Monday, July 25, 2005

 

the child, eighty-three


She ran, not towards the rest of the group, but simply away, blindly away. Blindly indeed, for her vision was clouded with gushing tears.

Stone pounded after her, angrily reflecting that he had picked the right word just now when he called himself an idiot. Being taller and longer of limb, he was quickly catching up with her. 'Starr!' he called to her. 'Starr, wait!'

She shook her head, trying vaguely to avoid him. But he closed the remaining ground between them and caught her arm. Spun her. Folded her close. 'Starr,' he whispered, 'I'm sorry. I'm sorry.'

Her tears soaked into his shirt. She didn't resist the embrace, but melted against him, as if she didn't trust her legs to hold her up.

'I'm sorry,' he whispered again, while she leaned against him, crying till the tears ran out.

She fell silent at last. Slowly, her arms came up to embrace him as well. And slowly she said, 'No. No, I'm the one who's sorry. I shouldn't have run. Why did I run? From you? The enemy wants me to run from you. The Master wants me to trust...'

Slowly, Stone replied, 'Um, Starr? Do you, uh, see anything?'

She unburied her face from his shoulder and looked up into his eyes. Puzzled, she then looked around...

And stiffened. Wolves!

Again she looked into his face. 'And you see them too!' she exclaimed.

He nodded. Slipping his arm between them, breaking the embrace, he quietly drew his sword. He gestured for her to draw her own, and whispered, 'Get behind me.'

'Stone?'

'And watch my back, and I yours. And pray!'

She nodded, eyes wide. Back to back, they faced the wolves - two great grey snarling beasts. With clarity, Starr saw how this had come about. It was her fault for running. The enemy would not have been able to split the two of them off from the group, had she not run.

It was his fault, Stone told himself, for snapping and snarling at Starr as if he himself were a wolf. If he hadn't done that, they would still be near the rest of the group, instead of isolated here where the enemy could launch this attack.

Was there any point in calling out to the rest? Were the others close enough still to hear them, if they did call out?

He felt her, pressing up suddenly against his back. 'Starr?' he breathed.

'It's coming closer,' she whispered back.

Yes. And so was the one before his face.

'Please forgive me, honey,' she added. 'And I forgive you. Oh, may the Master have mercy on us!'

'I forgive you,' he replied solemnly. 'And thank you for forgiving me. And amen, about the mercy.'

If only, thought Stone, he had a long walking stick now. He glanced at the ground about them, when he wasn't keeping his eyes on the eyes of that wolf. A good stout stick would be a wonderful ally right about now...

He could hear Starr's voice behind him, sounding both soft and strained as she prayed steadily, sometimes in words he could understand, sometimes in words he couldn't. Slowly the two wolves were circling them, and slowly they circled as well, keeping their faces to the wolves, trying not to give this enemy any openings to exploit. Both kept their weapons up, watching, waiting, wondering.

And in the slow turning, Stone spotted a hefty tree branch not far from his foot. Much shorter than the walking stick he'd had before, but a nice size to be a club. Over his shoulder, he whispered, 'Left. Take two steps to your left.'

'All, all right,' she stammered back. And as she obeyed him, he took two steps to his right, so that they continued to be back-to-back. There, he should be able to reach it now.

'Squat,' he said.

Still wondering what he had in mind, she once again obeyed. He squatted at the same time and snagged the club. 'All right. Stand up again, slowly,' he said. He had been concerned that if he had squatted alone, leaving her standing, the wolves might have seen that as an excuse to attack. Now...

Starr gasped.

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