Sunday, June 12, 2005

 

the child, seventy


To her surprise, instead of leading her directly to the men's tent, just steps away - Stone took her aside first. 'Starr,' he said, running his fingers through his hair, 'I am so sorry. I think I just got you into deep trouble with James - and maybe with everyone else as well.'

She stared up at him, wide-eyed. 'How?'

'Do you remember Forest scratching a letter F on a rock at the first spring we found on this trip?'

Blank stare, followed by a slow shake of her head.

'Yeah, well, I didn't remember either. But Jack did. When we went back to that spring this morning - the place where I first saw the wolf - Jack spotted that F on the rock. And from that he figured out where we are, that we've been making circles round this mountain. And when he realized I already knew about it - oh, man!'

He reached for her hand. 'But I brought you into it, Starr. He asked me how I found out, and without thinking, I said you told me. And now... now James is angry. At both of us.' He took her other hand as well. 'I am so, so sorry, Starr.'

She swallowed hard, smiled up sweetly at him. 'I forgive you. Always, Stone. I love you. My beloved Stone!'

He looked her in the eye. 'You forgive me now. But wait till James is through yelling at you...' And at last he turned and led her to the tent where the rest of the men awaited them.

Three sets of angry eyes glared at her as she entered the tent. Well - at them, for Stone kept hold of her hand and stuck close to her side. 'Here we are,' he announced unnecessarily.

'You don't have to be here,' James said pointedly to Stone.

'Well... Yes, I do,' Stone replied. 'I'm the one who opened my big mouth and got Starr in trouble...'

'Starr got herself in trouble by withholding vital information from the group,' James interrupted. 'And the question is: why?'

She looked around at the angry men - James, and Jack, and Forest. She glanced up at Stone, so steadfast at her side. She had told Stone she hadn't mentioned the circling to anyone because she had forgotten. And that was true; she had forgotten. But before she had forgotten... Before that, she had said nothing because Maccabees had asked her not to mention that he and his two companions were angels.

So what answer was she to give these angry men now? How was she to tell how she knew about the circling, without having to tell how Maccabees knew it?

'I too have a question,' came a voice. Surprisingly, the voice came from behind Starr and Stone. From the tent doorway.

'What do you want, Mac?' said James shortly - very shortly.

'I want to ask you how you can accuse Starr of withholding vital information from this group - for when she gave this group vital information, she was ignored and derided for it.'

James frowned. 'What are you talking about?' he demanded. 'She never said a word to any of us about how we were walking in circles around this mountain. And we certainly never ignored her or made fun of her for telling us - because she never told us.'

'That is not the vital information I am referring to,' said Maccabees, coming inside with the rest. 'I am speaking of the time when she received the following responses.' And he ticked them off on his fingers.

'From Lucy: Are you saying that I'm not loving? From Joy: Why are you telling me all this? I'm not the problem. From Linda: Look - I'm willing to stop arguing if Lucy will - but she's going to have to stop it first.'

The men stared at each other, wondering what he was talking about. 'From Forest,' Maccabees continued, 'Hey, I never get into an argument unless I'm right. And if I'm right, why should I have to bow? From Jack: Look - I like what you're saying, but I'm not going to be holding my breath expecting it to ever happen. And from James...' The cherub paused. 'Do you really want me to repeat the response you gave her, James?'

And now the three caught on. Especially James. The memory of his own voice declaring, Somebody needs to take that boy down a notch or three! echoed in James' ears. Slowly, he shook his head. No. He didn't want that response repeated.

'Now. You tell me,' said Maccabees, 'what the vital information was that Starr did not withhold from the group that day.'

'She...' Jack's voice failed him, and he had to start over, 'she said we needed to love each other.'

'Like members of the same body...' added Forest.

'Anything you want to add to that, James?' asked Maccabees.

'Uh... no,' the man replied.

'Starr,' and the cherub now turned to her, 'there is something else you need to tell the others. More vital information. Look out the door right now, and tell them what you see.' And as the rest looked around at each other in bafflement - and Starr glanced up at Stone in bafflement as well - Maccabees held open the tent door wide and nodded towards the outside for her to look well.

At first, she saw nothing but what any of them saw or expected to see: the cliff wall opposite, and the scrub bushes and clearing between the cliff and this tent. And then...

They could all tell when that small shift of vision came over her. For her back stiffened, and she gave a small gasp.

'What do you see?'

That was both Stone and Forest, in nearly the same breath. Stone's hand landed softly on the middle of her back, steadying her, as she watched.

The armies. Both of them. The demons, every bit as ugly as she remembered. And the angels, every bit as fierce and noble. The demons making an outer circle round the camp, with the angels an inner circle, facing out, keeping the enemy at bay.

She described it to the men with her, giving them every detail she could see.

'This is a bad place to camp!' said Forest. 'Just like I said! First the wolves, now this. They've found us! We shouldn't have stopped here!'

'It's not like we had a choice on where to camp...' James began, but Maccabees interrupted.

'It is not that the demons have just now found us today, young Forest. They have been dogging our steps the entire trip.'

'They... they have?'

'As has the angelic army, to protect this group from the demons.'

'Wait,' said James, frowning, his face darkening. 'How do you know all these things, Mac?'

'Yeah,' Jack challenged. 'What was Starr doing, telling you this stuff, when she wouldn't tell it to the rest of us?'

'Starr did not need to tell me,' Maccabees replied. 'What Starr knows, I know...' and Starr held her breath, wondering would he reveal himself to the others that he was an angel, 'not because Starr told me - but because much of it, I told Starr.'

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