Saturday, October 20, 2018

Vast and Perilous Estates ~ How to Let Go of Ignorance

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
~Dylan Thomas, Fern Hill

Sir Arlan awakened the next day with a pounding head from too much ale, and a sense of shame buried so deep that he could only feel its existence as a sense of something amiss. He supposed that he might have misspoken a word or two. In settling his account with his host, Arlan slipped Virgil an extra coin to smooth over any unpleasantness he might have caused. Father Caril also woke in a state of unrest. The memory of the previous night was still fresh, and his spirit writhed before its implications. He felt there was a mystery about the inn and its inhabitants, and he intended to discover it. He longed to stay behind in order to investigate, but his reason for doing so would be awkward to explain.
No, he thought, I must find some way to prolong our visit when we return with Lord Lokinvar’s son.

Another person rose in the early morning hours with a distinct feeling that something was different. Amalia looked about the room; she was in bed with her little cousin, Bethna.
Why am I here? she thought. Then she remembered last night at the inn, the knight and Lammet, the vision of the bluebell, and what her father told her about evil.  She had learned something last night, and she could not un-learn it. Her father said that a door had been opened to her, a new path had been laid before her feet, and that Amalia was destined to walk it. However, Amalia felt she would be much happier if she remained in her ignorance. She sighed and looked at her small cousin, still enjoying her sleep. Amalia bent and kissed Bethna’s forehead.
“You are fortunate to be so young,” she whispered. “I envy you.”
Amalia lay back in the bed, fully awake. Sounds from another part of the house indicated that breakfast was being prepared. She knew she should get up and go help her aunt, but she felt reluctant to do so. She did not want to face the understanding smiles and sympathetic looks of Aunt Beryl, Uncle Emmet, and Cousin Finn. Amalia plopped back on her pillow. Beside her, Bethna stirred at the movement.
“Is it time to wake up?” she asked sleepily.
“Not yet, sweetheart. You go back to sleep. Don’t be in a hurry to awaken. It will happen soon enough.” Amalia muttered the last part under her breath as she swung her feet over the side of the bed and sat there, chin in hand.
No use sitting here, she thought. It won’t make it any easier if I wait. With a sigh, she rose from the bed and plodded into the kitchen.
“Mole, dear, you’re up.” Aunt Beryl greeted her over her shoulder as she bent over the porridge pot. “There is some hot tea in the kettle and the cups are on the table.”
Amalia slouched over to the table and poured herself a cup of tea. As she watched her aunt bustling around the kitchen, it occurred to her that her aunt must have also encountered evil at some time. She wondered how it happened and what it was like for her aunt. Dear, plump, comforting Aunt Beryl being confronted with evil presented an incongruous image to Amalia’s mind. How could someone so safe, so…so motherly have anything to do with evil? And then her mother’s face came to mind. Did Mother also know about evil? And Father? They must have known. Just think, they knew all along about evil, and yet could go on like everything was normal. This, Amalia decided, was not normal. It couldn’t be. Evil was just so…so evil. How could anyone face it and then go on with their lives. Maybe her evil was a particularly evil type of evil. Maybe she had surpassed everyone else’s brand of evil, and maybe it was because she was so evil herself. Maybe she should run away from the village so that no one would be tainted by her evilness. Amalia sighed and buried her head in her arms. Aunt Beryl walked over and stood behind Amalia’s chair. She leaned over and whispered in Amalia’s ear, “Is the tea hot enough?”
Amalia looked up, stared at her aunt, and then burst into tears.
“Oh, Aunt,” she wailed, “You do not want to touch me! I have EVIL in me. I am not CLEAN!”
Her aunt embraced her. “If that is the case, then I had better you extra hold tight.”
At that moment, Beryl’s son, Finn entered the room and sat down next to his cousin. Amalia kept her head down, her cheeks flushed with tears and embarrassment. She greatly admired her cousin; that he should find her like this was humiliating.
“So…Mole,” he said. “I heard about what happened last night at the inn. I understand what you are going through and thought you might want to talk about it.”
When Amalia made no response, Finn took hold of her hands and nodded to his mother, who quietly left the room.
“The thing is,” he said, “at some time all of us come to know the ‘not-good’, what we call evil. Usually we learn about it because we see it in ourselves. You, on the other hand, encountered it from an outside source. With no prior experience with evil, that must have come as quite a shock. It’s no wonder you are so upset. It’s bad enough discovering one’s own shadow side.”
Slowly Amalia raised her head. She looked at her cousin searchingly. Was he speaking the truth or just saying something to make her feel better?
“Are you saying that you had the ‘not-good’ in you? I mean, how did you know?”
Finn rose from his chair and walked to the window. Several minutes passed as Finn gazed outside. Then he turned, folded his arms across his chest and leaned against the windowsill. In a low, hesitant voice he began.
“It happened a few years ago when Bethna was a baby; about fourteen months of age. I was learning to play the harp and was fond of making up songs to play for myself and for the family. One evening as I was playing a new song, Bethna began to cry. At first Mother checked for the usual things that would make a baby cry, but Bethna was warm, well fed, and comfortable. We thought it might be the harp so I put it aside and picked up the flute instead. I played a few songs and then decided to play my new song on the flute. Again, Bethna started wailing. I played a different song on the flute and then the harp, and Bethna seemed happy again. We decided that she must not like the song. Just to see, I sang the song, and her tears started flowing. It was disappointing to me that my little song, which I loved, would cause my sister such distress. However, I agreed not to sing or play it in front of her.
“A few months later, Uncle Hosten came for a visit. In talking with him about my music, I mentioned Bethna’s reaction to this one song. Uncle Hosten was very interested and asked my parents if he could witness this for himself. So I brought out my harp and played a song. Bethna smiled and clapped her hands. Then I played my new song and, as if on cue, Bethna began crying. Uncle asked me to continue to play as he held Bethna on his lap. During that entire song, that poor baby cried as if her heart would break. I think we were all in tears by the time it was finished. Uncle hugged Bethna and kissed away her tears. Then, rocking her in his arms, he told us his opinion.
“‘Your song,’ he said, ‘is a melody of particular beauty and power, especially to Bethna. You are mistaken in thinking she does not like this song; on the contrary, she loves it. There is something about this song that is magic to her. It speaks to her heart and moves her in a way not known to the rest of us. However, because she is a baby, she has not yet mastered the language necessary to express the deep feelings inside her—so she cries, not for sadness, but for an indescribable joy.’”
“Well, you can imagine how we felt. It humbled me to think that I had created something so powerful as to have this effect on my sister.”
Finn paused and looked at Amalia; then he bowed and shook his head.
“Mole, you do not know what it is like to see the evil inside you. It is a terrible thing. I can hardly bring myself to recall it, much less share it with you.” He drew a deep breath.
“When I first realized what my song meant to Bethna, as I said, I felt humbled with a good sort of pride. If a beautiful melody was meant to be, I was pleased that I was chosen as the instrument to bring it forth. One day, on the pretext of helping my mother, I took Bethna to a place by the river to play. I also brought my harp. Once we were settled down, I took out my harp and began to play. I played all sorts of songs for Bethna who was delighted, laughing while she tried to dance. Then I played the one song, the special song and Bethna began to cry. I continued to play while Bethna cried, and I did not stop until the song was finished. When I was finished, I looked at my sister’s tear streaked face and smiled. ‘I can make you cry’, I said, ‘anytime I want you to.’ Those words seemed to hang in the air, accusing me, exposing me for what I had done. The horror of my action filled me with grief and shame. I had used my own little sister to satisfy a personal desire. I had taken advantage of someone innocent to serve my own self-interest. I saw an opportunity to exert power, and I took it despite the pain it caused my sister. What is worse, I deceived my mother. She thought I was being considerate when I was actually being selfish. I had even deceived myself. I told myself that by playing my song, I was really doing Bethna a favor because she loved it.”
When Finn raised his eyes, they were filled with tears. Amalia kept silent as understanding began to dawn in her face.
“Oh, Finn,” she whispered, “I am so sorry I asked. How awful it must be for you!”
Finn shook his head.
“I know it must seem so, and at the time I thought it was too dreadful for words. But since then, I have learned a greater truth, and I would never go back to the lovely ignorance that is innocence. You see, Mole, because I have seen the shadow, I have seen the light as something much more precious. To me, that which is good has grown ever more valuable because of the great cost it demands.”
“And what is the cost?” Amalia asked fearfully.
Her cousin replied, “Choice.”

