The Past Through Today

 Demifiction, Writing  Comments Off on The Past Through Today
Nov 261998
 

Dictated by Sören Dukovni
in the Copenhagen Chantry Library, 1843


The Tremere have asked that I transcribe my History for the Chantry records. I suppose that they do not trust my Oath of Fealty. I presume that they intend to conduct some sort of tests on this text to confirm its veracity. Whatever. I have lived too long on my Path to practice duplicity.

How long have I lived? Yes, that could be relevant, I suppose. I was born in 1192 and given The Kiss in 1238. In that era, a forty-six year life was considered to be a full one. I had been a successful merchant on the Baltic and North Seas, shipping wool and timber to the Normans, Scottish, and Dutch. I had seen the birth of human rights in the great Magna Carta and I had witnessed their disparagement in territorial wars. I had worked and lived hard and forsaken family for finance. I was ready to retire in the new village of Copenhagen, founded by the Danish soldier Absallon, Archbishop of Lund, and watch the calm Baltic flow away to the Latvian shore.

Events of the year of 1238 conspired to arrest my retirement and force me into retreat, fear, and uncertainty. Norse raiders lay siege to Copenhagen’s ports in the spring of that bleak year and many of the residents of the village were driven south across the Baltic to the German shore. Though most of us spoke the old High German dialect, as well as Slavic and Norman tongues, there was confusion upon our landing and we were taken prisoner as spies or illegal immigrants or soldiers, depending upon our age or sex. I was herded with the younger men to be sent to Novgorad and traded into slavery to the Mongols ruling Poland at the time.

The thought of being worked to death, rather than drunk to death, so angered me that I attempted to escape from the slavers escorting us along the Baltic coast. I made a break for freedom in the middle of chilly night, intending to find the Wisla River and follow it into the Carpathians, where I was certain I could lose what little pursuit I thought would be sent.

How naïve I was, to think that the slavers would even follow! Those dark mountains, with their windy passes and year-round snow, were the death of many a well-prepared and -rationed traveller. There was little hope of me making it the whole way to the relative safety of the Christian Magyar Kingdom without provisions or adequate clothing. And the longer I stayed in occupied Poland, the more likely I would again be captured and back on the road to Novgorad.

Reaching the Carpathians in just under twelve days, I endeavored to steal supplies and a horse to carry me over the mountains. I was in Kraków and made my way to the paddocks of the Ducal Livery one afternoon. I sized up the sentries and waited for an opening which would allow me to lead away one of the fine Arabians that the Mongols favored. The paddock was not fenced and was only staffed with guards near the tackhouse on the northern end of the field. I was certain that, if patient, a chance to trim a mount from the edge of the herd would present itself.

Evening faded and died into night and still I hid near the paddock. Two hundred years of occupation had, apparently, not made the Mongols lax in their guard duties; I waited until long after midnight for my chance. I listened to the guards tell each other stories in their fluid, yet guttural, tongue, only making out the odd word or place name.

Eventually, the sentries’ fire died down, the early dawn chill descended, and I could see that no one had an eye on a thin mare near the periphery of the paddock. I sneaked around the camp and untied the horse. She started a bit, but certainly no more than any Arabian will when strange hands grip their reins. I cared not for a saddle, but I thought that I would be well-served by one of the horse blankets in the livery. So, carefully stepping over the now sleeping guards, I entered the tackhouse and snatched up the first blanket upon which my hand fell in the darkness.

Perhaps this moment was just a continuation of the terrible fortune that befell me over that whole year. Perhaps some sort of Karma, of which the Hindi speak, was searing its brand on my life. Whatever the circumstances that conspired against me were, at that moment they placed a rack of what I later was told were “spurs” on top of that blanket.

I heard the metallic clash and clatter at the same time that the sentries did, and before I could even step out of the tackhouse, they had risen and rushed me, bearing me down to the rocky ground and binding me fast with thongs and a bridle. They bombarded me with what must have been questions but, realizing that I could not follow their meaning, they broke off speaking to me and instead launched into a heated debate. A lot of gesturing ensued, most of the fingers being pointed at the Duke’s palace but many of them rising to the snow-capped peaks to the south. I was not consulted again, virtually ignored, and began to fear for my future at the hands of these alien men.

Little did I know that they debated the means of my doom.

Little did I know that they were weighing the strength of my back against the worth of soul.

After nearly ten minutes of arguing leading to shouting leading to occasional slaps and pushes, the apparent leader of this band of guards reached a decision. Before I could protest or attempt a defense, I was hoisted onto the very mare I had thought to steal, bound hand-to-foot under her belly, and lead away from the village, towards the mountains. Even then, I hoped that my plight was not as dire as it seemed: I was not being handed over to the true authorities of the province, nor was I being killed out of hand, as these Mongols were wont to do for nearly any transgression of their holy law. I was even bound to an obviously valuable horse, so they surely could not intend to just strand me in the mountain snow to freeze to death.

Rather, they had a very specific plan for my disposition. Had I spent more time learning about the countries and peoples outside of my trade routes, I might have know sheer terror as they lead my horse down the southern road to a fork in the road that wound easterly up a steep ridgeline and around its crest. Instead, I thought I was getting an odd sort of ironic justice when the leader slapped the mare’s rump, sending her scrabbling and clopping up the rough path. I thought that I was to die from exposure while the horse made it rounds of the high pastures, before she headed back to her masters.

Some people are always optimistic. I learned to forget such illusions the next night in those mountains.

Over the next day, the mare plodded further east and up, winding out of sight of the valley in which Kraków lay. The cold winds off the higher snow blasted me through my thin tunic and leggings, chaffing my skin as if the sun in summer. Though I warmed somewhat during the afternoon, by nightfall of that day I was shivering, and by the time the moon rose, I could not move at all and was hearing things that could not be real. I heard a screaming through the rocks. I heard singing in the thinning forests. I prayed for release to the Old Gods, and then to the New God.

Finally, the horse seemed to tire of its course and wandered off the trail into a cluster of boulders. By this time, I was at Death’s Door and only paid any heed to events because I wanted to see Its face when It finally took me.

Suddenly, the mare cleared the boulders and stepped over the ridgeline. A vale lay spread out below. Near the snowline stood a large keep or tor; not so much a castle as a fort, built out of roughcut slate and packed earth. By outward appearances, it was unoccupied. But the sounds of singing and wailing again swelled, and they clearly originated within the tor.

The mare walked down the slope of the vale, only slipping a small bit on the blown snow and ice, heading for the tor and the unearthly, unholy songs. I watch our approach as best I could from my position on the horse, expecting at each moment to see a bean sidhe or some other noisy horror. But my caretaker, my host, was very silent in his approach.

Rounding a small stand of scrub pines, I hear the rattle of stones and suddenly felt an icy hand on my cheek. My eyes flashing right, I saw the most beautiful creature I had ever witnessed; within an instant, it appeared to melt and shift and then was easily the most foul apparition I had ever seen. Curious, I strained at my bindings, trying to get a closer look at the amazing creature coming to deliver my death. I never had known of nor had heard of Kindred at that time; I thought I was witnessing the Reaper himself, come to sow an old merchant, an old cheat, a worn-out fugitive from peace.

Even as I watched its arm shift and melt into the traditional sickle, I watched Death’s face for a sign of intelligence, of reason. Not so much to try to argue for a stay of execution, but to ask it about its existence and how it felt having to be the one to cut each mortal skein. As its glinting white sickle blade/arm rose over me, I finally made eye contact with the beast. “Tough job,” I managed to mumble to it, before the edge fell.

No strike came. As I looked at the being, its arm resumed its normal shape; its face untwisted and settled into rather typical, dark Slovenian features. It was a man about two meters tall, with thin arms and chest and long, rippling black hair. In his eyes burned an intelligence of ferocious intensity. “You may explain yourself at the donjon,” he said, then turned and lead the Arabian up the slope of the vale to the craggy pile. I took me a moment to notice that he neither took the reins nor clucked to prod the mare to follow; she came to him like a pet.

Going into too much detail at this point would be not only very personal, but also disrespectful of that now-gone and burned Kindred. Suffice it to tell that he was called Koronov and that he was of the Old Clan Tzimisce, which your Clan Tremere now seems to so hate, if my capture and incarceration here in your Chantry is to be any indication. He nursed and warmed me in his simple keep, sheltered under eight feet of dirt and two feet of stonework, for that entire night and the next, only leaving me when I slept at dawn, and returning from further below in the earth each dusk.

The reason I was spared, it turned out, was because I had shown no fear in the face of death and had sought knowledge with even my final sight. Koronov explained to me that he was on something called The Path of Cogent Wisdom and that its ways were those of reason, courage, and knowledge. He explained to me about the Kindred’s damnation and the Beast within and how he hoped to ascend from this plane by adhering to the Path and its truths.

He then offered to bring me across, to give me the Dark Kiss that ends life but begins eternity. He warned me of the risks, of the loss of the soul, of the Beast; but he also explained the power, the magic; he showed me the abilities he had by virtue of the Blood. And he offered to share, should I swear fealty to him for 99 years and help him along the Path. Considering that my alternative was to be a sacrifice to him by my Mongol captors, I thought the option quite generous. I swore to the Path, drank deeply, and began my new unlife.


Being the Childe of Koronov proved to be both taxing and inspiring. Each night we spent in contemplation of The Three Pillars of Strength, by Belorinus, a Tzimisce elder and founder of the Path of Cogent Wisdom. We drove ourselves to states of calm lucidity, struggling with our individual Beasts and their carnal demands. Or we worked on the Arts of Seeing and Not Being Seen. And we fed, of course; more often upon the animals of the highlands than Humans or other Kindred.

 

Eh? Why yes, there were times that weaker Children of Caine stumbled upon our keep, seeking aide or wisdom or a free lunch. They usually failed to prove their mettle, either cowering before Koronov in supplication (which he despised) or blustering about in pride and anger. Since the Path only brooks reason and courage in the face of opposition, Koronov would slay these weak Childer to spare them a descent into the Beast’s depravity.

Least you think us diabolic or demented, allow me to remind you that this was in the middle of the 13th century. There was not yet any Inquisition, of which your Clan has told me much; there was not Sabbat or Camarilla. Only Kindred and Faerie and Garou and a limited source of sustenance. We could not allow our privacy to be breached, and never met another Kindred with the strength of spirit to entrust with the knowledge of our Haven. It was just those sorts of days, that kind of era. One did what one must or died with dawn. Though I know it rankles your now-refined sensibilities, even your old clan was known to take liberties with thin-blooded Beasts, the better to purify and rarify Caine’s Gift.

Over the decades, we came to love each other, Koronov and I, even as we both wrestled to snuff out our emotions, as per the Path. When my servitude was up, in 1339, I stayed on at the keep, helping guard our myth, protect the Haven, and expand our understanding of the Road to Golconda and Ascension. Perhaps our connections to the world became to thin and febrile, perhaps the pace of Science and Faith outside of the high Carpathians was too quick for our measured analyses and studies. Whatever the cause, our peace and isolation was shattered by stomping boots, smelly Humans, and the creak of wagon wheels.

