don't be afraid of that,' she answered. 'What you need to know, you will know. Beyond a shadow of a doubt.'

'I sure hope so,' said he. 'Oh,' he added. 'Here's Mathilda.'

Inclining its head respectfully, the cherub greeted them quietly. 'Time to take her away again?' said Stone.

'Only for this little one to sleep and be refreshed,' Mathilda replied.

'I know,' said Stone. 'It's just... well, seems like there's not enough hours in the day, to be together.'

'If,' Starr replied, choosing her words carefully, 'you are the Master's choice for me, and I for you - there will be. Some day.'

Stone smiled on her. 'I'd like that,' said he.

'I'd like that too,' Starr answered. And then Mathilda led her away.

~first~ ~previous~ ~next~

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

 

storyblogging carnival viii


Storyblogging carnival VIII is now available at Dodgeblogium. Some new authors this time (or at least, new to me).

Of the four stories-in-progress from previous sbc's, only Doc Rampage and Andrew Ian Dodge had continuations this time. Both Donald Crankshaw and myself had other offerings instead. (Looking forward to more about Ryan and Emily soon - but likely not very soon, since Donald Crankshaw is about to move and start a new job.)

Will keep you posted on future sbc's.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

 

the prison


I built this prison with my own two hands. Carefully, carefully, I laid each brick in its place, building strong with iron bars embedded through the bricks.

I built to last.

No one shall escape - not from my prison! Ha ha!

I built it - of every slur, every slight. Every degrading word ever spoken against me. Of such things I built it. And of every time I was excluded. Insulted. Impugned.

I built it strong. Strong walls to hide behind. Strong walls, to keep them out.

I built it. So why should I tear down these walls? Let others assail them with their words - they shall not prevail! This is my fortress! My prison.

I am the warden. And the prisoner. This is my place, my refuge. From the hateful them beyond. They hate me, I know. Therefore I hate them. I will hate them first, before they have the chance to hurt me with their words.

Hate is my weapon. And my defense.

I am alone.

I like it.

What could ever assail these walls I have built, to bring them down? Ha! God Himself could not break through!

But...

What is this I hear? This little word?

No... this simple little word... two syllables long... big enough to bring to ruin the work of my lifetime, the work of my walls, my prison I have built.

'Forgive...'

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

 

the clay man


"free will, sovereignty, and ultimate love - as a children’s story"


Update ~ 14 Apr 05 ~ My seven-year-old daughter Rosie made a series of eight pencil drawings to illustrate this story. I hope you enjoy them.

~~~


It was his birthday, and there were stacks and stacks of presents awaiting the king’s son. But none caught his eye like the one from Grandmere. She always gave such interesting and amazing gifts!

“What did you bring me, Grandmere?” he asked. But she only smiled and said that he would see when it was time.

When it was time! Oh, but when would it be time? The birthday feast seems to last forever. The cake and ice cream were nice, of course. But when would it be time to open the presents?

And then at last it was time. To be polite, he opened everyone else’s gifts first, for he knew that as soon as he opened Grandmere’s, he would not want to play with any of the others.

Ah, at last. The final present. The box was not large, but the wrappings were so beautiful. It seemed almost a pity to tear them.

Almost.

The beautiful wrappings fluttered to the floor as the king’s son lifted the lid…Ah!

It was modeling clay. Only that? But, oh - such beautiful soft modeling clay! Such vivid colors: red shining like rubies, yellow bright as gold, blue clear as the summer sky, green like the lushest grass you ever saw…

“Oh, thank you, Grandmere!” the king’s son cried as he sprang up and hugged her round the neck. And then he vanished with his prize to go to his room and play.

~~~

And what would he make with it? He spread out the colors, looking them over. He took up the orange and squished it in his fingers. What a wonderful feel this clay had! So soft and pliable. He could make anything with this.