Amalia spent the rest of the day wandering about the village.
Curious, she thought, that the one person who best helped her make sense of it all was the person she least wanted to talk to. Finn was almost eight years older and, although he was very kind to her and never teased her, she could never regard him with anything but awe. After all, he was so much older. How could he understand anything about girl her age? But he did know about evil.
Amalia was astounded at his tale. She would never have guessed such a thing about her adored cousin. Here was her model of idolized perfection confessing his moment of self-discovery. Yet as Amalia reflected on his words, she found that this glimpse of his inner world did not at all diminish her love and respect for him; if anything, it gave heightened her regard.
Her meanderings eventually brought her to the well in the village square. She sat down on its edge and watched a group of children at play.
They do not know, she thought. They can play at being millers and tailors and bakers. All day long they can play and not know. But I know.
Amalia pondered again her cousin’s words. He had said that the cost of “good” is “choice.” She wondered what he meant by that. An image came to mind of the stable at the inn. There the horses were kept in individual stalls. She asked her father once why the horses could not be housed together, so that they could play as friends.
“Oh, child,” he laughed, “if we put the horses together, they would not think so much of playing as of fighting. Horses have their own feelings, and take no more to a roomful of strangers than we humans do. Put two stallions in the group, and there would be a great battle over the mares. No, we best keep them separated so that they behave themselves.”
Amalia compared the image to the idea of “choice.” It dawned on her that the horses in the stalls were well behaved because they could not make mischief. They had no choice. Amalia’s frowned as she teased out an idea. It occurred to her that the Great Good did not make people free from choice. Oh, there was a short while in which children grew in innocence (the “lovely ignorance” as Finn called it.) But the age of innocence did not last. The choice had to be there, or people would behave because they had to, just like the horses in the stalls. There was something very human in making a choice for the good, and the “not-good” was a necessary part of it. Her father said that the Great Good made evil paths so that people would know the good ones. Perhaps it was time for her to walk an “evil path.” All for the good, of course!
Later that evening, Amalia’s parents came to supper at her aunt and uncle’s house, bringing her little sister, Anna and her brother, Cyril. The sight of her sister reminded her of what Finn had shared about Bethna. She sat close to Finn the entire evening until it was time to return home to the inn. At their parting, her aunt embraced her warmly.
“Mole,” she said, “we have so enjoyed your company. Bethna asked if we could keep you. She promised that she would feed you herself and would share her bed and her toys.”
At these words, Bethna ran to Amalia’s mother and hugged her around the waist.
“Aunt Franna, I promise to take good care of Mole. Can she stay?” she asked.
Amalia bent down to Bethna.
“Sweetheart,” she said, “if you take care of me, who will take care of Finn?”
At these words, Bethna released her hold on her aunt and climbed onto Finn’s lap.
“I will,” she answered. She reached up and patted Finn’s cheek.
“This is my Finn,” she said.
Amalia caught Finn’s eyes and smiled.

