Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Tragic Legacy by Glenn Greenwald

The subtitle here is “How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency,” and it’s an apt framework for analyzing how America’s 43rd president went from one of the most popular (in late 2001) to one of the least popular (by late 2006).

It’s a downfall that’s quite remarkable in the annals of American history. To illustrate the point, Greenwald begins his first chapter with a series of numbers (86, 66, 59, 48, 39, 32), which represent the percentage of Americans who approved of Bush’s performance in late 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006, respectively. I have my own political opinions, and I probably won’t be able to keep them from peeking through in this post, but by any measurement, that is a record that demonstrates how much of the American public turned against Bush and the policies he supported. Greenwald’s book was published in 2007, so he couldn’t add the 25% Bush’s approval rating sank to in 2008, but we can, and in doing so we can marvel at how far he fell.

Does anyone remember the George W. Bush of late 2001? The president who, after 9/11 and its sad but not unexpected backlash against American Muslims, said things like:

I ask you to uphold the values of America, and remember why so many have come here. We are in a fight for our principles, and our first responsibility is to live by them. No one should be singled out for unfair treatment or unkind words because of their ethnic background or religious faith.

This was a man we were proud to call our president. But now, after so many betrayals of the principles he spoke so highly of, one has to wonder whether he changed, or if he never really understood what those principles were and why they were worth fighting for.

There are still factions in our society who want to perpetuate the myth that he was one of our most popular presidents, and that the American public was behind him and his policies from start to finish. But he wasn’t and they weren’t. In one telling example, Greenwald’s assessment of the 2004 presidential election shows just how unpopular Bush had become even by then.

Incumbent American presidents rarely lose under any circumstances. But Americans have never voted a president out of office during wartime, having comfortably re-elected all four previous wartime presidents who ran again (Madison, Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and Nixon).

Beyond those towering inherent advantages, Bush barely squeaked by despite running against John Kerry, one of the most politically ungifted major party nominees in several decades; despite Kerry’s running an inept and passive presidential campaign, leading former DNC chair Terry McAuliffe to call the campaign’s failure to attack Bush’s record “one of the biggest acts of political malpractice in the history of American politics”; and despite a significant financial advantage. Even with all of those formidable advantages, facing a weak opponent and an unskillful campaign, the War President, after four years of governing, won only two states in 2004 that he did not take in 2000 (Iowa and New Mexico) and even lost New Hampshire for a net gain of only one state.

This fascinates me. Ask a Bush devotee, and you’ll hear how much the country was behind Bush. The facts are he squeaked into office in 2004—just as he had in 2000.

One of the things that fascinates me most about Bush’s presidency is my own belief that, despite all his own rhetoric and that of his political supporters, Bush was not a conservative—at least not in the sense that I understand that term. Here’s how Greenwald defines it. Conservatism is…

… defined by a belief in (a) restrained federal government power, (b) minimal federal taxes and responsible and limited spending, (c) a generalized distrust of the federal government and its attempts to intervene into the private lives of citizens, (d) reliance on the private sector rather than the federal government to achieve “Good” ends, (e) a preference for state and local autonomy over federalized and centralized control, (f) trusting in individuals rather than government officials to make decisions, and (g) an overarching belief in the supremacy of the rule of law.

That sounds like something Barry Goldwater would’ve written. Indeed, Greenwald makes several comparisons between that former senator from Arizona and President Bush.

Despite the continuous and enthusiastic embrace of Bush by the vast bulk of political conservatives, it has long been vividly clear that the president (just as was true for Ronald Reagan) simply does not govern in accordance with the claimed principles of political conservatism as the exist in their “pure,” abstract form. George Bush has presided over massive increases in domestic spending, the conversion of a multibillion dollar surplus into an even larger deficit, the creation of vast new bureaucratic fiefdoms, an unprecedented expansion of the power of the federal government, governmental intrusions into multiple areas previously preserved for the states or off-limits altogether, and a wanton disregard for the rule of law. Whatever political philosophy has propelled George Bush’s governance, it is not the abstract tenets of Goldwater /small-government conservatism.

Greenwald’s book reminded me that there was an interesting time during Bush’s second term when, in fact, his own conservative base seemed to turn against him. They were for a time seemingly bent on dismantling all he was trying to put into place.

The president’s campaign to overhaul Social Security—his flamboyantly touted second-term “legacy” program—flopped from the start, his proposals pushed away even by his own party…

The failed Supreme Court nomination of his loyal aide Harriet Miers was fueled almost entirely by his own supporters…

The fiasco over his attempt to turn over America’s port operations to a company owned by the United Arab Emirates even raised questions about whether he was sufficiently committed to protecting the country against the threat of Islamic terrorism…

I remember the conservative pundits going apoplectic at the time for each of these items. I specifically remember the triumph they proclaimed when they were able to get Bush to withdraw Miers’ name from consideration. I think it was then that the true conservatives—the Goldwater libertarian wing of the party—began to realize that Bush, despite his constant use of the word conservative and their unfailing support of him for the previous four years, was not, in fact a conservative. Not a Goldwater conservative, at least.

