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* The Library - Fiction for the Heart *

The Gathering
Ch. 13 - The Raggedy Man

In the days that followed Desire's emergence, Magda watched carefully, always on the alert for signs of imbalance and strife. By unspoken agreement, whenever it seemed the little fairy would burst with longing, they gathered around her and stayed with her while she cried her love and need and desire. And she listened to them while they remembered their pasts, while they cried their fears and hurts and angers. Her tears flowed in empathy when Mara remembered dying at the hands of an angry crowd, her hair shorn and clothes torn. She fluttered around Girda's head while she raged at an invisible enemy who tried had to keep her captive. And she often rested her head on Mabel's chest while she cried her terrors of the dark and formless dangers from an enemy who wanted them dead.

They began to notice changes in their valley, subtle at first, and then blatantly unmistakable. One day Mara and Magda, walking along a path that ran beneath a grove of trees, were startled to see great clumps of nearly-ripe fruit hanging from previously barren branches.

"Oh!" Magda cried, "I always wanted a grove of fruit trees." She paused, puzzled. "But these weren't fruit bearing trees, were they?"

Mara shrugged.

Mabel discovered a lush flowering garden growing where there had once been only a dry brown slope of rock. New green grasses and flowers sprang up all over the valley. Beautiful birds of a kind they'd never seen before came to nest in the trees and filled the valley with their happy chatter. Wild strawberries seemed to grow overnight, which made Girda ecstatic. They began to feel they were living in a mystical place filled with hidden magic that fulfilled their heart's desires before they even knew them.

One day Magda, Mabel, Girda and Mara stood admiring a beautiful tree with the most fragrant blossoms that had grown up overnight near the mouth of the cave. Mara breathed in the perfume and sighed, "The cave will smell so wonderful, it's like something I dreamed about. It's like magic."

"The magic is in you," a voice said, behind them. They looked around and saw what appeared to be a very old man stooped and weary, standing beneath the trees. He was covered with dirty rags and his feet were bare and bleeding. Much of his face was obscured by long, filthy, straggly hair, but his eyes, when he looked up at them, were a bright piercing blue. They felt drawn in by those eyes, pulled into a deep well of compassion and caring and soft gently rocking waves...

"Who are you?" boomed Girda, breaking the spell, one hand moving to the hilt of her sword.

"I don't remember my name," the man said. "I don't know how I came here. I've been wandering for so long. I was traveling with a companion who escaped with me from the dark place. I ... I kept seeing a soft glowing on the horizon, but every time we seemed to be close, it would disappear. My companion finally got fed up and went his own way, and all of a sudden I found myself here!" He paused and looked at the little group gathered on the grass. "Is this a place of healing?" he asked.

"Yes," Mabel said. "This is our secret glen of tears."

Magda and Mara looked at eachother. "This companion," Magda said, "who was he? Did you know him well?"

"Well, no," the man said. "He helped me escape, but I'm not sure who he was. He never talked about himself." He looked around the valley in wonder. "You've filled this valley with magic. The magic is in you," he said again. "In all of you. I can feel it."

Magda said, "If you really want to find healing, you're welcome to join us at our circle. There is where we can tell our stories, remember our past, feel our pain."

The Raggedy Man hesitated. "I can't stay, I don't really belong here, I'm not one of you." He looked around at them as if he wished he was. "But ... I've brought these two... they need healing so much more than me and I think they do belong here with you. I had to get them out of the dark place. Please, can you help them?"

He unfolded some of the rags and revealed two small figures. One might have been a young woman once, before she had been so badly treated. Only one arm remained of her limbs, the others were stubs, wrapped in dirty rags. A long jagged scar marred the side of her face, permanently closing one eye and causing her mouth to droop. Her one good eye gazed out at the world blankly. Blind? They couldn't tell. The other figure appeared to be a small child, but she snarled and growled and snapped at them like a wild animal when the man pulled back her wrappings. She swiped at them with her hands like claws, and they could see marks that looked like some creature had taken bites out of her shoulders and arms. The wounds looked infected and raw.

"ohhhh" Mabel groaned.

"Bring them to the cave," Magda said.

Girda took the bundles from the man and went into the cave. The others started after her, but the man hesitated and then turned to leave.

"Where are you going?" Mara called out.

"I don't belong here," the man said. "I only came to bring those two home to you."

Magda went to the man and touched his sleeve. "Even if you're not one of us, you found us, so you must belong here. And we welcome you to stay and heal with us. If you want to. You don't have to be alone in the world, you can stay here and be safe, for as long as you want."

He looked around the valley and then back at them. Tears welled up in his eyes.

Just then the little fairy flew over the hill and swooped toward them. She was glowing pink and gold and streaks of green were shooting out from her like tiny verdant bolts of lightening. She hovered briefly in front of the Raggedy Man and then swooped down on him in a frenzy of delight. She darted in and around and up and down - into his raggedy jacket and out his raggedy sleeve, between his raggedy legs and around his raggedy head.

The others gaped in amazement and began to chuckle at Desiree's antics. She was moving so fast she was almost a blur of light, and it looked to them like she was wrapping him up in green and gold and pink ribbons of light. He stood in the center of this whirlwind, stunned at first, and then he began to chuckle too. When she got tangled in his raggedy hair he collapsed to the ground laughing and finally managed to get hold of her and gently dis-entangle her. She sat on his hand, eyes shining, and wings shimmering - she was still shooting out little bolts of green light.

He looked at her and smiled. "Thank you for the lovely welcome, little one." His smile faded as he continued to gaze at her. His brow furrowed. "Do I know you? Or, maybe I knew someone like you once, I think... long ago." He frowned and shook his head. "I can't remember anything very well."

Magda said, "I'm still trying to remember too. That's what we're here for. So, will you stay?"

"Yes," he said. "Thank you, I would like to stay."

This sent Desiree into another flying frenzy, this time in the air over their heads - swirling, circling, dipping, dancing, and painting the slowly darkening sky with pink and gold and green trails.

They all went to join Girda in the cave. She had begun to remove the wrappings from the new arrivals and had finally given up on the feral child after getting scratched a few times. They talked it over and finally Girda took one arm and Magda the other and they plopped her into the pool, rags and all. She hissed and snarled at them until the warm water touched her skin and then she subsided, whether in shock or comfort, they couldn't tell. She retreated to the far end of the pool and sank her small self up to her nose in the warm waters. She closed her eyes and except for the occasional whimper, was silent. They thought maybe she had fallen asleep, so Magda tried to approach her to examine her wounds. As soon as Magda got close, though, the child's eyes flew open and she snarled and threatened to scratch. So, they left her alone.

The crippled one began to cry silently as soon as they put her in the pool. Mara and Mabel held her between them and she continued to cry, tears streaming from her one undamaged eye as they gently removed the dirty rags and washed her wounds. They could see now that she wasn't blind, at least not physically. But she seemed to be able to "not see" at will, as if whatever horrors she had witnessed had forced her to learn blindness, in an effort to block it all out.

The Raggedy Man sat on a stone ledge and watched.

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