Monday, 10 February 2014
Man and mule were both hot, tired and thirsty as they moved slowly through the harsh landscape of dusty scrub and dry grass sprinkled over its low undulations interspersed with dry valleys and flat topped mesas.The thorny cacti in particular repelled the man, although he was accustomed to them. They appeared to him as upthrust fingers of Satan arising from Hell, contorted into obscene gestures and writhing to grasp sinners to be dragged down to destruction. An idle thought came to him that a flower at the tip of one of these fingers was like the chalice of an unholy communion being sneeringly offered to him by the Evil One. He wondered whether such fancies were themselves delusions of the Devil, snares to divert his soul and distract his mind from holiness and duty, or whether they might be an obscure indication and warning that evil had laid a strong hand on this land and its people, and more of it was about to flower.
Much as he - and the mule - would have preferred to have been in green pastures beside cooling streams he put aside such foolish thoughts, well knowing that there would be no relief for him or his mule until they reached their next destination, which he expected to do before nightfall.Then it would be time to rest and share the simple hospitality of his hosts. He resumed telling his rosary beads as the mule continued to plod forward, both absorbed in their tasks.
It was indeed evening when the priest rode his stoical mule in the lesser heat of twilight along the more defined track which served as a street for the village at which he had arrived. A group of ragged peasants squatting outside the open door of one of the mud huts which comprised the village had silently observed his approach. "Good evening my sons" he said, making the sign of the cross as he reached them. "Can you direct me to the monastery of San Geronimo?" Their dark eyes continued to stare impassively at him until he raised his eyebrows. "Let me show you the way, Father" said one of the men as he slowly stood up.Together, peasant and mule plodded through the gathering darkness until they reached a more substantial structure a kilometre or so down another track, where they halted in front of a stout wooden door.
Thankfully the priest dismounted and stretched, stamping his feet and shaking his black robe to dislodge some of the accumulated dust. He raised his face to the sky for a moment, awed as always by the sight of the Creator's mighty handiwork strewn brilliantly across the night sky. "Thank you my son", he said, apparently including both man and mule in his gratitude, "let us see whether the the brothers will welcome weary travelers". Suiting action to words he thumped his fist energetically on the door and then tugged the rope of a bell-pull which protruded through a small hole in the wall beside the door.
Eventually the door was opened by a small elderly man in the dark habit of a monk. He glanced at his visitors; then to the priest he said, "Good evening Father. Please come in. You are most welcome to our hospitality." To the peasant he said, "Thank you Jorge. You have performed a good deed in guiding this guest to our door. Please take his mule round to the stable and make it comfortable with some water and fodder before you leave." The priest raised his hand and blessed the peasant who then led the mule away without a word.
The monk stood back and gestured for the priest to follow him. He closed the door and led the way along a dark corridor to another door at which he knocked until a voice within bade him enter. Inside they found the Abbot, a thin man in middle age, who was seated at an old wooden desk bearing a lighted candle which sufficiently illuminated the room for those near the desk to see each other clearly. He rose and greeted them, repeating the porter's welcome, before dismissing him and inviting the priest to be seated with him beside the desk.
Carefully the priest took a packet of waxed cloth from inside his robe, opened it and unfolded a document written on heavy paper adorned with florid calligraphy and bearing a large seal of blood-red wax impressed with an elaborate armorial design. "Father Abbot", he began, as he extended the document for inspection. "My name is Mendoza and I am an emissary from His Eminence Cardinal Ximenes. As you can see, this is my commission and introduction to you and the other Religious in the province. His Eminence requests that you will assist me in carrying out a task which he has assigned to me." Slowly the abbot ran his eyes over the letter, pausing to examine the ornate flourishes of the signature and the intricate elaborations of the seal thoughtfully, before lifting them to regard his visitor. "Naturally, I will be happy to assist you and His Eminence. What is it that you require?"
A week later the priest and his beast were both rested and refreshed. He had accomplished his business with the monks and had taken the opportunity to visit the village several times. He had examined their small stock of books but had found nothing of interest. It was just the usual religious works to be expected in such a place, so he had no interesting reading with which to while away his time whilst resting. He had spoken again to Jorge and to the village headman. On Sunday he had conducted Mass for the villagers in their little church, which did not have a regular priest to serve it. As he expected, attendance had been high because news of his arrival had spread and everyone wanted to see this curiosity, a visitor from afar in this remote village where new faces and events were rare and a source of wonder and excitement.He had taken the opportunity to 'spread the word', both God's and others'.
Thus he was quite unsurprised when a peasant arrived at the monastery a couple of days later bearing an invitation from Don Roberto Baltassar, the most considerable landowner in the district, and his wife Dona Maria, for him to visit and stay at their hacienda for a few days.
This journey was far less tiring than the previous one had been. Both Father Mendoza and his beast (whose name we may reveal to be Nicodemus) were reinvigorated, spruced up and looking forward to their outing. The priest was no glutton and was used to the spartan fare and physical exertion of monastic and peasant life, but he admitted that it was pleasant to occasionally be treated to the table and conversation of a gentleman. An early start had brought them, Mendoza, Nicodemus and the peasant who had been sent as guide, to the Villa Baltassar after only walking for half a day, so they were still relatively fresh and in good spirits when they reached the estate. The well watered and tended fields around the elegantly designed and well maintained villa, with beautiful avenues and groves of trees and a secluded garden full of flowering plants and resonant with the sound of fountains, was in contrast to the usual drab peasant villages and desolate scrub and semi-desert land through which the priest's travels normally took him, and all the more welcome for that.
He was greeted at the door by the major-domo who escorted him to a waiting room and went to announce his arrival to the master and mistress of the house, before returning to escort him into their presence in a drawing room where he was courteously greeted and offered the refreshment of a glass of wine and some conversation before his host and hostess withdrew and a servant showed him to his bedroom. There he could lie down and partake of a comfortable siesta after performing his ablutions in a washbasin filled with warm water accompanied by a cake of sweet smelling soap - two luxuries which peasants and monastics seldom afforded or allowed themselves. A mattress not filled with straw, and down-filled pillows with fine linen sheets were further evidence that his hostess was a lady of wealth and refinement.
That evening, pleasantly refreshed, he dined with his hosts and their other guests from the local gentry.The roast beef they were served was succulent and a welcome change from the almost entirely vegetarian diet of his recent travels, as was the selection of wines which accompanied it. His interest in local history had been gratified by the conversation of his host and the other guests, who in turn had eagerly received such sketchy and outdated news of the wider world and its important people as his membership of the retinue of His Eminence had granted him before he had left the capital several months ago. It turned out that Dona Maria had a cousin who was related by marriage to the family of one of the Canons there, so she knew something of society in the provincial capital and they had several acquaintances in common. He had not known of this in advance, but had been fairly confident that something of the sort would emerge once his presence in the district had become known to some of the local gentry and he had been invited to meet them. It usually did. His host and the other gentlemen had entertained him with old tales about the valour and piety of their ancestors and how they had obtained and settled their lands and the subsequent squabbles which made up local politics. Don Roberto's great-great grandfather had actually served the legendary Don Arturo,leader of the Reconquista, and had been granted a wide estate by him. His descendants' prowess, shrewdness and political agility had enabled them to hang on to most of it.
The morning after the night before Father Mendoza and the rest of the household arose late and somewhat hungover. He spent the afternoon comfortably ensconced in his host's library, browsing through his collection of books. It was much as he had expected of a member of the provincial lesser nobility; outdated works of fiction which had been popular in his youth, or that of his father, a few of the classics probably left over from schooldays, an atlas and a popular encyclopaedia, manuals of estate management, first aid, civil law, heraldry, political and military histories and biographies, collections of old magazines. There were also some books on technical matters, with diagrams, probably intended for the training of artisans serving the family. The small shelf of hagiographies and manuals of devotion most likely belonged to Dona Maria. There was nothing of much interest or particular relevance to his quest, but he spent a pleasant afternoon browsing and dozing, awaking refreshed and ready for more serious conversation with his host after dinner.
The Old City
The next day he made some notes of the stories which his host and his fellow guests had told him. Don Roberto was pleased by the priest's interest in his family and in local history and offered to show him some places of interest on his estate. He was well spoken and reasonably well born, with the manners of a gentleman and connections to high ecclesiastical authority, and his visit allowed a diversion in the somewhat monotonous social routine of country life; so the Don was pleased to entertain him for a few days and to gratify as far as he could his interest in old books and antiquities. The priest on his mule accompanied Don Roberto and several of his men on horseback. As the Don talked and pointed out places of interest Mendoza felt his pride and love of this harsh landscape made and kept fertile and beautiful in places by the unremitting efforts of men.They passed through several villages where the peasants bowed respectfully to the Don, who greeted them affably, enquiring after their families and their concerns. In one they dismounted to accept the offer of mugs of locally brewed beer from the headman. The priest well knew that at best these villagers would be barely literate and would be most unlikely to possess any books either old or new. They might however have an interesting legend or folktale to tell, so he asked the headman whether there were any interesting stories connected with this place. His persistence was rewarded when after telling a couple of ghost stories, the headman became more thoughtful and said, "Of course Father, there's also the ruins of the old city. We don't like to go there. Some people think that the ghosts live there. Certainly only ghouls or bandits or slaves would be willing to live there." The priest glanced enquiringly at Don Roberto, who laughed and said, "Its not far off our route home. We can visit there on our way back, to satisfy your curiosity. There's really not much there. Just some old walls, broken down houses and faint outlines from the Old Times. If we leave now you can see it before dusk. What he says is true though - the peasants won't go near it, although there's a few slaves who hang around it." Don Roberto and Father Mendoza thanked the headman for his hospitality, and after Mendoza had given the villagers a blessing, the party rode away.
Shadows were lengthening when the party came around a hill and beheld the ruins of the 'Old City'. As the Don had intimated, these were not impressive. Amidst the scrub there were the low ruined concrete walls of a few buildings which had fallen into dilapidation or been destroyed long ago. There were scorch marks on some and the broken remnants of roof tiles and rafters, perhaps scavenged for firewood at some time. Bushes and grass and cacti were growing through rents in the paving of what had been streets. A rectilinear grid pattern was hinted at in the orientation of these remains of urban existence, but already it was so overgrown, broken down and covered by drifting dirt that in a few more years it would be difficult to tell that the hand of man had ever been active there, except perhaps in breaking some of the jagged and flat sided boulders now littering the site of what once had been buildings. Anything of use had long since been scavenged.
They drifted slowly and silently through this desolation for a few minutes until the Don noticed a patch of corn and other crops growing adjacent to one of the more prominent ruins. As they approached it became evident that this was a small kitchen garden, presumably watered by a well and tended by one or more of those elusive 'ghouls bandits or slaves'. The priest noticed that there were also some exotic garden plants and bushes as if someone was trying to maintain a humble imitation on a tiny scale of the Don's magnificent estate, perhaps using plants stolen from there.
As they drew closer one of the horses snorted. Startled, a man dressed in rags who had been on his knees among the plants using a broken piece of concrete to scrape at the earth around them, jumped up and stared at them before dropping the shard as he fled. At a flick of the Don's head two of his horsemen immediately flowed into graceful pursuit, their horses trampling a path through the crops as the riders unleashed lassos. With the easy skill of long practice they dropped both nooses over the shoulders of the running man, pulled him to the ground and dragged him to lie, bruised, battered, bleeding and even more disheveled at the feet of the Don."So Abel, we meet again" he said to the figure at his feet. Then to Father Mendoza, "We call him Abel. I've had to have him flogged occasionally for petty theft or drunk and disorderly conduct, but he's not really dangerous, else he'd have been dead long since. He's a bit simple but sometimes useful when there's extra work to be done. He claims that this was the property and home of his ancestors. Well, its mine now, but I let him stay here. You can question him, although I doubt that he'll be able to tell you anything of interest."
Suddenly appallingly aware that this misuse of a biblical name and theme might appear blasphemous to the churchman, or could even be taken to imply criticism and subversion of the social order of which they were both pillars, he glanced sharply at him. Father Mendoza however appeared not to have noticed. He was gazing intently at the bound figure in the dust before them, held firmly there by the counterpoised pull of the two ropes. Before the man had dropped his head he had glanced at the priest, who had immediately been struck by the intense gaze of those strange pale blue eyes in the sharp featured face topped by a mop of yellowish-brown hair. Most unusual. "He does look strange, doesn't he?" said the Don. "Under the grime and sunburn I think he's quite pale skinned. There's not many of them left, but very occasionally one sees a slave with even fairer or actually reddish hair. They're dying out now, but my father remembered when great nobles would maintain groups of tall fair haired and blue eyed slaves as footmen because they looked so exotic." To the slave at his feet he said in a kindly tone, "Come round to the back gate tomorrow afternoon and I'll see that the housekeeper sets out some food and old clothes for you Abel." The figure dropped his head still further and muttered his thanks. "You can speak to him Father, he understands well enough."
"Look at me Abel!" said the priest. The man raised his head and again Mendoza was struck by the gaze of those strange eyes. "Do you know anything about the Old Times?" he asked." Are there any stories or relics of this place?" Both the priest and the Don noticed the man's furtive glance towards the ruin before he dropped his head again and muttered, "No sir."
Don Roberto extended his hand towards the ruin and said sarcastically "Wouldn't you like to visit the home of one of the former lords of this land? I'm sure Abel will be most hospitable." Whilst the two horsemen continued to hold Abel immobile in the dust the rest of the party dismounted and picked their way to the entrance of the hovel. There was of course no door, but the wreckage above constituted a roof over what had been a ground floor room of the old house. There was also a window space from which any original glazing and metal or wooden frame had vanished long ago, so the place was adequately lit. In one corner was a heap of rags and brush which appeared to be a bed. Under the window was an arrangement of rubble with a flat piece forming a tabletop.On this lay a few cracked and chipped utensils which had obviously been discarded from the Don's house. An old jug contained a little water and there were a few crusts of dried bread on a broken plate. Otherwise the place was bare - except for a small heap of rubble in another corner. This seemed a little out of place as that corner had not collapsed and the rest of the floor had been kept free of obstructions. Idly the priest went over to it and used his foot to move some of the rubble aside. Underneath he saw something strange, a piece of old rag in which something appeared to have been wrapped. Squatting down the priest picked this up and unwrapped it. As Don Roberto and his men moved closer to see what the priest had found, there was the sound of a prolonged howl from Abel and of curses from the horsemen as they moved to suppress his attempt to writhe and rise to his feet.
Ignoring this, the men in the room gazed fascinated at what the priest had found. Too surprised to speak they stared at what lay in the hands of the priest. It was something none of them had ever seen, but it was immediately recognisable to at least the priest and the Don. It was an old magazine, a genuine relic of the Old Times! Astonishment of several kinds gripped them all. First, that anything of this sort had survived at all. Second, that it had survived for at least two centuries and perhaps longer. Third, that it had survived in such conditions. Fourth, that it was in the possession of a slave. Fifth, to the horsemen, that a mere slave might have a possession and an ability that was beyond them. Sixth, to the Don, that this slave might be literate in a language of which he himself was ignorant. Seventh, to the priest, (who was immediately reminded of his hallucination of being offered a poisoned chalice in the form of the diabolical cactus flower, of beauty and wonder and knowledge and immense achievement combined with corruption,and perversity and horror and outrageous arrogance), that this object might be very dangerous to his soul and those of many others.
