Tuesday, March 22, 2005

 

the child, forty-three


It hurt. Daily, it hurt. To see Stone, walking with Morgenstern, talking, laughing, seemingly carefree. Oh, it hurt.

She took to walking with the others. Sometimes with Joy, sometimes with Jack. Now with Lucy, or Linda. Or even Forest, or James.

And sometimes... sometimes Maccabees sought her out and walked at her side.

Days passed. Weeks.

She learned much, walking with the others. She learned that Linda was as shy as she looked, and was quite puzzled that she had been given this new name when she was brought from the dungeons to the Master's house. Linda meant pretty, something the woman was sure she wasn't.

Starr learned that Joy had a problem with the deep gloom. It seemed to curl into her brain, she said, and she had to keep remembering how Josh had told them, that last day as they stood before that little house, to be filled with joy. How joy was their strength. To meet melancholy with the Master's joy. How often, Joy said, she had to keep reminding herself of that! How long this road was! And how wearying!

It was long... Days had stretched into weeks, and they were still passing through this same valley? How long could this valley be, anyway?

Starr thought about that one for some time, long after Joy had planted the question into her mind. Really, she should have noticed for herself! Starr thought. And then a few nights later at supper, Forest pointed at Maccabees and said, 'You have first watch tonight.'

Maccabees. If any of them would know how long this way through the valley was, surely one of the angels would know. And so, as she had done that night weeks before when it was Stone's watch, so this night Starr waited and sat herself in the cherub's path, to talk with him.

He did not sit by her, when he came to the place where she awaited him, but instead held out a hand to her and had her join him on his slow watchful walk round the camp. 'Yes, Starr?' he said.

Funny. She found it hard, now, to frame the question. 'We've been walking for a long time,' she said at last.

'Not so long,' he replied. 'We've barely gone halfway round the camp.'

'I don't mean tonight,' she said. And then realized - he was smiling! His too-many eyes were all crinkling in amusement. He was teasing her!

'I know,' he said. 'The journey itself. Yes, it has been long. Very long. And shall be long still.'

'But... how far could it be, to reach the enemy's fortress? We've been on the march for weeks.'

'Not far at all,' he replied.

She stopped walking and stared at him. 'I don't understand.'

He took her hand again and walked on. Shortly, they came upon a fallen tree, where he sat and had her sit beside him. And then, to her surprise, he unfurled a great wing and held it over her head.

'Why are you doing that?' she asked. 'It isn't raining.'

'You remember the day I did this. Because it was raining.'

'Yes. Of course.'

'Look around us.'

She did, still puzzled. Woods... What was she supposed to see?

And then, slowly, it dawned on her. Oh! 'This... this log! This is...'

'Yes.'

'...this is where I was crying that day. Crying in the rain, and you came to find me and lead me back to the camp. This...'

'Yes.'

She looked the angel in the eye. 'We've been going in circles.'

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