Friday, January 14, 2005

 

the child, thirty


'Ready?'

Josh the sword master, the Master himself, stood between the pair of them, one hand on Starr's shoulder, the other on Stone's. Another training session was about to begin.

As they stood facing each other, hands at the ready on the hilts of their swords, Starr was struck by a curious thing - and this was not the first time she had noticed it. It was strange, but... even though she knew the Master stood a head taller than herself, and that Stone also was a head taller than herself - somehow, somehow, the Master was also a head taller than Stone...

But push all other thoughts aside now, she told herself. Time to attend to the lesson, to the practice.

'I'm ready,' said Stone.

'Yes,' Starr replied. 'I am as well.'

'Then begin, children,' said Josh. He tapped both on the shoulders and stepped back as they drew swords and entered into the dance.

There was no other word for it but dance, the way they moved together. They had come to move very well together by now from all the sparring sessions they had shared. Stone and Starr had been learning each other strengths and weaknesses and habits. And learning to work together, strengthening one another. The more they worked together like this, the more they were coming to see how very much alike they were. How well suited they were to each other.

There was a beauty in this that came close to breaking Starr's heart. Oh, if only...! If only Stone knew all that was in her heart towards him!

She watched his eyes as he searched for an opening, a bit of a smile on his face. 'You know, Starr-girl,' he said, 'I really enjoy this.'

'Practicing with swords?'

'Practicing with you.' The blades clashed, and they switched positions. 'I could do this the rest of my life,' he added.

Her heart skipped a beat, wondering what exactly he meant by that. Again, she had to push away all other thoughts, concentrate on the practice. After all, these were live swords!

Parry and thrust. Feint and lunge. Disengage. Riposte...

'So,' Stone said suddenly. 'Has the Master been saying anything to you? About me?'

Starr's sword hand faltered a bit, and Stone immediately responded, 'Press in! Don't give me any advantage!'

She obeyed, though her mouth had gone totally dry. 'I...' she said. And then her mind went blank.

'Because the funny part is,' said Stone, 'from the way you've been acting, and the things you've said - sometimes I get the impression that he's said yes to you about me - and sometimes I get the impression he's said no.'

'What?' she cried. And again her defenses faltered, and again he encouraged her to press in, press in.

When she had recovered herself a bit, she asked, 'I've been giving you the impression of both yes and no? How did I do that?'

But he only smiled. And continued the practice.

Lunge. Riposte. Feint...

'He has told you,' he said. Again, suddenly.

'Well...'

'And I asked you to tell me if he had said no...'

Her heart skipped a beat again. Oh! Oh, no! She had given it away, when she told him a few days back that the answer was not no!

So how had she given the impression of the opposite, though?

'Starr...' he said. 'I want to tell you something. I...' He paused, grinned. 'Well, I guess I already did tell you, when I said I could do this the rest of my life. Starr, I... Well... I choose to love you. And I've fallen in love with you. And the choosing comes after the falling...'

'Stone!' she cried. And she dropped all her defenses.

'No! Keep your sword up, girl!' Stone said.

She obeyed, her heart thudding so loudly in her own ears, she was sure he could hear it as well.

'Never let your guard down, Starr, no matter what. All right?' said Stone.

She nodded. 'I'm sorry.'

'You know I won't hurt you, Starr-girl. At least, not on purpose. But the idea of sword practice is to be ready for the enemy's attacks. And he won't ignore a break in your defense. Right?'

Yes. He was right. He surely was.

'And...' he added, 'now that... now that I love you, I have all the more reason to want you safe and protected. So never drop your guard, Starr. Never.'

'Yes, Stone. Stone... I love you too.'

He smiled a smile that came up right from his toes and spread all the way up to the roots of his hair. 'I'm glad to know that, Starr-girl. My girl.'

'Time.'

They both turned to look at Josh the sword master. He nodded at them. 'Well practiced, children,' he said. 'You are dismissed now.' And he turned to work with some other students who had gathered.

'Starr...' Stone sheathed his sword and stepped closer, his hand reaching out to touch her cheek. He smiled down on her as his thumb traced the curve of her jawline, ending up under her chin. Was he about to tilt up her face, to kiss her? she wondered. And, yes, she hoped...

'It would be sweet to kiss you, Starr honey,' he said. 'But you know what? I think even better would be to hold off on that, and to kiss you for the very first time when we get pronounced man and wife.' And he grinned, his eyes sparkling.

She sparkled back.

'Catch you later, Starr-girl,' he said. He caught her hand briefly, squeezed her fingers tenderly. And then he was off, loping towards the house.

Wow...! A sigh shuddered through her, starting at her heart.

'He is right,' said a voice behind her. Josh. The Master. He took her into his arms. 'Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life,' said he.

'Keep?' she asked.

'In the sense of guard. You must carefully guard your heart, dear Starr. Now,' he added, 'I am not saying to close your heart against Stone, for towards him your heart must ever be fully widely open. Even as your heart must be ever fully open to me, my love. But in keeping your heart open to Stone and to myself - you must guard against the enemy using that openness to hurt you. And to hurt Stone. And ultimately, to hurt me.'

Softly, tenderly, the Master kissed her on the forehead. 'That is why the enemy hates you so, you know. Because he hates me, and wants to hurt the ones I love in order to hurt me. You understand?'

Yes, she nodded. That, at least, she understood.

'Little girl,' the Master smiled over her. 'I treasure you. And now...'

'Now?'

'Now...' he sighed, 'the enemy will seek to use both you and Stone to hurt each other, in order to hurt me. So keep on guard against that. Heart open, sword in hand. Yes?'

'Yes, sir,' she replied.

'Good, my girl.' He too gently caressed her cheek - but he kissed her.

It was only as the Master released her from his embrace and walked back to where the other students were busy practicing with their swords that Starr realized something.

Her sword was in fact still in her hand. She had completely forgotten to sheathe it.

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