But by that time the term “conservative” had been hijacked so much that those who honored the tradition that invented it were seen as the lunatic fringe by the powerful establishment who had redefined it to allow them to publicly act in opposition to every one of its original principles.

Greenwald is writing in 2006 or 2007, before the rise of the Tea Party. He is very critical of the neo-conservatives, whom he lambasts for praising, supporting and re-electing Bush in 2001-04 as a conservative hero, and then throwing him under the bus in 2005-06 as an arch anti-conservative. He writes as if these neo-cons are the conservative base of the Republican Party, but of course they are not. Bush and his neo-con supporters are cut from the same cloth. Election cycle after election cycle since Goldwater’s defeat, they have been changing the definition of conservatism from small government libertarianism to big government empire building.

That is because “conservatism”—while definable on a theoretical plane—has come to have no practical meaning in this country other than a quest for ever-expanding government power for its own sake. When George Bush enabled those ends, he was the Great Conservative. Now that he impedes them due to his unprecedented unpopularity, he is the Judas of the conservative movement.

The truth is that the “conservative movement” that Bush and now Obama leads is not rooted in the Republican Party, the way Goldwater conservatism was. It’s a new kind of conservatism—and it’s not compassionate as Bush tried to brand it. It transcends political party. Under this new “conservative” banner we see Republicans acting as bigger spenders than historical Democrats and Democrats acting as bigger warmongers than historical Republicans. They can each get away with their non-traditional excesses because neither one truly has the opposition they once had from the other party to hold them in check.

The political doctrine that drives this “neo-conservatism” is not conservative. Greenwald claims it is evangelical. That is, it is committed to the use of government power as a force to promote a particular conception of God’s will. And there is very little that is more anti-Goldwater conservatism than evangelicalism. As the Senator himself said:

Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them…

There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly.

Which is as good as any segue back to Greenwald’s subtitle: “How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency.”

…what lies at the heart of the Bush presidency is an absolutist worldview capable of understanding all issues and challenges only in the moralistic, overly simplistic, and often inapplicable terms of “Good vs. Evil.” The president is driven by his core conviction that he had found the Good, that he is a crusader for it, that anything is justified in pursuit of it, and that anything which impedes his decision-making is, by definition, a deliberate or unwitting ally of Evil. This mentality has single-handedly prevented him from governing, changing course, and even engaging realities that deviate from those convictions. The president’s description of himself as “the Decider” is accurate. His mind-set had dominated the American political landscape throughout his presidency, and virtually all significant events of the Bush Era are a by-product of his core Manichean mentality.

Manichean is a reference to a religion founded in the third century by the Persian prophet Manes, in which the world was cleanly divided into two opposing spheres—Good and Evil; God and theDevil—and in which they fought a dualistic battle both in heaven and on Earth. It was a new word for me. One I was glad to learn. And it was Bush’s Manichean morality, Greenwald argues, that rendered inevitable…

…some of the most amoral and ethically monstrous policies, justified as necessary as a means to achieve a morally imperative end. The Bush presidency, awash in moralistic rhetoric, has ushered in some of the most extremist, previously unthinkable and profoundly un-American practices—from indefinite, lawless detentions, to the use of torture, to bloody preventive wars of choice, to the abduction of innocent people literally off the street or from their homes, to radical new theories designed to vest in the president the power to break the law.

These measures were pursued not despite the moralistic roots of the president’s agenda, but because of them. Those who believe that they are on the path of righteousness, who are crusaders for the objective Good, will frequently become convinced that there can be no limitations on the weapons used to achieve their ends. The moral imperative of their agenda justifies—even requires—all steps undertaken to fulfill it. As the president ceaselessly proclaimed the Goodness at the heart of America’s destiny and its role in the world, his actions have resulted in an almost full-scale destruction of America’s moral credibility in almost every country and on every continent. The same president who has insisted that core moralism drive him has brought America to its lowest moral standing in history.

A lot of this, a lot of the embrace of Evil in order to do Good, is given room to flourish because of the neo-conservative theory that there are different truths for different kinds of people. As Greenwald quotes the neo-conservative spokesperson, Bill Kristol:

There are truths appropriate for children; truths that are appropriate for students; truths that are appropriate for educated adults; and truths that are appropriate for highly educated adults, and the notion that there should be one set of truths available to everyone is a modern democratic fallacy. It doesn’t work.

