Friday, June 24, 2005

 

the child, seventy-four


Joy in particular looked nervous, clenching and reclenching her fingers round the hilt of her weapon. Starr moved to shield the wounded girl, placing her own body between Joy and the thrashing underbrush.

The noise was getting louder and nearer. If he had thought Joy was capable of running, Stone would have ordered the two women to bolt for the camp. As it was, he knew her best effort at running this day would not outpace anything like the wolves he had faced lately. And so he too moved to shield Joy with his own body. And to shield Starr as well.

With a loud crash, the underbrush parted. And into the clearing by the pond there came...

Lucy. With Linda close on her heels.

And the two were arguing. So intent on their own disagreement were they, that at first they didn't even notice the three already standing by the pool. And they didn't notice the drawn swords at all.

With sighs of relief, the three sheathed their swords. And Joy called out to them, 'Oh, what is it now?'

Startled, Lucy looked around at the three of them. 'What are you doing here?' she scowled.

'Getting out of the hot tent,' said Joy.

Glancing about, Lucy then fixed her eyes on Starr. And her scowl deepened. 'With her?' she hissed, as if 'her' was a filthy word.

'Yes,' said Joy evenly.

'Hmph. Well, we,' and she nodded towards the long-suffering Linda accompanying her, 'finally found that wild german flower...'

'Wild geranium,' Linda mouthed silently.

'...and we're taking it back to Malachi. For you, of course! So come along now, Joy. This is going to make you feel better.'

Linda came and helped Joy to put her shoes back on again, and then wrapped her arm round the girl to support Joy for the short trip back to camp.

Lucy waited impatiently. And then, with a brief sniffing glance back at Starr, the woman led the others away, leaving Starr and Stone still standing by the pond.

'Well!' said Stone with a chuckle. 'Alone at last.'

Starr just stood there, tears brimming in her eyes.

'That was a bit a joke, dearie. To cheer you up,' said he.

Slowly, she turned to look at him. 'I'm sorry,' she whispered.

'Starr,' he said gently. 'I know it hurts. She was your close friend, and from a long time back.'

'I barely remember our friendship before. I know that hurt her. But now...'

His arms went around her. 'Don't worry about it, honey,' he said.

Worry. She smiled, like a hiccup. 'I'm trying not to worry,' she answered.

'That's my good girl,' said Stone. 'You don't have to worry, and you don't have to defend yourself. The truth always comes out, sooner or later. She has no reason to be hateful. And you know,' he added, 'the fact that the Master had Josh include her in this company, shows that there is something in her that will overcome all her hatefulness, and fill her with love instead.' He tilted Starr's sad little face up so she could see his smile. 'And hopefully soon,' he added with a wink.

When he looked at her that way, she couldn't help but smile back. 'Thank you,' she whispered, even as twin tears slipped down her cheeks.

Stone gently took her hand in his. 'Actually, Starr-girl,' he said, 'I wasn't kidding about us being alone at last. There's... something I want to talk to you about. Or, well, to ask you.'

And, to her surprise, he suddenly took a step back from her and dropped to one knee. Catching both of her hands now in both of his, he said, 'Starr - my darling - my love...'

'Stone?' she squeaked in awe. What was he doing?

'Will you,' and his face broke into the most beautiful smile ever, 'marry me?'

How wide her eyes flew! And how she both blushed and blanched in nearly the same moment! 'Stone?' she said again.

'I mean it,' he said earnestly. 'No more confusion. No more hesitation. I love you. I'm sure now.' And when she still could reply with nothing other than, 'Stone?' he added, 'You don't have give me the answer now. Think about it. Pray about it. I can...'

The most extraordinary sound welled up out of her then, a sound like pure and undiluted joy! And then she flung herself into his arms - nearly overbalancing him, since he was still on one knee. 'Yes!' she laughed, squeezing him as hard as her little arms could squeeze. 'Oh, yes, Stone! I don't need to think, or pray - I already did, and have, and - oh, Stone!'

He squeezed her back, but more gently, knowing his arms were a lot stronger than hers. 'All right - so, that's a yes...' said he.

'Yes,' she said, more quietly now. She looked into his face, her eyes sparkling, lively, joyous. 'Thank you, dear Master,' she added.

'Amen,' said Stone. He stood back to his feet now, looping his arm round her shoulders. 'I was figuring,' he said, 'that once we return home to the Master's house, after we go to the dungeons - we'll get married then. Is that all right?'

'Whatever you want is fine,' she responded. 'Mmm - Stone, I love you.'

'Starr,' he whispered, drawing her so close, so close. 'I love you too.'

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