Saturday, December 11, 2021

Abyss & Sea 23

(And finally we come to the end.)

All over the Great Realm there was devastation like that which Disan and the Sorean fleet could see, but these things we can only know from what little can be pieced together from scattered remnants who by happenstance survived. Everywhere there was destruction, but most of it is beyond all human memory. Only the Powers that govern the world saw the whole.

It is said that the great Khalad Mountains burst open and spewed out fire and molten stone across the western half of the land, and that fishing boats scattered in view of the Golden Shore saw entire mountains glowing in the distance. It is said, too, that the fountains and springs of Ezrym began to boil with a sulfurous smell, and that a great chasm tore through the land at the Great Canal as both banks suddenly splayed apart and the sea rushed into the space. It is said that the great orikhalh walls of Talamir were torn from their foundations and twisted like paper. The entire land seemed to tip itself into the sea, or else the sea somehow rose up to invade the land, and with a great turmoil of waters, the Porphyry Mountain, the greatest human palace that has ever been or that ever shall be, sank beneath the waves with only foam to mark its place. It is said that, in the months that followed, many corpses continued to wash up on the Chipou shores, tangled in the flotsam, bloated with ferment and partly eaten by the fish. Sailors have legends that ships in fog or storm sometimes by some strange enchantment come across some of the highest peaks of the Khalad mountain range, now mere rocks in the sea, and that these places are haunted by ghosts. What is known is that in clear daylight you may diligently search the seas where the Great Realm once was and find no trace of land. 

The Sorean isle, too, crumbled into the sea. Many saw it as it did so. With it went down all life on the island, except for the ravens and some other birds that were wise enough and strong enough to fly through the storm to the ships. Disan saw none of this, for he was sinking into the sea, only half-conscious, as it happened. Down he went, or rather tumbled, for he had no sense of direction, and would likely have drowned. But as he came near to death he seemed to see, or at least later vaguely remembered that he had seemed to see, an Ezryman child in the depths, one form taken by Fulné of the sea, and he seemed to hear the sea around him speak to him: "Foolish king, your people still require your service." Then he seemed to move at great speed through the depths, and broke the surface. The last thing that he later vaguely remembered, although he could never say whether it was real or just a dream concocted by the mind of a drowning man, voices all around, although very distant, and hands on his shoulders, and then all went black.

What is known is that he was pulled from the water, very near death, but only very near. He woke up briefly at some point later in an unfamiliar room. His throat and sinuses felt raw and his head throbbed with pain, sometimes hard enough to bring tears to his eyes. It was dark, but a stormy-green light came through a narrow windows, enough to see some things. It was a state room in a ship, in one of the ships in which Disan had placed some of the treasures to be sent ahead; he could see on the floor the long, narrow crate in which he had carefully placed the Black Tapestry of Maia of the Pearls. There was a cage for ship ravens along a wall. It was covered with a blanket, but the blanket had partly slipped, and Disan could see none other than Ker, hunched down and obviously unhappy to be on a ship, peering at him. He wondered how Ker had come to be there. Then he tried to sit up, but it set him to coughing, which was painful in his throat and head, so he sank back down. As he slipped back into sleep, just before all went black again, he prayed that Baia had evacuated with the ships at Mir Salal.

Outside the storm only grew louder.


Abyss and Sea 

The thunder shatters air and will, the rain is cold, the lightning fierce.
The world is battered, broken, upside-down; its heart is deeply pierced;
and all our hope beneath the wave is sinking now, beyond our reach.
Not wealth nor strength nor lore can move the lands to rise; they, shattered each,
are crushed beneath the heavy sea, and nevermore will they return.
Yet I recall the shining streets, the lamps that seemed like stars to burn,
and I remember meadows, fields, and mountains like a summer dream
surrounding cities bright with lights that like the snow in sunlight gleamed. 

On sandy shores we once would walk and feel the salty, sea-sent breeze,
but nevermore shall footsteps grace that sand; the roaring, angry seas
have seized it all in chilling grasp and nothing free of flood remains
save fragments made of memories, their razor edges trimmed with pain.
And I recall the winter snows on little houses, trim and neat,
where children played with shouting voices, endless games, and nimble feet,
but where are they? They too are gone. The earth and sea will spare no soul.
They spared not me, for what they left to sigh and grieve is not the whole. 

 The storm is pounding; not a sound can break its roaring, rumbling wall,
but still inside I hear the songs that honeyed voices used to call
beneath the dewy apple trees in autumn days, cool, crisp, and clear.
The trees are driftwood-dead and lost; the songs are dim in yesteryear,
but I can feel the ache inside, and I can feel that they once grew,
and I can feel the loss of glories past that you and I together knew.
But harsher still the tearing pain, suspended doubting, cold as stone,
of never knowing where you are: Are you alive? Am I alone?

Friday, December 10, 2021

Abyss & Sea 22

(One more installment after this, probably sometime this weekend)

After he had sent Asaia on her way, Disan turned to the work of organizing the fleet from Soromir. It was mostly numbing and tedious work, but it was punctuated by one event of extraordinary excitement; someone tried to assassinate him.

He was at the docks for a meeting with a number of captains to discuss various problems associated with the great embarkation, and he had just left it in the company of a few of his guards. The dock was quite crowded, as it would be with so much going on, and in the midst of it all, a man rushed at him with a knife. Disan, purely reflexively, dodged it and Disan's men wrestled the man to the ground very roughly. The would-be assassin was a Sorean merchant who had just come from Tavra up the Great Canal with a shipment for provisioning the fleet, but it was impossible to get any coherent story out of him; he seemed to have no motive, and, indeed, seemed not to understand himself what he had done or why he had done it. When Disan asked him about his stay in Tavra, he broke down into further incoherence, and apparently could remember nothing clearly about it.

