Centered. Grounded. Connected.

3 – City on a Hill

Harry Witt was four years old when his uncle Isidore took him under his wing.  Harry’s father, the third viscount of Wythe, had died in the war.  His mother had died of grief.  Only Isidore remained to help illuminate life’s many mysteries, from rolling a hoop to discerning the will of God.  And although Isidore was a rational man, an educated man, in full possession of his faculties, he began with the mystery of immortal beings.

“They know something,” he said.  “Because they do not die.”

Harry closed his eyes, grappled with the folds of his uncle’s cloak and took firm hold of one leg.  They stood atop the great wall that encircled the city of Gill where Godfrey held court at Gloriette.  They were standing sixty feet in the air.  Harry adored his uncle, he always had, but there was a brisk wind that day and he was very small and less inclined than his elder to hazard a calamitous fall for a bird’s eye view of the world.

With Isidore’s leg to steady him, Harry opened his eyes and surveyed the countryside surrounding the city of Gill.  The slack drift of a dense morning mist shrouded the landscape and weirdly disembodied the sounds directly below, a persistent bleating of sheep, the odd clang of a cowbell and the frantic almost comic efforts of an individual to coax music from bagpipes.

Harry’s eyes brightened at the sight of the king’s highway breaking suddenly out of the mist.  He had been on that road but he had never been this high above it.  Wide and well-tended enough for a dozen knights to canter side by side, today its sole travelers were a party of rich burghers riding out from the city with their hawks and a party of rustics trundling in from the country on wagonloads of timber and coal, cartloads of salted fish, animal hides and fleece.  Harry’s excitement grew as the fog lifted away from a crown of treetops in the distance, revealing the whole extent of the Ivelane Wood and even the fields beyond, where peasants were waking the earth from its winter freeze with manure and chalky white marl.  In all his life he had never stood so high or seen so far, not even from the turrets of his ancestral home at Sage Hall.

Isidore looked pleased by the boy’s delight in his view from the city heights.  He himself ascended almost daily, bounding up the gatehouse steps and signaling smartly to the guards whose hospitality acknowledged his close association with the king.  He went aloft to study planetary motions and the flight of birds and to dream of immortal beings.  Now that his nephew was his ward, he expected the boy to tag along and be likewise full of wonder.

“Look!  There!”  Isidore pointed at the sky.  “To the east—a hawk!  A kite, a kite, by the look of its tail!”

Harry did not disappoint.  With a four-year-old’s natural air of amazement, he gawked at the kite wings as they sliced through the trolling mist.

“Little?  Do you wonder how he flies?”  Isidore called his nephew Little.  “His heart is in his wings.  And he is in love with the air.”

Harry rarely understood the things his uncle said.  He was not alone in this, but while others could be alarmed by Isidore’s ecstatic ravings, Harry, born of his blood and still blissfully young, was dazzled by them.

“Look!  Another—and a third!  They are all in love with the air!”

What Harry did understand was the note of longing in Isidore’s voice.  It was always there, a combination of rapture and a deep ache.  It was an anxious tone that seemed as much a part of his person as the golden hair that swept back and fell loose around his shoulders, the fine-boned and beardless face, the fiercely intelligent, bright and burning eyes.  Harry understood it because he felt akin to it.  He felt certain that at that moment both he and his uncle were longing equally hard to be as light and buoyant as feathers in flight.

Because his father used to say that wishful dreams were both idle and idolatrous, Harry dutifully observed, “Birds are silly.”  He stirred his hand at the air.  “They just fly around.”

Isidore, who had never appreciated his late brother’s straight thinking, asked, “And how do they fly?”

Harry glanced thoughtfully at his uncle.  He knew what his father would say but his father was dead.  With a child’s appreciation for the here and now and the living, Harry laughed.  “Their heart is in their wings and they are in love with the air!”

“Right!  But a bird is not a courtly man.  He does not sicken with amour. A bird does not reason with his beloved.  He spreads his wings.  And she responds by bearing him aloft.”

They had grown so intent on the soaring birds that they failed to notice the man coming to fetch them.

