Thursday, February 02, 2006

 

the child, part 2, chapter 3 - 'dark night of the soul'


***This is a rechaptering of the original chapters 46-48, which were posted on 31 mar - 6 apr 05. Minor rewriting as well.)***



More days. More walking. More arguing. More pain. More circling the mountain.

More getting nowhere.

And then came a day when, as the group was descending a particularly rough and ugly passage, Starr's foot slipped, sending her slithering through rock and grit, skinning her shin from ankle to knee. A bush - prickly one, of course - broke her skid, and she sat for a moment, silent, too shocked even to cry.

Looking around, she saw that the main part of the group was still descending the slope, having not even noticed what had happened to her. The only ones who had noticed were those behind her. Stone, and the angels.

Stone just stood there, looking at her, as she sat there in her pain, clutching at her oozing leg. The angels stood watching Stone, to see what he would do.

He drew a long breath. Frowned.

Glanced at Maccabees. Gave a jerk of his head towards the girl.

And then turned away. And walked on.

And now came the tears. The skinning of her leg had not been quite enough to start Starr crying. But this was. Hot tears stung her eyes, spattering down her cheeks.

He... he walked on?

A hand reached down to her. Knees bent and rested by her. A canteen uncorked, and the cool water within was sent cascading over the long wound. Maccabees.

Starr looked up into his face as he brought out a cloth to clean away the grit and to bandage her leg. The two other angels paused, but Maccabees gave a wave of his hand to let them know he needed no aid. They walked on as well then, following Stone.

And so the pair of them were left behind for a time by the rest.

Starr winced a bit at the washing of her wound, but the real hurt was in her heart. 'He... he didn't stop!' she said, incredulous. 'He just... went!'

'I am sorry,' the cherub replied.

Starr's whole face twisted in anguish. 'I don't understand,' she whispered - a whisper, but yet with the intensity of full-throated yelling. 'What is with him? How can he just... walk away like that? I...' She shook her head. 'Is this why his name is Stone? Because that's what his heart is made of? I thought he loved me! Has he thrown all of that away? Do I mean nothing to him anymore?'

'Starr...'

'Don't defend him!' she hissed back. 'This is ridiculous! He doesn't feel a thing anymore - not one thing! Isn't that so?'

'Starr. That is the hurt talking. And I do not mean the hurt in your leg. But do not, in your anguish, make accusations without proof.' Maccabees' own face was full of pain. 'He saw. He ached. But he thought... that you would prefer my company to his.'

'But...'

'But he doesn't know that? Any more than you know what is going on in his heart. Be at peace, Starr. Trust. This is temporary. That is the word I hear ringing in my ears: temporary. Do not worry.'

She cast down her eyes, watching as he finished wrapping her injury securely. 'Are you sure?' she whispered. And this time, her whisper was only a whisper.

The angel smiled. 'Yes,' he said. 'Now. Let's get you upright.' And he stood, taking her hand, helping her to stand as well.

She tested putting her weight on her leg, and found it didn't bother her as much as she might have thought it would. She did hold on to the cherub's hand, though, as they started out after the rest.

They still had the remainder of the slope to clamber down, and Maccabees diligently made sure Starr did not fall again. It was only after they reached the flat land at the bottom and had walked a few yards on that Maccabees stopped and pointed back to the right of the rough way they had just come. 'Do you see it?' he said.

She looked. There, snaking in from the side of the other mountain, there was a second valley. Smaller, with many stunted trees and brambly bushes studding the way. She frowned.

'Recognize it?' he asked.

Vaguely, she did. 'Isn't that... isn't that the way we came in? It leads back to the start of the valley, and beyond that, to the Mountain of Spices?'

'Yes.'

Well. That explained how they could keep circling and circling, with no one noticing what was going on. A bit more thought and then she asked, 'If that is the way we got in, where is the way we get out?'

Maccabees smiled. 'When it is time to get out, then will you see. All of you will.'

