Wednesday, April 13, 2005

 

the child, fifty


An army? These few? These eleven - four men, four women, three angels - these were an army? Twelve, counting the one who had gone before to spy things out. An army? Never would she have thought of their little group by such a term!

On they traveled, day after day. At intervals, Starr would catch a glimpse again of the demonic force dogging them, or else she would spy the angelic band protecting them. But mostly, she only saw the others in her own group.

Strangely, it no longer hurt her to see Stone walking apart from her. Which was a wonderful feeling! She could look at him now, there conversing with Morgenstern, and not be jealous. And what was still more strange and curious - she was now more deeply in love with the man than she had been before.

They were not together, but that no longer mattered.

The long wound on her leg was healing as well.

She walked less often with Maccabees now, and also less often alone. Much more often now she walked with the others up ahead: with Jack or Joy, Linda or Lucy, Forest or James. She listened much, spoke little, and pondered all.

And many things there were to be pondered: the length of the way, the number of times they had circled this mountain already, the number of times they would yet circle it. The miracle of food that never ran out, and of clothing and shoes that never wore out. The spy who had gone ahead of them - was that one a man or a woman? or even an angel? And was he or she (or it) becoming tired of this long waiting for the rest of the team to arrive?

Especially and mostly, though, she pondered what Maccabees could have been hinting at. What was it that would counteract the disunity among them? What was it that would bring peace among this still-quarrelsome band?

What?

It was no good asking Maccabees, she knew. If he had wanted to simply tell her straight out, he would have done so already, rather than hint at it. It was for her to discover - that much was plain. And likely in plain sight as well, she surmised. It couldn't be very hard to figure out. Could it?

More days. More nights. More walking, more watching. More quarreling.

She pondered too where the outlet might be, the final exit from this endless circling. She kept watch as best she could as they traveled, hoping to spot another small valley leading off to one side.

She was eyeing a likely niche running off to the left of the main way one day, when a voice spoke from just behind her shoulder. 'Looks like your shin is well now.'

It was, but why would Maccabees be making such a comment? He had already mentioned how well it had healed when he last tended to it some three days back.

And why did that voice not quite sound like Maccabees?

She turned.

Stone!

She stopped; he stopped. They stood.

The main part of the group walked on without seeing. The three cherubim paused before walking on as well, Maccabees included. He half turned as he was passing, but said nothing. Just moved on.

And then they were alone. The two of them, Starr and Stone. She looked up at him, unsure, silent.

He looked down at her, bashful, hesitant. 'Starr...'

She tried to say 'Yes' - found her throat was too dry to bring out even a squeak - swallowed and tried again. 'Yes, Stone?'

More hesitation. 'Will you... walk with me?'

'All right,' she whispered.

They walked. Not closely together, as once they would have - but not apart, either. Slowly. Strolling.

Starr glanced up at the man as they walked, wondering what this was about. He looked nervous and hesitant still, as if he was working his way up to telling her something.

And then he said, 'I'm sorry.'

'For what?' she responded. And there was nothing the least bit sarcastic in her tone. She sounded as if she genuinely could not think of anything he needed to apologize for.

Now it was he glancing at her, amazed at her reaction. 'For everything,' he replied. 'And - for nothing.'

'Nothing?' She looked to him, baffled.

'For the nothing of myself I've been giving you for such a long time. I'm sorry, Starr. Will you,' again hesitation, 'forgive me?'

She started to say that she already had, but caught herself. Somehow, that just didn't seem to be the right thing to say. So instead, she simply said, 'Yes.'

Relief burst out all over his face. 'Good. I'm glad. Now - I have another question for you.'

'Yes?'

'It's... well...' And he stopped walking. She stopped too, faced him, looking up to him. What question could he now have for her?

'Starr. Do you still want to be married to me?'

There was no answer but one that she could give to that question. A few days before - that day she had injured her leg, especially - she might have hesitated. Might even have given a different answer.

She did not hesitate a second now. She said, 'Yes.'

'All right - why?'

He looked into her face, his own face deadly serious. She considered her answer deeply - he deserved that.

'Well, to start with: because I love you. But there's more to it than that. It's the way we,' she smiled, 'fit together. I'm not sure how to put it...'

'The dance,' said he.

'Yes!' That was it exactly. The word he used to use for it so long ago, back at the Master's house. The dance!

A small gesture on his part, and they started walking on again. 'I'll tell you up front, Starr. I'm still not sure. About us, and whether there will be an us. I hope there will be. I... hope that strongly. One thing I've been learning about myself is that... well...' and he blushed deeply, 'is that there's nothing more I want to do than to be with you, Starr. But I'm not ready, you know. There are changes in me that need to be made...'

'And in me,' put in Starr.

'Maybe,' he said. 'You know, when Josh chose us all to make this journey, I thought it meant that we were ready. To assault the dungeons, I mean, and rescue the captives there.'

She nodded; that is what she had thought back then as well. 'And now?'

'Now I see that he picked us because we were ready to start the journey. But not yet ready to complete it. The journey itself - is more training.'

'Yes,' she agreed.

They walked on. Side by side. Not touching. Not that together. But together.

Even this much was sweet, and swelled Starr's heart with gratitude towards the Master.

'Stone?' she ventured, after they had walked for some way in silence. Companionable silence, which too was sweet.

'Yes, Starr?'

'Does it bother you,' she asked, 'for me to say I love you?'

He considered. 'No.'

'Then, I love you.'

He smiled - deeply, brightly, and with a touch of a blush. 'And I... don't want to say the same back to you until I'm sure. Completely sure. You understand?'

She nodded. She would have loved to hear him say those words back to her right now. She was disappointed that he didn't. But the disappointment quickly melted away, and contentment replaced it.

Soon, the Master had said. Whatever the word 'soon' might mean.

She walked with Stone.

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