It was with some trepidation that Amalia walked through the back door of the inn. It seemed ages ago since she was last here. Perhaps it was an age; one Amalia had left through the door, and another one had emerged. She threaded her way through the kitchen and peeked in the common room. There were only a handful of guests tonight, all of whom she recognized as people from the village and outlying farms. It was a different Amalia back at the inn, one who was planning her first excursion into the “not-good.”
The next morning, Amalia stood outside the door of the kitchen. She peeked in the window and caught a glimpse of Lammet busy with the baking. Her mother and father were taking inventory of the stores, and her brother was busy about the stables. This was an opportune moment to have a private word with Lammet. Amalia entered the kitchen, hesitantly, almost shyly. She stood by the large service table until Lammet turned around and noticed her presence.
“Mole, dear,” she said, “I did not see you come in. Have you been here long?”
“No,” Amalia replied, “I only just now came down for a bit of breakfast.”
“If you are hungry, there is fresh baked bread in the pantry and the porridge pot is still hot. Would you like milk or tea?” asked Lammet.
“Hot tea, please.”
In a short time, Amalia was supplied with thick slices of bread, honey, a slab of butter, and tea. She tucked in and spent the next several minutes satisfying her hunger and devising a way to broach the subject of last night’s events with Lammet. Lammet, however, knew in a moment what Amalia’s intent was in visiting her in the kitchen; she had anticipated it and now waited patiently for her to begin.
Amalia pushed back her plate.
“Lammet, I was wondering if I could ask you something, about…about last night.”
Lammet gave an encouraging smile and pulled up a chair alongside her young friend.
“Of course, dear,” she said. “You may ask anything you wish. I will answer as best as I can.”
A deep sigh preceded Amalia’s next words.
“Last night, when I was helping you serve tables, something very strange happened. I saw one of the knights pull you onto his lap. It seemed like something was amiss, and I wanted to help you. As I got closer to where you were, I felt something horrible go all through me; it made me sick in my stomach. So…I was wondering if you felt anything unusual or strange.”
Lammet answered. “Yes, dear, I did. I, too, was aware of something strange, something horrible.”
Amalia hesitated. “Did you feel the ‘not-good,’ the evil, too?”
“That I did,” answered Lammet. “There was a very powerful presence of it. So strong it was, I do not wonder at your reaction to it. I was almost sick myself.”
“So what did you do about it? I mean, was it because of the knight, Sir…Arman?’
“Sir Arlan? No, it was not from him. Working in the inn, I have encountered his kind of passion before and know well enough how to recognize it and temper it. No, it was from another source. In fact, that was the reason I was in that part of the common room. I perceived a shadow and was trying to discover its source.”
Amalia was silent as she considered the young woman’s words. She looked at Lammet and saw her with new eyes. Lammet was only six or seven years older than herself. Amalia never noticed before how fair Lammet was, with her deep brown hair that fell in waves when it was unbound, her clear grey eyes that looked at everyone with kindness, and her mouth that seemed always ready for laughter. In such a place as the inn, with its variety of guests, it was not surprising to Amalia that Lammet would attract many admirers. Amalia found herself in awe of Lammet. How could she be so gracious if even half the male visitors behaved as the knight did? With so many guests passing through the inn, how could Lammet withstand the constant awareness of whatever evil they possessed?
“Lammet,” she asked, “how can you bear it? How can you work here and move among people whose evil you can feel? Does it ever make you want to run away to some place that knows only the good?”
In response, Lammet held out her hand. Amalia looked at it. It was the same hand that Sir Arlan held when he secured her on his knee. It seemed to Amalia that Lammet’s hand might be unclean, tarnished by the brush of evil. With trepidation, Amalia placed her hand in Lammet’s, cringing before the evil she knew she was sure to feel. Instead, she felt the roughness and strength of her hand. She was aware of a warmth emanating from Lammet’s hand and enveloping her own. The warmth began to spread up her arm, to her shoulders and across her back; it rose to her neck and traced its way to her cheeks, her eyes, and the top of her head. Everything in her was relaxed and submissive to the warmth. Her eyes took in the details of the hand that held hers, examining the fine lines that cut paths across its surface. Amalia followed one of the lines and found that it was one of many winding paths through a maze of tables and chairs, not unlike those of the inn. So intent was Amalia on finding a path through the tables, she did not immediately notice that there were people sitting at them. They were making such a cacophony of noise that Amalia could not distinguish one word from another. From the looks on their faces and the accompanying sounds of laughter, she assumed that they were making pleasant conversation. She ignored the people and once again began threading her way through the tables and chairs. The voices followed her like a trail of smoke. An acrid odor in the air caused her to stop and look again at the people occupying the tables. She gasped, startled. She was in a sea of faces from whose open mouths issued noise, smoke, and shadow! Whatever pleasant words the people were speaking, the sounds they were making were not happy ones. In fact, the noises about her issuing from the hundreds, no, thousands of open mouths were ultimately and inexorably sad. Full of grief, despair, and bitter desperation, a countless multitude cried out in their human isolation. Shadows poured forth in an unrelenting stream from every face. Amalia felt as if her heart would break.
These are like the bluebells, she thought. These are the flowers on the windowsill, swallowed in the shadow of their own human souls.
Amalia wanted to reach out and embrace each shadow and bring it into the light, but there were too many of them. Oh, if only she were bigger, if only her hands were large enough to gather them in and ease their suffering. If only…
Suddenly, Amalia found herself back in the kitchen alone with Lammet. With a start she looked around, expecting to see a roomful of people.
“Lammet,” she whispered. “I…I saw…what was that?”
Lammet stroked Amalia’s hair and kissed her.
“That,” she said, “is compassion, and that is why we are allowed to know evil.”

