In a small and dimpled hour, a clock struck once and then forgot.
It was in a large and ancient chamber where time crept near, slid down a shadow-bandaged corner and fell fast asleep amid the clutter of ages. Three figures sat around a heavy table: an old man, an old woman and a young man. They seemed intent upon the playing of a game. A single star cast a thin cold light. A comfortable scent of dust and time and spice lingered in the air.
Once, in a time gone out from all memory, a constant stream of messengers had poured through the great oak doors. Grand visions and orders had swirled and clamored from the chamber in herald of a charging universe. But that glory was gone.
Yahwea and Michael now passed their time playing the game and interviewing the occasional caller who came now and again.
Today Calean was playing the game with them. He was a young man and seemed scarcely to ever have his wits about him. Calean had only recently come here. He was no good at the game. His thoughts often left the table to wink and wander in the deep and quiet corners.
It was a curious game, played one move at a time, except for Yahwea who took three.
"That's your second move."
"Must you always count them, Michael?"
"You've got one more."
Yahwea said Calean was no good at the game because his thoughts would not stay put. Michael said the boy's thoughts would not stay put because he was no good at the game. In either case, Calean remained a bad player. Just now, however, his thoughts had drifted off towards the great oak doors and were there when a knocking came from the other side.
"What was that?" Yahwea asked, looking up.
"A knocking," Michael replied, but her old eyes did not leave the game. After all, she thought, three moves are enough for anyone.
"Is someone here, Calean?" Yahwea asked.
"Yes, Yahwea. I'll go answer it." Calean liked answering the door, especially when the game's progress had become a deep mystery. He's no good at the game, Yahwea often said, but he does know when someone is at the door. It pleased Calean when Yahwea said this.
"Now, let's see. I've made one move haven't I, Michael?"
"You've made two," Michael said without looking up.
"Then I have one left." Yahwea looked from under his eyebrows at the old woman. He and Michael had been together from the start. Yahwea looked back to the game, a soft smile played in his eyes.
"It's Young Moses," Calean announced.
"Young Moses, to see me," said Yahwea, turning and raising an eyebrow. "Please show him in, Calean."
The please made it a request but the tone was directive. This lent an air of graciousness yet still got things done. Yahwea turned back to the game. "Michael?"
"Yes," but her eyes did not leave the game.
Blast her, Yahwea thought. She knows me too well. "There," he said. "That's my third move?"
"Yes. Now it's my turn," Michael said as she leaned forward.
Calean returned with the caller. Young Moses was a bright child, well scrubbed and thoroughly tested. And proper as a prophet, he knew but one right and one wrong: whatever pleased his father was right and whatever displeased his father was wrong. "Hello Moses," Yahwea said turning and placing his hands on his knees so that he bent towards the boy. He softened his eyes. "You wished to see me?"
"There is something I can do for you?"
"Well then, what is it?"
Young Moses knew his father's manner of speaking in rhythms and cues. He knew to wait for them, and to speak only in the direction they pointed. "The tablets, father."
"Tablets?" Yahwea's eyes grew vague and distant.
"Yes father. The stone ones."
Michael broke in. "Don't you remember? The ones you made for him." Michael's eyes had left the game, but it was her move now.
"Oh!" A current of memory brought the focus back to Yahwea's eyes. "Has something happened to them?" His mind leaped. "I knew this would happen."
"No!" Now Michael's mind had quite left the game. "You put them away," she continued, "so they wouldn't get broken." Yahwea's forgetfulness always angered Michael. It was Yahwea who had let that serpent into the garden and then forgot to keep an eye on it. He had always been that way and it had always angered Michael as the faults of a friend always do.
"Yes," Yahwea said, pleased with his own foresight. Then in an informative tone he added, "They are lovely things. Very delicate stone. Well, what of them?"
Young Moses took the cue. "May I have them father? Only for a little while," he added quickly. "I want to show them to my friends.
"Oh." Yahwea said. "They are very delicate, being made of stone." Michael's mouth opened to speak but Yahwea cut her off with a hand. "If it's only for a short while then I see no reason why you can't have them." A sly light glimmered in Yahwea's eyes. "Would you bring them down, Michael?"
"That I will. They're just up the hall. I'll be back in a minute." Her robes fairly shimmered as she passed from the starlight and set off up the hall.
"Humm..." Yahwea turned back to the game. "I've one move left, haven't I Calean?"
Calean's mind blanked and he uneasily did not answer.
"Yes- that should do nicely." Yahwea leaned back in his chair.