He rolled some of the orange into a ball the size of his thumb. Then he rolled out a thick cylinder to attach to the ball. Thinner cylinders, four of them, for arms and legs. What wonderful clay, so easy to work with!

And soon he had a man. A little clay man. He was so pleased.

He called him Happy.

The king’s son brought out his blocks and made a house for the clay man. He brought out his toy animals, too, to surround the man. He played with the clay man. For a long time he played, giving him rides on the animals, sending him on adventures.

But what a pity that my little man is not real, he thought, and cannot enjoy the adventures with me.

And he took up the clay man in his hand and looked at him. Very carefully he looked at the little man. And he thought, he looks so much like me. But he is not breathing the way I do.

So the king’s son brought the clay man close to his own face, and carefully he put his mouth to the clay mouth. And he blew. Just a tiny puff of breath.

He looked again at the clay man in his hand. He looked - and the little clay chest began to move up and down, in and out. The clay face yawned; clay arms stretched; clay eyes opened.

The clay man sat up.

~~~

“How wonderful!” said the king’s son. He was very pleased.

“Wonderful,” said the little man.

“Hello,” said the king’s son. “I just made you. I’m your maker.”

“Maker,” said the clay man.

“Your name is Happy,” said the king’s son.

“Happy,” said the clay man.

“Wonderful!” said the king’s son. “What would you like to play?”

“Play?” said the clay man.

“Yes. You could build with blocks. Or ride on the animals. See?”

He set the clay man down. The little man turned first towards the blocks, then towards the animals.

“Here,” said the king’s son. He tore down the house he had made and helped the clay man to build it again. After that he helped the clay man to ride on the animals, and to slide down a slide made of a pile of books. They played together happily for some time.

And yet… The clay man never actually did anything on his own. Whatever the king’s son wanted, the clay man did it. Whatever the king’s son said, the clay man echoed it. And whenever the king’s son asked the clay man what he wanted to do, the clay man just stood there, baffled.

He has no strings, the king’s son thought, but he might as well be a puppet. I am enjoying our games, but is my little clay man?

“I love you, Happy,” said the king’s son.

“Love you,” said the clay man. “Happy,” he said.

But was he happy? thought the king’s son. Could anyone really be happy who did not have the choice to be unhappy? For that matter, could anyone really love who did not have the choice to hate instead?

But what if the clay man could choose to be happy, and chose to be unhappy instead?

That is still better than being a puppet, thought the king’s son. My clay man could not breathe, and I gave him breath. He cannot choose, so I will give him that, too.

And the king’s son took up the clay man in his hand. And, very gently, he kissed the clay man, right on the forehead.

The clay man shivered all over himself. He blinked his eyes a lot. He looked up into the face of the one who had made him.

“I love you, Happy,” said the king’s son again.

"Where am I?" the clay man asked.

"Here, in my hand," said the king's son.

"Can you put me down?" said the clay man.

"Sure," said the king's son. And very gently, so that he would not squish the clay man, he placed the little man on the floor among the blocks and the stacks of books and the toy animals.

"What would you like to do now, Happy?" the king's son asked.

"Is that my name?" said the clay man.

"Yes."

"I don't like it," the clay man replied.

"Oh!" said the king's son. "Well... what name would you like then?"

The clay man frowned. "I don't know. Anything but Happy."

"Oh. Well." The king's son picked up one of the toy animals. "What would you like to play then? Would you like to ride the animals?"

The clay man frowned again. "Not really."

"Or slide down the books?"

The clay man shrugged. "Maybe later."

"Well then, would you like to build with the blocks?"

"No. I don't think so."

The king's son sat back on his heels and glanced about the room, looking for something else to offer to his clay man. "Then what about...?" he started to ask.

But the clay man interrupted him. "No."

"No?" said the king's son. "But I didn't even finish saying what I was going to offer to you."

"Doesn't matter," said the clay man rudely. "I don't want to do anything with you. I just want you to leave me alone."

"You do?" said the king's son. How unhappy his clay man seemed! “But why?” he asked kindly.

The frown on the little orange face twisted into an ugly scowl. “Because I don‘t want to play with you anymore!" he said. "I don’t like you! We've been playing and playing and playing just now. And we always had to play your games! You never let me play my own games! You never let me choose!" His tiny face glared up at the king's son above him. "What do you think I am?" he said. "Your puppet?”

The king’s son was sad. Why, the clay man did not understand! The very reason he had given the clay man choices was so he would no longer be a puppet! “I am giving you your choice now,” the king’s son said gently. “What would you like to play?”

“Nothing with you!” said the clay man. And he frowned another very ugly frown up at his maker. Then he turned to run away. And as he left, he knocked over the toy animals. He also knocked down his house of blocks.

