Thursday, March 31, 2005

 

the child, forty-six


More days. More walking. More arguing. More pain. More circling the mountain.

More getting nowhere.

And then came a day when, as the group was descending a particularly rough and ugly passage, Starr's foot slipped, sending her slithering through rock and grit, skinning her shin from ankle to knee. A bush - prickly one, of course - broke her skid, and she sat for a moment, silent, too shocked even to cry.

Looking around, she saw that the main part of the group was still descending the slope, having not even noticed what had happened to her. The only ones who had noticed were those behind her. Stone, and the angels.

Stone just stood there, looking at her, as she sat there in her pain, clutching at her oozing leg. The angels stood watching Stone, to see what he would do.

He drew a long breath. Frowned.

Glanced at Maccabees. Gave a jerk of his head towards the girl.

And then turned away. And walked on.

And now came the tears. The skinning of her leg had not been quite enough to start Starr crying. But this was. Hot tears stung her eyes, spattering down her cheeks.

He... he walked on?

A hand reached down to her. Knees bent and rested by her. A canteen uncorked, and the cool water within was sent cascading over the long wound. Maccabees.

Starr looked up into his face as he brought out a cloth to clean away the grit and to bandage her leg. The two other angels paused, but Maccabees gave a wave of his hand to let them know he needed no aid. They walked on as well then, following Stone.

And so the pair of them were left behind for a time by the rest.

Starr winced a bit at the washing of her wound, but the real hurt was in her heart. 'He... he didn't stop!' she said, incredulous. 'He just... went!'

'I am sorry,' the cherub replied.

Starr's whole face twisted in anguish. 'I don't understand,' she whispered - a whisper, but yet with the intensity of full-throated yelling. 'What is with him? How can he just... walk away like that? I...' She shook her head. 'Is this why his name is Stone? Because that's what his heart is made of? I thought he loved me! Has he thrown all of that away? Do I mean nothing to him anymore?'

'Starr...'

'Don't defend him!' she hissed back. 'This is ridiculous! He doesn't feel a thing anymore - not one thing! Isn't that so?'

'Starr. That is the hurt talking. And I do not mean the hurt in your leg. But do not, in your anguish, make accusations without proof.' Maccabees' own face was full of pain. 'He saw. He ached. But he thought... that you would prefer my company to his.'

'But...'

'But he doesn't know that? Any more than you know what is going on in his heart. Be at peace, Starr. Trust. This is temporary. That is the word I hear ringing in my ears: temporary. Do not worry.'

She cast down her eyes, watching as he finished wrapping her injury securely. 'Are you sure?' she whispered. And this time, her whisper was only a whisper.

The angel smiled. 'Yes,' he said. 'Now. Let's get you upright.' And he stood, taking her hand, helping her to stand as well.

She tested putting her weight on her leg, and found it didn't bother her as much as she might have thought it would. She did hold on to the cherub's hand, though, as they started out after the rest.

They still had the remainder of the slope to clamber down, and Maccabees diligently made sure Starr did not fall again. It was only after they reached the flat land at the bottom and had walked a few yards on that Maccabees stopped and pointed back to the right of the rough way they had just come. 'Do you see it?' he said.

She looked. There, snaking in from the side of the other mountain, there was a second valley. Smaller, with many stunted trees and brambly bushes studding the way. She frowned.

'Recognize it?' he asked.

Vaguely, she did. 'Isn't that... isn't that the way we came in? It leads back to the start of the valley, and beyond that, to the Mountain of Spices?'

'Yes.'

Well. That explained how they could keep circling and circling, with no one noticing what was going on. A bit more thought and then she asked, 'If that is the way we got in, where is the way we get out?'

Maccabees smiled. 'When it is time to get out, then will you see. All of you will.'

And turning after the rest, he helped Starr to hurry and catch up with the others.

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