Moshué motioned to those seated at the front, and, as one, they rose and formed a line at the steps of the platform. Madseu’re rose and took his place in line with his wife. He proudly clutched the plexiglass display that contained the gleaming coin, and watched as the first person crossed the stage to present his gift to the Big L. It was Willheim, and he stammered as he held out his gift. Madsue’re could not see what the gift was from where he stood, but could see it was not an especially large object which had been given.
“B-b-b-Big L, I w-w-w,” he began, then gave up and thrust the object in his hands out toward the Big L, who took it with an understanding smile. As the Big L examined what he’d been given, a look of surprise leaped across his face.
“What is this? Why, here are two where one had been given! As Ahab said to Starbuck, ‘Thou art but too good a fellow.’” The Big L took Willheim’s hand and pressed the objects back into it.
“No, sir,” Willheim replied earnestly, “it is I who should thank you. As all of us should do, for the new life you have brought us!” As Willheim turned to leave the stage, a look of startled surprise came over him as the realization hit that the words he had just spoken had been not halting, but free and easy.
Madeu’re watched as each person in line returned their gifts to the Big L, multiplied in quantities, twice, three times, some as much as ten times the quantity they had been given away. Each gift was received with gratitude and returned to the giver with thanks and kind words.
Finally Madseu’re stood at the edge of the stage, and he watched as Alyana met with the big L, and as she motioned for the droids to bring up her library of books onto the platform to present to the Big L. The gasps of the crowd echoed through the arena as the several droids made their way forward and the piles of carefully packaged literature was placed at the Big L’s feet.
The Big L himself seemed almost at a loss for words, but after a moment, his lips parted in a smile. His eyes glistened wetly as he spoke.
“This gift is yours to have, and more. Our scripture speaks of the doubloon, which offered by Ahab to his men, was taken back again by him; but there was an older scripture than this, that spoke, not of giving and taking again, but of the rewards to be given for such a return as you have brought. ‘Whosoever is faithful in little is faithful also in much,’ it said, and surely your faithful stewardship of my gift to you will not go unrewarded. This library of books you bring today is but a small portion of what the collection I own, and it is that collection that I give into your charge, to serve as the chief caretaker of the library of Terranova.”
Alyana tried to move her lips to offer thanks for the honor that had been bestowed on her, but could do nothing but stand speechless as tears flowed down her face. The Big L placed one arm gently around her shoulder, and wiped her tears away with his free hand as he led her to the steps. There she paused to finally breathe in, and spoke. “This is more honor than I ever expected to receive. It will be my greatest joy to accept this appointment.” As the Big L nodded solemnly, Alyana turned to go with a smile full of joy on her face as she returned to her seat.
Now Madseu’re felt a chill of shame wash over him. He looked down at the coin that he held. Its gleaming suddenly seemed to dim. No longer did it seem to him the brightest object he had ever seen, but appeared tarnished and worn by time and abuse. Little blemished his eyes had long since tricked themselves into overlooking seemed now to stand out more glaringly than any bright part of the coin.
He knew what was going to come, and a sense of dread struck him, as if a lifetime of regret had been stored up then dumped onto his heart all at once. How proud he had been of that coin, and of his decision to keep it just as it was, to display it in all its imperfection, when he might have multiplied its worth by careful trading in the intervening years since he had been given it by the Big L. Had he honestly believed that such a treatment of this gift entrusted to him would be received by the Big L with praise?
Words from the Scripture came into his mind and taunted him for his assumptiveness: “‘How wondrous familiar is a fool’ Ahab muttered.” And how foolish Madseu’re felt now. He could not bring himself to approach the steps, to face the judging eyes of the crowds observing this ceremony.
“Madseu’re Disvone'ray,” it was Big L’s voice, calling him by name. “What have you done with the gift I commended to you?”
Hesitantly he ascended the steps to face the consequences of what seemed to him now to be a lifetime of folly. What had he been thinking of? Surely he had never doubted that the Big L would return? Had he not seen this question coming from beginning? Yes, of course I had, he told himself desperately. I don’t have to lose face now! I’ve done exactly what was required of me!
His pride returning somewhat, Madseu’re held out the coin in its display case. “H-here is the- the coin you… gave me.” He struggled to force the words together into cohesive thoughts. “S-see, I have kept it… e-e-exactly as you…g-gave it to me. I have not traded it away- or-or…or g-gambled one in hopes of gaining two. Who-who am I to- to risk what… wh-what belongs to another?”
Both hands gripped the fiberglass display case tightly so he wouldn’t fumble it the same way he had struggled with the words just spoken. The gift was received in silence. As the Big L accepted the coin, Madseu’re relaxed his grip and drew back his hands, revealing two sweaty palm-prints on the clean, reflecting glass.
The trepidation he had felt before returned in a fresh wave, and when he finally was able to raise his eyes to meet the Big L’s gaze, his heart broke. For streaming from the kind, loving eyes that looked piercingly into his own, were tears. The Big L wept silently, and with each tear that fell, Madseu’re felt as though a drop of acid were burning at his heart. How had he hoped to justify himself to the man who had given everything he had, his very life included, for the sake of even the most selfish of men, Madseu’re included? He had returned bitter refuse for life-giving water.
The Big L spoke, sadly, but with unshaken love still present in his voice. “This coin was of a nominal value, a mere token in comparison with the true wealth that you might have accumulated from it. I spoke before of an older scripture, older than the one we know, a scripture that rewarded faithful maintenance of small gifts with the entrusting of greater gifts. That scripture has also a pronouncement for those who deal selfishly with the gifts given to them. It was written there, ‘If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?’”
Madseu’re’s heart shrank at each word, but he stood awaiting the judgement he knew he deserved.
The Big L continued. “Since the time I left you, it is true, you have risen from your low position among your peers, and made yourself a leader among men. Once you were a cook for a single station, and you rose to a position of authority over your fellow men. But in this simple bequest of mine, you fell short. There is still a place for you in our new home; not as great as it might have been, but a place befitting what faithfulness you showed. Around the orbit of Terranova is a belt of asteroids, rich in metals and ore. There will be mining operations there that will require the services of a cook, and it is there that you will be assigned.”
As Madseu’re listened to this pronouncement, he might have easily been angered at this. Sent to work in the asteroid mines as cook to common laborers? For a man of his present position, this was a substantial demotion. But any sense of resentment was gone. In the face of the shameful pride he had displayed, this was not punishment but grace. He knew that if he had gotten a just reward for his action, he might have been placed in an even lower position.
He knew now that all he had heard about the Big L was true. When Tarwhal had related his own experiences, his assessment had been right. Here was no hard taskmaster, but a loving leader. Were his demands so much? To give a gift and expect it to be used? Where was the harshness in that? Madseu’re could hold no ill will for such a leader, but only give his full measure of devotion. He smiled as he took his seat by Alyana. Yes, this was his just reward.