Disan pondered all sides of this, and said to himself, "'Beware the Honey Witch, for she has power from the Court of Night to bend the mind.' We should have paid your message more attention, Envren." He selected a number of trustworthy men, carefully making sure that none of them had any connection to Tavra, or had even traveled there in any time within the past few years, and sent them on to protect Baia in Mir Salal with a letter. He spent a great deal of agonized thought on how much he should say in it, and finally, and with considerable reluctance, concluded that he should not explicitly mention anything about the assassination itself. First, he did not want to worry Baia; second, the attempt had been clumsy and apparently even haphazard, which suggested to Disan that there was no systematic plan; and third, it seemed best in general to keep knowledge of the assassination attempt to as few as possible, until further investigation turned up more information. He had misgivings, however, and not long after the guards had been sent, he considered having them called back to change the letter; but he did not do it.

Other than the considerable worry and anxiety caused by this event, much of Disan's time consisted in reviewing lists and checklists and talking with supervisors. As the embarkation day for the first fleet drew near, there were the expected stacks of messages bearing excuses, but Disan was pleased enough that anyone was arriving that the bare fact that the population of Soromir was obviously and visibly swelling made the excuses easy to dismiss. He looked forward to actually completing this stage, knowing that the later stages would be harder. And everything was proceeding on schedule, which was something of a wonder.

Soon the embarkation day for the first fleet arrived. It went without an actual hitch, but there were so many people in Soromir that it was a far slower process than Disan had hoped. He went down to the docks himself and spent an immense amount of time and energy trying to keep the process running smoothly. There are few things more effective at resolving many kinds of problems than the word of a king, but even kings cannot solve problems that pile all around them in masses, and Disan was quite overwhelmed.

He had just seen off a boat carrying elderly passengers and some cargo to a ship in the harbor, when the air grew suddenly very still. There seemed no wind at all below, but high above dark clouds began swiftly to gather. Even the sea seemed to quiet down in some hushed expectation. Then he, and everyone else in sight clutched their ears. Disan kept his feet, but more than few people collapsed to the ground. A vast and fathomless voice resounded through the air. It did not come, as voices usually do, from a direction. It came from all directions. It did not, as voices usually do, lightly touch the ears through the air. The entire ocean of air seemed to speak. You felt the force of its words with your whole body as if they were great waves in the ocean. For it was not a voice. It was The Voice.




At this, the earth began to make a strange groaning sound. The wind began to pick up. Lightning flashed in the sky.



There was a great cracking noise from the earth. Rain began to fall, first slowly and then heavily, and finally in torrents, soaking them all, but nobody in the rain could run to shelter due to the overwhelming power of the Voice.



And with those final words, it seemed like the entire world went mad. If you ever stood on a boat when suddenly it lurched to the side, knocking you down, this is what everybody felt, but it was the very land itself that lurched. Anyone who had been standing, like Disan, was knocked flat. The earth began to shake heavily. Disan attempted to invoke the pacts and covenants to calm the earth, as he had done before, but he knew as he did so that it would not succeed, and it did not. There were no pacts and there were no covenants. The rain fell in sheets and began to be mixed with hail. The people at the docks began to stampede toward shelter.

"No! No!" shouted Disan as loud as he could. "To the ships! To the ships!"

Most still drove inland, never to be seen again. Some heard him and he began to get them on ships at the docks and on boats to take them out to the ships anchored farther out.

But the boats and ships were themselves beginning to have great difficulty. The semblance of life in the ships, even without the pacts and covenants, was friendly, but without the pacts and the covenants they could not seamlessly and easily respond to their crews as they once would have. This would not in itself have been devastating, as all sailors begin their experiences with ordinary boats like fishing boats, rather than the great ships of the Sorean fleet, and they knew their trade as no sailors in the world have known since. But no experience, no skill, was adequate to the occasion. The sea itself began to go mad. The waves had no pattern and went as they would. They rose out of nothing and collapsed into nothing. They waved this way and that, north south, east, west, even some in spirals around and around. They collided into each other in a confusion no sailor could navigate.

Those who followed Disan crowded on the slippery docks to fill the last embarkation boats that were there. Disan at one point stepped in, his boots sloshing in the rainwater that was filling the boat, to help people get on board. He had hardly done so when the dock itself violently twisted and tore away. Those who were in the process of embarking collapsed on to Disan and those who were still on the dock were thrown into the sea and swept away. When Disan managed to untangle himself, he looked with horror at the chaos that he could see in Soromir even through the wind-gusting rain. So many were the lightning strikes that fires were springing up in the city despite the torrential downpour. The land itself seemed like a sea, waving slowly up and down with rumble and roar. Buildings collapsed like sand. No people could be seen anywhere anymore.

On the sea-side, in the harbor, one of the great ships laden with Sorean treasures was caught in a sudden whirlpool that formed beneath it. Around and around it went, its anchor-chain snapping like twine, down and down; but then suddenly the whirlpool collapsed, spitting out the ship with a force that drove it toward the cliffs overlooking the city. A great groaning and rumbling resounded even through the tumultuous roar. As Disan watched, still as stone, he saw the great cliffs on which Neyat Sor stood begin to crumble. One moment, one could still make out the shining, glittering spires of Neyat Sor. The next moment it was gone forever. The ship that had been driven toward the cliffs was caught in a cataract of rock. Sorean ships were built to be unsinkable. They could withstand any ordinary storm. Many had survived collisions with other ships. Ramming them would not harm them; reefs could not hurt them. But no human ship that has ever been made that can withstand an avalanche of boulders. They tore through its untearable sails as if they were wet paper. They splintered its invulnerable hull as if it were balsam. They poured through its frame as if it were not even there and the unsinkable ship sank like a stone.

