Sunday, January 02, 2005

 

the child, twenty-seven


She woke screaming. Screaming. The chains! The burning!

Strong arms enfolded her. Arms - yes, and wings as well. Mathilda.

The Child clung to the angel, sobbing, till at last the frantic racing of her heart settled back to normal. 'Little one...' the voice like many waters spoke over her. The cherub used its own veil to dry the tears from Starr's cheeks. 'You dreamed,' said Mathilda. 'But you are safe. You are not there, within the dream, but you are here within the Master's house. You are safe.'

Starr nodded. The last tendrils of the dream, with its horror, were still curling through her brain, still seeking to take hold and draw her back. 'Don't leave,' she whispered to the cherub.

'We are here, little one. Be at peace.'

At length Starr slept again, this time dreamlessly. She woke at the dawn light peeking in at her window, and rose to seek the Master.

He was working with a young man Starr did not know, instructing him with the use of his sword. Seeing Starr, the Master said to his student, 'Continue on with that for a few moments, Forest, while I speak with Starr thy sister.' The young man nodded, breathless, his dark hair plastered in sweaty strings to his forehead and nape.

As young Forest went on with his practicing, the Master came to his Starr and took her in his arms. 'You dreamed,' said he.

'Yes. It was awful.'

'It was necessary, though, for you to see these things.'

She leaned back within his embrace to look up, wide eyed, into his face. 'You know what I dreamed?'

'As I have often told thee, my cherished girl, I know everything about you. Including your nightly dreams.'

She shuddered and huddled deeply within the circle of his arms. 'It was awful,' she said again.

'It was. But it was given thee for a reason. And now, Starr...'

She looked up into his dear face once again. 'Yes, Beloved?'

He smiled gently on her. 'Starr, I want you to write it down.'

Her eyes went wide. 'Must I? I don't even want to remember it!'

'There is a reason for this as well, love. Do not be afraid. Take paper, and sit and write the dream. You will shortly know why I am asking you to do this.'

'Yes, sir,' said she, baffled but obedient.

Going back into the house, she found a sheaf of paper to use and came back outside. Finding a shady tree, she sat down in the soft grass, leaned back against the trunk of the tree, and began to write.

Slowly she wrote, drawing up one at a time the painful bitter memories of the dream she had escaped from. She pictured into words the anguish and the dark, the damp and the fear. The great thick bars. The heavy chains. The miry floors, on which feet would slip and fall again and again. And the burning!

That was the most frightening part. For the burning was not around her, but within her. Fierce, searing, ravenous - like a hunger, but not the ordinary sort of hunger she knew. Like a great emptiness within, aching, dying to be filled!

She was deeply engrossed in finding just the right words to describe the horror, the hopelessness, the helplessness. To describe this overwhelming, unquenchable longing for something - something. What was this yearning for, that burned the very soul...?

And as she bent over her papers, thinking and writing - a shadow fell across the pages. 'There you are, Starr-girl! I've been looking for you everywhere. Did you skip your lesson with the sword master this morning?'

Stone. He sat down at her side and sighed comfortably. 'Glad I found you,' said he. 'Oh, what are you doing, writing?' And when she nodded mutely, he added, 'May I see?'

Wordlessly she placed her papers into his outstretched hand. Then she watched his face as he read. For as he read, his face changed. The unwary bemusement he started out with changed quickly to wide-eyed shock. He shot a sharp glance at the gentle girl at his side. Then back to the reading. His face now became pale, so pale. He ran a shaky hand nervously through his hair as he went on reading, reading.

And then he finished. Handed back the pages. Sat for a bit in stunned silence.

'Stone?' Starr ventured at last. At just the same moment as he asked her, 'You wrote that?'

'Yes.'

'Where...' He swallowed. 'Uh... where did you get that?'

'That's what I dreamed last night. The Master told me to write it down.'

'Last night? Really?'

'Yes,' said she. 'Why?'

'Because last night, Starr-girl, I barely slept a wink.' He paused, then added, 'Do you know what you've written here?'

She shrugged. 'My dream...'

'That's more than just a dream, Starr. That's...' Again he broke off, then said, 'Do you remember asking me what part of the enemy's dungeon I came from? And how I very cleverly gave you a non-answer?'

'Yes...'

He tapped the pages in her hands. 'That is where I came from.'

'Oh!'

He gave an odd smile. 'And you dreamed it last night. At the same time that I was lying awake all night, agonizing on how much of my past to tell you about. And here, the dreams of your head last night told you all my past.' He chuckled. 'That's what I get for worrying on it.' He tapped the papers again. 'This is the Master's hand; you know that.'

Her eyes wide with awe, she nodded. 'Yes... And this is where you were?'

'Yes,' said Stone. And then his eyes became wary. 'What do you think about that?' he asked.

'I'm glad you're not there anymore,' said she. 'I'm glad the Master rescued you and brought you here to his house, where you are safe and whole.'

'But doesn't it bother you,' he pressed, 'the part of the dungeon that I came from? Some of the ugliest, nastiest pits in the whole dungeon?'

Starr looked at him, baffled. 'Should it bother me? All dungeon is dungeon. We all needed rescuing. We all needed the Master to come and set us free and make us whole. And it's all past now. We belong to the Master now. So what difference does the past make?'

Stone smiled and visibly relaxed. 'Oh, Starr, you'd be surprised. Yes, you would. But I'm glad you see things this way. Because that's why I was up all night debating with myself over what to tell you, and when.' He sighed. 'You see, it came to me that if this friendship between us continues, if we draw closer, if perhaps the friendship blossoms into something more - then I'll have to tell you about my past. So I decided I should tell you now, today, before another day could pass.

'And I was very nervous, you know. I had no idea the Master was preparing you to hear what I would say. All I knew was that, in telling you, I would risk losing your friendship.'

And then, very softly, he added, 'The way I lost Walker's.'

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