"Open it Father" said Don Roberto, and gestured to one of his men to make room on the tabletop. Slowly the dazed priest laid it there and delicately started to turn the pages.It was in far from pristine condition, stained and a bit crumpled and the pages were fragile and coming apart, but the text was still legible and the colours distinct in the numerous photographs - more lifelike depictions of strange objects and situations than any of them had ever seen, - and as the priest slowly turned the pages, the assembled men saw 'wonderful things'.
As the priest closed the final page Don Roberto turned to one of his men, whose dress appeared cleanest, and to the man's bewilderment, told him to take off his shirt. The Don apologised for the inconvenience and promised him a better shirt of his own in compensation. It was necessary to have something clean in which to protect and carry home this very precious object and he would be honoured by association with it. They emerged slowly through the doorway like a procession, led by Father Mendoza bearing their carefully wrapped find in his outstretched hands as if carrying a holy object or even a holy child. Abel slumped with his face in the dust when he saw them and his guards stared in curiosity at what had kept them for so long in the hovel of this slave and wondered what they could possibly have found that would be of the slightest interest or value.
Mendoza's heart and mind were in tumult. Bizarre, incongruous, conflicting and even blasphemous images ideas and comparisons tumbled through him.He saw himself as if at some counterpart of the Holy Birth, carrying this unholy child in swaddling clothes from its manger in the lair of beasts and slaves. He saw in front of him a tableau of three unwise men, not bearing gifts, unless the awe and curiosity of everyone present counted as some sort of gift in the order of myrrh and frankincense and gold. The ranch hands approximated to shepherds. Momentarily the twigs in front of Abel's head appeared as a crown of thorns whilst his wrecked garden was behind him. The priest knew that the route from Abel's Gethsemane to his Calvary would not be long. Alarmingly he had a feeling that Don Roberto and himself might qualify as two thieves to be crucified alongside Abel.
As they reached the horses Don Roberto explained to his waiting men that they had found a very rare and fragile object from the Old Times which must be treated gently and carried back to the ranch. Curtly he ordered them to bring Abel along with them and to be sure that he arrived in a fit state to answer questions. He held the object whilst the priest mounted his mule, then handed it up to him to hold with both hands whilst the shirtless horsemen took hold of the reins to guide him. With the Don on the other side to help steady him if necessary, they proceeded slowly homewards.
The Holy or Unholy Book
Huge excitement was felt throughout the district in the following days as news of the amazing discovery reverberated throughout the villages and estates. People flocked to see it or talk to those who had seen it. Tales about it spread rapidly, and lost nothing in the telling. Ladies and gentlemen were allowed into the house to see it as it lay in state on a table in one of Don Roberto's waiting rooms, under constant armed guard. No one but the priest was allowed to touch it, but once a day he would approach and slowly turn the delicate pages under the awed gaze of the assembled gentry. At other times, to prevent the peasantry from becoming too clamorous, they were allowed to file slowly past it when its table had been carefully borne outside and placed on a veranda under additional guard. Many of them genuflected or crossed themselves as they passed the magic book, muttering prayers.
Abel had not lasted long under interrogation. He denied knowing of any other ancient objects. He claimed that this had been his only heritage from the past, handed down from those he thought to have been his ancestors. It had always been associated with the old house, so far as he knew. He had no descendants and only remote relatives among the other slaves. So far as he knew, no one else had known anything about it. It had been kept buried as it had been found, to protect it from animals and thieves who would destroy it. He had only a rudimentary knowledge of the language, gained from his parents but never used with the other slaves; although he thought that previous generations of slaves had spoken it. He had even less understanding of the pictures and of the situations and society which they portrayed and could not make much sense of what the articles meant. He had only the vaguest conception of who these people had been or what they had done, but he was convinced that they were his ancestors and that they had been greater and more powerful than those living nowadays. He had found solace in his hard life from making his little garden on what he considered to have been his ancestral property, and had experienced the same awe and wonder that the public now felt, from just holding and occasionally looking through this last literary fragment of his cultural inheritance. He had not thought of telling any of the other slaves about it, and assumed that after his death, it, like the house, would just continue to crumble away.That at least is how Father Mendoza and Don Roberto understood him.They had not meant to kill him; that just happened as a result of Don Roberto's men applying more enthusiasm than skill in their efforts to beat additional information out of him. By Don Roberto's orders he was buried quietly in his little garden, with as headstone a piece of the rubble from the house upon which a mason carved his name, ABEL. Neglected, the garden soon died also.
Enthusiastic but random searches for further antiquities were conducted by Don Roberto's neighbours, and by the peasants. Nothing that came to public notice was ever found.The Don believed Abel, but ordered cursory checks in and around the other ruins of the Old City, just to make sure.Throughout the area slaves were seized, beaten and tortured in greedy searches for any potentially valuable object or knowledge of antiquity which they might have retained. The results were nugatory, except for inflaming quarrels with owners whose slaves had been beaten or killed by others.
The Don and the priest had expected that the discovery would be a nine day's wonder and that life in the district would soon resume its slow pace and even tenor. They were mistaken.
The gentry were impressed by the find. They were amazed by the intensely realistic depictions of an entirely different way of life, repugnant as much of it may have been. They were awed by the seemingly impossible pictures of natural phenomena.They were astounded by the obvious and casual revelation of wealth and power apparently commonplace among the vulgar.They were puzzled by the proliferation of strange mechanisms whose functions and means of operation were opaque. The more intellectual of them understood that the language was probably an antiquated version of English; but English, ancient or modern, was of no relevance and little interest in the modern world, and none of them knew of any scholars who might be able to translate the writing. Those who prided themselves on their liberality and open mindedness became curious about what life had been like in this ancient society from a lost world suddenly revealed though long rumoured, like Atlantis risen from the waves, and how its power had been founded and maintained. They considered that such topics might be worth serious study if more finds, and more funds to find and study them, could be made available. Those of a sentimental disposition, usually ladies with insufficient to occupy their attention, and an inclination to form earnest committees where they could give give high minded speeches to each other, as well as offering practical charity to the poor,- began to wonder whether the slaves, (a breed dying on the margins of existence and interest) might have more to them than the usually unattractive appearance that met the eye. They wondered whether their social condition, manners and morals could and should be ameliorated by reform associations to be organised by themselves, who would thus have further exciting opportunities to lobby, fund-raise and harangue and to feel good about all the good they were doing to others. The more conservative and religiously inclined doubted the effectiveness or necessity of such efforts. They were repelled by rather than attracted to these descriptions or depictions of an alien people and their disgusting ways. They considered that absorption in them would be more productive of sin and error than of grace. Such ancient artifacts were clearly snares of the Devil and it was fortunate that the Church in its wisdom had long since prohibited and destroyed such things. This one should obviously be taken away by the Church; perhaps to be studied by men of wisdom if they could thereby learn to better guard against the wiles of the Devil and his deceitful tricks, and certainly to remove it far from any chance to disturb their peace, pollute their land and contaminate the souls of those exposed to its evil radiations. The initial excitement began to turn to bickering. The less polite among those least friendly to Don Roberto began to suppose, and even to hint, that it should be burned - along with those who had exposed it. Don Roberto began to weary of the matter and of his neighbours.
The reaction of the peasantry was much stronger and more emotional. Among them excitement turned into hysteria. Something long buried but not quite dead seemed to have come to life in their emotional and superstitious nature. They were fascinated by the discovery of a 'magic book' and convinced that it contained great secrets of sorcerous power,- as obviously it must- since it pertained to the fabulous and sinister Old Times. They were in any case hag-ridden by fears of ghosts and suspicious that each man's, and more particularly each woman's, neighbour, was a sorcerer devoted to the service of the Devil and cunning in afflicting their good neighbours -i.e. themselves - with illness, loss, crop failures, child death and animal disease, and indeed mishap of every kind. The appearance of the 'magic book' from the earth of the accursed Old City or City of the even-more-accursed Old Ones, the feared but fabled Gringos, whose evil had resulted in their destruction and the reduction of their descendants to the status of despised and miserable slaves, had a powerful impact on them. It seemed an awesome portent of some inscrutable power for evil or good. The fact that was written in an unknown tongue, supposedly that of the Gringos of old, added greatly to its power and prestige. Some of them had a nodding acquaintance with written Spanish, the language of the books owned by some of their superiors and of the religious texts of their priests. That the language of the Gringos was as much a mystery to their religious and secular superiors as it was to themselves added to the imagined potency of the magic book. Furthermore, according to the tales told by those who had seen it, the magic book did not deal with religious matters; instead it seemed devoted to sensuous pleasure and how to obtain much more of every variety of pleasure and desire. Knowledge of how to obtain such things had surely been the property of very powerful sorcerers. It must have been their influence which had kept this knowledge safely concealed for so long in the earth of the Forbidden City. Perhaps the influence of these dead sorcerers was ending, just as the number of their descendants was dwindling away, and that was why the magic book had now made its appearance among them. Perhaps Abel had been the last degenerate scion of their line and since his death the power of the book might have been freed to seek new masters - or servants! Was this a sign that it wished its power to again be known and put to use, and that some of them might prove worthy to attain it, or on a more modest level, just to share in its beneficence? Their ordinary lives became subordinated to this new concern.
The book began to appear in the dreams of some of them, offering vital but indecipherable advice and instruction, warnings of hellfire or promises of spells which would control this very hellfire and place the chief demons under their personal command. Other rumours flew about it. Soon it was being said that prayer to the magic book had cured illness and disease, and the sick and infirm began to make their way to Don Roberto's house begging for a chance to see and even to touch what had quickly transformed itself in the popular mind from a 'magic book' to a 'holy book'. Already sects and dissensions were appearing amongst those who believed in its power. There were those who accepted its power but believed this to be derived from evil sources; in bitter dispute with the more optimistic who expected that it would lead them to long life, wealth, power and happiness and place them on a par with the favoured ones of the Old Times, if not in this life, then in another.
Crowds besieged the Villa Baltassar and became a nuisance to the conduct of its normal life and business. Don Roberto's men could push them back, but they always returned, and he was no longer confident in the loyalty of all his men. The crowds and the lurid stories soon attracted further pests. Entertainers, jugglers, pick-pockets, tumblers and touts, all manner of loud voiced carnival barkers, liars, hucksters and thieves came to infest the area along with the literal dung flies as the crowds turned the vicinity of his house into a dung-heap and cesspit. Crowds in search of water and sustenance invaded and trampled his garden and committed depredations on his crops and livestock. He and his family were outraged but could do little whilst the hysteria lasted. Don Roberto was not a patient man. He was used to being obeyed and treated with the utmost respect by the common people, and not slow to apply physical chastisement when he deemed it necessary. In normal times legally and practically his word was pretty much the first and last word on all matters in the district, particularly in relation to his people and on his property. The time was no longer normal. He knew that if he pushed the crowd it could easily turn into an enraged mob which would storm his house, killing himself and his family and servants and such of his men as remained loyal, before looting and destroying everything in sight. God or the Devil knew what they might do after that, particularly if the 'Holy Book', which he now regretted ever having had anything to do with, remained in existence and in the possession of some rabble-rouser. The mob might ignite a fire of religious excitement which could consume the whole country.Already some of his servants had slipped away, anticipating disaster.
He knew that this situation had to be calmed quickly, probably by the departure of the 'Unholy Book' as he now thought of it. When their excitement deflated to disappointment and boredom the people would drift back to their normal ways. If they did not, he knew that he would be in fatal trouble. Already, peasants and servants from his neighbour's estates had slipped away to join the excited rabble around his house, adding to the emotion and chaos of eschatological expectation, which must soon boil over or be snuffed out. God forbid that it should be dispersed into further regions by mobs of excited peasants driven to madness by religious fear or enthusiasm. The life of the district was being disturbed, normal work was no longer being done, and he knew whom his neighbours would blame for their losses. Reports and rumours would be spreading to other areas and would soon come to the attention of higher authority. He well knew whom they would blame for disturbances in his area. He understood the sneers that would be circulating, 'a nobleman who cannot even obtain the normal respect due to his rank is surely no nobleman!' 'If he cannot maintain order and tranquility in his district he is surely unworthy of his estates and position, and someone more worthy should have them'. 'A nobleman who causes expense and inconvenience to the state and to his neighbours because he fails to control the disorders of the common people is a liability not an asset of the body politic, and should be eliminated before his example infects others.' The Church would also be displeased, and that was not a displeasure which could be lightly borne.
If his physical life survived the mob, but the disturbances spread much further his social economic and political lives would be threatened by his peers and superiors. Not far behind them the Church would be waiting for his soul. His detractors and political rivals would see that he and his family would lose everything. Anything of him that evaded the Mob and survived the State would be condemned by the Church. He was in a very dangerous position, worse than being only between the Devil and the deep blue sea.
The priest was even more alarmed, for the souls as well as the bodies of everyone involved. The theological implications of these developments appalled him. He felt responsible, and knew that the Church would hold him responsible, for unleashing a pack of heresies to endanger the souls of very many people. He foresaw that he would be condemned as a heresiarch and probably burnt, if the mob didn't do it before he fell under the condemnation of the Church. He was surprised at the speed of developments. These people had not had more than a glimpse of the magazine. They had not even seen its contents before they fell into the clutches of error, and errors moreover which were not even those stated in the text so far as he had been able to guess at the contents.This in itself was suggestive of an immense power to cause evil. He continued to be tormented by imaginations, visions or hallucinations which he believed were sent by the Devil. In one he became, or was forced by the mob to become, the Priest of the Book, being borne across the country as leader or prisoner of the dionysiac rout, preaching a mad collection of vile heresies to the mob as it laid waste to towns and villages, plantations and estates, robbing, burning, raping and looting as an ever swelling horde, until disease, dissension, starvation and finally an army of nobles and professional soldiers put an end to their existence, and his own. A variant of this was that the mob succeeded in overwhelming or converting the entire country and he became hailed as the founder of a new religion which would be spread across the whole world by his successors. In another he was martyred by the mob and managed to become both martyr and heresiarch and also to end in hell burning for eternity. None of his imaginings contained any hint of salvation, although he now spent all his waking hours in heartfelt grief and prayer, for everyone around him including the mob and all those unknown to him who would be affected by these terrible occurrences, as well as for his own soul.