The rain intensified as if the very heavens were falling on their heads. The sailors in Disan's boat attempted to navigate through the rabidly foaming, anarchical waves as they set the passengers to bailing out the rainwater. Slowly they made their way to the ships. But the seas were growing perilous with flotsam as well as wave, and the boat suddenly hit something. Disan, who had been watching all the devastation and had, without thinking loosened his grip from the terror of the sight, was thrown overboard into the shocking cold of the sea.

It was difficult to keep a head above the water, but he managed to do so.

"Overboard!" he heard someone call. But it was the last thing he definitely heard above the surface of the ocean, because his head was driven by a wave into something hard. He saw lightning in his head, and all went red. He was still conscious, but it seemed like his body would no longer obey; he was disoriented and knew not up or down. He hit something again and sank beneath the water.

Thursday, December 09, 2021

Humanity Is the Love of Man

 Sincere love for men is the greatest result of love for the Lord of Heaven. This is what is meant by the expression "Humanity is the love of man." If a man does not love his fellowmen, how can one tell that he sincerely respects the Lord on High? The love of man is no feigned love since it must result in the feeding of the hungry, in the giving of drink to the thirsty, in the clothing of those without clothes, and in the provision of places to live for the homeless. Love has compassion for and comforts those who experience troubles; it instructs the ignorant, corrects the wrongdoers, forgives those who humiliate me, buries the dead, and dares not to forget to pray to the Sovereign on High for all men, living or dead. Therefore, in former times in the West, there was a certain man who went to inquire of a sage what he must do to be good. The answer was: "Love the Lord of Heaven and do as you wish." What the sage meant was that if a man chose to follow this wise advice, he would, as a matter of course, be unable to take the wrong path.

[Matteo Ricci, The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven, Lancashire and Hu Kuo-chen, trs., Menard, ed., Institute of Jesuit Sources (Boston: 2016), Chapter 7, section 477, p. 313.]

The first quotation is from Mencius, the second a slight paraphrase of Augustine. In the works of mercy, Ricci doesn't here mention visiting the sick, visiting the imprisoned, counseling the doubtful, and bearing wrongs patiently; but it's possible that visiting the sick and counseling the doubtful may be taken to be directly implied. The other two are much more closely related to problems that the Chinese scholar interlocutor is having with this aspect of Christian doctrine; they will go on next to discuss what it could possibly mean to love a bad person.

Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Abyss & Sea 21


After some discussion with Baia, the two monarchs immediately called a council of all the peers and, since Soreans regard master shipwrights as a sort of nobility, master shipwrights of the realm. This, while done with speed and even haste, took a week to organize. In the meantime, Disan ordered all the ships that had been built to be fully stocked and provisioned and Baia oversaw the sorting and, toward the end of the week, the beginning of the packing of items in Neyat Sor to be transported to the dock warehouses and, ultimately, the ships. It was busy work, and by the time the council came, they were both tired.

As to the council, it was not exactly a success, but it was also not the disaster Disan feared it would be. He began from the beginning, with the experience of the cavern and the message he had received; then he gave, more succinctly and without dwelling on details, the messages received from the Seven Sisters and in the inn that was not an inn. Disan had continually worried that everyone would think he had gone mad, so he called the guards he had had with him to testify of their experience to the council while under formal oath, since it was the only one to which he had any kind of witness whatsoever. Of course, the guards each could only testify that they had stopped at an inn that had seemed perfectly normal until it suddenly went completely dark and they had found them in a barn. But everyone listened attentively. Then Baia spoke of the occasional strange things that had happened, and particularly the earthquake, suggesting that these were omens. Finally, Disan gave, for their consideration, his proposed plan for evacuating the entire kingdom within the month, and the council broke for refreshment and reflection.

When they returned, there was considerable argument over what should be done. While Disan had feared that they would dismiss his plan completely, his fears were not fully justified; both Baia and Disan were well respected, and Baia's point about the earthquake did carry some weight with some of those at the council. Responses were baffled or troubled, but never dismissive. However, in the course of argument it became clear that there was wide agreement that his timetable was impossible. To leave so quickly would require them to leave almost everything behind, and haste was dangerous, and properly preparing for a journey took time, et cetera, et cetera. The council began to coalesce around an alternative plan to begin the evacuation in six months. Baia was able to argue them into agreement that there should be some advance ships sent out well before then to prepare the Axen and Wisan repair stations abroad to receive an influx of people, and Disan, seizing on a suggestion that had been made to leave in stages (they had meant, beginning in six months' time, but Disan ignored this), managed with difficulty to talk them into agreeing that the first major stage should set sail in two months. That nobody was satisfied with this was clear, but they did agree.

"Of course," Baia said drily when the council had been dismissed, "while you are hoping somehow to be able to talk them into moving faster, most of them are hoping to find ways to further delay it, and perhaps are hoping that something will prevent it altogether."

"Yes," said Disan, sadly. "I suppose we are all inclined to temporize. To leave all things behind and journey who-knows-whither on nothing more than a warning or a promise -- I doubt anyone can easily have so much trust. I sometimes wonder what they would do if we just left and told them to follow. Perhaps there are a few who would."

"Perhaps," said Baia. "But as we would then be breaking the law in the Orikhalh Tablets that for any anointed ruler to leave the borders of their kingdom, an anointed ruler must remain, perhaps they would simply use that as an excuse to dismiss us entirely."