“Little?  The Immortals are in love—but not with the air—with life!”

“Isidore!  Isidore Witt!”

The startled Witts turned their heads.  A stout man in an ill-fitted red tunic approached, both arms thrashing against the fast breezes of their aerie.  They grinned. They knew him.  He was the porter at Gloriette.

Isidore, who was tall and lean and extremely fit, suppressed a smile.  “Porter, so weary and so fat!  The steps have worn you out.  Sit!”

“No time!”  The porter collapsed against the rampart wall.  “The king has need of you at once!”

“Is he ill?”

“No!” replied the porter still trying to catch his breath.  “Inspired!”

“Inspired!”  Isidore dropped to one knee.  “Mount up!”  Harry scrambled onto his uncle’s back.  “There’s nothing more compelling than a king when he’s inspired!”

“Yes!  Last night he had a dream!”

“A dream!”  Isidore marveled as he stood and secured his load.  “The whole city lies between His Majesty and me!  Oh my Little, if only we could fly!”

The porter would have settled for childhood again, to be carried home on a doting uncle’s back.

There was another man summoned that day.  Frederick, the king’s brother.

The Warrior Prince was still quartered at Gloriette where, in his capacity as High Constable, he was obliged to negotiate the rate and delivery of ransom for enemy nobles captured in the war that had orphaned Harry Witt.  The herald who had been appointed to fetch him thanked God that he would not have to travel to Cinnabar, Frederick’s estate one hundred miles away.  Cinnabar was a wicked place to those who had not seen it.

The herald discovered Frederick in a small courtyard of the palace where, in his capacity as a devoted father, he was teaching the art of war to his sons.  He had only two at the moment, although it was reasonable for a man with sixteen concubines to expect many more.

The herald did not announce himself at first.  He crept behind a column of the arcade framing the courtyard and watched.  Like most people, from stable hands to visiting ambassadors, he preferred to take stock of Frederick’s mood before approaching him.

Frederick and his sons were unattended, an unusual state for royalty, but not for the Warrior Prince.  He could be a congenial man, especially after consuming prodigious amounts of Pierrefitte wine, for which he had a weakness.  When sober, however, he walked alone.   He moved unescorted through the streets of Gill and the populous halls of Gloriette.  His confidence he owed to his extraordinary prowess.  Nobody dared challenge the skills he had learned as a youth in the land of the Tartar Khans.  His solitude he owed to his lurid reputation.  Were he not a prince of the blood and an obvious asset to the rights of the people, Frederick would have burned at the stake.

His two sons, aged five and eight, were fencing with wooden swords, making ferocious faces at each other in what appeared to be a duel of boy-sized nerves.

“Pay attention.”

Their father’s command sent shivers through their spindly arms.

Distance.”

The boys glanced down at their feet and adjusted themselves.  The younger of the two lost his balance and staggered backward.

“No.  Stop.”

Draped in a rich crimson mantle, Frederick looked formidable even at rest, firmly anchored yet capable of instant action and response.

“Maintain your root,” he said.  “It is all too easy to pluck up the sapling whose roots have not struck deep.  If you must retreat, sink down.  Sink. Into the earth, into the balls of your feet. Turn at the waist but do not break your stance.”  He turned crisply to the older boy.  “John Lau.  Follow your opponent.  Did you advance?  No.  Thrust?  No.”   Frederick’s black-haired sons watched for his face to register approval or affection but his expression remained stern.  He said, “Enough.”

The children, scarcely able to conceal their relief, turned to each other and bowed. They bowed to their father, who answered with a precise nod of the head.

“Well done.”

The older boy tugged at Frederick’s sleeve.  “Father?”

“Yes, John.”

“I am sorry.”

“For what?”

“I was stupid today.”

“That’s not possible.  I do not have stupid sons.”

“Yes, Father.  And I will learn.  I promise, I will be the best, you’ll see.  I will be the dragon.  One day I will be the snake and the tiger, the leopard and the crane.  And I will live forever, too.”

“Live well, John.  It is all I ask.”  Frederick placed his hand lightly on the younger boy’s small head.  “And you, my blossom.  Pay attention.”

