Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Several Adventures of Hugh, Part 18

Hugh woke up early and brought the bags of coins to the fountain across from Theoson’s tree.

“I’m here,” said Hugh. “I have the coins.”

Theoson grumbled something unintelligible, and after a minute or so he climbed down the tree.

“That was quick,” he said. “Well, hold onto them for today, I need to talk to some people. Come back tomorrow and I’ll be ready.”

Hugh went back to his room, stowed the bags under his bed, then made his way to the workshop in the barracks. Verne was smelting ingots when he arrived. Hugh talked with him as he worked regarding what needed to be done. Verne said he needed to design a sword that was heavy at the end but which could also be used to stab. It would not be used by cavalry, and would need to be used in close quarters.

Hugh thought for a bit as Verne finished, then proceeded to spend the day forging a sword no longer than from fingertip to elbow on most adult men. The back edge was straight, but the sharp edge was like a rounded L with an angle greater than 90 degrees. The thickest part of the sword was slightly over half as thick at where the sword would meet the hilt.

“Nice blood groove,” Verne said, pointing to a long, deep indent that ran straight up the length of the back edge.

“Actually, it’s a fuller,” said Hugh. “It’s not for allowing blood to flow out, it’s for shaving off some weight and for tweaking the balance. I want as much weight in the front of the blade as I can get.”

Verne nodded. “Can you stab with that blade?”

“You can,” said Hugh, “Though the point is probably not capable of cutting thick armor. It’s more of a slashing weapon, and even stab wounds will have a tendency to leave large, long wounds rather than facilitate deep penetration.”

Verne chuckled. “Penetration,” he repeated.

“Anyway,” said Hugh, “I will make another where the angle is even more extreme, so it will still be tip-heavy, but it can be used more for stabbing. I just figured I would try something new for the first attempt.”

Hugh began work on the second blade, and worked well into the night, much to Verne’s dismay. “I promise you can have the whole day off tomorrow,” said Hugh.

“That’s not how it works,” said Verne. “I still have to be here in the morning to smelt.”

“I’ll try to be back in the afternoon,” said Hugh. “I’ll say I need your help, and you can go someplace where you can take a nap.”

Verne just kept working the bellows.

Not long after, Hugh took the hint and decided to call it quits for the night. Hugh left the partially forged blade hanging by a strap from the rafters.

The next morning, Hugh skipped eating and went to see Theoson. He stood facing the direction Hugh usually came from, smiling with one side of his mouth.

“Bring those and follow me,” Theoson said, pointing to the bags.

They walked towards the market and turned into an alcove with stairs. At the top, they crossed a roof and came to a parapet overlooking the market. Theoson took one of the bags from Hugh’s hand and shouted down below.

“A gift to the city’s merchants!”

He then buried his hand into the bag and threw a handful of coins down below. He did this a few times, then moved further down the roof and threw more. He climbed and jumped along closely set rooftops and continued tossing coins down on the market. Vendors and customers scurried on hands and knees for the coins in the street.

Theoson looked back to Hugh, who hadn’t moved, and waved him over. Hugh caught up to him and Theoson asked, “Why don’t you join me?”

Hugh began tossing coins down as well. They slowly made their way along a good length of the market, until they got to a point where the rooftops were separated by a wide ally, with no way to cross. Theoson began chucking coins as hard as he could, as far as he could. Hugh joined in.

Before too long, both of them were turning their bags upside down over the street below. Theoson began laughing. Within seconds, there were angry shouts form the market.

“Come on,” said Theoson, turning and heading down a set of stairs. This led through someone’s home, and the two of them quickly walked past a women making bread, trying not to make eye contact. Hugh couldn’t avoid glancing at her. She just looked nervous.

“Sorry,” Hugh said, passing through.

Once in the street again, Theoson began walking away from the market, while Hugh turned back to look. There was loud shouting coming from the market. When Hugh caught up with Theoson, he was laughing.

“There couldn’t have been more than a handful of silver pieces worth of coin in those bags,” he said. “We’ve fed all the poor in the city for a few days with it.”

“What?” asked Hugh.

“Look.” Theoson pointed to two young boys carrying cherry-apples in their shirt, which they held like a small basket. He pointed again to an old woman with two big loaves of bread tucked under her arm.

“You made that possible,” said Theoson, smiling.

“I don’t get it,” said Hugh.

“They stole it while we distracted the merchants.”

“No…”

“Yes,” said Theoson. “But don’t feel bad. I wouldn’t be surprised if they made more money from what we threw than what was taken, since so much of their food goes bad before they can even sell it. Can you fathom that, Hugh? They let perfectly good food spoil right before their eyes while thousands of people around them starve.”

“I don’t feel right about this,” said Hugh.

“Of course not,” said Theoson, “You’re a good person. You think about what you do, and you want to do the right thing. So think about this: a rich man is like a berry vine that grows over the edge of a cliff. It grows well, has the privilege of unobstructed sunlight, and produces fine fruit, but it does no one any good… because no one can get to it over the edge of the cliff.”

Hugh just remained quiet.

“When wealth moves into a city,” said Theoson, “Virtue is evicted. And yet, frugality is a virtue that can be practiced by anyone, even in the presence of such decadence. Ultimately, one must realize that there is only one kind of happiness, and it cannot be bought. True happiness can only come from your ability to live properly, for this is the only happiness that does not rely on the fickle nature of the Fates and Graces. If your happiness is derived from your own actions and attitudes, then you have a happiness that is completely under your own control.”

“What does that have to do with facilitating a mass theft?” asked Hugh.

“Laws and conventions are mortal, ethics are eternal,” Theoson said. “What we did was feed the hungry. If we had physically hurt someone, or perhaps even threatened to hurt someone, I might see how horrible our actions were. What we did was play on the insatiability of greed, the obsession for more, and the inherent inclination for this weakness to allow people to drop their guard.”

Hugh remained quiet for the rest of their walk back to the tree. Once they were there, Theoson turned to him. “What is wisdom?”

“Knowing what is right,” said Hugh.

“That’s not enough,” said Theoson. “Wisdom isn’t only knowing what is right, wisdom is the ability to figure out how to actually do the right thing. If wisdom results from just knowing what was right, then everyone who knows what the right thing to do is would be wise. True wisdom is in the doing, not the knowing.”

“That sounds more like ethics to me,” Hugh said.

“There is hardly any difference between the wise man and the ethical man,” said Theoson. “The one possible exception is that the ethical man who has no idea what he’s doing is right is little more than a moral fool. If a fool does something without understanding why it is right – say, if he were merely told to do it, and he obeyed – it’s not as though he really made an ethical decision.”

“If what you say is true,” said Hugh. “Then I am a fool, for if what we did was right, I had no idea.”

“Good,” said Theoson. “That’s the first step: admitting that you are a fool. The next step is to abandon all that you care for. We must demolish what has already been built, and lay a new foundation, upon which you will a build stronghold of wisdom to defend a happiness which will always be safe.”

Hugh just stood quietly.

“You have made a good first step,” said Theoson. “Now, we need to get you to give up the last of what you own.”

“I don’t own much,” said Hugh.

“I used to own only my cloak, my staff, and a bowl,” said Theoson. “Then, the other day, I saw a child cupping her hands and taking a drink from the fountain. It angered me greatly, because a young girl was able to beat me in simplicity. I stomped my bowl to splinters right then and there. I am still lobbying to have the public nudity laws abolished so that I may abandon even my cloak.”

“And your stick?” asked Hugh.

“That’s where you come in,” said Theoson. “I imagine as long as I have you around, I won’t need this.”

“You expect me to carry you?” asked Hugh.

Theoson laughed. “No, I walk just fine. I sometimes limp to give the appearance of weakness.” He tossed his staff to the ground, walked into the grass under his tree, crouched, then did a backflip. Hugh chuckled despite himself.

“I won many Triumphants in my time,” said Theoson.

“I don’t know what that means,” said Hugh.

“They’re the triennial pan-Kolic games.”

Hugh just stared at him.

Theoson sighed. “They’re a set of sporting events that happen every three years that are open to all cities and towns within the Kole Empire, which includes the city you are now standing.”

“Oh,” Hugh said.

“You’d probably throw a mean hammer, and I bet you’d easily win boxing, wrestling and all-in fighting. I wouldn’t be surprised if you get recruited. Where did you say you were from again?”

“A small island in a pond,” said Hugh.

“I should like to see it one day,” said Theoson. “Your dazzling description makes it sound so idyllic…”

Hugh smiled.

“You like sarcasm, do you?”

“I do,” said Hugh. “I rarely use it myself, but it reminds me of two people I know very well.”

“Are they alive?”

Hugh nodded. “They’re staying with me in the city.”

“If you must love someone,” Theoson said, “Love someone who is dead.”

“Why?”

“You cannot lose a dead person again.”

“I don’t want to think about that,” Hugh said.

“Of course not, and yet everyone will die.”

Hugh sighed. “Yes, I suppose everyone will die.”

“That should comfort you,” said Theoson.

“Why?”

“True wisdom is to despise wealth, pleasure, education, and even life itself. One should embrace the inevitable. Just a bit of wealth and pleasure results in poverty and hardship for many. Education is pointless, because for every man who attains wisdom, a thousand fools are born, and there is no use anyway, because that wisdom will soon be extinguished when the inevitability of death comes to the wise man. But… death also comes to the fools, and to the liars, and to the thieves, and to the murderers… no one can escape their mortality. Death keeps us free from the wretchedness of our ancestors.”

Theoson walked up to Hugh and leaned in close. “Do not fear death, for it is the only thing in life that is fair. Everyone will only get one.”

He went and sat down under his tree. He yelled to Hugh as he was turning to leave, “If you see the Chancellor, tell him his former teacher wonders if he is living well.”

Hugh went off to the workshop to work on a new sword idea he had.

To be continued…

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