Saturday, March 16, 2019

Yale goes the way of "American Idol"

I remember when I quit watching American Idol. It was the eighth season, and Adam Lambert came in second. He lost to a mediocre talent whom the teeny-boppers thought was cuter. American Idol jumped the shark. Recently so did Yale and other elite universities.. They were complicit in letting mediocrity trump excellence.

The parents who cheated and/or scammed to get their children admitted to the aforementioned colleges undermined their own intentions. They rendered a degree from those universities less valuable. If a mediocre student can matriculate and graduate, then perhaps the college is not all that it is cracked up to be. Suppose the law that one learns at Yale is the same law that one learns at Fresno State. I can't imagine that there is a special kind of calculus that can only be studied at Stanford, and I am certain that the laws of physics at Georgetown can be replicated at any college in the country.

I wonder if it's some kind of self-perpetuating system, like a Mobius strip.
A degree from Yale is golden because it is from Yale; the top companies recruit from graduates from Yale because they graduated from Yale. Yale is considered an elite school because so many of its graduates are recruited by the top companies, therefore a degree from Yale is golden.

I think the idea of elite colleges may be reconsidered. Are they really worth it? In 2016, there were 3.1 million people between the ages of sixteen and twenty-four who received a high school diploma; out of those, 2.2 million were enrolled in college the next fall. Yale accepts about 7% of its applicants. In 2017, it admitted 2,277 out of 32, 879 applicants. That means approximately one-tenth of a percent of high school graduates ended up at Yale. And that means that 99.9 percent attended other colleges and universities. The people that graduate from other non-elite universities somehow manage to get jobs, start a career, and survive.

The parents who cheated on behalf of their children did them no favors. Now the whole world knows that they are mediocre students. How humiliating! It's worse than having your mom go to the principal because someone is picking on you at school, and the principal calls a meeting of the student body to tell everyone to leave you alone because if they don't your mom will get mad. Like I said, how humiliating. I hope the kids recover.



Saturday, March 9, 2019

Intermission ~ Life at Cabela's

I am not posting the next chapter in the Book of Rhino Part Two because I cannot think of an appropriate title. I have been using Pure and Undefiled Religion, but I am not satisfied with it. I'm going to have to stew about it for awhile until the story tells me its name. To paraphrase Bill Martin, "all stories deserve a strong name."

(Note to self: Do not get too fussed about something that no one is probably reading anyway.)

Instead, I offer a story about life at Cabela's. This one has a title that I like.



“Titled, Untitled, Entitled”

The bull moose raised his massive head and surveyed his surroundings.  Although he had only arrived yesterday, he was already acting like he was in charge.

“Listen up, all you dumb animals,” he bellowed. “This place is a mess; it’s a disgrace to the animal world.  Well, there’s a new sheriff in town, and I’m going to fix it!”

The other animals paused in the work, looked at the moose, and then at each other.  After a few seconds, they went back to their business.

“I said, I’m the new sheriff,” the moose began.

“Excuse me,” interrupted a deer, “but we don’t understand the word ‘sheriff.’  Is that your name?”

“Sheriff!  Sheriff, you idiot!  You know, chief, ruler, tsar, king, head honcho!”

The deer shook her head and turned to the other animals.

“Do any of you what these words mean?” she asked.  When no one answered, she shrugged her shoulders at the moose. 

“Sorry but your words are alien to us.  However, if you want to be called Sheriff, that is just fine.  We have a Sharif here; perhaps you two could get acquainted.”

The bull moose stamped his feet.

“Sheriff is not a name– it’s a title.  My name is Greg, and my title is sheriff.  You do know what a title is; or is that word alien, too.”

“Oh, no, we are familiar with titles,” said the deer.  “For example, my title is Greeter; my job is to greet every newcomer.  Welcome, Greg, to our little community.  We look forward to getting to know you and to working with you.  Now as soon as you tell us what Sheriff does, we will set you up so that you can do whatever is it you do.”

“What do you mean what I do!” the moose roared, his chest heaving.  “I DON’T DO ANYTHING!  I TELL OTHERS WHAT TO DO!  MY TITLE IS SHERIFF! GOT THAT?”

