Tuesday, August 02, 2005

 

the child, eighty-six


The men of course found no traces of the wolves, only the stains of Starr's own blood. The women with Malachi fared better, finding both the water and the plant. By the time Mal and Lucy got the wild geranium prepared and applied to Starr's arm (so that Mac could at last let go), the day was well spent.

Starr was spent too. So James made the decision to make camp here for the night.

Joy's shade was taken down, and the three tents set up. Once the women's tent was ready, Stone himself took up a wan-looking Starr and carried her into it. Lucy crowded after, insisting that she must stay at Starr's side and look after her.

A brief and silent meal that evening. And then the subdued group went to their beds.

Stone and Mac drew first watch that night. And long after they finished their turn and gone to bed, Stone lay wrapped in his blanket, staring up at the tent roof above him. He had to. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw the wolves again - and the second one, ripping and shredding sweet Starr's arm.

His fault. His fault. He heard it ringing in his ears even now. His fault.

He had no awareness of finally slipping over into sleep. He saw again that awful wound. Felt again her head lolling against his leg all that long afternoon, while the others toiled to make the medicine to at last stop the bleeding. Again he was gathering her up, her arm newly bandaged in fresh cloth, to take her gently into her tent for her to rest and sleep.

That afternoon after placing her softly on her blanket, he had paused only a moment to look down on her face before he left the tent. So pale she had been! But now, in the dream that he was not yet aware was a dream, he lingered. Stooped. Pressed the stray hairs away from her forehead. Whispered, 'I love thee, darling. I'm so, so sorry.'

Her eyes opened. She smiled sweetly up. He was returning the smile when he realized - she was not smiling at him, but past him. He turned.

Light. He squinted, shielding his eyes with an arm. Starr, though, did not squint. Slowly, calmly, she rose from her pallet. Raised her good arm towards the light.

'My girl.'

The voice was beyond a voice. Soft, gentle, yet piercing. Majestic.

Holy.

Stone found himself on his knees, still with his arm raised against the intensity of the light. Starr was reaching out her hand. And a hand of light was there, taking hers, holding hers.

He saw him, sort of. The impression Stone had, besides the wondrous light, was of gentleness, of joy, of patience, of delight. And of love.

It was overwhelming.

He - the one Stone saw - drew Starr close. And then, to Stone's amazement, he realized that this one, this holy one, was leading Starr in a, in a dance!

How graceful they moved, he leading, she following. Beautiful, flowing, as one. She smiled confidently into his face, her eyes only on him, only for him. As they danced.

He was holding her right hand, the uninjured one, in his hand right from the first. Gradually, Stone recognized that he had taken her other hand as well. And when he realized this, Stone peered closer against the radiance, trying to see - what had become of her bandages?

They were gone. Her arm he saw plainly now. The raw wounds, seeping still a bit, great patches of skin gone, and the badly gnawed underlying muscles looking like so much uncooked sausage. Stone winced at the sight; surely she was in great pain?

She didn't look like she was in pain. She was only looking into that face of the one who held her in his arms, sweeping her in the dance.

And then he stopped, and she stood still on an instant with him. He shook his head, and Stone saw now that his hair was glittering as with the dew. The shaking of his thick locks freed the drops to spatter about, shining, shimmering, sprinkling over her. Her eyes closed as she drank this in.

Then, taking her arm, he bowed his head over it, kissing each wound - here, and now here, and now here. And at each kiss, the skin appeared, fresh and pink and new as a baby's. Till all the ravages of the wolf's mouth were but a memory.

And now he kissed her again, on the forehead. He breathed over her, and she convulsively drew his breath into herself. Her eyes flew open again at that.

Looking her into her eyes, he said, 'You forgive?'

'Yes. Thank you. Apart from you...'

'...you would not be able to. Nor would any.' He smiled on her. 'Your petitions for mercy were heard and are granted, dearheart. For you, and for him.'

Stone dropped his own eyes, feeling like an interloper, an eavesdropper on the most private sort of conversation that ever could be.

'Son?'

Surprised, Stone looked up to see the same face now looking at him, gazing into his eyes.

'Sir?' Stone squeaked.

'Would you like to be healed too?'

Stone held out his arms, turning them to show that he bore no such injuries. 'But I wasn't hurt,' he said.

'Weren't you?' said he. And he reached forth his hand, pressed it over Stone's heart. 'Be healed,' he breathed.

Stone woke in the midst of a shuddering, convulsive gasp, drinking the air before his face deep into his lungs. He looked about, stunned. Not the rich blanket of light of his dream, but the soft beginnings of dawn filtering through the tent fabric met his eyes. He lay still for a moment, then glanced around. Forest there, by the door - Jack in his corner - James' blanket empty, telling that it was now his watch.

And even then, the tent flap sprang open as James came in. Seeing that Stone was looking at him, the man started to greet him with, 'Morning.'

When a screech rang through the camp. Instantly, all sleepers woke and flew from their beds. 'The women's tent!' cried James.

As they were converging on it, Joy ran out of the tent, her eyes the size of the plates they ate their meals from. Pointing back towards the tent she'd come from, she gasped out, 'You'll never believe it! Starr! Starr!'

'Starr what?' cried Stone, grabbing the girl's hand. 'What about Starr?'

'Her bandages - they disappeared during the night. And her arm...' She looked about at the seven men facing her. Shaking her head, scarcely able to believe what she was saying, Joy told them all:

'Her arm is totally healed!'

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