The buyer of Theoson and Hugh led them to his horse. Once he was mounted, he said, “Come, we have a long journey ahead of us.”
As they walked, the buyer asked Theoson question after question.
“Where are you from?”
“Everywhere?” asked the buyer.
“I am a citizen of the world.”
“From whom did you learn your philosophy?”
“I studied under Nonthemis when I was young.”
“Was that before or after you were exiled from Kynopy?” asked the buyer.
“Exiled? No. I condemned those fools to stay in that wretched city when I was just a boy wearing his first beard.”
“Nonthemis… hmm…” the buyer said, trailing off.
“I’m sure you’ve heard of his teacher, Panvirtus.”
“Ah, so he was a Politian?”
“He was born, lived, and died in Polity, but he was no Politian.”
“Who was Panvirtus?” asked Hugh.
“You remember Brad” asked Theoson.
“Panvirtus was his teacher as well,” replied Theoson. “He was a wise old codger, I suppose. He didn’t think much of me, said I wore my poverty like a pretentious robe of luxurious furs. Still, it’s a shame what happened to him.”
“What happened?” asked Hugh.
“He was put to death,” Theoson said.
“For telling the truth,” said Theoson.
“He was unpopular among the powerful,” said the buyer. “And Panvirtus had a way of endearing himself to the children of powerful men, leading them astray.”
“To lead a spoiled brat from the path he is on is hardly a crime,” said Theoson.
“Yes, I hear you have taken up his old practice, in your own way,” said the buyer. “Nonthemis… I seem to remember hearing something about him. I don’t know his teachings, but I know he tried to be a tutor for years, failing to take any students.”
“Just one,” said Theoson.
“You’re him, I take it?”
“After failing for years to find anyone worthy of his teaching, he would drive off any who approached him, first by yelling at them, then by threatening them with his staff. I told him that he could hit me all he wanted, there was no wood strong enough in the world to keep me from learning. At that, he took me on as his sole pupil.”
“So that’s where you get it from,” said Hugh.
“So what did he teach you?” asked the buyer.
“He taught me what I teach others to do: to throw your money into the sea; to burn down your home; to abandon your family and friends; to rid yourself of all things but your staff, satchel and robe; to abuse everyone without exception, king and general alike; to do away with all modesty, decency, moderation, and embarrassment; to go into the most crowded part of a city and lead a solitary existence; to shamelessly do in public what no ordinary person would even admit to doing in private; to fulfill your lusts in the most absurd ways imaginable; and finally, when you choose, to eat a poisonous blowfish and die.”
“And this is the life you believe will… what?”
“It will set you free. It certainly worked for me. There’s no need for education, hard work, or grand acts. This path is a shortcut. Even if you are an otherwise ordinary man, there is nothing stopping you from becoming a marvel to behold.”
“Don’t you usually take on students who are already famous?”
“I take on many students who are well-known among men. I turn them into individuals who live without want. In short, I turn men of renown into gods.”
“Doesn’t it ever bother you, this life you’ve chosen?”
“Only at first.”
“Not anymore?” asked the buyer.
“Once, when I was sitting alone as the Politians were celebrating a great festival, I was eating some discarded bread crusts, and I wondered if I had made a mistake. As I sat in the street, a mouse scurried up to me and busily gathered up the crumbs I dropped. At that point, I knew that what I was doing was right, it was natural, and that I could be happy without the luxuries flaunted by those around me. In fact, I could be happier, because when times are good, vermin thrive, and when things turn bad… we still flourish. What need do I have for the drinking and the soft, comfy couches of revelers? If a mouse can content himself with my leavings, what right do I have to complain not being in the company of debauched rakes? I can live quite comfortably on the scraps of the profligates.”
“So you honestly don’t mind having nothing?” the buyer asked.
“I have nothing and everything,” said Theoson. “Everything belongs to the Divas, and the wise are friends to the Divas. Since friends share what they have, everything is shared with the wise.”
“The Divas have left us with an easy path to happiness, but they also blinded us with extravagant desires, preventing most from seeing how easy it is to live a good life.”
This caused the buyer to think quietly for a bit as they continued on. Before long, he asked, “Is it true you walk barefoot in the snow?”
“Yes,” he replied. “And I roll naked in sand during the heat of the summer, just to practice enduring pain.”
