Saturday, March 19, 2005

 

the child, forty-two


Maccabees had said she should ask Stone for herself what had happened. It was not that easy to do, though. When they continued on the march the next morning (for the rain continued through the night), Stone walked with the three companions - the three angels - at the rear, and did not acknowledge Starr's presence or include her in the conversation.

She was apart. Not part of the group ahead, nor part of the group behind - just apart. Tears sprang up, and she tried diligently to swallow them.

And no one seemed to notice. James and Forest were, as usual, bickering over which way was best through the valley - as if there was much choice. Lucy and Linda were sharing sharp words. Jack and Joy were walking along, he by the arguing men and she by the arguing women, both of them looking quite miserable at the endless, endless squabbling.

And Starr was alone.

That day, and the next, and the next. And then the next night they made camp. And over supper, Forest pointed across the fire to Stone and said, 'You have first watch tonight.'

Oh! That hit Starr hard. The knowing that, where once he would have come to call her away to watch with him, now he would not call her at all. Would perhaps even be angry with her should she ask to watch with him...

And as she thought these miserable thoughts, she saw from the corner of her eye - Maccabees. He looked at her till she returned the look, then he glanced towards Stone, then back to Starr, his expression plainly saying, 'Ask him.'

And so she did. After the clean-up from supper, after all the others had gone on to bed, after Stone had started his slow walk round the perimeter of the camp... she slipped out from the women's tent and went to sit in a spot where Stone was sure to pass by.

And here he came. Walking slowly, looking all about. And then slower still, when he spotted her. Still more slowly, when he recognized her. In fact, stopping dead in his tracks.

'Starr. You shouldn't be here,' he said.

'What happened?' she asked.

'What do you mean, what happened?' he said, drawing no closer.

'I mean...' and she dropped her eyes. '...us...'

'Oh.' And now he came closer. With a sigh, he sat down beside her. Not closely beside her, but close enough that her throat tightened as tears tried to creep up on her. 'Starr, I don't know what happened.'

If he didn't know, surely she didn't know! she wanted to cry out. But she kept silent, as Maccabees had told her to.

'I...' he said. 'Aw, Starr. I fell in love with you quickly, thinking you were the answer to that dream I had. You remember, the star falling into my hand?'

Mutely, she nodded.

'I wanted to be in love. I wanted a wife. I wanted that to be the meaning of the dream. But...'

She started to repeat the word 'but,' to prompt him on in the conversation. Well, the monologue. But there was no need, for he went on talking anyway.

'But then, I learned something.' He looked down, his mouth twitching a bit. 'I learned,' he said, 'that you are not the only 'star' in my life. Morgenstern...'

'Morgenstern?' she cried, unable to keep her silence.

'...means morning star. Yeah, I know - obviously he cannot be my wife. But... maybe that's not what the dream was talking about after all. Maybe... maybe the star dropping into my hand wasn't a wife, but a partner. A partner, for the assault on the dungeons. I started thinking about that, and then... And then I thought that maybe I was... jumping into things too quickly. When I fell in love with you. Maybe... maybe I was wrong. So...'

She remembered to keep quiet this time.

'...so... I think it's better for me not to... not to... be so close to you. For now, at least. Until I'm sure.'

Are you also going to back off from Morgenstern? she thought heatedly, but did not say. She knew already the answer. His actions already were the answer. He wasn't walking with all the companions; he was walking now with Morgenstern. And that made her angry.

Yes, and jealous.

'Do you understand, Starr?' he asked.

She jumped up. She had to literally bite her lips to keep from yelling at him, 'Does it matter?'

Without saying that or anything else, she turned and stormed away.

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