The younger, whose name was William Lo, appeared to have achieved only one feat thus far in life: worship of his sire.

“Father?”  John tugged at his sleeve again.

“What is it?”

“We are not alone.”

“Indeed,” Frederick said with a hint of a smile.  “Are you referring to the man cringing behind the third column to the left of the principal portal?”

“I am.”

“Good.  And what have you observed?”

John replied without once looking at the man he described.  “Father, this man is a herald.  His hair is red.”

“And?”

“This herald powders his hands.  His nose needs wiping and his left shoe squeaks.”

Frederick gave more than a hint of a smile.  He grinned.  “Well done.”

“He doesn’t like us, Father.  This herald is a fool.  When I am older, I will kill him!”
The herald, who had been leaning closer with growing incredulity toward the boy, spilled out from behind the column and landed belly up in the dust.

“Your grace!” he called out, close to weeping, for at court he was considered elegant.  “I am an imbecile!”

“If you insist.”
“But I was loath to interfere!”

Frederick positioned himself squarely between the laughing boys.  He always kept them close, to keep them safe.  “Is your business with my sons or with me?”

“With you, sire.  May I rise?”

“I wish you would.”

To compensate for his fall, the herald sprang nimbly to his feet.  He made a gorgeous bow and stepped forward.  He did not step close.  Nobody did.  People watched Frederick as they might have watched a tiger doomed to wander among men.

He said, “The king would speak with you!  At once!”

“He is troubled?”

“Oh no, he smiles!  Today he is the image of divine majesty, inspired by a dream!”

Frederick opened his crimson cloak to give quarter to the black-haired boys.  “A king’s dream can be significant.  Lead on.”

With his bastard sons bundled up inside his cloak, Frederick followed the herald to the king’s own oratory.  As the bells of the palace church and all the churches of the city sounded the hour of tierce, Frederick reluctantly placed his boys in the custody of the herald and entered the private chapel.

The stout porter who had summoned the Witts stood at the chapel door keeping watch over Harry.

Harry and John Lau stayed close to their respective guardians and stared.  Harry appeared puzzled by the other’s black, almond-shaped eyes.

John appeared merely annoyed.  To the best of his ability, he emulated his father’s pose of implicit might.  “My father is a great warrior,” he said.

Harry blinked.  “So was mine.”

“He is dead?”

“Yes.”

“Well then,” said John.  “He was not so great.”

It occurred to Harry that he ought to make reply with a death-dealing blow to the head, but this boy was much bigger and even at the age of four Harry was no fool.  He challenged him instead to games of Pinch Me and Run Sheep Run.

While the heirs to the kingdom endeavored to prove their worth, its monarch stood at the altar in his private chapel and lit a great many candles, far more than were needed.  He was playing for time.  As king he felt duty-bound to choose his words with care.  Although curious as to the exact reason for which they had been summoned, Frederick and Isidore watched without comment.  Their duty was to stand and wait.

The king stood a full head taller than his brother.  He stood a head taller than most men but no man he encountered was made to feel small.  A person of extraordinary piety, he made the sign of the cross every morning when he awoke.  He spoke to the Lord first and then to his valet.

In his dress he favored the lighter shades of blue, which heraldry prescribed as symbolic of peace, good works and a clear conscience and which the public considered fitting for such a king as he.  His floor-length gown was blue; his mantle was lined and trimmed with blue squirrel.  The royal brooch, girdle and crown pulsed with sapphires and crushed diamonds.

The coat of arms embroidered on his tunic—an eagle rising displayed with the wing tips pointed up—had been rendered in blue and silver thread.  His great grandfather had chosen the device to commemorate the mysterious man-bird said to be the founder of their line.  The long reach of Godfrey’s gaze, the aquiline nose and the neat, decisive turnings of his head perfectly complemented the family crest.  He resembled an eagle exalted by thought.  His eyes were a wild and brilliant blue, trapped poignantly beneath his brow like captive particles of sky.

He seemed no kin to Frederick, whose eyes were black, cutting and cool, like chipped obsidian fixed beneath creased lids.