The Don saw that day by day the crowd was becoming more organised and more aware of itself as a powerful entity. Already they had regular speakers or leaders and through them had demanded that each day he and the priest would appear on a balcony bearing the 'Holy Book' and hold it up before them for their veneration, and as assurance that it was still there. He expected that tomorrow they would demand possession of the object and keep it under their own guard. He must act that very night. Dona Maria secretly sewed a bag to contain the magazine, which the priest could wear around his neck and under his robe. There was no difficulty in taking it because the Don no longer had sufficient loyal men to guard it at night. Nicodemus was well rested, fed and watered, ready for another long journey. As most of the people in and around the Villa Baltassar slept that night, the Don, disguised in peasant garb, led Father Mendoza and his mule quietly away from the back of the villa, choosing the route that was likely to be least frequented through the estate and its environs.The Don had supplied Father Mendoza with food and water as well as cash and advice on a route to take him away from the area whilst avoiding attention. They parted with whispered good wishes from the Don and an unstated but heartfelt wish that he would never again see either the priest or his 'Unholy Book'. Silently and stealthily Mendoza and Nicodemus faded into the hills and Don Roberto returned to his back gate where Dona Maria was waiting to admit him.
The next afternoon, just before he expected the delegation from the crowd to arrive, the Don appeared on his balcony wearing his most sober black clothes. He appeared to have been weeping, and continued to raise his anguished face and his imploring hands to the heavens, uttering mingled cries of sorrow and joy. He faced the gathering crowd with his arms outspread and cried, "Attend me closely my people! Draw closer so that you may hear. I have great and miraculous news for you. It is both a sorrow and a joy." He broke off for a while as more and more people came to join the swelling crowd, whilst he continued to show signs of the most intense and mixed emotions.As the crowd thickened and grew still he resumed his speech. " In recent days we have been blessed by a miraculous occurrence, the appearance of the Holy Book among us. But, as you know, miraculous events may not last for long, lest people become used to them and forget their holiness. Our Lord Himself was only on earth for a few years, and the people who lived to see Him were specially blessed. We have been specially blessed by the appearance of the Holy Book among us, but like Our Lord it can only be here for a short time." Murmurs started. "Where is the Book? Show us the Holy Book!" Don Roberto raised a hand imperiously and the crowd fell silent."Listen well, my people. Let me tell you what has happened. Jesus could only stay for a few years and He was far more holy than the Book, which could only stay with us for a short time. That time has already passed." He raised his arms again as a louder clamour of sighs, groans, queries and demands arose. "The Book has gone!" Over the immediate hubbub he shouted "That is the sorrow for which I weep and join you in weeping. Now let me tell you about the joy." Curiosity vied with sorrow, surprize, anger and suspicion in the faces and voices of the crowd. Again he gestured for silence."At dawn, as the priest and I were kneeling in prayer before the Holy Book, an angel of The Lord in glorious robes of light appeared behind the table. As we trembled before him and marveled, he said 'Peace be upon you, and upon all the people of the Book. The time of this book has passed. It must now depart.Weep, but not too much. The priest shall go with the book to be instructed in its wisdom and to impart it to others when it may be time for the book to appear to other people far from here.You Don Roberto must remain here to tell the people what has happened and to ease their sorrow. Tell them that they have been specially blessed and will not be forgotten, although they shall not see the book again. They were accounted worthy to have been the first to see it for many years. Let this experience lead them to behave with increased piety and additional charitable good works'". The people were silent, absorbed in his story of the angel. He drew renewed breath and continued boldly," The Holy Angel then told me that part of the reason for the appearance before us of the Holy Book was to bless the Old City and to thus remove the curse that had lain upon it for so long. No longer should you fear it as a haunt of ghosts. Instead, it has been sanctified. Let the hovel of Abel, where the Holy Book was found be made into a shrine for the book. Let those who treasure its memory visit the shrine regularly and pray there." Here the Don paused again, glad to see that the people were silent, most of them happily approving his story of the angel and its good news, already adjusting to the loss of the book. He raised his arms again and said, "My people, this is indeed good news. Now let me claim the honour of being the first among you to perform a charitable deed for the sake of the Holy Book. I will raise the Shrine of the Holy Book on behalf of us all and bestow a suitable memorial. I will also request the good brothers of San Geronimo to bless and consecrate the site. You may feel safe in going to pray there." Some of the people, although silent were eying him strangely, yet most of the crowd seemed happy. He felt that he had negotiated the tricky corners and was well into the home straight, so he drew another deep breath and made a dash for the finishing line."As the Angel finished speaking it became even more brilliant so that its light covered the Holy Book and the priest and I could no longer see them. I fell into a swoon, and when I awoke the Angel and the Holy Book and the priest had all vanished. That is the news which I have for you. It is sorrowful and also joyful and most wonderful." A final inspiration came to him and he grasped it as a means of sending the crowd home happy. "Before we part to resume our normal lives and to pray over these Holy things that have been revealed to us, let me also announce a pious deed as the Angel commanded. In this we can all share. I declare that each year on the anniversary of this day there shall be a procession to the Shrine of the Holy Book, where additional prayers and offerings may be made." That seemed to please them, right enough. It would also disperse them for a year."Now let us depart in peace, giving praise and thanks to the Lord and all the saints, and to the Holy Book." He bowed his head as if in prayer as the crowd slowly dispersed. "Thank you Lord" he whispered sincerely as he saw the people drift away to resume their normal lives, "I think that you really saved me there."
One morning, some two years after these events had passed, a small sleek haired man wearing spectacles and sober clerical garb, sat alone in a cool room, at a highly polished desk, looking out over an extensive vista of gardens and trees ending in a view of hillsides which in the right light could appear purple. This of course was His Eminence Cardinal Xavier Ximenes, known familiarly as Doublecross, not, we must hasten to add, because he was of a notably treacherous disposition, but because he liked to joke that as a Prince of the Church he bore the weight of both sacred and secular concerns and it was reflected in the initials with which he annotated documents.
As his fingers slowly played with his prized family heirloom of an antique fountain pen, so much more impressive than the goose feather quills used by his secretaries and other scriveners, his mind and gaze turned from the view over his palatial gardens where his servants toiled amid the splashing and tinkling of carefully contrived fountains, to the three documents in front of him. One was the notorious ancient magazine or 'Unholy Book'. The second was as detailed an analysis and commentary upon it as the troubled Father Mendoza had been able to compile. The third was his own note on the matter. He had determined that all three should be kept together in a locked leather briefcase in a secret archive, and he hoped that none of them would again see the light of day until long after he and all those involved were dead, if ever. He could have destroyed the magazine as almost every other remnant of this remote past had been destroyed, but had decided not to do so for a variety of reasons.
The Cardinal accepted responsibility for what had happened. He it was, after all, who had sent Father Mendoza on his mission. Obviously he had not expected anything of this sort to have happened, and he was relieved that it had not turned out worse. This had been one of many regular journeys of visitation on which he had sent Mendoza and other priests to maintain contact with remote monasteries and parishes, in order to check tendencies to slackness or incipient heresy. They also provided means to maintain social contact and discreet religious surveillance of the provincial gentry and their administration of the peasantry. He had a personal interest in history and antiquities and he took the opportunity of these visits to have his priests seek out any tales or artifacts which might gratify it. He was an amateur historian who occasionally enjoyed writing about the past, more for himself and a few friends than for any wider public. He had a small collection of antiquities scavenged by such means, including some stone arrowheads and curious fossils, together with a few small remnants of the Old Times, being fragments of obviously manufactured objects of unknown purpose and means of construction. His most surprizing object of this type was a smooth white vessel without handles or ornamentation, made of that cool and slickly surfaced material known to the ancients as 'plastic', although indeed it was not malleable. He attributed it to the Ancient American Plastic Beaker People and it was prominently displayed with such a label in his cabinet of curiosities.
All these objects, especially those that were man-made, exerted a certain fascination. Men of intellect and culture wondered briefly about the circumstances of their creation and use, how and why they had been made and what they might reveal about the attitudes and ways of life of the long dead people who had produced them.The Unholy Book was of an entirely different order of fascination and danger. It was a portal into the minds and souls of those departed people, and posed immense risks for those whose intellectual arrogance and curiosity or whose emotional and sensual desires led them through it. The Cardinal well understood why the Church had destroyed the writings of the ancient Maya, as indeed they had destroyed nearly all the writings and culture of the much more attractive Greeks and Romans and Egyptians, and also why very much later, scattered remnants had been of such interest to men of discernment, including many Princes of the Church, and in spiritually,intellectually, and emotionally diluted form, had acted as a beneficial stimulant on their societies. The ancient Americans had gone into the same darkness, but in distant times after a millennium or several had passed - the Church was patient - similar scattered remnants might have a beneficial purpose, but that time would be long after his own.
His mind turned to the strange influence which the Unholy Book appeared to have had on his priest. The poor man had endured a hellish journey following his hasty departure from the Villa Baltassar. He was in a mentally and spiritually disturbed state and had fallen into delirium, soon losing his way and wandering in the desert, if not for the biblical forty days and forty nights, at least for an extended period. He was beset by intense visions or hallucinations, in which he was convinced that the Devil haunted and taunted, tempted and tainted him. It was about the Unholy Book of course. The visions of power and perversion were more intense than they had been. He was not strong enough to simply be able to dismiss him and say, "Get thee behind me, Satan." In his confused state he sometimes felt there was also a female figure who called herself the Soul of America, who both tormented and comforted him, seeming to express the best and worst capacities of that ancient people and who pleaded with him to be allowed to continue influencing people in the present. He would gladly have laid down his burden or destroyed it, but he knew that it was his duty to endure this test and to bear the Unholy Book back to the Cardinal, and he would not fail in his duty whilst he still had any life and strength. It was the instinct and endurance of the beast which saved him, bearing him at last out of the desert, far from their starting point, when they were both almost dead of thirst. Fortunately, the people who found them were strangers who had heard nothing about the events we have described. As Good Samaritans they tended man and mule and guided them by easy stages back to Santa Fe, but the Father Mendoza who returned was not the same man who had left. His experiences had changed him, and it showed in his face and manner.He had gone through the fire, his mettle had been tested, much that was inessential had been burned away. What was left had the ring of steel.He was grave but calm and respectful when he had made his initial report to the Cardinal, and appeared almost recovered. He had handed over his charge without sign of relief, as if he had withstood the worst it could do and he no longer feared it or much cared whether or not he had to carry it any longer.
His Eminence had been alarmed and impressed. He was alarmed at how easily the danger of a spiritual and social calamity had arisen. At that time he had not heard of what Don Roberto had said to the peasants about the disappearance of the 'Holy Book', but the very fact that there had been no rumours or reports of social upheaval suggested that the wily Don had probably defused the problem. He was concerned for the spiritual and physical well being of Father Mendoza, but he was very impressed by his fortitude and spiritual stamina. It had dawned on him that he might be dealing with a potential saint. Truth to tell, these were not very common in the Church. They were not comfortable to have around, and it would be difficult to have one reporting to him. He accepted that if Mendoza became a saint, all those around him would be seen only as incidental to his life and judged as having helped or hindered him. He knew that he lacked the spiritual depth and power of this man, and he prayed that he himself would never be put to such a test. He knew that he himself was better equipped in some ways to deal with this object, and he was glad that the priest had brought it to him. Nonetheless, he instructed him to examine it thoroughly and to write a report about his findings. It would serve not only as an intellectual and theological review, but also show whether the priest had fully mastered the power which it initially had had over him, and help him to complete his recovery.
The priest had calmly accepted and completed this task.The Cardinal and such scholars as he had been able to find, had helped Father Mendoza to improve his knowledge of Ancient English and had been delighted to have an additional text in this archaic tongue. For scholarly and theological reasons they had accepted his right to be the first to study it in depth. They had accepted the need for secrecy which the Cardinal, using the authority of the Church, had urged upon them, so he felt fairly certain that no rumours would be spread from those sources, at least in his lifetime.
He had discussed his report and examined the magazine several times in the company of Father Mendoza, as well as independently, and had compiled his own report which he had not discussed with anyone. Superficially the 'Unholy Book' was just a commonplace object of little importance in its original context. It was just a popular news magazine. Small magazines of a not altogether dissimilar nature had still sporadically appeared in his father's and grandfather's time, although their circulation had been restricted to intellectual, artistic and religious or political groups amongst the gentry and the clergy.This magazine however was much more impressive in several ways. It consisted of far more pages and may have been published as frequently as weekly. It's content seemed aimed at an uneducated audience, more for entertainment than for instruction or to encourage thought or devotion. Amazingly, it seemed to assume widespread basic literacy amongst the common people, and even more amazingly that they had the wealth and interest to spend on such a thing and were allowed to do so. It's topics seemed, well, 'topical', but pertained to the whole globe as if such news and such publications were collected and distributed very rapidly widely and cheaply.Its paper was glossy and it contained much that was vividly coloured. Perhaps its most impressive feature was the large number of beautifully detailed and realistically coloured pictures which it contained, as if viewers were actually looking at the people places and objects right in front of them, rather than seeing paintings of them. Quite obviously it would have been very difficult to make so many drawings so rapidly and distribute them so cheaply. He understood that the technology of printing had survived from ancient times but the quality of production of this trivial ancient object far exceeded anything more recent that he had ever seen. The pictures must be specimens of the lost art of photography. He had felt awe at the casual power and intricate skills deployed to make and distribute vast numbers of things of such charming appearances but such sinister purposes. He did not doubt to whom the power and the skills, the appearances and the purposes belonged. Images could mediate spiritual power. That after all was the purpose of art, to lead to the spiritual via the senses.The images of the saints in churches had always been regarded as a means of instructing and uplifting the ignorant and sinful, although there was the danger that they might themselves be taken too literally and become objects of worship. Here, he was convinced, he was seeing a Devil's picture book where the images were enticements to idolatry, seductions to glorify the senses rather than inspirations to put them to noble uses. It was not entirely bad. The pictures of Nature and of people could in themselves lead to awe and appreciation of the might and majesty of the Creator, but here they seemed to be used to glorify human pride; Pride, the sin of Lucifer which had led to his downfall. In some ways, the impression of the society of these ancient people was that, in line with the Parable of the Talents, they had indeed striven to increase and make full use of their God-given talents, which was admirable; although disturbing in that it implied many such ways were no longer available, or that he and his people were slothfully, like the Foolish Virgins, failing to make good use of their capacities and apply them to the service of Our Lord. However the main objects this publication seemed to serve were human lusts and Titanic pride. Good in the service of Evil became debased, a means of misguiding the unwary.
It would have been a matter of idle historical curiosity to have known the date of the magazine. That part of the page where it was expected had disappeared, perhaps torn off long ago for some unknown reason. So far as he and those experts in the somewhat sketchy history of the late period of the Old Times whom he had consulted could determine, it probably dated to the closing decades of the 20th century or the early 21st.That had been the apogee of American power or even a little past it. This impression was reinforced by the fact that some of the contents referred back nostalgically to the vaunted American Space Programme, which apart from their rapid settling of the continent had been their greatest and most famous achievement. Some had regarded that as their cultural equivalent of the Gothic cathedrals of Medieval Europe. Nowadays it was more commonly compared to the Tower of Babel. Hubris had met Nemesis and what had gone up like a rocket came down like its stick.
