Thursday, July 29, 2010

Serial Fiction: Whisper from the Dust XX

“Citizens of Ariel,” Marl’s voice boomed again, though I could not see him. He must have been speaking from inside the Temple. “Today, we do not killed a man. We kill a thief, a heretic, a disruptor and corrupter of the peace. An enemy of the people who disrupted the Profusion at the heart of all things.

“We kill not for retribution, but the health of Ariel. The Temple...kills no criminals. Instead, we kill crime. You see, evil does not exist until humans do it. Evil doesn’t enter this city, but evil does come out of it. Evil courses through it. So Ariel must be cleansed. And this city will be pure.

“The Jade Temple of the History of the Profusion has seen many wicked cities, and has purged all of them. Evil comes, and evil falls away. It does not endure, it does not triumph. But it threatens, it threatens us perpetually. But we will not be deterred. The laws of the Profusion live forever. They will endure when this city has long since turned to dust.

“May the lingering grace of the Profusion extend to this soul mercy in his next life, for he will not find it here. Amen.”

Great silence fell, marking the customary pause for reflection after any Historian has spoken. Then the procession started toward the scaffolding again. Two Greens had had to hold Batyst upright the entire time that Marl spoke.

Adlasola turned and buried her face in my embrace. “It’s so terrible,” she said. “I see but I cannot see this.” I gathered her in a muffling embrace. I wasn’t going to watch it either. I was too numb to take it in. In all my years of Temple service, I had never seen an execution before that day. I was reminded of nothing other than the night I held a beggar child of my own age, as he breathed out his rattling last. Suddenly, that seemed an execution, too; the boy had starved because Temple taxes had forced him outside of his own parents’ home. I hadn’t thought of him again until today.

Batyst and his guards reached at last the scaffold. The metal shoes the Temple had given Ryn thudded heavily against the wood. A workman shimmied up the beam to tie the rope in place, in accordance with the ceremony and so that spectators would see it was not tied too short or too long. I held Adlasola and shrank further inside myself. They would know our names by now. They had long known our faces, and would soon bring both together. And Batyst was going to die. No longer did I permit those electric shafts of hope that had pierced the morning, fierce fantasies that the Blooded would come storming the stage and carry Ryn Batyst away.

For there would be no riot. No one else knew enough of the Blooded to bring together. Whoever else had been with him had surely been killed or captured. There would be no rescue because there was no longer any Blooded movement. Ryn was going to die for nothing.

I stayed in the square because there was no place else to go to, no building the Green Guards could not eventually reach. If the Temple of History decides that at last it once you, there is no place in all Thaeron that will make you safe.

The workmen handed off the rope. The executioner placed it around Ryn’s neck and arranged him so that he stood squarely over the trap door. He asked the prisoner if he had any ultimate words. Ryn stood silently, weaving back and forth with weakness. I nearly screamed at him, rage that he would die without protest.

But I will remember. I’ll not forget the glint of sun on the spinters of the planks or the bored faces of the workmen or the feigned nonchalance of the guards. I’ll not forget the slap the trap door made against some support when it fell from beneath his feet. Ryn made a hoarse rattling sound, and after a while there came a shameful smell when his bowel and bladder voided. And then Ryn Batyst hung still at last, the horror of it caught like hoarseness in my throat. And the crowd, in bored satiation, broke up and walked distractedly away.

We of course could do no differently. “Del,” Adlasola said, “we perhaps must leave.” The great Temple doors were opening, even as two Greens dragged the body of Ryn Batyst back beneath the Temple where he will be, like all Thaeron’s dead, incinerated, so that his spirit can follow the traces of the grace of the Profusion to whatever place among the stars where it still abides in full.

It was time now, as well, for the noon rite, when Historians lead the faithful in prayerful contemplation of that moment when the Profusion fell, and ended the great morning of all human history. Indeed, it is the studied genius of the Temple to align the turns of history with the seasons of the day as well as the hours of the year. Thus we remember that History is in no wise past, but something to be contemplated in different modes – we are fast approaching that time of year that most marks the present, for example, when the dusk of autumn will doubly mark Thaeron’s certain place on the edge of future darkness, even as summer afternoons mark the long decline that we call the wars between the cities, when so much of the grace and wisdom of the Profusion did slowly wane, and so much machinery was slowly lost. All of it will soon be gone entirely – that is what dusk and autumn both must surely mean. Sunset, that time when the first Faith once again brings all the world together in colored beauty, is only a reprieve. Darkness soon shall come, however long the light might linger.

Dimly, I nodded. She took my hand and I took her wrist. We walked away together, supposing that the Historians would not think to find us both together into the Gates. She of course had to lead the way; only she knew the tavern to which she had referred, and I was too dispirited to ask. I kept watching the dust that the great river of pedestrians kicked up beneath its feet.

“Faster,” she said, and I did try. The Greens especially frown upon all lingering. But even keeping with the crowd, another two or three eternities oozed by. I kept contemplating the moment when Ryn Batyst hung still, and thinking that he had not said a thing. Why not? Why would one not even decry one’s own murderers? Thinking this, I could only be relieved that a great rank of clouds had come to blot out the sun. The sudden darkness seemed appropriate.

“In here,” Adlasola said, and led me off to the right and down a set of stairs. The oldest saloons were dug into the ground like cellars, to keep the merchandise chill. And it was cool, dark and dampened like a cave. “A miner’s bar,” Adlasola said, referring to those poor souls who cut Ariel’s white stone from its surrounding mountains, or from the riverbed whenever they redirected it.

“Yeah,” someone laughed from behind the bar, “you’d think they’d want to get away from it, wouldn’t you?” From the darkness emerged a man perhaps fifty years old, the crags and lines of his face exaggerated by light of the torch he carried, his back and shoulders firm but slumped, muscled but showing the accumulation of several years of well-earned accommodation.

“Course,” he said, “I shatter my leg, and what do I work with my Guild to get? This godsdamned miner’s bar, with all the same old faces. Should’ve took the payout.” His grin faded as he recognized Adlasola. “Corner booth, backs to the door. No names. I’m sorry.”

I looked around to find the bar around us empty; there are no other torches or candles in the darkness. “He needs to see if someone else walks in,” explained Adlasola. “At this time of day, I think it would not be a miner.” She placed a silver coin out on the table when we reached it. Her confederate joined us momentarily and slid a pitcher of ale between us precisely where the coin had been. He poured out three glasses and sat for a long time gazing at the darkness we all sat in. Neither I nor Adlasola hurried him.

Serial Fiction: Whisper from the Dust XIX

Chapter Seven

September 42, 440 Y.A.

I’ll not forget that day. Because neither of us slept, dawn came tinged with that fatigue that distorts both perception and emotion – and anxiety only took us further. We only stopped standing in her doorway when the first troop of vendors shuffled east, glum and wordless in the dawn, their brown backs bent beneath loads and packs of flour and of yeast. Long ago, the Bakers Guild had realized that market vendors needed breakfast too, and negotiated a special dispensation from the Temple, which insists that selling without sun is sin. What the bakers eat, I suppose, no one has ever risen soon enough to know.

Such were my thoughts. The mind accelerates when worry finds no new information, expanding upon irrelevant detail. But the sound of the baker’s clogs on the stone had startled us inside. When you expect the guards to come for you, every sound brings them near.

“Do you know anyone?” she asked. “I mean, anyone who would know?”

“No one close,” I said, thinking of the aged farmers north of Ariel. “No one in the city. You?”

She nodded. “The owner of a saloon in the Gates, the man who inducted me. He bought a painting from me the very next day and was deliciously embarrassed. But,” she added sighing, “perhaps the square is all the further we’ll need to go.”

I could only nod in turn. Executions take place over the Healing Well, so that the condemned might hope that their souls, at least, will be restored as the First Faith’s once was.

“We should go, then,” I said. “We’ll learn nothing just waiting here.” The executions, if any, will not be announced. The first Faith’s edict that all executions shall be public doesn’t stop the Temple from holding them without announcement. Those who need to see, the Temple argues, will come. Those who would constitute the public eye must volunteer.

Adlasola looked at her paintings, nodding. “Truly, I make nothing today.” We turned out the door and left. Whether we closed it or not, I surely do not know. But I do recall that as we left the first beggar’s wail rang through the streets, their joint ululation an older timekeep than the first clock of the first guild that ever was. It is a song I myself remember participating in, precisely at the sunrise, and I doubt it will ever fail to haunt me. It is the song of hunger and of poverty, and of everything the Temple surely must continue. It is the song of human hopelessness, and I do not doubt that I shall hear it in my grave.

Adlasola shivered, and gathered my great gray cloak around her. I’d given it to her deep in the night, when even Ariel’s mild climes grow chill. Somehow, it felt even colder now, and I saw our breath mist upwards into the sharp sunshine that was just then climbing down into the streets. We walked swiftly as we could, brushing past bunches of jugglers and a brace of knife-makers gossiping about their trade. Every guard eyes us suspiciously, no matter the color of their armor. Both my name and hers would be prominent if they had him, and if Ryn Batyst broke under torture. But I had no doubt he would. The Temple always finds its answers. I have never paid as much attention to a crowd as I did that day, and counted eight eternities until we finally arrived.

The scaffold was huge and wooden and erect, constructed from the same planks the Temple always uses for such purposes. But it was built in the manner common to that of other instruments of its kind, a skeleton of lumber cut to raw planks and beams and weathered from its storage space behind the Temple. I remembered finding that pile many years ago, as a curious urchin child not yet tamed by Historian Staleph’s Rule for Building Productive and Harmonious Youth. Noting that the hired workmen for the most part had departed for the day, I felt little older standing there much later, my childhood quite behind me.

Salaan wasn’t going to dismantle it, of course. A mind as subtle as his would want to know how the populace reacted to the public threat of execution. Adlasola and I stopped cold.

“We don’t know,” she said. “We don’t know who it is.”

I nodded weakly. I had few doubts. It was too much coincidence.