Of course, the self-designated “highly educated adults” take responsibility for hiding their truths from the ignorant masses, worried that too much of their truth in the wrong hands will lead to political unrest. Here, Bill’s father, Irving Kristol, lauds the perspective of political philosopher Leo Strauss:

What made [Strauss] so controversial within the academic community was his disbelief in the Enlightenment dogma that “the truth will make men free.” … Strauss was an intellectual aristocrat who thought that “the truth could make some minds free,” but he was convinced that there was an inherent conflict between philosophic truth and political order, and that the popularization and vulgarization of these truths might import unease, turmoil and the release of popular passions hitherto held in check by tradition and religion with utterly unpredictable, but mostly negative, consequences.

Let me take a quick aside here. I know that whole books have been written about these ideas, and I don’t have the scholarship to speak to it authoritatively, but still…how do people delude themselves into thinking these things could possibly be true? Obscuring “truth” from the masses may help you achieve certain objectives—but human happiness isn’t one of them.

But my point in going down this particular neo-conservative rabbit hole is to say, whatever your political or philosophical position may be, it’s much easier to claim your wholesome ends justify your nefarious means if you also subscribe to the idea that there are certain bits of knowledge that your political underclass needn’t worry themselves about. Knowledge, say, of your nefarious means. It’s much harder to justify Evil, in other words, if you don’t get to perpetrate it under the cover of night.

This all would be one thing if we could ascribe this political philosophy to one man—to President Bush, who’s now gone and no longer able to affect United States policy. But that, sadly, is not the case. Greenwald’s criticism of Bush and his view are less about Bush as an individual and more about the political movement that embraced him.

George W. Bush is a single individual, who will permanently leave the American political stage on January 20, 2009. But the political movement that transformed Bush into an icon—and which loyally supported, glorified, and sustained him—is not going anywhere. Bush is but a by-product and a perfect reflection of that movement, one which has been weakened and diminished by Bush’s staggering unpopularity but is far from dead. It intends to rejuvenate itself by finding a new leader, one who appears cosmetically different from the deeply unpopular Bush, but who, in reality, shares Bush’s fundamental beliefs about the world (which are the core beliefs of that movement) and who intends to follow the same disastrous course Bush has chosen for this country.

To understand Bush and his presidency, then, is not merely a matter of historical interest. Examining the dynamic driving his presidency is also vital for understanding the right-wing political movement that has dominated our political landscape since the mid-1990s—a movement that calls itself “conservative” but which, as many traditional conservatives have themselves complained, has no actual allegiance to the political principles for which conservatism claims to stand. That is the movement that George Bush has come to embody, and the attitude of the Bush presidency, the ones which have spawned such a tragic legacy for our country, are the same attributes driving the movement that created, supported, and sustained that presidency.

Greenwald calls this movement evangelical, and I think he means that in more of a political context than a religious one. But religious belief is a big part of what drives it. And those religious beliefs have what I think could be frightening consequences for our world.

That faction is driven by the general theological belief that God’s will is for Jews to occupy all of “Greater Israel,” which will occur only once the enemies of Israel are defeated. There is no question—because many of their key leaders have said so themselves—that evangelicals, who compose a substantial part of President Bush’s most loyal following, have become fanatically “pro-Israel” in their foreign policy views because they believe that strengthening Israel is a necessary prerequisite for Rapture to occur—for the world to be ruled by Christianity upon Jesus’ apocalyptic return to Earth—and they believe that can occur only once “Greater Israel” is unified under Jewish control.

I don’t wish to offend. But, when I read things like that—that there are people who with the earnestness that is necessary to drive a nation’s foreign policy believe that strengthening Israel is a prerequisite for Rapture to occur—I can’t help but wonder if they are grown-ups. Adults in the same sense that I understand that term. If they believe that, I wonder, what other myths from Sunday School do they still believe? Not unexpectedly, Greenwald provides a kind of answer on the very next page.

After President Bush’s 2000 election but before his 2004 re-election, General [William G.] Boykin [the Bush administration’s deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence] appeared in full military uniform before evangelical congregations and insisted that President Bush was installed in the White House by God:

“Ask yourself this: why is this man in the White House? The majority of Americans did not vote for him. Why is he there? … I tell you this morning he’s in the White House because God put him there for such a time as this. God put him there to lead not only this nation but to lead the world, in such a time as this.”

