Tuesday, February 01, 2005

 

the child, thirty-two


He led them out of the house, out into the great wide expanse of lawn, across that lawn to the foot of the Mountain of Spices. And on up the path. The verdance of the trees tossed gently in the fragrant breeze as they followed. Up, up the path they went in a little line behind him. Wondering. Whispering.

Stone had caught Starr's hand and held it fast. Once he turned and beamed at her as they walked, following. And once he leaned down, put his mouth close to her ear, and breathed into her hearing, 'I'm glad we were chosen together, Starr-girl.'

'I'm glad too,' she whispered back. And her eyes misted over again.

In addition to the four people she had already noticed, there were two more women and three more men. One of the women was very young, about Forest's age, and the other was very pale and shy-looking. And the three men...

One of them turned to glance in Starr's direction. And she caught in an instant a flash of too many eyes, too many faces. And the flicker of a wing.

'Thou preparest a table before me...' the Master was saying now. They had reached the top of the path here and found that, under the nodding branches of a leafy bower, there in fact stood a table. A very ordinary table, long enough to accomodate them all. It was set simply enough: there was only a single pitcher, a single cup, and beside them a platter covered over with a plain white linen cloth.

'...in the presence of mine enemies...' Starr heard someone finish the quote. And, yes, there - peeking at them from behind one of the trees - there was Jessie. Her face was suffused with anger, but what could she do? What dared she do, to those led here by the Master himself?

The Master went around the table to stand before the pitcher and platter, spreading his hands left and right to call the others to table with him. They ranged round the table, glancing nervously one at another.

Stone kept Starr right at his side.

'Children of the Master,' said the Master to them all, 'children of his house. You have been chosen now to go forth to the enemy's dungeons, to fetch forth those who are yet imprisoned as you were. Will you go?'

They glanced among themselves, whispering. They were being given the choice if they would go or stay behind? But...

But the honor of being chosen to go! And the shame of choosing instead to stay behind...!

And so not one of them budged from the table. And the Master nodded.

'You will journey forth from here,' he said. 'All you will need, will be provided you. And the way you will know. As you journey, you will discover which among you is best suited to each of you, to work together with, side by side. So that at the end of the journey, when the time comes to enter the dungeons to rescue the captives there, you will do so in pairs, two by two.'

Forest started at that saying and leaned forward, his eyes glowing.

Josh smiled. 'Ask the question,' said he.

'Which one of us gets to be your partner?' said the boy.

'But if the sword master goes with you,' Josh replied quietly, 'who will be training those of this house in the meantime, in the use of the sword?'

'But...' said Forest.

'Yes?' Josh prompted.

'Well, look,' said Forest, pointing round the table. 'There are eleven of us. How can we go two by two, when there's an odd number of us?'

Josh smiled deeply on the boy. 'One of your number has been sent on ahead of you to spy things out. When you arrive, that one will meet with you. And that one will become partner with the one of you who as yet will have no partner.' And then to Forest, Josh added more privately, 'You ask good questions, my son. Never be afraid to ask.'

Forest blushed a bit at the praise, and glanced at the others.

Stone squeezed Starr's hand and whispered into her ear, 'I've already got my partner.' And his eyes twinkled merrily at her as she too blushed.

'Before you go,' Josh said, commanding all their attention now, 'you shall share in something together. A symbol, deep and rich, of unity one with another, as well as with the Master.' And with a sweep of his hand, he caught the white cloth up off the platter.

Under it was bread - very plain bread, very flat. Brown from the fire of baking, and with lines of holes across it so that it was both striped and pierced. Josh - the Master - took up the bread gently in his two hands and spoke a blessing over it. Then to them all he said, 'One loaf, from many grains of wheat brought together. As you are brought together, and made one together in the Master who rescued you. Many grains, crushed together. For until the wheat is crushed, it is too hard to be used for bread. Do you understand this?'

They glanced at each other. Crushing? Was he talking about something other than just the grains of wheat?

'You will understand by and by,' Josh added. 'But see the bread: striped, as the Master was striped with whips. Pierced, as the Master was pierced, hand and foot and side. Baked in the fire, as all who are the Master's pass through the fires of affliction. Broken...' and he suited action to word, breaking the hard flat loaf in two. '...as he who gave his life was broken. As you also have been and will be broken - that wholeness may come. Take. Eat.'

And he passed the bread, one half to the left, the other to the right. Each one of them, as the loaf came to him, to her - broke off a piece and ate.

Or did they? For Starr was watching carefully the three men she had noticed earlier. And while they broke the bread as the rest, she could not really say whether the bread ever reached their mouths.

But now the Master - Josh - was taking up the single cup and the pitcher. He gave thanks for it, then poured forth from the pitcher the deep red richness of the fruit of the vine.

'Grapes too are crushed and mingled to become one,' said he. 'A fitting symbol of the oneness of the children of the Master. His love was such that he poured himself forth - his very lifeblood - for you, whom he loves. You also must love so. Willing to pour forth your own very lives - first for him, and also for each other. Take. Drink.'

He passed the cup to his right, to where Forest was standing. Embarrassed to be the first, the boy's hand shook as he raised the cup to his lips and drank. He passed the cup on to the girl, who also drank.

And so on around. Lucy. The two men her friends. Starr. Stone. The remaining woman. The three...

And again Starr observed them carefully. And could not say if any of the three of them ever truly tasted of the cup.

Who were they - angels? And did angels ever eat and drink?

Josh received back the cup and set it on the table again. And as he did, Starr's eyes caught a glimpse of scars in his hands. Very old scars, piercing right through his wrists. She saw them. But did anyone else?

He looked up into her eyes where she stood right in front of him across the table. And he smiled.

~first~ ~previous~ ~next~

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