“Ryn Batyst,” a voice behind us said. Adlasola’s face cracked like an egg, though she recovered in an instant. I turned to face the man, and found one of those with pale, plump faces and oversized, pouting lips who tend to populate such events. “Know who that is?” he asked, with repulsive eagerness. Those who volunteer to watch are seldom those who should. I shook my head. Many would not know, necessarily, the Head of the Smiths or a sitting member of the Public of the Guilds. I need not count myself among them. The man passed on, and Adlasola looked at me strangely. I looked at the ground and prayed that the lingering grace of the Profusion would return full flush in the next instant and I would not have to watch my friend die a hanging death.

“You don’t have to,” said Adlasola. “We could leave –”

I shook my head. “I never had a father. At least, I didn’t think I did.” I looked at the ground and thought. Another twelve eternities ground by, writhing and tangling together like worms in fresh-turned earth. The shadows of the scaffold shifted. It turned toward midmorning; noon, I remembered from my instruction, is the customary time for executions. They’re torturing him, I thought. Right now, they’re subjecting him to pain a thousand times greater than that I received in getting my scars. I redirected a second unhealthy man who thought I might have some acquaintance with the accused. A short while later, Adlasola restrained me from pummeling a third. The bakers set out the best of their morning work, and yeast and spices filled the air. A while later and all around us, the beggars wailed for their midday meal.

“It isn’t safe,” she said. “We might draw attention.” Her hand clenched my shoulder and it hurt. I think it took me a long time to answer. All morning long, I had watched only the guards and lingering workmen. There’d been no Historians to recognize us.

“It isn’t even unjust,” I said. “He was really going to try to kill them.” Four workmen were playing one last round of cards. A full squad of eight Green Guards lounged here and there against supporting struts – tired, I supposed, from their long night of excruciation. Had he even killed any of them? Had Batyst so much as gotten inside the Temple?

“It’s unjust,” she said, “that he is there and I am not.” Her voice was small and quiet, like a child’s. I shook my head but found nothing else to say.

When the sun came directly overhead they brought him out. The Temple has its own prison, of course, in the levels beneath its cellar, though it has often been too full of late to hold new arrests, and most of its prisoners end up in the care of the Whites regardless. But Ryn Batyst had been held there for questioning, and they brought him up through a gate in the western wall whose stairs, I knew, went three levels straight down.

First came his grand, proud head, covered in that same jade hood and mask that is worn by the Temple’s executor. The public cheered and I joined in, lest Adlasola and I appear suspicious. Adlasola only watched me anxiously. Then his broad shoulders rose above the earth, garbed in the burlap clothes of Temple prisoners and stooped with, I hoped, the fatigue of his efforts to escape. Then came the ample chest and stomach and hips. Ryn rose, sliding upwards from the earth like some earthen sun.

But he also lurched. He staggered and could barely stand. Two of the Green Guards supported him once he had reached the level of the street. I thought he must have been hot in the coarse burlap the Temple had provided. The cool of the morning had gone and I began to sweat beneath my clothes. I was holding my cloak again, though I could not remember when Adlasola handed it back to me. She looked at me strangely again, and I frowned.

“What – ” I began to ask. The procession toward the scaffolding had paused.

“Del, I –” she started again, then stopped.

“Citizens of Ariel!” boomed a voice from the electronic system that limns the Temple walls. I started not only at the sound, but also at the intonation. Adlasola gasped, though I knew she could not know the man. For she had killed Senre, and not Salaan, and this was not even that latter, whose authority is so supreme that even the urchins in Ariel know the cadences of his voice. No, the Temple had sent no grand official to speak condemnation over Ryn Batyst. They had sent instead the Apprentice Marl, the understudy of a dead and discredited official.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Matthew: On the Healing of the Paralytic

On the Healing of the Paralytic

I just finished reading about a woman who, in the wake of a series of illness-related deaths in her family, developed her own case of incurable cancer - without ever discussing her own reaction to the family tragedy. In order to help her prepare for her coming death, she started taking therapy and finally discussed what had happened to her sisters. Her cancer then went into full and complete remission and has not since returned. (it's from Edwin Friedman's From Generation to Generation).

Now that's not biblical exegesis per se, but if the Orthodox have been right for the last thousand years that sin is an illness in a very real sense of the term, reading the healing of the paralytic isn't all that difficult to understand. Sin is a cancer, sin is paralysis. The point is the forgiveness and the liberation. Forgiving heals. This is why the authority for forgiveness matters, particularly to Matthew: it is a very great power. Perhaps that is why Luke, in its focus on spiritual powers, jumps to the Pharisees so quickly - they don't, after all, even attempt to heal the man themselves. They can't. But Jesus can, says Matthew, and can because he has been given authority by God.

If indeed the Matthean community was an offshoot of Temple Judaism, there would indeed be the question of authority. That's probably the first question that comes up in 'alternative communities' - where does the authority to do these things come from? In this case, it comes from Jesus and we know that from stories like this one. In Jesus' case, it came from God.

The other differences between the gospel are perhaps less overtly significant. Luke doesn't place Jesus anywhere with this story, but says that the people had come from everywhere - from all Judea and Galille and Jerusalem - owing to Luke's theme of universal salvation. Only Matthew has Jesus, in response to the accusation of blasphemy, ask the Pharisees why they hold evil in their hearts - because Matthew is increasingly defining that community over against the Temple Judaism the Pharisees represent.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Serial Fiction: Whisper from the Dust XVIII

“You’re here,” she said, when I arrived. She stood with her arms crossed behind her back, hands touching their opposite elbows.

I realized then that I have never truly understood her. I find her graceful motion and postures as inevitable as they are surprising. I can’t understand the fine hair of her arms, or the strands that fall to her neck when she ties her hair above her head. Not her easy cracking laughter or her hands still carrying traces of whatever soil she’s been tending in her garden, or the oils she’s been using for her paints. I can’t understand her cooking or the way truth bursts astounded from her mouth.

“I am glad,” I finally said.

“You were not so glad I think a while ago. But perhaps I was glad for you.”

She motioned me inside. I could still hear the noises of the street, subdued through the walls. By day people can forget the siege and the war and briefly laugh or smile. By day the Orchids, it seems, are much less visible.

“I’m sorry if I was cruel. People aren’t fully themselves, I think, when they are ill.”

She frowned. “But then who are they? On the contrary, perhaps people are more themselves then than at any other time. I think illness strips away pretenses. But you don’t have to worry. You were only shy and silent, like a frightened child. You seemed terrified of what was happening to you, like you couldn’t control it? But of course it was your idea all along. But I only meant, of course, that you weren’t glad because you were sick.”

I stepped inside. “Well, I’m glad to be well.”

I looked around her rooms, of which I had not been cognizant either in my illness or in my enraged departure that morning. And her rooms...reflect her, seeming a constrained clutter of things intentionally placed. On her open windowsill, a piece of wood wraps around a bar of Profusionist metal, rocking softly in the wind. On her walls hang what I supposed to be her most recent art: Thaeron transformed into an Orchid, the Faith wearing a wakened white veil and a jade Historian cloak. In a third painting, a golden sun illuminates mastodons crowding the market in late afternoon. Beneath it on the floor sits a rock rounded by the Profuse river, and a particularly imaginative clay statue of a Profusionist exultant, with her wings extended. Against one wall leaned an oil painting of screaming men and mastodons charging a wall of golden light. And one still unfinished etching showed a Shuni heatwhip wrapped around a quicksword.

I started, remembering what I’d been saying. “I’m glad everywhere, now. I am grateful. Do you mind?”

“Your being grateful?” She laughed, waving toward a chair. She returned to the kitchen, where I smelt dinner stirring. “What for?” she asked.

“Everything I haven’t seen before. I meant: do you mind me here?”

“And I meant: what for? To who are you so indebted?”

Wreaths of flowers hang everywhere, petals not quite the colors of the paintings. Everything seems almost, but not quite, a pattern. I asked her how she makes these kinds of decisions.

“Who can tell?” she asked me back.

“Anyway,” I said, “I’m not grateful to anyone, specifically. Or glad for any particular thing. I feel I owe someone something I cannot give. And I’m even glad of that. I don’t understand.”

“I think perhaps you don’t have to understand. But you are welcome.”

I laughed. “But I didn’t thank you.”

She offered bread, cheese from the market. She still sells her paintings there. I ate, speaking between bites. “How are you?” I asked, when I belatedly remembered myself.

“Trying to decide something.”

“What?” I was of course truly curious, and not only feigning it.

She sat on a mat she’d unrolled on the floor, using her calf for a seat. At my puzzled expression, she explained that she didn’t understand beds or any other furniture. She kept chairs solely for her guests.

“I can’t say,” she said, “exactly what I’m deciding. But then who can?”

I reached out and wrapped my hand around not her hand, but her wrist, in that sort of accident of gesture which occasionally occurs. And found I did not want to let go. Beneath my fingertips stirred the rhythmic susurration of her pulse. I would feel that living hum forever, because it meant that I was not alone. But of course she moved with an odd laugh and said it felt odd, though she pulled away only slowly.

How long we ate and talked I cannot say, though when I finally looked out the windows again it was long past dark; both the moon and Orchids had fully risen. I finished the last of the bread, realizing that though I’d enjoyed the conversation, I could not possibly have remembered everything we’d talked about. But just then we must have been talking about intuition, or perhaps it was the unknown.

“Now mystery,” I said, “that I understand. Batyst is nothing but mystery. Do you know the Temple believes we’re actually some kind of heretical cult? But that’s reminded me of something he told me to tell you, when I saw him this morning. I wanted to right away, but forgot it because I was so glad to see you. At any rate, he says you don’t have to come to the Public of the Guilds tomorrow, because not everyone will be attending.”

I looked up at her gasp. She was putting down her bread with a quick emphatic motion.

“What?” I asked. “What’s wrong? Surely you weren’t so eager to paint a conference.”

She shook her head. “No,” she said. “I think there’s no meeting at all, if not everyone attends. But it’s a code that he arranged the last time we met. It means that he attacks the Temple tonight, Del. It means he’s been forced I think to move before he wanted to. It means perhaps that there is something wrong.”

