Authors: Madeleine L’Engle
When they got to the standing stones there was someone lying on the altar. With a low cry, Anaral hurried forward, then drew back. “It is Bishop talking with the Presence.”
While Polly watched, the
bishop slowly pushed himself into a sitting position and smiled at her and Anaral. Then he returned his stare to some far distance.
“But, Lord, I make my prayer to you in an acceptable time,
” he whispered. “The words of the psalmist. How did he know that the time was acceptable? How do we know? An acceptable time, now, for God’s now is equally three thousand years in the future and three thousand
years in the past.”
“We are sorry,” Anaral apologized. “We did not mean to disturb your prayers.”
The bishop held out his hands, palms up. “I have tried to listen, to understand.”
“Who are you trying to listen to?” Polly asked.
“Christ,” the bishop said simply.
“But, Bishop, this is a thousand years before—”
The bishop smiled gently. “There’s an ancient Christmas hymn I particularly love.
Do you know it?
Of the Father’s love begotten
“E’er the worlds began to be.”
Polly said the second line.
“He is alpha and omega, He the source, the ending—”
the bishop continued. “The Second Person of the Trinity always was, always is, always will be, and I can listen to Christ now, three thousand years ago, as well as in my own time, though in my own time I have the added blessing of knowing
that Christ, the alpha and omega, the source, visited this little planet. We are that much loved. But nowhere, at any time or in any place, are we deprived of the source. Oh, dear, I’m preaching again.”
“That’s okay,” Polly said. “It helps.”
“You’ve had good training,” the bishop said. “I can see that you understand.”
“At least a little.”
He slid down from the great altar stone. “Zachary,”
“Do you think he’s all right?”
“That I have no way of knowing. But whatever all this is about, our moving across the threshold of time in this extraordinary way has something to do with Zachary.”
“How could it?” Polly was incredulous.
“I don’t know. I have been lying here contemplating, and suddenly I saw Zachary, not here, but in my spirit’s eye, and I knew, at least for a flash
I knew, that the true reason I had gone through the time gate was for Zachary.”
Anaral dropped to the ground, sitting cross-legged. Polly leaned against one of the stone chairs. “For his heart?”
The bishop shook his head. “No, I think not. I can’t explain it. Why go to all the trouble to bring us three thousand years in the past for the sake of Zachary? I don’t find him particularly endearing.”
“Well, he can be—”
The bishop continued, “But then I think of the people Jesus died for and they weren’t particularly endearing, either. Yet He brought back to life a dead young man because his mother was wild with grief. He raised a little girl from the dead and told her parents to give her something to eat. He drove seven demons out of Mary of Magdala. Why those particular people? There were
others probably more deserving. So, I ask myself, what is there that makes me think I have crossed three thousand years because of Zachary?”
Polly plunged her hands into the pocket of the red anorak. None of this made any sense. Zachary was peripheral to her world, not central. If she never saw Zachary again, her life basically would not be changed. Her fingers moved restlessly in the anorak
pockets. She felt something hard under her left hand. Zachary’s icon. She pulled the small rectangle out, looked at it. “I guess Zachary could use a guardian angel.”
“A great angel and a small child.” The bishop, too, looked at the icon. “The bright angels and the dark angels are fighting, and the earth is caught in the battle.”
“Do you believe that?” Polly asked.
“What does a dark
angel look like?”
“Probably exactly like a bright angel. The darkness is inner, not outer. Well, my children, go on about whatever it is you need to do. I will stay here and wait.”
“You are all right, Bishop?” Anaral asked.
“I am fine. My heart is beating steadily and quietly. But I probably should not fight in any more battles.” He glanced at the sun, which was high in the sky, then clambered
up onto the altar again and lay back down. The shadow of one of the great stones protected his eyes from the glare.
Polly followed Anaral back to the compound.
There was an unease to the day. The normal routines were carried on. Fish were caught. Herbs were hung out to dry. Several women, each wearing the bright feathers of her bird—a finch, a lark, a cardinal—were making a cloak of bird
Cub called to Polly, “I may need your help.”