“My, my, you do have a temper, don’t you?” said the deer.  “If you want to tell others what to do, that can be arranged also.  For example, Nora over there is great with woodworking.  If anyone wants to know how to work with wood, they go to Nora and she tells them what to do.  So if you will just tell us what you do, we will let everyone know so that if anyone wants to learn how to do whatever it is you do, then they will come to you and you can tell them.”
 The deer beamed.
“It’s very simple really.”

At these words, the bull moose became quite incoherent.  He stormed; he raged; he flung curses to the sky.   In the meantime, the deer held a quick conference with the other animals.

“He seems to be having a hard time sheriffing,” said the beaver, “whatever that is.”

“Perhaps we should recommend that he give up the title,” suggested the ibex. “Not everyone around here has to have a title–he could be Untitled Greg.”

“Oh, no, I think the title is very important to him, “ said the deer.  “The problem is that he wants to be called Sheriff, and we haven’t a clue of what that is.”  She looked over at the moose.

“…AND ANOTHER THING, YOU MAGGOTY, RUST-INFESTED, ROACH HOTELS…”

“Definitely he needs a title.  Let’s see.  He can’t articulate what he can do; he says that he does nothing, and that he tells others what to do.  What title lends itself to that?”

“I know, I know,” said the bear.  “Let’s call him Entitled.”

“Hmm…Entitled,” said the deer.  “You know, I think that will work.”

So the other animals gave Greg the title of Entitled.  At first he did not like it, but the deer recruited a group of volunteers who, once a month, went to the bull moose and asked him to give a speech.   This turned out to be an equitable arrangement.  The bull moose was kept busy writing and giving speeches, and the other animals could go about their business.



Saturday, March 2, 2019

Pure and Undefiled Religion ~ How Religion is Defiled


I was afraid of a united Church; it makes a mighty power.

– Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court



            Philippe de Ciel, the abbot of the monastery at Soissons, raised his goblet to his lips and allowed himself a small sip of wine. His host, Cecil, the Archbishop of Canterbury, felt the full weight of the abbot’s condescension, and the color in his face rose in response to it. His eyes involuntarily swept the room in which he and his guests sat, seeing them through the lens of wealth, power, and opulence. He observed anew the rough surface of the large oak table littered with the remains of their supper. The serving dishes were mostly wooden with the exception of two large pewter platters. Few items reflected the light of the tallow candles, set in crude holders of iron. There was not a gleam of gold or silver to be found in the room, except in the large crucifix and the many rings adorning the abbot’s figure. The Archbishop’s own crucifix was a sad affair of brass, studded with two tiny rubies and a chip of a diamond.
            Is this justice? he thought. Am I not a son of the Church as much as the abbot?  Have I neglected any duty or observance that I am kept in such a low estate? How many years have I served the Church, preaching the gospel, saying the mass, and performing the office of a priest? Much more than this pompous ass sitting at my table, thumbing his nose at my wine!
            With these thoughts, Archbishop Cecil nursed his grievance against Abbé Philippe, Father Caril, the Church of Rome, God, and the universe in general for mistreating him. So preoccupied was he with the sins of the world, it took him several seconds to realize that Abbé Philippe was speaking to him. He stared at his guest blankly as the abbot’s words slowly took on form and meaning.
            “…and so I deemed it my Christian duty to visit you and once more renew the bonds of fellowship as brother soldiers in Christ,” the abbot was saying. A large man, he was the same height as the archbishop. Yet where the archbishop was gaunt and bowed in stature, the abbot was straight and muscular. Rumor had it that in his youth, Abbé Philippe trained in arms with the Duke of Normandy and wielded as deadly a sword as the duke himself. Age had not diminished his eagerness to lead his troops in battle when the mission of the gospel demanded it. In his eyes, his was the cause of righteousness, and he gloried in the strength of his arm, casting unbelievers into the hell they deserved.  Both the archbishop and the abbot inherited the coloring and countenance of their paternal grandmother—small blue eyes underneath ragged brows, a somewhat low forehead, and a bulbous nose. However, Philippe imagined that in the holy wrath of battle, the warp-spasm came upon him, transforming his unassuming countenance into a terror to behold.
            The abbot’s eyes looked about the table, resting briefly on the handsome face of a priest also sitting at supper. Abbé Philippe was pleased with the young man, although he would have been hard-pressed to explain why. Throughout the supper, the priest, Father Caril, spoke not a word; yet he managed to give the impression of a worshiper. The abbot naturally assumed that he was the object of worship. He looked at the archbishop with what he fancied was a gaze full of compassion; actually, it gave him the appearance of a sparrow after a worm.
            “For too long, the Church in Albion has wallowed in obscurity,” he said, “content with mere lip service from its rulers and the people. Your failed attempt to place Lokinvar’s elder son on the throne was doomed from the beginning. It was too great an enterprise to depend on a handful of people to do the right thing. And boys of Prince Rhino’s age are most untrustworthy. Just when you think you have them progressing nicely toward their chosen destination, they abruptly change course for any number of trivialities. A song, a poem, or a maiden’s face is enough to divert them to another path.”
            The archbishop squirmed under the abbot’s brutal appraisal. Aware of Father Caril’s presence at the table, he turned to the priest with a nod of dismissal.
“That will be all,” he said.  “On your way out, tell the servants that my guest and I wish to remain undisturbed until I call.”  When Caril was safely out of the room, Cecil lifted his hands in supplication.
 “What else could I have done?” he asked. “The Covenant has been the law for hundreds of years. The Church on Albion does not have the power to establish a state religion. Indeed, we clergy count ourselves fortunate to be tolerated to the extent that we are.”
            “And that, my dear cousin, is your basic error,” rejoined the abbot. “To accept mere tolerance effectively binds your hands from reaching for real and lasting power. You must take measures to convert the entire kingdom for the cause of Christ. Forget the prince and his brothers for now. They are still under tutelage. Ignore the Covenant. It will fall of its own accord when the people’s obedience is given to the true faith.”
            “And just how do you propose to accomplish this all-important task?” Cecil barely concealed his sarcasm.  “As you well know, the gospel was first preached to the common people, who gladly received it. They saw in its message a future hope in heaven, far removed from the hell they were enduring on earth. Thus it was for many years, even during the Great Persecution; the Church was built and grew on the faith of the poor and oppressed.
            “But here in Albion, we have no such desperate people. To be sure, the commoners, the peasants, and the poor have a hard enough life, but it is not accompanied by despair; the nobles of Albion are trained from birth to serve the people and do all they can to preserve their dignity and alleviate unnecessary hardships. The Church’s message of eternal life in heaven falls on indifferent ears. Their daily lives are not wretched enough for them to long for a better world.”
            Philippe listened to the archbishop with a frown. He was not willing to concede the rule of Albion so easily.
            “Be that as it may,” he said, “there are still obvious distinctions of class and segregation of power in Albion. Surely your commoners are not so blind that they fail to see the unequal distribution of wealth. Is this not fertile soil in which to sow resentment toward the nobility and discontent with the present situation?”
            “There is wealth, yes, in the hands of the lords. But the Covenant forbids their amassing great hoards of it. Why, you yourself can boast of greater riches than all but the king and his brothers. How can we clergy point out the disparity in wealth and power among Albion’s secular rulers when the commoners are well aware of an even greater one in the Church? Furthermore, the king and the ruling lords train in their youth among their people. They toil alongside them in all their labors and experience firsthand how they live. Strong bonds of friendship are formed between the rulers of Albion and its people during their apprenticeship, bonds that are never forgotten. Under such conditions, it is well nigh impossible to instigate those feelings you deem so necessary for sowing the seeds of faith.”
            “What about fear and guilt?” asked the abbot,  “My dear Cecil, have you forgotten the writings of Augustine and Jerome? Was it not guilt that led to their conversions? In reflecting on his past, Augustine concluded that even as a babe he was a sinner because he cried to be fed.  His guilt is one to be admired. Only such a mighty guilt as his could have produced such a marvelous saint.
            “So work on producing guilt in the rich and powerful; they are the ones with the necessary means and education to do mischief. Allow no small deed, whether good or bad, to pass without criticism. Hold up an ideal—an impossible ideal—before which all fall short. No matter how good, how charitable, how noble they attempt to be in service to the people, foster the idea that it is not good enough. Nurture in them guilt for not knowing what is good enough. Blind them from seeing things as they really are. Instead, encourage them to constantly compare their humanity with something that is not human.”
            At these words, Abbé Philippe sat back in his chair with a paternal nod.  Archbishop Cecil considered his cousin’s speech.
            “And what of fear?” he asked.
              The abbot leaned forward.
            “Teach the people about hell.”
            The archbishop opened his eyes in surprise. “What can you mean?  Of course, the people know about hell; that goes without saying.”
            “They must not merely know it—they must fear it. The people of Albion must envision themselves as sinners in the hands of an angry God, as vile, unworthy vermin who teeter on the razor’s edge of eternal torment. If they are pagans at all, then they have a history of appeasing the gods. I daresay you will find outside every hamlet the scattered remains of a holy hill or a sacred grove where their ancestors left food and drink to the local deity. It’s in their blood to fear a power greater than themselves.”
            As the archbishop’s face showed a dawning understanding, the abbot pressed his point. “Tell me, do the peasants still celebrate autumn and spring festivals?”
            Cecil nodded. “Despite our express disapproval, many still practice the ancient rites in secret.”
            Philippe slapped his hand on the table. “There, you see? The common folk still hold to the idea of sacrifice and atonement. And why? Because they fear what their gods might do to them! Use that fear to the Church’s advantage. Teach them that compared to the wrath and judgment of the Lord God Almighty, their petty gods are a mere wisp in the wind.”
            Abbé Philippe paused and fastened expectant eyes on the archbishop. Cecil considered the abbot’s words, silencing the howl of protest from that part of him which still believed. That poor, starved seed of faith had been shunted aside years ago. And yet, as Archbishop Cecil was about to agree to Abbé Philippe’s proposal, a wave of despondency engulfed his heart. His throat constricted and his vision blurred. 
            No, he thought, this will not do.  I cannot allow sentiment to undermine the mission of the Church. 
            Aloud he said, “By all means, we will redouble our efforts to preach the gospel.  A letter shall go out this very day to clergy in Albion.”