"We have permission from the Powers."

"Yes, but nobody could make them believe that if they did not wish to believe it."

Such a large and public endeavor could hardly go unnoticed, and even if the other courts in the Great Realm had not had informants in the Sorean court, rumor, swifter than any Sorean ship, soon spread the news throughout the kingdoms. Rumor is not a kind or even an evenhanded reporter. Strange plans and bizarre motivations were attributed to Disan, and it would perhaps not have been uncommon to hear it said that he had gone even more mad than Canthan. A few letters even arrived from other courts with questions that, while very circumspect and indirect, were clearly attempting to gather further information. After some discussion, they agreed to send a letter to all the other courts explaining their intent and reasons and urging the other kingdoms to do something similar; Baia wrote the letter. In the next few weeks, the number of non-Soreans around Soromir and Neyat Sor increased noticeably, and some of them did not even try to keep secret that they had been commissioned to discover what was really happening in Sorea. Asaia was recalled to Tavra, ostensibly due to the severe illness of a family member, but, Baia suspected, probably also to be questioned for information.

Nonetheless, the plans proceeded. The ships were all provisioned. Places were set in Soromir and the other port cities of the kingdom to register for berth and sections of cargo hold. The population of Soromir slowly swelled, and many did register, mostly the very old and loyal or the young and adventurous. The more experienced of the former and the more responsible-seeming of the latter were given berth on the advance ships, which set out as planned. Of course, that was the easy part; Soreans send out ships all the time. The rest would be much more difficult.

A week into the second month, Baia set out of Mir Salal. Disan had been reluctant to agree to any plan splitting them up, but as Baia noted, if this were to succeed, they would have to ensure that everything was properly organized in ports besides just Soromir. And as it would give her the ability to see to her father's evacuation, Disan agreed, as long as Baia promised to return to Soromir as soon as organizing the first stage of evacuation in Mir Salal was done.

"No later!" he said when they parted. "I love you greatly. Return to me soon."

"As soon as I can," said Baia, and she was off.

A few days after she left, Asaia returned from Tavra. Disan, surprised, asked her politely how her family was, to which she glumly gave a vague answer, and then he sent her on to Baia in Mir Salal. What a strangely spiritless and moody girl, he thought as she left. But the endless lists of things to be done soon chased it all from his mind and he thought about it no more.

In Mir Salal, Baia found that she had her work cut out for her; very little had been done, and that in a piecemeal fashion. To meet the expected deadlines, she had to work very long days, and always fell into her bed at night, exhausted. This occupied almost all her time, but she did have two surprises that broke the monotony. The first was the arrival of Asaia, whom she greeted warmly and happily. Asaia was more moody and taciturn than ever, but always put off Baia's worried queries about her health aside, insisting that her place was by Baia's side.

The second was the arrival of an additional guard from Neyat Sor. Disan's message with them was vague, saying little more that there had been trouble, which he would talk about more fully when they met again, and asking her to be wary. This worried Baia, particularly the vagueness, which suggested to her that perhaps something very serious indeed had happened; but no matter how she pored over the letter, it was impossible to squeeze more information from it, and she was soon caught up in the organizing again. And, in any case, although Baia was more careful, there seemed no signs of any unusual trouble in Mir Salal.

As the day for the ships of the first stage to set sail approached, Baia began to receive letters from various nobles whom she had originally scheduled to go. Their letters held an endless number of apologies, but there was death, so funerals needed to be done, and there was illness, so they would have to postpone to the next stage, and various accidents had befallen that prevented them from getting to Mir Salal on time. It was a veritable epidemic of deaths, sickness, and accidents, and that was not even counting all the people who simply wrote to say that they could not make the deadline. Baia at first tried answering the letters, an action that did occasionally result in the nobles sending small groups, mostly a mix of people of infirm body or dubious character, but soon the letters were too many for response. Nonetheless, a handful followed through, not necessarily enthusiastic, but unwilling to break a promise given or to refuse to support their queen, and among the common folk in and around Mir Salal there was more willingness than Baia had expected. She was relieved. To be sure, the support and cooperation was mostly from people who were not well settled, for one reason or another, and therefore had less to lose in setting sail, but it looked very much like the first fleet of ships from Mir Salal would be, if not exactly full, nonetheless far from empty. Sometimes, however, Baia reflected that it would only get harder, and whenever she thought this, she felt deflated.

The day at last arrived. The whole endeavor in Mir Salal was behind schedule, but Baia was relieved that it was not by much. The very first ships could be loaded immediately and hold anchor at sea until the rest were finished, and it would not be more than a few days before she could return to Neyat Sor and see Disan again. She saw personally to her father's embarkation, then, having set people in charge of finishing, she returned to her father's now empty house with Asaia and her guards to prepare for the next day's loading. It was long, tedious work, and she soon had Asaia bring her bread and wine for a meal. Baia ate and drank as she went through list after list to makes sure that nothing had been overlooked. 

It grew warm and humid, then grew warmer and more humid; she found herself sweating and breathing heavily. Soon she recognized that the weather was not the reason; she felt ill. Moment by moment she felt more and more ill and it grew harder and harder to breathe. She stood up to call to Asaia for help, but the young woman was sitting on the floor, eyes glazed but weeping, staring into the distance, hugging her knees to her chest, and rocking back and forth slowly. Baia looked at the cup of wine and knew then that she had been poisoned. Honey Witch, she thought, but she said nothing out loud because she could say nothing through the constriction at her throat and her heavy gasping, growing heavier and heavier. She collapsed to the floor, writhing, still gasping.

