Wednesday, April 06, 2005
the child, forty-eight
And then she recognized it: Jack's voice! But too soon, and coming from the wrong direction!
Yes, here the man came, walking back from the way he had disappeared into. Peering forward as he came, suspicious, suspenseful...
And then he relaxed. 'Oh, it's only you.' A blink. 'Uh... what're you doing out here, Starr? I mean, this time of night, the only 'Starrs' that ought to be out are the ones overhead. You know?'
Sigh. Yes, that was Jack, all right.
'Sorry,' he added as he came closer. 'I suppose that was a bit lame.' A pause. 'Oh. And maybe I shouldn't have used that word. Your leg bothering you?'
To that she nodded.
'Sorry you got hurt today, Starr. I still don't see how you took such a bad tumble, and didn't none of the rest of us even notice. Hurts, does it?'
'Not really,' she answered. And shrugged. 'It, uh, started bleeding again.'
'Ick,' said he. Glanced around, then added, 'Look. I can't leave you out here, all by yourself in the dark. Want me to walk you back to the camp?'
'Not particularly.' She wasn't ready to go back yet, and knew it.
'Well, come on with me then. I still have about half my watch to go, and can't do it standing in one place.'
She hesitated. Really, she wanted some more time to herself. But how could she explain that to Jack: 'Sorry, I'd rather stand here and talk to someone who's not here'?
So she followed Jack.
He walked a bit slowly, trying to not go too fast for the sake of her injury. The woods about them were quiet, still. 'All these nights,' he said to her softly, 'all this time traveling, and no one's attacked us in the night yet.' When she made no reply, he added, 'So far, so good, huh?'
No attacks. And even as he said it, her vision gave a subtle shift, and she saw ugly squat bodies poised about the camp, vicious swords in their hands, their eyes glowing with hatred. Waiting...
She blinked, and the night was still and empty again.
'You all right?' said Jack.
'Y-yes,' she stammered. 'I think so.'
'You know,' he said after a few more minutes of circling the camp, 'I keep waiting and hoping for James and Forest to start getting along together. I mean, after all this time, for the two of them to still find stuff to clash over - man! that's persistence!'
Persistence - well, that was one way to look at it...
'James has always been like this,' Jack went on, 'ever since we were kids.' A slight chuckle. 'You know, our mom used to say there was nothing wrong with being stubborn, as long as you were stubborn for the right things. But I never saw it that way.'
He looked away into a distance Starr could not see. 'Probably one of the most wonderful sights of my life,' he said, 'was when I looked up over the Mountain of Spices, and saw a rescue party returning from the enemy's dungeons, and there among the captives set free,' he smiled, 'was my own brother Harry. That was our names before,' he added. 'James was Harry, and I was Howie.'
A wistful look passed over his face. 'But I've always expected since, for Har - James - to change. To stop with the bull-headedness. I think it's good for him, really, to have Forest to deal with, challenging him, forcing him to think about his own decisions and all.' Then he added, muttering, 'If they'd just stop with the arguing... Pig-headed, the both of them!'
Starr thought about what Jack was saying, and about what his mother used to say. 'Maybe...' she ventured. 'Maybe James doesn't need to stop being stubborn. Maybe he just needs to realize which things he should be stubborn about, and which things he shouldn't.'
Jack sighed. 'That's not really what I wanted to hear, you know.' And then he stopped, paused, and turned back the way he had come.
'Where are you going?' Starr asked in surprise.
'The other direction for a while,' he said without stopping, so that she had to hurry to catch up. 'I change directions every so often when I'm on watch,' he explained. 'See, if someone is planning an attack on the camp, I figure they might wait for whoever's on watch to go past, then think they've got plenty of time till the watch comes around again. But then I backtrack...' He smiled, the twinkle in his eye visible even in the starlight. 'Just trying to cross 'em up - if they're out there.'
Oh, they were out there, all right. But what was holding them back from attacking? Starr wondered.
A few more minutes walking, and Starr was beginning to yawn. She was also beginning to visibly limp. 'Come on,' said Jack, turning in towards the camp. 'You gotta get off that leg now.'
She made no protest, but allowed herself to be led to her tent. Good nights and thank yous followed, and then Jack went back to his circling of the camp.
And still Starr did not go in. She had a bit of unfinished business yet before going to bed. Checking first to be sure she was not being observed...
'Master?' she whispered into the darkness.
And though she saw him not, she felt his presence.
'Master,' she breathed again. 'I'm... I'm sorry. Please forgive me. I forgive Stone. I don't understand, but that doesn't matter, does it? I give you all my anger against him.'
And I take it, she heard, not in her ears.
'...and I put myself - all of me - into your hands again. To trust, with this and with everything. Master...'
'Oh, make us ready! Start with me! So that we can stop going round and round this mountain, and become what you desire us to be!'
She felt his smile. And heard: I already am.
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