~

            After his dismissal, Father Caril lingered outside the refectory door just long enough to learn his superior’s intentions. In his youth, he had discovered that he had the ability to perceive the thoughts of those around him, a gift he did not hesitate to use to his advantage. He walked out to the garden, frowning. The words guilt and fear disturbed him. Years ago he had betrayed his dearest friend out of fear, and guilt over his actions still haunted him. Though he would not acknowledge it, fear and guilt kept him shackled to a past he wished to obliterate from memory.
            Father Caril sat down at the base of a willow tree. Leaning back, he observed the play of sunlight among its leaves. Suddenly he saw himself as a child perched on one of the branches alongside Ceridwen, his constant companion.

            “No, it’s ‘everlasting life’, not ‘eternal life’.”
            Caril scowled and shook his head. Weren’t they the same thing? As if reading his mind, Ceridwen answered sternly.
            “No, it isn’t. Now say it again from the beginning.”
            Caril was about to respond when a quick glance at Ceridwen sent him into a spasm of laughter.
            “You should see your face; you look just like Master Benedict.”
            “I do not!”
            “I’ll swear you do. By all the gods, in all the groves, you look like the master.”
            “Caril!” Ceridwen was shocked. “What would your lady mother think if she heard you speak this way? Do you want to get in trouble? So what if I look like Master Benedict? You have to learn this catechism by next Sunday or else.”
            “Or else what? Do you think I’ll go to hell?” Caril dropped to the ground and looked up at Ceridwen. “Eternal life, eternal life, eternal life,” he chanted, dancing around the tree.
            Ceridwen joined him on the ground and, with her arms akimbo, regarded Caril sternly. Then she, too, burst into laughter.
            “Caril, you dolt! Your lady mother…”
            “My lady mother would scold, fuss, and drag me off to the chapel to pray. See here, Ceri, I already know it; I’m just bored with saying it. I promise when the time comes, I’ll recite so perfectly that even the pope will be impressed.”
            “And what about God? Shouldn’t he be the one you want to please?”
            “Why should I worry about God? It’s the pope, and the priests, and my mother who want me to say the creed and get baptized. I don’t think God cares either way.”
            “How do you know what God cares about it? Maybe He does care and you just don’t know it.”
            At her words, Caril ceased his cavorting and stood before Ceridwen. He placed his hands on her shoulders, looking serious.
            “I’m sorry, Ceri, but I just can’t believe a catechism in my head if I don’t find it in my heart. Besides, if it were that important to say the catechism and be baptized, then Mother would see that you do it also. The only reason I have to be baptized is ‘cause I am the son of a lord; it’s just one of my duties.” Caril gave Ceridwen a gentle shake. “You are the dolt. Don’t you know that we will always be together? If you go to heaven, I will be with you, of course. Catechism, baptism, church or no church, we will always be together.”
~