And turning after the rest, he helped Starr to hurry and catch up with the others.

~~~~~~~

Sleep fled her that night. Her leg was part of the reason. And the rest of the reason...

...was not hard to guess.

Tossing, turning - long after the others had fallen asleep. Till one particularly rough kick at her blanket pulled at the bandage on her leg hard enough to rupture the tender scab and start the wound to bleeding again.

Oh, great. She sat up then, pushing the blanket aside lest any blood get on it. Fumbling in the dark, she tried to wrap the bandage again. Suddenly, the frustrations of the day overboiled inside her, and she sprang up from her bedding entirely, thrust open the tent door, and bolted outside.

The moon peered down at her from overhead, stars dotting the sky near the pale face of that silent watcher in the night sky. Starr walked. Out from the camp, out into the surrounding woods. Not blindly, as she had that time before. She kept glancing behind her, being sure not to get too far from the dim light of the still-burning campfire huddled in the midst of the three tents.

Her steps slowed now. She was getting to the distance from the camp where one of the men should be walking his watch. Keeping a close watch herself, she slipped behind a tree, waiting. She did not want to be spotted - not, at least, until after she had spotted the watchman first.

Especially if Stone was the one on watch - she did not want him to catch her out in the night.

Stone. She was still angry inside. To just walk away from her like that! What was he thinking? What was the matter with him!

A small crunch of foot on underbrush caught her attention. The watchman! She ducked - not too quickly, for a sudden motion could easily give her away. Furtively she watched.

Ah. It was James... no... Jack. Yes, Jack. Good. If it had been James, then Stone would have the next watch afterwards. But Jack's watch was nowhere near Stone's. Perfect.

She waited while the man made his slow turn round the camp and vanished into the darkness. It would take him maybe ten minutes to return to this spot, she figured. Plenty of time to herself. By herself.

Stone. Again she pictured it inside her head - him standing there as she lay bleeding on the ground. Him turning her over to Maccabees. Him walking away.

And he hadn't even asked her over supper how her leg was!

Fury welled up again inside her. Temporary - that was the word Maccabees had told her. But meaning what? That Stone's estrangement from her would be temporary, and then he would come back? Or that the brief spring of love they had shared was the temporary thing in her life, and now was over and gone forever?

Ohhhh... This was making her head hurt. What was she supposed to think? When the man who had confessed to love her, now spent so much time ignoring her - avoiding her, as far as she could tell? What was going on?

The Master had warned her of this...

What if I don't like it? she muttered inside her brain. What if I'd rather just... What if I...

'What if I want out?' And that she said aloud.

Not loudly. But aloud.

Out? As in - what?

'Out of this relationship. If there even is one.'

Out is out. Completely out. All or nothing.

'Well, maybe I want nothing! But this - what I have - this is not what I wanted! A man who ignores me?' She was gesturing now, talking to the thin air before her, the same intense hissing whispering she had done earlier that day towards Maccabees.

She pointed back towards the camp, where undoubtedly Stone was now sleeping soundly within his tent. 'He is not what I expected. And he is not what I wanted.'

What did you want?

'To...' Her voice broke, crying. 'To be loved...'

Softly, the answer came: Don't I love you?

She began to cry in earnest now. She felt them, the arms she could not see, encircling her, embracing her. Starr...

'Master...' she whispered back.

Don't expect too much. Or too soon. He is still becoming. And I am becoming in him.

'But this...!'

He loves you.

'He doesn't show it.'

Not at this time, no. But soon. You will see. He must go through this himself, to be sure. When he is sure, when he is ready - you will have his love. And you will have it all.

A hesitation. '...I hate this...'

Be at peace. You too are becoming. But 'out,' dear Starr - is out. Completely. That, my love, you do not want.

No... That was true. To be out completely - away from the Master. Alone from him - apart. No, that she did not want.

Better?

A sigh. A nod. 'Yes...'

'Hey! Who's there?'

Starr's heart sprang into her throat, as her hand sprang over her mouth.

~~~~~~~

And then she recognized it: Jack's voice! But too soon, and coming from the wrong direction!

Yes, here the man came, walking back from the way he had disappeared into. Peering forward as he came, suspicious, suspenseful...

And then he relaxed. 'Oh, it's only you.' A blink. 'Uh... what're you doing out here, Starr? I mean, this time of night, the only 'Starrs' that ought to be out are the ones overhead. You know?'

Sigh. Yes, that was Jack, all right.

'Sorry,' he added as he came closer. 'I suppose that was a bit lame.' A pause. 'Oh. And maybe I shouldn't have used that word. Your leg bothering you?'