~~~

The clay man ran. He ran to the bookshelf and began to climb up. It was quite high, and the king’s son thought the clay man was really brave to try to climb it. Higher and higher the clay man climbed. He was soon so high that, if he fell, he would be splattered on the hard floor below. So the king’s son came and stood close by to watch over him.

Higher the clay man climbed, and still higher. He wanted to climb up to a place where the king’s son could not reach him. He scrambled up books and onto higher shelves, over and over. Until he finally reached a shelf where there was nothing to climb on to go any higher.

What do I do now? thought the clay man.

And then he saw it. Dangling over the edge of the shelf above him hung a very thick rope. It was as big around as he was and orange like he was, but with stripes. It was also hairy. He wondered what it was, but then decided that it didn’t matter what it was. As long as he could use it to go higher, he thought.

So he grabbed hold of the thick orange rope and began to climb it. The thick hair made it easy to hang on. And again the clay man climbed up higher, hand over hand, up the orange rope.

And then the orange rope began to move!

The clay man grabbed even tighter to the orange rope. The rope twitched and shook. And then the clay man saw what the orange rope was attached to.

It was not an orange rope. It was the tail of an orange cat.

The cat, who was lying on the shelf just above, twitched its tail some more. The clay man buried his hands deep in the tail, trying to hang on and not fall.

The cat’s tail gave the hardest twitch yet - and the clay hands could not hang on. The clay man went flying through the air, falling towards the hard, hard floor below…

Sploosh!

The clay man was very surprised. Instead of landing on that very hard floor, he had landed in a strange place where he was surrounded by colorful fish and colorful plants and colorful pebbles. He was also surrounded by water. Oh, how he wanted to scream and cry for help! But he couldn’t. Because he was drowning...

And then a great hand came and plucked him out. The king's son took him to his own bosom. Then he began very gently to use the tail of his own nice party shirt to pat the clay man dry.

"What happened?" said the clay man.

“You landed in the fish tank," said the king’s son. “And that was a good thing, too. If you had landed on the floor, you would have gone splat.” And then he added, "It was a good thing too, that I could pull you out of the water right away. You could have drowned. Or melted.”

The clay man began to struggle. “Put me down!” he cried.

"I will,” said the king’s son. “When you are dry again."

"No, now," said the clay man. "I don't want to be in your hand."

"You don't want to be safe and dry?" asked the king's son.

"Safe? When you could drop me at any second?"

"But I would never drop you," said the king's son softly. “I just now rescued you.”

“I’m trying to get away from you,” said the clay man. “I don’t want you to rescue me. You’re smothering me. Put me down!”