“Is it also true that you write tragedies of unequaled quality?”
“Hardly,” said Theoson. “I’m not the greatest writer, not even among those who live. But I am told I write tragedy quite well, and it’s no wonder. My life is a traditional tragedy, every tragedy, in fact. I am a man without a home, without a country, a beggar, a wanderer, living day by day, hand to mouth. I have no one to love, nothing to my name… and yet, perhaps I can never be the greatest tragedian because I do not see these things as tragedy. I am happier than the King of Kole. To me, what I write are comedies, because they contain absurd characters reacting in a manner that I find to be hilarious. However, I am told that technically, they are tragedies.”
“How do you write, if you don’t own anything?”
“I dictate,” said Theoson. “I find those who are willing to listen, and they are more than happy to write what I have to say.”
“Do they pay you?” asked the buyer.
“Listening is all the payment I need.”
“And the credit, of course.”
“I never ask to have any of the plays attributed to me,” said Theoson. “In fact, several have had plays I dictated to them performed without ever mentioning my name. These are my greatest accomplishments of all.”
“Because fame is a not only an illusion, it is an intoxicant. I urge everyone to become famous, it’s not hard. Then, they can see it’s not something to be proud of. Glory cannot make you truly happy. Like all illusory joys, it can disappear, or even be used against you. Why do you think so many of my students are famous? It’s certainly not because fame is enough for them.”
“Hmm, I do believe we agree on this,” said the buyer. “Where I come from, there is a strong desire to be remembered after one dies. I imagine it’s probably a common goal for many peoples. But what good does being remembered do us?”
“Indeed. It does us no good at all.”
“Wouldn’t it be nice to be remembered for having done good, though?” asked Hugh.
“Nice for whom?” asked Theoson. “Nice for you? Nice for your family, who will soon join you in the oblivion of death? The best you can hope for, then, is to be a name that children are taught to learn, like the succession of kings or a list of famous thinkers. Do you want to spend eternity as a test of someone’s memory, as a chore for others?”
“Exactly,” said the buyer. “It would be better for us if we were forgotten, but that our ideas be remembered and even built upon.”
“Very true,” said Theoson. “I am glad to see there is some sense in you.”
“You must know I’m not a complete fool, if only because I purchased you.”
“Quite the contrary,” said Theoson. “I only know one thing if you purchased me: you are either a fool or a masochist.”
The buyer chuckled. “Perhaps I’m a little of both.”
“Perhaps,” repeated Theoson.
“So let me ask you,” began the buyer, “In all your travels, where do the best people reside?”
“The best people? No where,” said Theoson. “The best children, Austeria.”
“You jest,” said the buyer. “I can’t honestly believe you, of all people, would stoop to flattery.”
“I don’t say this because you are an Austerian,” said Theoson. “It is the only place where the children are taught to be self-reliant, and they are… until they become adults and rely upon the slaves.”
“So if the best people, excuse me, the best children are in Austeria, why did you spend so much time in Polity?”
“Does a doctor go where the people are healthy?”
The buyer nodded. “For a crazy old coot, you have a lot of wisdom in you. You have a sort of madness to you that only the sane could appreciate.”
“Um… do you mind if I ask where we’re going?” asked Hugh.
“To my home,” said the buyer.
“And where is that?” asked Hugh.
“Just outside of Austeria. We’ll need to travel well into the night.”
“And what do you plan to do with us?” Hugh asked.
“So many questions, this one,” the buyer said to Theoson.
“He hasn’t yet realized that none of this matters,” said Theoson.
“Tomorrow, I send word to the two groups who are interested in purchasing you,” said the buyer.
“Who would want to buy Theoson?” asked Hugh.
“No one,” said the buyer. “But I know of a few people who would be interested in buying you, and I had a feeling you two are a package deal.”
“What’s to stop me from just running off now?” asked Hugh.
“I’d kill Theoson, for one,” he replied. “But also… do you even know where you are?”
“I’ve found my way through worse,” said Hugh.
“Run, then,” he said. “See if you can get to Polity, although I should warn you… be careful of which way you take, since the Otros are already camped south of the city. They’ll find you first if you take any road leading from Austeria.”
“So who are you selling us to?” asked Hugh.
“Depends on who offers more, the Politians or the Otros.”
To be continued…