Polly had forgotten the second raider, the very young man with the compound fracture, whom Anaral had tended so gently the night before. Now he was lying under the shade of a lean-to. His cheeks were flushed and it was apparent that he had some fever. Cub squatted down beside him. “Here,” he said, “I have some of Eagle Woman’s medicine to
help take away the fever. It is made from the mold of bread and it will not taste pleasant, but you must take it.”
“You are kind,” the young raider said gratefully. “If you had been wounded and taken prisoner by my tribe, we would not have cared for you in this way.”
you have cared for me?” Cub asked.
“Oh, yes, our healer is very great. But we do not waste his power on our prisoners.”
“Is it a waste?” Cub held out an earthen bowl to the raider’s lips and the lad swallowed obediently. “Now I must look at the leg. Please, Poll-ee, hold his hands.”
Polly knelt by the raider. Anaral had followed her and knelt on his other side. Polly found it hard to understand him, but she got the gist of what he was saying in a language that was more primitive than Ogam. “What is your name?”
She took his hands in hers.
“Klep,” he said. At least, that is what it sounded like. “I was born at the time of the darkening of the sun, of night coming in the morning as my mother labored to bring me forth. Then, as I burst into the world, the light returned, slowly at first, and then, as I shouted, the sun was back and brilliant. It was a very great omen. I will, one day, be chief of my tribe,
and I will do things differently. I, too, will take care of the wounded and not let them die.” He gasped with pain, and Polly saw Cub bathing the broken and raw skin with some kind of solution. Anaral turned away while Polly held Klep’s hands tight, and he grasped her so hard that it hurt. He grimaced against the pain, clenching his teeth to keep from crying out. Then he relaxed. Turned and looked
at Anaral. “I’m sorry.”
She smiled at him gently. “You are very brave.”
“And you are doing well,” Cub said. “I will not need to hurt you any more today.”
Klep let out a long breath. “I hear that Brown Earth, my companion, is gone from you, and also one of yours. Or is he one of yours, with the pale skin and dark hair?”
“He is not one of ours,” Cub said. “He comes from a far place.”
asked eagerly, “Do you know where they are?”
Klep shook his head. “Not where they are, or how they left. Your medicine made me sleep like a child and I heard nothing.”
Cub asked, “Do you think Brown Earth took Zak with him?”
“I do not know. Would this Zak want to go?”
“We don’t know,” Anaral said. “It is very strange.”
“We don’t understand,” Polly said.
“If I knew anything,” Klep assured
them, “I would tell you. I am grateful. Brown Earth has a big mouth. It may be that he has made promises.”
“Promises he can keep?” Cub asked.
“Rest now,” Cub ordered. “Anaral will bring you food and help you to eat. I will be back this afternoon to put fresh compresses on your leg.”
They reported their conversation to Karralys.
“It solves nothing,” he said, “but you have been
helpful. And Klep may yet be helpful, who knows? Thank you. Eagle Woman sends her thanks to you, Polly. Cub will need you again when he dresses her shoulder. Anaral”—he smiled gently at the girl—“is a nourisher, but she cannot take the sight of blood.”
“It is true,” Anaral agreed. “When I cut my finger, I screamed. Poor Bishop. But I will be glad to help Klep eat.”
“We are glad you are here,
Polly,” Karralys said. “And we wish you could return to your own time. You must wish that, too.”
Polly shook her head. “Not until we find Zachary. And not until there is rain.”
The attack came during the night. Og woke Polly, barking loudly. Anaral was up in a flash, spear in hand. Polly followed her. Torches cast a bloody glow over the fighting people, and at first Polly could not tell
which were the People of the Wind and which were the raiders. Then she saw Og rushing to Karralys’s aid, jumping on a raider who had a spear at Karralys’s ribs. Og clamped the man’s wrist in his jaws, and the spear fell.
Then Polly felt something dark flung over her, and she was picked up like a sack of potatoes. Her screaming mingled with the general shouting. She tried to kick, to wriggle free,
but her captor held her tight as he ran with her. She could not tell in which direction they were going. She heard the snapping of twigs underfoot. Felt branches brushing by. Then at last she was put down and the covering removed from her head. They were on the beach, out of sight of the village. Trees reached almost to the lake’s edge. The moon was high, and she gasped as she saw Zachary standing
by a shallow canoe.