With a sigh, the king's son set the clay man on the floor again. How sad he felt for the clay man! Having choices was making the clay man sad. But not having choices had made him a puppet.

~~~

The clay man scampered off across the floor. He ran behind a chair to hide. The king’s son stood and watched over him. He wanted to see where the clay man was going, so that the little man would not get hurt.

Oh, how nice it would be if the clay man would stop being angry! the king's son thought. Then they could be friends again.

The clay man scurried even further under the chair. And then he ran along under the table as well, following the wall. When he got to the corner, he found to his surprise that there was a little hole in the wall.

I can hide in here, he thought. My maker will not find me here. So the clay man started to crawl into it.

“Oh, no! Don’t go in there,” said a voice. And the king’s son’s hand came and plucked him up again.

“Stop it!” cried the clay man, little clay tears springing up in his eyes. “I’m trying to get away from you!” And he was so angry he didn’t notice the squeaking as a long pointy nose peeked out at him from the hole he’d nearly crawled inside. There was a scrabble of claws and the swish of a long naked tail as the rat in the hole ran away from the sight of the king’s son.

"You could have gotten hurt in there," said the king's son. "Or even killed. Don't you know what lives in a hole like that?"

"I don't care! I don't care! I just want to get away from you!"

"Even if you get killed?"

“I don’t care!” cried the clay man. “At least I wouldn’t be in your hand!”

“Really?" asked the king’s son sadly. "You would really rather die than be with me?”

“Yes!” screeched the clay man. “Now put me down!” And as the king’s son set the clay man carefully on the floor again, the clay man cried, "Watch it! You nearly dropped me. You want to destroy me!"

Sadly the king's son shook his head. How could the clay man think such awful things about him?

"I love you, Happy," the king's son whispered.

"Don't call me that!"

Oh, how angry the little clay man was!

~~~

The clay man ran from the king's son again. This time, he ran along the wall till he found a door. He began to beat his clay hands against it, flattening them a bit.

"Oh, don't hurt yourself!" said the king's son, hurrying to the clay man.

"Open this door!" the little man demanded.

"That goes outside to the garden," said the king's son.

"Good. I'll be away from you."

"There are dangerous things in the garden. There are animals that could hurt a little man like you. I don't want you to get hurt."

"I don't care what you want," said the clay man. "Don't you understand? I hate you."

"You do? But why?"

"Because... because you're big. And you're scary. And you could hurt me."

"But I won't," the king's son said gently.

"And you can make me do things I don't want to do."

"But I'm not," the king's son said gently.

"Let me out," said the clay man.

The king's son sighed. "If this is what you really want..."

"I want out!" cried the clay man.

With tears in his eyes, the king's son opened the door and gave the clay man his choice to leave.

~~~

Eagerly the clay man rushed from the room and plunged into the garden. How green everything was! How happy he was, to be away, to be free!

He ran and jumped and danced with glee. Freedom!

Soon he was tired. He lay down in the grass to rest. He looked up through the trees and bushes above him at the blue sky beyond. How tall all those plants were! Far taller than he was. Why, even most of the grass was taller than he was!

He smiled. That made him feel safe. His maker could not see him here, under the plants, under the grass, down here in the shady places.

Safe. The clay man smiled. He closed his eyes.

He didn't hear the soft rustling coming towards him. He didn't see the bright green body, green as the grass, sliding along the ground, coming his way. He didn't notice a thing...

...till there came a hiss. The clay eyes jumped open...

...to see a face bending over him, nearer and nearer. A face with slitted eyes and wide-opened jaws and long, sharp, pointy teeth!

The clay man shrieked!

The snake struck at him!

But just at the same moment - just at the same moment that the snake struck - there came a hand between the snake and the clay man. The hand snatched up the clay man. Wide-eyed, the clay man saw the snake hanging off the king's son's hand for a second. And then the king's son shook the snake off into the grass. Quickly he turned and carried the clay man back into the house.

Into his room he brought the clay man. He crossed to the shelves the clay man had once climbed. Then, gently and carefully, the king's son set the little clay man up on the shelf. "Don't fall down from up there, all right?" said the king's son.

And then the clay man watched as the king's son went to the other door, the door leading into the rest of the house. His face pale, the king's son pulled open the door.

"Father!" the king's son called out.

And then he fell down.

The king’s son fell down on the floor in the doorway. And he didn't get back up.