As [Gary] Wills reports [in a November 2006 New York Review of Books article], Boykin, in part of his stump speech in churches, would typically present a slide show with photographs of individuals such as Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and various Taliban leaders while asking if each was “the enemy.” He “gave a resounding no to each question,” and then explained:

“The battle this nation is in is a spiritual battle, it’s a battle for our soul. And the enemy is a guy called Satan. … Satan wants to destroy this nation. He wants to destroy us as a nation, and he wants to destroy us as a Christian army.”

This is what frightens me about evangelicals in positions of political power. If they honestly believe this stuff, which I have to assume they do, then what kind of decisions would they be willing to make with regard to our nation’s foreign policy, armed forces, and nuclear arsenal? There’s likely to be no limit. I think that’s the key point that Greenwald wants to make with this book, and which he summarizes so well in his concluding paragraph.

The Manichean warrior recognizes no limits on the weapons he uses to annihilate the Evil enemies. Those who begin with the premise that they are intrinsically and by divine entitlement on the side of objectives Good view any weapons they use as, by definition, just and necessary. Thus, the president who vowed to the world that he would demonstrate the values that have made this country great, thereafter systematically violated those very values to the point where our country is no longer defined by them. The epic challenge in the aftermath of the Bush presidency is the restoration of those national values, a rehabilitation of our national character, so that American morality and credibility are, once again, more than empty slogans in presidential Manichean war speeches. This is the tragic legacy George W. Bush leaves behind for America.


Greenwald is a writer, like Huxley and Harris, that I could quote at tremendous length (as I have in this post) and be hard pressed to find anything of substance to add. One thing I really enjoy about him (and about Huxley and Harris) is the way he speaks very plainly in his writing, offering a clear perspective on what others obscure by design or by incompetence. Here are just a two examples that struck me:

Not only American political discourse but also American Culture generally are suffused with an endless parade of fear-inducing images, of constant warnings of latent dangers—the terrorist “sleeper cells” lurking in every community, the sex predators living covertly on one’s own street, drug gangs and violent criminals and online pedophiles, radical tyrants seeking nuclear weapons. Basic human nature dictates that a world that seems frightening and hopelessly complex always engenders a need for both protection and clarity.

Religion—a belief in an all-powerful, protective deity and a clear, absolute, and eternal moral code—powerfully satisfies those cravings. True faith in an all-powerful, benevolent God alleviates both fear and anxiety and produces an otherwise unattainable tranquility and feeling of safety. Identically, a political movement built on a strong, powerful, protective leader—one who claims that the world in morally unambiguous, who insists that it can be cleanly divided into Good and Evil, and who promises “protection” from the lurking dangers of Evil—fulfills the same needs. Those who lead the group—the Protectors—will inspire great personal loyalty, while those who oppose it will be viewed as mortal enemies.

+ + +

The Bush presidency has fundamentally transformed the way we speak about our country and its responsibilities, entitlements, and role in the world. In reviewing the pre-Iraq War “debate” this country had both on television and in print, one of the most striking aspects in retrospect is the casual and even breezy tone with which American collectively discusses and thinks about war as a foreign policy option, standing inconspicuously next to all of the other options. There is really no strong resistance to it, little anguish over it, no sense that it is a supremely horrible and tragic course to undertake—and particularly to start. Gone almost completely from our mainstream political discourse is horror over war. The most one hears is some cursory and transparently insincere—almost bored—lip service to its being a “last resort.”

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Human Understanding

“When the natural weakness and imperfection of human understanding is considered, with the unavoidable influences of education, custom, books and company, upon our ways of thinking, I imagine a man must have a good deal of vanity who believes, and a good deal of boldness who affirms, that all the doctrines he holds, are true, and all he rejects, are false.”
Benjamin Franklin

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


“In an instant’s compass, great hearts sometimes condense to one deep pang, the sum total of those shallow pains kindly diffused through feebler men’s whole lives.”
Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Chapter Sixteen


Speculative Fiction
Approximately 46,000 words
Copyright © Eric Lanke, 1990. All rights reserved.

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In the time that Gildegarde Brisbane II spent as the Squire of Sir Reginald Ironshield, he learned more about what it was to be a Knight of Farchrist than in all the time he had spent in the King’s School for Boys. In no man since the death of his father had the young Brisbane found the proper guidance and authority he needed to grow and mature into something akin to what his father had been. Under Ironshield’s tutelage, Brisbane learned about such difficult concepts as honor, faith, and charity, not through lessons and lectures as they had tried to do at the King’s School, but through action and observation. For Ironshield was a Knight of Farchrist, and there was no better teacher for a maturing young man than such a figure.

+ + +

The day had finally come. Roystnof woke Brisbane before sunrise and told him to get ready quickly. It was a needless reminder, for Brisbane had prepared everything he needed the night before. In less than an hour, as the sun rose out of the Darkmarine, he and a small group of friends would be marching southward in search of a legend.