It was approaching midnight, and Amalia lay awake on her bed. It had been a week since she had returned home, and during that time, Amalia had formed a plan that she meant to implement tonight when the family was asleep. Amalia slipped from under the covers, fully dressed, grabbed her small satchel, quietly crept down the stairs and went out the back door. Tonight she would discover the ‘not-good’ inside her soul.
It was one thing to see or hear of it from another, she thought, but to truly understand it, I need to experience it for myself.
The evil path Amalia had chosen to walk involved one of her father’s friends, a farmer who kept the inn supplied with apples from his orchards. It was to Goodman Anselm’s barn she now made her stealthy way by the light of the moon. A path along the river took her behind the main road of the village. After about twenty minutes, she reached Anselm’s apple barn. The scent of apples was heavy in the air; Amalia was in such a nervous state, the fragrance nearly made her sick.
It will soon be over, she told herself. There was a small door on the side of the barn. It was unlocked, and Amalia slowly pushed it open just enough to admit her slim frame. She shut the door quietly and turned around to face a mountain of apples. Apples everywhere! In crates, in barrels, in careless piles on the floor—more than enough for her purpose.
Amalia walked over to one of the piles and selected five smooth-skinned apples, which she stowed in her satchel. Then she let herself out the side door as quietly as she had let herself in. Following the river path, Amalia set a brisk pace until she reached the large oak tree behind the inn. It seemed a fitting place to experience her own personal evil. Although the night air was cool, Amalia was perspiring and not just with the exertion of her walk. Her palms were sweaty, and her mouth was dry; both her heart and her head were pounding. If second-hand evil from another was such a terrible experience, Amalia could only imagine the horrors awaiting her when she encountered her own. With great trepidation, Amalia bit into the apple and felt…nothing. She frowned and took another bite. The apple was delicious. Amalia took a third bite and felt a lovely sensation thrill her inner being.
There is no doubt, she thought, that this is the best apple I have ever eaten. As she finished the apple, Amalia became increasingly aware of a sense of well being enveloping her. She leaned back against the oak tree and reveled in the overwhelming presence of calm and peace. All was well, very well with the world.
 I could stay here forever, she thought, sitting under this tree and eating apples. If I asked him, I am sure Goodman Anselm would give me as many apples as I want.    Amalia entered a happy reverie in which she imagined herself going to her father’s friend and asking for the apples. “I am honored”, he would say,” that of all the apples in all the orchards, you wish to have mine. Allow me to take you into my apple barn so you can pick out the choicest of my apples.”
Amalia bolted upright. The thought of being given the apples somehow spoiled her happy mood.
I don’t want to be given the apples, she thought, I want to take them myself, just like I did tonight. I liked sneaking out of my room and into the apple barn. No one but me knows what I did. In the morning, when I see Mother and Father, and Anna and Cyril, they won’t know anything about this, but I will. And I will look at them with all my knowledge and keep them in their ignorance. And when I smile at them, they will think its because I thought of something amusing. They won’t know its because I know something they do not know.
So thinking, Amalia picked up her bag of apples and stole back up to her room. Once in bed, she promptly fell asleep.


The next morning, Virgil and Franna sat at the kitchen table. Breakfast was long over for the rest of the family, and still there was no sign of Amalia.
“It seems that Mole’s efforts have tired her out,” observed Franna. “Should we wake her, do you think?”
“I would let her sleep on,” replied Virgil. “Her awakening has been very trying for her. If only she were not so young. It is difficult enough to enter a new level of perception at the usual age of thirteen or fourteen. That she is not yet twelve must make it doubly hard for her. Her emotional and mental capacities are being stretched to their limit.”
Franna smiled. “I have confidence in our daughter as well as in the Great Good. Mole is taking her small steps toward knowledge in her own way. Did you know that she had a discussion with Lammet, as well as with Finn, about her recent experience?”
“I knew she had talked with Finn, which surprised me seeing as she is usually so shy around him. Finn probably set her ears a tingling. You say she talked with Lammet? That is a good thing. Lammet is a wise and sensible young woman. I would have recommended to Mole that she do so, but I hesitated. I did not know whether she would feel a reluctance to relive the event with Lammet. Did Lammet give you any idea of the nature of their conversation?”
“Well,” Franna hesitated, “Lammet must hold much of what was said in confidence, but I did gather that Mole had a glimpse of Lammet’s inner world. It made a considerable impression on her. She moved there of her own accord and did not seem unduly surprised at its appearance. Speaking of appearance, Mole is coming down the stairs at this moment.”
Franna and Virgil waited in silence until Amalia entered the room. She said not a word, but smiled at them; her parents smiled back. Amalia helped herself to some bread and jam, which she attacked with gusto. Her mother and father quietly sipped their tea and commented on the plans for the evening’s supper and which rooms needed to be set in order. Amalia dropped her knife, and then shoved her plate aside. She stomped over to the kettle and poured herself a cup of tea. Slurping her tea, she wondered at her parents’ silence. Sighing, she leaned her chair back, balancing on two legs. Franna and Virgil continued their conversation. Finally, Amalia slammed her chair to the floor, spun it around and, faced her parents.
“Well, then.” she said, “Since you want to know, I will tell you I have learned about the ‘not-good’. I think it is not so bad after all.”
With that, she proceeded to recount her excursion to Anselm’s apple barn and how she stole some of his apples and the wonderful way it made her feel.
“Finn said that good demands a choice, and Lammet said that evil allows compassion, but neither said that the choice to do evil could make one feel as if it is good. When I bit into the apple, I expected that I would experience the same horror I felt that night at the inn, only a hundred times worse. Finn said that it is the very worst thing to see the evil in oneself. But I saw and felt none of that. Is the ‘not-good’ bad or isn’t it? If it is bad, then why did it feel good? If the ‘not-good’ feels good, does that mean what is good can feel ‘not-good’? If they can be both at the same time, then how can anyone know anything? Oh, my head aches!”
Franna and Virgil looked at their daughter with love and pity. The growing process is necessary and inevitable for every human soul, but how difficult it is at times to witness in one’s child.
“What do you think, dear?” Franna asked her daughter. “How does one know whether a choice belongs to the good or to the ‘not-good’? What was the true reason you determined to steal Goodman Anselm’s apple? What was your intention? Search your heart, dear. It will tell you.”
Several minutes of silence followed as Amalia recounted the events of the last few days and her thoughts and actions.
“Well,” she said,” I was curious about this ‘evil’ that I had seen and heard and I wanted to know more. It seemed so strange to me that something called evil could be all around me, and I would not be aware of it. It seemed to me that however much someone else told me about it, I would never truly know evil’s nature unless I experienced it for myself. I know it is wrong to steal, so that is why I decided to take the apples. I just wanted to know what it was like to be bad.”
“So you decided to steal a few apples,” replied her mother. “But why steal Anselm’s apples? If you really wanted to do something bad, why not steal his wife’s pet cat? Or instead of taking a few apples, why not set fire to the apple barn? What is the purpose behind the choice you made?”
Amalia looked at her in disbelief.
“To steal a few apples is not the same as stealing a favorite pet! It is not as hurtful. And destroying all the apples would do a great deal of harm, more than I wanted to do. I only wanted to do a little bit of evil, not enough to really hurt anybody; just enough for my purpose.”
An embryo truth stirred inside Amalia.
Virgil asked, “So if stealing a few apples is not harmful to anyone, how many would you have to steal to make it so? What is the boundary between doing harm or not? Are you certain that stealing five apples was not hurtful to Goodman Anselm? Maybe having five of his apples stolen was a real grief to him. Maybe you should have taken just four apples.”
“Well, if the difference is just one apple, then why not take them all? Or why take any? How am I to know whether a single apple is the difference between good and evil?” argued Amalia.
The truth inside her waxed stronger.
“How indeed,” replied her mother, “if the difference is just one apple, or just one word, or just one flower on a window sill? Consider the question again, Mole. What was the reason you stole the apples?”
The truth clamored to be admitted into Amalia’s heart. She wanted to shut it out, to abort it, to never let it see the light of conscience.
This is ‘choice’, she thought. I can choose to know the truth or choose to believe what is not true. Suddenly, she was overwhelmed with a feeling of compassion for herself. This is a hard place to be in.
Amalia hesitated and then said in a voice so low it was scarcely above a whisper, “I really did want to know, to experience for myself the ‘not-good’. But once I actually had done the deed, I felt…powerful.” Amalia looked up in wonder as the truth dawned on her.
“What I liked wasn’t really the apples, but the sense of power that stealing them gave me.”
Her parents moved closer and each took her by the hand.
Amalia felt their assurance and continued.
“Now that I think of it, it seems that any good at any time can be a ‘not good’; it just depends on why a person does it. And to do something that gives you power over another is definitely evil. Even if you say to yourself, ‘Oh, this won’t hurt him’ or ‘He won’t notice’, then you are giving yourself power over that person by deciding what that person should feel or think. And to do that makes that person into less than a person. It makes a person into a nothing.”
Amalia looked at her father and mother and sighed
“Why is it so hard to let go of ignorance when knowledge beckons?”


