Tuesday, June 21, 2005
the child, seventy-three
Starr woke the next morning to a stunning sight: Joy, standing up!
It took a second for it to register in Starr's brain that there was something astonishing going on - and then she jumped to her own feet and sprang to the girl's side. 'Joy?' she cried. 'Are you sure you want to be up?'
'Did Malachi say I wasn't supposed to get up?' Joy responded.
'Well... Not that I recall.'
'Then I'd like to get up today. It's boring, just lying here all the time. Not to mention, nasty hot!'
Hot it was; no doubt about that. It was much nicer to go over to the nearby woods under the shade. And when they asked him, Malachi agreed that, yes, the exercise would be good for her. So once he and Starr were done tending to Joy's wounds that morning, Starr offered to take the girl into the woods to sit by the stream.
It was slow going for Joy, after spending most of the past two days lying down. Her muscles and bruises complained to her loudly as she carefully stretched them out. She and Starr had barely covered half the ground between their tent and the bend in the small valley that led to the woods, when a voice called out to them.
'Where are you ladies going?'
They turned - which was far easier for Starr to do than it was for Joy - to see a tall figure loping their way.
And Starr broke out in a lovely smile. Stone!
He caught up with them easily and slipped an arm around the injured girl's other side. 'Where to, ladies?' he asked again.
'Into the woods. Into the shade,' Starr replied.
'Sounds good to me. Nice to see you up and about, Joy. How do you feel today?'
'Sore from head to toe,' she replied. 'But glad to be able to get up and about. Poor Forest, though!'
'Poor Morgen, you mean,' Stone answered. 'He came in to check on Forest's leg this morning - and now he's having to all but sit on the kid to keep him from hobbling off for the dungeons already!'
Starr nodded. 'Sounds like Forest!'
'I feel so bad about that,' added Joy. 'He was trying to help me when he fell...'
'Come on, Joy,' Stone interrupted. 'Like you set out to fall off a cliff?'
'Actually,' said Starr soberly, 'if it's anyone's fault that you and Forest got hurt,' she sighed, 'it's mine. I never should have forgotten to say anything. I should have warned you, and everyone, about that slope...'
'Starr,' said Stone gently, 'it's not like we couldn't all see for ourselves how steep it was.'
'Oh, yeah,' said Joy. 'Lucy was saying something about that - about how we've been going in circles all this time, and that you knew about it, Starr? Is that true?'
'Yes...' Starr said softly.
'Lucy was really angry,' Joy added.
'Are, um, are you angry?' Starr asked slowly.
Joy's answer came slowly as well. 'I'm not sure. I mean, it's upsetting to know that we've been out here all this time, and gotten nowhere. On the other hand - well - how is it different, knowing from not knowing? We're still in the exact same spot. Right? I mean, knowing we're back where we started doesn't make a bit of difference in where we are. Does it?'
'I... hadn't thought about it that way...' said Starr.
'Me neither,' put in Stone. 'Is this where you wanted to go, ladies?'
'Oh!' Joy gasped. For they had arrived at the pond. 'Oh, it's so lovely!' she squealed.
Stone and Starr eased her to the ground beside the quiet pool. Starr helped her out of her shoes, and Joy sighed delightedly as she dipped her painful feet and legs into the soothing waters. They all relaxed for a while in the woodsy silence, listening to the rustling of the leaves and the calling of small birds.
'It does make a difference, you know,' Stone said at length.
'What does?' asked Starr.
'Knowing, as opposed to not knowing,' he replied. 'What Joy was asking earlier. It does make a difference, and I know what the difference is. And you know what it is, too, Starr.'
'Really?' said Joy. 'What is it?'
'Well. We've been circling all this time, and we've been doing the same thing all this time too. Arguing - bickering - quarreling. Right?'
Joy frowned, thinking. Starr nodded, and looked glum.
'We've been circling all this time because we've been bickering, and quarreling, and at odds with each other,' Stone added.
'You think so?' asked Joy, really frowning now. 'But how can the two things be related? We circle and circle, and we can't break out because we're arguing?'
'That's how it looks to me,' said Stone. 'And that's obviously what you were thinking, too, Starr. Even before you told anyone about the circling, you were searching for the key to unity in this group. You knew once we could come into unity, then we could finally stop circling. And not before. Am I right?'
Starr was frowning now, thinking, trying to remember. Trying to recall exactly what Maccabees had told her all that time ago, the day after she first saw the demon army. He hadn't quite said the very same words as Stone was saying - but it had been the same thought.
'Once you knew we were circling the mountain,' Stone continued, 'you wanted to find a way out. Now that we all know, we can all work towards finding that way out. And the way out is...' And he reached a hand out to Starr, to let her finish the thought.
'Is love,' said she.
'Love?' Joy looked at her. 'You said something about love to me a long time ago. I remember that. And I, well...' The younger girl blushed. 'I said I wasn't the problem, so don't talk to me about it.'
'Yes, you did,' said Stone.
Joy's eyes flashed wide. 'You told him?'
'Only him. In confidence.'
'And I said nothing of it to anyone. Which makes me wonder how Ma...'
But the rest of Stone's sentence was lost. For just then there came a loud rustling in the undergrowth upstream, much louder than mere breezes. As one, the three of them leapt to their feet.
And drew their swords.
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