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Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 3 months ago

I. A Light in the Darkness


The Light shone in the darkness. Yet no one saw it—except a few who were looking, and a few who were shown. The Light poured down on the ancient city, illuminating the Tablet that crouched like a huge beast of prey in the temple courtyard. It shone also on other, distant cities—on the streets of their people, deserted in the night. Near one of the streets of one of the cities, the shape of a boy sought refuge in what few shadows it could find, and a lone statue stood gazing up at the heavens.


Book-weary eyes of clay stared at the light. There was pain in those eyes, but also a glimmer of hope or joy. Or perhaps it was just a reflection of the brilliance from above. The face bore the weathering of years, yet its outline was as fine as the robes the body wore. Here and there the handiwork of some great sculptor was marred by a blotch of especially filthy clay, obscuring the beauty the image must once have had.


Yet why would a master artist waste such effort on mere clay?


Behind the figure frightened footsteps rushed past then stopped suddenly. The statue remained gazing upward.


Curses and shouting broke the stillness. A soldier marched down the street to where the statue of the scholar stood. He grabbed one tired shoulder and pulled the figure around to face him.


“You! Where’d the boy go?”


“Boy? What boy?” The statue refused to look at the slimy, stony paw that grasped his shoulder.


The other statue cursed again, drooling foul mire down his front. Not that he noticed. All of his form was crusty, rock-hard—or covered with the same sludge that he had just spat out. There was little trace of the artwork he must once have been.


“A slave boy came past here. You must’ve seen him. It’s so light out....”


“Ah, yes! So you have seen the light up there?”


“I don’t care about any light! You just tell me which way the brat went!”


“I am sorry. I have been studying the light for so long now, I can hardly make out what happens on the street. Someone came by here a short time ago, but I did not see him or which way he went.”


The soldier swore again and stormed down the street, dripping foul-smelling ooze.


The Scholar smiled for a moment—then froze. Trained eyes could make out some dim shadow of the new eruption of mire from his chest. He pulled the robe back. His flesh could almost have been real, but clay ran through his veins, flooding his body with the dead ooze. He prayed for pardon as he tried to wipe away the filth. His hands only spread the mess, but the well of his pride stopped gushing.


Relieved, he began listening for sounds of the soldier’s whereabouts. After the muttering, dripping sounds had faded into the blackness further down the street, the Scholar called out, as quietly as he could, “He has gone. Come on out. Come look at the Light.”


From the shadows a small figure crept. It had a handsome outline, though it still lacked detail. Its expression was clear, however. Curiosity and suspicion were locked in a struggle for control. Curiosity was on top at the moment, aided by the soldier’s departure, so the little statue stole cautiously onto the street.


“How did you know where I was? You said you didn’t know.”


“I said I had not seen where you went; however, I could guess well enough from the sound of your footsteps.”


The scholar inspected the boy-image. Tattered clothes, no shoes, and filth. Yet there was also a bit of pure wonder buried in the look of fear and defiance. The features were unmistakable too.


“You have nothing to fear from a fellow-countryman, my child.”


“I have everything to fear from my countrymen. And I’m not your child!”


“Not the soldier’s child, surely; but do you really know that you are not mine?”


The boy’s hasty glance away answered the question.


“No. I am not your father. But you have no father of your own. Perhaps I could be your teacher. Would that please you?”


“What’re you talking about? Why are you doing this to me?”


A swift, strong hand grasped the boy’s shoulder before he could run.


“You will not get far on your own. Come with me. I am traveling to another city, and I need someone to help me get there. We can help each other.”


“Why should I go with you?”


“You know that I will not betray you—I could already have done that—and you must leave this city or be captured by the soldier. Or do you know someone who will keep you?”


The boy lowered his eyes. Staring at the ground in front of him, he silently shook his head. Finally he asked softly, “Is it far?”


“A few days’ journey, I think. But first, come with me, and I will get you proper clothing. No student of mine ever wore rags.”


He led the boy through a maze of streets and alleys. More than once they stopped as a soldier passed blindly by, or they skirted a shadow where someone lurked, weapon in hand. At last they came to a small building. Light poked through a crack in improvised shutters inside a window, and a glow faintly outlined the door. The Scholar rapped softly.


“John! Open quickly, my son!”


A scuffling sound answered, and soon the door opened wide. The figure of a disheveled man in his thirties stood in the doorway and peered uncertainly into the night. The Scholar stepped closer so that the light shone clearly on his face; the statue in the doorway smiled in recognition.


“So it really is you! Come in, Teacher! Why are you out so late at night?”


The Scholar drew his young companion inside with a speed that belied his age. John must have been used to such adventures, for he had the door shut and bolted almost as quickly.


The old man embraced him, as friends did in that time and place, and then he stepped back and gestured toward his new pupil. “I need clothing for my new student, and silence for anyone who asks questions. I think that the boy is about the same size as your son.”


