Sunday, April 17, 2005

 

the child, fifty-one


And so things changed. Now, it was Stone who began to walk apart from the rest, not with Morgenstern anymore. Not often with Starr either; perhaps every third day he would seek her out to walk side by side for a few minutes, maybe an hour, maybe two.

She would have liked more time together. But more and more, she chose contentment instead of frustration. He was seeking to become within himself what he needed to be; that was enough for her, for now.

For her part, she walked often now with the six at the lead of the group, listening, listening. Pondering within herself the things she heard and learned, matching them with the hints Maccabees had made to her, trying to fathom what it was that would knit this group together into unity, and bring the still-frequent arguments and squabblings to an end, and thwart at last the enemy's plans against them.

More days passed. More weeks. More endless circling, circling.

Forest, one night, pointed across the fire and said, 'Your turn, Stone. First watch is yours tonight.'

And to Starr's surprise, as the others were moving off to the tents to sleep, Stone stopped and held a hand out to her. 'Care to join me?' he asked.

Her mouth dropped open soundlessly for a second. Then, realizing how she must look, she snapped her mouth shut again and slipped her hand into his.

They walked, keeping the watch. The stars shone down, shimmering. The moon, well on its way towards full for this month, gleamed down from above. Stone did not continue to hold her hand, as once he would have. But he had brought her along - more than he would have done for a very long time now.

'There's something I want to talk about, Starr.' His voice was very serious, and she nodded just as seriously.

'I'm listening,' she said.

He did not say more for a while, obviously choosing his words and putting them together first. Finally, with a sigh and a sidelong smile, he said, 'This is not easy.'

'I'm sorry.'

'Why? You didn't do anything.'

'No, I meant that I'm sorry that whatever this is, it isn't easy.'

He smiled. 'Sweet, sympathetic Starr. Always feeling along with the hurts of others.' He fell silent for a bit as they walked, then added, 'What I'm finding hard is... admitting to my faults.'

'Faults?'

He chucked. 'Did you think I had none? You know me better than that!' He looked up at the sky for a bit. 'Do you know what I've been doing, most of these days when I'm walking by myself?'

'Praying?'

A snort. 'I wish! Yeah, I hate that word. But... no, most of the time, I'm not praying. I should be; I know I should. I set out to. But then... I see something, or hear something, or maybe remember something. And my thoughts carry me away. I wind up spending way, way too much of my time thinking about, oh, all sorts of things. Not necessarily bad things. But... not praying. Not doing what I really need to be doing.'

She nodded. She didn't know what to say, so she said nothing.

He sighed again. 'It's a real problem, Starr. See - I know what I ought to be doing. I know that I'm wasting my time - and yours - and the group's - and the Master's too - by letting my mind wander all over the place, distracting me from prayer. I know that I need to be in control of this. And I'm not. And that scares me.'

'Scares?'

'Yes. If I can't control myself on this, something that really ought to be an easy thing... Well, what's to say I can control myself on anything? What's to say that... that...' He ducked his head, pain showing plainly on his face. 'Oh, Starr! What's to say that - Walker wasn't right?'

Walker? 'I don't understand,' said she.

His hand sought out hers. 'Starr,' he whispered urgently. 'Maybe Walker was right about me. Maybe, if I have no self-control over my thoughts, maybe when we reach the dungeons and go to the parts where I used to be, into the deep dungeons I was rescued from - maybe I will discover that I'm not as set free from that dungeon as I think I am. Maybe I will go back to what I used to be - and betray my partner in the process.' His fingers convulsed around hers. 'Betray you, Starr-girl...'

In the midst of his very serious misgivings, he had given her a gift. Her heart leapt within her - for he had just, for the first time in a very, very extremely long time - called her Starr-girl!

And implied that she would be his partner in the assault on the dungeons.

She squeezed his fingers back. 'I'm sorry, Stone. I don't know what to say. Except that: I love you.'

His face softened at those words. 'Thank you. I still can't say that back. But it helps to hear it. I know you'll be praying for me. I know you have been, for a long time now. Even when I was being an absolute stinker towards you.'

'I didn't always,' she admitted. 'I got really mad at you a few times. I... I'm sorry.'

A squeeze of his fingers round hers. 'I forgive you, Starr.' He said it very seriously, for it was always a serious matter, forgiveness.

'You'll pray?' he said.

'Yes, Stone.'

'Good. And I'll,' a sigh, 'do what I can to get my thoughts into line, taking them captive instead of letting them take me captive. But this may not be quick, you know.'

'What about this journey has been quick?' she replied.

'Well, you got that right!' he chuckled.

He looked up at the wheeling stars above them, shimmering down through the branches of the woods all about them. 'Remember that dream I told you about?' he said. 'The one where a star fell from the heavens into my hand?'

She smiled and nodded. Oh, yes - she remembered about that dream!

'I've been thinking about that dream a lot lately,' said Stone. 'You know how at first, I thought the dream was referring to my,' tiny smile and blush, 'wife. And then later on, I wondered if it was merely speaking of a partner for this campaign against the dungeons.'

'Yes,' whispered she.

'Well... now I'm leaning more towards thinking what I thought at the first again. That it's referring to a wife, and not just to a partner.' And as her eyes went wide and she began to smile, he added, 'Well, mind you, Starr, that is what I think now. I'm still not completely sure. But...'

Softly, still smiling, she prompted, 'But?'

'But I'm a lot more sure now than I've been for a long time. A long time. And, whatever else, Starr,' and he smiled on her, 'I'm glad to be with you.'

She glowed back. 'So am I.'

They stood for a long moment, simply smiling at each other. And then he said, 'All right. I'll take you back to the camp now. You need to get some sleep, dear.'

Dear! He had called her dear!

She floated back to the camp by his side.

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