Before long, Hugh was hungry again. He went over to tell Nikomedes that he needed to go eat, but Nikomedes just sort of waved him off with one hand while his other played with his lip. Hugh gave one last look around the vast worksite and jogged off to the mess hall in the barracks.
Hugh ate a whole pot full of barley soup, and at the chef’s insistence, downed a keg of beer. The whole kitchen staff watched him finish the keg in one extraordinarily long chug. A few people cheered for him afterwards, though most just shook their heads. Hugh decided to head over to see Theoson.
After Hugh couldn’t find him in his usual spot by the fountain, he decided to run by the market to pick up something else to eat. While wandering about, looking at the stands and carts full of food, Hugh noticed a small crowd. He went over and saw they were huddled around Theoson, who sat on the ground in the market, eating.
“Look at him,” said a nearby vendor. “He’s like a dog.” He threw bones in Theoson’s direction.
“People don’t eat in the market off the ground, dog,” said a young man.
A group of children began panting and howling while Theoson quietly and methodically ate. When he was finished he stood up.
“I’m the dog?” he asked. “You stand around staring at me while I eat, barking… and you accuse me of being the dog?”
He spotted Hugh and walked up to him. “I’ll be with you in a moment, there’s something I need to do.” Theoson walked over to the vendor who had initially called him a dog. When the vendor turned to help a customer, Theoson whipped back his cloak and peed on him for a few seconds before the vendor realized and pushed Theoson to the ground, who rolled around laughing, still pissing.
“What is your problem?” the vendor yelled, standing over him.
“If you treat me like a dog,” said Theoson, “I’ll act like a dog.” He lunged for the vendor’s ankle and bit him. The vendor reached for a club behind his counter and bludgeoned Theoson repeatedly in the head and shoulders. Hugh rushed in and dragged Theoson away, who cackled the whole length of the market.
Once they were out of the crowd, Hugh pulled Theoson upright. “I don’t know what I saw in you,” said Hugh.
“I do,” Theoson said, smiling wide, the teeth on his left side reddened with blood. More dripped out of his left ear.
“Tell me,” said Hugh. “Tell me why I should have anything to do with you.”
“I am a necessity for this city,” said Theoson. “I am the dog that nips at the heels of the flock. I ultimately serve the shepherd, even if it seems like I scare the sheep.”
“You think this is helping Chancellor Edward?”
“Chancellor Edward?” Theoson repeated. “Walker is nothing but a petulant child. He’s a sheep, just like the rest of them, granted he has golden fleece.”
“Then who is the shepherd?” asked Hugh.
“Society is in a fog,” said Theoson, “And I am the wind that blows it away.”
Hugh shook his head and turned to walk away. He heard what sounded like Theoson being hit and looked back to see Theoson punching himself.
“What are you doing?” asked Hugh.
“When the student errs, the teacher must be punished,” said Theoson, striking himself hard against his chest.
Hugh walked up to him and grabbed his wrists.
“Stop,” said Hugh. “Please don’t hurt yourself, especially on my account.”
Theoson stared into Hugh’s eye for a bit. He just stood there, his chest heaving with each breath, bloodied, not fighting Hugh’s grasp.
“I want you to meet my other student,” said Theoson. Hugh released him, and the two of them walked for a bit. They came to a large building with tall stone columns. After climbing some steps, they walked through a corridor and came to a small amphitheater, in which several men sat and reclined, talking.
“Hugh!” Brad stood up and walked over. “I’m glad you came. I see you brought one of our frequent guests…”
“Shove it up your ass,” said Theoson.
“We don’t need that kind of hostility, not today,” said Brad. “We’re discussing something of the utmost importance, and I think Hugh may be able to give us a perspective no one else in the city can.”
“What’s the topic?” asked Hugh.
“What is it to be a man?” asked Brad.
“Thank goodness I arrived,” said Theoson. He lifted his cloak. “This is what makes you a man. Problem solved.”
Brad turned away from the sight of Theoson’s genitals, shaking his head and sighing. “No, Theoson,” he said, “That is what makes you an animal. A man is civilized, polite, capable of reason and logic.”
“Come now,” said a voice behind them. “You have it all wrong, Brad. Theoson is unreasonably logical.”
A short man with unusual proportions limped up to them. He was waste-high compared to most of the men there, just over knee-high on Hugh. He looked at Theoson and smiled. “If anything, you could stand to remember how inherently illogical men are. You might say men are defined as being the only illogical animals, for what other creature so readily pursues such silly things as imaginary melodramas performed by actors playing pretend for the benefit of an audience?”