~~~

People. So many people came running! Some of them picked up the king's son and laid him gently in his bed. Some brought wet cloths to bathe the king's son's face. A very important-looking man came and did something to the king’s son’s hand. He said things that the clay man did not understand, about “poison” and “venom.”

And also an older man and an even older woman came rushing in. They held the king's son's hands and kissed his pale pale face. And they wept. How they wept!

Finally everyone left, leaving the king’s son lying there alone in his bed. He did not move. He did not speak. He did not eat. No one noticed the little clay man, sitting high up on the shelf.

Three days went by. Three long days. And the king's son laid in the bed the whole time, not moving, not speaking, not eating. The clay man sat on the shelf the whole time, right where he had been placed, watching, wondering.

Waiting.

Thinking.

On the morning of the fourth day, as the beams of sunlight stole in through the windows, the clay man saw something happening. The king's son shifted - just a little. He sighed. He opened his eyes.

The clay man jumped right to his feet. He hurried to the edge of the shelf and began to climb down. Quickly, quickly, the clay man ran across the floor. He ran to the bed and grabbed hold of the edge of the sheet. Up, up, he climbed. And then quickly, quickly, across the bed to stand, puffing, by the king's son's hand.

The king's son saw him. "Happy!" he cried. But his voice was little more than a whisper.

"What happened?" the clay man asked.

"Happened...?" The king's son lay back down among the pillows, as if he was still very very tired. "The snake was about to bite you,” he said. “I couldn't let it bite you."

Gently, the clay man touched the awful, ugly holes on the king's son's hand. "But the snake bit you instead."

"I know."

“But,” said the clay man. “But the snake hurt you.”

“I know,” said the king’s son. “But that way it didn't get to hurt you.”

“You let the snake hurt you, to protect me?” said the clay man.

“It was worth it,” said the king’s son. Gently, fondly, he lifted his hand to touch the little orange clay face. “As long as you’re safe,” he said.

The clay man looked up into the face of his maker. “You let it bite you? For me?”

“Of course,” said the king’s son.

“But I hated you. I ran away from you.”

“I know.”

“I said I’d rather be dead than be with you.”

“Yes. I know.”

“And you still came and rescued me? And let the snake bite you, so it wouldn’t bite me?”

“Yes,” said the king’s son.

“Even though it made you so awful awful sick?”

The king’s son smiled. “Yes.”

“But why?” said the clay man.

Once again the king’s son reached out his hand - his hand with those horrid ugly holes in the back - and touched the clay man’s face.

“Because," he said, "I love you.”

The clay man blinked a lot. Clay tears began to slip down his orange clay cheeks. “You love me?” he whispered.

“Yes. I’ve always loved you. That‘s why I made you. So I could love you.”

Slowly, the clay man nodded. His clay hand touched again the holes on his maker’s hand. And then he came near and snuggled his head against his maker's side. Wanting to be even closer than that, he climbed up and put his little clay arms around his maker’s neck, as far as his arms could reach. “I’m sorry,” the clay man said. “I didn’t believe you. I believe you now. I'm so sorry.”

The king’s son smiled. “I love you, Happy,” he said.

“And I…” The clay man shivered all over himself and smiled back. “I love you, too. My maker.”

The king’s son laughed with joy. Now the clay man really could love. And he really could be happy now.

“What would you like to do now, Happy?” the king's son asked.

“I’d like to…” The clay man thought for a bit. Then he smiled. “I’d like to do whatever you want to. What shall we do now, Maker?”

“Let’s build your house again,” said the king’s son.

"That will be fun," said the clay man.

So the king's son set the clay man down gently on the floor. And while the king's son watched, the clay man gathered the scattered blocks together again. He gathered the scattered toy animals as well. And then, with the king’s son telling him which block to place where, the clay man happily built his house again.

And after the house was done, they played with the animals as well. And after they had played with the animals, the king's son took up the clay man and set him up on the pillow by his own head.

"I love you, Happy," he said.

