The next morning, the people of the village gave Theoson and Hugh long spears and several flint spear points as parting gifts. Hugh could not understand their language. Though it sounded vaguely familiar, he could not even pick out a few words that he recognized.
They continued on now, armed with flint-point spears. They walked all day until late in the afternoon without stopping, when they came upon a quiet cove with rocky caves just inland. They decided to stop to rest and catch some food.
When they waded into the water, several dolphins came swimming up towards the shore, driving large schools of fish towards them. Each of them easily speared a large fish each and brought it to shore. Using the flint on a spear point and an iron buckle on Hugh’s satchel, they started a fire with some dried, dead grass.
After they ate, Hugh asked about what their plan was.
“I have some idea of where we are,” said Theoson. “If I’m not mistaken, we’re a day or so away from Antigonia. When we get there, I know a woman who will let us stay with her for the winter. Another option is to continue further north until we reach a coastal town where we might be able to buy passage on a boat, but I would rather wait until we get to Antigonia and ask there, since I’m not that familiar with the area.”
They bedded down for the night in the sand and awoke early to continue on. They stopped before long when they came to a patch of berry bushes and ate their fill before moving on. By the afternoon, they had reached tended farms on the outskirts of the city, and turned inland away from the sea.
By nightfall, from atop a hill, they saw the buildings of Antigonia in the distance. They knocked on the door of a peasant farmer and after Theoson explained their situation, they were given dinner and allowed to stay there, Theoson inside and Hugh out in a nearby barn with suckling goats and their mothers. In the morning, they were given breakfast and continued on into the city.
As they entered the town, many took notice of them, both of them. While many stared at Hugh (and this was something he was quite used to), several others came up to Theoson and shook his hand, welcoming him, even giving him a loaf of bread or skin full of wine. Theoson thanked each in turn and continued on, putting each gift into his beggar’s satchel.
“I take it you’ve been here before?” asked Hugh.
“This was the first place I began tutoring,” said Theoson. “This was the town that more or less made me famous.”
“You’re famous?” asked Hugh.
Theoson smiled. “I suppose not.”
They made their way through the town until they reached a small estate near the center, a building much like Hugh’s home in Polity. It was a large, square building with an interior garden. Upon entering, they saw an old woman standing inside, speaking before a small group of men, women and children, all sitting.
“… and so love of beauty is not true love at all. Instead, it is a ladder. To love something beautiful must necessarily lead one to love beauty itself, and what is beauty but the perfect ideal? When we love a person, we wish to be with them and to create with them, whether it be something as simple as stimulating conversation or even, in the case of men and women who love each other, children. But love is necessarily a process of creation, and it is through love that all good things are created.”
Theoson stepped forward and said, “Does the sky love the land? Is it this love which results in the intercourse which brings all things into existence?”
The woman smiled, got up and walked over to Theoson, embracing him. “Indeed.”
Theoson turned to Hugh. “Hugh, this is Timia, one of the many teachers I have had in my life.”
“Is this one of your few students?” asked Timia, looking Hugh up and down.
“He certainly believes he is,” said Theoson. “As far as I can tell, that remains to be seen. I have my doubts that I have taught him anything.”
“Is that the fault of the student or the teacher?” asked Timia, lifting one eyebrow as she looked at Theoson.
Theoson took his spear, spun it point down, and drove it into his foot. “You’re right. It is mine.”
Timia sighed. “I certainly never taught you to be that harsh. Being so cruel to yourself only makes you think you need to be that cruel to others.” She put her hand on the spear and lifted it out of his foot. “Come,” she said, “Let’s put a bandage on it and discuss more important matters than your own successes and failures.”
Timia dismissed the group sitting in her garden before leading Theoson and Hugh to benches behind her home under a shaded veranda. As she washed Theoson’s wound, she said, “You know, I think that deep down, you only do these things to yourself to get the attention you crave. Except, the attention you really need can never come from showing how willing you are to destroy your own body.”
“And what attention do I need?” asked Theoson.
“You know what I believe,” said Timia.
“Love is an illusion,” said Theoson.
“But it is the most powerful illusion,” she replied. “All things are illusions. Writing something off because it is intangible will leave you only with a world where all things bring neither pleasure nor pain.”
“That is the ideal world, to me.”
“And yet… this ideal world of yours, which is empty and devoid of all emotion, is itself an illusion which you hope will bring you pleasure that cannot be wiped out by pain.”
“Not pleasure,” said Theoson, “Merely the absence of pain.”
“There is still a self-satisfying pleasure you seek, and perhaps you will find it,” said Timia. “But you cannot share it with others, and worst of all, it is empty.”
“Of course it is empty,” said Theoson, smiling. “That is the entire goal. Absolute virtue is only possible when one has abandoned all things, including one’s own self. The emptiness that I seek allows me to be a vessel to hold the highest virtue imaginable.”
“You have lofty ideas that I will never understand,” said Timia. “I prefer to teach others to live in a way that can be lived by all. I have no doubt that your way works for you, but it can never work for a person who is weak, and any ideal that fails for the weak is an ideal I cannot profess. It is the weak who most need our help. Those like yourself who are strong, who have the fortitude to live the life you advocate, they do not need such a system as that which you advocate. The strong do just fine without our help.”