Some of the academics whom he had consulted were of the opinion that the American Space Programme had been the re-writing of myth, or an outright diabolical lie. They expressed disdain for the idea of men walking on the moon. They queried the attachment of the name of the ancient Greek god of light and the sun to the programme, and the superstitious coincidence that it had supposedly been the unlucky number thirteen in the sequence of voyages which had come to grief, like Phaeton falling in flames to earth because of his inability to control the Sun's chariot or Icarus flying too close to the sun and melting his wings. After seeing the photographs in the magazine of the Earth seen from space and of strangely garbed men supposedly on the moon, the Cardinal was convinced that the Ancient Americans had indeed had such incredible technology that it would be difficult to discern just what they could or could not have done, in fact rather as the Bible reported of the builders of the Tower of Babel.
As to the other contents of the magazine he was much in agreement with Father Mendoza, whose comment had been that as an educated man, he had been aware that the ancients had had horseless carriages, but he had never seen one or even a picture of one. He was fascinated to see colourful pictures of what appeared to be these self-moving machines, but repulsed by the sinful avarice with which they were advertised, and the expectation that every common man and woman should have at least one of these, surely noisy, and possibly blasphemous, monsters.They appeared to be each made out of many hundred kilograms of metal, which must have been a grotesque extravagance. He had never seen so much metal in a single object, yet here were streets filled with them. It was most unsettling to see such a disdainful display of extravagance; all the more so as the arrogant attitudes of the populace would have been hard to take in an assembly of nobles and notables, let alone being quite devoid of the humility and decorum properly expected of common people.Then there was the scandal of the women.
Many of the pages not devoted to pictures of horseless carriages, were given over to beautiful women advertising clothing as scanty as their morals. Even the pictures of the people in the streets showed that ordinarily the women were indecently, and even lasciviously, dressed. Their attitudes were quite brazen. No doubt all of this had contributed to the wrath of the Almighty which had fallen upon them, as upon Sodom and Gomorrah.
The Cardinal felt the Power, although not nearly as strongly as the priest had done.Father Mendoza was strong in spirit. He had immediately seen and clung to the main point, discarding as temptations the nuances and subtleties which made more appeal to the Cardinal. His Eminence had an uneasy feeling that each person who came in contact with the 'Unholy Book' was tested according to his own strengths, and he prayed that his own intellectual and social sophistication would not betray him into the hands of the Evil One. His own failure might have longer and wider adverse consequences for his people than would that of a single priest.
He understood that the forces manifest in the ancient people were latent in the souls of himself and his people, and that intellectual and emotional exposure to this ancient object however innocently it had been created and preserved, might re-awake them in a form that was no longer appropriate, if it ever had been. He felt that the Old American Form or Soul, which had dominated the world in its own time, would attempt to do so again if given a chance, and the consequences would not be good. To destroy the magazine was too simple a solution and itself a temptation, as the priest had seen.There was, for instance, no assurance that something similar or even more dangerous might not come to light at any time, and fall into less cautious hands. It would be better to learn from it and be more able to deal with further manifestations - and not least, learn that its temptations could be withstood, with the help of The Lord. Good might be drawn from Evil, and might provide something beneficial or even necessary at some future time.
His Eminence was well aware that the common attitude of the common people would be to see the possibilities inherent in these capacities or technologies as great sorcerous powers which could satisfy their basest desires - perhaps not so different from the attitude of the Ancients to whom the magazine had been addressed. He also knew that the attitude of the Men Of Power would be little different, except that they would treat it as Black Alchemy which would generate wealth and weapons to increase their own power. He wondered indeed, whether the fabled 'science' and 'technology', those idols worshiped by the Ancients, had ever been more than Black Magic, in intent and outcome if not in form. He was saddened that so much ingenuity and effort went into the pursuit of material form, regardless of its spiritual essence. He knew that the Ancients, especially in their latter days when they had seemed to be running out of it, had been obsessed with the concept of 'energy' cheaply or freely available to serve their most trivial whims. They seemed ignorant of any spiritual dimension to this energy, or of any spiritual cost. Gaining the whole world while losing their souls had not been a problem to them. He hesitated to tread on shaky theological ground, but he wondered whether through their selfish and greedy actions they might also have besmirched the soul of Nature, if there was such a thing, and if so whether it might fall to his people to make amends. As a start it would be useful to remember St. Paul's statement that the struggle is not against men but against Powers and Dominions in the hierarchy of the heavens. Then it might be easier to develop strength and courage like that of Father Mendoza to resist and overcome temptation, and perhaps even to win some good from it.
Cardinal Ximenes turned to the window and again surveyed his garden. His ear and eye were drawn to the fountains and rivulets that splashed and ran through it and which gave it life in this hot dry climate.He was aware of the famous gardens of the Villa d'Este, not far from Rome, where a Renaissance cardinal frustrated in his pursuit of the Papacy had created an elaborate garden featuring many splendid fountains. His own garden was more modest and he had no Papal ambitions, but he fell to considering the symbolic importance of water. Our Lord had promised living water to the Woman at the Well. Although some mystics of exceptional strength and purity might stand in spiritual fire, water was much more appropriate for most people. It was the Devil who was usually associated with fire. It struck him that the 'oil' which had so obsessed the Ancients and provided them with the financially cheap but spiritually expensive energetic fire which they craved, came from a sort of fiery liquid found under the ground in desert regions. It contrasted with the life-giving effects of water as it only imparted a false form of life to machines. It seemed thus to power a mocking imitation of life, a blasphemous parody of divinely ordained Nature. It was hardly to be wondered at then, that this false creation of the Father of Lies had failed those who had come to rely on it. Fire was fierce and short lived, so it did not surprise him that a culture based on it should rise and fall with extreme rapidity, lasting only a few centuries. He was happy that the older slower technology of water, of fountains and waterwheels and aqueducts and canals had survived and revived. Of course water did not provide so many toys for the people or death dealing machines for their lords, but so much the better for that. It amused him that the civilizations based on olive oil had been worthy of the name, those based on rock-oil, not so much.
His mind drifted to the past. In addition to the 'Unholy Book', Father Mendoza had brought back his notes of the stories told by his host and other gentlemen, both at the Villa Baltassar and on earlier stages of his travels. These had contained nothing of great interest, but added to the large collection of anecdotes about the legendary Don Arturo, leader of the Reconquista, who had overthrown the crumbling and faltering United States of the hated and despised Gringos. In the Cardinal's private view the man had been nothing but a beast, a brigand certainly no better or even as good as the usual run of military dictators. Certainly most of the stories about his gallantry and chivalry were fanciful in the extreme. Aided by upheavals and dissensions in the United States he had managed to loot rape and pillage his way across most of the continent, leaving cities from Houston and New Orleans to Chicago and Cincinnati in flames behind him, until his bloody repulse at Pittsburgh, which the surviving Americans were too weak to follow up.
When a young man the Cardinal had been shown moving pictures purporting to be of some of these events, recorded and displayed on little machines which had since ceased to function, although a few had lasted long enough amongst the nobility to have come down to his time.Thus he thought that he knew that the story of the Don having ridden a white charger into the water of Lake Michigan, and waved his white-plumed helmet in the air as he made a speech proclaiming the Liberation of all the lands from the salt waters of the Gulf of Mexico to the fresh waters of the Great Lakes, whilst Chicago burned in the background, was not quite right. His steed had been one of the horseless carriages, a military command car. His helmet had actually been a peaked cap smothered in gold braid, and his famous proclamation was not only of the liberation of the land, but of the enslavement of all surviving Americans and the confiscation of their property - which was really just an acknowledgement of what had been happening in practice.
Similarly, the ghost stories that so disturbed the peasants often had a basis in facts relating to that time. A great many Americans had been horrifically tortured and slaughtered often by criminals acting on their own account, or by gangs only loosely if at all affiliated to the forces of Don Arturo, and certainly indisposed to accept orders from him or from anyone else, although his own men had not been much better. Hence the ghoulish stories of lost souls crying in the wind, or of tortured victims screaming through the night, or of bones which refused to stay buried, whilst they had long since lost contact with physical reality or probability, retained much emotional force, especially in the sub conscious mentalities of those who knew that their own ancestors had been far from guiltless in these matters and that a hereditary blood debt remained unpaid.
The Cardinal knew the lines from an old American song,
'John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave,
but his soul goes marching on.'
He considered it high time that John Brown's soul rejoined his body and that they were left in peace to continue their mouldering. For his part he would let the Unholy Book, which somehow seemed to express so much of that restless titanic American soul and to induce distorted and disturbing reactions in the soul of his own people, resume its slumber in the darkness of time until change and decay reduced its potency or converted any remaining influence into a fertilising compost.
His Eminence had made cautious enquiries and had been gratified and amused to hear of Don Roberto's speech or sermon and of how events had transpired around the Villa Baltassar. He considered the Don to have been much less of a liar than the Don himself and his neighbours seemed to think him. After all whilst not the literal truth, what he had told the peasants had a certain figurative truth and was couched in terms which they could understand and accept and had helped them to recover from a dangerous spiritual and social malady and even turned it into a means for increasing piety. Perhaps an unseen angel had guided him after all. There had been an unexpected consequence. Some of the peasants had been so impressed that they now regarded him as a holyman, and he was coming to be known as Don Roberto the Blessed. It was even said that he was trying to live up to the name!
All-in-all, things had worked out well. The peasants had encountered a danger which it was beyond their ability to understand or withstand, but their social and spiritual leaders had saved them from it. The courage and resourcefulness of the Don and the faith and sanctity of the priest had been tested and not found wanting. He wondered why he himself had not been tested so severely, at least as yet, and prayed that he had not already unknowingly failed, and would not do so in future. It was difficult to find priests for such remote and unfashionable parishes, which is why the vacancy there had remained unfilled for so long, but His Eminence had now ensured that they would have the good offices of a down to earth pastoral priest for at least the next couple of years. He hoped that would help them to avoid any recrudescence of the hysteria that had nearly overcome them and to ensure that lingering memories of the 'Holy Book' did not become a source of heresy and dissension.
He reflected upon Biblical parallels and mused that although he was in no way comparable to Moses or Jacob, their experiences might offer a guide. God had tested Moses by attempting to kill him, and Jacob had gained a blessing and a new name by wrestling an angel of the Lord, despite having a leg put out of joint. This might be a similarly severe test of himself and his people. It was noteworthy that those who measured up to it benefited as a result. He could see that it had brought Father Mendoza closer to sainthood. The Don had also survived and enhanced his reputation. It might be that His Eminence was not the final link in the chain. Others might later have greater parts to play. He must neither destroy the magazine, nor allow its influence free rein. He would preserve it in secret and make Father Mendoza, the only man to have fully withstood its influence, its guardian.
Finally His Eminence gathered all the documents into a pile before him. He tinkled a small hand-bell and Father Mendoza silently entered the office and stood before him bearing a leather briefcase under his arm and a lighted candle and stick of blood-red sealing wax in his hand. The Cardinal inserted the bundle into the briefcase and locked it, removing the key. The priest melted the sealing wax over the lock and the Cardinal impressed his official signet ring into it. Father Mendoza took the briefcase away to lock it in a secure cupboard. Both men turned their attention to other things.
And what of the Shrine of the Holy Book? It is pleasant to note that Don Roberto had been as good as his word. Abel's hovel became a site of local pilgrimage. The garden was re-established and lovingly tended by the local peasants, with a little judicious encouragement from Don Roberto the Blessed, who proudly led a procession there each year and paid for a fete and for regular blessings by the local priest and the brothers of San Geronimo. Memories of the exact nature of the Holy Book faded but it became firmly entrenched in local lore as a beneficent presence. Strange to relate, the slave Abel had a greater career in death than he had in life. Before many years had passed he had become a well loved local celebrity, albeit unrecorded on any list of saints in the Vatican; Saint Abel the Hermit whose Holy Book had cured the afflicted of many ills. In another generation or so his bones were piously dug up and distributed as holy relics, but his sanctity endured. Thus we see how eras may change. The Last American, as he may be termed, found a treasured place in the affections of his successors, not, to be sure, in life, but when death and the tides of time and circumstance had turned his memory into an adornment, 'something rich and strange' that their souls could harbour and honour.
And what of that magazine, the Holy or Unholy Book? It continued undisturbed in peaceful slumber and decay, forgotten in a back storeroom in the Cardinal's palace. Bell, book and candle, had they exorcised the unquiet ghost of America? The sensitive or fanciful soul might intuit a link between the gardens of the Shrine and of the Palace and that their waters perhaps sparkled a little more brightly and that the bees buzzed and the butterflies fluttered a little more sweetly and that the winds sighed with less sorrow, but who can tell everything that goes to make really good compost?
Wednesday, 1 May 2013
After America - Zion
On Easter Sunday in the year of our lord 2033, John Matthews, President of the victorious Confederation of Southern and Western states of America had made a momentous announcement. It came after a solemn service in the Cathedral of Christ the King in the Southern capital of Memphis, to give thanks to God for complete and final victory in their war with the North (or 'USA v2' as it had been known in the rest of the world),to pray for reconciliation between the states, and to re-dedicate His people to His service. This announcement had been eagerly awaited and much, if quietly, discussed in political circles, for some months. That was why the cathedral was filled by representatives of all the states and the political class, as well as by clergy from as many denominations and areas as possible. It was a dignified and moving occasion with a fine turnout, although admittedly some of the delegates from Northern states looked strained and stiff, as if they felt the pressure of Southern bayonets up the backs of their jackets.
As Cardinal Murphy intoned the final blessing and requested the congregation to resume their seats and listen to an announcement from His Excellency the President, Matthews ascended the pulpit and stood looking out gravely over the assembled representatives of the American people. "Fellow-countrymen," he said, as silence fell and all faces turned to his, " as we once were, and with the grace of God, shall be again; the time has come to put past enmities and strife behind us. This can not be done if we cling to old names, old identities and old grievances ever renewed.This is a momentous year. It marks not only the victory of God's people on this continent against the manifest powers of evil which had for so long oppressed, seduced and set us against each other. It marks the working out of that experiment which was America. An experiment made with hope, but too much pride. Pride in our own strength, the Pride of Lucifer, the pride which went before a Fall. Like Babylon the Great, America has fallen. Fallen in every way, morally, materially and militarily. The very name stinks in the nostrils of the world. It is an accursed name, source and fount of iniquity, hated throughout the earth, bringing shame at home. The hand of the Lord has brought it low. As a dog returns to it's vomit, so a fool returns to his folly! Two attempts at a United States of America have failed. Enough! Cease! Let us repent and humble ourselves, that the Lord may be merciful unto us."
Although his audience was primed and knew something of what to expect, Matthews was pleased to see the emotional impact which his words had on them. All were paying attention, some looked grim or heart-struck, more looked thoughtful. There were no whispered conversations, no rustling of papers, no people slumped drowsily or staring listlessly around.These were devout attentive and serious people, assembled to participate in a most solemn occasion. The President was glad that he had not lost his oratorical touch.