"I love you too, my Maker," said the clay man.

And the clay man was happy. Truly happy.

And so was the king’s son.

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?

'Elisabeth!'

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.

'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.

~~~~~~~


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...'

'You don't?'

'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.'

~first~ ~previous~ ~next~

Friday, December 10, 2004

 

the child, twenty-five


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...'

'You don't?'

'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.'

~first~ ~previous~ ~next~

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.

~first~ ~previous~ ~next~

Monday, December 06, 2004

 

storyblogging carnival vii


The seventh biweekly edition of the Storyblogging Carnival is now open. You can find the previous carnival here, and the next carnival is to be hosted in two weeks by Andrew Ian Dodge at Dodgeblogium.

We have 6 entries for SBC VII, listed as usual in order from shortest to longest.

~~~~~

First, Andrew Nichols of Philosophical Poetry has submitted A Brother's Lament.

The blurb Andrew sent with the story reads: I'm at a loss for how to describe this in an interesting way without giving away the ending. And when I read the story, I had to agree. It took us a while, but we finally came up with the following spoiler-free blurb: When death hits close to a sensitive soul.

This is a 347-word brief story, rated PG.

~~~~~

Our second offering is from Dave Gudeman at Doc Rampage. A Meating of Mines, scene 4 is the continuation of his screenplay that has been featured in the previous three Storyblogging Carnivals.

In this scene, Rolf and Zantar become cowboys.

(And are their usual charming selves.)

The first scene of Meating of the Mines can be found here (third post from the bottom). The word count for scene 4 is 1230, and the rating... well, if you count the violence as being on the level of a Wiley Coyote cartoon, PG. Some might consider the violence to be worthy of an R though.

(How's that for hemming and hawing?)

~~~~~

Next we have The Experiment, from Andrew Ian Dodge of Dodgeblogium, in which the Sage is called on to help investigate the recent fishy goings on up in Aberdeen.

After reading this story, I did a bit of surfing on Andrew's website, looking at his other writings. His style rather reminds me of the old tv series 'The Avengers' - which was always one of my favorites.

This section is 1390 words. Author's rating - probably PG.

The previous entry about these 'fishy goings on up in Aberdeen' was in Storyblogging VI, and can be found here.

~~~~~

Our fourth entry this time is Hangnail by Jeremiah Lewis of Fringe. This is a simply amazing story - it left me speechless. As soon as I had read it, I wanted to start over and read it all the way through again. Well written!

Jeremiah says of it: Analyzing a patient isn't so easy when you've got a hangnail on your mind.

This is a 2115-word complete story, rated R for language.

~~~~~

For our fifth submission, Donald S. Crankshaw of Back of the Envelope has Chapter 5 of Eyes in the Shadow ready. This chapter is titled Out of Boston, in which Ryan and Emily finally make it out of Boston, hoping that they can outrun the thing pursuing them. It is not so easily escaped, however.

I am thoroughly enjoying following the adventures of Ryan and Emily, and look forward every two weeks to getting the next installment. This particular chapter has a scene that truly appealed to this worker-of-useless-math-problems-in-the-head.

The next 3,326 words of this 17,626-word story in progress. Suggested Rated: PG-13. The first chapter of the story can be found here.

~~~~~

And finally, the next 7 (short) chapters of my own story-in-progess, 'the child.' Since the previous Storyblogging Carnival, I have added chapters 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, and 23.

I've also added a few new characters, and a plot twist. Starr, aka the Child, continues to get glimpses of her unknown past - and glimpses as well of her turbulent future.

These chapters add 5975 words to a 17589-word story in progress. Rating, PG. The first chapter is available here.

~~~~~

I hope you enjoy the offerings here in SBC VII. Be sure to check with Andrew Ian Dodge in two weeks for the next edition of this carnival.

In the meantime - keep writing, fellow storybloggers. And if you'd like to be added to the Storyblogging Carnival e-mail list, please let me know. My email address is in the sidebar.