Michael realized her folly too late after she was far up the hall. It'll do no good to call him on it, she thought. It never does. Michael came back with and handed the tablets to Yahwea.
Taking them, Yahwea was careful not to meet Michael's glare. Selfish he might be, but foolish he was not. Turning to Young Moses he said, "You must be very careful with these, child." He handed over the tablets.
"Oh yes father. Thank you, sir." With that, the child left. Yahwea turned back to the game, still careful not to meet Michael's eyes.
An hour caught and spun upon a never ticking sometimes tocking clock.
The single star still washed the chamber with its thin cold light. Calean was no longer at the table. Yahwea had asked that he go and investigate a loud raucous noise that arose shortly after Young Moses left. Also, Calean was to see what the child and his friends were up to.
Yahwea and Michael each sipped from heavy earthen mugs. The steam from their breaths rose and disappeared near the star. Yahwea set his mug down atop the table and cupped his hands around it. He watched the steam drifting from its rim.
"Tell me Michael, what have you heard of that fellow I sent packing?" Then raising his eyes, "Anything?"
Michael held her mug just below her lips and cleared her throat. She stared into the shadows. "Lucis?"
"Oh, was that his name?" Yahwea asked. "Yes, I suppose it was. Have you heard? Anything?"
"He's been making some more noise lately." Michael sipped from her mug. "I suppose I'll have to get on to him."
A hard cold anger flared in Yahwea's eyes. "I rebuke him Michael. Remember that. I rebuke him."
Michael's thoughts drifted back to the ancient past. She was still fond of Lucis. It was boredom more than anything once the big work was done. The kid had no sense. He'd got to ridiculing everything Yahwea said. But when he started sitting in Yahwea's chair and refusing to get out, that was the last straw.
"Care for another go at the game?" Yahwea asked.
"The game," Michael said as her thoughts came back into the room. "It's seems such a damn dubious business."
Yahwea laughed aloud. "The game a dubious business?" He chuckled.
"Well look at it," Michael nodded. "All chock-a-block with innumerable forces, all at once, in every piece." She drew in and let go a slow breath. "Everything in adversity, always. The revenge, the hate. And there, see it darting about, the undying will? And, and-"
Yahwea raised his eyebrows. "The courage?"
"Yes," Michael nodded. "The poor courage." She frowned. "Will it ever end?"
"Michael, old friend, it's of no great matter."
"I don't believe that," Michael said.
Yahwea grew serious. "Michael, nothing is for believing or disbelieving. The game is to be enjoyed."
"Nonsense," Michael spat back.
Yahwea shook his head and smiled. "Children don't see that, but we should. Lucis could never see it." Yahwea leaned back in his chair. "Look at them play. They exalt love and condemn hate. Yet let them start to love a thing and they'll hate what ever threatens it."
Michael stared evenly at Yahwea.
"Reach in there and pull out want," Yahwea said. "Turn it over and there sits fat satisfaction." He slapped a hand on the table. "Not even I can make a coin so thin it has but one side."
Michael blinked off towards the shadows. "If that's it," she asked, "then why even start?"
"Because it can't be idle," Yahwea answered. "Once we took the first step there could be no stopping. Which face of the coin comes up matters little so long as they stay in play."
Just then Calean ran though the doorway. His face was troubled. Michael spoke first, "What's the matter?" Calean looked from her to Yahwea then to his own hands that were working at his waist.
"It's . . .Young Moses," he started then hesitated.
"Well, come on," Yahwea instructed. "What is it?"
"He . . . Young Moses . . . When he took the tablets out to his friends . . ." Calean looked from Yahwea to Michael to see if what he said had made any sense. "They, his friends, they'd got hold of a fancy gold statue. Young Moses had been so proud, but then his friends didn't care about his tablets. They laughed at him." He stopped again to see if Yahwea and Michael were following his words. "It was too much for Moses. He, he threw the tablets down. They shattered."
"I see," Yahwea exhaled slowly. "Well, it's not a terribly great loss." He waved a distracted hand. "They tablets were just stone. The rest of it doesn't change." His hands rested on the arms of his chair and he looked to Michael. "I suppose the child must be punished."
"They were only stone," Michael offered.
"Yes, only stone," Yahwea repeated. "Tell Young Moses, Calean, that he may no longer play with his friends at their new home."
Once Calean had left the chamber Yahwea turned to Michael. His hands were white where he gripped his chair and his eyes held a bitter cold clarity. "It is I, Michael. I rebuke him."
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