John looked the child over for a moment; then he nodded. “Actually, he’s about the size little Joseph was the last time you came by. It’s been a while.”


“You know how I get lost with my books. I have discovered something quite important, but I shall need clothing for the boy and provisions for the journey—if you have any to spare.”


John smiled. “Another adventure! I wish I could go with you....”


The Scholar glanced about the room. There was still evidence of a tidier time, a more careful touch. A half-finished tunic lay abandoned in a corner, dusty with neglect; the mending on John’s cloak was his own rough work.


The Scholar seemed to withdraw into memory for a moment, but then he suddenly remembered himself. “I have heard about your wife, my son: taking care of her is the adventure that the Sculptor has granted you. For some reason the Sculptor has chosen to send us in different directions.”


“My wife’s doctors have left little, but you are welcome to it. If I can’t go myself, I will at least have that part in your quest. Yet you do not usually walk about so late; what has happened?”


The Scholar pulled back the shutters—actually a pair of scrolls—and light shone in from outside, overpowering the feeble glow of the lamp. The light from outside was not brighter or visibly stronger: it was simply different from the lamplight, as warm, golden sunshine is different from cold, pale moonlight. The lamp’s rays retreated from it as if embarrassed. The Scholar pointed toward the source of the light.


“Do you see that star? What is it called?”


“Yes, I see it. Now that you mention it, I don’t recognize it. What is it?”


“It is the Sculptor’s Messenger, calling me to follow wherever it leads.”


“A star, the Sculptor’s Messenger? You know the Law prohibits searching the sky for such signs!”


“It forbids looking, but surely not seeing. To waste time seeking the miraculous is evil, but so is ignoring the miraculous when it occurs. The sign may not be for us at all, but for the rest of the world.”


John laughed. “Perhaps. Your interpretations of prophecy always angered the others.”


“Or simply amused them. Yet I cannot help wondering whether we have become so certain of our traditional interpretations that the Sculptor will decide to confound our expectations. He has done so before: in part it is His judgment on our pride. The Sculptor never lies, but He certainly allows the proud to deceive themselves with their scholarship and wisdom. Sometimes I think that when the King comes we will not recognize Him, or know the Judgment until we stand before Him, even though He wrote it all across the sky in letters of fire.”


“Are you so sure that He has come?”


“I do not know. Yet I do know this: He has sent for all who would learn to come. How I wish you could accompany me!”


John shrugged helplessly and pointed to a doorway behind him. “You know my wife is about to give me another child; she cannot come, and I must not leave her.”


“Yes, I know. This lad is your replacement for this journey. Pray for us, and on our return we shall tell you a marvelous tale. The Messenger would not call us for less.”


John brought some clothing from some dark nook behind the table. Dressing the boy was no problem. Both men had considerable experience with children: the Scholar with his youngest students, John with his own boy. They did not bother washing the child, of course: washing was unknown to the statues except as a religious rite, and water alone would have been useless anyway. Removing the encrusted mire would have taken something much stronger.


John also gave them some food and water for the trip. Then the child discovered the real reason for their visit. John’s house was on the city wall, and the gates had been shut long before. The Scholar strode purposefully to a window across from the door to the street. He peered out for a moment, and then nodded his satisfaction. John produced a length of rope that he had evidently already secured to something: the Scholar grasped it firmly, giving himself some slack, and slid out the window.


A moment later John pulled the rope back and lowered the boy quickly but gently over the side. The Scholar helped the child down and led him a safe distance from the wall and its guards. He had clearly done such things before, though the boy could not imagine why and dared not ask.


“It points southeast, I think,” the Scholar said, peering into the heavens. “There are a few villages that way; we shall no doubt end up in one of them. I suspect that I even know which one, though it will be better to watch than to guess.”


The boy could no longer contain his curiosity. “What points southeast?”


“The Messenger, of course: the thing that looks like a star. See how it shines downward?”


“It looks like any other star to me.”


“Ah, but it is not a star at all. The stars move as the night passes, but this one remains in one place, standing guard over something. It is a Messenger of the Sculptor’s glory, and we must follow it to the treasure it guards.”


They watched the star a while longer, and then they resumed their journey. Soon the Scholar spoke again. “If we are to travel together, we ought to be better acquainted. My name is Elihu. My fellow Sages think me mad for going on pilgrimages such as this, but they admit it has taught me much.”


“I’m Clay. I grew up as that soldier’s slave, and I know nothing about my family—or about anything else, according to the men in the barracks.”


“I doubt they got where they are by knowing very much. Has no one told you of your people and of your name?”


“What about my name? The soldiers called me Mud.”


“It is their pagan word. Yet yours is one of the oldest names: a name of glory and shame, life and death, hope and fear. I will tell you the story tomorrow.”


“Tomorrow! Why not tonight?”


“Now that we are far enough from the city to move quickly without being noticed, we must increase our pace. We dare not travel during the day, and by morning we must be far from the city. That leaves us very little time tonight—but we will have plenty of time for stories tomorrow.”

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