She had a dim sense of some shouting and other people in the room, but she could not pay attention to that. Her vision went red, then black. As it did so, she seemed to hear a voice, a powerful voice, a voice that shook the air around her and reverberated through her bones, and yet somehow seemed very distant and far away, and slowly getting farther and farther away:


Music on My Mind


Sissel Kyrkjebø, "Ave Maris Stella".

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

Aurelius Ambrosianus

 Today is the feast of St. Ambrose of Milan, Doctor of the Church. From his work On the Holy Spirit (Book II, Chapter 12):

Consider meanwhile whether you can say that the Spirit effects all things which the Father effects; for you cannot deny that the Father effects those things which the Holy Spirit effects; otherwise the Father does not effect all things, if He effects not those things which the Spirit also effects. But if the Father also effects those things which the Spirit effects, since the Spirit divides His operations, according to His own will, you must of necessity say, either that what the Spirit divides He divides according to His own will, against the will of God the Father; or if you say that the Father wills the same that the Holy Spirit wills, you must of necessity confess the oneness of the divine will and operation, even if you do it unwillingly, and, if not with the heart, at least with the mouth. 

But if the Holy Spirit is of one will and operation with God the Father, He is also of one substance, since the Creator is known by His works. So, then, it is the same Spirit, he says, the same Lord, the same God. And if you say Spirit, He is the same; and if you say Lord, He is the same; and if you say God, He is the same. Not the same, so that Himself is Father, Himself Son, Himself Spirit...; but because both the Father and the Son are the same Power. He is, then, the same in substance and in power, for there is not in the Godhead either the confusion of Sabellius nor the division of Arius, nor any earthly and bodily change.

The Roman governor of Aemilia-Liguria, whose capital was Mediolanum or Milan, he was only a catechumen when he was forcibly made bishop by the people. Ambrose tried to get out of it, but the Emperor thought he made a great choice for bishop, and he was baptized, confirmed, ordained, and elevated to bishop all in the same week. 

Inexhaustible Truth and Unlimited Goodness's wish is to know inexhaustible truth and to enjoy unlimited goodness. But truth in this world is exhaustible, and goodness is limited; neither, then, can satisfy the desires of man's nature. Man's nature is bestowed on him by the Lord of Heaven, and he would hardly have bestowed it on him to no purpose. He is bound to cause it to be satisfied, and he is bound to satisfy it completely in the next life.

Matteo Ricci, The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven, Lancashire and Hu Kuo-chen, trs., Menard, ed., Institute of Jesuit Sources (Boston: 2016), Chapter 6, section 383, p. 265.

Monday, December 06, 2021

Abyss & Sea 20


When Disan arrived home, Baia was out, so he used the time officially to transfer his status from Residence aboard the flagship to Residence again at Neyat Sor. He had hardly finished when Baia returned and he greeted her gladly.

"My queen," he said, and kissed her.

"My king," she said in response. "How was the Great Council?"

Disan sighed. "Troubling. We will have to discuss it later. How have things been here?"

"Well enough," said Baia. "There are still places that have not fully recovered from the earthquake, and I have been out and about to see them. And Asaia is still moody and I do not know why."

They had a supper together as Disan told of all that had happened while he was at the Porphyry Mountain. Baia listened somberly, and when he finished, she said, "It has reached the point that I feel that I no longer understand anything that is happening. We seem to be planning for a war with no identifiable enemy. King murders king. Strange powers from the Court of Night move events from the Porphyry Mountain. And who can understand what the Powers are doing?"

"Yes," said Disan, "but I think it is worse than that, because it is like coming to recognize that you never understood anything at all, that all that you thought was true is as false as counterfeit coin."

After a few days at Neyat Sor, there was report of significant delay at one of the major shipyards in mainland Sorea, so Disan went to inspect the situation personally. The problem was an ordinary logistical error, so it was not difficult to solve, but it was time-consuming and tedious, and it was all the more tiring by a late cold spell with a strong breeze. Because of this, on his way back to Neyat Sor, Disan and his guard stopped at an inn for an afternoon meal before continuing onward. The innkeeper seemed a jolly old fellow, and the inn common room was quite busy, with a bustle of conversation and laughter, with singing and even some dancing. Disan sat in a chair by the fire while his men ate nearby. It was a comfortable chair and he felt a little drowsy. Then he snapped completely awake, not at first knowing why.

The first thing he then noticed was that the fire was not leaping. It had not died down. It was not moving at all. The second thing he noticed, some dim some sense of which was probably what had actually brought him to attention in the first place, was that the entire room had gone silent. All his men were gone and the common room was completely empty, except for the innkeeper, who sat in a chair opposite him. But he was no innkeeper.

"Do you know who we are, O Disan, son of Rezan, son of Belan, King of Sorea?" asked the innkeeper who was not an innkeeper. 

"There are stories that one of the Powers, who is never given a name, shows forth in the appearance of an Old Man who meets travelers along the road. And I think we have met before in a cavern across the sea."

"Yes," said the Old Man. He rose and put his hand under Disan's chin and peered into his face with eyes that seemed to pierce through everything. Disan, who as king was not used to people touching him without permission, found it extremely uncomfortable.

Suddenly the Old Man dropped his hand and returned to his chair. "You have brushed the abyss, but you are not yet corrupted. Yet you dally. We gave you word by the Seven Sisters that you were to build a fleet."

"We have been building a fleet," said Disan.

"You were told to build a fleet but not for the abomination. We are also not blind. You have been temporizing, biding your time, hoping to stay in some middle path between the two demands that have been placed on you. And yourself have now met the abomination, and yet still you seek an irenic path. We tell you again, O King of Sorea. Judgment comes. Destruction is at the door. It cannot be avoided. Act accordingly."