Romania and the present Ukraine was under invasion by Germanic Poles. Kievan Rus was falling before  aggressive expansion and even the high mountains were being purged of Slavs. A large mounted troop, apparently an advance party, came to our vale to camp late one afternoon in the summer of 1340. As we lay sleeping, we could hear them scrabbling and scratching around the tor, seeking its entrance. When we woke, we discussed our options even as the party found the heavy stone which sealed our Haven. A group of them managed to harness their horses to the stone and grind it from its bed.

In an instant, Koronov and I set upon them, wincing with the pain of the evening light still bleeding from the west. We assaulted them with an almost transcendent ferocity; I felt divorced from my actions, like an impassive observer to my slaying, not its actor. The Path of Cogent Wisdom, while rational and calm, does not resent violence or fail to use it when it is appropriate. And if we were to keep our Haven, none of the troop could survive the night to tell of it. Though the Poles were at least five score strong, we waded into their midst, using our Arts to confuse them and beguile them and then slip away into shadow to attack again from a new direction. It was a horrid slaughter, but it could only be called self-defense.

Nevertheless, the Poles overwhelmed us. Apparently, they at least knew of Koronov from the Mongols they captured in Kraków; knew of the sacrifices made to appease him, the very sacrifice that I was meant to be a hundred years past. I can only surmise that the Human mythology of Kindred had finally gleaned some truth from the legends, because after regrouping from our initial onslaught, the Poles armed themselves with pole arms, spears, and nearby branches. In other words, they prepared to stake us upon our next press. But we could not stop at that point; our Haven was about to be lost forever. We marshaled our wills, suppressed frenzy over the pools of blood we had already spilt, and charged again into their midst.

Unlikely as it might seem, Koronov, a millenium old Vampire from the ancient line of Tzimisce, was staked through by a 14 year old squire with the broken shaft of a halberd. As Koronov fell, I tried to reach him and whisk him away into the snowy peaks to heal and rebuild our Haven. But then I too was overwhelmed, by three of the men, and placed into torpor unceremoniously with a pine branch. Even now, I can remember the small cone still attached to the bough, bouncing over my face as I shuddered and writhed in what would be the last actions I took for the next 500 years.

Since that night, I have slept. The torpor closed down my keen senses, so I do not know what befell me, or even how I came to be free of torpor and in a marsh of the Odra River on the Prussian border. I, further, have no knowledge of the fate of Koronov. I know only that I was healed, regaining my strength, and lost somewhere south of my home country and long-missed Copenhagen. I made my way with utmost hast to Denmark and the now-capital. That is pretty much where you picked me up, I presume. You imprisoned me with guile and weirding words and now you interrogate me about things that mean nothing to me: a Sabbat, some Camarilla, Traditions, the Inquisition. None of these things mean anything to me; all of which I am certain is that I am very alone in a much smaller world and no closer to Golconda for being held in your clutches. Now tell me what I must do to be rid of you Tremere and your whole, dark world….


Interviewer’s Notes

 

The subject, Sören Dukovni, is certainly of unique origin and clan, if only because of his Old Tzimisce lineage.

The admixture of Arts in which he is trained is unusual to find in a non-Malkavian, but is a useful combination.

He seems to be willing to abide by the Traditions, if not swear by them, and he is certainly NOT a Sabbat puppet. His Aura is marked by the Kindred blood he has drunk, but given his essentially ‘backwards’ education and upbringing, it is hard to press the issue in good conscience.

I intend to subject his words to the usual tests for veracity. Then, if he is not lieing through his pointy teeth, I will extend an offer of clemency to him from the Tremere of Copenhagen.

In conclusion, his age and unfamiliarity with this world make him a risk to the Masquerade should he be just set loose without proper coaching and guidance. Conversely, we can not Destroy him out-of-hand unless we are willing to take an innocent’s unlife. Our only route is forbearance of aggression, forgivness for his ignorance, and education for his future conduct once we release him. I believe he will be more than willing to follow our laws, if he is, in turn, allowed to pursue this Path of Cogent Wisdom which is his driving goal.

Finally, I am sure we should investigate further this Koronov personage, hopefully determining his current whereabouts, if only to be sure he will not attempt a claim on Sören.

Magus verMagnusson, May, 1843

The Life & Unlife Of Joerghen Kielvonbroud

 Demifiction, Writing  Comments Off on The Life & Unlife Of Joerghen Kielvonbroud
Nov 221997
 

Note: The following passage is for general consumption by all Childe with any ties to Camarilla structure or society.
All other readers are at risk. You have been warned.

Pre-Embrace

“Life is hard for us, boy, so you’ve got to be harder.
You’ve got to stand up and claim the soil for your own!”

Geoffrey Kiel, Landholder, 1704

I was born Joerghen Kiel in 1698 to a large Germanic family living in what is now called Alsace-Lorraine but was then just Strasbourg. My father provided for our large family by brewing, if not the best lager in the region, at least the strongest and I grew up in an agrarian tradition of family, hard work, and God. Since my older brothers beat me while my sisters looked on laughing, I had little love for the first tradition. My predilection for the product of the farm left me rarely in any shape to do the second. The high-handedness of the Huguenots who had assumed control of the region taught me little but scorn for the third. In all, I had an unexciting youth which spiraled lazily down into a dull manhood. I sought and gained employment in the city as a clerk to a banker and slowly amassed a small fortune by taking advantage of the information with which my position provided me. I would note which locals were most in debt and buy out their obligation in exchange for their paying a minor rent to me for the items used as security. A shame that most of those long dead wretches never knew enough math to realize when they had paid over their debts in rent.

Such behavior earned me little favor with my parents, family or anyone else in that low class and I soon found myself without a friend. Sure I had wealth, but no one with whom to share it. I turned inward, lacking any outward way to turn in my narrow world, and therein I found a friend: logic. I pursued the philosophies of thought, metaphysic, and ethics through every printed book I could afford. Those I could not buy or which were not yet being printed on Guitenberg’s new engine I solicited from fellow bankers, the new University, and even the Church, when I could stomach their proselytizing long enough to make off with the text I needed. I found my calling in those waxy pages and turned away from my land-lording to begin writing.

It was then that I met Broud, one night in Paris as I traveled seeking a patron for the publication of my first treatise. He stood speaking in a Rive Gauche cafe, expounding up the fallen state of Man and his subsequent inability to ever be good enough for God again. He was a striking man, but it was his mind that enthralled me as I sought holes in the mortar of his logic and found naught but stone. When he finally surrendered the floor, I told him as much, with words of praise and respect and only the slightest fishing for patron information. He likewise seemed impressed with my comportment and education (and my pride swelled as I was the only one to thank for having those two) and invited me to dine with him the next night, where we could look over my manuscript and discuss corrections, oversights, and the future of the work. In my youthful ignorance of things dangerous, I agreed. No, insisted.

Those Childe reading this will recognize the name of my newest fan, Broud, and can guess what happened over dinner the next night. To those who find that last sentence confusing or know not if they are ‘Childe’ and, thus, if they should get the joke, I say you are not of our Kine and should not be reading further. You are being watched& take care not to react with surprise to what follows.

The Most Thoughtful Kiss

“I have much to offer your career,
should you be interested in a bargain&.”

Broud, Philosopher, 1723

That dinner was enlightening in may ways. I learned many things. I learned that I was to be the host. I learned that I would eat very little and would not keep it down for the day. I discovered that I would become a philosopher for my career, and that that career would be a most long one. I found that I would be assisting Broud for many of the early years in that career.

But not all that I learned was so good.

I learned that my nature is that of the murderer, one who takes without compunction or thought, as if the victim were a hare or sheep bound for the boiling pot. I learned that Broud was quite famous among his peers and that the same peers would not appreciate my new ‘status’ with him. I discovered that dawn ended my day and dusk awoke me. And finally, for those of you who think eternal night is eternal revels, I lost the need, ability, and desire for those things which make night light on the soul. My ladyfriends learned that I would never call on them again, if they were lucky. My associates by pen watched the letters stop as their eyesight failed. My family learned of my death and threw a wake which I found, on the eve, vulgar in its gaiety and the constable found, in the morn, mystifying in its violence.

Yes, my gains on one front were lost on another, and my life changed forever on that November night, 1723.

The Unlife and Times of vonBroud

“I’ve had worse!”
Joerghen Kiel, Fool, 1723

Let it be know by the reader that I was overjoyed with my new existence, in spite of the initial revulsion, and I threw myself to the assisting of Broud and the unlearning of all that I thought I knew about religion, society, and metaphysics. I quickly accepted what I had become and embraced its truths as I had one devoured the Dialogues and Metaphysics. I was so pleased with the favor of my new master that I took his name and flaunted it on both banks of the Seine. When my family sent a brother to inquire about my return, I had Broud tell them of my name change and of my death. In that order, obviously. I danced the nights through on an intellectual high.

But I soon learned how difficult being the follower of a great man can be: how demanding, how thankless, how tiresome. And I was not the only one to gain his lifelong favor; I had to share his thoughts with two Parisian tarts and a quiet old man from Holland named Rembrandt. I found out that they were of my ilk when I sought to strike the old man for some insult now forgotten and came away with a stump. I actually coined that now-modern phrase ‘you gonna draw back a stump’ one melancholy night when I was drunk on sailor in Boston and thinking back on my life.

I withdrew into myself again, on a higher level than before, taking a vow of silence that I swore I would not break until “Men fly as we!” I kept that vow for a hundred years. I held it through the death of my siblings and father in the War of Austrian Succession, though I bent it some when I wrote to Broud from my new home in America that I was reassuming my given name of Kiel, with the vonBroud appended in memory of his gift. I kept it through my Acknowledgment by Prince Crowley (much to his irritation). I kept it clear up until, on the dunes of Kitty Hawk, I watched two brothers make a fool of me one cloudy, barely-tolerable day. That night, I scraped together all of my possessions and writings and started to forge a name of my own for myself: Kielvonbroud.

And On Into Dawn

“Uh, well, sure I have heard
of Raleigh, My Prince. So what?”

Joerghen Kielvonbroud, Well-Traveled Fool, 1997

And so, now, I have lived long, gained and lost faith, lost and gained trust. My Sire accepts my choice to live in the New World and honors me with the renewal of his favor. I have been assigned by our Justicar to a new territory for our Clan to try to bring it under some control and introduce the Arts there before other, less graceful Clans establish their marks. I have been entrusted with this because of my steadfastness in the face of untasted pleasures (a trait much sought, seldom found, in my Clan).

I have also been sent to watch over Darius, a somewhat acquisitive member of our Clan who somehow persuaded the Justicar to assign him to the post as well. I am to be his assistant while at the same time reigning in his dash for glory should it proceed at too breakneck a speed. I am to aid without compromising the Clan. I am to support when his voice sings in Our Chorus.