A week had passed since Sir Arlan and his companions had left the inn. The only guests in the common room were people from the village. Virgil and Franna sat at a large table in earnest discussion with several of them.
“No doubt, it has been a challenging time for Amalia. She has, of necessity, been required to comprehend a great deal in a short time. Virgil and I did not anticipate this event so soon, else we would have been more diligent to prepare her.” Franna sighed. “My dear little Mole, how she must have suffered!”
Beryl’s husband, Emmet, frowned as he spoke.
“From what Lammet has said, the evil that Mole perceived emanated from the priest, not the knight. So what do any of you know of this priest and his religion? I confess that my knowledge about the Roman church is that it exists, but no more.”
Virgil responded.
“Here in our village what do any of us know? We keep to ourselves, and the Christian church leaves us be. For generations, my family has had nothing to do with it. Occasionally a priest or a monk will pass the night at the inn, but I have no interaction with them beyond the usual service.”
“I talked at length with one of the priests who passed through one summer,” said Finn. “At the time, I was interested in different beliefs, and he was glad enough to share his and those of his church. He told me of a prophet called Jesu, the Christ, whom they believe is the son of ‘God’; I assume they mean the Great Good. In speaking of the church itself, the priest gave me the impression that it is an institution that wields great power, which seems contrary to what the priest was telling me about their prophet.”
“Lust for power was the source of the evil that so affected Amalia,” said Lammet. “I felt its force most distinctly. We must be wary of it for I perceive that we shall encounter it again. This priest, at any rate, we shall see again on his return visit.”
Virgil arose.
“Then I will commune with my brother Hosten. Living in London gives him more access to what is happening in the realm and the outside world than what we encounter here in the village. Perhaps he can tell us whether the church is exerting its power in our direction.”
Moonlight shone on a large stone in an open meadow; its position on the ground indicated that it once was standing upright but had fallen on its side. The meadow was intimate, surrounded by oak and beech trees, which cast their deliberate shadows. The river faintly whispered in the distance. A small brown rabbit ventured forth from its den for some nightly foraging. It suddenly ceased its gentle ambling, ears and nose intent on the shadows. Soon the shadows lengthened into abnormal shapes that resolved themselves into figures of men and women converging on the stone. They were from the village and included Virgil and Franna. Beryl emerged from the shadows accompanied by Emmet and Finn. Also in the company was Lammet, who was followed by five other villagers, three women and two men.
When they reached the stone they formed a circle about it. Not a word was spoken. Silent communication passed from heart to heart until at length each person, with shining eyes, lifted their arms above their heads. Their hearts began pulsating with the energy that formed the worlds, and the company rose as one into the air. Their bodies hovered several inches above the ground and then, with a sigh, dropped gently to the earth and lay there like so many discarded garments.

Next week: How to Form a Lasting Friendship

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Vast and Perilous Estates ~ Why There are Shadows

And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die. For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof your eyes shall be opened and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
~Genesis 3:4, 5,  KJV

Two days after the council meeting, Sir Arlan and his party left the London for Caerleon, the home of Lord Lokinvar in the province of Wales. Accompanying him was Sir Willis of Gloster, Father Caril of Canterbury, and Stubbs, Sir Arlan’s squire. During the current times of peace, travelers were assured of safe passage to most destinations within the kingdom, and so it was that Sir Arlan and his companions made their journey in comfort. While Arlan and Willis rode together discussing the future training of the young prince and his brothers-to-be, Father Caril was content to remain a pace apart with his own thoughts. To him, this was much more than a visit from an emissary of the king; it was a significant milestone on a journey that began nearly eleven years ago.