“That’s true,” said Brad, smirking. “And man is the only animal to act contrary to his nature.”
“What I’m hearing,” said Theoson, “Is that man is illogical by nature, but that man acts contrary to his nature. So is a man logical or not?”
The little man shook his head. He turned to Hugh, “I’m Zeke, by the way.”
“Hi, I’m Hugh.”
“Your reputation precedes you, both from Brad and Theoson.”
“What do you say?” asked Brad, looking at Hugh. “What makes a man?”
Hugh thought for a moment. “I guess… from my perspective, I would have to say having two eyes.”
Zeke chuckled. “Come, have a seat,” said Brad. “Let’s see if maybe we can get to the bottom of this.”
Hugh sat down next to Theoson on a bench with no back.
“I think,” said Brad, “That a man is one who lives according to nature.”
“Whose nature?” asked Theoson. “The nature of nobles? Of thieves? Of politicians’? Of prostitutes’? Well… perhaps those do all have the same nature…”
“Man lives according to nature when he fulfills his potential,” said Brad.
“That makes more sense,” Theoson said, “You almost made it seem like men were little more than shaved monkeys.”
“Well, aren’t we?” Brad asked.
“You think that, do you?” Theoson asked, leaning closer to Brad, who shrugged.
Theoson grunted and stood up. “I’ll be back.” He walked off without looking back.
“Don’t you think it’s odd, Brad,” said Zeke, stroking his chin, “That we talk as if we are no different from apes, even though apes are incapable of sitting around talking about how they are similar to us?”
“He’s just upset that people have been calling him an animal for a while now,” said Brad.
“People including you?” asked Zeke, raising his eyebrow.
“Always defending your teacher,” Brad said. “You may win battles, but you will ultimately lose the war.”
“Let’s discuss man, not one man in particular,” said Zeke. “I think what my tutor would have said, had he been present to defend his views, is that man is not born like other animals, capable of surviving on natural instincts. Man, by nature, is helpless and amoral. We must be protected and taught how to live, and we can only rise to the level that we have learned. This is why primitive people, who know of no other way, continue to live as we did millennia ago.”
“Truly, there is no disputing those facts,” said Brad, “But if what we are is merely what we were taught, how did we learn in the first place? We are naturally capable of bettering ourselves, we can innovate, we can dig deep within ourselves and pull out talents that were previously unmatched in all of human history. Every great artist will invariably outshine their instructor, so how, unless there is something inherently special in some people?”
“It’s not an issue of what someone is born with,” Zeke said. “It matters what that person does. It is through practice that excellence is achieved, not some inherent ability. We sit here exercising our minds, and we become smarter for it. In the military training yard, soldiers become better warriors. What makes the man, then, is the sum total of his choices.”
“You should know as well as anyone that not all men are created equally,” Brad said. “You are a unique case of blessings and curses, whereby your physical deformity would have resulted in your abandonment as an infant, had you not been born to such a wealthy family. You owe your very existence to your pedigree and how graciously the Fates have smiled upon your family.”
“Ah, but that proves my point,” said Zeke. “I am seen as inferior by most in my social class, and I would never have even been given a chance if I had been born a farmer’s son, but despite my... shortcomings… I still manage to achieve though the rigor of my actions. I have what I have through hard work.”
“Hard work that wsas facilitated by forces you can’t control,” said Brad.
Zeke looked over at Hugh. “What do you think? What makes the man, processes outside of his control or his own actions?”
Hugh thought for a bit. “Does it have to be one or the other?” he asked. “I mean… who can deny the truth in both? Events happen to us which we can’t control, and these shape our lives, but how we react to that which is out of our control will also define us as well.”
“But surely you must agree that some great men are simply born great,” said Brad.
“I don’t know,” said Hugh. “My mother always told me I was destined to do great things, but perhaps that’s just something mothers tell their children.”
Zeke laughed. “He has you pinned,” he said. “Your arguments amount to the soothing words of a mother for her child.”
“That isn’t what he said at all,” said Brad.
They talked for a while longer and Hugh kept looking for a polite time to excuse himself, but before long Theoson ran into the room and threw something at Brad, who shrieked, which caused the thing thrown at him to shriek and jump away.
“There’s your man, Brad,” said Theoson.
The monkey jumped about a bit before climbing up a window and perching there, looking back at them.
Theoson turned to Hugh. “Do you suppose you can reach him? I need him back to the bestiary by sundown.”
To be continued...