He began to wash up at his dressing table, just washing his face and smoothing his hair, really. He had taken a luxurious bath the night before, figuring it would be the last one he was to have for quite some time. He tried to contain his excitement about setting off on this new adventure, but he had a hard time doing it. He had only two regrets about the upcoming journey. One, he wished Roundtower was coming along and, two, he wished Dantrius wasn’t.

Roystnof had gathered everyone together the night before and had informed them that, by his invitation, Dantrius would be accompanying them on their trek. No one seemed happy about it, Stargazer especially, but no one put up a major fight about it and the matter was settled.

Stargazer. She had spent the night in the guest room to facilitate their early departure this morning. Brisbane still thought about what had happened in the Shadowhorn, the meeting of Ellahannah and the way he and Stargazer had shared the tent that night. Nothing physical had happened then, but emotionally, Brisbane had reached the point of no return. He was in love with Stargazer, he knew that and he had no trouble admitting it to himself, but he was still fearful to reveal it to Stargazer or to anyone else. He hoped there would be plenty of time in the upcoming journey they could spend together, and in all that time, maybe he would work up enough courage to tell her how he felt.

Brisbane had also thought a lot about Stargazer’s belief that she was a medium through which Grecolus acted. Frankly, he didn’t believe it because, frankly, he didn’t believe in Grecolus. He thought it was a genuine magic power that she had, much like Roystnof’s, and because of her theological beliefs, she had rationalized it into something more acceptable. The only thing that bothered him was how she came to have this power. If it was magic like Roystnof’s, someone had to have taught her how to do it. But according to Stargazer, this was not the case. The first time she had healed someone, she claimed she had simply prayed really hard to Grecolus and the healing had just happened. Brisbane didn’t know. Maybe it had something to do with her elven blood.

Brisbane quickly changed out of his nightclothes and dressed himself for hiking. He was lacing his boots when there was a knock on his door. He sat up and told whoever it was to come in.

It was Shortwhiskers. The dwarf was already dressed for travel and he was lugging with him a heavy burlap sack. “Morning, Gil,” he said and he plopped the sack on the floor.

“Morning, Nog,” Brisbane said. “What’s in the sack?”

“A present,” the dwarf said. “Open it.”

Brisbane looked at Shortwhiskers suspiciously and moved over to the sack. He opened it and saw the gleam of metal inside. He turned the sack upside down and a quantity of chainmail fell to the floor. Brisbane picked it up and found it to be a poncho of sorts, meant to be placed on the shoulders and hang down to the thighs. There was even a belt to cinch it at the waist.

“Try it on,” Shortwhiskers said.

Brisbane placed his head through the hole and settled it onto his shoulders. It was heavier than his leather jerkin had been, but not burdenly so. As he was tying the belt, Shortwhiskers left the room and shortly returned with a helmet and an undecorated shield. He gave them to Brisbane and Brisbane strapped them on. Shortwhiskers took a step back and surveyed him.

“Now,” Shortwhiskers said, “you look like a warrior. Except that you’re too clean.”

Brisbane laughed and thanked Shortwhiskers for all the gifts. Shortwhiskers said it was no problem and told Brisbane to come down and meet everybody out front. He then left Brisbane alone.

Brisbane looked at himself in the mirror for a moment and he decided that he did look more the part of a warrior, but one essential piece of equipment was still missing. He went over to his bed and drew Angelika out from her hiding place. He unwrapped her from the cloth and strapped her to his side. When secure, he drew her slowly from her scabbard. He returned to the mirror and examined himself again, this time holding Angelika in a threatening manner.

Better, he thought. He sheathed Angelika and went downstairs.

Everybody was already gathered out front. Roystnof stood in his red and black traveling clothes, a large black hat placed on his head, shielding his face from the sunlight. Dantrius stood next to him, dressed plainly in earthy colors, his clothes hanging on his thin frame like tent fabric. He wore no hat and his black hair flapped around his sunken face like a tattered flag. He had a line of daggers tucked into his belt. Shortwhiskers stood between two laden pack mules, strapping pieces of his chainmail to his body, and Stargazer stood by him, dressed in warm hunting clothes and shouldering a heavy pack. Like Roystnof, she held a long oaken staff in her hand, but hers was topped with a metal holy symbol, the hand of Grecolus.

They were all rather quiet in the still morning air. Brisbane exchanged looks with each one of them in turn and then settled back to see who would make the first move. It was not going to be him.

It was Roystnof. “Well,” the wizard said. “It seems the time has come. We are off chasing a rumor. Nog says all he knows about the temple we are searching for is that it is reputed to be full of treasure and that it stands at the source of the Mystic River. Both are fine with me and I hope that both of them are true. Our way is obvious, we’ll just follow the Mystic into the Crimson Mountains, but that way will not be easy. The Windcrest Hills lie before the mountains and it is said the Hills are the home for countless orks. No doubt we will bump into a few along the way.”