            Father Caril opened his eyes at a touch on his shoulder. It was one of the servants.
            “Beggin’ your pardon, Father, but you’re wanted in his Grace’s study right away.” The servant noticed Father Caril’s face.
            “I say, Father, are you well?”
            “What? Yes, of course, I am well. Don’t be impertinent! Go tell the archbishop I am on my way.”
            After the servant left, Father Caril buried his face in his hands. The memory had left him shaken.
            Ceri! After all these years…

            Abruptly, Father Caril got to his feet. He shook his head and straightened his shoulders. He would not allow the distant past to interfere with a promising future. He left the garden and made his way the archbishop’s study.



Saturday, February 23, 2019

Pure and Undefiled Religion ~ How to Have an Adventure


Man must have just enough faith in himself to have adventures,
 and just enough doubt of himself to enjoy them.

G. K. Chesterton, The Eternal Revolution



            “Welcome, sir,” said the monk at the gate. “Here at the Abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul we receive many visitors. If you will give me your name and state your business, I will do what I can to accommodate you. Are you here to visit our library or view our grounds? Both are world famous, you know.”
            “I hope I may do both while I am here,” said the visitor. “My name is Theodore Altman, and I have an appointment with Brother Simon. I believe he is expecting me.”
            “Yes, of course, Master Altman. I was told to look for you. Please follow me.”
Master Altman followed the gatekeeper through the entrance and into main courtyard where he was introduced to Brother Simon.
~