“It is not strength that allows me to live the way that I do,” said Theoson. “It is the way I live that allows me to be strong.”
“Don’t kid yourself, my friend,” she said. “You were strong before you ever formulated these ambitious notions. In fact, I would be willing to wager that you also only attract those who are strong. Just look at your potential student, here. He’s built like a mountain. What does he fear? What can a person as big and powerful as him even ever hope to be afraid of? If ever you found a student who was capable of living out your teachings, this is him, and still you are reluctant to believe he is worthy of your instruction. How meaningful can your teachings be if one as great as Hugh here cannot confidently be seen as an apt pupil?”
“I fear things,” said Hugh.
“Oh?” asked Timia.
“I fear that I lack control in my life. I fear that the power I have is being misused. I fear that my entire life, which I do not believe can last much longer, will only result in the suffering of countless others. I even fear love.”
Timia dropped Theoson’s foot and walked up to Hugh who, even sitting on the bench and hunched forward, loomed over her. “You must not fear love,” said Timia. “In fact, I cannot believe you fear it.” She looked at Theoson and chided, “Tell me this is not your doing.”
“I never utter a word about love,” said Theoson.
“He hasn’t,” said Hugh. “Rather, I know that those I love are doomed. I… I don’t want people to be hurt on my account, and it would be better if I just went through life alone than if I brought misery to those who brought me joy.”
“You seem certain that your love will cause misery,” said Timia. “Why do you think that those you love will be made to suffer?”
“It is my fate,” said Hugh.
“And do you believe in fate?” she asked.
“I don’t want to, but… my destiny has been laid out before me, as clear as day, and up to this point, it has been accurate. What am I to make of that?”
Timia walked back over to Theoson and finished bandaging his foot in silence, then she took a seat on the bench next to Hugh. “There is one glaring problem with what you say,” she said. “If, in fact, everyone you love will actually be made to suffer as a result of you loving them… then the simple act of not getting close to a person is itself an act of love, is it not?”
Hugh thought quietly for a bit before shrugging his shoulders.
“What I mean to say is, shouldn’t you focus on bringing what joy you can to others? Don’t those you love deserve the pleasure of your company while they can still enjoy it? Forgive me if I am being obtuse, but even if you sheltered yourself away in some remote location, apart from all of humanity, wouldn’t this be an act of love towards all mankind? If you are doomed to bring pain and suffering to those you love, perhaps the best course of action is to love but a few, and to make sure that these few whom you love are stalwart individuals capable of handling hardship.”
With that, there was silence for a while, and Timia went inside her house, coming back with two loaves of bread and cups of wine. They sat eating and drinking quietly. After they were finished, Timia brought their cups back inside and rejoined them.
“Where are my manners?” she asked. “I was in the spirit of teaching and lecturing when you found me, and I completely forgot to ask, what brings you to my home?”
“We were shipwrecked on our way home from the Triumphants,” said Theoson. “If you ask me, it was the sort of storm sent by the Divas themselves.”
Timia shook her head. “Always getting into trouble with those more powerful than yourself, Theoson. What great being have you angered this time?”
“No,” said Hugh. “I am afraid it was me.”
“What?” Theoson asked.
“When we were in Aleksia, I met Suty.”
Timia and Theoson looked at each other for a moment, then back at Hugh. There was silence for several seconds before Theoson intoned, “And?”
“And I may have insulted him… and the Divas,” said Hugh.
Theoson sighed. “Well that explains it. You don’t insult a desert Diva before embarking on a sea voyage.”
“I didn’t know who he was at the time,” said Hugh. “And besides, what does a desert Diva have to do with the sea? They’re completely different.”
“Are they?” asked Theoson. “The sea is the great, wet desert. Men die of thirst on the ocean, just as they do in the desert. Both are vast and difficult to traverse, and each is prone to storms. What’s more, both the sea and the desert are known for causing men to become lost, often forever. Suty has many powerful friends under the waves.”
“I’m sorry,” said Hugh.
“Don’t apologize to me,” said Theoson. “I’m not the one you’ve pissed off to the point of wanting you dead. Apologize to the Divas, and to those poor sailors who likely met their end in that storm.”
“I’m sorry to put you through this,” Hugh said.
Theoson got up and smacked Hugh across the face. “What did I just say?”
“I’m…” Hugh began, though he stopped as Theoson drew his hand back to slap him again.
Theoson sighed and sat down. “Well, I guess getting a boat home is out of the question now. We have to stay off the seas. If I weren’t so confident that I could weather the rage of the Divas, I would separate from you now. You’re cursed, as far as I’m concerned. You’re lucky I fear no hardship.”
Timia put her hand on Hugh’s knee. “You aren’t cursed. You just have a powerful enemy, is all. There are ways to atone for these sorts of things. I’ll let you stay here until the winter thaw, then we can see about getting you home safely. In the meantime, I think we should figure out how to get you back into the good graces of the Divas. Suty may never forgive you, but perhaps there is another way. Sometimes all it takes to overcome a powerful enemy is an even more powerful friend.”
To be continued…