“Orks are no problem,” Shortwhiskers said as he tied a heavy battle axe to one of the mules. “We should be more worried about the mountains. The southern branch is largely unexplored territory.”

“Quite true,” Roystnof said. “There’s no telling what we will encounter there. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Today, I think we should set our sights on the walled garden in which we found Dantrius last fall. I would like to make our first camp on its southern side. Agreed?”

Everyone readily agreed.

“Fine,” Roystnof said. “Then let us be off.”

And then they were. They quietly left the sleeping town of Queensburg in the wee hours of the morning and started on their journey south by following the shoreline of the Sea of Darkmarine to the mouth of the Mystic River. It was the same route they had taken months ago when they had gone off in search of Ignatius Roundtower, except now they had Illzeezad Dantrius and Allison Stargazer with them.

With the sun rising out of the Darkmarine, they left Queensburg entirely behind them and struck out into open country. As they all settled into the pace that would regulate the long day’s march, Brisbane reflected on their situation.

First and foremost, he was not at all happy that Dantrius had weaseled his way into this expedition. He had never liked the way Roystnof had gotten along with the mage, but he had put up with it through the long winter because he thought it was to be a temporary situation. Roystnof had assured him they were only together to see what they could teach each other and then they would more than likely part ways. So why was Dantrius tagging along now? Admittedly, Brisbane had not followed them closely over the winter so he wasn’t really sure what kind of relationship had developed between the two men. Brisbane feared that Dantrius was becoming a permanent wedge between himself and Roystnof.

But as much as he hated to have Dantrius with them, he was that glad to have Stargazer along. He looked at her now and she gave him a smile. Brisbane was sure she was even more beautiful now than when he had first met her.

“Well now,” she said to Brisbane, eyeing his new armor. “Don’t you look menacing. Isn’t all that heavy?”

Brisbane looked at his chainmail. He shrugged. “Not really. Ask me in a couple of hours. Maybe the answer will be different.”

Shortwhiskers came up behind them. “That’s right, Gil. It sure doesn’t get any lighter.”

The conversation throughout the day remained mostly in the same vein, as all were in good spirits about the prospects of their adventure. Brisbane purposely avoided Dantrius during the march and, unfortunately, that meant he had to avoid Roystnof as well, as the two wizards were practically inseparable. Brisbane again wondered what Roystnof saw in Dantrius that was worthwhile and discreetly kept his distance.

Around noon they stopped for lunch and Shortwhiskers told Brisbane that they were feasting upon the same hill on which his battle with the ogre had taken place.

“How can you tell?” Brisbane asked. The hill looked like any other to him. There weren’t even any remains left of the ogre he had killed.

Shortwhiskers tapped his nose with a stubby finger. “I can smell it,” he said mysteriously and went back to his meal.

Stargazer was very interested to hear the story of this battle and Brisbane sat quietly by while Shortwhiskers recanted the events as he remembered them. When the dwarf was finished, Stargazer came over and sat next to Brisbane.

“That was very brave of you,” she said. “Taking on that ogre alone like that.”

Brisbane shrugged it off. “It had to be done. It was either me or no one.”

“It was still brave,” she said. She put a hand on Angelika’s scabbard. “That must have been before you got this.”

Brisbane pulled away from Stargazer to get her hand off his sword. The action was too severe and he was immediately sorry he had done it. Stargazer looked hurt and Brisbane quickly apologized, saying he didn’t know what had come over him. And he didn’t. It was irrational, but something inside of him did not want Stargazer touching Angelika. But he overrode the irrationality and drew Angelika from her scabbard to show her to Stargazer.

“It is a lovely weapon,” Stargazer said, admiring the large emerald and the intricate carvings on the pommel. “Did you say it used to be Roundtower’s?”

“Yes,” Brisbane said. “He, uh…he gave it up when he left for Farchrist Castle.”

“Why would he leave behind such a wondrous blade?”

Brisbane met Stargazer’s eyes.

Careful, young Brisbane. She may not want to hear the truth.

It was Angelika’s voice, echoing eerily in his head. It was the first time she had said something to him in many weeks.

But Brisbane decided not to lie. “She is a magic weapon. A Knight would not carry her.”

Once again Brisbane was struck by the irony of the situation. No Knight would carry Angelika because she was magical, a trapping of Damaleous. But, if what Roundtower had said was true, then Angelika bore the enchantment of Grecolus. Like Stargazer’s healing power, Angelika was supposed to be some kind of good magic.