            After a brief tour of the library, Brother Simon led Master Altman to a small reading room for a private conversation. The two men surveyed each other with interest.  Although they had no previous acquaintance, each man intuitively felt that they would be lifelong friends.
            “So you have accepted the post of tutor,” said Brother Simon. “In my opinion, Prince Rhino and his brothers are a fine group of lads. The time I spent with them was a rare pleasure, and I hope you find your assignment as agreeable as I did.”
            Master Altman clapped the monk on his shoulder.
            “Thank you,” he said. “When I first received King Rheynold’s offer, I learned all that I could about Albion–its history, its commerce, its government, and, of course, its covenant. It was enough to pique my interest and answer my initial questions. I hope that the use of your excellent library will answer the rest.”
            “You are welcome to avail yourself of whatever resources we have, except the sacred texts.”
            “Hmm…I don’t know about that,” said Master Altman. “What you and I consider sacred might be two different things. Personally, I think that any writing that is the product of rational thought is sacred; but what do I know of sacred things?”
            Brother Simon started to assure him that everything sacred was locked away in a secret vault but thought better of it. He suspected that if he mentioned it, Master Altman would want to know why, and for that he had no answer.
            Aloud he said, “The letter you sent specifically requested a meeting with me. How may I serve you?”
            Master Altman smiled and raised his eyebrows. He leaned forward and placed his hand on Brother Simon’s arm.
            “Tell me about the boys. I want a teacher’s perspective.”
            Brother Simon chuckled.
            “The boys, eh? Well now, let me start with Rhino–by the way, there is no honorific, not yet anyway. Rhino is the image of his father the king, with his dark hair and eyes and handsome features. He is cognizant of his heritage and the duty it entails.  He works diligently at every appointed task and sees that his brothers do the same. All in all, Rhino excels at everything to which he sets his mind. He turned thirteen last June.
            “Lord Lokinvar of Wales is married to King Rheynold’s sister. His son Skandar is Rhino’s cousin by birth and his brother by law. Skandar resembles his father in that he has his tawny hair and brown eyes. He is a joyful soul burdened by an immense curiosity of real world phenomena.”
            “If I may interrupt with a question,” said Master Altman.
            “By all means,” said Brother Simon.
            “I heard that Lord Lokinvar has another son, an older son. Is this true?”
            “Yes, it is.”
            “Then why is he not the prince’s brother by law? Why does the title fall to Skandar?”
            “According to the Covenant, if one of the High Lords has two sons, the designated heir is the one closest in age to the prince. Alanar, the elder, is almost sixteen years old and Skandar, the younger, will be thirteen in two months. So Skandar inherits Lord Lokinvar’s title and Alanar…well, Alanar seems bound for the priesthood.”
            “Interesting,” said Master Altman. “Please continue.”
            “Rhino has another cousin, Elbert, who is also his brother by law. His father, Lord Ethelred, is brother to the queen. Elbert, who is a year older than Rhino, is quiet, dignified, and somewhat reserved. But under that calm exterior beats the heart of an artist. Elbert is perhaps the most religious of the group; having descended from Lord Ethelbert, the first Christian King of Albion, he seems determined to honor his heritage.”
            Master Altman raised his hand.
            “Hold a minute. If Lord Ethelbert was the king, then why isn’t his descendant Elbert the crown prince?”
            “That is easily explained,” said Brother Simon. “According to the Covenant, if the king dies before the prince comes of age, then one of the lords acts as king regent until the prince turns twenty-one. That has happened twice in the history of Albion. The first time was in 567 A.D. when King Randolf was killed in a hunting accident, his son being but ten years old. Lord Ethelbert of Kent served as king regent for eleven years. The second time was more recently when King Rheynold was a child. His father died of a fever, and Lord Kennard of Wales was appointed king regent.”
            “Indeed,” said Master Altman. “And when the heir comes of age, what happens to the king regent?”
            “For three years, he and the other lords serve as counselors to the new king and his brothers. After that, they leave Albion and take positions as ambassadors in neighboring countries. It is an equitable arrangement that has served the kingdom well for hundreds of years.”
            “I see,” said Master Altman. “And what of the other two brothers, Trevor and…Wilfred, is it?”
            “Ah, Trevor, the young god! Well-formed, beautiful, with a voice to match, he is a bard of no small talent. He is honest, sincere, and a very hard worker—that is, when he keeps his head attached to his shoulders. Often it is wandering up in the clouds. The other lads watch out for him. I sometimes wonder who has the greater propensity for trouble, Skandar because of his curiosity or Trevor because of his romanticism.
            “And then there is Wilfred. He is the youngest of Lord William’s five children, the other four being girls. He is a good-hearted lad, full of humor and generosity, despite being petted and idolized by his sisters. In fact, they are all exceptional young men who have forged strong bonds between them that transcend their differences. It is wonderful to see how close they have become since they were first introduced.”
            Master Altman tapped his finger to his lips, lost in thought.
            “Hmm” he said, more to himself than to Brother Simon, “it is a remarkable history. To think that the Covenant has been in place for so many generations—it is difficult to fathom. How could such a document be accepted in the first place, let alone survive throughout the centuries? And these five boys are Albion’s future, a future in which I now have a part. And what will that part be, I wonder?”
            Suddenly Master Altman laughed and directed a look at Brother Simon.
            “I beg your pardon,” he said. “My mind often wanders and takes me along with it.  Getting back to Rhino and his brothers, I now must touch upon another topic that concerns them, but I may say things that will give offense. Please let me assure you that none is intended, but I really must know!”
            “Know what?” asked Brother Simon.
            “If the rumors are true.”
            “What rumors?”
            “It is said that Prince Rhino was struck by the hand of God as punishment for disobeying the Church—that God wanted Alanar to be king instead of Rhino. Others have sworn that Skandar died and was resurrected in the form of Alanar. Still others insist that Skandar’s spirit was overmastered by Alanar’s spirit and that Alanar inhabits Skandar’s body. I was told that Rhino left Albion and got lost in the northern wastelands but was rescued by his brothers, guided by an angel.”  Master Altman held out his hands.  “I hope, my friend, that you can clarify matters for me.”
            Brother Simon looked rueful.
            “I am not acquainted with all the details, but I will relate what I know. It is true that the archbishop of Canterbury thought to supplant Skandar with Alanar, claiming that God’s will took precedence over the Covenant. He had his supporters in the king’s council. Had they forced their claim, they would have undermined the Covenant’s authority. For a while circumstances seemed to tilt in their favor when Rhino…well, you see, Rhino became…um—how shall I put this—he was…not like himself.”
            Ignoring Master Altman’s raised eyebrows, Brother Simon hurriedly continued.
            “With the crown prince incapacitated, the Church leaders decided to aim for nothing less than the throne. Alanar was to be the next king, with the power of the Church supporting him. It was a very near thing. But Rhino recovered, their plot was exposed, and support for Skandar and the Covenant was irrevocably established.”
            Master Altman leaned back in his chair, his fingertips touching under his chin.  His eyes searched the ceiling as if looking for something. He stood and began pacing about the room with his hands behind his back. He seemed to have forgotten Brother Simon’s presence. At length, he turned and addressed his host.
            “I have been young and now I am old, old enough to tell my story—old enough to have a story to tell. I have seen mediocrity elevated to power, and wisdom ground to dust.  I have seen when those who have the least to say have the greatest audience to which to say it, while those whose words are jewels are relegated to obscurity. I have witnessed how the tiniest pebble in a stream can alter the course of a mighty river. You say that Prince Rhino ‘was not like himself.’ My friend, I have seen enough of the world to know that things less than that are sufficient to turn a world upside down.
            “And now my story, the curve upon which I travel, is on a path to meet the story of Prince Rhino and his brothers. Up or down, high or low, strong or weak, at some point our paths will connect. I will not violate a trust or force a confidence, but I would like to know whatever you can tell me of Prince Rhino’s story. You say he was incapacitated and then recovered? What happened?”
~