Godfrey’s light brown hair fell to his shoulders, where a silk net held its natural curl in place.  Frederick’s hair was trim and glossy black.  The king’s spiritual nature was so manifest in his person that at times his physical being seemed irrelevant.  In Frederick, the body was all.  He moved with dreadful efficiency, poised equally between serenity and stealth.  People may have gravitated toward the king like cold hands toward a blazing hearth but they had a tendency to back away from his smoldering brother.

If Godfrey had been born to illuminate the world and Frederick made to keep its peace, then Isidore Witt had been put on earth to stand in wonder of it all.  His fine face was almost always flushed and tilted upward in a rapture of discovery or delight.  His hair was long and golden; his body and soul were filled with grace.

They were king, warrior and wizard and together they made a consummate administration.  They were men of reason and men of faith, their hearts mighted by the confidence of youth.  Sometimes, when faith and reason disagreed, they stumbled.  But thus far in their lives, they had made no deadly fall.

Frederick considered his brother’s preoccupation with lighting candles a waste of beeswax.  One or two would have been sufficient.  Isidore thought it was beautiful.  And appropriate.  The gleam from gold vessels and jewel-encrusted relics fanned out into a halo around the stately figure of the king.  As a student of astrology, Isidore knew that Godfrey’s nativity had predisposed him toward an altar, not a throne.   Although he lived in the hall and rode in the hunt, Godfrey seemed more inclined, and possibly more suited, to holding court behind a chancel rail, engulfed in the reek of incense and the drear ecstasies of liturgical song.

In an effort to divert the king’s attention from the busy work of candles to the matter at hand, Frederick cleared his throat.

Godfrey turned to his brother.  “Quite right,” he said.  After they had assured each other that they were all in excellent health and that it was indeed a fine spring day, Godfrey began.  “My brother and my friend.  Before assuming the crown I devoted my life to the purchase of books.  You know this.  The library at Gloriette is my true wealth.  It is my fortress and my cell.  The man who reads not, knows not the full measure of existence.  He is needlessly alone, estranged from the warm body of thought that inhabits All Time.  The Philosopher advises that contemplation makes use of what is divine in men and that we should always thus be seeking immortality.”

Godfrey paused in spite of the fact that neither Frederick nor Isidore looked inclined to speak.  They certainly would not have argued with his conclusion. Although they have could have debated at length which books ought to be read first and held most dear, they sensed that this was not the reason why they had been summoned.

The king continued.  “Last night, while looking through the letters of St. Jerome, I came upon these words:  ‘If there is but little water in the stream, it is the fault, not of the channel, but of the source.’”

Godfrey paused again.

“‘If there is but little water in the stream, it is the fault, not of the channel, but of the source.’”

Frederick and Isidore stood at attention and patiently waited for the point.

“I am the king,” said Godfrey.  “I am that source.  If the people are hungry, if they feel forsaken, I am to blame.”

“Not entirely,” said Isidore.  “You inherited the mantle of your father and the crude handiwork upon it.”

“Yes, to some extent.  I know he made himself too holy for this world.  While he ascended to the more sublime portion of existence, his subjects sank into the grosser half.  This war was a consequence of his madness.  This war was a prosecution.  A kingdom went on trial, a people were summoned and examined by ordeal.  In my prayers, I argued my case before Him who judges every living thing and He acquitted me with blessings beyond my due.  He gave me Isidore, whose books and astrolabe indicated favorable days for action and whose fellowship consoled me through bereavement for my queen.  He gave to me my brother, home at last, lately come but not too late to accomplish our defense.  To you both I owe my kingdom and my life.”

Frederick and Isidore simply nodded.  Although they had performed their services without expectation of reward, they knew the value of a king’s gratitude.

“Since the peace I have allotted cash and credit to the mercenary kind.  I have arranged for grants of property and office to my knights. The barony, too, has got its fees.  To them all I owe my kingdom and my life.”

Again Frederick and Isidore nodded.  A king paid dearly for his wars.

