The Discourse

For those who have a way with words.
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Davies
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The Discourse

Post by Davies »

The Discourse

They met only twice.

It's not clear what drove Huan Sain-Zang, follower of the Way, preacher and exorcist, to step off the well-trod path that would have taken him from one temple of his brotherhood to another, in order to pay a call on Euceba the Witch Queen in her castle of thorns. It is no part of the Way to actively confront the powers of evil; it rather urges its followers to wait for such powers to confront them, and then respond accordingly, strengthening those around them to help them to resist as well. Never had any of those who had taught Sain-Zang -- none of them called themselves his master, for even then they recognized that they were in the presence of one who would be counted among the most holy -- ever spoken of Euceba to him, and whatever knowledge the monk had of her can only have come from rumor and gossip heard in his travels.

Nevertheless, through the dank swamp surrounding the castle he went, careless of the damage that the waters did to his white robes, until he came at last to the castle's outer wall, guarded by suits of armor animated by its chatelaine's will. They stepped back to allow him passage, and he entered the castle's keep, gazing not even momentarily on the treasures -- whether given as tribute or claimed as spoils -- lining the passage from the gate to the throne room. He walked directly into the center of the Witch Queen's power, and gazed up at her on her dragonbone throne, as she gazed down at him. Neither, clearly, felt they had anything to fear from the other.

We do not know exactly what was said in this first meeting, witnessed by the Witch Queen's then-subordinates, all of whom told slightly different stories about this meeting in later years. The essence, however, was that Sain-Zang and Euceba spoke to each other in a distantly polite manner, as do those who know of each other by reputation and recognize that this reputation should put them at odds, but do not see the need to begin working towards each other's destruction yet. When at last they passed from small talk, and Euceba raised the question of why the monk had come into her parlor, Sain-Zang replied that he had come to ask his host to repent of her wicked ways and embrace the Way, and work to bring peace to the world instead of chaos and cruelty.

The accounts vary as to the nature of the laughter that Euceba used to answer this statement, but they are unanimous in what she asked in response. "Have you ever considered that, in your pursuit of peace, you are subverting a most holy system, one where bad decisions coincide with the teaching power of pain?" Such were her words.

The accounts again vary as to the response of the monk. Those who knew Sain-Zang have claimed that the version most consistent with the person they knew is the one where he offered a polite bow in response to her obvious denial of his suggestion, and then deliberately turned his back on Euceba and walked, no more swiftly than he had come into this place, away from it.

Their second meeting would come a decade later. By that point, Sain-Zang had fulfilled the destiny that his teachers foresaw for him and was considered a living saint of the Way. Consequently, there were many who observed his activities through various skillful means. As he had nothing to hide, he employed no methods of countering such observations. Thus, when the Witch Queen sought him out, there were many witnesses to their conversation, and the accounts of such witnesses are entirely consistent with each other.

When it began, he was seated in his camp on the side of a hill, gazing into the fire he'd built earlier that day. The awareness that he'd cultivated in his pursuit of the Way surely told him of Euceba's arrival before she announced herself, but he did not react until she walked up to the far side of the fire and addressed him. "Greetings, Saint," she said, venom dripping from her words, as her black robes blended with the night sky, the bonfire throwing her face into shadow.

"Greetings in return," said Sain-Zang, neither employing any title nor the Witch Queen's name.

"I wonder what you can find so fascinating about your fire, that it commands your interest," she said. "Does it call certain things to mind? Images, perhaps, of the final days of Rhodos?"

"No, I cannot say that it does. But those days were not so long past that I need reminding of them."

"I would suppose not," she bit out. "Saint, they call you, for saving a mere thousand of those who dwelled there. You must be so thrilled."

"No," he said again. "If they call me that, they do so of their own choice, and not of any wish of mine. I take no pleasure in it, or in remembering what happeened. I saved those I could. I wish that I could have saved more, but there is no point in dwelling on what could not be."

His mouth opened to continue, but she interrupted him. "'What could not be,'" she repeated scornfully. "Did you know that my tower was near to Rhodos, in those days? That its rulers paid me tribute?"