            It was nearly time for evening vespers when Brother Simon escorted Master Altman to his room.
            “I hope you find everything to your comfort despite its sparseness,” said Brother Simon. “I am only sorry your business takes you away so soon. We are expecting Alanar at the abbey next week. It is a shame you cannot make his acquaintance.”
            “Perhaps I can be allowed a brief trip north in the winter.” Brother Simon shook his head.
            “Alanar and I will remain here for less than a fortnight. After that we journey to the Abbey of Saint Gall on the continent. There I will teach art and mathematics, and Alanar will continue his studies as well as assist me in tutoring. We will be gone at least twelve months, possibly longer.”
            “Then I will view the time of our fellowship with even more gratitude.” Master Altman clasped Brother Simon on the arm. “Thank you, my friend, for all you have shared. You have given me hope and anticipation for the year before me. May you prosper and be in health even as your soul prospers.”
            “I will call for you early in the morning that I might send you on your way with the Lord’s blessing. Sleep well.”
            Brother Simon bowed and left Master Altman alone to inspect his bedchamber. It was plainly furnished; a straw mattress, a table with a basin, and a single candle were its only adornment, save for a small crucifix over the bed. Master Altman lowered himself cautiously on the mattress and removed his boots. Despite the weariness he felt in his bones, he knew it would be a while before he would be able to sleep. He was intrigued by Rhino’s story.
            According to Brother Simon, Rhino, in a fit of pride, had ordered his brother Skandar to strike a peasant girl for a supposed impertinence. It turned out that the girl was Skandar’s friend. Skandar could not do such a deed and, in the end, neither could Rhino. When the king learned of the incident, he saw it as a sign of weakness. To teach Rhino a lesson, King Rheynold ordered him to repeatedly strike Skandar until the lad lost consciousness. Rhino was so ashamed of his actions that his spirit broke, and he became like one who is dead, walking and breathing but lifeless inside.
            This happened at the time of Rhino’s thirteenth birthday, when everyone in the kingdom was preparing for a grand celebration. Instead, there was confusion and uncertainty because of the prince’s condition. Archbishop Cecil and Bishop Pascent, along with one of the priests conspired to present Alanar before the king’s council as God’s chosen ruler. With the stability of Albion at stake, some members of the king’s council were considering the Church’s proposal. However, Rhino and his brothers, along with Alanar, interrupted the meeting to present Rhino miraculously restored to health.
            Brother Simon hinted that the girl—Amalia—had played a part in Rhino’s recovery.  How very interesting! Moreover, this same Amalia was the daughter of Virgil, who kept the inn at Avon where Master Altman planned to stay on his way to London. As Amalia was currently in London herself, Master Altman hoped he might get to meet her.
            “My friend,” said Master Altman to the candle, “you and I have had a most illuminating day.”