Father Caril was the son of Lord Eamont, a minor lord of the province of Kent. His elder brother, Derek, was in service as a knight until such time as he would inherit his father’s title. His sister, Maryl, had recently been wedded to a wealthy nobleman near Laslow, the home of his father’s estate. Caril knew at an early age that his birth and breeding would never give him the kind of power that his ambition craved, however much he fretted against it. By age fourteen he had almost reconciled himself to a life of relative obscurity. However, in the spring of that year his family made a pilgrimage to Rome. His mother, a devout daughter of the church, had long desired to visit the Holy City, and Lord Eamont was willing to accommodate her. From the moment Caril first entered the city and beheld its size and beauty, he knew his heart would never leave it.
To Caril’s rustic eyes, everything about the city spoke of beauty, riches, and above all, power. The glittering domes of its many-windowed buildings, the constant processions of richly dressed clergy, the variety of shops displaying goods from all over the world, and the multitude of languages that rang out in the streets all appeared to Caril as a glimpse of heaven. He noted with interest the deference paid to the least member of the clergy. He watched as his parents did homage to the cardinal into whose presence the family was admitted. Even though his family was not granted an audience with his Holiness, the pope, his mother was in near ecstasy at being in the same city. It irked young Caril that his family was not considered important enough to see the pope in person, and he vowed that some day, he would be acknowledged. He saw in the church both influence and power greater than that of his father’s estate, or even the four provinces, and he determined that one day he would lay hold of it.
Upon the family’s return home, Caril announced to his parents that he wished to take holy orders. His mother was overjoyed, and as the priesthood was a respectable profession for the son of a lord, his father made no objections. So Caril entered the monastery at Exeter and trained as a cleric. His fluency in reading and writing both Latin and Greek brought him into intimacy with the chief scribe and apothecary. His skills were in demand in transcribing manuscripts, writing letters, and labeling the medicines in the pharmacy. He made no close friends, but his quiet and unassuming demeanor won him many admirers. His fellow novices looked up to him for his close association with the head of the abbey, Brother Damian. The older monks were pleased with his respectful manner and appropriate deference. His high brow, finely structured face, and figure all lent an air of grace and nobility to his character. Brother Caril (as he was now known) did not press his advantage overtly, thereby avoiding the jealousy that often plagues the gifted and talented.
A year after Caril began his training at the monastery, an incident occurred that altered his life. It happened when he was in the pharmacy taking an inventory of the supplies, when another brother entered the room. Brother Caril was in the cupboard and did not see who it was. Nevertheless, he called from the cupboard. “Brother Milo, the potion you are looking for is on the third shelf to the right of the door. If Brother Denis needs more, I can have it ready within the hour.”
Brother Milo came into the room where Caril was working, with a puzzled look on his face.
“How did you know it was me, and how did you know what I wanted?”
“You said so when you entered the room,” said Caril, “I heard you!”
“I said no such thing; indeed, I spoke no word to you since I entered the room,” rejoined Milo.
Caril started to protest, but seeing the look on Milo’s face, thought better of it. Instead, he lifted his shoulders as if to dismiss the matter and turned back to his work. Brother Milo stared at Caril’s back for a few moments and then he, too, shrugged and left the room. Once alone, Caril considered the matter. I know what I heard, he thought. Why would Brother Milo insist he said nothing?
A few days later at evensong, Brother Caril distinctly heard Brother Gerold laughing during the prayer. Shocked at such a thing, Caril quickly raised his head and looked in Gerold’s direction. Gerold’s bowed head and still demeanor showed no evidence that he was laughing; and yet—there it was again! An unmistakable chuckle came from Gerold, whose mouth was firmly closed. Caril was mystified and determined to seek an explanation. After the service, Caril fell in step with Gerold on the way back to the sleeping quarters.
“Brother Gerold, did you find something amusing about the evening service?”
Gerold looked startled. “What do you mean?” he said.
“Did something make you laugh? I thought I heard you,” said Caril.
“I? Laugh during evensong? God does not approve of laughter in general; how much more would it be forbidden in the chapel? No, Brother Caril, I am sure you are mistaken. You may have heard someone laugh, but it was not I. Now, please excuse me; I am going to retire to my cell.”
With that Brother Gerold hastened away leaving Caril with a satisfied smile. Oh, yes, he thought to himself, you were most certainly laughing. I heard you say just now that you need to be more careful.
It was not long after this that Caril understood why he thought he heard both Brother Milo and Brother Gerold; he could perceive the thoughts of others. He told no one about it, but began to develop his gift through daily practice. In the fields, in the kitchen, at mealtimes, and especially at devotions, Caril used every opportunity to probe the thoughts of those around him. It was easiest at chapel when all was silent. Eventually, Caril found he could enter into a man’s thoughts even in a noisy environment, such as market day. His gift of perception, in combination with his quick mind and physical attractiveness, soon caught the attention of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who recruited the young man for service in the abbey in London. His subtlety and discretion opened doors for him that would have remained closed to one of his youth. He gained favor with King Rheynold and found himself, at the age of twenty-three, an indispensable part of the royal household.
Two years had passed since he entered into service as the king’s clergy. Productive years they had been as he invested his time and talent gaining favor, strengthening ties, giving counsel, and making recommendations—not too bold to stir resentment, but reasonable enough to be given serious consideration. Albeit it was no effort on Caril’s part to make a suggestion that was taking shape in someone’s mind; he merely gave voice (deferential, unassuming) to what that person was already thinking. Caril had heard about Alanar and wanted to meet the young man himself. He discreetly insinuated himself into the situation, and thus it was that he was on the road to Caerleon.

For time out of mind, the inn at the river existed. So enduring was its presence that it was now a proverb. “As old as the inn” was a saying known in most parts of the realm. Yet the inn once had a beginning, born from a plot of land granted as a boon to a young traveler. No one alive remembered the circumstances by which the lord of the neighboring estate found himself indebted to a man with no name. No matter. The inn still stood after many generations as a testament to their agreement.
One evening the travelers faced the welcoming light from its windows, thankful that their journey had brought them to a safe haven. They had barely dismounted from their horses when a boy ran up and addressed them.
“Welcome, sirs, to the inn at the River Avon. My name is Cyril and I can see to your horses. The innkeeper is my father, Virgil. He will attend to your needs.”
Sir Arlan nodded curtly to his squire.
“Go with him and see that the horses are well-stabled. Then find me inside.”
He and his other companions made their way to the door and entered a large, high-ceiled room filled with tables, smoke, and a cacophony of sound, indicating a large gathering. An upstairs balcony ran around the perimeter of the room; down its halls were the rooms for overnight guests. A middle-aged man with light-brown hair bustled over, wiping his hands on his apron.
“Welcome, sirs. I am Virgil, the owner of the inn. To whom do have I the pleasure of serving?”
Sir Arlan extended his hand. “I am Sir Arlan of the King’s Court. My companions are Sir Willis and Father Caril. My squire, Stubbs, is in the stables. He can sleep there tonight.”
Virgil bowed. “If you would, please follow me.”
He led the men up the stairs and onto the balcony. From its height, Sir Arlan got a better view of the room and noted the number of occupants and marked the exits. Following their host, the travelers soon found themselves in an upper room furnished with beds, a table and chairs. A fire was burning in the hearth.
Virgil stood in the doorway. “You may join us in the common room, unless you prefer a private supper in your room; in which case, I will send it up shortly.”
Arlan waved his hand. “The common room will do. Would you send my squire to me?”
“At once,” said Virgil and bowed his way out of the room.
“Well, Sir Arlan,” began Sir Willis, but Arlan stopped him with an upraised hand. He walked over and shut the door.
“There are a good many ears and tongues in company tonight and I would just as soon as not broadcast our business.”
“But, Arlan,” protested Willis, “You cannot be concerned about a group of simple villagers and unwashed peasants? And even if our business were known, these are peaceful times. If no one bothered us on the road, we can be assured that no one will do so in this pleasant place.”
Father Caril spoke up. “I agree with Sir Arlan’s attention to discretion. For all of us, this is our first journey to the western province. We do not yet know how the people hereabout feel about Lord Lokinvar’s rule, and of King Reynold’s rule as well. If they are complacent, then all is well. However, if there are malcontents, who better to feel their mischief than a group of strangers from the King’s court. I myself have felt a growing unease since we first crossed over into Wales and mean to keep myself attentive.”
Willis looked at his companions in surprise. Sir Arlan and Father Caril had known the peace of the covenant since the day they were born; what cause did they have for suspicion? As Willis looked at Arlan’s powerful figure and strong jaw, he could well imagine that now and then the knight would welcome a bit of head bashing. He only hoped his companion would not look for imaginary trouble. As for the priest…Willis was content to leave him to his imaginings. He had plans for a pleasant supper and meant to put them into action as soon as possible.