"No, I cannot say that I did," he answered. "I do not pay much mind to the movements of your tower. It seems that every week you rebuild it in a new locale, when you grow tired of dispatching such young fools as challenge you in its former one. Might I ask why you mention it, now?"

"As if you cannot --" she began to sneer, then clenched shut her mouth. "Regardless of where you might have thought my tower was situated, surely, you must have thought that I would have some knowledge of the Demonplague. But you never even considered asking me for help, did you?"

"I did not," he admitted.

"Of course not," she echoed, angrily. "The Saint, who cannot ever admit any weakness, would never ask the Witch Queen for help!"

He sat in silence a moment. "Hm. Well, I can admit weakness, though I agree that I don't enjoy it. But no, I would never have asked you for help, even if I had known that you were in the area."

"You utterly arrogant --"

"There is no point in asking for help that will not come," he continued, with a shrug. "Had I thought to ask you, I think I would have concluded that the most likely outcome would be that you would make some humiliating demand of me in exchange for your assistance, and then deny it even then. I think it should be fairly clear why I would think that."

The Witch Queen glared at him in silence.

"May I ask why, other than your own wounded pride, why you bring it up? And let's dispense with the 'you already did' banter," he added quickly. "What is the death of a few thousand denizens of a city to you?"

She did not answer at once. As he began to speak again, though, she finally made reply, in a quiet tone very different from how she'd spoken so far. "It gets boring, you know. Being the Witch Queen who terrifies everyone. Almost everyone," she added, a bit of her old anger resurfacing. "So from time to time, these last few years, I found it amusing to walk, disguised, among the people of Rhodos, and see how they lived their lives.

"I -- I will not insult you with the lie that I found them fascinating. They were dull and contemptible, in the main. But there was this one woman. She sang in a public house, on the lake front. She was ... funny, I suppose. I found her songs entertaining, and I spoke with her from time to time. She was going to be married, the last time we spoke." Again she went silent. "That was two weeks before the Demonplague broke out."

"And she did not survive."

"No. You did not save her. And ... you knew that it was coming. I found out that you started warning people about it a week before the end. You had a week. It caught me by surprise, but you had all that time. You could have sought me out, convinced me, and we could have worked together. So many more lives could have been saved. Does that not at least make you regret?"

"No," he answered. "There is no point in dwelling on what could not be, and I would never have asked you for help. Even if, in some unimaginable world, I had done so, I think it even more unimaginable that you would have agreed to work with me, and more likely tried to handle it all yourself. Or even just saved the one person in the seven thousand victims who inspired some compassion in your heart, with no thought for any others."

They were both silent for a while, before she began to open her mouth to reply. This time, though, he interrupted her. "If you are experiencing pain, perhaps you should reconsider the bad decision with which it coincides," he said.

The Witch Queen's hand came up, glowing with the fires of hell, and the Saint began a warding gesture ... but before he had finished, she let her hand fall.

"Yes," she said, in a hushed tone. "Yes, you are as wise as they say, oh most holy. I have made a bad decision. I have indeed. Clearly, caring about anyone other than myself is a mistake that I will never make again. Thank you for your counsel. You'll understand if I do not wish you farewell." And with that, she whirled away and stalked off into the darkness, where the flutter of wings could soon be heard.

He sat a while, staring at where she'd been. Then he shook his head, snuffed out the flame, and settled down to sleep.

Within five years, Huan Sain-Zang would be dead, slain in a different outbreak of the Demonplague. He was young when he died, and his loss mourned by all those who even respected the Way, for he could have done so much more if he'd lived longer. To say that it could have been different if he'd had Euceba's help is foolish, though, for she had met her own fate a year before that, reduced to one of the hundreds of dolls that line the walls of a summer palace of the Demon Princess of Puppets. Perhaps that fate, too, could have been avoided.

But probably not.
I'm not fourteen hundred years old! I've been sixteen years old fourteen hundred times, but I'm definitely not fourteen hundred years old! If you can't get that through your skull, I'm divorcing you!
Tsukasa Tsukuyomi, in
Fly Me to the Moon, by Kenjiro Hata
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