“You brought her,” Zachary said to her captor. “Good.”
“Get in the canoe,” Zachary said. His face was white and pinched in the moonlight, but his voice was sharp.
“What is this?” Polly demanded.
“It’s all right, sweet Pol, really it is,” Zachary reassured her. “I need you.”
She drew back. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Her captor’s hands were around her elbows
and she was propelled toward the canoe. He was not Brown Earth, the raider who had had the concussion, but an older man, muscled, heavy.
“He won’t hurt you, as long as you don’t make a fuss. I promise,” Zachary said. “Please, Polly.” He was cajoling. “Just come with me.”
“Across the lake.”
“To the people who are trying to take our land?” Her voice rose with incredulity.
Zachary asked. “What do you care about it? It’s three thousand years ago. You don’t know anything about the People Across the Lake. They aren’t enemies.”
“They attacked us.”
He overrode her, speaking eagerly. “They have a healer, Polly, an old man, wise, and full of experience. Brown Earth saw Cub.”
“Cub will help you.”
Zachary shook his head. “He’s too young. He doesn’t know enough. The healer
across the lake has power. He can make me better.”
“Fine,” Polly said. “Go to him. But leave me out of it.”
“I can’t, Polly love. I would if I could. But they want to see you.”
“Because you called the snake and it came. They think you’re some kind of goddess.”
“That’s nonsense. Anyhow, how can you understand what they’re saying?”
“If I can get them to speak slowly enough, I get
the gist of things. I’m not good at Ogam like you, but I get enough. And sign language can be very effective,” Zachary said. “How else do you think Brown Earth got me to go with him? Please, Polly, please. I don’t want him to have to hurt you.”
“You’d let him? I thought you cared about not hurting—ouch!” Her captor’s hands tightened about her arms like a vise.
“Please, Polly, just come, and
everything will be all right.”
“Take your hands off me,” Polly snapped. She opened her mouth to scream for help, but her captor silenced her with a rough hand. From the village she could hear sounds of shouting, so probably her cry would not be heard. Her captor shoved her toward the canoe. He was taller than she was, and full of brawn. To try to fight him was folly. At the moment it seemed the
simplest thing to get into the canoe, to go with Zachary and the raider, to see what all this was about.
The raider pushed the bark off the narrow beach, grating it over the pebbles, then leapt in lightly, barely causing it to sway.
Zachary reached out to touch Polly’s knee. “I’m sorry, Polly. You know I don’t want to hurt you. You know that.” His face was drawn and anxious. “They sent this
goon with me because they were afraid I mightn’t bring you. I’m the one they don’t trust, not you. You’ll be treated well, I promise you, just like a goddess. And that’s what you are to me, even if I think of you as a goddess differently from the way they do.”
She sighed gustily. “Zachary, when the fighting’s over and I’m missing, they’ll be frantic.”
“Karralys, andAnaral. The bishop,
Tav. Cub. Everybody.”
Her captor made two guttural sounds, which Polly interpreted as “Let’s go.” He pointed, and they could see several longer canoes moving swiftly across the lake.
The battle, then, was over, though Polly had no idea who had won, who had been hurt, or even killed. Swiftly she leapt into the water and sloshed toward shore, but her captor was after her and grabbed her before
she could reach land.
“You have no right to take me against my will,” she struggled to say.
He did not reply. He picked her up and carried her back to the canoe.
“Polly! Don’t do that again!” Zachary sounded frantic.
Polly struggled to catch her breath, which had been nearly squeezed out of her by the strong arms of the raider.
“Polly, don’t deny me my chance. Please. I know their healer
can help me.”
“But there’s a price on it?”
“They just want me to bring you to them because they think you’re a goddess.”
Polly shook her head. “I’m no goddess. I didn’t call Louise. She just happened to come. I don’t have any magic powers.” She held on to the side of the canoe as the raider paddled swiftly. “Does he have a name?”
Zachary laughed. “It sounds something like Onion, I think,
but their language isn’t pure Ogam. Lots of grunts and noises and arm waving. Polly, I’m sorry I had to get you this way, truly I am, but I didn’t know how else. I need you. If you come with me, then their old healer will fix my heart.”