            The next morning the sun’s rays were touching the top of the abbey when Master Altman bid farewell to Brother Simon. The two men embraced. Concomitant spirits are rare in the world, and when they are fortunate enough to find each other, they are loth to separate. Brother Simon handed Master Altman a small scroll.
            “Here is a letter of introduction,” he said, “to Virgil the innkeeper at the River Avon. Farewell and Godspeed.”
            “Thank you,” said Master Altman. “Blessings to you and safe journey.”
~
            The sun was setting when Master Altman’s tired eyes beheld the village and the lights of the inn. How glad he would be to rest by a fire! He marveled at the fact that his journey was without incident. That he should travel so many miles alone and unmolested was simply amazing to him. It was unlike any of his other experiences traveling; in Normandy, Italy, Greece, and Eire, it was necessary to attach oneself to a large caravan for protection. Even then, that was no guarantee that a party of travelers would be safe from outlaws and thieves. Albion was proving itself a greater curiosity than Master Altman had previously imagined. His anticipation of what was in store for him increased every day. And now here he was at the famous inn on the River Avon. As weary as he was, he rubbed his hands together in anticipation as he nudged his horse toward the village.

            The next morning, Master Altman surveyed the view from the window of his room. He intended to spend one more night at the inn in order to tour the village and put his thoughts in order. He appreciated the peaceful atmosphere of his surroundings. It was a perfect environment for reflection and writing.
            I could spend a year just thinking about what Brother Simon told me. What I wouldn’t give to travel with him! He is such a good man for a Christian. I wonder how he has survived church doctrine all these years. I wonder if there are others like him. I wonder what that knocking is…
            Master Altman came out of his reverie and looked at Virgil, who was standing in the doorway with a pitcher of water and a towel.
            “Oh…I beg your pardon,” he said aloud.
            “I apologize for the intrusion, but you did bid me enter,” said Virgil, who deposited the pitcher and towel on a small table. Master Altman laughed.
            “I am quite certain I did, but I have no memory of it, “ he said. “I do go on sometimes. It was always a mystery to my students that I could say one thing and be thinking another. I could say the number sixteen and write the number forty-seven. I was so involved in thinking about whether the facts I know are the truth that the fact of your knocking at the door did not register.”
            Virgil smiled.
            “The relationship between fact and truth has long been a puzzle for me,” Master Altman continued. “For example, yesterday I arrived at the inn at sunset. That is an unchangeable fact. If I then state that I arrived at the inn at sunset, then I have spoken the truth about the fact. If I state I arrived at the inn before sunset, then I have not spoken the truth; yet the fact exists that proves otherwise.”
            “And what do you find so puzzling about that?”
            “Just this: A fact can exist whether or not it is used truthfully. And there are those that ignore or discount a fact if it does not support what they want to believe. Moreover, people will fight and die for what they believe is true whether or not it is factual. Such an intriguing facet of human nature—I could spend weeks just thinking about it. But forgive me; I digress. Thank you for seeing to my comfort.”
            “It is my pleasure,” said Virgil. “Is there anything else you require?”
            Master Altman nodded.
            “Yes!” he said. “What is the ‘why’ of Albion?”
            Virgil coughed and looked disconcerted. 
            “Ah…well,” he began. “I am not quite sure what you mean.” 
            Master Altman sighed.
            “It’s all right,” he said. “Truth is wiser than me and will reveal itself at the appropriate time. Sometimes I think it is my ordained task in life to ask ‘why’ as an exercise in patience. So I must allow patience to have its perfect work. In the meantime, if you could point me in the best direction from which to explore your village, I would be most appreciative. I am up for an adventure this morning.”

Next Week: How to Defile Religion