“But there were others,” Godfrey said.  “This war has been a trial and for me, an education.  The people were my teacher. And this is what I learned: to them also I owe my kingdom and my life.  Where is their reward?  What boon, what largesse, can I bestow upon a people who became a nation overnight?”

Neither Frederick nor Isidore bothered to reply.  Godfrey had a habit of posing questions he himself intended to answer.

“Justice.  Hope, I think.  A better life.”

Isidore said, “Ah!” and gazed at the ceiling as though it were a patch of sky that had just revealed the face of God.  “But this is wonderful!” he added, an exclamation he was known to make at least twenty times a day.

Godfrey could not help smiling.  Isidore’s enthusiasms and the extent to which he expressed them were famous and, while considered excessively sentimental by some and imbecilic by others, his ageless sense of wonder appealed to the king.  Godfrey knew that with Isidore at his side, he would never grow old, not really, not in his heart.

“Wonderful?” he asked.  “Last night I had a dream.”

“We have heard!”

“Let me tell you what I dreamt.  And then you may decide if it was wonderful or something else.  Something wicked, perhaps.  Or false.  The two of you were in this dream.  We stood on the crest of a hill, the three of us together.  We looked down upon a peaceful land of field and village and wood.  On the horizon there stood a city very much like Gill, secured on one side by a river, fortified by immense towers and impenetrable walls.  It was beautiful.  But not perfect.  There were demons, too, devils hanging on the air.  They began to spew foul vapors.  Their polluted breath moved against the countryside like a crushing wind and demolished everything in its path.  First the country burned.  Houses collapsed, crops withered, trees fell thundering to the earth.  And then the great city fell, its walls reduced to dust.

“Terrified, we cried, ‘Oh Lord!   Is this the crack of doom?’  A voice replied, so mild we marveled at how it carried above the squall.  ‘No,’ it said.  ‘The world is just begun.’

“With that, within our hearts, another spirit rose.  Like balm, like dew—or like a fine idea—it moved and settled on the land.  It raised things up again, reversing the ruin, building towns and bearing fruit until the land was beautiful once more.  The city was restored, but it looked much improved.  It was a city on a hill, shining like a smaller sun, with walls and gates of gold.  A city on a hill, a city that could not be hid.

“We three were lifted into the air, I know not how, and carried to this place.  We walked through the gates thinking we had died, for no place on earth had ever looked so bright.  But inside we found men.  Not angels.  Living saints.  Ordinary men, blacksmiths and tailors, barbers and cooks, going about their business. Women and children going about their ordinary lives.   And they were all together.  Even the fishmongers walked side by side with the barons and the knights.  And every single one was straight of limb, peaceful and content.  They were fragrant, as if the odor of sanctity was their natural scent, all—all the people—living in bliss.

“We stopped a weaver in his work and asked, ‘How came you to this place?  How have you accomplished this paradise on earth?’  He wasted no words.  He took us to the heart of the city and there in the midst of all, stood a tree.”

Isidore asked, “A tree?”

“Yes.”

The wizard said nothing yet looked strangely, deeply moved.

“It was immense, this tree.  Its leaves were veined with gold, its roots went deeper than we cared to think, its branches reached up into the sky until we could not see them for the clouds.  The weaver said, ‘This tree leads straight to heaven.  And yet we are not forbidden from climbing it.  Sometimes we go aloft to sit with the heavenly host.  At other times, the angels climb down to walk with men.  It is because heaven is so accessible that we live in peace below.  Because God Himself is so near by, we remember to love our neighbors as ourselves.’”

Godfrey fell silent for a moment, his blue eyes drawn to the flickering candles as though the images from his dream had migrated to their flame.  “It was then that I awoke.  I lay awake for hours profoundly moved by this dream.  In the light of day it moves me still.  What I want to know is this.”  He glanced away from the candles.  “Was it something I ate?”

“Ah!” said Isidore.  “That is the question!  A dream is evaluated according to its origin, beginning with the dreamer himself, his belly or his brain.  Was it something you ate?  Or perhaps the result of all your reading and reflection?  Or was it sent from the Devil, an illusion to lead you astray?  Or did it come from God, a revelation?  If so, was it transmitted by the angels.  Or did it come direct?”

The king answered dryly, “I was hoping that you of all people would know.”

“Your Majesty.  It is said that only a saint may determine whether a dream is true.”

“Your opinion, Isidore.  What is your opinion?”

“Well, let me think.  How did you feel when you awoke from this dream?”

“I told you.  I felt profoundly moved.”

“But in what way—exactly?”

Godfrey closed his eyes.  He cast his mind back into the early hours of that morning and recalled with pleasure his waking thoughts.  “I felt refreshed and very peaceful.”

“Then it was true,” Isidore pronounced.  “A false dream leaves the spirit unsettled.”

The king looked disappointed.  “That’s it?  That’s all?”

“Your Majesty, would you rather it not be true?”

“I would prefer the interpretation of dreams to be the science it once was.”

“Then consider this.  Perhaps the difficulty lies in the possibility that this was not a mere dream.  Or even revelation.”

“What was it then?”

“A vision.”

Frederick, who had been attentive but silent thus far, spoke.  “You could be excommunicated, brother, for having visions without the aid of the Church.”

“But he is a king,” said Isidore.  “Even bishops will agree that the dreams of a king are sacred.”

“If that is so,” said Godfrey, “then I will tell you what I think.  I believe that what I saw was paradise on earth.  Not the city of God, but Crossley Ho, green and great of heart.  My brother and my friend, I have called you here to consider the perfectly just and noble society.  Consider, if you will, the commune and the guild.  Reflect upon the oaths taken every day here in the city.  Common men swear to keep the common peace, obey the common laws, defend the common liberty and show charity to their brothers in the common need.  Now consider Crossley Ho as one enormous common, one perfectly ordered brotherhood, one guild.”

Frederick spoke again.  “Have you discussed this with the archbishop?”

“Not yet.  Why?”

“Consider first what you believe to be the true nature of man.”

“And what is that, in your opinion?”

It was some time before Frederick answered.  Although he possessed neither the height nor fluent tongue of the other two, he had the mystique of a man whose opinion mattered.  He had seen the other side of the world.  He had seen too much at too young an age.  Deep creases around his mouth and at the outer corners of his eyes gave the impression of wisdom beyond his years, which, when he thought no one was looking, translated to a sad and salty, haunted gaze.

He stared reproachfully at the altar. To him it seemed a table overloaded with material goods, an idea sunk beneath its own dead weight.  For him Christ had become a stranger and the Church a crowded platform where blind men led the blind.  “I know what we are not,” he said.  “We are not born damned.”

“My lords,” Isidore said with some delicacy.  “Princes are born to uphold the Faith.”

“And so we shall,” said Godfrey.  “There is nothing subversive in the proposition that our actions may determine whether the times be lean or fat.  There is nothing new in thinking that political order need not rest on force alone or solely on the principles of mutual interest.  It can have a moral basis, too.”  When no one replied, Godfrey scolded, “Or perhaps you are content to believe that government is brigandage on a large scale and that the earthly city is what Augustine said it was, an ocean where man devours man.  Perhaps you believe that princes are born to secure their own fat coffers and their clans.”

“I believe they do,” said Frederick.  “But that they should not.”

“Of course not.  Princes are born to secure the common good.”

“But this is wonderful!” Isidore exclaimed.  “This begins with philosophy!”

The king’s blue eyes blazed.  “It begins and ends with the grace of God.”

“No,” said Frederick.  “With example.”

The king and his wizard turned inquiringly to the Warrior Prince.

Frederick responded, “You said yourself that you are the source.  ‘And lo, the black-haired people were transformed.’”

Godfrey looked irritated, as he always did when his brother quoted from a text he did not know.  “I suppose that means something.”

“It does.  The Master compared the king who rules by means of his virtue to the north polar star.  It keeps its place and all the stars turn toward it.”

After a moment’s consideration, Godfrey smiled.  “That’s good.”  He looked pleased to discover that his brother’s adopted country had produced a man worth quoting.  “Yes, very good.  The Master, you say?”

“I call him that.”

Some would have called him Chung Ni or Kung Fu Tzu or Confucius.

Godfrey asked, “But is your Master not also concerned with laws?”

“Very much so.”

“Excellent.  You are right to make an issue of the nature of man.  In this, let another master be our guide.  The Philosopher.  According to Aristotle, our true nature resides in that which separates us from other living things.  Like plants, we take in nourishment, we grow and multiply.  Like animals, we have perception.  But unlike the vegetation and the beasts, we possess the capacity for thought.  We possess the will to organize our desires and understand what we perceive.”

Again with some delicacy Isidore said, “It is still possible, my lord, to organize our desires and our perceptions badly.”

“Just so.  Virtue is an acquired thing.  You are fortunate, my friend, to be a scholar.  The intellectual virtues are absolute.  Man’s capacity to reason is assured.  It exists regardless of circumstance.  But I am a king.  I am obliged to concern myself with the moral virtues as well.  They vary.  They change according to circumstance.  If they can be acquired, they can also be lost.  How else could it be that we fail to do the good we would and do the evil we would not?  In a well-ordered house, however, the moral virtues are less likely to be misplaced.  This is the calling of a king, to make that house well-ordered, to build that city on a hill.”

Frederick said, “The bishops believe that they alone hold the keys to your city.”

Godfrey turned away from the altar, suddenly, as though showing his back to the bishops.  “What they profess is that man’s highest good is attainable only in the kingdom of heaven.  I cannot answer whether my people may attain their highest good on earth.  But I would like to think they could at least be happy here.”

Isidore stepped forward, as gallant as a knight.  “Your Majesty.  It is our highest good that we should try to make it so.”

“Place your hands in mine.”

Isidore obeyed.

“And swear.”

“I do.”

Isidore remained beaming and at full attention while Godfrey turned to the brother he hardly knew.

With a wry, skeptical expression, Frederick asked, “You don’t think of me as a liability?”

Godfrey answered warmly, “I think of you only as my brother.”  He clasped Frederick’s arm.  “Pledge yourself?”

“I do.”

“There are fifteen relics in this chapel,” Godfrey said.  “Choose but one and swear.”

They did.  Isidore chose the enameled dove suspended over the altar, which was said to contain droplets of the Holy Mother’s milk.  Frederick chose St. Ethelburga’s fingernail.

They knelt before their king and pledged to make the world as perfect as human nature would allow.  They envisioned a nation uplifted by its laws, not oppressed, an economy based on peaceful trade instead of plunder, a people concerned with the mutual good instead of themselves alone.

The king himself knelt before the altar and swore upon his own sword, where a splinter from the True Cross was said to be embedded in the hilt.  There would be no hunger, he said.  There would be no hurt.

They rose again.  King, warrior and wizard stood fast and filled with thought, their eyes fixed sternly on the guttering bank of candles while their shadows threw themselves against the wall and danced.  They vowed to make their city more than just a marketplace, more than a chapter of the Church or a base for military action.  Their city would be an ideal, a shining kingdom on a hill, set firmly between the shifting shores of Babylon and the hard rock of Jerusalem itself.

The king said, “We will be the light of the world.”

Isidore smiled from ear to ear, Frederick not at all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About Martha

Martha M Moravec is the author of the memoir Magnificent Obesity: My Search for Wellness, Voice and Meaning in the Second Half of Life, (Hatherleigh Press/Random House). She is also the author of two novels: an epic historical fantasy, The Secret Name of God; and a sci-fi eco-fable for young adults, The Odd Body Vanity Squad. Before committing to prose, she wrote the book and lyrics for five original full-length musicals, all of which were successfully produced in southern Vermont and Boston. Martha blogs at Mad Genius Bohemians about the mysteries of the creative life and the persistence of one's dreams. She also blogs at Magnificent Obesity about the hazards posed by anxiety, addiction, aging and agnosticism to personal growth and transformation. She can usually be found at home in Vermont working on her next seven novels, four novellas, second memoir and a sweeping revision of the five musicals. She is currently seeking further publication opportunities, a hundred more years and God.