I stood and bolted toward the door. And I would have run down the street and right into the Temple, were it not for Adlasola’s arresting hand; her grip was astoundingly strong upon my arm.

“Del,” she said, “Del! This a code for me, you understand? For me. It means there’s nothing I or you can do. He has been planning this for twenty years, but I do not know his plan. If we went we would only foul it or get arrested or killed ourselves. And you were his hope. Whatever he said, he did all of this for you. So perhaps we should just wait? We should stay and see what happens, then decide what to do, I think. Okay? Okay?”

I nodded, knowing she was right. I relented and slumped against the doorframe; she stepped out in front of me so that she could have the same perspective. And the Temple was visible, somehow, or at least its spire was, so I watched , we both watched, to see if Batyst had won, if he had accomplished that conflagration that he had promised for so many years would happen. I refused to move again.

But, dear reader, though we watched so long that Adlasola sweetly slumped against me and I held her while the stars wheeled overhead, and the dark spheres of the Orchids plied their courses, there was not a sound that was not entirely natural to a quiet summer night in Ariel. So incongruently pacific was the anxious, endless stretch we shared that it was not until the first pale light of dawn was creeping over the mountains that I realized that one sound, at least, that should have been there had not actually occurred.

“There are no patrols,” I told her. “No Whites or Greens have passed at all. That only happens when they’ve been recalled, when there’s been a real disturbance. But there’s been nothing. The Temple’s quiet. It means they’ve won. Whatever else has happened, the Temple surely has Ryn now.”

Friday, July 23, 2010

Serial Fiction: Whisper from the Dust XVII

Batyst stood; I realized he was actually discomfited. “She took the knife, and she is a woman all her own. She is no more yours than mine. It is not my fault that she has not been for you as you might like.”

“But she’d never killed anyone! She was innocent. They’ll be after her. Gods, what if she had failed? What if she’d been seen? The Temple will be mad for vengeance.”

“The chief agent was the poison in his meal,” Run said, frowning. “He was blind and nearly paralyzed by the time she would have reached him. You should know by now, Del, that I am nothing if not cautious.”

I felt my features forming that expression that communicates disgust. “Do you mean she wasn’t even necessary? She killed the Head Historian as some kind of act of insurance? I had not realized it before, but you truly are a bastard.”

“She survived to care for you, and I know she did so sweetly. As you said, she truly was eager that the Blooded should do something.”

A tremor of fear shot through me; I had another moment’s intuition. “By the graces, what do you want? What do you intend to do with her?”

Ryn Batyst frowned again. “You’ve vanished from my dreams now, Del. The dead within the Blood of History no longer mention you.”

I swore. “I still hate the Temple! Just because I don’t –”

Ryn shook his head. “The plan is of the Blood, and it is for the Blooded. I do not know your place in what I’m building now. So I cannot use you. But I must use someone. Too much depends on me. The success of our freedom cannot depend on my victory because that is not guaranteed. Of all things, that is not guaranteed.”

“But I could – gods, you’ll kill her! You’ll be the death of her!”

“I do not know if you could go back now, Del. But would you?”

I slumped against the room’s central wooden post; I found myself looking out Ryn’s east window, which the day’s first sun was finding. I shook my head.

“No,” I said. “Strangely, I think, because of the very thing you’re fighting for. I know what freedom is. It feels like one does in late afternoon, when all the buildings glow. It’s all the small, trivial things you do without realizing, but which you’d miss dearly if they were taken away. But the Blood of History does take them away, because you used to enjoy those things without realizing it, but now you don’t enjoy them at all, because all that pleases you is the presence of the minds of the ancient dead. No, I wouldn’t go back if it killed all the Historians in the world.”

Ryn smiled. “I had not thought of that. Perhaps your presence in the kingdom is precisely what I’m fighting for. Every building must have its inhabitants. Freedom needs a denizen. Perhaps that is what the Blood of History meant. It’s never the builders, after all, who actually live inside.”

I started to protest, but Ryn waved me to silence. He started to pace the room. “Del, do you remember your mother?” he asked.

I believe I actually blinked. “I’m sorry?”

“You were orphaned as a child. But how far back do you remember? What color was her hair? Do you remember her?”

I nodded. “A little. Walking with her, down the street, my hand in hers. The buildings were white, like her dress. That’s how I know I was born here. But her hair was long and I think her eyes were green. That’s all I remember, walking.”

“Nothing other than that? Nothing earlier and by yourself?”

I shook his head. “I don’t think so.”

Ryn grinned in that way which men grin when they have pleasant secrets they are not yet ready to share. “Remember, Del, that we carry always our selves inside ourselves. We are our own containers, and when we break we meet ourselves inside.”

I laughed. “I know you don’t expect me to understand that.”

“The Temple must fall, Del. The Blooded must do it, and soon. This is no rebellion, and we are no mob. This is revolution, and we are a new society. So we depend on revelation, which is all the truth that’s ever been. Even if we have forgotten it.”

“I’ll admit that doesn’t sound very new to me.”

Ryn laughed now, too. “No, not new. But some truth you can’t see until it happens. Winter turns to spring. Illness gives up to health. Acquaintance becomes friendship or animosity. That’s what’s coming. An inevitable surprise. Something neither of us can see.”

“That’s how betrayals happen, too.” I did not know who I was referring to.

Ryn grinned again, and I could not help feeling more at ease. “You cannot come to Bloodings, Del. And I’ll not hear you critique the Blood again. You will not know our plans, because they are too dangerous. And they will be more so. But you yourself are free to come and go in whatever way you please. And I do like you, Del. I like you for your own merits and not because of the Blood or the Wells or the wishes of the dead. You must understand this. Please come – see me as your time allows.”

Reader, I nodded. What else could I do?

Ryn crossed his hands before his chest. “And now, because I like you, some advice – no more orders. But remember, Del: lovers cannot always be together. And it matters very much more what they do when they are apart than what they do together. It matters how you affect each other. So be clear. Live clearly. You have no time for hesitation.”

The guild clock rang the hour. It was time that I return to market.

“Be careful, Ryn,” I said. “Especially with her. Whoever you think she is, she is not that person.”

“I do not think that she is who anyone thinks she is. That is why you like her. And it is a significant mark in her favor. I did not misuse you. She will get no less of my regard. But which matters more, do you think: how we live, or the manner in which we die? Tell me, while you were ill, did you have another of those dreams?

I swallowed. “A white army, terrible and cruel. A woman wearing white, breathing whiter wind and wearing blood for hair.”

Batyst smiled one last time. “Come soon, Del, when we have more time. I may have met your mother. I’ll tell you what I know. And I believe she was extraordinary.”

I nodded and turned at last, but paused when Ryn’s great hand fell upon my shoulder. “Oh, and Del?” he said. “Tell Adlasola that she need not come to tomorrow’s meeting. I thought she could paint the Public of the Guilds in session, but it seems not everyone will be attending. Be sure to tell her that would, would you?”

I assured him that I would.

Afterwards, I made my much belated return to the place where I do commerce. Gurloes was furious, jabbing his arthritic finger at me in the already dusty lighting of his great canvas tent. The air inside was stuffy and hot; the canvas is taught and thick as possible lest his finest silks be exposed to dust. So I stood for a very long time sweating and watching his bald pate and his crooked-toothed mouth set within its wizened face all deliver to me a tirade concerning his long sufferings on my behalf.

Yes, he said, the master of that other guild had paid my dues, but no customer likes seeing empty stalls within the market. Business was down, he said, absolutely down, and if it hadn’t been for my foundering guild and their regulations he would have leased my stall right out from under me. He’d just been about on the verge of hiring some street punks to find me and demand a new accounting when I showed up. I was lucky he just hadn’t busted my little stall down with his sledgehammer.

While I was entertained by this – Gurloes is harmless, and confuses me occasionally with one of his grown grandsons – it was past noon again by the time I’d gotten my signs and sacks of seeds arranged. I was lucky to get half a day’s profit before the sun sank beyond the western mountains and the other vendors started packing up their things. And I did, only a little reluctantly, shove more than half my take into the hands of one of Gurloe’s scribes, in appreciation of his good graces. He’ll remember me well for that. And I had much to be thankful for.

I didn’t even need to return my sacks to my room – I’d sold everything, and tomorrow was Forday, thank the Profusion, when I would get a whole new array. Instead I went right away to Adlasola’s, because I wanted to demonstrate to her my gratitude, and of course because I enjoy her company.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Christology: On Luther's Simul Iustis et Peccator

Yes, I do believe you have the essence of it. And I think, at the risk of a brief aside, that it's funny we would ask about a potentially discouraging theology in Lutheranism in direct contrast to Barth's own kind of neo-Calvanism. Being pulled as a log out of a fire doesn't depend on what the log thinks about it.

So, no, comparatively, having to wonder whether or not one is a log on fire, having one's own answer to the question matter, is indeed comparatively more empowering. As an ecumenical student, I have to say it's not quite as good as Wesley, where the fire of sin is replaced by the fire of the Holy Spirit and we burn and are transformed in an entirely new way, a sort of upward spiral - that, that would be more empowering still.

But we mostly just read Reformed people here at Luther Seminary, so no, , the simul is not discouraging, because Luther's simul isn't a prescriptive theological move; he's just describing the way Christians human beings are in the world: saint and sinner. Everything we do is tinged by sin; doesn't mean we shouldn't do it. Indeed, if it's true even then we're freed from perfectionism and from hubris, we're free to act in fallen service to an unfallen God, and freed from our own expectations of success and anxieties of desire. It might be even said to be more empowering, in a perverse sort of way.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Serial Fiction: Whisper from the Dust XVI

Chapter Six

September 26, 440 Y.A.

She locked me in her rooms. She has since said that Batyst told her it was the only way I would possibly resist the siren-song of the Wells of the Dead. After the first night I am not so certain, because if I did not die then it was not for lack of wanting to. I could not possibly have moved. I could not even think. I lay in her bed; if she slept anywhere I did not know it. I knew very little, save that I soon discovered that I would never leave the Blood of History. Rather, it abandoned me instead. If forsook me in spasms and vomitus and wrenching of the gut as well as in that action for which one needs accommodation. Whether the blood expelled was mine or the ancient dead did not matter at the time. I only wanted the pain to end. On the second day after the Blood of History next called me, I went entirely blind.

Occasionally I felt a kind presence, a perpetually warm embrace. Adlasola wept. On the third day she wore white. I saw only in some brief flashes. I thought in images, unable to articulate whole words. Pain etched sketches in my mind.

I walked in darkness absolute. The Blood of History flowed throughout my veins. In the center of the void, I stood alone. I found I stood atop a scaffold. The scaffold burned with black fire, but the dark flames did not consume it. Overhead, a noose dangled, still in the calmness of the void.

The noose was a heatwhip, and it wrapped around the world. Around the scaffold nine jade spheres circled, larger than the world or the scaffold that held it. In the center of each Sphere was an eye that never left the world.

Then the nine jade spheres opened, and from them came nine dark forms, one from each sphere. The demons wore nine jade cloaks over skin striped with intertwining black and red.

The light from the flames and the world and the spheres all streamed into them and did not come out. They had identical faces, the image of a man I had never seen before, gaunt and wasted with blackness crawling over it. Their horns were Profusionist metal. Their faces were human flesh. They had necks and chests of black metal and legs of rock and stone. Their feet were of soft and blackest earth.

Each of the demons had nine arms, and their arms were quickswords, curved and cruel, burning with the jade light they had gathered from the spheres.

The demons exhaled, and their breath blew across the scaffold as the wind of the void, cold and pitiless. As the nine neared the scaffold and the world, a woman rose beneath it, her hair red as the sun meeting the sea. In one hand she held the world. In the other she held a quicksword, burning white and wrapped in a vine from the swamps of Redmarak.

Then she no longer simply stood, but stood astride a mastodon, her skin glowing white as the streets of Ariel. “You will not have this world,” the woman said, white breath streaming from her mouth. When her breath met the demon’s mist, the dark wind retreated. Surrounding her, the white wind made a cloud that covered the world.

She defied the demons eight times. Each time she said, “You will not have this world,” and her voice shook the world and the scaffold and the demons, even the deepest of the darkness. And on the eighth saying, the whiteness covered all.

I woke and did not know what day it was. I grasped Adlasola’s hand until my breath fell in time with hers. She lay down beside me, wrapping me in her arms and cradling my head against her chest. Fever and tears blurred my vision until I could not tell her white dress from my white sheets or the white light that reflected from all the buildings of Ariel. I had not heard her before, but I distinguished her whispers now with that peculiar acuity that comes with illness. Each one lay like a lash against my ears.

“Wake,” she said, “to a freer world, Del Tanich of Ariel. Our Historian Senre lies dead. Kasora, I think, cannot replace him. You said I could earn Ryn’s trust another way.”

Hearing this, I passed into unconsciousness again. Yet by now my fever had broken and all the Blood of History had gone from me; the sleep was the rest of the recovering, and if I had further troubles I do not know them. The Blood of History had gone from me. I lived without its influence, as free as any other wretch of Ariel to live in destitution and relentless desperation.

Whether I would be the same under the rule of the ancient dead within the Blood of History does not matter. I will not serve them. I will not serve anyone, because if I have learned anything from the ancient dead, who lived during the Profusion, it is that service had no part of the grace of that age. They have never served; they will not serve now. Servitude is another construct of the Historians of our time, one which keeps the people docile, and serves the Historians to great effect. I will not further it.

I woke in a rage at dawn and did not go to market. Rather, I stood and found that I was strong and thought only of Batyst. Ryn Batyst, to whom I was no longer responsible. Ryn the master, Ryn the guide, Ryn who had been like my father, as father I had never had. Ryn whom I owe everything, whose expectations for me have been silently my own. For while I have never believed that I was meant to lead the Blooded and overthrow the Temple, I did once believe that I was special, that I was chosen, that I was in some valuable way unique. His errors have somehow become my own.

But if the Blood of History has taught me anything, it is that many other minds, even twisted by isolation and union and madness, are more profound and insightful and complicated than my own. My intelligence, which all concede to be my greatest virtue, has been surpassed and applied countless upon countless times, a number of iterations truly beyond measure. So that even if Batyst were correct about me, I would still be wrong about myself. I’ll not let him make her wrong as well.

I trotted across the Flats and the Market at a clip that pushed more timid pedestrians aside; I reached Smithstreet in half an hour. That is what the district of Ryn Batyst is called, though the chandlers and metallurgists also makes their shops and houses there, on the eastern edge of the plateau. Of all the Blooded, he’s the only one that everyone knows where he lives, a position which I now realize puts him in some vulnerability. Everyone knows his hours, too: the Public of Guilds never meets with the Faith before nine o’ clock, and Batyst, master of his own shop, considers smithing entirely an evening trade. At his level of expertise, he does only custom orders, and those entirely of his own choosing.

But I was no longer subject to such mastery; I threw open his door and burst into his chambers without so much as knocking. He was sitting at a great wooden desk, carved from one of the valley’s more ancient trees, working at some papers, doubtless for his guild. He turned his head at my commotion but did not appear surprised; this enraged me even more.

“You made her an assassin!” I spat, not caring whoever might have heard.

He removed his spectacles – I was surprised to find that he would need them, as physically vital as he otherwise appears to be – and laid them on the table, turning in his wooden chair to face me.

“She wanted to prove her loyalty,” he said. “She needed little prodding.”

I stepped toward him; I clenched my fist. “But she did need some.” Even my anger was an imitation of his own, and a pale remake at that. He only cradled his great chin on a greater fist and spoke in utterly confident tones.

“Did you notice the Orchids, Del, as you ran over here? They are still above. Kasora has taken the Shuni Plateau in a brutal, unprovoked and utterly unsanctioned attack. The land of faith will never be the same. The former High Historian Salaan has survived his illness, and arrived here yesterday. He’ll replace Senre now. On his advice the Faith sends ships to Nesechia to block what has now become the rebellion of the southern continent and likely the beginning of the next great war.”

I stepped toward him again. “That has nothing to do with her. I’m not certain it even has anything to do with us.”

“I did not finish. In the midst of all this furor, Del, the Historian Salaan found time to request a supplement of Whites to assist the Greens in their prosecutions of those who affront the Temple – and the Faith of Thaeron granted it. I have lived all my life with one eminent Historian in Ariel. I could not accept that there would soon be two.”

“You knew the High Historian would live?”

He leaned back in his chair, raising his hand in that manner that suggests equivocation. “No, but I know our Faith better than he knows himself. I knew what he would choose should Salaan survive. And I could not reach quietly outside this city. So, I pursued the one Historian that finally had come within our reach.”

“And got one who seems worse instead. Senre was weakened by his own problems. He never displayed that kind of energy. Salaan sounds like a whirlwind.”

Batyst dropped both hands to his lap. “He has the most self-command of any person I have ever met. He will be very hard to defeat. But for twenty years, I have been building the palace of our freedom. And there is only one way to do that, Del: one stone at a time. But the perpetual postponement of our perfect palace means only that it is already here. It is simply incomplete.”

I stepped toward him a third time. “So you went to her, a girl.”

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Matthew: On the Parable of the Wheat and Tares

The similarities and differences between Matthew’s parable, Matthew’s interpretation, and the parable of the weeds as present in the gospel of Thomas run roughly as follows:they all contain the central plot concerning a sown field corrupted by the weeds of an enemy ; they all contain the characters of a unnamed sower, some form a servant, and an enemy; and they all carry the basic theme of reserving judgment until the proper (end) time, when good and bad may be safely separated.

The three differ, however, in subtle but significant ways: only Matthew’s parable proper has servants/slaves, only the Thomas version eliminates the command to the servants to let both plants grow, and only the Matthean explanation identifies the sower as the Son of man.

This leads us to the signal emphasis of each of the three versions of the story: the Matthean parable proper clearly emphasizes the didactic, pragmatic nature of the parable as instruction to the early Jesus movement considering what to do with less than devout followers; the Thomas parable emphasizes the ultimate destruction of the weeds as the due judgment of the ‘weeds’ contaminating Gnostic communities; and the Matthean explanation of the parable emphasizes church teachings concerning Christology, world and church, and the eschatological nature of the kingdom of God.

As far as Peter’s confession and its significance, I would now assume that it would describe essentially describe what it seems to: Peter is to be the first new leader of the Jesus movement in light of Jesus’ impending and anticipated absence. This is so because he is the first one to unequivocally articulate Jesus’ identity as the one who brings salvation. He is rightly placed first in all the New Testament lists of all the apostles. That much, I think, is fairly clear.

What that means precisely, how that actually gets carried out in the world and in the church and how it is related to say, administrative functioning, seems to me a good deal more clouded. The blessings seem, shall we say, enigmatic, and I don’t think being first or being the foundation means being the greatest or the one of most hierarchical power (that goes for my own Episcopal bishops, too, so I’m not being anti-RC here). I would hope it would mean being first as in the least, and the foundation as in supportive, essential, and easily and perilously forgotten.

What I’m most interested in, of course, is Peter’s later position in regards to Paul, and their respective positions regarding Jewish culture and Gentile appropriation. In what sense is Peter first in that dispute? Are we grafted unto Peter? But that, perhaps, is outside the context of this class. What I mean is that while I do see a sense of Peter’s importance in the post-Easter community (before then he’s a pretty mixed bag) what I don’t see is a precise mechanism for the transmission of that authority from one person to another. Jesus just doesn’t say it here. We’ll have to muddle along with delegation as best we can, without a clear scriptural imperative.

Which is for me the benefit of this passage: Peter is clearly a massively ordinary person; in the next few verses he denies the death of the Messiah who he was just lined up to replace (as leader of the community); consequently, Jesus calls him Satan. I don’t know why, but I’ve always found it encouraging that he was the guy that got picked. It’s almost a Jewish/ Old Testament depiction of human frailty/inconsistency in leadership – because salvation’s not about the ethical aptitude of priest/kings anymore. It’s about belief and faith in the Messiah Jesus of Nazareth.

Serial Fiction: Whisper from the Dust XV

I was sorry. This wasn’t the Flats, to be sure, and these weren’t my people, but anyone who didn’t aid in the Green’s pursuit – and there would surely be a few by the time of night and the number of people in the district – anyone who defied the Greens would be subject to their harassment for weeks or months or years, depending upon how long the particular guards remembered it. All for not doing anything particularly respectful for a gang of mercenary thugs pursuing an anonymous trespasser through their rooftop gardens in the dead of the night.

Not that I was going to go turn myself in. This was not, to be sure, the first time I had eluded capture, though to be honest my opponents had more often been the Whites. They’re the ones who deal with most of the market business and tariffs there, and the ones who always war with the smugglers. It’s the Greens who deal with vice and addicts and courtesans, though tonight they weren’t about to give up a good detention.

We urchins always did say there was nothing more dangerous than a bored officer.
Fortunately I still wore the farmer’s dun-colored clothes and had almost immediately removed my shoes to avoid the unnecessary noise. I scampered across the rooftops like a nocturnal version of a monkey, some of whom I actually did pass, asleep in their rooftop cages. Most roofs, too, have a low barrier for pleasant sitting on those summer nights when a breeze is too cool, or for when some aspiring neighbor hires porters from the river to haul water up to build a rooftop pool – a real luxury in Ariel.

But such barriers hid my flight from the increasing number of guards, who fanned out in the blocks below. I heard them knock on several doors.
But there are shops and booths up where I was, too, of the personal kinds that wouldn’t operate if they had to pay market taxes. I flitted beneath their awnings and was gone. Urchins call the rooftops the city above the city for good reason. They always feel at home up there, and I am no different.

All the while I had angled my flight south and east, away from the soft-roofed market with its open and empty streets, where I would be caught for sure. This part of the city was called the Edge, and it was where the Temple’s endless supply of scribes and teachers kept quarter, a prosperous neighborhood of some education and much thwarted ambition. Everyone in Ariel has reason to distrust the Temple. Just as everyone has had their reasons to bow down and let its hindrance fall across their shoulders like a yoke. The Edge was Ariel in kind if not proportion, yet another smallish quadrant of the city taught to assume the Temple was the only option for their own continuation.

By the time I reached the actual edge of the plateau all sounds of my pursuit had stopped. I paced along the top, looking for a cache of that rope which smugglers find so necessary. I still hurried; Adlasola’s position among the Blooded was not yet necessarily guaranteed. It was from my perspective almost certain that the Well of the Dead would not open for her, who had not been called, and it would take much longer for the Blooded to decide to force the issue. It goes against everything the Blood of History itself stands for. Still, by the time I found the pertinent broken crate and tied off the end of the rope to its grommet hidden behind a nearby post, another quarter of an hour had passed and I was cursing myself and the fate that had sent me to her so late.

Most of all, I was cursing Ryn Batyst.

I reached the bottom and ran into wooded darkness. I knew of only three Wells of the Dead within the area, and if she was not at any of those I would never find her. The Blood of History itself was not calling me, and our valley is not so small that you can see a third of it in a day, let alone a section of it thick with copses of woods in the few short hours of darkness that remained. As it stood, the three potential Wells I had in mind were an hour’s walk apart, and in the darkness I could not run, but had to settle for an enraged and stumbling trot. Despite myself I shouted periodically.

I found her, lingering graces of the Profusion all be praised, at the last of the potential Wells within half an hour of the sunrise. It is then that the Wells of the Dead would close no matter where they were – at precisely the moment that the sun would rise in the valley were it not shadowed by the mountains, and allowing variance for the time of year. How the Wells of the Dead should know such complex information, Ryn Batyst has of course promised I will learn.

But she was standing quite alone in the middle of a clearing, though she was surrounded by the sprawled and mostly naked forms of the Blooded who had undergone the ritual. One or two still sat near the edge of the softer grass that marked the entrance to the Well, over toward the eastern trees. They pointed at her occasionally as I approached; or perhaps they pointed at me, I never of course will know.
She stood in the open as though she were the only tree in the middle of a field, in a kind of forlorn but stubborn way that endeared her to me instantly. She was wearing a long heavy shrift the color of evergreen so that her paler face and hands were thrown into sharp relief. She had been looking at the ground but glanced up as I approached, for all the world like a startled forest dryad about to sprint away into the nocturnal mist.

Unhappily, I was so taken with her appearance like something out of twilight reverie that I tangled my feet and fell. She cried out in that womanly sound that is both alarm and laughter, and I loved her all over again as she stepped quickly over to where I lay. She offered me her hand, standing over me illumined like some statue of an exultant clad in living moss.

“You do not have to bow to me, Del,” she said, and her voice flowed like the tributary stream that ran nearby, “I admit I am already flattered. ”

“Haven’t you heard the parable,” I said, my head swimming with the fatigue of healing and walking and running all through the night, “the young man, caught in hell with his beloved, offers himself up to eternal torment on her behalf, if only the demons will let her go. ‘Well now you have my attention,’ she says.”

Adlasola Oso laughed again, and there was no alarm this time, and I was glad that I had run. “But you I think are exhausted,” she said. “Ryn Batyst told me that you were sick, after the guards chased all of us into the river. He wouldn’t tell me where you were. Perhaps he told you where I was instead, and you ran all through the night to find me.”

I grabbed her hand at the wrist, and felt for a moment her pulse, that gentle throb that marks all our life. She helped me up. “Be serious,” I said, standing and brushing the dirt off of my clothes. “It’s more complicated. He told me they’re going to force you if the Well won’t let you in. They’re going to make you drink –”

“Ryn Batyst perhaps is concerned about my loyalty. I did lead the guard to your festival, though I do not think I knew it.”

“That doesn’t make it right. Adlasola, this is all wrong. The Blood of History is wrong. It’s broken or twisted, I don’t know. But it kills people! And the rest of us – there’s no going back because it makes you understand this world so differently. You can’t – it’s so sad, just unremitting, neverending grief. The ancient dead, Adlasola, what they don’t tell you about the Ancient dead is that they’re so pissed! They’re still mad about their dying and they still want control so they–”

She reached and took my cheeks in her hands I stopped talking. “Del,” she said, “I’m glad that you are here. But perhaps I do not know what you are talking about. You are I think still sick.”

Weakly, I shook my head. “No,” I said, “no, no. Those men over there are plotting. Batyst told them to take you if you didn’t do it yourself because the Blood of History assures your loyalty. No one ever goes back except –”

“Who, Del? Who goes back?”

“Come with me, Adlasola! The Blood is wrong and the Blooded will just, they’ll be just like the Historians. But not me, not me – I’m quitting the Blood. I’ll be sick. I might die. But anything, anything is better than going back in one of those Wells again. Don’t become like this, Adlasola. You’re better, I know you’re better. This will kill you, so don’t – they’ll make you drink.”

She shook her own head now, but her touch on my face was soft. “But Del,” she said. “Don’t you understand? They gave me a choice after the first few Blooded came back out. Perhaps they took it from someone’s throat. But then they held their vial out to me. It was why I came here anyway, so I took it. Del, I drank. I think I too am Blooded now.”

Friday, July 16, 2010

Christology: Jungel and the Righteousness of God

Jungel was hilarious for me, because for all the times that people have explained justification to me, and for all the different ways I've understood and internalized it, I've just never cared, and so, for this non-Lutheran at least, and for all the times I've complained about it in other classes, there was this place where Jungel used justification like five times in two sentences and it's like someone saying 'wastebasket' over and over.

Well, I guess I had that one coming.

At any rate, God is righteous, says Jungle. And God is righteous in such a way that the merciful righteousness of the cross is not a negation of God's just righteousness but an expression of it - indeed, maybe, a definition of it. This is so because God's righteousness is not legal righteousness but relational righteousness: the bringing of two into some alignment. In the case of Christ, this is gospel and faith: the words that God speaks in favor of human beings are those that pronounce and actually make them righteous. This is not a break between God's righteousness and God's justice because the very nature of God's righteousness is that it is merciful. In other words, yes, righteousness is proper to God, but only insofar as that righteousness takes two and the very definition of God's righteousness is to justify the sinner. 'God forfeits nothing by forgiving us.'

In other words, if we can verb words like Calvin and Hobbs, God righteous-es. It's a verb. Whenever God justifies a sinner, God is righteous. For Jungel, this reaches its epitome in Jesus Christ, the 'subject of the doctrine of justification.' In the same way that the righteousness of God is simultaneously righteousness from God and righteousness due to God proper, Jesus Christ is doubly righteous: 'in him God is righteous and in him we becomerighteous.' Or, God's being righteous is our becoming righteous, and in Jesus we become the righteousness of God. This is the nature, the shape of the bond, of our fellowship with God.

It is also disruptive justification in this world, because it is the removal of the unrighteousness from life and the death of the unjustifiable, much as truth comes in the context of lies and reveals and destroys them.

But it is not a disruptive event in God, as God is always and already righteous Father to Son and Son to Spirit and Spirit and Father to the Son, each person of the Trinity as righteous other to every other of the persons. What the redemption of creation is, is the reiteration of this event for that creation: "If God is already righteous because he affirms otherness within himself, then he is also and even more righteous by affirming in addition the creature, which is, in contrast to him, completely other...He does so out of grace."

While I didn't come across anything new, per se, in Jungel's elegant formulation, what I did realize is that it works just as well, and for me is much more exciting, if you replace every use of righteousness with holiness, the center of my own tradition of faith. I wonder what that says about the relationship of God's attributes as a whole with creation - and of course, what it says about our own understandings of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Serial Fiction: Whisper from the Dust XIV

Exhausted, I blew out the last coals of his torch and we stood there together in the ancient darkness. “You’re manipulative,” I said.

“We have all encountered forces more powerful than ourselves.” He did not sound surprised.

I quieted the scroll to sleep. “Whatever you want from me, it does not matter. I do not have it. And I will not give it.”

“Again and again I’ve told you: this is not about you. It certainly is not about me.”

“The Blood of History is broken, and the ancient dead are lunatics. They don’t have any wisdom; all they have is memory! I wish this world would remember that those are not the same.”

“I’ve been waiting the last twenty years for you to find a better way.”

I snorted. “I never, ever will! I’m just an orphan. There is no way. Adlasola is correct: we are a laughingstock. We cavort in the woods and abuse certain decaying substances and make plans and never accomplish anything. It’s ridiculous.”

“The Historians would not persecute a joke.”

“They’re the joke, but we’re the punchline. Here we are, the chosen one led by visions to a secret place and all we get is dust because dust is what we are. How can you not get it? Are you actually so pompous?” I laughed, a little cruelly. I realized I had been thinking about this for a very long time.

“Don’t you see: the Historians didn’t always satisfy themselves with little electric tablets. Do you think the ones whose cruelty destroyed half the world delighted in literature? No! They were doing what we are doing: being driven mad by the Blood of History! By the time the first Faith came around, it didn’t matter what skill he had – the Historians were such witless despairing cravens that a whole world of them couldn’t beat him. And now we want to take their place! That’s the punchline!”

If Batyst had any temper beyond his perpetual rage against the Temple, he did not show it now. Instead he reached out – how he found my right arm in the darkness I do not know – and closed my hand more tightly around the scroll. I felt it hum awake.

“I forget how young you are,” he said sadly. “You do not know that nothing can be accomplished unless you yourself decide to do it. Everything else is just denying the power that life has given you. And that is the worst manipulation at all. But I am waiting for you, Del. All the Blooded are.”

I swore. “I don’t have any powers. I don’t! So I can play with histories – any apprentice can!”

“And you open Wells and remember the Blood of History. And I suspect that if someone placed a quicksword in your hand it would sing to life. But I’m talking about more fundamental forces than those. I’m talking about your humanity.”

I stepped back. “Wait – what? You think I’m—that’s absurd. All that’s just speculation.”

Batyst nodded in the darkness. “An omnifex – yes, one who can wield all Profusionist technologies. The first since the first Faith himself ended the wars between the cities. And it does matter what powers he had. It matters what each of us carries. You do not know yourself because you do not let anyone else know you. And you do not even care for yourself because you have no care for others. But I will be waiting for you even after you say what you came with me to say.”

I willed the little scroll silent, watching its little letters fade like the torch before it had. “I’m forsaking the Blood of History,” I said.

“You risk torment and death.”

“But I already am! And you said we all do, if we are doing it right.”

He laughed a little in the darkness, and I was glad of it. “Well. I admit I did not anticipate that you would choose this way.”

I shook my head. “It’s not a direction. Do you know the parable? ‘Where do you want to go, they asked the young man. Away from here, he replied.’”

Ryn breathed deeply, inhaling the same great lungful of air he had inhaled before. “We will see, Del Tanich, we will see. You have my blessing. And now I must ask you to forgive me.”

A cold shiver passed over me: perhaps in the darkness the coldness of the Unknown Well had begun to seep through my clothes and skin, or perhaps the same intuition which had finally revealed to me the truth of the history of our own Historians was still working ahead of my logical mind. At any rate, it was with dread that I asked,

“Forgive you for what?” I asked.

There were several still moments stretching through the utter blackness, and I thought that I had never before known Batyst to find anything difficult to say.

“There is another Blooding tonight,” he began, “at a Well just at the bottom of the southeastern corner of the plateau. I know because the Wells of the Dead tell me the time and location of each Blooding the day before it will occur. But I did not trust the girl Adlasola and sent her to this one. If the Well of the Dead will open to her she is to be let inside; if it is not she is to administered some of the collected Blood – even if it must be forced upon her.”

I did not reply. Though Ryn waited for some response. Instead I frantically asked the Unknown and the Healing Well for exit, s Batyst must have known I would. “I’m sorry, Del,” he said. “I said I did not trust her, but in truth I did not trust you. I was wrong. Do as you see fit.”

If I ever managed to summon a reply, it was hidden and suffocated by the Profusionist metal through which I passed in my departure. I scrambled up the walls like a madman as soon as the sentiences returned their acquiescence. As for Ryn Batyst, he must have left those Wells of his own time, some moment before the dawn when the patrols were not scheduled to be near. I have not seen him since.

I was not myself so cautious. I nearly stumbled into the hands of a guard who was crossing the square on his patrol. He was so surprised to see someone scrambling up from the Healing Well beneath his feet that he nearly fell over backward trying to grab me and push me away simultaneously. By the time he opened his mouth to shout ‘Halt!’ I was three paces gone. An urchin such as I had been soon enough learns to run. Learns or gets beaten or gets arrested and then beaten by the Guards.

Green or White, they say the colors do not matter. But everyone knows the Whites don’t run after you unless you’re somebody special, some ganglord or sadist who can inflict real damage. The Whites have inherited from their Faith certain lackadaisical policies concerning petty crime. Ariel, after all, is the city of the people, and people are seldom anyone particularly upright. Whites also get paid the same no matter how many people they arrest.

The Greens, however, have their pay supplemented by fines and confiscations. They’ll chase you if you so much as look at them, never mind if they catch you emerging in the middle of the night from a sacred site that has been closed for a generation. Consequently, they’re in much better physical condition.

The guard who I tripped up, of course, wore armor the very shade of the jade the Temple’s cast in. His alarm brought the sound of three more footsteps as I turned north, then cut east back a connecting alley. I jumped atop some crates and scampered through a doorway I knew was always left open, the balcony of a goldsmith I’d once sold petunias to when I used to do deliveries.

Like I said, nearly everyone in Ariel’s a gardener. A set of stairs on the other side of the balcony led up toward the roof. I vaulted up them just as the cries of the Greens below took on certain confused tones. Their hue and cry woke half the neighborhood.

Serial Fiction: Whisper from the Dust XIII

Chapter Five

September 14, 440 Y.A.

The Well was dank inside and dark. It was nearly as empty as the Healing Well had been; Ryn and I recognized this immediately, even as he lit another torch to replace the ones we’d left behind. We knew it was empty because the Wells of the Profusion all maintain traces of their previous users, mental impressions of those who’ve gone before. The Healing Well had long been venerated precisely because it retained that fierce loving clarity of purpose that had so driven the first Faith; all the other Faiths through time had come, sooner or later, to commune with his essence there – and left lesser traces of their own. For the rest, the Weapon Wells are said to impute some martial wisdom to all who enter them, the Wells of the Histories have long imparted knowledge to the Historians of their predecessors – and of the Wells of the Blood of History, well, of them you already know.

But the sentience of the Unknown Well – for I came immediately to think of it as that, and it did not correct me – bore no trace of having been used before at all. It was like walking into someone’s forgotten crypt beneath a derelict basement. It had not been used since before the wars between the cities. It might have not been used since the Profusion itself, and consequently never at all. My orphan’s education recalled nothing quite like it, and the Historians teach us more than most because they need articulate advocates among the poor of all the cities. If there is general knowledge of a subject, we are not unlikely to have gained it.

“I know of no Well like this one,” I told Batyst aloud.

“It hasn’t been used before,” he said, and I thought about his awareness but came to no conclusions. Because the Unknown Well, despite its alien and desolate impression, despite being even a little smaller than the Healing Well directly above it, was not entirely empty after all.

The growing light of what I presumed was Ryn’s last torch illuminated in the center of the room a long silver box approximately the length and width and height of a man lying down. The silver was of the same Profusionist metal as the floor and walls; it rested on a low slab so that the whole came only a fraction above my waist as we walked over to it.

“It’s a coffin,” I said inanely.

Batyst grunted and reached out to touch it. I did as well, and found that a seam ran all the way around it, only a finger’s breadth beneath the top – the coffin had a lid. I felt also that strange warmth that is one of Profusionist metal’s greatest mysteries: unlike all the modern metals of the world, it is always slightly warmer than room temperature. Batyst and I pushed against the lid together, though doubtless he could have removed it himself, by virtue of his decades as a blacksmith and of Profusionist metal’s own comparative lightness. Humans have never been able to make something so light and strong themselves.

But they have been able to manipulate it. The lid canted to the ground with a knocking thunk. Batyst raised the torch so that its light allowed us both to peer inside.

I don’t know what either of us expected. A quicksword eternally aflame, perhaps, or a suit made entirely of light. Perhaps I expected information in its purest energetic form, all the secrets of the Profusion pulsing through the interior as so much electricity. Perhaps Ryn expected filaments of all the dead, or an animated corpse that would restore to us the transfiguring grace of the Profusion itself. We would be pure exultants, then, hierarchs of the world as we threw down the Historians and led all others to enlightenment.

What was inside instead was dust. White dust-like powder lined the otherwise silver interior of the coffin. If ever it had held a corpse, that necessary remnant of our existence, that had surely disintegrated by now – but the dust bore no resemblance to anything organic. It was more like chalk, perhaps, or even snow, though even this Well was far warmer than that temperature and of course living Profusionist metal would have melted it regardless. No, if this coffin had ever been intended for a human form, such had never made it there. I reached out to touch the dust, but Ryn grabbed my hand.

“It’s no weapon,” he said, “and if it’s poison let the Historians find it and die.”
He sighed, looking from the box to me and shaking his great broad head. “There’s nothing worth risking here.”

I lacked the enthusiasm to so much as protest. For a moment, perhaps – Ryn has told me so many incredible things about myself for so long that I must have acquiesced to at least a few of them despite myself. Perhaps when I had opened this Unknown Well after first opening the Healing Well that had been unreachable for so many years, perhaps when I had awoken the scroll of history that supposedly spoke in only the dead languages of the Profusion – perhaps then considering all of those things I had for one electric moment actually believed. Believed that something beyond, something greater than my miserable experience of the world would be held out to me. The ghost of the faith of Ryn Batyst had held it out to me.

But it had gone with the opening of that lid.

