Saturday, June 29, 2024

Logres, Book I (The Devil's Son), Chapters 7-12

Chapters 1-6

Chapter 7

Hearing Merlin's words, Vortigern summoned his men and withdrew to Caerwynt, known to the Romans as Venta Belgarum; but most of the men did not know why, and speculated freely and fruitlessly about the cause. 

Merlin went his own way. Before he went, however, he spoke to Ulfius. "The world changes," he said. "If you aid those who are coming, you will no longer be sent through the land seeking children to kill, a task with which no knight should sully his hands; instead, you will have glory whose memory shall last long."

The child then went to the lands north of the Humber, to the place he had sent his teacher Blaise. There he told Blaise all that had happened, and much of what would. He spoke of battles, and Blaise wrote in his book the way the battles would go.

In less than three months, as Merlin had said, Ambrosius and Uther arrived, with Ector son of Kyner at their side; ten thousand knights from Brittany, which the Romans called Armorica, were with them. Vortigern commanded the defense of the ports, but the people were astonished when the boats coming into the haven unfurled the banners of Duke Constans. They sent a message under flag of truce, asking who came, and they received the response, "Ambrosius and Uther, sons of Constans, to retake the lands that were stolen from them and to punish Vortigern who had stolen them." Seeing the size of the host under the banners of Constans, and having no great love for Vortigern, the people in charge of the ports exacted a promise of good treatment, and let the fleet disembark. Many of the people there joined the host, including even some who had been Vortigern's men, and Ulfius was among them. Others were sent by Ambrosius, Uther, and Ector as messengers to the various tribes and chieftainships of the land.

As he began to understand that the people would often not fight for him, and that many had turned against him, Vortigern withdrew to his unfinished castle, which he called Caer Guorthigern, sending at the same time messengers to Hengist. Ambrosius and Uther came against him and laid siege to him there, but the castle, still unfinished, had many gaps in its defenses. Ambrosius cast fire into it; the castle took to flame; and Vortigern was burned alive.

The people then celebrated, but Ulfius came to Ambrosius, Uther, and Ector and the other leaders of the men as they sat in council, and said to them, "Your war has not ended with the death of Vortigern; it has only begun."

"It is not the time for riddles," said Ector. "What is your meaning?"

Then Ulfius said, "To fight his enemies, Vortigern hired the Saxons and the Jutes, giving them first the Isle of Thanet, then many lands besides. They have brought terror and flame to all of the peoples of Britain, and their host is larger than yours. They march under Hengist, a dangerous warrior, and to have the protection of the Saxons Vortigern married Hengist's daughter Rowena. Now that Vortigern is dead, Hengist will doubtless attempt to seize all that Vortigern ruled, in the name of his daughter and in vengeance for Vortigern. In truth, I do not believe Hengist cared at all about Vortigern; but you can be sure he will use this as an excuse to come against you."

Another, Eldol, who was known as the Count of Glevum Nervensis, and who had once been allied to Vortigern, agreed, then said, "Hengist will certainly do anything he can to have the supremacy. In the wars between Vortigern and the Saxons, Vortigern was gravely overmatched, but he received a message from Hengist inviting him to discuss peace at the plain near Sorbiodunum. An agreement was made that both sides should meet without arms, so that friendship might be properly sealed. But Hengist had his mean conceal long knives in their clothing. At the conference, Hengist spoke like a friend, but thinking like a wolf, at the common meal he had the Saxons fall upon the Britons, except for Vortigern. By great good fortune, there was next to me a stout wooden stake, and by means of it I alone escaped the treason of the long knives, as brother and friend fell around me. What Ulfius has said is certainly right; Hengist will seize power in whatever way he can."

"Then we must make preparations at once," said Ambrosius.

Hengist gathered together all the Saxons and Jutes his summons could meet and as it happens, the armies of the sons of Constans and of Hengist met at a place known as Maesballi, where there had long been a Roman fort. Both armies had set out to seize it as a strategic location, but as they had drawn near, their scouts made them aware of each other. One hundred thousand men were in Hengist's army, and only ten thousand in that of the sons of Constans, but the Armoricans were better armed and better prepared, and Hengist chose to withdraw to a place the Saxons called Cunungeburga, where he had a castle. The sons of Constans laid siege, but the castle was well fortified and there were rumors of a gathering Saxon host.  Then the sons of Constans took council with Ector and a number of the British barons, such as Eldol, and as they had been rightly warned by Ulfius, they summoned him too to council.

Then Ulfius told them of all that he had seen and heard with respect to the child Merlin, and the British barons confirmed his words. "He is the best diviner, save God himself," said Ulfius, "and I truly believe there is no riddle he cannot solve."

Then Ambrosius said, "If he is anywhere in the land, we will find him."

Chapter 8

Ambrosius sent messengers throughout the realm to find Merlin, and the boy, knowing this, told Blaise of what had trespassed and went directly to the nearest town where such messengers were. However, he appeared to them in the form of a stern-faced beggar, with a long tangled beard for gray, dressed in a torn cloak.

"You are seeking Merlin as your master has commanded," he said. 

They were astonished, saying, "Who has told this carl our business?"

Then Merlin laughed, and responded, "I can find Merlin faster than you can find him." When they questioned him further, he said, "I have known him, and he gives a message for you, that your labor is for nothing, for he will not go with you. But go to your prince and say, first, that he will never win the castle until Hengist is slain, and second, that he should send messengers asking aid from the kingdom of Rheged and Gorre, and third, that if he wishes to find Merlin he should seek him himself in the forests near here."

When he had left, the messengers looked at each other. "We have spoken with the devil," said one. But the others said such a strange event touching on their mission should be reported to Ambrosius, so they returned and told Ambrosius and Uther all that the carl had said. 

Then Ulfius, hearing it all, said to them, "My lords, this carl was surely none other than Merlin."

"Did you not hear?" Uther said. "They met an old beggar and not a young boy."

"Truly, my lords," said Ulfius, "I have no doubt that there is no limit to what the boy can be, if he wants it."