(Hosting wasn't too hard, after all. Who else would like to volunteer?)

Saturday, December 04, 2004

 

the child, twenty-three


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.

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Thursday, December 02, 2004

 

the child, twenty-two


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?

'Elisabeth!'

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.'

~first~ ~previous~ ~next~

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

 

the child, part 1, chapter 7 - ‘stone’


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 chance 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 right 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,' added Stone.

'Very well. Then begin.'

They both took their stances as the Master had taught them. Both drew their swords - then each spared 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.

~~~~~~~


'What do you think?'

Yes, that same question. And once again asked of her as she was watching Stone out of sight. She turned to the Master, feeling a bit guilty to see that he had been watching her watching Stone.

She could not look him in the eye. Till his hand reached out to her and gently lifted her chin.

'Starr,' he said. 'Do not be afraid. Be at peace.' And she felt the sweetness of his breath flow over her.

'You aren't angry with me?' she whispered.

A smile. 'Tell me, Starr,' he said. 'How did you meet him?'

'How?' The question stunned her. 'But... you were right here. You know how I met him.'

'Yes, I know. But I ask you questions because I want to hear your answers. And,' he added, his eyes so deep, so deep. 'Because I want you to hear your answers.'

'Oh,' she said, not completely understanding. 'Well, you - you were becoming larger than everything.' Which was still overawing, even just to speak of it. 'And I started to fall over. And he... he caught me.'

'Yes. He was right there, at just the right moment.'

'Yes. He was, wasn't he?'

'Because I orchestrated it so. I directed his steps this way. He does not realize I did so. Anymore than you had realized it.'

'He didn't see you, either,' she recalled.

'No. That truth about me he was not given to see.'

'And he thinks you're just the sword master?'

The Master smiled. 'What Stone needs to see, when he needs to see it, I myself will show him. It is enough for you right now, my Starr, to know that I have brought Stone into your life. At this time. For a reason.'

'A-a reason?' Her heart came nigh to stopping, and her face - oh, this was quite the opposite of a blush!

'Yes, Starr. And again I ask it: what do you think? Of him.'

Her voice failed her for a moment. She swallowed. Yes, and swallowed hard. 'What,' she managed to say, 'what do you want me to think of him?'

He chuckled. 'Starr, my love, you please me. That was exactly the right answer! And my answer to you is this.' And again he tilted her face up to his, meeting her eye-to-eye.

'I want you to fall in love with him.'

~~~~~~~


She gasped. 'Fall in love?' she squeaked.

'Out of all the sons of my house, I have made choice to give you to Stone, and Stone to you. He shall be your husband.'

The earth under her feet seemed to give an unsteady lurch. For a long moment she said nothing - because she couldn't. And when at last she found her voice again, she whispered, 'Are you sure?'

'Starr,' he responded kindly. 'Is it possible for me not to be sure?'

No. No, he was right. 'Then,' said she, 'make me sure.'

'I have chosen Stone to be your husband,' he said simply and clearly. 'Mind you, you are not to tell him that,' he added.

'I'm not?'

'Oh no. When he knows it for himself, then it is for him to tell you. You understand,' he said, taking her hand and leading her along as they walked through the lush grass under the nodding trees, 'that this is part of marriage being a symbol of my people and me. As the Master, I lovingly lead, and my people are to lovingly follow. Even so, Stone shall be husband; he shall lead, and you as his wife shall follow his lead.'

He stopped and she stopped at his side, looking up into his face. 'You are to trust him, Starr. As you trust me. It will be different, for Stone is but a mere man, and he will make mistakes. But your gift to him, and to me, is for you to trust him. Trust him by trusting me. Trust me through trusting him.'

'But if he makes mistakes...' she said slowly.

'When,' the Master gently corrected. 'But do not worry about them. So long as you are trusting him in obedience to me - I will see to his mistakes.' He smiled. 'I am very good at that, Starr.'