"Kyrie eleison! The Lord has Risen! This Easter Sunday marks the two thousandth anniversary since Our Lord's crucifixion and Resurrection. Is it a co-incidence that this coincides so neatly with our situation and our need? I think not! The Lord has risen and He will rule! Where and when will he rule? As to the time, no man knows. As to the place, first in our hearts and then in our land. He is to rule in Zion. We must be Zion. John the Baptist tells us to make straight the way of the Lord, to prepare for his coming. He will come and he will come in splendour. His rule will be righteous. It may not be in our time, it may not be our destiny to see the Word fulfilled in our lifetimes, but like the Baptist we have a task, - to prepare the way for His glorious rule. Like the Biblical people of Israel we have been chosen and set apart. The rest of the world has cast us aside, driven us from the community of nations to dwell apart in desert places, spurned and shunned - like John the Baptist or the prophets - because of the past sins of our people. Now we show our repentance, let us most earnestly implore His forgiveness and ourselves set foot upon that road which leads to His rule and shows him our intention to be worthy of his grace. 'Out of Egypt have I called my Son', God tells us in the gospel of Matthew chapter two verse fifteen.As forerunners of the Lord, the Children of Israel were called out of Egypt. They wandered in the desert enduring much hardship, until they won their way into the Promised Land. Some rebelled and murmured against Moses for taking them away from the fleshpots of Egypt, until they were punished by the wrath of the Lord. So have the rebellious people of America been punished. Again in the gospel of Matthew, chapter twenty, verse 16, God tells us that the last shall be first and the first last, for many are called but few are chosen. Here is hope for us. We were first among nations. Now we are last. The mercy of God may again raise us up if we turn from our past errors and persevere in His way, that way which we are to prepare for him. It is also said in the Revelation of John, chapter one and verse eight 'I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the ending saith the Lord', and again in the twentieth verse of chapter twenty eight of the gospel of Matthew 'I will be with you unto the end of the world' ".
Where was this going? Were eyes glazing over? Was he starting to lose them in this thicket of Biblical quotations? Were some of the clergy sneaking discreet peeks at their watches?
"Friends! Let me bring you to the mercy and opportunity which the Lord offers us today! Here we are in the city of Memphis, capital of our country. The name was taken from an important city and theological centre in ancient Egypt. God is making a link between the situation of America and that of ancient Egypt - out of which he called his people and his Son! Notice also that the holy texts I quoted are taken from the writings attributed to John and Matthew. Here stand I,John Matthews, your President, unworthy servant though I am, whose very name bears testimony to the relevance of these texts to our country today. America is now as dead as ancient Egypt. From it's ashes, like a Phoenix, let a new country and a new people arise. What shall we be called? Let the Alpha and Omega first and last letters in the Greek alphabet show us the way. The name America used the first letter of our alphabet, and the way we are taking leads to the holy land of Zion. Zion, which uses the last letter of our alphabet is clearly the name which God intends for us to take. Let it be a reminder to us every time we use it, of our intention, our dedication, our desire and our destination. Do you consent to this? What shall our new name be?'
'ZION! ZION! ZION!' roared the crowd.
Political Life In Zion
In Zion taxation was light. In a Gladstonian phrase, money was allowed to fructify in the pocket of the taxpayer. Not much even of this was passed on to the central government. In a very Biblically oriented country, people on the whole accepted the concept of tithing, but were firmly of the opinion that one in ten should be quite sufficient for any legitimate needs of government. Considering that the country was the only large state in their world and had no serious internal or external threats, there was no need for huge defence expenditure, and no proliferation of vast self serving bureaucracies, and no welfare state for either large corporations or a large dependent class, so the government agreed with their people, and did as little as possible as economically as possible. Proposals to increase expenditure were a political graveyard, and could even mark the path to a physical graveyard.
Charity, on the other hand, was given every encouragement.The parable of the widow's mite notwithstanding, large donors gained prestige in their communities. Those who had much were expected to give much, especially if they had any ambitions of social or political advancement. Generosity with their own money and parsimony with that of the public was now expected of aspiring politicians, quite the reverse of the situation in the old days. Politics was also rather different. Political parties were banned. Politics was local insofar as it existed and affected the bulk of the people. Appealing for votes on the basis of promising handouts to be paid for by someone else was a capital offence.So was self enrichment by politicians and civil servants. The revolving door between lobbying, politics and business now led only to a scaffold. There were no voter registration drives or campaigns to get the illiterate to vote. They would also have been capital offences. Voting was restricted to natives of a locality who were taxpayers of good character and reputation. No bums. No newcomers. Candidates also had to have been born locally or to have been there a long time and accepted as a valuable member of the local community. No carpet-baggers. Only people who were known and respected locally would be acceptable candidates, and voters were expected to vote for someone they knew and respected and thought a knowledgeable god-fearing and competent individual who would use his judgment well on their behalf and not on the basis of any packaged party programme. No payments to local politicians were allowed, and the few state and national officeholders were expected to live on relatively modest salaries. Anyone too poor to pay his own expenses in attending to his public duties was probably not going to be a worthy representative of his community; although to cater for rare instances when great oratorical or other talent might be unfortunately combined with such poverty, those who supported him were permitted to pay his expenses. Campaign expenditure had to be extremely modest, there was no point either in appealing to people who did not know you, or losing the good opinion of those who did through vulgar extravagance, or running ones head into a noose for electoral malpractice. Such rules were taken very seriously, expected to be closely supervised by local voters and officials, and monitored by another institution of which more may later be said.The intention and effect was to raise the moral and intellectual quality of those in public life. They were expected to be the representatives of the best their community had attained, not the worst.
From this process of direct election at local level, indirect election proceeded. Representatives at each level elected those at the next. A state governor or national President could not be personally known by many voters, general repute would have to suffice them, and if dissatisfied they could blame their local representatives.
This system did greatly increase the probity and competence of those engaged in politics, and as a result secured better and cheaper government, to the benefit even of those who did not vote.
There was much less 'politics', the phrase 'public service' regained
some meaning and respect, the government became much less of a hindrance to recovery and development than it would otherwise have been.Professional politicians became rare. Many people would serve for a while and retire. It was less of a means of self enrichment and more an honourable but somewhat burdensome activity putting ones time and talents to the benefit of the public, available to those who had attained at least a modest level of economic and social or intellectual success.
Templars of Zion
Zion without a Temple is inconceivable. A Temple without a bank would be a poor thing. Where there is a Temple, Templars may be found. The Knights Templar had been established nominally to guard and guide pilgrims on the routes to and within the Holy Land and had soon extended their activities into banking. Hence it had been deemed necessary by the rulers of the new Zion that a comparable institution should be established. Americans, or 'Zionists' as we must now call them, were not comfortable with the concept of knighthood, so these successors to the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon were simply to be known as Templars of Zion. To such a diligent and inspired searcher of the scriptures as President Matthews, it was clear that these Templars of Zion should be godly men who could give right guidance to pilgrims seeking the Way of the Lord, metaphorically as well as literally. Obviously, they should also be good fighting men, an elite force comparable to their namesakes, able to play an important role in war as well as to guard and maintain routes and assist travellers, receive funds and messages on behalf of travellers and transmit them to distant and dangerous places, as well as looking after the property of the Temple itself. Quite a tall order and a varied portfolio of responsibilities, to which intelligence gathering and diplomacy were added as corollaries in imitation of their precursors.
There used to be an institution with functions as broad as that. It was called the Federal Government of the United States of America, and it's adjunct the Federal Reserve Bank. Not a bad day's work for a President to get away with, setting up such an institution in a country which had renounced the Federal government and the very name of America, where banks were hated and small government was almost as much an article of faith as the Ten Commandments. All that work won't get done by an assistant with a desk and a filing cabinet in a corner of the President's office.
It hadn't worked out in that old high taxation, high service/interference way, of course. For one thing the country could no longer afford such efforts, economically or organisationally, and for another it was no longer in a mood to pay for and submit to such tyranny. Those who had thought otherwise were dead. What they would accept and what they got, was a light, loose, patchy and inexpensive network of people who could give practical help in a variety of infrastructure projects, chivy local officials and volunteers into doing maintenance and encourage a bit of co-operation with other districts, assist in law enforcement, and importantly, maintain a sense of participation in an entity larger than the local district or state.Their loyalty was to the Temple of Zion. Somewhat analogously to the Roman legionaries, they were both artificers and fighters, albeit less numerous and less ardent road and wall builders, but with a strong corporate and religious identity.
Temple of Zion Bank
Sad as the history of banking in America had been, the change in the name of the country had not altogether discontinued the practice. Rare had it been for bankers to combine the virtues of competence and prudence with simple honesty. That slow alchemy for making gold had been shoved aside in favour of fast and flashy paper profits.The banks had been implicated in all the great economic and financial crises which had rocked the country since it's foundation, and the corpses of ruined depositors or shells of failed banks had littered the financial landscape even in better times. Banks had bred a brood of harpies which had fouled the food and made miserable the lives of many of the people, and no Argonauts had been there to pursue or destroy them. From their nests, in eyries rising high above every city, had spread this foul financial flock, preying upon the carcases of worthwhile industry and corrupting politicians and bureaucrats. From them had arisen many of the scandals and malpractices which had bankrupted the businesses and brought down the governments of the time. Indeed, they had brought the whole country into such disrepute with the other countries of the world that it had been barred from contact with the rest of humanity.
Yet only a few decades later, here it was again; banking in a more sober fashion, new fashioned to the new fashions of the new times, and it may be, betimes,newly fashioning the times to suit itself. So much for continuity and change.
No more speculative 'investment' casino banking. No more liar loans, no more market rigging, no more Federal Reserve to hand out free money to cronies, no more big bonus binge banking based on the laundering of drug money and the proceeds of other crimes.Those intoxicating and toxic times were over. Strict sobriety and probity were now much in evidence and all around.
And yet.., and yet.., the money changers have ever been close to the Temple (and to the Throne). Even Jesus hadn't been able to keep them out for long, although they had been the only people against whom he had been said to have employed violence. It had been no coincidence that banking, money changing and usury had been intimately connected with the old Temple and city states, back to Sumeria. Low practices in high places were often decried. Temple prostitution had been commonplace in antiquity, especially in Babylonia. Although Deuteronomy chapter 23 verses 18-19 had prohibited male and female prostitution in the Temple, the Maccabees had accused their opponents of having practiced it there .The Temple in Jerusalem had been a huge banking operation. Jesus' scourging of it's bankers had swiftly been followed by the scourging and execution of Jesus himself by the religious and civil authorities. We can see who's really in charge. Caesar can strut his legions, Caiaphas can wear the priestly robes, but the money must keep rolling smoothly in, as that's what makes the world go round.
'My God, how the money rolls in, rolls in. My God, how the money rolls in.' http://www.calonsong.org/CalontirSongs/mygodhowthemoney.htm
'Twas ever so, and so it shall remain unto the end. As Luke 17:26 tells us, 'And as it was in the days of Noah, so shall it also be in the days of the Son of Man.' Matthew 13:49 'So shall it be at the end of the world; the angels shall come forth and sever the wicked from among the just.' Another text for John Matthews, the Prophetic President, last of America and first of Zion to ponder. Apparently the wicked had not all been severed, there was more to do, it was not yet the end of the world.
Bankers Gothic had attempted to add an aura of sanctity to 19th century banking halls. Hushed reverence attended the ceremony of opening a bank vault, as of a tomb of antique sanctity.Lord Carnarvon had asked the archaeologist Carter when he opened a way and peered into the gold-stuffed tomb of Tutankhamun, 'What can you see?' 'Wonderful things', whispered the awestruck Carter. In the more recent and more debased era, it had been banks which had been 'too big to fail', until like a blind Samson their own avarice and folly had brought them and their temple down to the destruction of those attempting to uphold them. Great had been that fall, for financial and spiritual values had been inextricably mingled and confused and distorted, and their whole society was now one with the Philistines'.
There was certainly less gold around now, but the Temple of Zion Bank cultivated an aura of sanctity around its operations. It was the only bank around, and as may be inferred, both Church and State, insofar as they were separate entities in this dispensation, closely supervised it. Prudent cautious loans to prudent cautious people was the old and newly fashionable method of making money, using the prudent cautious deposits of other prudent cautious people. Banking was boring once again and that was considered to be a very good thing, especially by all those prudent cautious people.
It was the Templars who were engaged in economic activity who were most visible to the public. These were the only ones that most of the public ever saw or thought about at all, but there were others. The next most common group were the soldiers and lawmen. These assisted local government in maintaining order and in hunting down bandits, particularly in the sparsely settled regions, guarded Temple facilities and provided muscle for the searches and seizures of the TIA. The Templars didn't just work to pile up earthly treasure for its own sake, they used much of it to provide their own army, which was active in garrisoning and fighting in frontier regions, just as their namesakes had been. Hardly known outside the Order, there were also priests and Temple servants who ran the Temple in Memphis and the bureaucrats who ran the whole thing; as well as a few monks and contemplative mystics who composed the Temple on a spiritual level.
Templar Economic Presence
The Templar insignia of a red cross on a white background was the most distinctive and common sign of unity. In effect it had replaced the Stars and Stripes as a flag flown from most of the buildings with which the public was likely to deal, except churches which had their own insignia. The official flag of Zion was less often seen, there being far fewer central government buildings from which to fly it, although it was flown alongside the more colourful flags of each local state on their official offices. The Templars had no monopolies, apart from banking, but they were well represented in all major industries in all states. Their flags, and their emblems on their vehicles and property, and on the uniforms of their members and employees were known and respected throughout the land, the only thing comparable to the commercial brands of the Old Times, but without the implications of sleaze, lies and distortions which the latter had accumulated, and without advertising, which was now heavily restricted when not completely banned. This economic presence had grown from the desire of a large and diverse organisation to supply as many as possible of its own needs, from its own resources, rather than from any attempt to create or dominate civilian markets. When goods or services it wanted were better available fron outsiders, the Temple had no objection to buying them, and was willing to sell its own surpluses and keep its artisans employed making more than the Temple needed, so supply the demands of the public and make some income for the Temple. Some of these craftsmen even set up on their own after having been trained by and worked for the Temple. Their riverine and coastal shipping provided transport for the goods and persons of the public as well as for their own needs, and out of this had grown hotels, restaurants, hostelries and ostleries, postal deliveries, armed escorts, warehouses and even libraries and bookshops and printers, which served the public as well as the servants of the Temple.
Even its involvement in banking had not arisen from a desire to make a lot of money, but from the desire of the public to create a system of honest and competent banking, free of speculation, which could be trusted because it was run by people of acknowledged probity, and closely supervised to ensure that it stayed that way. Greed was not good. Neither was waste or sloth or incompetence or arrogance. Their activities were well managed and subject to searching scrutiny for moral as well as material failings. Consequently, they were trusted, and had a reputation for demanding and providing goods and services of good quality.
Templar MilitiaThe huge military forces of the old United States, and of the war between its successor states had disappeared. They could no longer be supported, even proportionately, by the changed economic and social and demographic circumstances. There was no longer any competition or rivalry with other powers. Indeed, there was little in their neighbourhood that could be dignified with the title of a 'Power'. The central government maintained a few units, an arsenal to make and maintain a few artillery pieces and smallarms, a few light aeroplanes about equivalent to those of First World War vintage, kept mainly for show, a small military bureaucracy and tiny training schools for officers and technicians. There was no navy, they relied on civilian boats and Templar craft to be armed if necessary, and no necessity was foreseen.The individual states kept small units of, in effect, ceremonial guards available as riot police, and relied on ad-hoc short term volunteers and conscripted militia in the unlikely event that military forces were required.