What follows is a more detailed account of the proceeding in Raleigh concerning myself in particular and broken down by logical periods between Greater Raleigh Primogen Council meetings.

FIRST SESSION – The Council has been formed, and I have been, of course, named to the Primogenicy for Clan Toreador. Thanks to efforts on both my and Darius’ part, he has been made Prince, but a shakier throne I have seldom seen outside of Revolutionary France. He has appointed a Sheriff which answers to no one, allowed a former Sabbat member to be the Primogen of Clan Gangrel, and forbidden Embracing without his clearance. I have a particular problem with the latter, since I thought to bring across a companion in my old age, a nurse for my dotage. Still, the Council brings some order to the vacuum that is Raleigh, and should there be any problems with Darius’ rule, I will, regretfully, be willing to step in to protect the reputation of ours, the oldest of Clans.

Outside of the Council chambers, I had an interesting discussion with the Chief of Raleigh’s Police Department, but one which did not result in him recognizing my bribe for what it was or accepting it. There will be more work on that front, but another time, later, once the iron is cooled, to twist a phrase. Among Childe, I seem to have the respect I am due for my station and death, though many do not seem to recognize my Prestigious Sire, Broud, or are too foolish to care. Still, my word is attended to and the other Clans offer, so far, their support for Clan Toreador’s model for Raleigh territories.

BETWEEN – I have moved my possessions to Raleigh and live now in a small house near the Beltline where I maintain my library and struggle with the Beast. My home is watched over by three Neapolitan Mastiffs: fine young dogs, not one under eleven stone, which know when to guard and when to hide. My neighbors are quiet and, more importantly, inattentive. Our Clan Sanctuary is the Museum of Modern Art and surrounding territories and I will be seeking the University of North Carolina as well, though I suspect the soon-to-arrive Tremere will have something to say about that.

SECOND SESSION – The night’s Council meeting went slowly, but securely. None entered that did not affirm their name and clan and loyalty to the Council, though some were there that Darius and I approved prior to general admissions. All new arrivals to the city were welcomed and Acknowledged and the basic accord of our community was forged. Outside of Council Chambers, I continued to bore and distract the Chief of Raleigh’s Police, and he just as diligently as before missed all suggestion I made to securing his support in questionable circumstances. Oh, well, I shall try once more, then resign myself to dealing with the police in more traditional manners. Unfortunately, I failed to get to meet with the Night Editor at the News & Observer, though I plan to do so next time. Furthermore, the Childe seem restless with the city’s arrangements. The Gangrel clan, in particular, is putting pressure on Our Fair Clan to seek their services. Their Primogen actually attempted a thinly-veiled extortion on myself IN OUR VERY DOMAIN, the Art Museum. This grievance will be addressed in Council and out, next time.

BETWEEN – I have done what I can to secure my haven and get employment as a professor in night school at the North Carolina State University. Oh, how the youth there tempts my hunger! And the minds there! No such work was done at my old Alma Mater. If only I can resist the urges.

THIRD SESSION – That infernal Police Chief is inscrutable and insurmountable! I damn him to his dreary paperwork! I contented myself with enthralling two of the loveliest curators at the Art Museum and presenting them to Darius. They make for light dining, but their swoons are delightful and passionate; I would increase my herd, but Darius advises prudence and a careful pace in such matters. He is still my Prince (though for how long remains uncertain; the waters are darkening), so I defer to his better judgment. Further, under advisement from Darius, I did nothing to pursue the Gangrel’s insults. He ameliorated my fury by maneuvering me into the position of Chief Curator of the Art Museum.

This restraint turned out to be fortunate for the whole Council, since we became embroiled in a mystery focused around the old labs at Burroughs-Welcome. After a somewhat tedious trip through many, varied extra-dimensional chambers, we arrived back in Raleigh, unharmed, and having in our possession an old Giovanni’s Little Black Book. The trip withered my left foot, then sucked the skin off of it, so I felt that I had a strong claim to the influences available in the Book. Unfortunately, there was no time that night, after the long trials, to resolve ownership, so the Book was placed in the Reverend Shackleford’s hands and we vowed to hold Council next time as soon as possible.

BETWEEN – I occupied my nights and dawns much as usual. The ambition that drove me to accept my Justicar’s appointment to this city is cooling and puddling in the pit of my stomach, leading me to wander aimlessly at night and only casually involve myself in the city’s organization. Success breeds complacence, especially in politics, and my position on the Council is the most secure of the lot. No one seems to count me among their enemies and few even disagree with my plans for the Camarilla here.

FOURTH SESSION – Very little of interest happened this week, in or out of Council. I was introduced to two new Toreadors: thin-blooded, high generation cretins who had little to say and less to show me. I welcomed them through clenched teeth and immediate strove to forget them. The Giovanni’s influences were divided up amongst the Primogen of the city and I managed to secure Influence over Raleigh’s City Council and the Mayor of Durham. Late in the evening, these two new Political Influences were augmented by Darius: he transferred to me, with little ceremony, four entire Influences in Finance. Now, I have never been terribly rich, though my skills with Finance always kept me sheltered and covered my travel and education expenses. The possession of millions of dollars has a calming effect, however, that can not be equaled by mere fiscal prowess. My delight at becoming instantly wealthy was dulled by the reason for this generosity: Darius has been called back to Europe, it would seem to become a Justicar on that continent. Though I am pleased with his success, I know that I will miss the one other true Toreador in the City and my first friend in this country. He made his arrangements to step down and the Council, with no small amount of prodding by me, appointed the Ventrue Primogen to be Prince. The Reverend Shackleford, Primogen of Clan Brujah, was appointed Sheriff and Protector of the Traditions, placing a lesser in his vacated Primogenicy.

BETWEEN – I maintained the security of my little home, played some with my dogs, and enjoyed the life of a popular professor at NCSU. Only the smallest drinks passed my lips, and those from the most discreet sources. Late in the week, I received a call from my Justicar in Germany; I took the first plane out that night to meet with him.

FIFTH SESSION – I was not available to the Council during this entire week, as I was reporting to my Justicar in Germany. All went well and he approved of my political prowess and handling of my charge. Also, during my stay in my old home country, I encountered Broud and a few Siblings and we threw the most extravagant party seen in Germany since the Wall fell. At that party, some of my Siblings enjoyed something which at first revolted me, then intrigued me. They were eating pizza! Great, round, Italian imports, flown in by helicopter for the party and smothered with gourmet and traditional toppings. With their encouragement and the aid of a complicated Telepathic link via Broud, my Brothers and Sisters of the Kiss taught me to Eat and Drink again! After over two hundred years, I was able to dine on delicacies, drink the most subtle vintages and most heady brews. I know not whether my preternatural senses or lost remembrances made the dining so rich, but I am addicted. I drink constantly now and take about five meals a day. I may yet regain my humanity& and keep my godhood!

BETWEEN – STOP TIME due to an incomplete battle involving the Sabbat and several varieties of undead.

SIXTH SESSION – I met with two fine new members of Our Fair Clan, Vanessa and Leander, and saw to it that the Ventrue Acknowledged them: basically a formality. I spent many hours attempting to commune with the mute Vanessa, but was finally frustrated and left her to her own devices. Leander seemed good-natured enough, though a Poseur and collector –I have always been irked by non-producers. Criticism has its place, but it is not a profession. And the boy is as obsequious as Lucifer himself! I say boy because his generation is high; he actually seems to have been brought across late in mortal life, in that robust ground between middle age and venerability. Still, he is tolerable and means well; he should be a good addition to Our Fair Clan.

Many people marveled at my new-found ability to Eat and Drink, many abhorred it; Darius, still not away yet, in particular expressed his envy that I could drink his beloved French vintages. Blowing foam off of my stout, I pitied him. The throngs in town swell and burgeon; there are so many undead roaming about that I rarely can go a block at night without hearing one’s sobs or catching one’s blur of speed in the corner of my keen eye. In chilling counterpoint to this influx of new Blood, an Irish detective began to snoop around the city, seeking the cause of “human spontaneous combustion” the previous night. On our first, chance encounter at the coffee shop (where I was having cinnamon-schnapps-spiked mocha blend& sticky delight!) I believe I managed to convince him of my ignorance concerning the odd deaths by combustion Downtown. Though I knew of the great struggle the previous night, it took little acting prowess to feign lack of knowledge: I had no idea WHAT had happened, only that an infernal conflict had lasted unto dawn and taken some of its competitors into blazing night. Further, I believe that I convinced him of my humanity, since we spoke at length and he never seemed the least unsettled. We met again, later, and I drove him away with irritated castigation& but not before attempting to name the Gangrel Primogen, Eric Brock, as his prime suspect. He responded properly: with offense for my brusqueness and a secretive wink for my whispered accusation.

The only business I sought to complete involved securing a silvered wakizashi and a Grendel P30 polycarbonite pistol. For those, I went to one who has, of late, become a strong ally: Red of the Clan Ravnos. Though the initial price he quoted for the pistol is high, my accountant assures me that my millions will survive the cost (really only a few thousand dollars, a pittance). I must, however, await his suppliers, so I spent yet another week unarmed against Kine. Well, unarmed within the Masquerade, that is&.

BETWEEN – I began to frequent a new bohemian club in Durham, Area 51. Their proprietor turned out to be amenable to the company I keep and the crowd I draw and entertained me most of the week. I confess that I can remember only very little of those nights, as the drugged blood which flows therein and the beers peddled across their bar has addled my brain.

SEVENTH SESSION – Most of what happened during this meeting of the Council had to be related to me as I changed clothing and poked at closing wounds. But I get ahead of myself.

It would seem that my new “friends” at Area 51 had managed to get some sort of influence over my thoughts. Nothing so crass as mind control or zombification, but a subtle, soul-rending sort of influence under which they set me loose on Raleigh. I was withdrawn, cared not about my appearance or my jobs at the University and Museum, and spent most of my night brooding over burnt coffee. Apparently, I lost control of my feeding and began squirreling loners out of the museum tours and night classes and feeding on them unto death. In keeping with my new-found messiness, I had littered my inner offices at the Museum with their remains and penned a verse or two on the wall with their blood: doggerel I would be ashamed to repeat herein.

Needless to say, when the Council held session in, as was their wont, my inner offices, most of them were shocked with my redecorating. One in particular, the Good Reverend, was so shocked and moved by his own emotions that he assaulted me, there in my own Domain, spurning my Hospitality. Being a powerful Brujah, it was all I could do to avoid most of his blows. Still, somehow, I faltered; that was all the time he needed to stake me through the heart, plunging me into Torpor for the first time in my life. The Doctor, a Malkavian and my ally from the start, established a Telepathic link. Yet, all my addled and shocked brain could convey was the litany of “Domain& call Broud& Domain”. The Prince, so passive in the face of blatant violations of Tradition, deigned to call Broud in Germany; I don’t think he got through to the real Broud, though, since the beast with whom he spoke came not to my rescue and, in fact, seemed rather non-plussed that one of his most illustrious Childer was staked into Torpor. It was, in fact, probably one of my Siblings, jealous of my success in the Camarilla, playing a joke upon me. I did not laugh, as I recall.

Yet, out of nowhere, an ancient and wise Childe of Night came unto the Council Chambers where I lay in my own clotting blood, and placed onto my lips such bright and pure Blood that I was transposed straight from Torpor and neigh unto giddiness, in spite of my blood loss. This great old one, Lord Ashby, so startled me when I awoke — now freed by he and the Doctor of my rapture — that I thanked him, barely, and lurched into the night to feed. I paused only long enough to damn the Prince and renounce my Primogenicy. Unfortunately, my gesture of disgust turned out to be without thrust, since Leander, the only one of my clan whom I could locate to appoint in my place, showed his true colors as Sabbat a mere hour later and was destroyed. The mute could not be found, so I suspect that I shall remain Primogen, for now. Our Fair Clan has been reduced to two, a mute and an emotional cripple. Fortunately, my Grendel has come through, and with 2 clips, to boot! On into dawn&.

BETWEEN – I managed to recover from my week of depravity and keep both of my jobs (though saving the Museum appointment required much assistance from the Reverand and the Doctor to get my office cleaned). Not surprisingly, the Council has elected to move meetings to across town for the duration; the relocation took nearly a month. Because my susceptibility to the Sabbat influences at Area 51 had cost me dearly in prestige and influence, I spent the extra time shoring up my reputation in Kine social circles and reassuring my accountant and lawyer that I was not about to become a casualty (and, to them, a loss). One week of revels and insanity has cost me a month of apologies and will surely lead to greater expense still.

EIGHTH SESSION – Oh, what irony! What a lark! The Ventrue Prince, Jonas, rode into the Council Chambers on his white horse, brandishing a stack of photographically-copied pages which detailed his model for the city and the Traditions! HIS model! HA! This youth would dare to tell the Primogen that HIS is the only approval possible for Progeny. That HIS is the final word on the future of the Camarilla in Raleigh. That HE is the authority for Domain and its proper respect! This thin-blooded wretch in Armani suits would tell me, Joerghen Kielvonbroud, where to live, who to invite there, and how to treat them once trusted. When I petitioned him concerning the Domain violations which he allowed at the last session, he claimed that it was ‘all I deserved’!

Now, gentle reader, understand that I am a peaceful being, if only by virtue of not having the means to do real violence to those of my kind. But when I looked upon that fat, smug face and listened to his disrespectful disdain, I snapped. Yet I found that I could not move, could do nothing violent towards him, could not even fully form the notion which now burns so brightly in my mind: to tear away a leg of my chair and plunge it into his breast! Let Jonas enjoy Torpor for a day, let him feel the vulnurability and frustration. Let him watch as his ‘protector’ ignores his plight and leaves him to flounder!

I seethed! For months I had thought to seek approval from Broud to bring across Melissa, one of my assistant curators and most beautiful of my small group of thralls. When Jonas thought to command how and when I choose Progeny, I resolved to give her the Dark Kiss. I even made certain that it was her wish, explaining all that I am to her and offering her the same. She accepted, the deed was done, and I brought her before a gathering of the Council.

The cretin renounced my Acknowledgement and called for a Blood Hunt! No, not a Blood Hunt vote; no, he simply let loose the dogs. I had no choice but to flee, screaming to Melissa to find safety and rejoin me near dawn.

BETWEEN – STOP TIME due to an incomplete pursuit of myself and a battle which resolved after my departure from the scene.

NINTH SESSION – Ah, what an evening. Such a swing of power, such disappointment; an agony of manipulation and torment.

While I fled the scene, Melissa was being fearfully tortured by the malificent Jonas. She, like some foolish child (which, I suppose, she is), instead of fleeing to me, her protector, fled instead to the Domain of the Prince, to throw herself upon his ‘mercy’. Leave it to a conniving Ventrue to require a Blood Bond to cement his mercy! Yes, the scum Blood Bound Melissa to himself as ransom for her unlife! I still have no idea WHY she would do such a foolish thing, against my direct instructions, but she did and, worse, still, she and he FLAUNTED it before me this night. Apparently, before I could so much as collect my wits and marshall some defenses, Jonas had stepped down as Prince, and the Malkavian Doctor assumed his place. There was never a Blood Hunt, my Acknowledgement resumed virtually uninterrupted, and I was left, within hours, with a Childe scorning me because of the tainted Ventrue blood in her newly-withered veins. All of the Petty Prince’s pomp and ceremony boiled down to mere extortion and kidnapping. Oh, his knavery drives me mad!

Of course, no recompense awaited me in the Council Chambers. Apparently, the Doctor finds Princehood to his liking and would dictate unlife in the city in much the same way as Jonas would have. This conservatism left me with no justice or recourse for justice; in fact, I found myself having to APOLOGIZE just to sit in my rightful seat in Council. Of course, when I arrived in council, my young Childe sat in my chair, goaded into it by her new puppeteer, Jonas. Wiser this night than the last, I strolled to the far end of the chambers, drew my Grendel, and fired upon Jonas from beyond the range of his damnable and undeserved Majesty. Of course, the coward commanded Melissa to interpose herself and block the shots I fired.

None in that fray were my equal in speed, however, so I merely concluded the altercation by maneuvering out of reach and leaving the Council Chambers. Needless to say, the meeting was in total disarray, and was rescheduled for later in that night. As it reconvened, I called for only Primogen to be present and argued my right to the Primogenicy before the assembled Council with success. Melissa was lead out by her strings and the Council meeting proceeded as normal.

A few attempts I made to persuade Melissa to return to me proved futile and, in a rage and hoping to jar her into remembering her original blood, I renounced her rights as a Toreador, driving her ungrateful ass from my Domain, inwardly screaming at the Bond which was her master. Trying another tack, I began to publicly disparage Jonas (now not even a Primogen) as the leader of the Camarilla’s newest clan: the Puppeteer Clan. With scathing wit and furious mockery, I proceeded to dub him ‘Puppet’s Primogen’ and congradulated him on the rapid growth of his clan (refering to Melissa). My rage muddled my sarcasm a bit, but its point must have found the mark, for Jonas released the Blood Bond upon Melissa.

Then (for some reason still MYSTIFYING to me) she proceeded to renounce ME! It would seem that she took offense to my strong-arm and tough-love tactics to free her and would not return to Our Fair Clan! She would rather roam a Caitiff –or worse, a beggar to the Ventrue– than return to her family and friends and profession! I am amazed and astoundingly depressed by this illogical, unforgiving reaction. I even caught myself beseeching God for aid, as if His ears could hear my wailings from the pit in which I exist.

Now, just before dawn, I can hear the soft babblings in the back of my mind, can feel the heat of the sun again, and know fear. For my mind is trembling with the same chord it sounded before my earlier madness and depravity.

BETWEEN, TENTH SESSION, BETWEEN, & ELEVENTH SESSIONS – I know not where I have been, or what I have done there. Time is melting and I see only my boots below me and the morning’s glow. I think I was in Ontario for a time. And Nevada. I distinctly remember being fascinated (as is Our Fair Clan’s wont) with a huge row of glistening slot machines. Their ringing and clanging, the gaudy lights, like rouge on a dead cheek, beckoning one to revel in losing. I have lost many weeks.

But I have found clarity; I am awake again. While passing through Texas, en route to somewhere, I stumbled across a miniature forest of signs in front of a high school. Perhaps it was their patriotic colors; maybe their directness and force; possibly their implied promises. I do not know. All of which I am now certain is that those election placards, those simple ‘Vote For Bob’s cajolong children to persuade parents, have shown me a way, a purpose in unlife far nobler than learning, art, or wisdom.

Politics.

Yes, at the next Council meeting, I will announce to the Camarilla, then later to the state of North Carolina, that I will be seeking the office of Senator to the United States Congress.

Enough squabbling over Domain and Progeny and feeble, immortal egos. No more trying to elevate the existances of the damned. Henceforth, I will devote my unlife to the betterment of my hosts, humanity. I will lend my wisdom, experience, and voice to the highest Legislature in the land, the better to promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of Liberty.

This is my sworn duty, and will be my driving goal until all Americans are truely free.

Then, of course, the U.N. appointment will come….

Union

 Criticism, Fiction, Writing  Comments Off on Union
Apr 221993
 

A Fictionalized Treatise On Modern Marriage

This is an essay comparing the treatment of marriage
in fiction by Virginia Wolfe, Bernard Shaw, and D.H.Lawrence
from within a fictional framing story in which the principle characters
of Mrs.Dalloway, Man and Superman, and Women In Love
meet at a dinner party hosted by the author’s alter ego.

“Everything must be exactly right, James, understand? These guests are very important people, all of them, and I will not have them disappointed by our hospitality.”

The man-servant nodded deferentially to his employer Carter Manart, commenting, “From what you’ve told me of them, Carter, I am certain that even our most lax attentions would be appreciated.”(1)

Manart considered this statement a moment, shrugging finally and saying, “True; the Tanners don’t really stand on ceremony much, and the Birkins are satisfied more by intellectual fare than pageantry. But the Dalloways… they are professional party-goers; and though never criticizing directly, laxness will be remembered by them.” He strode around the ancient oaken table, spot-checking its recent refinishing and shining the odd smudge in its polish.(2) James had just finished setting it with the simple, black edged crockery and smooth crystal glasses, and Carter could not help but admire the contrast between the placemats’ coarse and basic weave and the table’s solid ostentation.(3)

“How many years has this table been in our family, Jim?”(4)

“To be honest, Carter, I’ve no idea…. When my father taught me it’s maintenance,(5) he told me how it had been refurbished in his youth from a simpler style into these Victorian flourishes; see, this routing is newer as well as these corner pieces with the frills.”(6) The butler’s finger traced a chiseled flower from its pistole down to its swirling root at the table’s leg. “Kind of old-fashioned looking these days… especially with what you’ve done with this dining room.” He glanced about with one eyebrow arched, then fixed a wry look on Manart.

Carter was still staring at the table. “Yes,” he said, in regards to the its antiquity. “But I am afraid to do too much to it yet; it’s so old and… well, honorable, if you see my meaning, that I would not have it reworked when I refurbished it for fear of, I don’t know, denigrating it?”(7) He looked quizitively at James, to see if the older man understood his sense. The butler nodded knowingly and returned his attention to the rest of the room, inviting Carter, with teasing glances, to share in the observing.

“Yes, but I won’t hold back on more minor decoration; after all, the room can be bared without too much expense.”

They both surveyed the room’s decor, one admiringly, the other, amusedly.(8) The walls were a madman’s pastiche of Realist portraits of old men and women (not all necessarily old in the paintings themselves), Impressionistic luminary blurs and Surrealist distortions of landscapes. Manart’s prize side wall, across from the dining room’s wide, tall windows, caddie-cornered one of Rembrandt’s grotesques and Bruegel’s Dutch pastorals with Monet’s “Waterlillies”, Goya’s “The Third of May”, and young Salvador’s, “Persistence of Memory”.(9) Also adorning the walls were sconces modified into gas lamps around the turn of the century, then into electrics in 1920, seven years ago.(10) The room’s huge crystal chandelier had also been electrified, and was now glowing warmly, casting sparkling flashes on the walls through its yellowed rose crystal. The floor’s uneven, smooth mahogany panelling was covered in the center by an Oriental rug of, predominantly, grays and bright red, overshadowing blue and purple flourishes.(11) It was on this rug that the ancient table and its surrounding Indian rattan chairs stood.(12) The only other furnishings in the room were large downy pillows strewn before the windows and a brass bar of sorts, stocked with liquor — mostly gin and scotch — and sours; it also was a tea service on those occasions when Carter actually bothered with a formal tea, which was seldom.(13)

“And if my tastes should change next month, following the whimsy of this age,” he continued, “I am sure to keep most of the paintings, will profit on those I get rid of, and will always know Sergeant-Major Brighlington in the Colonies — he’s entrenched there, poor sod.” (14)

“Yes, well, I don’t know what your father would have thought–”

“Oh, he’d’ve hated it, of course; if only because I’d tossed out those dreadful trophies and beasts’ heads leering down and making one question the source of the dinner’s steaks.” They both laughed; Carter, more heartily. “But he was a kind enough old chap-” here Carter caught himself and glanced to see James’ still visage “-except to you, though…. Look, friend, I really am sor–“(15)

James’ mood lightened and he forced a grin. “No, Carter, don’t bother yourself, I’ve told you. It was the times….”

“Pathetic in so many ways, yes. I really am–”

“Enough. I must check on the hors-d’oeuvres and you’d better change; the guests are expected in an hour.”(16)

Carter watched James bow slightly, out of habit, and turn and walk out through the kitchen’s door, shutting it quietly behind him.

He turned and stepped toward the windows, his back to the table and prize wall, and stared out across the gardens.

The sun was dangling over the woods west of the house, about an inch away from hiding, casting a lurid orange haze on Manart’s young but wizenning face. He relished its glow and thought to himself how the sunset would thrill his sensitive guests an hour hence as it purpled the horizon and draped magic over the room. He would keep the electrics low until absolutely needed, set a close atmosphere for the night; for he wanted the truest confidence and advisement of these, his new friends. A few questions burned in him to be released from their spiraling, contentious gyres and he knew no better group to which to pose them.(17)

“So where exactly are these to be placed, Carter?” James held a small stack of cards, folded so that they would stand like little tents.

Manart snapped his right cufflink into place, shaking his wrist to get the loose jacket’s sleeve to lie. “Hell of a question, James; I’m not real certain of the etiquette of these things, or even if the guests will appreciate etiquette of this pigeon-holing sort.”(18) He took the cards from the black man’s pink palm. “I mean, there’s only the three couples, so if I put the couples side-by-side, then one couple must sit sort of at the periphery.”

“Does it really matter?”

“I don’t know; that’s why I’m so concerned about it. I would just seat them myself, but they’re all older than me, it would seem strange. And I don’t know if they would take to being seated by you — no offense, friend.”

“It would be their offense if they were so; relax, Carter.” He walked to stand beside the table, setting down a handful of flatware with a muted clatter. Pointing, he said, “Why don’t you have Mr. Tanner here,” indicating the right hand of the table’s head, “Mrs. Tanner here,” across from Jack Tanner’s seat, “then likewise boy-girl across from each other with the Birkins next down and the Dalloways furthest from the head. That way no couple is excluded, and age is the only hierarchy from the head –barring you, of course.”

Manart pondered this a moment, then said, “Fine, whatever; God I hate worrying over such niceties. I certainly hope they aren’t offended.”

James waved dismissively. “You said yourself that the Tanners were a relaxed crew; so too the Birkins. That should be a majority, so don’t worry about the Dalloways.”

Here Carter laughed aloud. “‘Don’t worry about the Dalloways’ he says! Richard’s ONLY an MP, for God’s sake…. Although, I don’t suspect he’d hold a grudge or anything of the sort. But it only takes a disapproving word to that meddlesome Bruton and she’ll have her ‘Cabinet’ dragging my shipyards through the mud in the press, no pun intended.”(19) He pulled out the flaring chair at the table’s foot and dropped heavily into it. “God I need a drink.” He turned to face James who had moved to stand near the kitchen door, behind and to the right of Carter. “Is it alright to serve a drink before the meal, James?”(20)

“Actually, one is supposed to do so; it’s called an ‘aperitif’.”

“Brilliant!” Carter exclaimed. “Be sure to; it should loosen our guests, and I know it will help me.”

Almost as if on cue, the men could hear the voice of the maid greeting someone rather loudly, probably to warn them. Manart dealt the placecards rapidly, like their gaming cousins, while James strode to the double doors to throw them wide with aplomb just as Jack Tanner and his wife Ann reached the threshold.

“Mister and Misses Jack Tanner, Mister Manart!” announced the maid to Carter, who now stood before the doors, legs planted wide (to forbear trembling) and arms spread in a gesture of welcome.

He visibly withered as Ann cursorily said, “Mister Jack Tanner and Misses Ann Whitefield-Tanner, actually, dear.”(21) There was a mischievous glimmer in her eye as she nodded to the maid, who had only the darkness of her skin to thank for hiding the flush of her embarrassment.

Carter recovered quickly, making his first mental note of the night.(22) “My apologies, madam; Margaret did not know the proper etiquette, for which I am solely to blame.” Her took her offered hand and lightly planted a kiss on its back, looking downward. “It is so good to see you again after our too-brief meeting in the Halls. You have honored the House of Manart by accepting my invitation to this informal dinner.” He bowed deeper, with flourish.

“Isn’t he cute, Jack?” Ann teased, turning to smile at her husband.(23)

Carter’s pale-skinned face did not mask his blush so well as had Margaret’s ebony.

“Oh, don’t let her addle you, Mister Manart!” Tanner heartily cried, clapping Carter on the shoulder and seizing his hand for a single, vigorous pump.(24)

“Please, feel free to call me Carter, Mister Tanner–”

“Not if you call me by my father’s name, I won’t! Jack, agreed?” His grin was infectious.

“And please call me Ann; my surname is a bit too unwieldy for friendly conversation.” Mrs. Whitefield-Tanner’s beauty struck Carter to his soul as her smile melted from wicked to confiding; her forties were treating her no worse than had her thirties or twenties.

Again Jack spoke: “And who is this” indicating James “an African! My, but you are an oddity here in the Dales; what’s your name, sir?” He extended his hand.(25)

“James, Mister Tanner,” the servant answered, clasping hands. “It is a pleasure to meet such an outspoken champion of human freedom.”

“An it is a pleasure to meet one of its inheritors,” Jack countered, beaming with a grand blend of honor and pride. “And call me Jack, alright?” He capered toward the door, leaning into the hall to holler, “Everybody call me Jack, do you hear?!” He traipsed back, his eyes laughing. “When is the aperitif served?”

“Hear, hear!” laughed Carter; and taking the Tanners one on each arm, he strolled into the room proper, gesturing for them to sit, his nervousness melted away in their warmth.

They sat side-by side on the right of the head before noticing the placards.

“Oh, apologies, good master Manart,” said Jack, holding up Ann’s (or, rather, Rupert Birkin’s) card, “we didn’t know this was formal.”

Carter blushed again, only slightly, and replied, “Well, it isn’t, really… I’m merely somewhat new to this sort of affair, and…. Oh, sit where you will!” he laughed, “I want friends here, and there are, after all, no Rolls at the podium, right?”

The Tanners laughed at the allusion to Parliament. “Good,” Jack said, “I would hate to break my long-held habits!” For he sat on the right, an odious rank for him, were this Commons.(26)

Just then there was heard footsteps in the hall, one set Margaret’s light quick tread, the other two sets mingling, but not exactly in unison.(27)

“Mister and Misses Birkin?” said the maid uncertainly, as she reached the open double doors. She stepped to one side and Ursula Birkin strode forward, side-by-side with her husband Rupert, who was looking somewhat quizzically at Margaret as he passed.(28)

Carter moved from Jack’s side, as he and Ann rose to greet the new arrivals, and with a sweep of his arm said, “Be welcome in the home of Manart,” trying his best to achieve oxymorous relaxed obeyance.(29)

“Why thank you, Mister Manart,” said Mrs. Birkin. Then, seeing the Tanners, said to Rupert, “look, dear, it’s the Tanners. Didn’t we meet in Ausberg?” This was to Ann in particular.

“Sure, we almost crashed into one another on the south slope of Mount Something-stein; I’ll never forget what you said: ‘Destiny forces all greats into conflict’, or something like that. It is good to see you again; what a shame it took our young lobbyist friend in Commons to bring us together here.” She moved to embrace Ursula, smiling warmly at Rupert in the process.

“We’re hardly ever in Britain,” spoke Rupert, finally entering the conversation, “Europe is so full of things to experience, each day offers fifty new lives to one who would take them.”(30) He stepped forward to shake hands with Carter and Jack.

“Well, I’m glad I ran into you two at The Boar and Board last week,” replied Carter. He turned to Jack, “We had the longest talk — the three of us- about your speech at Parliament, the one on women’s suffrage, and I said, ‘So I’ve invited the Tanners to a little dinner party with the Dalloways, sort of a meeting of the camps’ and they were so delighted by the prospect that I could not help but include them, much to Margaret’s dismay — she had everything planned already.” He was babbling, but the friendly air of this group of bright minds could only loosen his excitable tongue.(31)

“Glad you did, son,” said Jack heartily, then to Rupert, “and if I may ask, sir, where do you stand on the vote — though I suspect by your deference to this fair femme that I know?”

“Oh, of course women should have the vote; they have ever been the more practical of the species,” Rupert replied sincerely, his eyes flashing at the prospect of the night of intellectual communion to come.(32)

“But they have yet to develop the experience with national issues, affairs of state.” A new voice, clear, if a bit tremulous, rang in the room.(33)

“Mister and Misses Dalloway,” said Margaret, belatedly and a bit perfunctorily. “I’ll be getting the first course ready; dinner will be served in five minutes.”

“Yes, ma’am!” said Carter smartly, saluting the maid and glowing with mirth over her obvious consternation at having her role as announcer usurped. “Welcome, Mister and Misses Dalloway.” He had tensed, but only a wee bit, at the surprise arrival and curt entrance into the debate; now, he played the perfect host.(34) “I trust you know Ann Whitefield-Tanner and Jack Tanner….”

The Dalloways nodded politely to Richard’s latest political rivals, exchanging customary murmurrings.

“And these are the Birkins,” said Carter, gesturing to Ursula and Rupert, “recent friends of mine.” Then, before any contention could get underway, he sweepingly indicated the table. “Shall we all have a seat, the aperitif is hot on the heels of the Dalloways.”

“Excellent,” said Jack, as he and Ann resumed the seats they had first occupied.

The Birkins sat across from them, Rupert at the head, laughing that his name was now ‘Ann.’ Mrs. Dalloway hitched for but a moment, finally taking her seat where her card was, beside Ursula, smiling and looking closely at her as while daintily lighting on the rattan’s motley cushion.(35) Dalloway moved to sit on her left, then noticed there was no place set there and circled the table to sit by Mrs. Whitefield-Tanner. He nodded civilly to her in sitting.

“Should be a Hell of a lot of fun tonight, Cart!” said Jack, reaching behind Ann to jovially clap Richard Dalloway on his shoulder.

Dalloway laughed politically, shaking out his linen napkin and placing it on his lap.

The first courses were consumed heartily by all, the lateness of the supper and the day’s heat having bred fierce appetites in them all. While waiting for the first entree, Jack had casually opened the discussion of suffrage which was the overt intent of Carter’s invitations of them.

As expected, the debate was heated, while remaining civil and respectful.

The Tanners, being its strongest proponents, argued the most convincingly for the vote. Jack’s combination of endearing witticisms and searing observation left the conservative Richard frequently on the defensive, a position with which he was, at least, familiar.(36) On frequent occasion, Ann would let flash some anger with Dalloway’s stubborn doubt over women’s capacities, but each time Jack calmed her with a stroking palm or redirection of the point of discussion.(37)

Ursula Birkin was, primarily, a supporter of Jack and Ann’s view, offering anecdotes from her travels which would serve to reinforce some nicety of the debate. She did, however, feel that a certain training period for women voters might be in order, if only to smooth the transition into this near-universal suffrage.(38) Rupert, meanwhile, stayed on the margins of the debate, preferring, with Clarissa Dalloway, to absorb the room and its view’s scenery.(39) At one point, he had tried to steer the conversation to the natural sublime; but this attempt had been made while Jack was marshaling a refutation of Richard, seeking it in a stewed potato, and the interruption was swept politely aside.

During this half hour of conversation and consumption, Carter had remained fairly quiet, offering only his support for suffrage –universal suffrage, a point too unwieldy to gain much interest in the heat of the smaller debate– and then reclining to watch the play of his guests. He most wanted to be assured that they were enjoying themselves, staying on friendly terms, and otherwise merely being themselves, for it was in their interaction that his true end in throwing the party was served.

As the discussion reached the impasse which it had reached for months in Parliament, he took it as his cue to open the floor for his debate. He cleared his throat, dabbed a corner of his mouth, and leaned into the group.

“Well, I can see that there is some strong difference of opinion here on this, understandable in light of our essential differences. Jack and Ann are of the radical cast — Jack in particular –, the Birkins are seemingly a bit above the issue, and our friends the Dalloways are from an older tradition of propriety and custom: something which should not too lightly be trounced.” He cast a wry look at Jack, who could not suppress a snigger, in part at Carter’s audacity, in part at his veracity.

With the debate thus closed by coming full circle, Carter continued, “But there is one point in which all of you seem to concur, one with which, lately, I have become concerned.”

The group looked to one another, trying to guess at the subject they shared, so crypticly expressed by their host.

“Why, I speak of marriage; you all agree that the institution of marriage is appropriate.”

There was a general exhalation or snort and a clamor ensued, nearly all speaking at once.(40)

“Oh, lad, you know where to push the buttons,” exclaimed Jack.(41)

“Oh, no; here we go,” sighed Ann.(42)

“It’s interesting you should say that,” mused Rupert.(43)

“There you are, dearest,” laughed Ursula to Rupert.(44)

“But of course,” puffed the Dalloways, nearly in stereo.(45)

A brief silence descended like a thunderclap on the room, everyone realizing that they were speaking over one another. Then laughter rippled around the table, and Carter said, “The reason I ask is that I’ve been involved with a delightful actress for nearly a year now, and I feel as if marriage is the next step.(46) The only rub is that I am not certain what exactly that institution is anymore, and I wish to know your opinions, being my only acquaintances who, if I may so say, are entrenched in the convention.”

“Not only may you say that,” stated Jack with gusto, “but you are most accurate in your choice of verbs.” This exclamation elicited an elbow in the ribs from Ann; she was smiling, however.

Rupert leaned forward, a penetrating look in his eyes, and replied, “But marriage need never be an ‘entrenchment’. It is possible to maintain a balance between the individuals and the union of those individuals.” He faced Carter. “You should resist with all of your soul that horrible fusion in marriage which is traditional in our heritage; a fusion which leads to such terms as ‘wedlock’.”(47)

Jack was intrigued by Rupert’s proclamation and sought deeper explanation. “You don’t feel that something is surrendered in marriage, that the forces in nature, in Life itself, which compel union forbear separate identity? Though I would like to call myself free and separate, I know full well, and accept, that a great part of my identity is tied up in this thing here.”(48) He thumbed towards Ann humorously, and had a bruise added to the one forming on his ribs. “You see? Where else but in matrimony would I tolerate the violence done on my person in just the past few moments?”

“Oh, come along, now,” countered Ursula, “you would take just such a jab from Rupert were it as good-natured and affectionate.(49) As I have come to understand Rupert’s idea of individuals in equilibrium, we enter into marriage to fulfill the individual’s purpose in being, on the one hand procreation, yet even more so self-definition.” She took Rupert’s hand.

He continued where she left off. “Yes, and via this ‘star- equilibrium’, where the two are bright and whole and held in balance by their own gravid attraction to one another, the individual’s orbit is perturbed — not in the sense of disturbed, but in that it achieves the wobble, if you will, that it is meant to have.” He sat back a bit; then his brow furrowed a bit as he saw Jack perk and anchor to his diction.

“Wobble, son; yes, you’ve got that right.” Jack chuckled and took a sip of sherry. “Wobbling like a drunken sailor down the road, leaving the sight where he was waylaid!”(50)

At this point, Clarissa spoke for the first time in some time. “But Mister Tanner, there is something to be said for the compartmentalization of home building. A married couple is partners in life, each complementing the other and helping the other overcome hurdles which would thwart the lone voyager in the world.” She looked at Ursula, almost as if for approval. Ursula faintly smiled, depth of meaning in her eyes as they held contact.(51)

Rupert softly said, “That’s certainly another way to put it.”(52)

Clarissa continued, burgeoned by the Birkins’ support. “And further, Mister Tanner, you are, after all, married yourself, to a lovely wife. How can you be so cynical about marriage then?”

Jack, rocking back with a creak of rattan, replied, “I am at the whim of the Life Force. I must succumb to its purposes and wed and mate and contribute my share of sperm to the gene pool so that Mankind may, over the generations, become the gods they are intended to be.”

Clarissa flushed at Jack’s crude statement, and Richard took this as his cue to speak up, “Listen, Tanner, this is no place for such barbarity; surely you can make your point without reference to bodily fluids.” He glanced at Clarissa to note her reaction to his defense of the women’s honors.(53)

Jack and Ann both rumbled with mirth, and he deferred to her, letting her point out, “But, Richard, you just did so yourself. And in the company of ladies and their honors!”

Richard flushed at being so caught in his own words, and the rest of the group laughed good-naturedly. Carter, nevertheless, saw that the conversation was straying into the dead ground already trod by the suffrage debate and redirected the people’s attention by saying, “But suppose, friends, that she does not turn out to be the right one? How can I be certain?”

“You can’t, really,” Ursula answered. “You have to trust what your heart tells you. If it proclaims your love for this woman resoundingly enough, that must be your guide.”

“Plus, the Life Force will let you know,” Jack added calmly. “If it has decided, you really have no choice.”

“I dare say we agree on something,” said Clarissa, somewhat surprised, “though I don’t think I would put it so mechanisticly, so inexorably.”

“But that, good Clarissa, is precisely what it is, ultimately,” Jack returned, smiling kindly, almost condescendingly. “The ends of the Universe are far stronger than one man’s aspirations or beliefs. We merely decide whether or not to fight them, fruitlessly. I, for one, know I am to lose my battle against this dove.”(54) Here he beamed at Ann, and she at him. If he had more point, it was lost in their silent communion, and Richard took the floor.

“But that choice to fight is a freedom we have. If we love our intended, we will not choose; if we do not, the din of battle will drown out Life’s pleas and arguments.”

“And leave you a wandering, lost star, shining into the void and seeing no light to answer your song.” Rupert was aglow and tears glistened in his eyes. Ursula bowed her head, but reached over to lay her hand on his forearm.(55)

“Take it from me, that is the truth.” Everyone turned to face Clarissa who had said this distantly and with faint tears in her own eyes.(56) Richard reached past his treacle to clasp her hand and whisper something the others did not hearken to hear.

Night had completely descended and the room was suffused with the steady, yellow glow of the electrics. The table was clear and Carter was lost in thought over all that he had heard from his new friends. Marriage today, it seemed, was more a partnership than it had been in his father’s day of property and possession. His love for the actress was strong, he knew; else he honestly would not have taken his precious time to concern himself with their future. He understood the demands of the Life Force as expressed by Jack. Further, he welcomed the polarity and individuality of Rupert’s star equilibrium. The idea of another helping one define oneself, rather that defining one (as with the Dalloways, specifically Clarissa) spoke to his inner need to be his own man, while ameliorating his frightening craving for union with another, a woman, a lover. That there could still be significance in the marital relationship, without self-insignificance being a result, empowered him, spoke both to the traditions of love which formed his herital core and the urge for isolation in the soul’s core.

He looked slowly at each of his guests, marveling at their love for their spouses and, in all but Richard, their truth to their selves. The couples were silent and happy. The Tanners held hands and stared into each other’s eyes; the Birkins softly touched one another’s arms and were lost in private reveries; the Dalloways still held hands across the table, Clarissa staring at her nearly empty glass and Richard looking over her shoulder at a David on the wall.

Carter cleared his throat and, as everyone broke their meditations, said, “Well, friends, I thank you whole-heartedly for you advisement on this most important concern of mine.”

“Was it of any assistance?” asked Rupert, feelingly.

“Why, yes, Rupert,” answered Carter slowly, a soft, distant smile creeping onto his face. “Yes, it was; and I would like to take this opportunity to invite you all to my wedding”—a pleased murmur danced around the table—”which should be in the fall, if my love accepts.”

“We’ll be sure to be in the country,” said Ursula, as everyone else also stated their acceptance of the invitation.

The party broke up a while later; and as the Tanners donned their coats and passed out the front door, James came up behind Carter and commented, “It will be nice to have a lady in the house again; it always seemed sort of empty without a mistress.”

“And I will be sure she is no mistress, James,” Manart responded, turning to face his friend with a loving smile.

The butler nodded and began to move toward the dining room, to straighten it up.

“By the way, James,” added Carter, “tomorrow I would like you to help me move the dining room table into the library. Then we shall go out to purchase a round table that suits the room.”

“Very good, Carter.”


Annotations

1 ) James’s familiarity represents Modernistic rejection of class distinction and is suggestive of the relationship between Jack Tanner and Henry Straker in (A).

2 ) Throughout the work, this table will be symbolizing modern marriage, the thematic thrust of this Fictionalized essay. The refinishing and smudges in the polish represent the iconoclastic redefinitions of the institution of marriage attempted by the Modernists and their vagaries thus far. In particular, Shaw struggles with these new definitions in (B).

3 ) Basic setting symbolizes Modernist retreat from ceremony and pomp in marriage, placing emphasis instead on its practical character and ends.

4 ) The answer attempt to allude to antiquity, even Adam and Eve, for mating and marriage are as old as the humanity in homo sapien.

5 ) Suggestive of the patriarchal tradition of marriage prior to Modernism.

6 ) The Victorian refurbish is from the simple, natural Romantic past; specifically the constraint (“routing”) reintroduced by the Victorians.

7 ) Suggestive of Carter Manart’s uncertainty about the character of Modernism, specifically Modern marriage, the resolving of which is to be the frame story of this essay.

8 ) The room is symbolic of Modernism as a movement in general, encapsulating its past, influences, and character in its time.

9 ) The Rembrandt suggests Europe’s post-Renaissance; Bruegel, Romanticism’s pastoral ideals; Monet, Victorianism’s hazy, idyllic optimism; Goya, the dark side of revolution and change; and the anachronistic Dali, the quest to “make it new” and, as its title suggests, the persistent remnants of the past and tradition.

10) My ‘tip-o-the-hat’ to the Industrial Revolution’s positive achievements.

11) Grey represents the ambiguous moral posture of the Modern era, especially World War I, which is symbolized by the red. Purple and blue flourishes are symbolic of the old aristocracy, being overshadowed by the middle (gray) and working (red, for the Labor party and Communism) classes. Thus, the gray and red serve a doubly symbolic purpose.

12) Suggestive both of the fascination in the Modern period with the Orient and the fact that Britain’s society (the table, in part) rested on the backs of its Colonies, especially the non- white ones of China and India.

13) More iconoclasm; today, formal tea has become almost a joke throughout most of British society.

14) Like England was becoming complicated in the Indies.

15) James is black and old Mr. Manart was too like his Southern US counterparts.

16) James is older, and this, in keeping with Modernist semi- iconoclasm, commands respect over the employer-employee relationship. See Mrs. Dalloway and Ms. Kilman’s complex ‘bidirectional hierarchy’ in (H) for a parallel of this employer deference to employee.

17) Ha! I got you! I’m not spilling all of the frame story’s surprises at once. (Editor’s Note: please forgive such levity on Mr. Artman’s part; he is quite excited about this whole thing, you understand.)

18) The iconoclastic Carter has his reservations over which edifice to ignore: class, age, rank. One must implicitly be recognized due to the hierarchical nature of a long, square table.

19) By way of background, Manart is his own lobbyist in Commons, petitioning on behalf of his inherited shipping business. This, in effect, implies that the business is not doing very well, else he would have someone do this for him.

20) Like any busy youth in this pre-depression piece, he does not know all of the social mores and procedures. It will later be revealed that this is his first formal (though informal) dinner party.

21) At this point it should be explained that in characterizing each couple, I am trying to project their relationships into the future as would be most probable based on the thematic resolutions of their particular source authors. Subsequently, the couple’s will hold more and more similar views the longer they have been married. Thus, Ann Whitefield-Tanner is, in her choice of surname, asserting the power granted her in the relationship by the Life Force as well as her own individuality. Furthermore, she has developed more of the wry, playful humor that characterized Jack Tanner in (A) and has, it will become evident, lost her tendency to lie to cast a favorable light upon herself. This honesty only further emphasizes the fact that she has been victorious in Life’s eternal struggle between means and vessel of Its culmination.

22) This mental note is, simply, that Ann has an assertive character, even after marriage: she is the first of the Tanners to speak, and her first works are playful mockery of her host’s servant.

23) Ann has learned iconoclasm from her husband in their twenty-two years of marriage, and is amused by Carter’s bombastic formalities.

24) Marriage, for Jack, has still not come to mean deference to his wife’s whimsy.

25) Jack’s interest is far from racist, as should become evident.

26) He would, of course, sit on the left of Commons with Labor. I have had old Jack elected to Parliament, and this is, in fact, where he and Carter met on formal grounds; this party is the first informal meeting of their, thus the introductions.

27) The first allusion to star equilibrium is their nearly synchronized treads.

28) Not having been present for her previous introductory faux pas, Rupert wonders at the uncertainty Margaret evinces in their introduction.

29) As will soon be show, like the Tanners, the Birkins are recent acquaintances of Carter’s, and he is struggling to maintain a balance between the party’s informality and the reverence he feels is due to his seniors and unintimate friends.

30) The Birkin’s have remained true to their desire to break all connections with society and have been traveling in Europe the past seven years, since their union. Note also that Ursula asserts herself first. This is not an example of her sensual dominance, but rather merely indicates that she is not behind (in the sense of subservient) her husband. And unless they are to speak in unison, one of them must open his or her mouth first.

31) Here I should note that I do not, in this draft, intend to explore their opinions on women’s suffrage. Rather, this was the issue of the day and I feel it is the most appropriate one which would draw these diverse people together. It, thus, is a device more than a theme.

32) This echoes Rupert’s passion for the intellectual as portrayed in (E).

33) The only remotely respectable conservative argument.

34) This parallels Peter Walsh’s accusation of Clarissa Dalloway’s perfectionism in (H).

35) My crude, ignorant efforts at suggesting the homoerotic impulses to be found in Clarissa and which are emphasized by Jane Marcus in (L).

36) I am presuming that the obviously greater wit written into Jack’s character has proved quite difficult for Richard in Parliament.

37) This is not his dominance, but rather his matrimonial ability to sooth fruitless wrath, something I imagine he has had to do often when bringing her to Parliament’s highly formal halls.

38) In this dichotomy between the Dalloways and the Tanners, the Birkins are naturally assuming a middle ground, as would be appropriate for their rather distant association of late with Britain and its issues. Further, as the intellectuals of the group, they must seek the harmonious compromises, the balances which can satisfy both sides… much like their marriage arrangement.

39) Conversely, a middle ground can be found by leaving the field of battle all together….

40) What follows (while also being reminiscent of Churchill’s dialogging) is a succinct summary of the characters’ general attitudes towards the subject of marriage. While not exactly a thesis statement, the passage is a tone-setter.

41) Mating is Jack’s favorite subject in (A).

42) See the last lines of (A): “Talking!”

43) Ever the intellectual’s introductory statement.

44) An acknowledgment of Rupert’s ‘authority’ on this complex point. She has, I am assuming, come to his camp on the issue of star equilibrium while, in keeping with that idea, maintaining her individual self; later, she, too, will have her say on the subject, as is meet.

45) A good score for this stereo statement would be Fiddler on the Roof’s “Tradition.”

46) That actress is the first non-tonal hint at my Shavian leanings in the character of Carter, my analog.

47) A blending of nearly verbatim quotes from (E) and (G).

48) “Thing” is in part a jocular statement, and in part an expression of the embodiment of the female drive in woman, a drive which is the spawn of the Life Force.

49) Ursula is, now that they are married, no stranger to Rupert’s desire for a union with the other, a semi-homoerotic interaction with another man.

50) A jocular expression of the deterministic qualities of the Life Force’s press into mating.

51) I am really trying for homoerotic overtones here; be gentle in your mockery of their crudity. Woolf made Mrs. Dalloway into a woman with a bright memory of a past female love, and I am merely trying to show how an older woman can anchor this glimmer of the past in the present, giving it a new lease on life, if you will.

52) Birkin is not quite satisfied with this practical expression of his more idealistic belief in equilibrium, one which would not necessarily involve complementation, but more likely, reflection.

53) Note how it took an offense to draw Richard into this intellectual debate; he is no powerhouse of thought, but he will be riled by a affront to his conservative ideals of propriety and honor. The next sentence parallels his ‘love for effect’ which he practices in (H) with the surprise roses.

54) This note is here just because I had to toot my use of contrast between the metaphor of battle and the reference to dove of peace. Clever, eh? (Editor’s Note: Once again, I am force to make an apology for Mr. Artman’s levity….)

55) Suggestive of Rupert’s continuing pain over the loss of Gerald and also of Ursula acceptance of his need for the Other.

56) Clarissa shares Rupert’s sentiment for a lost other.


Bibliography

Bernard Shaw

  • Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman. 1903
  • “Preface to Getting Married”, 1908 (Ayot St. Lawrence Edition of The Collected Works of Bernard Shaw)
  • St. John Ervine, Bernard Shaw: His Life, Work and Friends. Morrow & Co.: New York, 1956.
  • Anthony S. Abbott, Shaw and Christianity. Seabury Press: New York, 1965

David Herbert Lawrence

  • D.H. Lawrence, Women in Love. 1920, 1922
  • David Cavitch, D.H. Lawrence and the New World. Oxford University Press: New York, 1969
  • Mark Spilka, The love ethic of D.H. Lawrence. Indiana University Press: Bloomington & London, 1955 (1966)

Virginia Woolf

  • Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway. 1925
  • Jean Guiguet (transl. Jean Stewart), Virginia Woolf and Her Works. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: New York & London, 1962
  • Hermione Lee, The Novels of Virginia Woolf. Holmes and Meier: New York, 1977
  • Jane Marcus, Virginia Woolf and the Languages of Patriarchy. Indiana University Press: Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1987

Cynwal’s Confession

 Fiction, Writing  Comments Off on Cynwal’s Confession
Dec 121989
 

I come to thee, these twenty years past, seeking that which thou denied me upon my first—and only, I might add—visit to this shrine. Now wait! Hold thy tongue, though passionately it may wish to counter my words. Thou must listen long and well to my tale before casting down thy righteous decree. Thou must know well my life, painful in its snail’s-tread span, so that thy reason may know emotion and thy god’s true light might uncloud thy scripture-veiled eyes.

I was once a simpler man, and happy without the weight of these jewels and furs. A smith in the town, I passed my days with honest work and spent my nights comforted by my good wife, so fair in her youth. Twin sons did she give me, and no finer babes were there to be found in all of Exeter. Though at times they proved burdensome—and what children, at two winters old, do not?—my Elryna always tended to them when I was hard at work. Ours was the most full of homes, though none of thy opulent company would feel so upon viewing its humble trappings.