'What do you want me to do?'

'Love him. As I have told you. And do not worry, but be at peace. Utter peace.' He looked on her for a long time, and then, to her amazement, slow tears began to slide down his cheeks.

She put her hand up to touch his tears. 'Master?' she whispered. 'Beloved? Why do you weep?'

'Little Starr, my sweet, my love...' And he sighed. How he sighed! 'Little one, this shall not be easy for you. You will feel at times as if your heart is being torn in two. And there will be times when you will desire that I should release you from this. And you shall even be angry with me, for speaking of Stone to you, for telling you to fall in love with him.'

'No...' she whispered.

'Starr.' His hand lingered on her cheek, her stricken face. 'Do not be afraid, mine own. The valley shall be dark, but endure through it. Keep your hand in mine, and follow my steps before you, even when you see those only one at a time.'

'Why...?'

'You cannot understand all my reasons for why I do these things that I do. Only know this: I love you, and I love Stone. And it delights me to put the two of you together. What you shall be together is far more than either of you can be apart. But, Starr...'

'Yes, sir?'

'My enemy knows this. He knows the potential Stone and you have together, in me. He will fight this. And he is subtle. At times, he will seek to turn you against Stone and Stone against you. Be aware and watchful against such tricks.

'And always remember: Stone shall be your leader as your husband. Let him lead you in all things. Begin now. Do not put yourself forward, or pursue him. But let him lead; let him pursue. He will pursue you, in time. And in time, your love - you allowing me free flow through you towards Stone - will be a healing for him.'

He looked beyond her for a moment, his deep clear eyes clouding with the remembrance of the dungeon from which he had rescued Stone. 'Know this, my darling, that love is hard for Stone to receive. Nor is love easy for him to give.' His eyes returned to her face, and he sighed. 'As you will see.'

'He seems friendly...' she said slowly.

'He is friendly. That is no mask. But as he draws closer to you, then shall he begin to see the potential he has to be hurt by his relationship with you. And he will fear. For he has been hurt much in his life. His heart has been wounded many times, has been splintered into a myriad of sharp shards, like glass. He will fear to draw close to you, for fear of being hurt again.'

'I would never hurt him!' cried Starr, surprising herself with the strength of her cry.

'Not intentionally.'

'I - I will hurt him?' And Starr could feel her own heart nigh to shattering.

'Not so much you, as the enemy seeking to use you as a weapon to wound Stone. To cause him to fear you, and through you, me. For it is my intention to use you to heal Stone. To heal the deep wounds of his heart. Wounds that Stone yet carries within himself, unhealed - for fear of the pain.'

'What pain?'

'The pain of healing, my love. You see, often in the process of healing, there will come pain. And once the healing becomes painful, many draw back from being healed. It seems to them easier to hold on to the wounds instead of being healed, instead of hurting once more.

'But they do not understand. If they would only permit me to finish the healing, then would the pain at last be over and done. But out of fear, they cling yet to their wounds - until at last they become desperate. And then, then will they finally pursue the healing, desiring to be whole no matter what it costs.' He paused and added, 'And the same shall be true of you, dear one. As you shall find.'

'Me? But there are no wounds in me, are there, that I am holding back from you?'

He smiled gently on her. 'In my timing, you shall see what it is that I am speaking of. For now, my Starr - simply be steadfast, live in my peace, ever forgive - and trust. Trust me; trust Stone. He is a rich gift given to you from my hand, as you are to him. It will not always be easy to see that the two of you are my gifts to each other. But keep your mind stayed on me, and so shall this road not be as long nor as rough as it might be.

'And for right now, Starr - for right now...' He smiled on her. 'Go back to your room and rest. Catch up the sleep that you missed overnight. Yes?'

She smiled bashfully. 'You always know everything,' she said.

'Everything,' he agreed. A sweet kiss on her forehead he gave her, and sent her off to the house to sleep.

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