Disan stared a moment into the unchanging fire. Then he said, "Is it really so impossible to avoid it? Surely you have other ways?"

"There are none."

"Do you not owe us anything at all? You called upon us in the War of Night and we came to your aid, and delivered to you the Court of Night."

The Old Man's grave face seemed to take on a faint cast of amusement. "Did you indeed? Were you the Golden Dragon who fought the Black Dragon for nine days and nine nights? Were you the unicorns who bore the brunt of the sorceries of the Court, immortals dying by the hundreds to save mortals, each one more precious and wise in lore than an entire human civilization? Were you the leocorns whose lion-like roars burst through the enchantments of the doors? Did you lay out the strategies and battle plans thousands of years before? Did you summon the great nations of the world to the right time and the right place? You could not even follow the instructions you were given. We do not deny that you contributed, as you were obligated to do by the Orikhalh Tablets, and for all that it was your duty, we have stayed our hand because of it in matters in which we were within our rights to be severe. But do you dare look at us in our face and proclaim that you do not deserve to be judged now, though you had aided us in a thousand wars before?"

Disan said nothing, and the two simply sat there for a brief moment in silence. Then the Old Man spoke again.

"We are not here to justify ourselves to you, for we are the Powers that govern the world and you have no authority to demand a justification from us. We are here to give you a message again, the gravest yet. But it seems to us that you will need more than just the message to motivate you, and we are not averse to giving it. Hear then the true story of what you call the War of Night, for the Court of Night was in no way the enemy that the Powers fought by means of it.

"In years past that are beyond all tally, the world was very different from the way it is now. In those days we raised up to assist us the most ancient races: dragon and unicorn, khalkythra and phoenix, griffin and leocorn, and many others for which you have no name. To you we gave the Gift of Fire, but they received Gifts without number. But in this time, creatures of the abyss entered in among us. They have no shape and no form. They cannot be seen or heard unless they wish to be so, and then they have merely the appearance that they wish to have. They are in this world only as a great emptiness and an all-devouring void. The greatest of these became known in the most ancient tongues as the Keeper of the Door, for it was through him that all the others came into the world. We called the most ancient races to war, and they were beaten back, although at great price. Many were lost, either corrupted or destroyed, no trace of their histories and their sciences and their arts remaining at all, except as reflected in the memories of those of the most ancient races that yet survive. Therefore we took thought for the day when the powers of the abyss would return, and we raised up the Court of Night and the Court of Day, and gave them Gifts of Dream and of Darkness, of Air and of Light, of Water and of Metal and of Wood. Co-equal and glorious they were in the beginning, mighty and splendid like a vision at the edge of your mind. There was no difference between dream and waking for them; what they dreamed, they made, and what they made had the powers of dream. Throughout the world they expanded, both great, both beautiful, and both filled with wonder. And then the Keeper returned.

"No less devastating was this war than the previous. But in the end the two Courts in alliance defeated him, they themselves, by their own wisdom and power. Their armies cornered the creatures of the abyss, dying by the thousands, and seven virgin priestesses, three from the Court of Night and four from the Court of Day, consecrated a stone with water and oil and light, sealing the Keeper behind it so that he could not enter the world. It was a terrible end; the creatures of the abyss tore them from within, and their blood poured out of their hearts. But they had foreseen this; they had begun the rite knowing that they would not survive it. With blood they made their final consecration and died, and the Keeper was locked out of the world. It was a great deed, but we warned them that their seal could not be flawless, and that the Keeper was not truly gone. Therefore both Courts vowed to guard the sevenfold seal. Both were devastated by the war, but as the Court of Night was the one that was least in ruins, the sevenfold seal came to them. And guard it they did.

"Over time both Courts grew proud, and they began to quarrel. And in those days, and not coincidentally, the Keeper found how to whisper through the flaws of the sevenfold seal, and he whispered in the ears and in the dreams of the Court of Night. Long were the years the refused to listen, but soon he whispered to them means by which they might have the advantage over the Court of Day, and in their pride they deemed that they could make just discrimination in the midst of temptation, and fell into the snare. Great were their victories over the Court of Day, and their corruption spread, and it was at its deepest when they seemed strongest. But the Court of Day was not weak, even in its disadvantage, and the two Courts ground each other into fragments.

"It was in those days that we came to the first of your kind, cold and wet and huddling in the mud and the caves, and we gave to you the Gift of Fire, which set all of your abilities to an inspired blaze. We selected some of you and gave you lesser gifts, this very land, the law of the Orikhalh Tablets, the pacts and the covenants, that you might grow great and wise. You are kin to fire, and fire has this quality, that kept in its hearth it is infinite boon, but when it breaks free it destroys all things, and the Orikhalh Tablets and the conditions of the pacts and the covenants we gave to you to be a hearth. In the meantime, the fragment of the Court of Night that continued the guard on the sevenfold seal grew more and more terrible, and it became clear that they were but puppets of another power. Therefore we summoned again the most ancient races that remained, with the remnants of the Court of Day and your grandfathers, and many others who would hear us. Thus the Court of Night, once glorious and beautiful beyond all dreaming, fell to judgment.

"But in that very hour, you too began to fall. We told your grandfathers to take nothing from the Court of Night without our permission, but they saw the wonders there and their hearts burned with covetousness. Foolishly thinking we did not see, they looted the Court, smuggling out what struck their fancy, including the sevenfold seal. Some of them laid their hands upon that holy stone, and through it the Keeper spoke to them, promising them all the dreams of their heart.