The dead of the Blood of History, if they had truly sent us here to find some great weapon to scatter the Orchids from our world like so many seeds, were simply incorrect. They had been mistaken. There was no real reason, after all, to suppose that humans then were any less fallible then than they are now, and who is to say what a thousand years entombed has done to their collective human minds – if, indeed, they can still be said to be human at all?

“They’re insane,” I said, walking around the coffin. “The minds of the ancient dead have been corrupted.” Batyst started to say something, then refrained, merely staring at me in that grave intent way of his. His eyes shone in the dying torchlight.

“They sent me visions,” I said again, “when I was last in the Blood of History. The visions predicted the arrival of the Orchids but otherwise make no sense. I can’t understand them. I thought I did when I came here and the memory of that dream was the key to opening both of these Wells. But it was for nothing, Ryn. Because there is nothing here. The Blood of History has gone insane, their memories fragmented, their knowledge of this world illusory.”

Ryn Batyst closed his eyes; he looked very tired. But his voice had the soft impassioned quality that men usually attribute to a whisper. “They are wiser than you or I can possibly comprehend. Their experience has compounded their knowledge so that it no longer seems human anymore. But they have not decayed. The dead are not wrong about your abilities. The scroll in your hand – it is still awake.”

I held it up and looked; indeed it was, and increasingly it was the only light in the room. “But it tells us nothing, only that the Historians have been looking for this place. And now we know only that if the Historians do manage to open it, they will be just as disappointed as we have been.”

Ryn grinned wryly. “But we will have been disappointed first. And it is more likely that you and I can now go someplace the Historians cannot. We now have a refuge.”

“Do you always have a double purpose?” I asked, thinking of my testing before the Historians in the Temple.

Ryn sighed, breathing out a great lungful of air. “Part of the leadership that you must learn is to always accept contingencies. All plans fail, Del. All of them. Nothing you ever do will succeed as you intend it. What matters is how you let that defeat affect you.”

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Matthew: On the Parable of the Lost Sheep

The Parable of the Lost Sheep tells the story of one shepherd who, having lost one of his one-hundred sheep, abandons the remainder of his flock to go searching for it. Finding it, he rejoices.

That is the essential plot to the three versions of the story – but there are some variations. First, the context within which the story is told in Matthew and Luke and Thomas are different: Matthew has it set as response to a question concerning care for God’s little ones; Luke places it as a rejoinder to the Pharisees concerning Christ’s association with sinners. Meanwhile Thomas has it as an elaboration of a description of Christ as being the way for those who are lost.

Second, only Matthew has the parable begin with a question ‘What do you think?’, the other gospels have it begin with some statement. Matthew has the sheep itself go astray; in Luke the shepherd loses it. In Matthew the sheep may be one of the little ones; in the other gospels it is only one of the flock. In Matthew the shepherd rejoices alone; in Luke he calls friends to join in the rejoicing – this means a different emphasis for finding and for celebration, respectively.

Finally, the implied object of the parable changes: in Matthew, it is one of the faithful who has gone astray; in Luke it seems meant to refer to a sinner.

Taken together, these imply a more didactic purpose for the parable in Matthew. It is a parable expressly for the governance of community in the midst of teachings about who will be greatest in the kingdom, where the little ones will be, how to deal with those members who sin and lead others astray. The opening question would be a pedagogical tool, and the sheep itself going astray clearly makes it more similar to a human being – in the sense of going astray as a willful action. Finally, as part of its unique emphasis on finding again, Matthew leaves the shepherd to rejoice alone at the end. The point is that those in the community should do for those who stray just what God would do: find them again.

To preach the Parable of the Lost Sheep in Matthew would be to reflect on God’s exorbitant fidelity to God’s followers and the implied innocence of those who are deceived; to go astray is more nearly to be lead astray and paired with the previous teaching concerning those who lead the little one astray the blame is quite clearly on the deceiver rather than the lost.

The sheep itself is not a fault and is to be found and restored to the community. The success of this endeavor is not guaranteed; sheep are sometimes permanently loss. But the possibility implies responsibility for and from everyone in the community, especially if we remember the pastoral tone of the beatitudes in the same gospel, and the nature of pastoral care in Matthew. The shepherd is alone in Matthew because the shepherd is the believing community itself. The sheep is worthy of rejoicing because it is one of God’s own faithful, and it is the will of God that no one perish.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Serial Fiction: Whisper from the Dust XII

Ryn gasped, and I knew that the gap, though of course not physical, was opening. Then my own feet sunk and I had only time to wonder if the Healing Well would have preferred we enter naked, or if that was solely the prerogative of the Blood of History. The hard white stone of Ariel softened, and it parted like sand to let us pass. The wail of the Healing Well inside my mind was no less heard than any call of the Wells of the Dead. We have often talked, Ryn and I, about whether or not the minds of the Wells are sentient, or simply reactive in the way of the minds of valkyries and quickswords and shrouds and all the other equipment and weaponry the veilmen have. It certainly feels as though a mind, strange and alien, were welcoming you to a house where you most emphatically do not belong.

Whatever it is or was, the mind of the Healing Well had parted the stone of the street to let us pass. It is not at all difficult to remember to hold one’s breath while one passes through stone and, even, the walls of the Well itself, which must be harder than any metal when firm, as no one has been able to open one without its own consent. Still, it took too long. The Healing Well was further beneath the surface of Ariel than one might have supposed, perhaps five meters – most of the Wells of the Dead lie just beneath the soil. And one is never ready for the drop from the ceiling of a Well unto its floor. I doubt that even the veilmen, who must enter one every time they change or recharge their weapons, can be prepared for every time they drop three meters unto a floor harder than cement, after passing through supposedly solid earth. It is no better for us Blooded to find our fluid sudden there, though it is our purpose.

Batyst and I were certainly startled to come out of the earth and to land, unprepared, on the floor of an utterly empty Well. I hit the floor and rolled in utter darkness. Ryn grunted and cursed at his own rough landing. The Healing Well was supposed to have been filled with great white light, though it had dimmed in years past, as a sign of its decay. But this Well held no light at all, not even after I had woken it. Sighing, we both struggled to our feet.

“Ryn, I – ” I stopped when I heard his great brown robes rustling and the striking of a flint against its steel. A few moments more, and Ryn Batyst stood in the glow of two primitive torches, rags soaked in oil and wrapped around heavy sticks he must have taken from the woods. He stepped over and I took the one he proffered.

“I could have carried my own, at least” I said.

“Do you see, Del, why I brought you here?” he asked.

Slowly, I walked around the Healing Well’s interior. As with many Wells, it was not very large: four strides and four again and again carried me all the way around its unbroken silver walls. Only the Wells of the veilmen in Nogilia and Nesechia are reported to be quite large, capacious enough to hold rank on rank of armor suits and vehicles. But though this Well had once held the wounded body of the first Faith, it could have held little else. In its center I spied markings that might once have been an elaborated circle.

“Not for anything the Healing Well has to offer, I guess.”

“You underestimate yourself. Do you realize what you’ve done! For four decades everyone has tried to wake this Well! The Historians, the Guardians, I myself have tried to wake it! And now you come and open it in the time of a few short breaths. You, who are not supposed to be able to manipulate machines at all. You who are too poor of birth to orchestrate the lowest Temple service. You, who deny what the mind of the ancient dead would say about you!”

I snorted, half- laughing. “But they were just trying to open it in all the wrong ways. It’s not a pet. It’s not something that obeys. I only treated it the way the Wells of the Dead are treated. I asked it if I could enter. It’s nothing you couldn’t have done, if you had but thought of it. And I don’t even know why I did.”

Batyst raised an eyebrow. “Did you?” He chewed a lip. “Yes, that might have worked. But I did not think of it. And you did. And the Well did respond to you. It would never have answered me.”

“What? Why not? You wake the Wells of the Dead more certainly than anyone. Those machines call you the most of all. Why would the Healing Well be any different?”

“Because the Wells of the Dead hold something of living flesh. But the Healing Well is entirely of artifice, a Well of the machines. It is not the same at all.”

I paced in the darkness, the firelight flickering. “But I am the same, I am the same as you. You failed the tests as certainly as I did, though perhaps less times. I was exposed to machines of each kind, history and weaponry and transport. None of them did anything at all. I’m common – a guildsman, nothing more.”

Ryn grinned like the sun again and held out his hand. In the dying torchlight I couldn’t see exactly what he held. He held it a little higher. ‘Take it, Del. It’s of no use to me.”

I reached out and took and almost could not believe. It was a history of the Profusion, a slate of metal no thicker than a piece of paper and almost as flexible, though only a third the size. And in my hand its letters hummed instantaneously to life, glowing in lines of green text whose characters were utterly unfamiliar to me.

“How?” I asked, shaking, “This is from the Temple. How did you get this? How could anyone?”

Ryn nodded. “When you were being tested. The Historians were quite preoccupied by their charade. Everyone knows they bring up histories from the vaults brought here from Kasora. Senre would never content himself in such dank places. So I looked around his desk. Security is always minimal that time of day, when they’re shriving the confessors.”

I sat on the floor, uneasy, and leaned back against the wall. “I wonder if I haven’t recovered from my fever yet. Why, though? Why bring me here just to read this?”

“Because it was a guess. Because I knew that you would have to experience in order to believe regardless. And I overheard Senre before he came to bless the Public of Guilds, talking with his apprentice about trying to open the Healing Well again. I had to see if they might find anything. And, of course, I had to help you hear.”

I gazed at the slim glyphs of text, wondering how the Historians had ever learned the language. My eyes were blurring, and I felt myself smiling foolishly. “But how, Ryn, how can I do this? I should not be able. No one like me should be able.”

Batyst sat beside me, his shoulder against my own as I tried to manipulate the history into speaking my own language, “Del, what if I told you that the Historians have been lying to the world about what makes that world possible. What if I told you that every time a child steps into the Temple to take the test, its outcome is already determined by some trick of the Historians. What if I told you that the Historians systematically exclude those adepts with more talent than themselves, and this is the reason for Thaeron’s long and slow decline. What if I told you that you could have been a Historian the very first day the Historians took you in their care?”

I sat in the darkness for a while, letting my mind go clear again. The goodness was too much to be conceived. The Historians had rejected me not because of my unknown parentage but because of my undeniable talent. I could have trained with them from the first day, and worked to lift up the people of Ariel from a position of real power, rather than always ineffectually scheming to undo it. Then from the darkness came an answering presence, and I exalted, and rolled up the history and tucked it inside my sleeve. I had read enough. I stood.

“Then I would say, Ryn, that the Historians wanted to open up the Healing Well again because they’re looking for something. I would say that they’ve read that there might be another Well in Ariel, a Well in which no one has ever been, and that they look for it because in that Well lies something that could save this world from its destruction, and the Orchids have made them more frightened than they’ve ever been.”

I paused, listening, strengthening the connection my mind had made. “And I would say, Ryn, that that Well is calling us right now, because it is right beneath us, but that the Historians will never open it because they do not know the right question.”

Then Ryn stood up beside me, and we let our torches fall, and we walked together into the center of the Well and what had once been a quite purposive circle. I wondered if the first Faith had seen it, and my mind asked another question of the darkness. With keen intellect the darkness answered, and we sank again through that substance that is harder than any metal, the floor of a Well of the Profusion, and into quite another Well entirely.

Christology: Cone's African-American Christology

Cone's Christology: life, death and resurrection as revealed in Scripture and as related to the experience of the liberation of the poor. This is the identification of God with the struggle, pain, and hope of liberation theology generally and with African American theology particularly. However, I think that for Cone if he got to keep any part of Jesus, he would keep his life, if you know what I mean - his life because for Cone Christ's death would follow precisely from that (states kill the vocal oppressed) and because the eschatological hope of Christ in the kingdom would be the hope that surpasses death. This is not unlike Cone preferring Christ's humanity over Christ's divinity, as he explicitly says. It is the 'with'-ness of Jesus that matters for Cone, and that starts and is almost contained in Jesus's life and ministry. He talks about Jesus as a friend and uses the language of rhythm more times than I could count. That's the reconciliation aspect, too. Atonement is attunement, to put it crudely.

So the concrete language of experience and compassion and living hope is all taken very well, for me. I disagree with you in some sense in that I don't think Jesus has one message for all people. Rather, what Jesus has is some message for each people, if that makes any sense. It's not that universal significance/salvation doesn't exist, but that you can never work that out apart from its prevailing concreteness: Jesus was a Jew. But the potential hazard of this, and this is something you also get at, is when Jesus only liberates only my people, because we're the onlyones who understand him. If African Americans become the new Jews not only in the sense of being preferred and chosen by God but also in the sense of having privileged (err, underprivileged in this case) access to the meaning of God in Jesus, then I think we have a problem, the same old problem that we had to start with. I can't see Jesus as being that totalizing, or that simplistic. If it's not going too far to say that we each get the God we need (which is an really old idea, I think), then it is going too far to say that I've got the God everyone needs. No, you've got the God each person needs. No one has the God that all people need.

Not even Cone, though he does make a decent run at it. I've often wondered, though, in all these liberation theologies that understand oppression in such devastating and right detail: what does human/Christian freedom look like? Is it Roman civic freedom? Modern Western freedom? What is this liberty - what does it actually look like in the world? Can we see the face of the kingdom of God? Is it the wealth of the poor? The hermeneutics of the poor? What are we all in this for, by Cone's account?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Serial Science Fiction: Whisper from the Dust XI

“Will there be another Blooding? I’d like to return to the city.”

“That is where I plan to go. As for whether or not there will be a Blooding, well, that is up to the Blood. The Wells call no one ahead of time, Del. If not you, they certainly don’t tell me.”

“Why do you always say things like that?” I asked. “Whatever you think I am, I’m not. What the Blood does tell me, I never understand. I crave the past right along with all the rest of this backwards world, but I don’t even know what I’m looking for.”

Ryn chuckled. “It does not matter what I think you are. It matters who you think you are. It matters who the Blood of History knows you are. And you both agree on this: that you are not yet yourself. That is what you look for, Del Tanich. You are a word that does not yet know its sound. I would only help you hear it.”

“And that’s what you’re taking me for? I haven’t even eaten yet.”

“It is better that you do not. The smuggler’s gate is not for a heavy stomach. Still, I have bread that we can eat on the way. But we need to leave. It’s six hours walking from here.”

I nodded. During the day I had noted that Triske’s farm lay among the northmost parts of the Profuse River valley, in a crook of a hollow made by a splashing glacial stream. I stood up to go, in that hesitant but hopeful way one has when recovering from illness.

“Let’s go,” I said. “If I’m to open with the market at dawn.” Ryn looked at me, but did not say a word.

Our hike to the base of the plateau proceeded in some haste. We hurried toward an appointment. So far upstream, the River was narrower, and we crossed it on one of on one of those ubiquitous ferries for those few who do not wish to go all the way downriver, a simple slab of logs bound to a cable. Considering that we both wore our host’s apparel, if anyone saw us as the sun set and we poled across, they would have thought we were farmers off for an evening’s entertainment beside a still, or hunters or trappers scurrying from one copse to the next before the darkness fell.

Along with the moon rose the other four of those spheres called the Orchids, silent and ominous. Even Batyst was distracted for a moment. And I agreed immediately that they mean no good. They hang in the night like malice itself. They’ll not leave until they war upon this world, and the Historians teach that if loaded with personnel, such ships hold sufficient forces to occupy an entire world – but if loaded with weaponry, they can destroy that same world outright.

The smugglers awaited us on the other side. How Ryn had known where they would be, he did not say, and I did not ask him. Their manner invited little conversation and they engaged in none, save what would one flash another using the signals of their hands. I told myself to remember to ask Ryn if we might learn the same system; too many people know the urchin tongue, and I’m nervous now about the Temple’s spies. That last Blooding was entirely too close.

But the smugglers led us into the darkness of the trees without a sound, and I realized that those places where both river and trees came near the base of the plateau would be very few indeed. The smugglers were by necessity less crafty than I’d thought. And they walked a harder road, traipsing through the leafy woods in darkness complete without stars or moon or torches of any kind. Several times I stumbled, and only Batyst’s sure grip kept me on my feet. His voice jolted me out of my thoughts.

“You should know,” he said, “What I do for you is not conditional. It is not contingent on anything you say or do or think or feel. It has nothing to do with who you are right now. The Blood steered me toward a promise. I serve that promise, and so do you.” He smiled then, “Even when you do not know what it is. That is what I’m going to show you.”

The last of the smugglers turned back to us then, eyes flashing in the black. She motioned us forward, quickly. She didn’t care for us, of course – but the price of their guidance was that we carry sacks as heavy as anything I’d ever brought to market. I did not ask what was in them. Knives wrapped silently in wool, perhaps, for personal defense of the kind which the Historians prohibit, or the wet leaves of the plant that the Temple alone is allowed to use for the incense of its services. Tax-free flour, perhaps, underselling the variety the Baker’s Guild must officially use. To think of it, they might simply be seeds I carried slung across my shoulder, and I was undercutting myself by providing for one of those un-guilded vendors who furtively traipse the alleys of Ariel, going furtively from door to door hoping that no White or Green will catch them.

Whatever I carried, I collapsed outright in the clearing when we reached the cliff at the base of the plateau. We’d walked five of the six hours that Ryn Batyst had promised, and I supposed that meant that we had gone faster than expected. With a pair of oculars, the lead smuggler flashed signs at someone on the top, whose dim form I could make out in the light of the stars and moon and brooding, alien spheres. Those would be bad, I realized, for their trade. The guards would see quite further than normal in any night like this, clear of cloud and storm. So when it came my turn and Batyst awaited me at the top and the lead smuggler hissed at me to go, I grabbed the rope and only prayed there were no guards near.

To whom exactly I sped my thoughts, I of course cannot say. The gods of the Profusion, everyone knows, have quite gone, into the void beyond the void. It is their grace, and only their grace, that lingers – and will soon follow them entirely. But after I had pronounced one of the Temple’s oft-repeated forms, I gripped the rope more calmly nonetheless. I was fortunate that the smuggler going downward – for Ariel exports much, also, that is not sanctioned – was subtly heavier than me, so that a gentle hand pulled me upward. Though I’ve used it a dozen times, I doubt the smuggler’s gate is anything I shall ever become accustomed to. I’m always glad when it is over.

Batyst embraced me at the top and we bid our compatriots farewell. Doubtless, they wondered why we had not descended as Blooded normally would; it seemed unlikely that Batyst had told them. He certainly had not told me. And we did not turn west toward Batyst’s own street. Nor did he spare my street, by the shrine to the thirty-second Faith, more than a sidelong glance. We were traversing the city proper. While we waited in a shadowed corner for a patrol of Greens to pass – for we were long past curfew – I asked him why. He said only that it would make more sense as a surprise.

Still, when we stopped again to wait within the shadows of columns outside the abandoned Speaking Hall for a patrol of Whites to file past, the surprise became more apparent. And when we hurried over toward the center of the heart of Ariel and Batyst started reciting the words that Historians utter to wake their machines, our purpose seemed clear, though no longer sensible. The Healing Well had not been opened in forty years. Not even all eight Guardians or a full circle of Historians had been able to wake that Well again. There was no reason to expect that the chair of the Public of Guilds Public of Guilds and a newly-minted member of the Sower’s guild would do much better. Still, as we stood over it, our ears straining for any step of a returning patrol, I thought I knew the way.

From my mind I quieted those words that Historians use to fill the air. Instead I made myself as still and empty as I could, as still and empty on those nights when one stands before the call of the Wells of the Dead and nothing else can be said of any importance, as still and empty as a bank of fog. Indeed I recalled that strange white wind that had disturbed my vision within the Blood of History, though it now seemed like so many nights ago, as Adlasola Oso had not even known who I was. But I thought of that wind and of the woman, of the salvation of the world lying within the earth and soon felt the earth itself open up to me, a great crack in the pavement of Ariel’s crushed stone. I asked the mind of the Healing Well a question.