Have care to pay attention now, thou whom I hear squirming and sighing with impatience behind thy curtain. My house, whole in spirit, was Fated to suffer turmoil even in the height of its peace and happiness.

It was on a clouded day, just after harvest celebrations, that the Fates did strike my home with their blindly omniscient will. I did toil heavily over a shirt of mail when into my empty house—Elryna had taken her sons to thy new church for mass—came a woman of the Earl’s court. I knew her to be thus, not solely by the fineness of her bearing and of the jewels lying splendid upon her bosom, but more by the retainers which she lacked but seemed to expect as she left the door open behind her. My eyes and loins did then ally against my heart in violent quarrel; I was convinced that she was the fairest dove ever to grace my vision, even more so than my sole love. The lady spoke unto me, commanding that I forge a weapon most fine that she could present to her master. When I tried to ask of her what death-giver would be preferred, I could not command my voice: it was the first of my possessions she would steal away. She, however, knew that which she desired, and upon imparting the measures of a footman’s pole axe, did glide from my home to return to her high place.

It is here that the telling becomes hard, for my shame does wish to beat back my anger and send me from this chamber. But today’s victory will be mine and my family’s, not the Worm’s, whose malicious hand stirs the brine now drowning my once-loving home. Yea, the battle will be won, but perhaps not, I fear, without thine aid.

The woman returned a fortnight later seeking her order. I had finished the arm and was polishing the blue of its blade when she entered my front room. The dampness of the dusk had done no injustice to her comeliness, and her eyes seemed to shine with an inner light—a light of virtue I ignorantly surmised. The lady closed the door to the waning light outside; the furnace’s ruddy glow encompassed her as she moved to stand over me. She complimented fully my labors, all the while seeming to invite my gaze and to stoke my desire. Yes, “white” father, my desire; forgotten were the vows I shared with my once again, almost conveniently, absent wife. I found myself enraptured by the beauty’s voice, in awe of her features. Likewise did she appreciate my virtues, for she then spoke of my appeal to her. Like a boy was I upon hearing of her favor, so excited was my passion. I found myself reaching for her, and, to my surprise, she did not withdraw, but instead gave her body into my arms. My mind whirling in a gray cloud, we retired to the back room and, in my family’s bed, did commit ourselves to damning caresses.

Here can I almost see thy disapproval through the confessional screen, can feel thy righteousness swell through this soft closet’s dark air to lash me; to damn me as thou did when I first came to the poorer beginnings of this now majestic House. Ah! Do I hear a denial from thee? Yes, now thou seem, by thy protest, to recall. My voice hearkens chimes of memory from the depths of thy past. And now! Now, thou try to justify thy youthful posturing, to polish it over like an ill-forged blade. Be silent! Wait. There is more to be said and heard.

Though my mind and heart did revolt against the act to which I had fallen, my flesh could find no complaint. The lady’s touch burned with a penetrating flame; her kisses marked my skin like bites; her bites drew blood. Yet, not once in this arousing, painful deed did I cry “hold, enough!” for I was hers, I realized, from the moment I took her. Somewhere in the depths of my spirit, a fear took hold, a fear of the consequences of such an act. It brushed me like chill winds of gathering thunderheads, whispering promises of disaster. Passion’s voice was the louder, however; and I, vanquished, swore fealty to its command.

Afterwards, she slept, but my thoughts would not grant me such solace—though solace has sleep not been since that fateful evening. Sorrow beat back the now spent passion and established its rule over my humour. I bade the woman awaken and hie from my dwelling and she did so, but not without first speaking of a “bargain.” She promised her return and the value of her favor, then made off with the pole axe—and something more, I fear—into the night.

Tormented was I for the three days until my love Elryna’s return. She came home smiling, but lost the fair expression upon viewing mine. She, full of unwarranted love for me, asked of my pain. Before reason could stay my tongue with its deceptive bonds, I found myself pouring the events of that night out to her. It was then, holy man, that I came to know the value of the woman of my house. No words of condemnation or anger did come from her trembling lips, only solace, understanding, and concern. She comforted my wretched, valueless self, holding me in her arms while I spewed forth the blasphemous details of my sin.

It was at the close of my hateful tale that wrath finally found a home in Elryna’s heart. Upon hearing of the woman’s promised bargain, she immediately crossed herself, as was her recently found faith, and ordered me here to her church, thy once simple shrine. She had been told of thy Nemisis’s underhanded tactics by which man is stolen; she feared for my soul. Here do I command thee to pay the utmost regard to detail, for it was thy ears to which I tried to confess my sin, to stay the Worm’s attack.

Thou had been recently commissioned to our county to smear thy faith about the land. Thou had built a small hall of worship to which not a few of the first gods’ people had been lured. It was at my wife’s urgent behest that I, twenty winters ago, did step into thy fledgling church to confess my deed. Thou, with conceit spawned of thy swaggering youth, did usher me into a similar room as this and, separated from me as you are now, bade me ask for thy god’s forgiveness. Unfortunately, my youth found me likewise no great stranger to vainglory, and I boastfully declared that I sought no pity from thy false god, that it could offer me nothing, that I was here only to comfort my wife’s faith.

Thy pride, smitten, ordered me then out of thy booth and thy hall, damning me to thine Hell. Angered, I stormed out; I swore never to return to such a hollow hall, but to remain in the fulfilling temples of Odin All-Father and his spawn.

I could not, however, return home with the tale of such rejection, so I conjured one of forgiveness and repentance for the woman I so deeply loved. The lie fell favorably upon her ears, and we did return to a life I thought would once again be complete in its security.

Yet, four days later, the lady of the court returned to my smithy, this time bearing a royal edict. Though her presence was not welcomed, the flowery writing upon the parchment was, for it commanded me unto the Earl’s court. The lady—how I now abhor such a reference being used for her person—told of the Earl’s pleasure with my workmanship and promised great wealth for further efforts. Elryna’s gaze in my direction told me of her dislike for the woman, but the room about her and the two boys within it bespoke of the need for the offer. I found myself agreeing to the summons while within I shrank away from the harsh, but silent, disapproval of my love. The woman, with the honor and decency of a common whore, then told me that repayment for this debt would no longer be so simple, or so satisfying. She then, smiling wickedly, turned and left me, my wife, and the growing rift between us alone with our sons in the small room.

From there, my life seemed to improve greatly, despite the ill feelings of my love. The Earl, much to my honor, gave unto me the position of Master Armourer of the Court. In my first audience, he imparted his overwhelming satisfaction with my abilities, then did shower me with robes, treasures, and properties befitting my promotion. Forgotten was the home in which I had earned the new-found glory; I saw a much greater home in which to raise my boys, in which to hold close my family. Lost was the love our simpler dwelling had held, for we moved to reside within the Earl’s hall, to sit about his table. Immediately, the duties of my office consumed my time with the appetite of a giant; less and less frequently did I find occasion to play with my sons or bed my wife. The years, busily filled, slid past like quicksilver.

I spent every light hour—and many a dark one—toiling in the Earl’s smithy. I had forty underlings aiding me and following my command; I did what I could to arm the castle’s forces. My sons, coming too quickly into manhood, chose to follow such a soldier’s course. Our county was, fortunately, graced with peace during their squirehoods, and they, being gifted fighters, were knighted and given trainer’s positions long before the Bellow Downs War which consumed so many lowly troops’ lives. I had, for these several years, seen little of my fair seductress, as her “duties” kept her in the upper chambers of the keep. Not until my boys had found their seats at the Earl’s table did she return to begin collecting her horrid fees. I knew nothing of her underhanded time-passings until my son Herstorn presented her to me as his bride.

I, at first, failed to recall her face, though its image hearkened cold and painful ripples of faint memory. I remember well my befuddlement upon recognition: she had not changed, not aged a moon since our night together! I looked to my wife, who had taken leave of her constant prayers for the announcement, as was her duty. She was deathly pale, her eyes locked with the eyes of the only woman she had ever seen fit to dub “demon.” Herstorn seemed truly happy, though, and I felt little good would be done to our already loosely bound family if I were to drag the past up from its murky grave.

My son’s glad grins of joy were, however, soon to melt into grimaces of despair. A year ago, the horn of bloody conflict called him to the eastern border to suppress an unruly lord and his serf troops; and, of course, that witch could not bear the chill of a lone bed. She, with her now usual, evil scheming, chose to turn her devices upon my other son, Garret. He, as vulnerable to her spell as his frail father, slipped into the woman’s web. Herstorn’s triumphant and glorious return from battle was to his own brother bedding his wife.

Woefully, my dear wife has had her spirit broken by this echo of painful history. Her health has failed; she was stricken with a frightful fever a month ago and still battles it this very day. Further, my boys have drawn blade against one another. The demon stokes their anger purposefully and carefully; neither now calls the other “brother,” only “enemy.” Even now, I am certain they are planning their challenges, waiting for the most advantageous time to draw the gauntlet. This only further sickens my poor love. In all of this strife, I can bring no light. No words soothe the swollen passions of my sons; no comfort heals the wounds in my clan.

Now, a score of years has passed since the day that first brought all of this misery with its dawn. Now thou shalt learn why I come to thee again, why I belie my ages-old oath. Understand, holy man, that I come to make a deal, to strike a bargain, through thee, with that unsympathetic lord of thine. I step ever closer to the grave; my body is nearly crushed by the weight of the guilt I’ve been forced, by thy wrath and pride, to bear. Thou did force me away from the arms of your god to which I had, unwittingly, fled. Now, forsaken by my gods as I, ignorantly, did forsake them with my first visit here, I seek to offer my soul to your god in exchange for the healing of the bloody shreds of my family. I offer all that I am to him so that he may see it as favorable to strike the hateful woman from my twins’ minds and hearts and end the cursed fraternal battle. Without thy prayers and thy god’s sword, she will plague my life—what little there remains of it—as she has since that fated night.

And thus do I beseech thee to come to my family’s rescue, to correct thy past injustice and negotiate this divine treaty, so that those I love may be freed of the pain which is my doing. It matters not that I shall become a slave to thy god; he would, I wager, make a finer master than the Demon who now holds lordship over my spirit.

Thou sit behind thy rich veil in silence, pondering all I have said and all that I have begged. Then, with a righteous arrogance that has not matured, but swelled like aging timber with the passing of the seasons, thou say unto me, “Get thee from my confessional, heathen! The Lord makes no ‘deals’ with pagans who commit adultery with a woman of Satan! Go forth to thy damnation, succubus-lover; and may thy tainted sons soon join thee in Hell.”

And, with such admonishments rending my hope to tatters, you slam closed your screen… to hide.

Very well, false believer, false father, empty soul. If thy callous lord has no bench about his table for the wretched, then I know of another with whom I can strike my “bargain.” Thy rule book professes that he never refuses that which I offer. I shall go to my damnation; and despite thy heinous, spiteful wishes, I shall remain there alone.