“She?” Stargazer asked, not understanding Brisbane’s use of the word. “Her?”

Brisbane nodded. “Her name is Angelika.”

Stargazer gave him an uncomfortable look. “How do you know ‘she’ is magical?”

“She told me,” Brisbane said, hating how ridiculous it sounded. “She can talk to me. Ignatius says she has the enchantment of Grecolus.”

“Grecolus?” Stargazer said, seeming astounded. “Gil, don’t tease me.”

“No, Allie, seriously. That’s what Ignatius said.”

“I have heard of such swords,” Stargazer said. “Ancient legends speak of three of them. They were supposed to have been crafted by ancient clerics of Grecolus for use against the forces of evil. Are you trying to tell me this is one of those swords?”

Brisbane had never heard of these legends. “Allie, I don’t know anything about it. All I know is that Angelika talks to me inside my head. After I killed that demon in the shrine she—”

“Wait a minute!” Stargazer interrupted. “I just remembered. Those ancient legends describe the three swords, and each has a gem set into its pommel. One has a ruby, another a sapphire, and the third an emerald. Gil! This is one of those swords.”

Stargazer suddenly took Angelika from Brisbane and held the weapon up in front of her. For just a moment, as Stargazer took the sword from him, Brisbane had an almost overwhelming desire to hit her.

“Gil,” Stargazer said as her eyes bulged in awe. “Roundtower should not have given this sword to you. He should have taken it with him. With a sword like this at his side, he could rise to be Captain of the Knights. No evil could face him!”

Brisbane became suddenly aware of the eyes of Roystnof, Dantrius, and Shortwhiskers upon them. He stood up, took Angelika roughly away from Stargazer, and sheathed her. Stargazer looked up at him with hurt eyes, still kneeling on the ground.

“It wasn’t up to Ignatius,” Brisbane said. “There was no way they would let him become a Knight with a magic sword.”

“A holy sword,” Stargazer corrected.

“No one would see it that way,” Brisbane said, all of his frustration suddenly coming to the surface. “All magic comes from Damaleous, that’s what theologians say today. They would take one look at Angelika and say she was a tool of the Evil One, disguised as a relic of Grecolus, and all who use her are his servants. Why do you think people at the Temple in Raveltown sent you to Dragon’s Peak? You say your healing power comes from Grecolus, but they must have thought you were a sorcerer of dark magic, and they saw the quest against Dalanmire as a good way to get rid of you.”

There was absolutely no noise on that hilltop for perhaps as many as ten seconds. Stargazer stood up in front of Brisbane, her bottom lip trembling and her eyes brimming over with tears. Brisbane realized he had said too much and he opened his mouth to apologize, but nothing came out. Stargazer suddenly turned away from him and ran down the hill to the Mystic.

“Allie, wait,” Brisbane said, starting to go after her, but there was a strong tug on his arm that held him back.

It was Shortwhiskers. “Let her go, Gil. You’ve said enough.”

Brisbane turned to the dwarf. “I didn’t mean to hurt her, Nog. She just started talking about Ignatius and Angelika and I just…I mean, the way she was talking was so…I just…”

“You just told her the way things are,” Shortwhiskers finished for him, “and the way things used to be. You weren’t very gentle about it, but that’s all you did. I think she’ll see that, eventually. Give her some time alone.”

Brisbane turned away from Shortwhiskers and saw Stargazer kneeling down by the river bank. He had not meant to hurt her. That was the last thing he ever wanted to do. It’s just that she was kidding herself if she thought Roundtower could have taken Angelika to Farchrist Castle. They’d have burned him at the stake. Times had changed. No longer did Grecolus and Damaleous fight their battles on earth, each with their own champions and wizardry. Religion had changed. It had become more cerebral and idealistic, and the magic Grecolus might have once worked had been abandoned by the pious as disadvantageous to their position.

But Stargazer would not change with the system. She maintained the religion of Grecolus according to the ancient legends, and ran away from the changing mindset of the day. In her own way, Brisbane knew Stargazer saw herself as justified in her insistence on the old traditions. In her mind, her healing power, Ellahannah, and even Angelika supported her position. To her, they were proof that things hadn’t changed, that Grecolus still had his own kind of magic that would one day drive Damaleous to his doom.

And suddenly, seeing the situation through Stargazer’s eyes, Brisbane realized that perhaps it wasn’t Grecolus who had changed after all. He had always been taught that the holy creator was infinite, immortal, and unchanging. If this was true, then why do the ancient legends no longer apply? Why do the priests and clerics of today consider all forms of magic an evil warping of Mother Nature when, centuries ago, the counterparts to these priests and clerics worked healing spells and forged enchanted weapons in the name of Grecolus? It was not the immortal who had changed, perhaps it was only the mortals running his religion.