"Still we held our peace. There is one rule that governs all nations in this world, that those who rise will one day fall, and your weakness showed that you had already begun to decline behind the splendor of your appearance. Already you were beginning to overspill your hearth. Soon you would spread across the world in an uncontrolled blaze until you burned yourself out. The Orikhalh Tablets and the conditions of the pacts and the covenants were increasingly violated. We would have foiled your greatest ambitions, to preserve other good things in the world, and because of your oathbreaking and unfaithfulness, but other than that we might nonetheless have let you undergo your natural decline, but for one thing. Playing with powers you did not understand, acting with a hubris beyond even that of the Court of Night, you betrayed your allegiances and your vows before Illimitable Heaven, thinking to defy the Powers that govern the world, and you began to break the sevenfold seal. You said before that you delivered to us the Court of Night. No, but you joined forces with our enemy, and the enemy of everything else in this world.

"The sevenfold seal was finally sealed by seven voluntary sacrifices of blood in rites of consecration; it can be unsealed by seven voluntary sacrifices of blood in rites of desecration. Four of the seven sacrifices are already undone by the sacrifice of victims who were enticed by paying their families in gold and orikhalh or in other services. The rites of desecration required are difficult for your kind, and you are not a people much inclined to die, but you are getting more skilled at your wickedness, and  the rites will be finished at some point this year. The sevenfold seal will be broken entirely and the Keeper and his brothers will walk the earth again.

"In the meantime, we have not been idle, but we have played a game of care and precision. We have chosen the time for the seal to be broken, when a final set of traps have been set that will end the threat of the Keeper and his brethren. It is a time well into the future, and we do not give you permission to change it. Nothing in the world will stop us from preventing the seal from being broken before its time, and we will certainly not allow the Keeper to come forth with a faithless race of Fire as his puppets, turning our own gifts against us. Even now he uses you as shields, thinking that this provides him protection. It does not. The people of this realm will be destroyed, O King. But we would like, if we can, to save something of you. To that end, we have moved with great caution. The Keeper already has more influence than you know; already the substance of things is slowly being eaten away. We have had to restrict our actions carefully lest he discover too quickly what we intend. In the Porphyry Mountain we no longer directly act at all, and elsewhere only with the subtlest of touches. We spoke to you first in foreign lands, where his influence does not yet extend. Our second message we gave to the Seven Sisters long ago. We have reminded you of your duty in dreams. But now you have met the Keeper and he begins to suspect the nature of our actions, although he does not yet know the whole of it. So take the fact that we speak to you face to face on your own soil be a sign to you that all things soon will come to an end. This is our last message to you personally: Act the king, O king; summon your people and flee. The longer you delay, the less likely it is that any of you will survive."

The Old Man rose, but Disan spread his hands. "What can I possibly say to them? They will not understand. They will think I am mad."

The Old Man looked down at him with something like pity. "And if they do, what of it? Your people have brought judgment on themselves by the arrogance playing with what they do not understand. They cannot be saved except by taking the path of salvation, even if they do not understand it. Your task is to summon your people and flee, even if you do it alone. Wait too long and you will save no one at all."

The whole room became pitch black, and there was a considerable sound of stumbling and scuffling and swearing in the dark. Then one of Disan's guards happened upon the door and opened it. Light flooded in. Blinking against the sudden light, Disan and his men looked around, dazed, finding themselves not in an inn at all but in an old country barn.

When Disan returned to Neyat Sor, his first words to Baia were, "We have run out of time."

Sunday, December 05, 2021

Fortnightly Book, December 5

Of Frances Burney's novels, I have already done her first and second novels, Evelina and Cecilia, both excellent, so let's do her third novel, Camilla: Or, A Picture of Youth, published in 1796. The novel apparently gave her some difficulties; when King George III asked her how much time it had taken to write it, she replied, "All my time, sir!" Camilla went through several revisions, and then she didn't like the criticism got when published, so she attempted to revise it again in a second edition (which took some work, because the publisher was reluctant to do it), and then, unsatisfied still, began reworking it for a third edition toward the end of her life. For significant periods, she had problems with respect to the copyright, having lost control of it. The version I have, the Oxford World's Classics, gives the 1796 first edition version, with grammatical and spelling revisions from the 1802 second edition (with more substantive revisions relegated to notes).

Given that it is a sizable tome and that my schedule is heavily unpredictable for the next several weeks, this 'fortnightly book' will likely take three and perhaps even four weeks. But when I am done with this, I will have completed the three explicitly mentioned novels by Burney and Edgeworth in the famous passage from Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey:

Such is the common cant. “And what are you reading, Miss—?” “Oh! It is only a novel!” replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. “It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda”; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.

We later learn that John Thorpe doesn't have a high opinion of it; he calls it, " that other stupid book, written by that woman they make such a fuss about, she who married the French emigrant" and "it is the horridest nonsense you can imagine; there is nothing in the world in it but an old man’s playing at see-saw and learning Latin; upon my soul there is not". Condemnation by John Thorpe is, of course, a high literary recommendation in itself.

Nicolaus Stenonius

 Today is the memorial of Blessed Nicolas Steno. Niels Steensen was born into a Lutheran family in Copenhagen in 1638. (By the Julian calendar, which Denmark still used, he was born on January 1; by the Gregorian calendar we use today, he was born on January 11.) He had a hard childhood; he was a sickly boy, and thus often had to be isolated, and his father died when he was six. He went into medicine at the University of Copenhagen, and then set off on what can only be considered a lifetime journey, because he spent practically the rest of his life moving from place to place. He became an active researcher in the newly developing subfield of anatomy studying the lymphatic system; another name for the parotid duct is the Stensen duct. While broadly Cartesian himself, he did some of the early work in refuting common Cartesian ideas about the body -- e.g., he contributed to showing that the pineal gland did not have the function that Descartes attributed it and to showing that Harvey was more right than Descartes about the heart. In 1665, he made his way to Florence, where he became the physician to Grand Duke Ferdinando II de'Medici. While there, Steno, dissecting a shark, noted that the teeth were very much like certain kinds of rock formations, glossopetrae. This led him to an extensive investigation of the phenomenon in which we find one kind of rock embedded in another. He also was doing extensive anatomical research on muscles. While he was still engaged in these investigations, he saw a Corpus Christi procession. He had been thinking over his religious views in light of some of the discussions he had had while traveling; discussions with people like Bossuet had led him to conclude that the Lutheran account of the Eucharist was incorrect, and had been reading the Church Fathers, and, watching the eucharistic procession wondered if maybe Catholics were right after all. In 1667, on All Soul's Day, he was received into the Church.

In 1669, he published the Dissertationis prodromus de solido intra solidum naturaliter contento. It is one of the most remarkable and important scientific works of the seventeenth century, and all the more so when one considers that it is only the introduction to a more detailed work that was planned but never completed. It grew out of his thinking about the glossopetrae and the further investigations that this had led him to undertake. The problem Steno posed to himself was a very abstract one, and is that which is given in the title: how to explain the phenomenon of a solid body enclosed by a natural process within a different solid body, which is a specific version of an even more general problem, how, from a given substance produced by natural processes, to determine the place and manner of its production. Steno, of course, quickly saw that solids enclosed within solids would have to be explained by the solids previously being liquid, and then, by considering a wide variety of different examples, proposed his three principles:

(1) "If a solid body is enclosed on all sides by another solid body, of the two bodies that one first became hard which in the mutual contact, expresses on its own surface the properties of the other surface." (We would usually state this principle in the reverse direction, using impression rather than expression.)

(2) "If a solid substance is in every way like another solid substance, not only as regards the conditions of surface, but also as regards the inner arrangement of parts and particles, it will also be like it as regards the manner and place of production, if you except those conditions of place which are found time and again in some place to furnish neither any advantage nor disadvantage to the production of body."

(3) "If a solid body has been produced according to the laws of nature, it has been produced from a fluid."

On the basis of these three principles, you can solve a wide variety of problems. Given the abstract approach, these are of all kinds, but the one that is most significant is that on this basis you can build an accurate account of fossilization, thus setting paleontology on a sure footing. Nor is this all. In the course of the discussions of the Prodromus -- which remember is just Steno laying out the basic summaries of his research as an introduction -- he also establishes basic principles that made it possible to study geological strata and a principle of crystallography that is often seen as one of the foundations of the field, Steno's Law. Perhaps no one else in history has ever managed to advance the geological sciences so much in such a short space.

The full dissertation was perhaps never published because Steno's life underwent a series of disruptions. Ferdinando died in 1670, and, while the Medicis continued to welcome him, for a number of reasons Steno ended up back in Denmark. He had repeatedly tried for professorships, but it had often not worked out, and now he joined the University of Copenhagen as a professor of anatomy. It was not a particularly great time for him. He had previously made a lot of friends in the region, but as it happens, they liked Steno the relaxed secularish Lutheran much more than they liked Steno the earnest Catholic convert. And a Catholic in Copenhagen was a lightning rod for religious controversy; he soon regretted not staying in Florence, so much so that he resigned in 1674 and went back. He was made tutor to the son of Cosimo III, and decided (perhaps due to his recent unpleasant episode in the realm of religious controversy) to do an intensive study of theology. He was ordained in 1675 and the next year was made the titular bishop of Titopolis and appointed Apostolic Vicar of the Nordic Missions by Pope Innocent XI, thus becoming a missionary bishop. It's sometimes said that he did no scientific work after this. This is not strictly true (and is probably due to over-reading a comment by Leibniz, with whom he had had an argument over religious matters); we still see Steno off and on doing scientific work, but as bishop he was an extremely busy man, and none of this scientific research (mostly on the brain) ever quite reached published form. He did publish a number of theological works.

Most of his work, however, was practical; he was active in attempting reform abuses in the Church. He lived a life of voluntary poverty, dressed in a threadbare cloak, living on bread and beer and fasting several days a week. He eventually fell ill, and insisted that his body should be shipped back to Florence, which it was. 

From the opening of the Prodromus:

Travellers into unknown realms frequently find, as they hasten on over rough mountain paths toward a summit city, that it seems very near to them when first they descry it, whereas manifold turnings may wear even their hope to weariness. For they behold only the nearest peaks, while the things which are hidden from them by the interposition of those same peaks, whether heights of hills, or depths of valleys, or levels of plains, far and away surpass their guesses; since by flattering themselves they measure the intervening distances by their desire.

So, and not otherwise, is it with those who proceed to true knowledge by way of experiments; for as soon as certain tokens of the unknown truth have become clear to them, they are of a mind that the entire matter shall be straightway disclosed. And they will never be able to form in advance a due estimate of the time which is necessary for loosing that knotted chain of difficulties which, by coming forth one by one, and from concealment, as it were, delay, by the constant interposition of obstacles, them that are hastening toward the end. The beginning of the task merely reveals certain common, and commonly known, difficulties, whereas the matters which are comprised in these difficulties—now untruths which must be overthrown, now truths which must be established; sometimes dark places which must be illumined, and again, unknown facts which must be revealed shall rarely be disclosed by any one before the clew of his search shall lead him thither....

The plaque commemorating him in the Basilica of San Lorenzo: