For young people, and the young at heart
This is a PRIVATE LINK to a work in progress. DO NOT SHARE, though your feedback is welcome. Draft, May 2020.
The Dream Told...
The Trial of Wishes
Marguerite was a foolish young girl. She went about her formal lessons with sketch pads full of daydreams always within her reach. The answers, never. Mind you, she got answers right, but their meanings would allude her and set her off on a romp.
She cared nothing for what others thought. How they felt, though, was a matter of intense interest. Did they feel blue or green or red, or did they feel circular, square, wave-like, or, her favorite, triangular.
Triangular like her. Mom, Dad, Marguerite. Joined and yet apart, with points.
Today she had been doing geometry lessons when she feel sleep by the sea. She woke up in a waterfall. Or rather in the rather loud, damp recessed cave behind one.
From the falling waters whispered the story of the surrounding lands, though it was drowned out, from Marguerite’s ears, by the roaring of its waters. The whisperings told of two lands bordered the Land of Mystery, if they could really be called borders for Mystery was constantly but subtly shifting.
One was the Land of Surety. A king oversaw it, an old tottering man who was sure science discovered all that could be known. So resigned was he to this very responsible position that he refused to hold court or welcome Journeyers and instead issued edicts. They were delivered by the Stone Giants to Surety’s human inhabitants, who led productive lives along the shores of the Sea of Meaning, in well-appointed territories divided up according to what peaked their edict-inspired curiosity.
The other land bordering Mystery was the Land of Faithful. It was ruled over by a half-Fairy Queen who liked to bemoan her bad luck. Her court of fervent Fairies were committed to tending her spirit. They flicked in and out like fireflies, reporting to her constantly of the inspired rituals and celebrations among Faithful’s human inhabitants. It pleased her well enough. And like the human inhabitants of Surety, those of Faithful lived along the shores of the Sea of Meaning, divided into territories according to their cheer-inspiring beliefs.
The two leaders did not live in elegant capital cities surrounded by their subjects. Rather each was encamped with their court and guards in the wilds near Mystery. Each was treasured and comfortable but more often than not a distant memory to their subjects in the territories.
Humans inhabited the territories of Faithful and Surety as well as the areas in between. Those who wandered among and between the territories were called Journeyers. Those who crossed from Surety to Faithful, or vice versa, were the stuff of legends.
A river ran between Faithful and Surety. Known as the great Wellorientia, it flowed with the waters of pure understanding. Stories from times far past told of its headwaters originating at the doubly mysterious Source within the Land of Mystery. At a glance, its ample rushing waters flowed between the banks, steep with time, that divided the Lands of Surety and Faithful, from the edge of the Land of Mystery to the Sea of Meanings.
The lands shared a border with each other that ran the course of the River Wellorientia. A single bridge crossed the river (and lands) very near where the river emerged from the Land of Mystery in a tumbling waterfall. It was the same waterfall Marguerite currently found herself considering. Tales of the Bridge of Wonders promised open relations between Faithful and Surety, though no one alive could remember such times.
Each ruler was bound through divine rights by a covenant that was struck seven generations earlier. They must keep watch over the Bridge of Wonders for the appearance of the sign.
The rulers, their courts and deputies’ had difficult assignments though. For one, the Land of Mystery was quite dull — for all intents and purposes lifeless, obscure, still. Its air of anticipation and surprise, which used to prickle their scalps, only fueled lazy daydreams.
No one was watching the waterfall so they missed when Marguerite emerged from it. Knowing not why, she headed up the slope to her right, which led into Faithful. A fog seemed to follow her, for which she was grateful. This place did not feel entirely friendly from her current perspective.
Three hundred years earlier the river’s banks became inhabited by troublesome trolls. The worst of all of them lived right under the bridge. They had brute strength, yes, but also paranormal powers they used to disorient any brave soul who sought to enter the waters of pure understanding, any traveler who dared take a boat up it from the Harbor of Wishes, or anyone who dared step onto the Bridge of Wonders.
Finally, lightning storms regularly raged. Without explanation, storms originated from the direction of Mystery and tracked the path of Wellorientia. Thick clouds heralded any storm’s approach. They lingered sometimes over the region of the bridge on their way to the Harbor of Wishes. Other times, they diverted some way down the river toward one of the territories — sometimes Surety, sometimes Faithful.
The only thread that united the two lands was anticipation of the sign. The sign would mean that Mystery would be lifted. With this, it seemed the storms might well cease and the trolls cease their vigilant mission to terrorize the land between Surety and Faithful. With Wellorientia once again a usable waterway -- and extension of the Sea of Meanings — the lands would be ripe for a renaissance. After so many years of waiting for a river that was, for all intents and purposes, under siege, all hope now rested on the sign.
Each ruler felt privately the whole arrangement was some kind of curse and that Mystery itself might well overtake the whole endeavor. They never said so to their courts or to the occasional emissaries they sent or received. They preferred being in their flawed rulerships in the wilds to being banished for heresy or locked up for madness. The constant vigilance and fruitless lookouts for the sign at the Bridge of Wonders had come to fill the rulers’ deputies with deep doubt, dipping frequently into despair.
Marguerite arrived at the court of the half-Fairy Queen where she was received as a Journeyer. As she made her way through the humble, woodland castle, she took notice of all of the artwork along the way. It seemed to be a place of religious, spiritual, and nature-based themes, though without the piety of a church. Like a living museum. She noticed right away and spoke forthrightly of the Queen’s own emotional state. It was not difficult to discern, though few dared name it. Half-relieved, the Queen asked smugly what her salvation might be. Marguerite answered the first thing she thought of. She hoped for the Queen’s blessing to go to the other side of the bridge. After emerging from behind the waterfall, she had caught a glimpse of it during a brief moment of clear skies, though she did not tell the Queen this. She had learned from a guard that it is called the Bridge of Wonders, that this is the land of Faithful, and that on the other side is Surety.
“The Bridge is impassable. If it’s not disorienting trolls, it’s life-threatening lightning, or worse yet the Fog of Wandering Mystery that drifts this way more often than not these days.” The Queen, once again grief-stricken, looked out of the window rather than at the Journeyer.
Hoping to stumble her way into more information, Marguerite ventured, “I would not have to cross by way of the Great River.”
“Well then, how would your journey be any different than the others who make trips on behalf of the Land of Faithful and end up lost or abandoning their mission to take up a safe life in one of the territories?” She asked this rhetorically, then added, “It’s no use. Even if you could pass through Faithful undeterred, the Harbor of Wishes is such mess of confusing crosscurrents that make themselves out to be police, you couldn't get to Surety's shores.”
“It may be no use your Majesty.” She let the words meet the Queen’s woe. Minutes passed and finally Marguerite, who's mind had been madly formulating, began again. “I am inspired to pass first through each of Faithful’s territories, meet with a Faithful human and glean a symbol from each. I would like to find a boat to cross the Harbor of Wishes,” she looked down at the ground briefly, “but if I can’t, I will return here with my findings and you can make a shrine honoring all of the peoples of Faithful. Upon word that they have each been honored by the Queen, they may stop their disagreeable ways with each other.” She hoped this landed with the Queen. It sounding like something her mother would hope for.
“Doubtful, but possible, if for a time. It’s always just for a time.” The Queen spoke to the window again. “The peoples of the Land of Surety don’t appreciate visitors unless you have something of value to give to their industries,” and added under her breath, “like Journeyers.”
“It’s my feeling that the symbols of Faithful may prove to be of some use.” She paused, thinking wistfully of the geometry and sketchbooks she had left behind. Since the Queen issued no opinion, she continued. “I have studied extensively and feel confident in my ability to gain passage through the the Harbor of Wishes. Your favor should be enough to gain me entry to one of their territories. That’s as good as something of value, which you suggest.”
The Queen eyed her suspiciously.
“My only interest is in learning and reporting back to you what the other side of the Bridge of Wonders, where the King Surety rules, is like. Assuming I make it, and return to tell, which I do very much intend.”
"Most have given up such journeying as a matter of courtly etiquette long ago," said the Queen. The territories along the Sea of Meanings, in both Surety and Faithful, engaged peoples’ minds with fascinating ideas. Distraction was the enemy for all who aimed to live outside the ideas that were the territories. Marguerite's offer was refreshing if not exhausting for the Queen. The forlorn Queen sighed as spry fairies whispered in her ears.
“We all want relief from this waiting, and have lost hope for the sign, so do as you wish. Gather your symbols if it is important to you, see if you can get past the Surety humans and reach the King who is surely as dismayed as I and would welcome a small,” she paused, searching for the right words, “diplomatic gift. Let us not risk too much in waiting, in case our generation waits for the sign in vain. Our only hope of breaking the stalemate along the river, this dreadful breakdown of understanding, is working together to defeat the trolls. Deliver to Surety these magical words which could be effective as part of a weapon against the trolls. I have mixed feelings about weapons, but the Fairy in me is ready to be done with the trolls.”
After handing Marguerite a small scroll, the Queen Faithful sat violently, wordlessly in her chair. Fairies began attending to Marguerite, seeing to it that the scroll got buttoned safely in an inner pocket of her tunic, that she was handed a detailed geographical map, and that she had ample fairy dust in her pockets to speed her way.
Marguerite found herself being seated in a cafe. The place was near the campus of Story University in Culture, a small territory shared for the purpose of higher education in Faithful.
The cafe was called Faithful Favorites, as the front of the menu attested. The walls were dotted with film posters. A giant shelf of books partly divided the cafe’s two dining areas. At the other end of the seating area where she sat was in was a small stage.
She ordered something small and, in the end, indisputably tasty.
When her empty dish was removed it was replaced with a book. She noticed the same was being done for others who, like her, did not have a book at hand.
On the other side of the bookcase she could see a crowd mesmerized by a film, to which they each seemed to have private audio access since the cafe only resounded with the voices of patrons and waiters, dining ware clanking, and pages flapping.
Just then the waiter was passing by again and she signaled to him. “Is the owner of the establishment available? I’m on a mission from Queen Faithful.”
He eyed her suspiciously then, deciding she was trustworthy, bowed dramatically and announced for all to hear, “I shall deliver your message.” Her only self-conscious thought was, he probably had occasion to appear on the stage at the far end of the room.
She found the story posters on the walls bewitching. Each was unlike the others. Its uniqueness was its impression, its impression was its appeal. The story each promised was like another reality.
The book on the table in front of her had a plain, hard cover. Navy blue with a light blue-gray binding. She leafed through the first few pages, found the first full page of text, and read silently,
Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you'd expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn't hold with such nonsense.
She reflected on the words and could see how they harkened her, like a friend waving her over with thoughtful introductions to make. She felt the desire to oblige, to know what the new situation held.
It would have to wait though. She looked up and a man was motioning her to the stage. He was the waiter, but now dressed as a fairy. A woman, dressed in gross imitation of the Queen, strutted across the stage and flopped onto a divan. It all seemed to appear out of nowhere while she had been engrossed in other things.
Most of the people sitting at the tables shifted their attention excitedly the stage. Others, mostly in the corner booths, kept to their books.
Vivid was the only word she could think of to describe the experience. She could see no reason not to oblige the faux-fairy’s request so she made her way to the stage, wondering what would happen next. She was handed a giant fake compass on a string, which she hung about her neck, and a script.
“Woe is me. Having faith in Faithful is so hard,” the faux-Queen began theatrically.
Marguerite examined the script and looked up.
“I’ll make you feel better. Watch me do some tricks!” exclaimed the faux-fairy, and he jumped, fluttered and finally tumbled. The crowd laughed.
It was the stranger’s turn. Someone just off stage tooted a trumpet, which was her cue. “Let me restore your faith Queen.” Her tone was uncertain; her voice, monotone.
“Not very inspiring,” the Queen improvised, speaking only to the crowd. They jeered.
With feeling the stranger repeated, “Let me restore your faith Queen.” The crowd encouraged her with cheers.
“Will it make everyone get along? My people behave like such heathens, barely better than trolls.” The crowd laughed.
“What if they don’t want to get along?” said the fairy-waiter, his face getting very long.
So engrossed was Marguerite in what was unfolding, she forgot to read ahead, and an awkward silence fell. Someone cleared their throat.
She gasped, fumbled the paper, and read aloud and loudly without the slightest thought, “Who said anything about getting along?” Somehow, she managed to perfectly convey irony, and the crowd nodded, satisfied.
She let out a relieved sigh.
The Queen removed her wig, mussed her own hair with her fingers, and shifted to a seated position. She was now a totally different character. “I am the proprietor of Storyland’s famous Faithful Favorites. You have performed for me, quite capably I might add. What would you like from me?”
Marguerite hesitated and looked around the room, not sure what to make of some of the patrons who persisted as onlookers.
“Do we need a closed door conversation?” The cafe’s proprietor motioned to the trumpet player. He appeared just a few seconds later with a large prop. It was the size and shape of a door but with a huge keyhole cut out of it. The door was in fact mostly keyhole.
The room held its breath expectantly. They were to be let in on a secret.
“I am aware that, in the territories of Faithful, symbols are often part of your worship or study or ceremonies.” Marguerite’s awkwardness melted as the woman listened intently. “I want to know what symbols you have for practicing faith in Storyland.”
“We do not have one symbol that means more than anything else.” She stood, stepped through the keyhole and gestured to the contents of the room. “We share a penchant for iconography. For rich words, images, characters, and writers communicating that life can be lived for story. Whether through our minds’ eyes, our senses, or a full cast with props, being in the grip of a good story gives us faith.”
“Hear, hear!” shouted a patron. She bowed and stepped back through the key hole, once again taking a seat.
Feeling a bit forlorn that she now had two strikes as far as finding symbols, Marguerite reflected aloud on her experience. It would have been rude to do otherwise. She began, “It feels like my mind could get lost in a sort of forever dream here.” Her expression was more sensuous than romantic. “Like a daydream that just keeps going and going. A place engaged by my mind but always at a loss for something — radical enough, heroic enough, hopeful enough.”
The crowd had lost interest at “it feels.” They were returning to their books or wrapping up their visits altogether.
She sat and took a deep breath reminding herself that her mission was not to please a crowd, or even ultimately the Queen, but her own desire to journey in ways that no one else yet had. The charm of the place gave her a fleeting desire to stay and make a story out of her own dream journey, in the safety of Storyland.
“Nice soliloquy,” her host added quietly, interrupting her reprieve. The two had now come to a sort of peace with the once comedic keyhole. She continued, “The Queen is fortunate to have you.”
Marguerite was surprised to detect not the slightest hint of facetiousness in her tone. She bowed her head slightly to acknowledge the complement. “You have the stuff to keep your resolve here in Faithful. But do not get complacent when you get to Surety. The mantle of a so-called expert purpose could land you in a fruitless puzzle, which you may not recognize as such. You may be so proud to have ‘met your match’ that you waste time, maybe all of yours — if you are not careful.”
“Thank you,” she said, and unsure how to address her host added, “my lady.”
“I can tell you the principles of a good story. That might satisfy your particular searching today. Here at Faithful Favorites we use a classical approach that focuses on comedy and tragedy,” she shifted in her chair assuming the look of a pleased peacock, “Women like me have been at the forefront of reviving it. Modern drivel is all about good versus evil and victim-villain-hero triangles. The trouble is that us Storylanders are suckers for audiences, be they enlightened, or more likely terribly self-defensive. We end up taking our respective roles much too seriously. Isn’t that right, Hans?” She playfully swatted the fairy, prompting him to return to his waiting duties.
“A good story always relishes a hopeful — if not disappointing, upsetting, or even freakish — narrative. And the rightful hero is, in the end, the iconographic storyteller. The maker of meaningful and accessible connections among the various parts of the story.”
“So in Storyland the rightful hero, by your analysis, is the story-maker. Such an interesting twist. I look forward to sharing it with the Queen. One last question, if you will. How does it apply to Faithful and Surety — and Mystery too?”
“Ha! It does, no doubt.” She stood and walked to the side of the stage. The propmaster’s arm was capably extended for her. “That’s the story you are telling, my dear. Just remind the Queen that so long as we are treated like careless children we shall behave accordingly.” And with that she descended from the stage and made her way to the kitchen door.
Marguerite was left in an emptying restaurant peering, as it were, through the mysterious nothingness of a giant keyhole. Her head started to feel very heavy and her eyes shut for just a bit of rest.
“I am on a mission from the Queen to know of your symbols,” she told the important looking person who found her in the quiet entryway of the holy building she was in.
“Well that tells you how much the Queen Faithful knows of our beliefs!” the bearded Imam bellowed. He seemed in a good enough humor.
“Actually,” she clarified, “it’s my own ignorance. Please do not judge her harshly for my lack of understanding.”
“Indeed, it’s something in too short a supply.” He looked at her, to gauge her offense. When he saw that none was taken, he added, “Ironic though, since the lands bound to Mystery share the Great River. In my view, its too important to be split like a log for burning, and that’s why none of us benefit from it.”
“I never thought of that before.”
The Imam laced his fingers behind his back and breathed deeply. His chest expanded and his eyes lifted with innocent pride in her humility. “On a mission from the Queen. Hmph. Unlikely you need anything from me other than pastries and safe passage.”
“But I do wish to know of your,” Marguerite paused, “beliefs, since there’s no symbol for them.” Her voice trailed off.
The Imam looked at her more seriously now. “Are you really inspired by a mission for the Queen, or would a mission for the unity of humanity be more to your liking?”
“The Queen seems to wish well for all humanity. Its the trolls she wants to unite against.” She herself was mournful now. She wondered if the Imam noticed the tragedy of uniting against something. Something unpleasant, yes, but still part of nature.
“What I am asking you is, are you really here serving the Queen as an emissary of Faithful or is your soul moved within its depths for a unity much more than can come of pursuing things, like with your journeying?”
Here, Marguerite noticed, was her first encounter with what she knew right away must be true of a life of journeying. In the salty winds off the Sea of Meanings experiences take on an emotional intensity. It gave her the sense of being caught in an undertow, like being pulled out to Sea, but internally. She noticed the walls of the Imam’s house of worship felt womb-like, very comforting and rich with empathy in its very walls.
She wondered how close she was to the Sea. Probably quite close. Its waters were not called holy the way Source was, but she could not help but wonder how they had come to be as powerful. The lives of humans transformed them into complex stories. She had heard another of the Queen's guards refer to journeyers needing to be prepared for the spell of the tribes, or the curse of the civilized. She knew of magic, which she wondered about too, and this was not it. It was a sense of reality bending to connect with the emotional qualities of the moment.
She felt fascinated to pursue the intensity of this place. The Imam's invitation to unity as a way of being was sincere. He seemed to recognize the Queen's kind of unity, and by extension Marguerites's, as ironic. Should unity itself really be a messy process, an endless pursuit?
The Imam waited patiently. She struggled between acknowledging the irony and accepting another hard truth -- that, on her very first stop, there might be no symbol. Either it did not bode well for her mission, or it was a puzzle.
“It’s very generous of you to welcome me. Your place of worship is very inviting in how warm and spacious it is. I am just at the beginning of my journey and have many questions."
“Very well,” he said.
“I do have one question more for you.”
“Yes.” His posture changed to that of an instructor. He tipped his head as if looking over the top of invisible spectacles and watched her intently.
“Why are there no symbols or pictures of any kind on the walls? I can only see a bit into that voluminous room, but there I see only cushions lined up on the floor.”
“Our prophet Mohammed insisted that idols have no place in worship. When one has a clear perspective on what it means to achieve unity within humanity, idols are a distraction.”
“But no unifying image?”
“No. Unity is felt by us all focusing on one place, during daily prayers, the same place we each eventually make our pilgrimage and circumambulate the Ka’bah seven times.”
“The House of Unity.”
“But no image of the Ka’bah is here.”
“That is correct. From anywhere, we understand the Ka’bah is a direction to orient oneself, as during prayer, which is scheduled so that believers may experience unity in their daily practice. Prayers can be directed from anywhere to the Ka’bah, uniting us all all day every day.”
“That’s quite poetic.” She felt again the comfort of the place in which she stood. “Have you seen it?”
“Yes,” he replied then added dismissively, “My wife is in the house next door. Did you see it as you approached?”
“She will be happy to provide you a bit of food for your journey.”
And with that, Marguerite took leave of the Imam, had a bite to eat with his wife, and rested her head for a bit.
Her senses inundated with an intense mix of sights, smells, and sounds, Marguerite ascended the stairs that led to a landing above a busy outdoor marketplace. There she found a large, covered open air hall. One side of the rectangular space had a complex facade, decorated from top to bottom and all the way across with a patchwork of colorful, detailed, wordless portraiture. The figures mostly appeared as humans, though some had heads of animals. Many wore regalia, a few simple clothes. Natural settings predominated — earthly landscapes, gardens, cloudscapes. Many figures held implements — small weapons or other handy devices. When their hands were empty, the hand positions varied in ways that appeared purposeful. One figure had extra arms, splayed out symmetrically, each hand positioned differently. The windmill-like figure stood atop a much smaller, balled up figure.
Elegant but simple wooden furniture lined the same wall and held a variety of objects. Marguerite wondered how the objects came to be there. The offerings created a unified display with the wall so that the figures in the drawings could have even reaching out to place objects there, or pick them up.
At its center-point across the hall, the wall featured a statue — a bronze bust around which a layered alter emerged, decorated with silks, bowls, candles, and others things she had no names for. Someone had recently been attending to it. An extravagant number of fresh flowers hung in strings around its neck. As she came closer, she could see that the bust featured not one face, but three conjoined at the sides. The faces were beatific and, to her eye, androgynous. Not male, not female.
Continuing to the far end of the hall, she was pleased to discover a view of the sea. She also noticed a hunched over woman with a broom working in one corner. They made eye contact. The corners of the tiny brown wrinkled woman’s mouth lifted in a smile. She put down her broom, shuffled to a nearby box, and lifted a large piece of colorful fabric out of it. She extended it towards the stranger and nodded in every direction all at one. Very friendly, she thought.
Marguerite nodded back. imitating the woman’s greeting as best she could. In a wordless, gentle exchange, the woman wrapped the stranger deftly, comfortably, in the cloth. The last wisp of the copious fabric draped over the stranger’s dark hair. Then the woman was gone, exiting down a separate set of stairs nearby.
Marguerite gazed at the sea. She felt the weight and fit of the new fabric around her. She imagined it was a cocoon and felt like a caterpillar aware of what it might mean to undergo a transformation inside. Transformation. The word drew her attention back to the wall.
Vision transformed, she thought. Each figure was no doubt part of intertwined stories, like the gods and goddesses of so many faith practices throughout time. But here the image of each also belied a vivid perspective that took the form of a vision, and those perspectives, as on this wall, were what was celebrated. The character of the figures themselves was a window into the great visionary capacity of those who endeared them.
She felt growing love for each figure and her feeling about the character of each, its integrity, grew stronger until she felt intense belief that each was real. She looked out at the sea, recognizing the pull.
She stepped back from the intensity and let herself reflect more broadly. One interpretation of Storyland’s real heroes is that they are its invisible storytellers. They animate faith in Storyland.
In this Faithful territory, which she suspected was Sanatana, Land of Eternal Truths, figures worthy of faith, its heroes like the myriad figures on the wall, were each an animator of a certain kind of faith. Each had a unique perspective that was made visible. Character is transformed through envisioning. Thus visionary characters in stories bring story-ness itself alive, rather than invisible storytellers like sorcerers over a brew-pot of story-ness. It was the former that was worshipped here.
But who were the three on the center statue? She felt this was the symbol she was looking for.
An animated group of revelers began arriving, coming in by the same route Marguerite had. Help streamed in by the same route the old woman had left.
The help carried armloads of platters of fresh cooked foods, colorful slices of fruit, and pitchers and bottles of drinks. Impromptu tables were set up, each covered with fabric that delighted the eyes. The food, of course, delighted all the senses. The hall filled with voices too. Young women clustered in one corner; young men in another. In the middle, elders mingled. A band formed across from the wall. A wedding party, Marguerite concluded.
Marguerite’s fabric wrap blended with the garb of the growing crowd. She stood at the rail nearest the sea, and now the band, watching the celebratory preparations. Her attention snapped into focus when she saw a man approaching the three-faced statue at the wall. First he bowed, then his mouth moved like he was talking to it. She made her way to his side, and just as she arrived, he laid decoratively hand-embossed paper in the open space in front of it.
The two turned to face each other. The stranger bowed, as she had seen the spry man, dressed in purple, do to the statue. He bowed back and said, “Namaste.”
She repeated this part too. “Namaste,” she said. “I am on a mission from Queen Faithful. You are a Hindu priest of Sanātana?” she inquired.
“I see you have connected with the sacred in preparation for this gathering — a wedding I take it.”
“The couple has just married. We are here to celebrate into the evening.”
“Wonderful! So you’re job is mostly done?“
Dryly the priest observed, “When you put it that way it’s a bit disheartening, dear lady.” Glancing over his shoulder he raised one hand to exchange a quick wave with someone down the hall, and focusing again on her.
“I’m sorry. It’s just that I was hoping to ask you a few questions.”
“Queen Faithful is not known for asking questions; she is known for entertaining fantasies.” It was not a compliment, and meant to provoke.
This struck Marguerite as oddly self-aware, though she quickly realized the priest was not referring to all fantastical things, like the visionary figures he worshipped. He meant wrong-headed fantasies, stories that lacked meaning within his reality. “Well sir, your observation is, in a measure, correct. I have not myself observed the Queen to ask a hopeful question, and at present she is entertaining a fantasy that I can vanquish river trolls, even though I told her I journey for other reasons.”
He laughed hardily. “Journeys to encounter ‘river trolls,’” he gestured with quotation marks indicating he did not take them to be real, “are a favorite pastime of our cave hermits. They disappear up the river, for a time at least, and return with strange stories they use to scare little children away. I remember hearing them as a youngster.” He sneered just a bit as he continued. “The allegories of our lands that share the river do nothing but grip us in arbitrary divisions. They keep us humans from cultivating greater understanding of what is unfolding. False beliefs about the river are the cause, not the Queen,” he said, expressing a hint of compassion, “but still, she courts her own suffering waiting for ‘the Sign.’” Again he made quotes in the air.
“Hers is a mission handed down by lineages and covenants the precede even the Sanātana faith.”
“Sanātana unites its own with the vision,” he points to the statue, “of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. All that exists is a dance among the creative, persevering, and destructive forces at play in the formlessness we share.”
“You are answering a question I had not yet asked. Thank you! So, adequate vision requires these three,” she repeated, analytically. “A dance, you call it.”
The priest gestured, his movement stopping meaningfully at the band of three who were warming up along the opposite side of the hall. His face glowed with charm now.
Marguerite, however, was genuinely perplexed. “But how can formlessness be shared? True formlessness.”
The priest waved at another attendee, and when his focus came back to her he had completely forgotten the question. She decided not to push it.
“One more question, if I may. You mentioned false beliefs about the river. I’m not sure I know what you mean.”
“Understanding comes from knowing oneself and meaning is about applying our the culture of one’s knowing.” He put a hand up to his mouth, like telling a secret. “Some are better, some not so good.” Removing his hand, he continued, “tell the Queen pure understanding is in the heart that knows itself to be one with its formless nature, not in the river.”
“Namaste,” they spoke, and bowed in unison.
She was reluctant to open her eyes. A song filled the air around her, sung in unison by a large, somewhat rough chorus of voices. The undertow feeling inside her was strong already. She knew she was in the territory of Savior.
Other than Wheel, the lands between Faithful's capital and its territories, Savior took up the most space, among the territories along the Sea of Meaning, that is. It bordered one other territory, and its other border, where Faithful ended, was where the Forgetful Forest began. This meant that Savior was farthest from the Land of Surety and thus from the Great River.
Another verse of the song started and she enjoyed the sound in her ears. Its fullness echoed in her whole being.
It seemed that, as a journeyer, you had to be prepared to pass up the comforts afforded by devotion within a given Faithful territory or you would inadvertently end up making it your home. Savior was no doubt going to exercise a persuasive draw.
She had learned in passing that it was famous for its lively infighting. The curse of the civilized, she reminded herself, but the words shed like rain on a green leaf. The beauty of the singing was both natural and haunting.
Other Faithful territories, and the Queen herself, had mixed feelings about Savior, questioning whether it had too much sway and acted with too much self-interest. Tales of Savior’s charismatic preachers were both inspiring and worrisome. Their words were said to form sensible, and sometimes even nonsensical, incantations for forging listeners’ otherworldly beliefs into swords that could battle eternity itself. Her father’s father had been one.
I am here on a journey to the Bridge of Wonders, she noted, aiming to engage her critical capacities again. She imagined the clouded Bridge as she had seen it from the capital of Faithful, meeting with the Queen, and her determination surged. I seek to pass the Harbor of Wishes and enter Surety. She shifted her focus to her mind’s eye. What am I to learn from Savior’s symbols?
With this, she opened her eyes.
A line of people walked ceremoniously down the center aisle of the large theater-like space, moving towards the open doors at the back. The last person in the procession was a man dressed in elaborate robes holding a humble-looking book tucked under one arm. He was just stepping off the stage. A few decorative flags hung on the wall behind him. On a table at the center of the stage were candles and a goblet. The central life-sized statuary on the back wall, as she expected, was of a somewhat drooping, mostly naked man, feet together, arms out, thorny crown on his head, eyes gazing up. His figure was suspended on an cross.
To one side of the stage another statue, this one on a pedestal, captured the figure of a young woman, life-sized yet small because she was stooped, wrapped in plain cloth much like the colorful version the old woman in Sanatana had wrapped about the stranger. The head of the woman in the statue tilted forward slightly and her gaze was down. The ceiling of the hall was very high and intricately shaped, probably to enhance the acoustics. Adds to the appeal of the hymns, she observed. On the walls on either side were intricate portraits and a few proclamations fashioned out of stained glass. The light coming through them was complexly tinted and muted. The audience mostly stood in front of long wooden benches in rows facing the stage. Some looked at a book in their hands while they sang.
Marguerite was in the back row. The song finished with a lovely chord held for several beats. The preacher with the book, having reached the exit, stopped and turned to address the whole assemblage. Lifting both arms, book in one hand, he spoke loudly and with clear cadence,
The Lord bless you
and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.
At the end, voices chimed in all around roughly in unison, “Amen,” and the preacher turned to leave. The sounds of soft voices and things being rearranged lifted into the air as congregants shared greetings and collected their things.
She realized others would soon be leaving the sanctuary and made for the door herself. It was very near. She noticed the preacher standing alone in the building’s foyer, a space large enough for people to gather and also for crowds to come and go with ease. His cheeks were rosy from having led the service. Now he looked eager to informally attend to the needs of congregants on their way out. A few entered the foyer and gathered to chat in out of way areas. Others left straight away. Since the preacher was still alone, she approached.
“Hello,” he said first, reaching both hands forward in front. She did the same. They squeezed each others hands and he held on. “You are a stranger to me but I take it you are feeling welcomed,” he continued, making eye contact, nodding, and smiling gently.
“I am here on a mission from the Queen,” she announced then, unsure how to address him, added, “sir.” There were many names for the leaders of faith services in the sprawling territory of Savior. She was not familiar enough with the services to be able to tell whether he might be a holiness or a reverend or a friar, to name a few.
“Ahhh,” he intoned, unconcerned. “Queen Faithful is so devoted. How does it go — the search for the sign.” He released her hands so that, combined with the tone of his question, it became a gesture of resignation.
“There is the sign, and the waiting, yes, but the Queen is also duty-bound to cultivate harmony amongst the territories. The difficulties communicating and balancing different interests is at times a great challenge. I seek to do my part — on both fronts,” the stranger concluded.
“Of course.” He bowed his head respectfully. “It is a challenge. We find it so among ourselves as well.” He seemed satisfied to be relating her cares to his own. “Mysteries of the human spirit,” he added, as if they were talking of playful children. “It’s important to remain spirited, don’t you think?” And with this, he winked at her.
Her draw to this place, a pleasant undertow during the chorus of voices, formed now into the feeling of a subtle whirlpool. Also pleasant, but disruptive too. Like rolling down a grassy hill for fun. She noticed the feeling as familiar too, though from what occasion she could not recall. Mostly she noticed she could not “think straight.”
Aware she needed to respond, Marguerite spoke. “This trip is not about me.” She sounded petulant.
“I respect your predicament,” the preacher responded, ironically understanding, but not.
The preacher, not alone among Saviorites, clearly wrestled with what it meant to be part of a large and diverse collection of spirited believers in a land where pure understanding lay beyond its direct influence. Her aim was to serve the diverse territories of the Land of Faithful, where Surety and Mystery were often beyond Faithful’s direct influence. Still, she did not see hers as a predicament but an opportunity.
There might be something worth exploring in the parallel between Savior’s “predicaments” and her own, but the inner whirlpool sensation now meant trouble. Her current “predicament” was getting back on track with this preacher, to glean knowledge of Savior’s symbols and be on her way.
To her relief, a philosophical question formed. With that, the whirling stopped. “Spiritedness is important to you. I’m inclined to see faith and spirit as two sides of the same coin. Something unites spirit to all of Faithful, and by extension to Surety as we are bound to each other through the Land of Mystery. Source is a natural choice.” This satisfied her.
“Savior is Source,” he spoke with reverence, adding an enthusiastic, “Praise be.” With this he shut his eyes, clasped his hands and shook them in front of him, and drew a deep breath. Then he released them, looked at her and smiled. “Savior is Spirited source!”
Several congregants overhearing him in the foyer chimed in with affirmations. The preacher turned his attention agreeably to an older woman standing nearby who wished to introduce him to the man next to her. Marguerite stepped toward the wall.
Just moments before, as the preacher paused in reflection, she had noticed an elaborate fabric wall hanging over his left shoulder. The scene was of a garden with a bountiful apple tree. Around its trunk, a snake was conspicuously coiled. Next to it stood a woman, her naked body covered mostly by her own long hair and some leaves. In one hand was an apple.
The preacher was free again. “I see you have a keen interest in the scene of the Garden of Eden.”
“I wish to connect the many practices of Faithful, reflected in its symbologies.” She paused and asked for clarification, “What can I call you?”
“Pastor, thank you.” He continued. “The symbol in the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is the Tree. The fruit is knowledge, but not just any knowledge.”
“Pastor, if I may. These are not the observations of the Queen but my own. I have been in the Fog of Mystery, and your spirited source is there too. It’s what makes it wander.” Marguerite went on. “An apple, like this woman’s. It is spirited source too.”
The pastor responded matter-of-factly. “Its very confusing to consider if everything possessed it. Much clearer to have only people possess it. People descended from those in the Garden.” He smiled warmly. “The rest was created.”
“Ok. I’ll take your word on that. So Savior’s central symbol is the cross. How does it relate?”
“Well, we must relate in a balanced way to all of creation. The cross, if you think of it in a physical way, is about balance.”
“I see the connection. Very interesting.” Marguerite knew she had learned what she needed to learn. “In regards to all of creation, that quite the invitation, and quite the challenge.”
“As we were discussing before,” he said, clearly enjoying this bit of philosophizing with Marguerite.
She hated to end his repose. “On a related matter, perhaps trivial to you, if the Queen were to acknowledge Savior’s contributions to Faithful in a shrine in our capital, the cross would be the rightful symbol, yes?”
“We would rightfully be given our proportionate share of space. Given our influence, that would mean we could share many symbols. The Cross, yes. The Holy Trinity. The Tree of Knowledge.” He gestured to the wall hanging.
“Any such shrine would need be terribly simple compared to the rich history of Faithful,” she said with sincere deference.
Without missing a step, he conceded, “The Cross is certainly where our focus must always be.” He grasped her arm gently and together they walked to the open doors of the worship hall. The man-cross was visible above the rows of pews and the various furniture and implements on the stage. “The spirited Source, the Lord Savior, upon The Cross. The chosen one sacrificed everything to teach goodness but certainly suffered in the world before ascending to eternal life in the great beyond.” He gestured up.
She thought of the Fog of Mystery and the Apple of Knowledge too. A subtle external wind stirred, sweeping the preacher from her side to attend to other matters. Then a genuine gust from outside knocked the front door open.
Balance yes, but the oppositions within the Cross represent a desire for certainty when there are differences, she thought. Certainty amidst unavoidable questions that bring us doubt and confusion, despite of ourselves.
Marguerite awoke with a thump. She was a passenger on some kind of transport. It was open to the air and filled mostly with organized bundles of goods, as if to sell. Hay was strewn about the bottom. A bale of hay blocked her view of the driver. She noticed animals in a few small bamboo cages nearby and, upon hearing one make a sound, recognized them as ducks. Other than the occasional jolt from the uneven road, she found the surroundings quite pleasant.
The road they were on was upon a ridge surrounded by fields. She could see quite far in every direction except straight ahead. There she could only see the top of the driver’s head and treetops beyond.
No sea, she observed quizzically. She stood up to have a farther look. Still no sea.
Then, as she was looking about, the transport hit a bump. With this she shrieked and stumbled, nearly falling out. Grabbing on to a heavy bundle, she steadied herself and sat down quickly. A voice rose from the direction of the hay bale and the transport halted.
The driver stood and inspected the stranger from a distance. It was a middle-aged woman, and she leaned forward onto the hay bale dangling her horse whip in front it so the stranger could not miss it. The driver spoke. She was almost amused. “When did you sneak onto my wagon?”
“I assure you, it’s not what it seems.”
“If you mean you’re not going to steal anything, I’ll see to that.” The driver glared at her. Marguerite stood back up, lifting her hands slowly away from the bundles she had used to brace herself.
“Actually, I mean — well, maybe you won’t believe me — but, I’m on a mission from the Queen.”
The driver made several faces, then said, “That’s a new one.” An old woman stood up next to the driver. The hay bale had hidden her. She examined Marguerite in passing, then carefully dismounted to stroke the horse. It whinnied and pawed the ground restlessly. The driver looked at the sky, as if gauging the time, then down the road either way. She continued. “You’re right. I don’t believe you. Why should I?”
Marguerite took out the scroll and held it up to be inspected. The Queen’s shield was printed on one end. When the driver did not dispute her evidence, she took heart. “You two are on your way to market, I take it.” She gestured to the contents of the wagon. “What is your destination? Am I correct that we are in the region of Wheel?” With this last question Marguerite’s voice grew incredulous.
“Why are you in my wagon?” the driver retorted, equally so. “Are you asking me to take you somewhere — on Queen’s business?”
“I don’t know,” replied Marguerite, perplexed.
Wheel was not a seaside territory but the complex of shared land trade routes between the capital and the territories. Through them and with the help of its residents, she reasoned in a way she had heard her father do, that the various territories of Faithful must exchange goods and services. Ports are another way to trade naturally, but are often over-crowded, plus the Sea would be prove unpredictable and dangerous. Wheel and its trade routes would be quite reliable and low cost by comparison. Territories rarely engaged in trade directly across their borders. Another of functions of the middlemen of Wheel, as well as the Seafarers, was to provide workable terms of service and agreements. The royal line had worked out this arrangement long ago.
So, what Wheel lacked as far as meaningful convictions and the label of territory, it made up for in practical terms. The people of Wheel, both individually and collectively, were orientated towards service and equanimity such that, ironically, their roles were a matter of faith in Faithful.
At least that was what Marguerite concluded as she considered her fate as a stow-away here. Wheel’s position in Faithful took on new meaning as she considered it was both essential and ethereal. She had never thought about it before.
For this same reason, she had not expected to visit here as part of her journey. As she considered her unexpected situation, her main concern centered on what it would mean to trek through Wheel to a destination she could not herself name. It was proving troublesome to define herself.
She explained her mission to the women, as if they might be sympathetic and console her.
Finally, the hag spoke. “We use symbols in Wheel.” Then, alluding to the uncanniness she perceived in Marguerite’s appearance, she added, “Perhaps your invisible guides know better than you.”
Both comments pleasantly surprised the stranger, and her dismay lifted. “Do you know the symbols well?”
The women looked at each other, unflappable but growing impatient with the dumbfounded stranger. The hag offered a sardonic smile. “Of course, my dear. We are on our way to market though, as you guessed.” She said this dryly, a casual retort to Marguerite’s express doubt in them. “Yet I fear if we don’t get this horse moving very soon my daughter will lash us!” At this she laughed. “Sit down. We are not far. We can talk there.” The old woman climbed up and took her seat. Marguerite wedged herself, seated but with a good view, between some bundles. The driver sat too and urged the horse on as it and the wagon carried the three the few miles to market.
Vendors arrived at a steady pace to set up market. Marguerite’s hosts knew the place well. They put her to work with a few small tasks. Finally, the old woman turned to her and said, “Everything is in place here. We can have a look around now.”
“What is this?” She stood and brushed debris from her lap with one hand. With the other she pointed to the small flag the old woman had hung in plain sight, just in front of the station she had just set up for herself.
“You are getting ahead of yourself.” It was a complex symbol — a hexagon except that, instead of solid sides, a collection of three lines or line segments adorned each of its eight directions.
“I see it there too.” She pointed to the stall across from them. It reminded her a bit of old-fashioned code she had studied.
“We’ll get to that. First, we need to look around. You made it to market. You should see what it has to offer.”
“To be well, people seek to ensure their health, shelter, and safety. When it comes to the necessary trade and services of the people of Faithful, including our own, this is what we observe.” She came across someone she knew, and they paused to bow to each other. Then she continued, “Those needs compete, but there are principles that are always at play. In Wheel, we are good at creating balance among competing needs and moving matters forward regardless of the tendency for disputes. Disputes are part of the endless cycle that we understand as the dance of polar opposites, such as creation and destruction, light and dark, offense and defense.”
“Why doesn’t one eventually win? Why can’t good defeat bad? Or for that matter, why doesn’t darkness consume all light, like because of the black holes beyond the clouds that Surety tells us about?”
“There are instances of wins and losses, but when looking at the whole, we understand neither exists without the other.” Marguerite looked at her, perplexed. “This is where a symbol is helpful.”
They had come to the end of the row of shop stalls and were looking at a shop that was twice the size of the others. It had a wider assortment of goods than most too, from powdered herbs to weapons. All seemed hand-crafted.
The hag made eye contact with the owner who was working at his register. They bowed nonchalantly from afar. Then she took one of Marguerite’s hands in her own and pointed to a circular symbol with the other. “That symbol is Taijitu. The relationship of the two sides, represented by the colors black and white, is fluid not fixed. See the division looks like a wave. And inside each half is the seed of the other. So inside the white is a seed of black, and inside the black is a seed to white. These are the polar opposites I spoke of working with rather than against natural disputes.”
Marguerite wondered how an interpretation of Taijitu as representing creation and destruction might fit with Sanatana’s trimurti creation-destruction-perseverence. And with Savior’s creation story.
“There are more complex relationships than just polarities. Consider health, or war. Those we examine through the I Ching. That’s the symbol you saw next to my station at the market. When you look at three polarities together — rather than black and white like in the Taijitu, each is a straight or broken line — you get one of eight patterns. Each is thought of like a pattern in the natural order. In the trigram forms, we give the patterns names having to do with weather and the landscape.”
“Why weather and landscape?”
“Weather phenomena tend to change quickly; the landscape does not. I Ching means book of changes. Like in the Taijitu, change is always happening but balance is also being struck.”
And to come ...
In Faithful (con’t)
The Trial of Wishes