Only the Temple maintained a substantial professional military force, and that was not large. It was expected to provide a disciplined and experienced core for any general military enterprise. The Templars had no difficulty in providing training and discipline, arms and munitions. Experience was provided , partly by law enforcement around the country, but mainly by service on the western and south-western frontiers.
There was a vast area of Western plains, desert, semi-desert and mountains which were very sparsely inhabited. Civilised settlement only really extended one tier of states west of the Mississippi. The rest was a wild landscape of wild animals and humans almost as wild. A scattering of Mormons based in Deseret, which had been Utah, tried to control it on behalf of themselves and of Zion, but there was much scope for the lawless there, and the Templars had established fortified garrisons, from which they tried to control the countryside, raiding and feuding with gangs and Mexicans far to north and south and even to the west coast. In the better watered northern portion, there were substantial pastoral farming interests, herds of cattle, bison and horses were bred and there was a railroad to take them east. This area was relatively secure. The arid southerly portion was home to a hardy and scattered population happy to live at or beyond the limit of the reach of the long arm of Zion's law. This was an excellent military training ground for active defence or aggression.
Amongst the diverse and mongrelised population of this area were remnants of the Red Indian tribes who had had reservations there. The cessation of government handouts had forced them to become more self reliant. The cessation of tourism and gambling had limited their chances to make money legitimately and the opportunities for becoming alcoholics. Hence it was not surprising that the slimmer and more sober tribesmen's eyes often turned to crime. This put them in conflict with the Templars, and re-ignited the Indian Wars to a smaller extent. A life of raid and counter-raid was actually quite usual for such frontier areas, so this was no exception. What differed this time around was that the Indians had not regained all of their skills as trackers and woodsmen, so the Zionists were at less of a disadvantage. On the other hand there was also less disparity in weapons, since the Indians were better able to steal or buy firearms. The Zionists had of course the advantage of overwhelming numerical and material superiority, although they seldom chose to deploy it. A remote training ground with live firing exercises against Indians, Mexicans, mestizos and bandits suited them well enough. It produced fighting men as hardy as their opponents, but better organised and eqipped and potentially far more numerous.
What destabilised this situation was a spillover from the Mexo-anarchy of the Left Coast. Some of the squabbling gangs there patched up their differences and combined to raid across the mountains and deserts. As long as their raids did not go further afield, this was mainly of consequence to the Templars, who had to make additional efforts to raise troops and money and supplies to cope with these incursions. The situation really changed when a series of successful raids burned and looted their way through the cattle stations and horseherds of the northern part of the Great Plains. The howls of outrage and demands for justice and vengeance quickly reached senior and sensitive ears at Memphis, and effective measures of retaliation had to be put in train. A major campaign was planned which would eliminate the problem. The public was primed to cough up additional taxes to pay for it. Of course, there was no government borrowing to pass the problem to the future. Most of the surviving Templar forces were re-deployed to the northern plains. Recruitment and training of additional forces proceeded. The central government called for volunteers and levies from the states. Over the next year a force of several thousand men, perhaps as many as ten thousand infantry, and a thousand cavalry, with artillery support, was armed, trained and deployed westwards. Logistical and intelligence preparations were not overlooked. The government of Zion, and the Templar commanders had decided to simplify their strategic situation by reclaiming California in order to clear their flank and press any surviving troublemakers far to the south. It was known that the central valley had once been a very prosperous agricultural area, adjacent to a potentially great port in an area with a balmy climate. If these assets could be regained, the land could support a considerable population of good Zionists, and the war would more than pay for itself in a few decades.
As soon as the mountain passes were free of snow and the campaigning season opened, the Zionist army, known as the Sword of Gideon, passed through and occupied northern California against only ill-coordinated resistance. They proceeded south, chasing any undesirables ahead of them. One night, as the main force entered San Francisco, against stiffening but inadequate resistance, and reconnaissance elements probed as far south as Los Angeles, a line of huge fires broke out in the brushwood choked valleys and hills inland from the coastal cities, set by advanced detachments. The blazes spread rapidly into the towns and added further to the panic already started by the sight and by the influx of refugees from further north. Agents had already spread rumours, so flames and fears were fanned until the population stampeded south. The main force chased them well into Mexico and returned to ensure that the clearance had been complete and that the area would be stable and efficiently developed as a new portion of Zion.They did not neglect to occupy and annex the long peninsula of Baja California to ensure that it would not be a refuge for troublemakers ensconsced on the far side of a convenient border.
Zion was pleased with its new acquisition. Some of the soldiers were allowed to take up land grants and settle there. The grants given or sold to individuals and organisations including the Temple, proved profitable to those who held them for the long term, as settlers arrived and the area began to thrive again. This time, unlike in the Gold Rush, there was no stampede of unauthorised settlers. Settlement was strictly controlled, to ensure that potentially subversive types did not proliferate there. In future there would be no more lefties on what had been the Left Coast. Instead, there would be a turnaround and the area was intended to become a bastion of righteousness. Many soldiers returned home to be discharged, but some stayed, as in the case of retired Roman legionaries, to become the nucleus of new settlements, to which approved migrants from further east were admitted. It was intended that the new state, - as it would become in time -, which some wanted to call 'Occidentia' as a replacement of the old name 'California' which seemed to be a reminder and remnant of the undesirable past; would prevent infiltration from what was left of the Left Coast to their north, as well as guard against incursions from the south and become, first self-reliant and then a strong right arm for Zion.To this end, the settlement and communication links across the north of the Great Plains were strengthened, and the old transcontinental railroad was patched up, to form the bone and sinew of this re-connection. Strategically, Zion had cleared its western flank of enemies, geographically it had extended its reach right across the continent and was busy adding muscle to its grip, economically it had gained a fertile and productive province which would become a bastion of power. Theo-politically it had proved that it still enjoyed divine favour and that its organisation and people still merited it. Things were looking good, praise and thanks to God as well as celebrations were in order.
CanadaCanada had disintegrated in the chaos after the dissolution of the USA and the subsequent war between the states. Sabotage by the South, intimidation and looting by the North, followed by the depredations of deserting or foraging Northern troops and a flood of refugees from the collapse of America, had overwhelmed it. The emergence of Zion had merely added incredulity to the loathing in which Americans were held, particularly by the Quebecois who had borne the brunt of Northern depredations and the influx of their locustine refugees. The collapse of cities had led to the demise of the worst of the problem, and a restoration of political power in the east of what had been Canada, to the rural population of French Canadians or Quebecois. These people were left with an abiding contempt and hatred for the 'English' to their south.They were not strong enough to be a threat, but neither were they willing to co-operate with Anglophone Zion. This mattered little, since there was little reason for contact or conflict between the two peoples. They were both stable, conservative, rurally based societies, not as different as they thought. There was little contact, occasionally bandits were pursued over the border or were apprehended and handed over if not executed on the spot. When the Quebecois authorities first encountered Templars they were rather contemptuous of them, even indignant, claiming that they were mere plagiarists of an originally French idea. They had to reluctantly admit that it had been a French King, Phillip the Fair, who had betrayed and traduced the Knights Templar, seized their assets in France and had them suppressed by his pet Pope. The 'Zionist' Templars solemnly assured them that this would not happen again, even if the Quebecois took up their offer of forming Templar units and institutions in their country.This generous offer was scathingly rebuffed. If the French wanted to have Templiers, they would create them themselves, and they would be infinitely better, and would not deign to notice their 'English' imitators!
The west of Canada had merged with the Left Coast, from which the Mexicanised southern portion had just been recovered, so the rest was viewed with some suspicion as an enclave of Leftism and probable source of re-infection. Thus, more effort was made to prevent their infiltration into the new province of Occidentia, and as giving urgency to the need to strengthen control over the northern portion of the Great Plains. Consequently, efforts were made to cultivate cordial relations with the scattered English speaking settlements of central Canada and to give them some good trading or employment opportunities. The Templars were happy to provide small detachments to strengthen local law enforcement and provide training and a market for artisan skills. Cultural contact was encouraged. Libraries and teachers were provided. Their mental horizons were oriented to the south although they remained less religious and less conservative than the 'Zionists'. Slowly they were assimilated into a semi-dependent status, and provided cover for spying on their neighbours. Much the same happened to the Maritime Provinces of Canada, to a lesser extent. They were a small independent minded English speaking people, lacking natural resources, no real threat to Zion, except as a possible base for infiltration. Occasional goodwill visits and access to minor trade sufficed to keep an eye on them and encouraged them to remain peaceful.
Right from the start the Americans had coveted Canada, and had failed in a couple of ill-conceived attempts to seize it.Well into the twentieth century they had maintained contingency plans for war against Britain, which included the seizure of Canada. Now it looked as if their northern neighbours might receive renewed attention. Some of the policymakers in Memphis talked about Naboth's vineyard and warned against misuse of power to oppress weaker neighbours and seize their property. This would displease The Lord. Others said that He had quite obviously meant for at least all English speakers in North America to be given the great opportunity of salvation and inclusion in the bounds of Zion. They had inherited a claim on the Left Coast, and it would be impractical to leave out the adjacent parts of what had been Canada, particularly those that had merged into the Left Coast. That territory included useful assets of good climate, fertile soil, timber, fishing and water power which would be worth conquering - er.. 'liberating', and which God obviously intended as blessings for his most devoted followers, namely themselves. Even some of the current population might be salvageable. It appeared to them to be justifiable, feasible and profitable; another war which would be fairly cheap and would soon pay for itself. Failure to act on the opportunity which He had provided might displease Him. Nobody thought the Quebecois worth liberating. Their territory was not naturally well endowed. Their Catholicism was rather vinegary, not altogether to the more Protestant taste of Zion, and their anti-English prejudice and abuse was offensive. They were probably not meant to be included in Zion. Equally, they were probably not the enemies of God and Civilisation that the Lefties had been, so they were not meant to be extirpated; although if they were so foolish as to cause trouble, they could well receive a dammed good hiding. It was agreed to watch and wait, prayerfully. 'Si vis pacem, para bellum' was still a prudent motto. God or the Devil might prompt the Lefties on the far coast to make an aggressive move, so it would be as well to be alert and prepared.
MexicoOnly towards the south did Zion face a large number of barbarian enemies. Zion's strategists thought that one more brisk campaign to their northwest would close their outstanding account with the remaining Leftists, give them additional valuable territory which would soon provide a peaceful and profitable accession of strength, and enable them to concentrate their military resources thereafter towards the south.
They had no illusions or expectations of easy, profitable and permanent conquest in the south.There was certainly no thought of including any of its population within the ranks or bounds of Zion. The memories or records of life in the Old Times, in the Collapse, and in the run-up to the Second War between the States, as well as the more recent border conflicts and the campaign to liberate California and turn it into Occidentia, saw to that. No Mexicans were permitted to live in the settled areas of Zion. In the wild border regions, relations with the bands and settlements of savages varied unpredictably between hostility and attack.
The triangular funnel shape of the geography was considered advantageous if enough territory at the top could be kept relatively clear to act as a stopper, or at least a great hindrance to serious attack from the south. The most populous and valuable areas of Mexico were well to the south.The north was sparsely settled mountains, desert and semi desert, an arid continuation of the southern zone of the Great Plains. Zion had no desire to pass this and to conquer and occupy the distant south. The Mexicans were welcome to live there and to kill each other there if that was their wish; provided they stayed there and did not take themselves, their drugs or their troubles to Zion. The ending of the Old Times, with its easy immigration, opportunities for employment, crime and government handouts which had attracted migrants like flies to dung, had greatly reduced its attraction. Now raiding was the only opportunity available in the north, and it was risky and not very profitable.
Hence it was intended that the Templars would provide garrisons and mobile forces to patrol and control a vaguely defined but vast area of little value, save as a cordon sanitaire against incursions from the south. This would keep a smallish permanent force permanently occupied, but would not be a great burden on the country.
Templar Economic and Cultural Activities
The network of Templar stations (- dare we call them preceptories or commanderies?) encouraged artisan activity, especially wood and metal working. Wood workers of all sorts, carpenters, wheelwrights, cartwrights, shipwrights, millwrights (but not makers of wooden plays or bad puns!) were in demand throughout the land. The Templars made much use of them and in time developed a cadre of skilled workers who could in effect set standards for others. Their well known insistence on quality gave a cachet and competitive advantage to those who had worked for or been trained by them.The mines of the Appalachians and the forges of Pittsburgh and Birmingham produced enough coal and iron to make tools and nails and weapons. Here again the Templars had interests and helped maintain standards.
This network grew along the main routes linking the main cities and providing a sort of highway linking many of the states, although of course the Mississippi and Ohio rivers provided the backbone of the transport system in the post-automobile era. Much of the road and railroad facilities had been smashed in the war, and never repaired. Local roads devolved back to muddy, rutted cart tracks, sometimes impassable in bad weather. Large fragments of the old 20th century highway system survived, although increasingly dilapidated and little used. They became like the earthworks of remote antiquity, imposing physical presences and remnants of vague purpose from incomprehensible times, yet clear evidence of great power and sweeping vision - the work of vanished 'giants'.
Life had become very local. Most people were employed on the land or close to it in processing agricultural and pastoral products. They had little need to move about and little knowledge of, or interest in, places further afield. Few had needs or ambitions which took them as far as the capital of their state, let alone the capital of their nation, - which in any case so far as they were concerned was the capital of their world. There was no TV or radio or internet or videogames to entertain, distract and entrance them. There was no advertising to spoil landscapes with its billboards, or to finance tawdry publications cultivating greed lust and envy. Literacy became less necessary and less common amongst the lower classes. There was no longer an overbearing exploitative state mandated education system to zombify the population with leftist propaganda. There were no more leftists and all those in positions of responsibility were determined that never again would there be leftists, or corporate conmen, banksters, media filth or politically dominant siren voices singing seductive songs of sensuality luring lovelorn sailors in the ship of state to frightful doom. Hence no earplugs were needed for the Odyssean crew.
There was little long distance traffic by road. Local roads satisfied the needs of farmers driving herds, carters and horsemen going about their daily lives or to the local market. These footpaths or byways were not well maintained as the locals felt little need to do so and there was no longer a strong government to compel them to do so in the interests of through traffic and road makers and loan peddling bankers.The previous road network soon fell into decay and became overgrown. Long distance travel by land became slow, difficult and expensive. Steam locomotion kept some railways open for the transport of bulk freight and a few mails and passengers between mines, factories and river ports. The rivers in the centre of the continent provided the natural highways, and as naturally, the bulk of the people and their concerns lived close to these rivers. Along the east coast, small sailing and steam boats served the needs of coastal traffic and linked the greatly shrunken cities. All the old cities that survived had retreated to a core where their core functions of commerce, specialised manufacture and administration could be performed in buildings close to the water and within walking distance of each other and of the dwellings of their inhabitants. The sprawling suburbs of the past were now dead cysts encasing the living cities, and slowly being scavenged and turned back to farmland or market gardens supplying the centre.The skyscrapers remained, like huge megaliths, enduring monuments to the engineering skills of the Old Times, although many were abandoned after electricity ceased to be regularly and reliably available to run elevators and lights and air-conditioning.The lower floors of many continued to be occupied, but it became too wearisome to climb beyond about five storeys carrying whatever one wanted, including water. The upper levels soon became dark and noisome, and the higher levels beyond use were shut off.