Ambrosius reflected long, then said, "We shall do what was asked. We will send messengers to Rheged and Gorre. I will leave the matter of Hengist in the hands of Uther my brother and Ector my foster-brother, and I will seek Merlin myself."

Then Ambrosius went to the forests of Northumberland. In every town and village they asked of Merlin, but they could find none who knew of him until they came upon a shepherd, who said, "I am merely a servant and have never met such a man, but yesterday I saw a man who said that a great lord was seeking a man named Merlin in the country round about."

"This is true," they said. "Can you tell us where to find this man?"

"If this matters so much," said the shepherd, "I should tell the king myself."

"Let us go, then," they said.

But the shepherd replied, "I have my sheep to keep. But if the lord will come to me, I will tell him of this man."

They returned to Ambrosius and told him of this, and he bade them to bring him to the shepherd, which they did.

The shepherd said to him, "You are seeking Merlin, but you will not find him unless he first finds you. Take lodging in a nearby town and he will find you."

Ambrosius would have asked more, but the shepherd and all his sheep vanished. So he rode to the next town and stayed at the house of the headman.

While Ambrosius was seeking Merlin, Hengist came with his army against Uther and Ector, and many reserves he had drawn up in stealth. Then, as Uther lay sleeping at night, a messenger came into his tent, a blond-haired man who was brown of eye.

"Awake, awake," said the man, and Uther woke. 

"Who are you?" Uther asked.

But the man did not answer the question, instead saying, "Hengist comes to murder you in the night. You must rise to fight." Then he gave Uther an accounting of Hengist's army, the men and their equipment, and vanished.

 All happened as the blond-haired man said. The Saxons and Jutes came against the Armoricans, who were hard-pressed in the field, because the Saxon numbers were still greater than those of the Armorican host, and they had the advantage of high ground, although the Armoricans were better armed and better skilled. Back and forth, back and forth, tipped the weight of the battle. But when it was a little past mid-day, horns rang out, and both armies saw another army rapidly drawing near. They were both uncertain of their luck, but soon they could see unfurled and waving in the wind the raven banners of Rheged and Gorre. 

"The Welshmen are coming!" shouted the Saxons to each other, and their lines began to waver.

The men of Rheged and Gorre drove against the Saxon flank, and as the Saxons began to flee, Uther rode hard with his men against Hengist. Eldol of Glevum Nervensis, boldly and at great risk to himself, slew Hengist on the field, thus avenging the treason of the long knives. Then Uther and Ector met with the leader of the warband, who was a youth barely in beard named Urien, son of Cunomarcus the Cold. He had but newly been named chieftain of their tribe when the message had come asking for help against the Saxon.

"Then we rode here with all swiftness," said Urien, "that we might share in the glory of destroying the Saxon. But we would not have arrived when we did, were it not for that we met a beggar on the road. We would have passed him by without regard, except he called out to us, saying, 'If you seek the battle against the Saxons, you will not arrive in time if you keep on this road.'

"'On hearing this, we stopped and asked him his meaning. Then he replied, 'I mean what I mean. The first step in battle is to arrive, and you will miss it. Take instead the side-path up ahead, narrow though it might be, and go straight when it runs out, and you will come directly to the field.' Then he vanished from sight."

Uther and Ector marveled, but Urien said, "Perhaps it is different across the water in Brittany, but in this country, such things are not uncommon."

In the battle, Ulfius had saved Uther from a lucky stroke by a Saxon. They were ever after close friends.

As for Ambrosius Aurelius, staying at the headman's house, the next morning, a handsome man, black of hair and piercing blue in eye, came to Ambrosius.

"You are seeking Merlin, but he was the man you met yesterday. He has this message for you: You have no need of Merlin, for Uther your brother has slain Hengist."

"May it be so," said Ambrosius Aurelianus. "How does he know this?"

"Merlin gave no more message, but if you do not trust him, you are foolish." And the handsome man vanished.

Ambrosius sent out two messengers to ask Uther if Merlin's message had been right, and they met on the way two messengers from Uther, seeking out Ambrosius to tell him of all that had been done. The messengers returned with the news, and Ambrosius went to church in thanks for it. 

When he was coming out of the church, he met a tall man, red of hair and green of eye, who asked, "Why does such a great lord as you stay so long in this town?"

"I am awaiting a man named Merlin," said Ambrosius.

"Would you know him if you found him?" said the man. "They say that he is a shape-changer and a lover of illusion, and often walks about in disguise."

"What else do you know of him, good sir?" asked Ambrosius.

"As much as a man may know of himself, which is both little and much," said the red-haired man, "for I am he, as I was the shepherd and the dark-haired man." And then, right before the eyes of Ambrosius he took his boyish form.

"What is the meaning of all of this charade?" Ambrosius asked.

"Those who fought Hengist needed to be those who would survive the battle against Hengist," said Merlin. "You have other battles to fight, for which this was but a preparation."

Then Ambrosius asked Merlin to return with him to Uther, but Merlin said, "I will come to Uther soon, but until then tell no one but Uther of me."

Merlin then took his leave and went to Blaise, telling him everything that happened, and it had all happened as Merlin had already told him.

"With your insight," said Blaise, "you could surely just tell me the whole tale and would have no need to keep returning to me."

But Merlin said, "I cannot visit my mother, lest the attention drawn to her should destroy her. If I did not visit you, I would be truly alone in the world."

Chapter 9

Ambrosius returned to his brother Uther and his foster-brother Ector, and met Urien of Rheged, and together the four set about on the smaller bands of Saxons and Jutes who had still not withdrawn from the region, or who had arrived to reinforce, as they thought, the army of Hengist. Their success was great, and the Saxons were almost wholly scattered for a time.

In the wake of so great a victory, the armies of Ambrosius and Uther acclaimed Ambrosius the Duke of Britain and Uther the Count of the Saxon Shore. They wished to give to Ector similar honor, but Ector, a modest man, declined. He said to them, "It is to Urien that this honor should be given, for who has done more to aid us." As this seemed good to all, Urien was then acclaimed the Count of the British, an office that had fallen into desuetude in the time of Vortigern. Eldol, who continued to fight with great courage, was acclaimed the Mighty, and all the leaders made a pact to aid each other in time of need.