Later that evening, Sir Arlan, Sir Willis, and Father Caril leaned back in their chairs, well satisfied with their meal. The knights were enjoying the excellence of the wine and the atmosphere of the common room. Sir Arlan had noticed seven horses in the stables in addition to their own and was looking about the room trying to determine to whom they belonged. His roving gaze soon came to rest upon the face of Lammet, the serving girl. With increasing pleasure, he noted her fair face and thick mahogany hair. Her modest robe and apron seemed to accentuate rather than hide her pleasing figure. He watched as she spoke a few words to a young girl who was helping her clear the tables. The smile she flashed at the girl revealed even teeth framed by slightly full lips. Sir Arlan felt himself aroused.
Lammet made her way to the table next to the knights’ party. As she began to move past Sir Arlan, his hand snaked out and grabbed her arm.
 “Ho, sweetheart,” he said, as he pulled her to his lap, “not so quickly, if you please. What is your name? You’re a ripe young thing!”
While Arlan was speaking his other hand wound itself around Lammet’s waist. As she struggled to free herself, the girl who was following her suddenly stiffened with a gasp. With ever widening eyes, she stared at the scene before her; then she vomited, spraying Sir Arlan’s boots. With an oath, he released his hold on Lammet and towered before the trembling child.
“You bloody brat!” he shouted. “I’ll have your hide.” As he raised his hand to strike, Lammet barred his path.
“Sir Knight,” she said, searching his face, “Please consider your position. The child meant no harm.” Arlan glanced at Lammet, his face contorted by a rage born of thwarted lust. At the glance, he paused, arm still uplifted. His eyes formed a question as if trying to remember something. Then he dropped his arm, kicked his chair, and growled.
“Send Stubbs to clean my boots. I’m off to bed.”
With that, he left the room. Sir Willis shrugged and followed him. The silence in the room was quickly filled as the various occupants began telling their own version of events.
By then Virgil had made his way to Lammet and the still rigid, trembling form of the girl; it was his daughter. He looked from her to Lammet, who whispered that all was well. A look of understanding passed between them. The innkeeper gently took his daughter’s hand and led her from the room.
Virgil walked his daughter through the kitchen where he nodded briefly in answer to his wife’s questioning look; he then led the child out the back door of the inn to a grassy knoll by the river. In the darkness, his daughter’s face shone pale with wide, unseeing eyes. Virgil knelt by the river and dipped his handkerchief into the water. He patted his daughter’s face with the wet cloth and wiped her mouth.   “Mole, dearest,” he whispered, “it’s Father. You are safe with me.” He gathered her in his arm, anxiously searching her face. Agony and pain met him from the depths of her eyes. Their intensity smote his heart. Great Light, he thought, she is so young. Can it have happened so soon? She is only eleven years of age.
“Dearest, can you hear me?”
Mole, christened Amalia, replied with a shudder, “Yes, Fa, I can hear you.”
“Then please listen as best as you can. You are in pain and you feel sick. Is this true?”
“Yes, Fa.” Amalia’s small body trembled.
“It will help the pain go away if you can speak of what you heard and saw in the common room. I know it will be difficult, but I will be here with you. Nothing will harm you. Please trust me.”
Amalia looked at her father and her eyes filled with tears. A ragged sob escaped her. She continued to hold her father’s gaze and eventually drew strength from it. She began.
“I was helping Lammet clear the tables. She told me I was a good helper because I always seemed to know what she wanted me to do before she said it. I was following her to the kitchen when I heard a man’s voice, and I saw Lammet sitting on a man’s lap. I was going to ask her what she was doing, but then I saw something else in the room.” Amalia hesitated and gulped.
“I don’t know how to explain it; it just can’t be real, and yet, it was there. I saw it!”
“What did you see, my love? Do not be afraid; only trust. You are safe with me.”
Amalia continued.
“I saw a bluebell on a window sill. Daylight was shining in through the window, and the flower seemed to stand and drink in the sunlight. I knew the flower was happy. Then a shadow began to creep alongside the wall next to the window. I looked behind me and saw it was the shadow of a man with a cloak and a hood over his head. His shadow flowed upward like a small trickle of water to the window and slowly inched its way towards the bluebell. It eventually covered the bluebell in darkness. In the darkness, the flower began to droop and weaken. It raised its little head as if it were pleading with the man to remove his shadow. But the shadow only grew darker, and the bluebell fell to the ground. As it withered and died, I heard the man laughing, mocking the weakness of the flower. I could not understand why the man was doing this. It was just a little flower; all it wanted was a small patch of sunlight. I turned and asked the man why he was doing this.”
“‘It is just a flower,’ he said. At his words, I felt a knife stab through my heart and a wound in my stomach. The room seemed to spin, and I felt cold and sick. I don’t remember too much more, just a lot of noise and some shouting. Then I found myself outside with you by the river. Fa, I do not understand. I know it was a flower, but it wanted to live. It seemed so unbearably cruel to deny it what it wanted just because it was a flower. As tiny as it was, it meant something. It was a flower, but it was not ‘just a flower’”.
At these words, Amalia buried her head on her father’s shoulders weeping afresh. As she wept, her father stroked her hair as the poison of the vision slowly faded. His heart throbbed with grief for his daughter, and his spirit bowed beneath the weight of what was coming.
“Yes, dearest?”
“What was that?”
Virgil sighed and swallowed.
“It is what we call ‘evil’”.

