Doubt the Stars Are Fire

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Chapter 6 - Metaphor

8 years ago

Leda could hear her name being called as she ran. The wind rustled through the trees and distorted the voice so much that it could’ve been anyone calling her. She had run farther than she ever had. She was trying to outrun the tears surging in her throat, but the distance and the confusion of the new path in front of her made her stop.

Her hand still stung. And when she unfurled her fingers, she gazed at the fresh welt on her hand. Her sob were irrepressible now. She tried to suck it all back into her. Keep it all in. If she kept it in, it wasn’t real. And the welt would be fine. But her shoulders shook, and Leda sank to her knees and drew her legs up to her chest.

She couldn’t hear her name being called anymore. Either they would give up or come looking for her. And when they did find her, there would be another welt. And likely another.

But Leda wasn’t thinking those things. She pressed her small back against a tree, and let hot angry tears fall. It was becoming a habit now. The forest was her habit. Crying in the forest and sucking in as much air, waiting for the pain to dull.

She heard running feet crush the soft leafy ground from under it. Leda leapt to her feet, and she swung her head around, throwing off her tears and the pain in her hand. It was surely something worse, something that would hurt her again.

But when she saw the dark-haired man, in his dull-hunting clothes. It was as though a light that pierced her agonized anticipation and the thick darkness that bubbled from deep within her stomach had dissipated.

Conri Stryker at once sank to his knees, in front of the small, blonde girl, as though to appeal to her. Ask for forgiveness. And he wrapped his arms around her tiny body. It was almost as though nothing was there for him when he hugged his daughter, Leda.

Leda choked back tears as her father pushed himself away, letting his gloved fingers delicately push away a white strand that had fallen in front of her eye.

“What happened this time?”

But the young girl just lowered her face and clenched her fist more.

“You’ll be angry,” she struggled through the wave of sobs.

“I won’t be,” he sang comfortingly.

“You’ll be angry at mother,” Leda shot her eyes up at him.

“I won’t be angry.”

But Leda could see he even wasn’t entirely convinced of his own words.

He silently and gently lifted her clenched hand, and held it between them. It was evidence that Leda wanted to hide. To pull away and bury it behind her.

But her father would not let her look away. And her thin, young fingers began to slowly open like a flower unfolding in the morning.

He looked down at the welt, which seemed much redder, much angrier than before.

“What happened this time?” He curled her fingers back, and looked up at her. He was impassive. Simply curious, but Leda could see something simmering in his look.

“Summoning,” her voice cracked. She didn’t want to tear down the thin veil that concealed the whole truth. She didn’t want to disrupt the delicate calm her father seemed to have achieved in that moment.

“And why can’t you summon?” He tilted his head, expressing tenderness.

Leda’s lips parted. She didn’t know why. She immediately wanted to say because she was afraid. She was afraid of mother.

“I don’t know,” she could only speak the words from her lungs when fresh hot tears stung her eyes.

Her father finally rose to his feet. He led his daughter to a wide oak. Leda could tell it was ancient. It’s roots arched and fanned out from the ground, and Conri found a little opening in the ground where they could sit. He grabbed his knapsack and sank down in a little nook of roots. Leda instinctively placed herself where his hip and thigh were, and pressed her head against his leather jacket, which smelled of wood-fire smoke, his sweat, and vaguely of blood. Conri pulled off his gloves and reached into his knapsack. When he slid his hand back out, he produced a small, dark grey book. It was almost a perfect square. And when he turned it over to open it, it was almost a perfect cube. The pages were thin and transparent, and all of the words were broken up into almost perfect squares.

Conri ran his finger along the sides of the squarish boxes of words. “These are stanzas.”

Leda squinted at the words.

“And this is called a poem.” Conri his finger traced from the top of the page all the way down.

“What’s a poem?” Leda lifted her head.

“It’s the offering of truth, a message from oracles put onto a page,” then Conri considered, “most of the time we think of them as words on a page. Poetry can be everywhere.”

Then he turned his focus back onto the words in front of them, “This is a metaphor.”

Leda read the words: An elephant, a ponderous house/A melon strolling on two tendrils.

“An elephant isn’t a house...” Leda commented reflectively.

She glanced up at her father. He nodded, “But it’s like one. And it looks like a melon that’s taking a stroll.”

Leda smiled down at the poem before her father squeezed the pages between his fingers, separating the seeming indistinguishable pages from one another and finally opening to another poem that was a different shape. It was longer:

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses
your understanding.

Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its
heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.

And could you keep your heart in wonder at the
daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;

And you would accept the seasons of your heart,
even as you have always accepted the seasons that
pass over your fields.

And you would watch with serenity through the
winters of your grief.

Much of your pain is self-chosen.

It is the bitter potion by which the physician within
you heals your sick self.

Therefore trust the physician, and drink his remedy in silence and tranquillity:

For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by
the tender hand of the Unseen,

And the cup he brings, though it burn your lips, has
been fashioned of the clay which the Potter has
moistened with His own sacred tears.

Conri read the words softly into her ear. It was as though a warm blanket had been wrapped around her shoulders, and cool bandaged had been wrapped around her hand. Leda let the words carry her set her adrift into the stillness of her own mind. And when her father had finished, Leda read and reread Even as the stone fruit must break... she felt her hand burn again, and she tried to swallow the tears. The tears this time were different.

“One day,” Conri spoke into her hair, “I think you’ll understand this poem better. When you’re older.”

Then Leda’s eyes fell on self-chosen.

“Is it my fault?” Her fingers tapped the words, “what happened to my hand...”

“No,” her father gently pushed her fingers to the next stanza and read: “because look: It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self.”

He pulled away to look at his daughter: “It’s not about what your mother has done, but rather— we will always face pain and injustice as we pass through life. But there will always be meaning to it.”

“So, I must keep going to combat lessons with mother?”

“No,” Conri looked at her severely, “nothing like that.”

He waited for a moment, and a deep cold wind wound through the forest. A storm was coming later that night.

“You’ve already been broken open like a stone fruit,” he turned his gaze back on her smilingly. Then he pressed her back into his chest and whispered into her hair. If the storm had rushed in upon them, Leda wouldn’t have minded: she had never felt more safe in that moment. “Your heart shines as brilliantly as any young witch in all of London. And that is far more powerful than even the the magic that a sacred immortal can conjure.”

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