To that she nodded.

'Sorry you got hurt today, Starr. I still don't see how you took such a bad tumble, and didn't none of the rest of us even notice. Hurts, does it?'

'Not really,' she answered. And shrugged. 'It, uh, started bleeding again.'

'Ick,' said he. Glanced around, then added, 'Look. I can't leave you out here, all by yourself in the dark. Want me to walk you back to the camp?'

'Not particularly.' She wasn't ready to go back yet, and knew it.

'Well, come on with me then. I still have about half my watch to go, and can't do it standing in one place.'

She hesitated. Really, she wanted some more time to herself. But how could she explain that to Jack: 'Sorry, I'd rather stand here and talk to someone who's not here'?

So she followed Jack.

He walked a bit slowly, trying to not go too fast for the sake of her injury. The woods about them were quiet, still. 'All these nights,' he said to her softly, 'all this time traveling, and no one's attacked us in the night yet.' When she made no reply, he added, 'So far, so good, huh?'

No attacks. And even as he said it, her vision gave a subtle shift, and she saw ugly squat bodies poised about the camp, vicious swords in their hands, their eyes glowing with hatred. Waiting...

She blinked, and the night was still and empty again.

'You all right?' said Jack.

'Y-yes,' she stammered. 'I think so.'

'You know,' he said after a few more minutes of circling the camp, 'I keep waiting and hoping for James and Forest to start getting along together. I mean, after all this time, for the two of them to still find stuff to clash over - man! that's persistence!'

Persistence - well, that was one way to look at it...

'James has always been like this,' Jack went on, 'ever since we were kids.' A slight chuckle. 'You know, our mom used to say there was nothing wrong with being stubborn, as long as you were stubborn for the right things. But I never saw it that way.'

He looked away into a distance Starr could not see. 'Probably one of the most wonderful sights of my life,' he said, 'was when I looked up over the Mountain of Spices, and saw a rescue party returning from the enemy's dungeons, and there among the captives set free,' he smiled, 'was my own brother Harry. That was our names before,' he added. 'James was Harry, and I was Howie.'

A wistful look passed over his face. 'But I've always expected since, for Har - James - to change. To stop with the bull-headedness. I think it's good for him, really, to have Forest to deal with, challenging him, forcing him to think about his own decisions and all.' Then he added, muttering, 'If they'd just stop with the arguing... Pig-headed, the both of them!'

Starr thought about what Jack was saying, and about what his mother used to say. 'Maybe...' she ventured. 'Maybe James doesn't need to stop being stubborn. Maybe he just needs to realize which things he should be stubborn about, and which things he shouldn't.'

Jack sighed. 'That's not really what I wanted to hear, you know.' And then he stopped, paused, and turned back the way he had come.

'Where are you going?' Starr asked in surprise.

'The other direction for a while,' he said without stopping, so that she had to hurry to catch up. 'I change directions every so often when I'm on watch,' he explained. 'See, if someone is planning an attack on the camp, I figure they might wait for whoever's on watch to go past, then think they've got plenty of time till the watch comes around again. But then I backtrack...' He smiled, the twinkle in his eye visible even in the starlight. 'Just trying to cross 'em up - if they're out there.'

Oh, they were out there, all right. But what was holding them back from attacking? Starr wondered.

A few more minutes walking, and Starr was beginning to yawn. She was also beginning to visibly limp. 'Come on,' said Jack, turning in towards the camp. 'You gotta get off that leg now.'

She made no protest, but allowed herself to be led to her tent. Good nights and thank yous followed, and then Jack went back to his circling of the camp.

And still Starr did not go in. She had a bit of unfinished business yet before going to bed. Checking first to be sure she was not being observed...

'Master?' she whispered into the darkness.

And though she saw him not, she felt his presence.

'Master,' she breathed again. 'I'm... I'm sorry. Please forgive me. I forgive Stone. I don't understand, but that doesn't matter, does it? I give you all my anger against him.'

And I take it, she heard, not in her ears.

'...and I put myself - all of me - into your hands again. To trust, with this and with everything. Master...'

My love.

'Oh, make us ready! Start with me! So that we can stop going round and round this mountain, and become what you desire us to be!'

She felt his smile. And heard: I already am.

~first~ ~previous~ ~next~

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