Brisbane felt a hand drop on his shoulder. He spun around to meet Roystnof’s eyes. Over the wizard’s shoulder, several paces back and seemingly out of earshot, Dantrius stood with his thin arms folded across his chest.

“Nog is right, Gil,” Roystnof said. “She will see you meant no harm.”

“I don’t know, Roy,” Brisbane said. “I just don’t know. There’s something about her. It’s like she’s living in another time. She doesn’t understand how most people see magic. Any kind of magic. It scares them.”

“She’s a relic of another time, Gil. Perhaps the last of a dead race.”

“But she’s more than that,” Brisbane said.

“Yes,” Roystnof said with obvious second meaning. “She is much more than that.”

“What do you mean?”

“You are in love with her,” Roystnof said. “That is plain for all to see.”

Brisbane took the defensive. Later, he was not sure why. “Is there something wrong with that?”

Roystnof laughed. “Of course not, Gil. Love catches us all eventually. I am actually happy for you. She is quite lovely.”

“Yes,” Brisbane said, looking back at Stargazer by the river. “Yes, she is. Did you know that she is sixty-seven years old?”

Roystnof nodded. “Her elven blood. I understand she will live much longer than that.”

“Do you see anything wrong with that?” Brisbane asked. “I mean, I’ll be dead and buried and she won’t look much older than she does now.”

“Love is for the moment,” Roystnof told him. “Never forget that. If you have love for the moment, hold it tight and treasure it as much as you can. The day you start expecting and planning to have your love always there is the day you will lose it.”

Brisbane was looking at his feet. That sounded awfully pessimistic and cruel to him, but then he realized that life could be pessimistic and cruel. Was it any wonder that love could be, too?

“Come on,” Roystnof said, clapping Brisbane on the shoulder. “It’s time we got going.”

They packed up their supplies and got ready to continue their march. Shortwhiskers went down to the Mystic to tell Stargazer they were leaving. Brisbane had wanted to do it, but both his conscience and the dwarf thought better of it. Shortwhiskers came back and reported that Stargazer needed some time alone and, when they left, she would follow at a discreet distance.

Brisbane felt miserable about the whole affair. As they continued on their journey and Stargazer continued to stay ten to fifteen paces behind the group, his stomach began to churn more and more uncomfortably. Why did she have to take so much offense to what he had said? Why did he have to have said it all? Roystnof and Shortwhiskers had said she would eventually see that he meant no harm by his statements, but Brisbane wasn’t so sure. He wondered if he and Stargazer would ever be as close as they had been.

Forget her, Angelika’s voice rang in his head, dark and sultry. She will only get in the way of your true crusade.

Brisbane mentally told the weapon to shut up and that she was the cause of the whole problem. Angelika did not talk to him again that day.

They arrived within sight of the walled oasis and still Stargazer had not rejoined their group. Roystnof stopped the march and called everyone together for discussion. Stargazer remained apart.

“We should strike camp on the other side of the garden,” Roystnof said. “In the morning Miss Stargazer can go in and explore what she wants, and then we can be on our way again.”

Dantrius looked at Stargazer. “Maybe we should send someone out to the princess to see if that’s all right with her,” he sneered. “Perhaps the Ambassador,” he said, turning to look at Shortwhiskers, “can say something to her so she won’t become even more estranged.”

Shortwhiskers curtly told Dantrius to shut his trap.

“I’m only concerned for the girl’s welfare,” Dantrius pleaded innocently. “If harsh remarks can cripple her so, I would hate to see her reaction when others start making decisions for her.”

Shortwhiskers took a menacing step towards the thin man but Roystnof interceded. Brisbane watched the whole scene like a distant observer.

“That’s enough,” Roystnof said to Dantrius. “It’s been a long day. Let’s just go make camp.”

They marched around the walled garden, with Stargazer silently following behind, and struck camp when they reached the southern side. While they were all busy constructing the tents and securing the mules, Stargazer quietly came in and set about preparing a meal. Brisbane thought about going over to talk to her but quickly thrust the idea aside. He had no idea what to say.

When all the work was done and the sun had set, Stargazer dished out plates of stew for them from the kettle hanging over the campfire. When Brisbane came to take his from her, he softly said he was sorry and then quickly moved away to eat his meal. Stargazer showed no reaction.

They drew lots for guard duty. Brisbane lucked out and was given the chance for a night of undisturbed sleep. It took him some time to fall asleep, however, even though he was exhausted from the day’s march. He was worried about what Stargazer thought of him now, and he could only hope things would be better in the morning. When he finally did fall asleep, it was with this thought heavy on his mind.