Now Uther was a man much given to women, and shortly after all of these things, he was visited by a boy whom he recognized as a servant of one of his paramours, bearing a letter. He read the letter, a missive of sweet nothings, and as it was late, he gave the boy a meal. The boy told him many things about his paramour's doings, and in return Uther told him of the many remarkable things that had happened.

"This is truly marvelous," said the boy. "But strangest of all is that this Merlin promised to speak to you soon, but does not seem to have done so."

"Who knows what 'soon' means?" said Uther. "But strange things seem to be in the very air around him."

"Indeed they do," said the boy.

In the morning, Uther broke fast with Ambrosius, for they were both not far from a castle they were besieging, and Ambrosius, hearing about the boy, began to wonder. He begged his brother to bring the boy to him, which Uther did. Then Ambrosius said to him, "Shall you tell him who you are, or shall I?"

"As you wish," said the boy.

Then Ambrosius said, "Brother, this is none other than Merlin, the shape-changer, and the wisest man in the world, who spoke to me in several forms and directed the army of Urien to your aid." Merlin laughed and took again his proper from. Then they begged Merlin to become their counselor.

"I will be with you many times," said Merlin, "though I will come and go; I will give you such counsel as I may, when I may."

"Then tell us how this castle may be taken," said Uther.

"It is less difficult than you might think," said Merlin. "Since the death of Hengist, many of the Saxons have wished to withdraw, and among them are Octa and Eosa, who hold this fortress. Simply send them a message that you are willing to give them safe conduct to settle at the mouth of the River Vedra, near Alba, on the condition that they make peace with you and do not aid the other Saxon armies. They are men honorable enough to uphold such an agreement, particularly as it benefits themselves."

This Ambrosius and Uther did. Octa and Eosa departed in peace, along with all their men, and the armies of the brothers occupied the castle. Then Merlin told them of a gathering of Saxon forces to the south, bloodthirsty for vengeance for the death of Hengist.

"But do not go to meet them," said Merlin. "Rather, retreat, because a disease from bad water will spread through their camp. Although they are a great host, if you do not fight them before the third day after you first meet them toward the end of June, they shall be weakened and one of you will have victory over them."

Ambrosius, puzzling over this phrase, 'one of you', asked Merlin if one of the brothers would die in the battle.

"Nothing that begins can fail to have an end," said Merlin. "Nor should men be surprised that they may die, and at any time. But swear to me that you will follow my counsel and fight this battle regardless, and I will tell you." This they did. Then Merlin said, "You have sworn to be strong and of good courage in this battle, to be true to God and yourselves. But none may be true to themselves who are not first true to God. Therefore find yourselves a priest to hear your confession, because you go against an army and fight against those who do not believe in the Trinity. Shriven, you shall resoundingly overcome the pagan host, but it is set that one of you shall die, and therefore you must prepare to be summoned before your Lord."

The brothers, stouthearted, then did all that Merlin had counseled, and they gathered a great army on the plain of Sorbiodunum at Pentecost. And the brothers gathered, too, all the prelates and priests that they could, to shrive the men and themselves, so that none might go to battle without having forgiven his fellow and restored himself to charity and clean life. Thus even grim men were lightened in heart and prepared for the fight to come. Feasts they had too, and many gifts, until the Saxons arrived in the last week of June. But at Merlin's advising, Uther rode with half the army. There he prevented the Saxons from reaching their boat to sail up the river and did so until the third day and a sign in the sky that Merlin had predicted, a dragon flying the air. When the Saxons saw the dragon, they were greatly dismayed and Uther set upon them vigorously. 

Many died on both sides, for the Saxons fought with vengeance and desperation in their hearts. Ambrosius fell by a spear, but Uther carried the victory. Not a single Saxon escaped.

Chapter 10

Having defeated the Saxons at Sorbiodunum, Uther and his army recollected themselves, and occasionally sent out parties to various nearby settlements in need of aid from straggling bands of Saxons, and dealt with laggard reinforcements of Saxons that, not having yet heard of the outcome of the battle had begun to arrive in the area. In this way, Uther acquired a servant, a boy whose name was Mabon. He had been stolen from his parents as a baby by the Saxons and enslaved; Uther freed him, and he was loyal to Uther ever after. He was a bright child, and afterward he would become one of the greatest hunters of the realm; but that is another tale.

The wounded and sick received tending, the dead received their funeral rites, and armor and weapons were repaired or replaced. At this time, too, at Merlin's advising, Uther had women stitch banners that bore the image of a dragon, in commemoration of his victory. When the banners were first unfurled, a great cheer went up among the army. "Pendragon! Pendragon! Duke of Britain!" they shouted. "Pendragon", that is to say, "head dragon", was a title used among some of the British tribes for a warleader. And from that moment on, Uther was known as Uther Pendragon, Duke of Britain, throughout the realm.

The child Merlin came and went as he willed. Many were in awe of him and his foresight, but many were afraid of him, for it was somehow unsettling to be in his presence for a long period of time. An inexperienced lamb wishes itself away from a wolf, even if it does not know why; so too there were many, even stout men, who found themselves growing anxious in his presence, as though faced with an unknown danger beyond all their strength and competence. Then too, rumors passed throughout the host that he was the Devil's son, so they doubted his good intentions and crossed themselves after he had passed. Further, Uther Pendragon gave regard to his word in all things, and there were those who were envious.

One day one of the barons came to Uther Pendragon, saying, "My lord, how is it that you can believe the words of this slip of a child? Everything he has said can be attributed to the work of the devil. Let me put him to test."

Then Uther Pendragon replied, "If you think necessary, but you had better do it in a way that will not anger him."

The baron then went to find Merlin and greeted him with false cheer, saying, "Our lord requires your counsel." He brought him to the court, and said, "Behold, my lord, the great Merlin, wise beyond the the wise of the world, who, as we all know, foretold the burning of Vortigern. Let it now be known that I suffer from a sickness, and, no doubt, this child wise beyond the wisest of men can tell you how I will die."