In the common room, Father Caril slowly sipped his wine as he observed the various activities of the inn and its visitors. His impassive face masked the fear that was bubbling up inside him. Earlier in the day, when Sir Arlan’s entourage first entered the province of Wales, Caril felt a mild unease, like a spray of fine mist. The unease blossomed into anxiety as the hours brought them closer to the inn. It reached its peak in the presence of Virgil, the innkeeper. Father Caril probed the innkeeper’s mind and found it closed as a shuttered room. No matter how much he concentrated, the priest could not penetrate the innkeeper’s thoughts. Moreover, Virgil’s was not the only mind inaccessible to Father Caril; the serving girl and the stable boy were also closed to his searching thoughts. He was unaccustomed to it. He sensed a power beyond his, and he hated it.
Later, in the common room, Caril was mildly aware of Sir Arlan’s lust for the serving girl; indeed, it would hardly take a gift such as his to discern the hungry look on Arlan’s face as he watched the young woman make her rounds about the room. With little interest, he observed the interchange between her and the knight as the latter forced her onto his lap. But the gasp from a small girl caught his attention. Although he was sitting back in a corner wrapped in his priest’s garb, he felt naked and exposed. It was his mind that was being probed—no, not his mind; it was his soul, his innermost being. A secret place that he himself dared not go was suddenly, and most unexpectedly dragged into the light. He feared and hated whatever power was capable of such a thing. But from whence did it come? Caril looked about the room at its occupants and searched his memory for anything significant he might have noticed. He recalled himself to the present moment in time to see Virgil lead the young girl from the room, but not before he saw a look pass between the innkeeper and the serving girl. Inwardly he writhed at the thought of someone knowing something that he did not.
 I must know what is behind this, he thought. He continued to watch the serving girl and kept glancing at a table where a group of villagers were talking and laughing. Fear and envy roiled in his belly and rose like a gorge to his throat. Whatever it was that had touched Father Caril, it eluded his understanding. And he hated it.

Amalia looked at her father.
“Evil? What is ‘evil’? That is a very strange word. What does it mean?”
Virgil replied. “Mole, evil is our name for what is not good. It is the ‘not-good’”
Amalia gasped in astonishment.
“How can there be a ‘not-good’? Is it the same as what is bad, like lying or stealing? I thought something was either good or bad! I can’t imagine a ‘not-good’. It’s like dry water or cold fire. And if there is something ‘not-good,’ which you call ‘evil,’ then where did it come from? Did it suddenly happen? Or did someone bring it into the inn?”
Amalia’s face was a study in wonder. For a child such as Amalia, the first awareness of evil demands a measure of faith in its existence. That evil did not have a counterpart inside her that she recognized made it all the more difficult for her to grasp the concept. If anyone other than a trusted member of her family had told her of such a thing, she would have not believed it.
“My dear,” answered her father, “what you have known as bad is the result of the evil that lives within the human heart. The Great Good has allowed evil paths for men and women to walk in so that they may come to know the good . A great many people carry evil inside them, where it hides as a shadow. The further the shadow is allowed to spread within these people is the extent to which that part of them is not truly alive. It is the good in them that keeps them moving and breathing and having being. [A2] We are all born unaware of evil until there comes a time that we need to know it[ . What you felt tonight has always been around you, but until this evening, its presence was not known to you.”
Amalia shuddered at the memory.
“But why now? Is there something wrong with me?” At this, she began to cry.
“Oh, my dear,” said Virgil, gathering her close to him. “No, there is nothing wrong with you. Everyone becomes aware of evil at some time in his or her life, usually when they reach twelve or thirteen years of age. The real question is not why it happened, but what will you do with this knowledge? You have always known the good, but you’ve never had a way to understand just how wonderful the good is. The ‘not-good’ will allow you to see that, just like the sunlight appears brighter next to a shadow.”
“Mole, the evil that you perceived this evening is where the bad comes from. It can be the smallest thing, such as despising a bluebell; in fact, the more trivial the action, the more horrible it is.”
“I wish I did not know,” said Amalia. “It was horrible! You say the Great Good has allowed it, but I don’t understand why. It seems as if life would be better if evil did not exist at all. Or if it does exist, that I could go on as before not knowing about it.”
Virgil searched his heart for the right words to reassure his daughter.
“Mole, dear, you probably do not remember the first time you decided to walk. You were too young to think to yourself ‘I am going to walk today.’ But your mind and body came to an agreement that now was the time for you to get up from your knees and stand upright. Once you began walking you did not go back to crawling, even though at first crawling was familiar and safe. Your first adventures in walking included a lot of falls, bumps, and scrapes. But you did not give it up; you gained a new view of the world. Well, now your mind, body, and spirit have once again come to an agreement that your view of the world needs to change. If you were not ready for this, it would not have happened. But as it is, I encourage you to trust in yourself, in your family and friends, and in the Great Good, that this is what you need to grow.”
Virgil stood and helped Amalia to her feet.
“Until our guests have left the inn, I would like you to stay with your aunt and uncle. Your mother and I will bring your things later on tonight. In the meantime, be kind and patient with yourself. Allow yourself to be curious; ask a hundred questions. Grieve, if you need to. Or laugh. A new door has been opened to you, my love, and the Great Good will guide you through it.”
Virgil took Amalia’s hand, and father and daughter walked through the village in peace.

Next week: How to Let Go of Ignorance