The education-research-media-foundation complex had been another casualty of the Transition. It's wealth had been dissipated or seized by one or another of the recent revolutionary or religious governments. It had been the primary home and production centre for lefties and their poison, so was absolutely anathema to Zion. Any of it's survivors were prime targets for rigorous interrrogation, and rewards were obtained for denouncing them. Much of the work of investigation fell to the lot of the Templar Investigative Agency and its predecessors, of which more is said in the next section.
There was no lack of education. Technical and vocational training had separated themselves from universities and were provided by the crafts and professions. Local communities were encouraged to organise teaching of the 3R's for those whose parents were not up to the task. Some parents paid for their brighter or more ambitious children to receive private schooling. The needs of the society were met. There was no attempt at universal uniform coverage, and certainly no longer any insistence that sows ears be turned into silk purses at vast public expense, or even that there must be no recognition of any difference or that the sows ears were ineffably superior. All such lefty nonsense had ceased.There were a few small universities for the tiny number of scholars engaged in such arcane pursuits as philosophy, but none of this impinged on either the public purse or the consciousness of the public. The Temple maintained a few trade schools for their craftsmen, and a leadership school for its cadres.
Culture and conversation thrived. People whose concerns rose above their bellies were more free to muse over their own independent reading and writing and to discuss and debate with each other, by letter or in person. Lacking electronic entertainment people made their own music and attended public discussions, readings and performances. There were still professional entertainers, musicians, writers, artists and intellectuals, although they had smaller audiences and travelled more in search of new horizons and new patrons. There was some revival of a high as distinct from a popular culture, although naturally this was only relevant to a few.There were no longer a few vast corporations controlling, manipulating,vulgarising and debasing art, culture, news, sports, entertainment and learning, so they were able to improve.The culture destroyers had disappeared and the Temple was determined to prevent their re-appearance.
There was no formal censorship or licensing of publications. Publication of anything later deemed Leftist was however very likely to be fatal to author, publisher, printer and distributor, so a prudent discretion prevailed. There were no legal ticklists.People in responsible positions were expected to have an understanding of what was moral. Lawyers pushing their clients luck in 'pushing the envelope' of acceptability were likely to swing from the same gibbet with them, along with any judge or politician who had been sympathetic to subversion of moral and cultural standards. Justice was swift and harsh, not amenable to delays and not accommodating itself to the relative depths of the litigants or defendents pockets or social prominence. Sensible authors and publishers therefore sought to have their work approved in advance by the Temple or have it published by the Templar Press. This was the best assurance available, but it was not foolproof. As the Great New York Scandal demonstrated, the Temple would if necessary execute its own erring brethren along with other sinners.
This work of protecting cultural and moral standards came to involve the Temple in unexpected areas of activity. Art criticism and cultural aesthetics were not popularly associated with their better known craftsmen, fighting men, investigators and priests. However, those who toiled in the vineyard of the Lord had some surprising tasks to perform. Much of the cultural heritage of museums, archives, art galleries and private collections had been destroyed in the war and social upheaval, but enough examples and information survived for the Temple to be able to train and employ some people talented in that direction, and to assist the re-orientation of the training facilities for artists, fine craftsmen, sculptors and architects. Vitruvius and Pheidias were back. Picasso and Pollack were out. Warhol was waste.Scrap metal sculptures were scrapped and no-one any longer felt it prudent to fling pots of paint in the face of the public.
Rich people were no longer permitted to express their vulgarity by crass displays of deliberately ugly and debased 'art' glorifying those who wasted the most absurd sums of money on it. Had such people survived to amass enough wealth to be wasted in this fashion, they would not have survived the attention it brought them. Now the rich were expected to display good taste. If it didn't come naturally they could buy advice and make sure that it was approved by the Temple. Much of the public was also interested. They wanted 'their' rich people to put on a good show, not only for them, but for community pride in competing with the achievements of the rich and famous of other communities. They wanted to be edified by the edifaces filed with works of art, erected by their leaders and successful people. They were not very discriminating critics, but they were enthusiastic supporters, apt to politically reward those who made them feel more civilised and less backwoodsmen.
As in European World Wars, the country houses of the wealthy had been requistioned for military and state purposes. The victorious South had come into possession of the mansions of the previously wealthy in the North, some of which had been passed on to various branches of the Templars. Records of such people and interrogation records of their associates had produced a reasonable picture of their activities and assets. Private planes, airports and golf courses were no longer in favour, but the possessions of many middle eastern thugs and Wall Street messiahs were now being put to far better uses.
The Templars had at first been financed by taxes, on a modest scale, but slowly they became self supporting as the banking profits started to subsidise them and then as they bought or were given property, and from the sale of surpluses from their own economic activities. They had interests in farming, ranching, meat distribution, leather working, horse breeding, river transport and boat building, to name but few of them, growing from their original needs.
There were no longer any big companies, national brands or advertisements. Now a single state was more than enough scope for most companies and The Temple was the only large scale organisation in the whole country, and the only one with such diverse interests. Companies had also become local. The old system was not re-created. Investors now were people who were involved in the management of their companies. There was little market in shares. Financial speculation of any type was now viewed with suspicion. Anyone seeking to make a livelihood from financial dealing would have found it to be a very short and unpleasant life, dangling from a noose. A theocracy with democratic trimmings turned out to be a much better place to live than had been the old debased kleptocracy pretending to be a democracy.
The Temple found it useful to have their members in many places, participating and knowing what was happening in many localities. The larger church denominations behaved similarly but none operated on the scale of the Temple. As when the Roman post system was overrun by bishops, much of the long distance movement of men and messages was on the business of church or Temple. Their emblem of an upright red cross on a white background was widespread and instantly recognisable. This flag flew from all their buildings and their numerous boats. It became the effective sign of Zion, although the official flag of the country was white bearing the letters ZION in red across its centre.
Templar Investigative Agency
The New York trials after the defeat of the North, America's Nuremberg, had required a lot of work to identify, catch and assemble evidence to prosecute the leaders of the defeated regime. There ensued a long and thorough process of 'de-liberalization'. All this required a permanent and extensive organization, familiarly known at first as the American Inquisition.Obviously when America became Zion the name had to change. As the Temple grew in power it took over responsibility for a number of tasks amd agencies with various names including words like 'Research', 'Inquiry', 'Investigation' and 'Security' or 'Protection' in their titles. Governments, tending to consist of sensitive souls who will the ends but cavil at the means, and who do not want their populace to be disturbed by the use of words which might conjure unsettling images of pain-wracked broken bodies babbling and screaming out the dregs of their lives in blood and faeces stained cellars, prefer the titles of such agencies, however necessary, to be bland, vague and soothing. Hence after some bureaucratic havering the Templar Investigative Agency took up the task of discreetly monitoring persons who and events which would tend to deviate from the paths of righteousness and impair the celestial harmony of life in Zion. Corrective action, when necessary, usually took place where the tranquillity of the general public would not be disturbed.
Unlike their medieval precursors, these inquisitors or investigators were not much concerned with religious doctrines and heresies. The faith of the public was of a sentimental and moralising rather than an intellectual nature. The content was pretty much the same, whatever the brand name. There were too many competing churches and creeds for one school of thought to predominate. 'In my Father's house are many mansions' was a text which enabled sectarian conflict to be avoided. The practical more than theoretical orientation of the people prevented disputes such as those over the Real Presence, the filioque clause or the Papal Supremacy from undermining society and leading to massive conflict. No non-Christian religions were permitted, but no great ingenuity was required to find some obscure saint or legendary practice to serve as patron or give a patina of Christianity for a specially devoted cult within a very broad church. What was required of those who were not convinced Bible-thumpers was discretion. This virtue had been greatly undervalued in the old America. Now it flourished. Flaunting differences and rubbing them in your neighbours faces was no longer encouraged, approved, or a prudent procedure, and conversely, people did not go out of their way to 'make windows into other men's souls'. The velvet glove was an accepted article of apparel, but no-one doubted that, at need, an iron fist might be rapidly uncovered and put to vigorous use.
The cast of mind which deprecated socially disruptive religious wrangling was capable of accepting Mormonism as sufficiently Christian to avoid inconvenient conflict with useful allies, could swallow camels whilst refraining from straining at gnats, and accept the doctrine of one of the Church Fathers, Clement was it, or Augustine or Tertullian that under whatever name the earth had never lacked the true Christian faith. It was thought that the original druids had merged easily with celtic Christianity and become early celtic saints. There had obviously been far more overlap than the pious tales reported. It was quite incredible, for instance, that the story of St. Patrick using a shamrock to introduce the Irish to the concept of the Trinity could be true. One merely had to realise that this enslaved son of a Romano-British patrician had been carried past the Isle of Man whose later symbol was the triskele, that the Irish goddess of Sovereignty, celebrated in tale, was triune, that both Ireland and the Continent boasted Celtic stone carvings of heads displaying three faces, and that the saint had been operating none too far from the great megalithic monument of Newgrange with a massive stone covered in three joined spirals across its entrance, to understand that! Not to mention that triplicities of deities had been commonplace in pre-Christian Europe, and that the Indo-European societies had been based on a three caste system of producers, warriors and priests. There was no need to trouble the mind of the average pew-sitter with such matters, but those who wielded discreet influence within the Temple knew it well enough.
Very few witch burnings proved necessary. When offered the choice in Deuteronomy chapter 30 verse 19 'I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live', most were sensible; only a few were taken to the extremity of Exodus chapter 22 verse 18 'thou shalt not suffer a witch to live'. No longer could there be blasphemous nose-thumbing publicity-seeking gimmicks such as a Church of Satan, without attracting the deadly serious attention of officials with absolutely no sense of humour in religious matters.
Christianity had assimilated many other cults, or expressed old ideas in a new form. Christ had become the epitome of the old tradition of seasonally sacrificed Sacred Kings, dying for their people, for instance; and the bishops mitre and the title of Pope or Papa had supposedly been taken from Mithraism. Hence 'legacy' or ancestral cults such as Druidism, - or even Asatru where the dying and rising god Balder had been known as the White Christ, the emblem known to some as the Eye of Woden was called the Celtic Cross by others, and the amulet worn by some as the Hammer of Thor could also be called a Tau Cross- , although modern re-interpretations rather than survivals, (earlier Christians had made sure of that!) could be accepted with tactful discretion, bland ambiguity and only perfunctory application of holy water. Letting sleeping dogs lie and not frightening the horses were the prudent canons of social and religious civility.
What really interested the investigators was Leftism, subversive attitudes and practices, atheism, materialism and secularism - all the things for which the North had been notorious. It was in the North that their attention was focussed. The war had eliminated such people from the South and current society was uncongenial to them, so little threat was expected there. The death of the cities in the North had eliminated the chief locus of the problem. The changes to the education system were intended to prevent a recurrence. The survivors, especially in the countryside, had had a bellyful of Revolution, and had no stomach for any more of it, so the investigators concluded that there was no immediate major problem there either, although it would be necessary to continue to keep a close eye on those pesky Yankees.
The old-time secular religion of materialistic science had been badly battered by the economic collapse and social turmoil, which had greatly reduced its funding.The demise of lefty media, the increasingly religious public attitudes after the defeat of the North and the foundation of Zion had reduced the aura of awe within which the public mind had held it. The Temple was now the only large organisation willing or able to patronise anything resembling 'science' to even a minor degree. The universities and research establishments had been destroyed. Government and foundation funding had ceased.There were no longer cabals of hard-shelled materialists able to dominate the agenda, curricula and interpretation of intellectual inquiry, threatening and damming heretics to outer darkness. Attitudes had changed. In the generation after the defeat of the North, surviving scientists and technicians who could produce something useful from meagre resources had been put to use. The rest starved or found productive employment. Any who had been associated with Leftism or had a reputation as troublemakers or academic tyrants had failed the exacting physical examinations to which they had been subjected. At that, the physical scientists had been luckier than their colleagues in the so-called 'social sciences', well known as far-left crazies, subversives and degenerates, who had simply been shot when caught. Considering the excesses of the Revolutionary Northern regime, and the fact that no-one untainted by them could have continued to hold an academic position in the North, this treatment was generally regarded as brusque but fair.
The intellectual climate was no longer that of the 19th century. Darwin, Marx, Einstein and Freud were all in bad odour, deeply unfashionable, and to be under their influence was to be in the shadow of the gallows, The climate indeed had heated or cooled, progressed or regressed, but definately changed, to something akin to the 16th century, wherein 'natural philosophers' were more in vogue than 'scientists'. Such of the much reduced intellectual class as were interested, were more interested in Dee or Fludd than in Descartes or his successors. Iamblichus and the Theology of Arithmetic were more studied than Heisenberg and quantum mechanics. 'Science' was now regarded with some scepticism and even suspicion. Not exactly as being false, but as being a deceptive over-emphasis on superficial appearances, a snare of Satan. It's history showed 'Science' to have been a false god, promising world dominion to those who would fall down and worship it, but at the cost of their souls. Scientists were like the wounded man in the Buddhist story who would not let anyone help him until they had answered endless trivial queries about what the arrow that had stuck him was like and the appearance of whoever had shot him; he would die long before he ran out of queries. Science did not deal with knowledge of Salvation or Liberation. It had been the black magic of the Old Times, promising enlightenment but only providing wealth and power to the rulers with some material comfort for the masses; rather as alchemy had been perverted into being treated as early chemistry and its practitioners imprisoned by greedy rulers in high security secret projects to make gold for them.Very like all the secret projects of modern governments seeking wealth and power.
As an aside it may be mentioned what had happened to the huge American arsenal of atomic bombs. They had not been used in the conflict between North and South. Deterrence had prevailed. Neither side had been sure exactly how many the other had had, where they all were, and how many were operational.They had agreed not to use them and had not done so, more perhaps because the North first lost the capacity to maintain theirs because of their purges and shortages, and the winning South had not felt pressed to that extremity. Afterwards they had continued to decay and the skills to maintain and operate them had been lost, until they had been buried and the locations forgotten, leaving only a vague legend of a great power for evil lying hidden beneath the earth.
The investigators took an interest in elections, promiment individuals and the connections between them, and in the membership and activities of voluntary associations. Parties had been outlawed, but it was interesting to see which birds by nature flocked together. Voluntary associations for purposes of religion, charity, self-help and community celebrations were approved, but everyone knew that not all of those who sported long beards and grave faces, or long faces and eloquent voices were prophets of God.