Merlin laughed, and said, "I will tell you, although you will not believe it. You shall fall from a horse and break your neck."

"May God defend me from it," said the baron. But later he feigned sickness and sent a message to the Duke, asking him to bring Merlin.

Uther Pendragon went to Merlin, saying, "This man is sick; we should go to him."

Merlin replied, "Very well, but it is not fitting for a king to go privately; call your guard." This Uther did, and they went to the baron.

On seeing them, the baron cried out, "My duke, I pray you to ask of your diviner if I will die of this sickness!"

Merlin replied, "You will not die of sickness."

"Of what, then," said the baron, "shall I die?"

Merlin laughed, and said, "I will tell you, although you will not believe it. You will be hanged, and die of the hanging." The he left the tent, laughing as if at some joke.

After the child had gone, the baron said to the Duke, "See, my lord, this child is but a fool, and cannot keep his stories straight. Before he claimed I would die of falling; now he claims I will die of hanging. But I will try him again, and that should suffice to uncover his deceits."

The baron then went to a nearby abbey, where he disguised himself as a diseased monk. He then sent a message to the Duke, asking him to come to the abbey and bring the wise child Merlin. The Duke asked if Merlin would come.

"I will," said Merlin, "though it is foolish for you to test me in this manner. Do you think I cannot see these things? Like fish in a clear pool are the thoughts of men to me, and by the insight within me and by the grace of God which I have from the faith of my mother and my teacher Blaise, I see the death of this man, and I smell it upon him as heavy as smoke. If I am wrong, never believe me again. But by my patience, you have my promise that you will see a marvel."

They went then with Uther's men to the abbey, and the abbot led them to where the baron feigned illness. The abbot then said, "My lord, please ask your diviner if this man will be healed of his illness."

"He will be healed of no illness," said Merlin, "because he is in no way ill, and he will die before he ever becomes ill. Hear now this, all you liars, for I am the only one who has spoken truth in this matter. On the day this man will die, he will die from a broken neck from falling from his horse, and he will die of hanging, and I tell you now that he will also be drowned. And let this fool get up and cease his feigning, since I can easily see every strand in the deceits of a simpleton."

Then the baron rose and said angrily to the Duke, "You see now, my lord, that he is touched in the head, because he says I will die of falling, and of hanging, and of drowning, but no one can die in three different ways. No one should give credence to such a fool."

The rumor of Merlin's prophecy spread throughout the camp, so that everyone knew of it. It was not long after that the baron was riding with a number of others and came to a river that could be crossed by a wooden bridge. As he crossed, however, his horse stumbled suddenly and violently, throwing him off. He fell headfirst into the water, but his legs caught in the reins of his horse, which in turn caught in a plank of the bridge, so that he was hanging from the bridge by his legs; but his head was beneath the water. In a hurry, they pulled him back up, but he was dead; his neck had broken from the force of hitting the water. Then everyone there said, "Only a fool will disbelieve Merlin."

As these things happened, Merlin was with the Duke, and suddenly said, "I must leave."

"What is the reason?" asked the Duke, for they had been in discussion of important matters.

Merlin replied, "The fool has met his end, and messengers are coming to tell you of it. If I am here when they come, they will pester me with such a pestering of questions as no man can bear, and I am not here to satisfy idle curiosity but to stop the advent of the Antichrist." Then he left, and Uther Pendragon worried that he was angry and would not return.

Shortly afterward, people came to Uther Pendragon with the tidings. The Duke decreed that all that Merlin had ever said or would say in the future should be written down in a book of prophecies, and they all did their best to remember every word he had spoken.

As for Merlin, he returned to his teacher Blaise, and told him everything that had happened, including the writing of the book of his prophecies.

"Should I obtain a copy of this book?" asked Blaise.

"No," said Merlin, "for these are just children's games, even if the men who are enthusiastic about such things are too simple to understand them. You and I must devote ourselves to the substance and not merely to the shine."

Chapter 11

After these things, Urien returned home and Uther Pendragon went down to Londinium. There Merlin came to the Duke and said, "You must be crowned and hallowed by the Church as King of Logres, and ordained with holy oil."

Uther Pendragon did not understand, because in those days rulers among the people of Britain and Armorica were not anointed, but as St. Gildas says, were made king by their eminence in cruelty or bloodshed. But he was reluctant to question Merlin's advice, and therefore sent for the bishop, whose name was Fastidius. Bishop Fastidius was delighted at the idea, for no king had requested such a thing before. Then all the people were gathered together and readings were read from Leviticus and the Gospel of Matthew, then a Te invocamus was sung. Uther Pendragon was anointed in the sight of all by Bishop Fastidius, who laid his hands on Uther Pendragon and blessed him. The Psalm Domine in virtute tua was sung, as well as further benedictions. Then Merlin had a crown brought to the bishop, who set it on the king's head. The people began to shout, "Long live the King!" and the nobles of Logres came to pledge their loyalty. Then they had Mass, and afterward a great celebration.

"This was a strange ceremony," said King Uther Pendragon, "but I am pleased with it, and no king has been acclaimed king with such splendor before."

Merlin replied, "I did not do it to add to your splendor, but to secure your succession and set a precedent for your successor." But he would say nothing more about it.

The celebrations went long, and King Uther Pendragon at one point withdrew a bit in silence. He was joined by Merlin again, who asked him to speak his thought.

"I am thinking of Ambrosius. I would wish to build a monument for my brother and others who fell at the Battle of Sorbiodunum," said Uther.

"It is well thought," said the boy. "What would you like to do?"

"I do not know," said the King. "Advise me, if you will."

"Send to Hibernia for great stones that they have there," said Merlin, "and have them brought over by ship. I will go myself to bring suitable stones, with Ulfius, if you can spare him."

"It will be done," said Uther Pendragon, and so it was the next day.

When Merlin had sailed to the Hibernian shores, Uther Pendragon asked Ector again if he would be the Count of the Saxon Shore. But Ector replied that he would rather be named seneschal of the royal household.

"It seems a much lesser office," said Uther Pendragon.

"And so it might be, were the royal household the household of a lesser man," said Ector. So Uther Pendragon made Ector his seneschal, and he did well in the office, doing much to bring all things to order in the affairs of the new king.

Meanwhile, Merlin and Ulfius arrived in Hibernia with many ships. They were met by a prince of the Irish named Gillomanius, and when they told him of their errand, he was angered. 

"Is it not said that the British are fools and savages? Are the stones of Ireland so much different from those of Britain that it is necessary for the Irish to be disturbed because of them?" And he called his men to arms and attacked the British. But Ulfius was advised by Merlin as to the disposition of the Irish arms, and quickly and easily seized the advantage, so that the Irish were scattered.

Then Merlin went out to the wilderness, near a mountain named Killaraus, and said, "These are the stones that shall be used." These stones were said by the local folk to be mystical stones with medicinal virtue, and to have been brought to Hibernia from Africa by giants who intended to make baths with them, for water that had washed the stones could cure all wounds of body and soul when appropriate herbs were added to it.

Then all the men marveled, because they were of a great size, and they did not know how the stones might be carried to the ships. "What you ask is impossible," they said.

"It is less impossible than it seems," said Merlin, laughing, and he directed them all to return to the ships. They then sailed home, again at Merlin's instructions. When they had returned, Merlin said to King Uther Pendragon, "Why do you dally here? Surely you would like to see your monument."

Then the King and all the court went out to an area a few hours from Sorbiodunum, near Cunetio, and to their astonishment there were many great stones lying there that had not been there before.

"They should be set upright," said Merlin. "That would be more lovely and sublime."

"They are surely too large for this to be done," said the King.

The child laughed. "It is not so difficult," he said. "For art in the end always triumphs over strength. Let everyone camp here, and we will see what unfolds." So they did as Merlin said, and in the morning when they rose, they were astonished to find the stones had been erected in great circles. Then on a great mound a day's walk to the north, near the old Roman fortress of Cunetio, Merlin had a church built in memory of the dead, and there was Ambrosius buried.

The people in those parts came in time to call the stones, 'Merlin's Bones', although in later days that term was applied to the mound because of the sepulcher there, and so the name remained long after the church once built upon it had vanished, and gave its name to the nearest town, Merlin's Barrow. Because of the name, people would later assume that Merlin himself was buried in the mound; but Merlin's fate was far different.

Merlin afterward visited Blaise and told him all that had happened.

Chapter 12

Because of the chaos caused by Vortigern and the Saxons, as well as the vacuum of power after their removal, many of the borders of Logres were in a state of uncertainty, with other chieftains and lords encroaching on its traditional lands. King Uther Pendragon had many endless problems; like the hydra, when one problem was resolved, two more arose. 

Merlin returned from visiting Blaise one day, and said to the King, "The clamor of your enemies is louder to my ears than the noise of the Baying Beast. Without reorganizing your armies, you will never have done."

"What do you recommend?" asked the King.

The child replied, "It is a difficult problem, but more difficult problems have been solved. You have heard the tales of the man named Alexander, a prince of Macedon, who conquered many lands?"

"I have," said the King. "Who has not?"

Merlin said, "Such things are not done by happenstance. There rode with Alexander a great chivalry of men. But they were more than single knights; they rode as one, and worked as one, for common goal, each contributing to victory as they were best able to contribute. They were called the Companions, for they were trusted as friends; Alexander's father, Philip, had gathered them together and trained them, and by them he accomplished great things. You should raise out of your men a company of knights, the noblest among those who serve you, and give to them the noblest horses, the noblest arms, and the noblest training."

"I agree," said the King, "but I assume that you have some plan for how this may be done."

"You know," said Merlin, "that God came to earth to save mankind, and in so doing He joined with His own companions in a supper at the house of Simon the Leper, preparing them for His death, and predicting that one of them would betray him. He then suffered died for the sins of all. There was a Jewish knight, whose name was St. Joseph of Arimathea, who begged of Pilate to be given the Lord's body, which he then laid in his own tomb.

"He was later put in prison due to the jealousy and hatred of his enemies, but there the Lord appeared to him in a dream, and gave him the cup that He Himself had used at the supper. There came a time after this, however, when the knight found himself in a wilderness, in hunger and thirst; and his sons and friends were in such straits as well. He prayed to our Lord for mercy, and the Lord appeared to him.

"'Make a table, Joseph,' said the Lord, 'one which will be like the table of Simon the Leper, and set it with the cup that I have given you. Then take a white linen, of the purest white, and draped it over the cup on three sides.'

"This St. Joseph did, and, following the instructions of the Lord, he and his sons were seated at the table, but a space was left in imitation of the original table. For at the original table there had been a deceiver, a traitor, whose name was Judas Iscariot, and his seat was vacated, and only filled by St. Matthias later under the direction of St. Peter. So too a vacant seat was set for one who would come later. But all those who sat at the table had great grace and were fed of angels; and they all went forth strengthened with grace, less than that of the Holy Apostles, but great nonetheless."

"This story I have heard, although not in all details," said King Uther Pendragon. "But I do not understand why you re-tell it."

"My counsel to you is that you order there to be made a third table, in imitation of the Table of Simon the Leper and the Table of Joseph of Arimathea, around which you may gather knights as a true company, who may recall the noble achievements of those tables that came before. And I tell you true, that as the first table was blessed by the cup of Christ, which later generations called the Grail, and the second table in its imitation was blessed by it as well, so one day this third table will be blessed by it, and the table and is company will be spoken of through many lands to the ends of the earth and through many ages to the end of the world."

The King was pleased with this, and said to him, "I give it to you to order it. But where shall this table be set?"

"There is a city in the part of Cambria that you hold, named Cardoel. Assemble your people there for Pentecost for a great feast, with many gifts. I will have made the table, and I will tell you who is suited to sit at it."

The King's criers gave the news throughout the realm, and the King and a great host of people descended upon Cardoel in the week before Pentecost. There was much feasting and the King gave gifts freely. Then on Pentecost day Merlin had all the knights gathered together before the table. It was a large table, curved around like circle that is almost but not quite complete, so that servants and petitioners might walk into the center to serve or be heard. It was marvelously wrought, of a beautiful wood, and it was pieced together in such a way that there was no need of iron nails. In later days it was discovered to have this wonderful property, that whether few or many were seated at it, the table was proportionate in size to their number. But more marvelous still was that it always chose those who deserved to sit at it, for when they were in the same room as the table, their names appeared upon it in golden letters, at the place they were to sit. On this Pentecost, the name of the King appeared, and fifty names from those in attendance also, and at the invitation of the King and of Merlin, the fifty sat with great cheer at their places. When they had done so, however, there was one place at the table for which no name appeared.

"Note well this empty seat, which shall stay empty" said Merlin, and then told the King to sit at the table where his name had appeared, and then the servants brought out the meats and wine.

Feasting went on for the entire Octave of Pentecost, and at the end King Uther Pendragon sent away the many feasters laden with many gifts. He then came to the fifty, and asked for their thoughts. They replied to him that they had no desire to leave him, seeing that they had been enrolled, by what means they knew not, in a true brotherhood of knights. For in that suspicious day, knights had often been mercenary, loyal only to their commanders or a few of their friends, if even that, but that Pentecost they had seen a fraternity of knighthood of which they had not conceived. Then the King was glad at heart.

Afterward, he went to Merlin and asked him how the vacant seat might be filled. But Merlin said, "The one who shall sit in that seat shall be the completion of knighthood, but he has not yet been born. He shall be a cairn of witness in this world, and a sign of the nearness of the Grail, and he alone of all the knights in the world now living will be worthy to sit not only in the vacant seat of this table, but will come to be worthy to sit at the vacant seat at the Table of Joseph of Arimathea, as well. That just and faithful knight of God will achieve the Holy Grail. Until that day, great and glorious deeds will be done by which the fellowship of this table shall turn back the shadows that creep into the world. For as long as you reign, for every great feast bring this company again to this table, and good things will be done."

"Then I shall do that," said King Uther.

"See that you do," said Merlin. "For I leave it in your hands for now, and I will be gone for a while."

"Will you not return for the next great feast?" asked the King.

"No," said the child, and he went out. He left the city and returned to his teacher Blaise. He told him all the story of the Table of Simon the Leper, and then the whole history of the Table of Joseph of Arimathea, and then spoke at great length of all that would yet be done by the knights who sat at this third table, and all that would be done because of it that would push back the coming of Antichrist. Blaise wrote it all down in his book. But when all this was done, Merlin did not return to court. Instead, he stayed a year with Blaise, and each day they had good and cheerful conversation over simple bread and fruit and plain water.

to be continued

Friday, June 28, 2024

Evening Note for Friday, June 28

 Thought for the Evening: Olbers' Paradox

Olbers' Paradox, also known as the dark sky paradox (and which, like many named things in science, was not discovered by the person after whom it is named), is, speaking roughly, the puzzle of why the sky is so dark at night. Suppose the stars go on forever. The farther out you go, the more stars there are; infinite stars, more or less distributed evenly, would result in every point of the visible sky being filled with light. The night sky would then have to be literally star-bright. The light from an infinite field of stars reaching us is a lot of light; it is obvious that that much light does not reach us.

The paradox arises from assuming a lack of limits on several things, so there are a few logically possible solutions one might propose to the paradox, all of which introduce some kind of limit. As things stood at the beginning of the twentieth century, those possible solutions seem to have been:

(1) The stars are finite in number

-- -- (1a) in infinite space that is therefore mostly starless.
-- -- (1b) in finite space.

(2) The amount of light able to reach us is finite

-- -- (2a) because it has had only finite time to travel

-- -- -- -- -- -- (2a1) as stars have a finite history in a universe with an infinite past.
-- -- -- -- -- -- (2a2) as stars have a finite history since the universe has a finite past.

-- -- (2b) because the spatial range of light is finite

-- -- -- -- -- -- (2b1) because over a long enough range it stops being light
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- (2b1a) because it dissipates.
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- (2b1b) because it becomes indiscernible or unmeasurable.
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- (2b1c) because it becomes something else.

-- -- -- -- -- -- (2b2) because it is obstructed
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- (2b2a) by some material.
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- (2b2b) by some kind of structure or folding in space itself.

Assuming that the history in Jaki's The Milky Way and The Paradox of Olbers' Paradox hasn't been superceded, the early physicists to consider the paradox, such as Halley and Cheseaux and, later, Olbers himself, tended to propose solutions of the (2b) type. They are sometimes unclear about what they intend, but their positions can often be associated with (2b1a) or (2b2a). Both of these positions create serious problems elsewhere in physics, the first with electrodynamics and the second with thermodynamics, for which no solutions were ever found. For instance, the amount of light hitting material obstruction in (2b2a) would result in a very, very hot universe. Cheseaux seems to have been the first person to consider seriously a solution of type (1), but Zollner is the first person to have actually argued for such a solution, preferring a (1b) solution in which the universe has finite mass in a finite Riemannian space. Working out solutions is not particularly easy sometimes, because not every proposed use of a limit on the parameters would really deal with the problem; if you proposed finite stars but allowed too many, you would still get a much brighter sky than we actually have, for instance.

The twentieth century introduces a few complications into the matter, with universe expansion and the greater need, arising from general relativity, to be careful with the precise meaning of the word 'finite' when talking about space and time, as well as analogies to other paradoxes (e.g., involving gravity). But the general shape of the paradox and its possible solutions is intact.

Olbers' Paradox is interesting in being a physical problem that potentially has indirect metaphysical implications. It provides a strong argument that the physical universe must have some kind of limit, whether in mass, or in space, or in time, or in the function of the laws of nature, that is itself in need of a more fundamental explanation. This is not itself a metaphysical point; but many forms of historical physicalism and naturalism explicitly attempted to deflate the claim that the physical universe itself needed an explanation by appealing to infinities in all of these matters. These forms of physicalism are less common than they used to be, but you still find popular forms, and they are still commonly encountered in science fiction (which may be one contributing factor in the fact that you can still find popular versions). These forms of physicalism assumed that such infinities could be posited cheaply; Olbers' Paradox establishes that they have costs, and even that some combinations of such infinities are inconsistent with the existence of the universe we know. Physicalists and naturalists cannot assume that they can offload explanatory questions about the physical universe onto infinity; they have to show that they can do so.

Various Links of Interest

* Jack Butler, Pagans, Gnostics, and Christians -- Oh My?, at "Religion & Liberty Online", reviews two recent books on shifts in religious culture. 

I'm inclined to think that the categories of 'pagan' and 'gnostic' are probably not very useful in discussing our current culture -- as C. S. Lewis famously said, if only people were becoming pagans! -- and there's always a danger of exaggerating the degree of shift, or mis-assessing its permanence. People make a great deal about the 'rise of the Nones', but it is important to remember that we are coming off an all-time peak, post-WWII, in church attendance and explicit church membership; active churchgoers are still a much, much larger percentage of the overall population than they were at (say) the beginning of the nineteenth century, and social interactions like church attendance are already known to go through phases that are rather like boom-and-bust cycles. The fact of the matter is that we just don't really know what is going on or how long it will last, beyond the fact that there is some sort of major shake-up in the role of social institutions happening, of which churches just happen to be an especially prominent part, as they have overall so far collapsed from 'extremely and unusually successful social institutions' to 'only moderately successful social institutions'. This is not how these things are usually described, but it's much closer to how things are when descriptions are motivated by neither alarmism (if you regard it as a negative thing) or wishful thinking (for those who regard it as a positive thing).

* Andres Ayala, The Principle of Causality and the Notion of Participation: Deepening into Fabro's Defense of This Principle (PDF)

* Matthew Yglesias, Elite misinformation is an underrated problem, at "Slow Boring"

* Stewart Duncan, Cudworth as a Critic of Spinoza (PDF)

* Paul Schweigl, Fatty Bolger, a local hero, at "Front Porch Republic"

* Christopher James Masterman, What does nihilism tell us about modal logic? (PDF) -- this is a very interesting paper, and one that I'll have to consider at much greater length.

* Peter Salmon, Paper trails, at "Aeon", on the history of the archives of Husserl and Nietzsche.

* Amy Kind, Accuracy in imagining (PDF)

Currently Reading

Eric Nguyen, Things We Lost to the Water
Juan Donoso Cortes, Essays on Catholicism, Liberalism, and Socialism
John Matthews, The Great Book of King Arthur

On Audiobook

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring (narrated by Rob Inglis)
Cixin Liu, The Three-Body Problem (narrated by Luke Daniels)
Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and My Freedom (narrated by Leon Nixon)

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Seal of All the Fathers

 Today is the feast of St. Cyril of Alexandria, Doctor of the Church. From the Scholia on the Incarnation of the Only-Begotten, ch. 28:

The Word out of God the Father was begotten in some ineffable way (for beyond all understanding is His Generation, and as befits the Unembodied Nature): yet is That which is begotten conceived of as the Own Offspring of the Generator and Consubstantial with Him, for therefore is It called also Son: the Name indicating to us the Verity of the (so to say) Birth and Parturition. And since the Father ever liveth and hath being, it must needs be that He on account of Whom He is Father co-live and have co-Being Eternally with Him. The Word therefore was in the beginning and was God and, was with God (as saith the most wise Evangelist), but in the last times of the world for us men and for our salvation was made flesh and was made Man: and not at all letting go what He was, but having His own Nature unchanged and existing ever in the excellences of Godhead, yet undergoing for us economically the emptiness and not despising the poverty that belongs to the human measures. For being Rich He became poor (as it is written), that we by His poverty might become rich. He was made therefore Man and is said to have endured Generation after the flesh of a woman, because of His taking of the holy Virgin the Body that was united to Him of a truth: whence we say that the holy Virgin is Mother of God, as having borne Him in fleshly or human wise, albeit that He hath His Generation before the ages out of the Father.

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

A Little Gratuitous Exercise Every Day

 Keep the faculty of effort alive in you by a little gratuitous exercise every day. That is, be systematically heroic in little unnecessary points, do every day or two something for no other reason than its difficulty, so that, when the hour of dire need draws nigh, it may find you not unnerved and untrained to stand the test. Asceticism of this sort is like the insurance which a man pays on his house and goods. The tax does him no good at the time, and possibly may never bring him a return. But, if the fire does come, his having paid it will be his salvation from ruin. So with the man who has daily inured himself to habits of concentrated attention, energetic volition, and self-denial in unnecessary things. He will stand like a tower when everything rocks around him, and his softer fellow-mortals are winnowed like chaff in the blast.

[William James, The Principles of Psychology, Volume I.]

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Sunday, June 23, 2024

Fortnightly Book, June 23

 A few years ago, I got a copy of Eric Nguyen's Things We Lost to the Water; I don't remember the exact details why, but I had read a description that made it sound interesting and I was buying some other books anyway when it came up as a special offer of some kind. That must have been in 2021 or early 2022, not long after it had been published; I intended to get around to reading it, but other things intruded, I became busy, and, in any case, I misplaced it and did not know where it had gone. That happens with books in my house sometimes; usually it's in a pile somewhere, either of books or papers. In any case, I was doing some cleaning in anticipation of guests later this week, and I happened to find a few books under couch, one of which was Things We Lost to the Water. So now that I need a new fortnightly book, and by sheer happenstance have an unread book in hand that I intended to read a few years ago, Things We Lost to the Water is the next fortnightly book. As my entire knowledge of the book is based on a description I vaguely remember from a few years ago, I really don't know much about the book, but it's a book about a Vietnamese immigrant family trying to make its way in New Orleans.

Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn


Opening Passage:

The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone. She was very old, although she did not know it, and she was no longer the careless color of sea foam, but rather the color of snow falling on a moonlit night. But her eyes were still clear and unwearied, and she still moved like a shadow on the sea. (p. 1)

Summary: A unicorn living alone in a wood overhears a conversation by hunters, who mention that she is the last of the unicorns. So she heads out to find out if it is true, and what has happened to the others. On her journey she discovers that men and women can usually no longer see her as a unicorn, and flippant, frivolous butterfly happens to mention a rumor that the unicorns were all hunted down by the Red Bull of King Haggard.

While sleeping, she is captured by an old witch, Mommy Fortuna, who runs a carnival show purporting to display magical beasts. Most of the beasts are in fact ordinary, just enchanted to look like mythical creatures; but even the two magical beasts who are real, the unicorn and the deadly harpy Celaeno have to be presented under an illusion so that people can see what they really are. With the help of a young-looking and bumbling magician named Schmendrick, the unicorn escapes her cage and sets all of the animals free -- including her immortal enemy the harpy, who tries to kill her but finds a target to whom she gives a higher priority: Mommy Fortuna herself, the witch who had by luck and magic imprisoned her. 

Schmendrick and the unicorn through several adventures happen to fall in with a gang of bandits under Captain Cully, one of whom is a woman named Molly Grue. When Schmendrick happens to do real magic that summons up the spirits of Robin Hood and his merry men, Cully's gang falls into chaos, as even these bandits have their ideals and dreams and have been thinking of themselves as the real counterparts of the legendary Robin Hood. But Molly Grue, who can see the unicorn, joins the unicorn and Schmendrick on the journey to the land of King Haggard, which is a desolate land except for the town of Hagsgate, a town cursed with superabundant prosperity in the middle of an ever more barren wasteland, and King Haggard's castle, made by a witch.  The Red Bull hunts the unicorn, and to save her Schmendrick does real magic that turns her into a human maiden, which fools the Red Bull, and so they come to King Haggard's castle, where Haggard lives with his adopted son, Prince Lír. But time is running out; turning an immortal creature like a unicorn into something human and mortal is a terrible thing, and the longer the unicorn stays human, the more likely it becomes that the world will never know a unicorn again.

In this reading of the book, I was struck by how much the magic of the book functions like art, and the magicians like artists, and I don't think that this is a coincidence. Many artists are like Mommy Fortuna, conjuring up illusions of sublime and eternal things for the masses who can no longer see things as they are. Their greatest achievements are when they stumble by luck on things that are genuinely sublime and eternal; but even then, they must put an illusory horn on the real unicorn, put up a spectacle suggestive of the sublime and eternal, or most people will see nothing out of the ordinary. And Mommy Fortuna's willingness even to die if only to be remembered forever as having once captured and held something immortal, is not far from the artistic pursuit of longlasting fame. Likewise, Schmendrick's experience of mostly doing cheap tricks and minor illusions but sometimes being almost taken over by real magic, full of wonder and love and sorrow almost bigger than a human heart can hold, is not uncommon experience of artists, either.

I also re-watched the Rankin & Bass animated film, from 1982, which is an extremely faithful adaptation. It simplifies a few things, but works hard to keep the essential elements, including the melancholy of the tale. It is obvious that in many ways it was a labor of love. There is an entire animated sequence and song based on The Unicorn Tapestries. Jeff Bridges, who voiced  Prince Lír, actually offered to do the role for free. Christopher Lee, who voiced Haggard (in what is perhaps the second best peformance after Angela Lansbury's Mommy Fortuna), was a fan of the story, and showed up on the first day with a book falling apart from having been read so much, having marked all the passages with Haggard that he insisted the scriptwriters not change at all, willing to walk away if they did. (He later did something similar with another of his favorite books, The Lord of the Rings.) Peter Beagle happened to visit the studio when Lee was recording one of Haggard's main speeches, and Lee offered to re-do it as many times as was needed until it was exactly how Beagle wanted it. The passion that went into it is what makes it rise above its early eighties animation and voice acting style: more than most animated adaptations, more than most adaptations in fact, it captures the story with all of its sad beauty.

The story itself, in fact, is an illusory horn on a real unicorn -- a mix of deliberate buffoonery and lovely razzle-dazzle that packages something much deeper that men and women have difficulty seeing and yet feel must be out there somewhere. Our loves go their humdrum ways, and everything about us is always dying, but sometimes in the things we experience we seem to catch a glimpse, a hint, a suggestion, of something truly splendid and undying and ideal, more beautiful than anything else. For most of us most of the time, we are no different than those who see the unicorn and mistake her for a mare -- but find their dreams haunted by that mare for the rest of their lives. At other times, we see what we take to be a unicorn, and are not wholly wrong; but we are only able to see it because some author has dressed up this story-less thing in a story and thus put an illusory horn upon its head. And at other times, like Mommy Fortuna or King Haggard in their different ways, we seek to possess them, whether for glory or for joy. We ache for the ideal and eternal things. Heroes love them and die for them. But the true, the good, the beautiful: these things give vividness to our lives, and we desire them more than we even know, but these are immortal things, and can never ultimately be possessed by those who are mortal enough to desire them. And if we try, they eventually just run through our fingers like moonlight, for they are the real things, and we are just stories that begin and end around them.

Favorite Passage:

"My lady," he said, "I am a hero. It is a trade, no more, like weaving or brewing, and like them it has its own tricks and knacks and small arts. There are ways of perceiving witches, and of knowing poison streams; there are certain weak points that all dragons have, and certain riddles that hooded strangers tend to set you. But the true secret of being a hero lies in knowing the order of things. The swineherd cannot already be wed to the princess when he embarks on his adventures, nor can the boy knock at the witch's door  when she is away on vacation. The wicked uncle cannot be found out and foiled before he does something wicked. Things must happen when it is time for them to happen. Quests may not simply be abandoned; prophecies may not be left to rot like unpicked fruit; unicorns may go unrescued for a long time, but not forever. The happy ending cannot come in the middle of the story." (p. 212)

Recommendation: Highly Recommended.


Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn, Ballantine (New York: 1968).