The Great New York ScandalOne of the stories told and re-told to new recruits within the Agency to encourage alertness concerned the involvement of their local branch in the Great New York Scandal of 2083. This had marked and marred the celebrations of the half century since the Declaration of Zion. That was when the Governor of New York State and the Mayor of New York City had been publically hanged, and most of the State and City elected representatives had received severe floggings. After complaints of having been cheated, from an agrieved but influential person, had reached senior ears in Memphis, an investigation revealed a shocking underworld of 'high' finance to have been operating in some of the abandoned skyscrapers of New York, with the connivance of the most senior elected officials. There had developed a flourishing series of inter-connected criminal enterprizes, from simple theft and fencing of stolen goods, through counterfeiting, forgery, loan-sharking, intimidation, prostitution, gambling, illicit distilling, and fixing sporting events to quasi-banking, market rigging, structured financing, insurance and pension funds, investment and tax avoidance vehicles, company manipulation and the bribing and suborning of officials. There were gambling dens known as stock and commodities exchanges and a whole class of parasites interposing themselves between honest buyers and sellers in all markets. This cozy situation, ideal for fleecing the more honest members of the public, had been facilitated by laws passed as a result of corrupt influence. The politicians and the bureaucrats who were supposed to supervise such activities had long since been corrupted. Even more disturbing than the economic thefts and frauds was the fact that as soon as these criminals made some money they applied it to influence peddling and to polluting and perverting the political and social systems, turning themselves into the Establishment, multiplying their influence through a maze of front organisations and phony charities. Soon they were in charge with the officials and politicians merely serving as their lackeys.
Fearing that they had become so powerful that they could be able to spark military resistance and political revolution which might even spread to other Northern states, a large force was raised in the Southern states and sent to occupy New York city and state before decisive action was taken to round up the malefactors and their confederates.It took months to search every building in the city, and much of the state, to identify everyone living or working there, and their origins, sources of income and associates, and to track the network of influence that linked the perpetrators and their collaborators and victims; but finally a couple of thousand of these malignant parasites were caught and hanged or shot. It was found that their influence had begun to spread to other cities and states, particularly to neighbouring New Jersey, or that others had initiated similar networks of crime and influence, but that the disease was not too far advanced. The corrupted flesh could be excised from the body politic without much danger. Matthew chapter 18 verse 9 was often quoted: 'If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire'. Once reasonable evidence had been assembled the judicial process was swift. There were no appeals. There was no point in trying to bring anyone back from the dead. Jesus wasn't listening. Lazarus had been a one-off, and he hadn't been a crook.
The scandal shocked the country. It took the shine off the celebrations and made a mockery of the sonorous speeches. It re-opened wounds and suspicions between North and South that were supposed to have been healed. It was hugely embarassing, especially when rumours spread that the influence of the crooks in New York might have extended to taint some of the godly in Memphis. Re-unification on the basis of common criminality was quite the wrong message. Grim faced investigators confronted many ashen faced members of the elite of Zion, to clear either their names or Zion of their names. There was no cover-up. There was a great deal of effort which yielded few results; or on the other hand could be said to have yielded the important result of being able to show the country that their leaders were honest. It had not been anticipated that this would need to be done at this anniversary, but it restored the confidence of the public. It was a test that the leaders of the old America would certainly have failed.
Having passed the test, the leadership of Zion and its Temple, much relieved and still more alarmed at the implications of this occurrence; took it as a sign and a warning from Divinity that they had been remiss in their responsibility to supervise the activities of the country and to guide it energetically along the paths of righteousness. But for their slackness, this evil could not have grown and prospered and escaped notice for so long. They prayed and fasted, concluded that God had alerted them just in time to prevent an insidious evil from successfully corrupting their society and undermining their state. They ordered public thanksgiving throughout the country and closer monitoring of just who came into wealth and prominence and how it was achieved. There was to be no regeneration of the unregenerate, no wealthy and influential class of sinners would be allowed to gain wealth and social position and use these assets to reduce the institutions of Zion to shams and mockeries of themselves. Money was not again to be the god in which they trusted. Slow investigation revealed that there were other family networks and innocuous seeming front associations which were composed of false Christians, and which were engaged in the same processes of corruption which had achieved notoriety in New York. These were eliminated. The Templar Investigative Agency would be all the more alert to 'who was who' and how they had come to be so and whether they should continue to be so. The Synagogue of Satan might not have been entirely closed, but it was intended to make its activities as unwelcome and unprofitable as possible in Zion.
This scandal had two consequences for the Agency. It showed that they and the other leaders of their country really followed the old maxim that justice should be done even if the heavens fall. No-one was above the law. Nothing was too big to fail. The hounds of the Lord stayed always on the trail. Attempts to divert them would be of no avail. The public were reassured about their competence and probity because the other consequence was an equally searching inquisition into the failure of their New York branch to detect and deal with the corruption there before it had got out of hand. The chief agent was executed for incompetence, and his subordinates demoted and transferred. A new start was made in New York and agents throughout the rest of the country were shocked into taking a fresh and more searching look at their own areas of responsibility.
The scandal pointed up the weakness of any system that depended on the public to be honest and competent in choosing honest and competent representatives or officials. The New York investigation showed that many of the electors were more impressed by wealth and show than by worth, which they were often unable to perceive, or even to perceive that there was a difference. Many were themselves venal and only admired those who appeared to be more successful crooks. Half a century of godliness hadn't sufficed to educate or inspire meaningful morality in them. You could take people out of New York, but could you take 'Noo Yawk' out of the people? Close supervision might help, but ultimately those who refused the call of Zion might have to suffer the fate of Sodom.
View from the Temple
Edward Gregg leaned back in his chair and let his gaze fall on the wallmap in his office. It was a leftover from the old days, showing the landmass he lived on, proudly blazoned with the words 'United States of America'. How archaic that was. A previous occupant had scored them out and overwritten the word 'ZION', as it was now known.
He had just completed some historical research and the results amazed and disquieted him. He was a student of history, and his position in the Temple allowed him access to a great deal of information that had survived from the Old Times or accumulated since then. It appeared that the population of the country around the time of the Dissolution of the Union, the economic Collapse and the Second War between the States had been about 320 million. That was a very large number. It was hard to comprehend how so many people had been fed at all, let alone enabled to live in the luxury that seemed to have been commonplace. It appeared to have much to do with oil-based chemical fertilisors, and an oil-based economy of vast industrial might with world-wide trade and economies of scale. Only remnants and relics of that survived, enough to give credence to what he had been reading. Comparable figures for the present day were harder to estimate. If anyone had them, it would be the Temple. Their figures were vague, but bore out the common experience that population, production and numbers of all kinds were very much lower than they had once been. Was that a good or a bad thing? He was not sure. The lack of statistics probably related at least in part to the Biblical story of how God had disapproved and punished a king of Israel who had attempted to number his people. Apparently, the population, having a well founded suspicion that such government interference was likely to prove a prelude to further military and fiscal exactions, had rebelled, and their success had been taken as indicative of divine approval. Nowadays there was much less interest in statistics and few resources with which to collect them, so estimates even for tax and military service were hazy, and levies depended more on past practice than on precise calculation of resources.
Even using thumbsuck approximations the contrast was staggering. In rough terms, 100 million had gone with the South, 20 million were on the Pacific coast, leaving about 200 million in the North with the Midwest. He estimated that there were now 30-40 million in the South and West. The Pacific coast, before the Occidentian campaign was an unknown barbarous area probably heavily depopulated. The Northeast might have as few as 3-5 million. The Midwest was known to be recovering and the fertility of it's soil might be supporting another 30 million or so. At least three quarters of the previous population has disappeared! How had that happened?
The war had killed a few million,say 5 or 10, but nothing like the missing 225 million. The social chaos must have killed a lot more, say 15 or 20 million; but that still left the equivalent of the whole initial population of the North unaccounted for. About two thirds of the initial Southern population had gone. It seemed that the North and Midwest had lost about 5 people out of every 6, a bit worse than the South. That was reasonable considering that they had lost and that the South had retained more of the old oil based agriculture and more cultivable land per head, especially after the fall of the Midwest. The real contrast and explanation seemed to lie with the fate of the big cities. At a guess, about half the Northern population had been in the Midwest, where the population was recovering on the fertile agricultural land, showing about the same numbers and proportion of survivors as in the South. In contrast, the population of the more heavily urbanised Northeast had fallen by about 95%! 19 out of 20 had died and not been replaced; that was impressive.
It seemed strange that so much more attention was given to the war than to what had really been killing people. Maybe that was the way people's attention worked. People had died quietly and been buried without fuss. Life went on. Even the Black Death had hardly interrupted the Hundred Years War. Had the process finished? He did not know, although he did know that at the time of the first War between the States the American population had only been about 30 million. Was their productivity now double what it had then been? Perhaps his estimates of current population were optimistic? Would the population continue to fall? Time would tell, but he might not live to hear what it said.
The big cities had died of starvation, and the culture of the North had died with them. Leftism had been a very urban phenonomen, all it's constituent groups and their dependents and constituencies had been heavily urban, and closely associated with the propaganda and coercive power of a centralised city based bureaucratic state apparatus which physically, economically, socially and intellectually dominated, morally perverted and emotionally immiserated the countryside as well as the cities. Any surviving rural strains of Leftism were likely to be far less virulent. When people have to stay productively busy to stay alive they have less opportunity to become mentally perverted, and oppress their neighbours. Cities were no longer allowed to be sinks and festering sources of physical and moral perversion and corruption.
Edward now had a better appreciation of his grandfather's stories about the Old Times and the Transition. Life must have been horrible back then, he thought. Crowded into monstrous cities, concrete cancers defacing the land and clawing at the sky. Forced to own and travel in a metal box at high speed over long distances every day just to get to and from work, in constant danger of being killed or mangled by crashing into the boxes of other demented lunatics. No wonder so many of those people had been crazy. Crazy they certainly had been. Even the food they ate had been poisoned. Their medicine had been more poison. Their minds had been scrambled by their electronic communications. The content of their news and entertainment had been filth designed to pervert and debase them. Their education had been structured to the same effect. A crazily regimented life, restricted by a plethora of petty regulations enforced by thuggish police more interested in oppressing the decent than in detecting and preventing real crime. A corrupt judicial system run by venal interests. Monitored by a fawning media compliant to the evil interests which dominated the society. Told they were free but enslaved by those who controlled what went into their bodies and minds and what they were allowed to do with them. Debt-slaves to the financial interests which sucked their blood at every opportunity and which controlled every aspect of their lives and all the institutions of their society. Taught relentlessly that good was evil, evil was good, that black was white and that there was no difference between black and white, but that black was ineffably superior, and that of course there was no one behind the curtain creating deceptive illusions. Brought up by aliens to hate and destroy themselves and their people in favour of aliens. No wonder they were crazy.
He contrasted this with his own daily experience.He lived in a city where he could safely and enjoyably walk about, to and from work, and for relaxation stroll further out, nodding to those he passed, enjoying the private and public gardens and admiring the buildings, which were no longer just rectangular concrete blocks redolent of mean spirited avarice. The built environment now was expected to demonstrate and evoke more noble qualities.There was very little crime or squalor, partly because justice was swift and sharp, but more because of the moral nature of the people. All his fellow citizens were quite like him; there were no invasive intruders, no 'diversity', no insolent pampered criminally inclined 'minorities' battening like vampires on the blood and taxes of the People. There were no illegal immigrants supported by evil Leftists perverting the local laws to give them protection and sustenance. Both categories of such persons would now be shot on sight - or at least after rigorous interrogation to identify their contacts - and anyone who had known of them yet failed to act against them would suffer for it. There were no affluent and influential traitors openly subverting the public weal, sneering at and suppressing the locals. There were no areas of open dirt and depravity where the public feared to tread and the police were prevented from doing their duty by the evil influence of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats in the pockets of cunning but inhuman kleptocrats. There were no longer such foul influences perverting the institutions and purposes of the society and the identity of the people. It was not Plato's Republic, but it was certainly closer than it had been in the Old Times to the Greek ideal of the city as a place and set of opportunities and institutions which encouraged humanity to develop their better qualities, where the citizens felt fellowship for each other as they were related by blood and common worship, and where 'a cry for help could be heard across the whole city'.
Those old Greeks had not allowed foreigners to overrun their cities, claim citizenship, own property there, displace natives from employment or profitable investment, receive handouts from the public purse which the natives were heavily taxed to provide, corrupt their poltics and institutions, demand special consideration and import foreign religious cults to take precedence over their own - and have all this nonsense preached at them by depraved intellectuals and enforced by the corrupt lackeys of vermin which had infiltrated with the intention of destroying their identity and independence. No more would Zion.
When he had gone past the University the students had been clean, sober, decent, local, intelligent, diligent and cultured. There were no unclean, uncouth, scruffy, sloppy, drug addled, third-world layabouts, no demonstrators, no protestors; no protected species of arrogant, insolent, nihilist trouble-making pseudo-intellectual academics; no avaricious administrators promoting paedophile coaches of gladiatorial sports teams taking precedence over academic achievement, or firing honest teachers who would not cover up for stupid, lazy or vicious students whose rich but coarse and cunning parents expected to buy them success. Academic curricula were no longer based on lefty filth and nonsense. Better intellectual and moral values had been restored. The Templars had seen to all that and Edward was grateful.
The Templars exercised supervision over cultural as well as moral standards. They rooted out evil degenerate and subversive influences and encouraged better behaviour.They were alert to the machinations of invasive aliens and their ways of corrupting weak or vicious locals. They retained enough of the old technology to have preserved information from the past. Potential leaders were educated in the nature, activities and associations of things like Cultural Marxism, the Frankfurt School, post-modernism and suchlike disgusting evils and perversions closely associated with the collapse of moral standards in all aspects of life towards the end of the Old Times. They were awake to the danger of new forms of corruption being devised and perpetrators infiltrating the institutions of society, the Churches and the Temple itself. He prayed that they would remain effective and receive the aid of divinity in moulding and training a more godly society and country. It could not be the Garden of Eden, or Plato's Republic or Atlantis, but it might gain some inspiration from the ancient Egyptian concept of Maat, divine justice and proportion applied in all aspects of life, which had kept Egypt stable, prosperous, moral and civilised for millennia. The creation of a Holy land of Zion would be a long, difficult and uncertain task. He would not see it's end nor how it might appear, but he was glad to have seen an early stage and trusted that God would help his successors and fellow countrymen to make improvements as long as they remained humble, diligent and receptive to His advice, inspired and warned by the examples of other times and peoples, but bringing forth their own pattern. In my Father's house are many mansions, and in God's garden may grow flowers of many species. Zion would have its own distinctive flowering.
He realised that the most dangerous difficult and unpleasant work had been done. He and his generation were blessed to live in easier times than those of his father and grandfather, and had the more pleasant task of building a worthy structure on the foundations laid so arduously by others. As he sat there pondering, it came to Edward that this might be an instance of the severity and mercy of the Lord. Many other better people had died, but the enemies of everything worthwhile had been destroyed. Without that it was not possible that Zion could have been created. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord.