Friday, May 25, 2012


“But I won’t keep a count of people I have killed as though it were a trophy record or a disgusting business like notches in a gun. I have a right to not keep count and I have a right to forget them. No. You have no right to forget anything. You have no right to shut your eyes to any of it nor any right to forget any of it nor to soften it nor to change it.”
Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls (Robert Jordan)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Spartacus by Howard Fast

And Spartacus taught me that all the bad things men do, they do because they are afraid.

This line comes very near the end of Howard Fast’s novel, but I think it sums up a lot of the reasons he wrote the book. Better, perhaps than the dedication he includes at the very beginning:

This book is for my daughter, Rachel, and for my son, Jonathan. It is a story of brave men and women who lived long ago, and whose names have never been forgotten. The heroes of this story cherished freedom and human dignity, and lived nobly and well. I wrote it so that those who read it, my children and others, may take strength for our own troubled future and that they may struggle against oppression and wrong—so that the dream of Spartacus may come to be in our own time.

Fast wrote that dedication in 1951, and I learned from Wikipedia that the “troubled future” he was referring to arose partly out of the communism scare of the 1950s. Fast was one of the oppressed in that struggle, actually imprisoned at one point due to his involvement in the Communist Party USA.
In some ways, therefore, I think it makes sense for Fast to see a direct parallel between the oppressions of ancient Rome and the oppressions of 1950s America.

Without knowing that backdrop ahead of time, however, there were two things that really surprised me about the novel. The first was how little Spartacus actually appears in it. The only thing I knew about Spartacus before picking up the book was what I had learned from watching Kubrick’s film, so you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that he was kind of a minor player in the book on which that film was based. The story is really told from the perspective of several Roman citizens, only one of whom actually knew Spartacus, and their perceptions of him are clouded by the very corruption and opulence that Spartacus was rebelling against. In retrospect, given Fast’s motivation for writing the book, I think it is an effective technique. Our narrators are corrupted by the injustices of their society—injustices that they sit atop and that give them their power. As one of them self-referentially observes during a conversation about the use of slaves:

There was a disease in them, but the disease did not appear to weaken them. Here they sat, having eaten their fine food, sipping their mellow wine, and those who contested their power were crucified for miles and miles along the Appian Way. Spartacus was meat; simply meat; like the meat on the cutting table at the butcher shop; not even enough of him to crucify. But no one would ever crucify Antonius Caius, sitting so calmly and surely at the head of the table, speaking of horses, making the extremely logical point that it was better to harness to slaves to a plow than one horse, since there never was a horse which could stand the half-human treatment of slaves.

And the second thing that surprised me was how many parallels I saw between the injustices of Fast’s portrait of ancient Rome and those of America in the 2010s. I’m not looking to put a ton of stock in the comparison, nor do I wish to place any kind of political or value judgment on it, but time and again I found myself stumbling across a sentence, or a paragraph, or a section talking about the levers which turn Roman society and realizing, with only the change of one or two words, they could equally describe the drivers of our current environment.

Here, for example, is a description of the men paid to oversee the slaves at the gold mines of Nubia, and in it I see some parallels with the millions of middle management, ladder-climbing drones in our modern, corporate world.

They are men of Alexandria, bitter, hard men, and they are here because the pay is high, and because they get a percentage of all the gold the mines produce. They are here with their own dreams of wealth and leisure, and with the promise of Roman citizenship when they have served five years in the interest of the corporation. They live for the future, when they will rent an apartment in one of the tenements in Rome, when they will each of them buy three or four or five slave girls to sleep with and to serve them, and when they will spend each day at the games or at the baths, and when they will be drunk each night. They believe that in coming to this hell, they heighten their future earthly heaven; but the truth of the matter is that they, like all prison guards, require the petty lordship of the damned more than perfume and wine and women.

And for those who continue to climb that ladder of opulence and comfort? They see what Batiatus, the man who trained Spartacus to be a gladiator, saw:

Whenever he encountered a millionaire—not merely a man who had millions but one who could spend millions—he was overwhelmed by his own sense of being so small a frog in so small a puddle. When he was a gang leader of the streets of the urbs, his own dream was to accumulate the 400,000 sesterces which would entitle him to admittance into the order of knighthood. When he became a knight, however, he first began to realize what wealth meant, and for all he had climbed—by his own shrewdness too—there was an endless vista of ladder ahead of him.

This is a society in which the ultra-wealthy hold the reins of power. Some of the most compelling comparisons to our world come near the end of the book, when the philosopher Cicero argues the politics of slavery and Roman culture with a senator named Gracchus. Their conversation really pierces through the façade of their own society and, in doing so, I believe Fast is attempting to help the reader pierce beneath the façade of our own. At one point in that lengthy dialogue, Cicero accuses Gracchus of being too frank about his function as a politician. Gracchus responds that frankness is…

“My one virtue, and an extremely valuable one. In a politician, people confuse it with honesty. You see, we live in a republic. That means that there are a great many people who have nothing and a handful who have a great deal. And those who have a great deal must be defended and protected by those who have nothing. Not only that, but those who have a great deal must guard their property, and therefore those who have nothing must be willing to die for the property of people like you and me and our good host Antonius. Also, people like ourselves have many slaves. These slaves do not like us. We should not fall for the illusion that slaves like their masters. They don’t, and therefore the slaves will not protect us against the slaves. So the many, many people who have no slaves at all must be willing to die in order for us to have our slaves. Rome keeps a quarter of a million men under arms. These soldiers must be willing to go to foreign lands, to march their feet off, to live in filth and squalor, to wallow in blood—so that we may be safe and live in comfort and increase our personal fortunes. When these troops went to fight Spartacus, they had less to defend than the slaves. Yet they died by the thousands fighting the slaves. One could go further. The peasants who died fighting the slaves were in the army in the first place because they have been driven off their land by the latifundia. The slave plantation turns them into landless paupers; and then they die to keep the plantation intact. Whereupon one is tempted to say reductio ad absurdum. For consider, my dear Cicero, what does the brave Roman soldier stand to lose if the slaves conquer? Indeed, they would need him desperately, for there are not enough slaves to till the land properly. There would be land enough for all, and our legionary would have what he dreams of most, his plot of land and his little house. Yet he marches off to destroy his own dreams, that sixteen slaves may carry a fat old hog like me in a padded litter. Do you deny the truth of what I say?”

It’s a cynic’s view, perhaps, but I’ve heard these same sentiments expressed in our modern times relative to America’s foreign wars. The people doing the fighting have almost nothing at stake in the outcome, but those with political and financial power have a great deal to lose and to protect, and so the cycle of war and destruction must continue.

Cicero, I think, has a telling response for Gracchus:

“I think that if what you said were to be said by an ordinary man aloud in the Forum, we would crucify him.”

In other words, it is the truth and, more importantly, a truth that must not be spoken. But Cicero does disagree with Gracchus in one important particular—his underlying premise.

 “As you state it. You simply omit the key question—is one man like another or unlike another? There is the fallacy in your little speech. You take it for granted that men are as alike as peas in a pod. I don’t. There is an elite—a group of superior men. Whether the gods made them that way or circumstances made them that way is not something to argue. But they are men fit to rule, and because they are fit to rule, they do rule. And because the rest are like cattle, they behave like cattle. You see, you present a thesis; the difficulty is to explain it. You present a picture of society, but if the truth were as illogical as your picture, the whole structure would collapse in a day. All you fail to do is to explain what holds this illogical puzzle together.”

But Gracchus doesn’t shrink from this challenge. Quite the reverse. He embraces it and, in doing so, he paints an equally cynical but strangely compelling picture of modern democratic politics.

“I do,” Gracchus nodded. “I hold it together.”

“You? Just by yourself?”

“Cicero, do you really think I’m an idiot? I’ve lived a long and dangerous life, and I’m still on top. You asked me before what a politician is? The politician is the cement in this crazy house. The patrician can’t do it himself. In the first place, he thinks the way you do, and Roman citizens don’t like to be told that they are cattle. They aren’t—which you will learn some day. In the second place, he knows nothing about the citizen. If it were left to him, the structure would collapse in a day. So he comes to people like myself. He couldn’t live without us. We rationalize the irrational. We convince the people that the greatest fulfillment in life is to die for the rich. We convince the rich that they just part with some of their riches to keep the rest. We are magicians. We cast an illusion, and the illusion is foolproof. We say to the people—you are the power. Your vote is the source of Rome’s strength and glory. You are the only free people in the world. There is nothing more precious than your freedom, nothing more admirable than your civilization. And you control it; you are the power. And then they vote for our candidates. They weep at our defeats. They laugh with joy at our victories. And they feel proud and superior because they are not slaves. No matter how low they sink, if they sleep in the gutter, if they sit in the public seats at the races and the arena all day, if they strangle their infants at birth, if they live on the public dole and never lift a hand to do a day’s work from birth to death, nevertheless they are not slaves. They are dirt, but every time they see a slave, their ego rises and they feel full of pride and power. Then they know that they are Roman citizens and all the world envies them. And this is my peculiar art, Cicero. Never belittle politics.”

Never belittle politics, indeed. Few of us, then or now, really understand it or can wield it with any expertise. Also like today, most people are inured to the role it plays in their lives and the decisions they make. It’s a thick coat of propaganda that is focused less on distracting them from some horrible truth and focused more on defining the framework by which truth is understood.

Most of the Roman citizens in Fast’s work live wholly within this framework. As an example, near the end of the novel, Crassus, the general most responsible for defeating the slave uprising, has purchased Spartacus’ wife, Varinia, and is determined to get her to see the futility of Spartacus’ rebellion.

Crassus said, more gently, “You have been living in Rome now, Varinia. I have taken you through the city in my litter. You have seen the power of Rome, the endless, limitless power of Rome. The Roman roads stretch across the whole world. The Roman legions stands on the edge of civilization and hold back the forces of darkness. Nations tremble at the sight of the legate’s wand, and wherever there is water, the Roman navy rules the seas. You saw the slaves smash some of our legions, but here in the city there is not even a ripple for that. In all reason, is it conceivable to you that a few rebellious slaves could have overthrown the mightiest power the world ever knew—a power which all the empires of antiquity could not match? Don’t you understand? Rome is eternal. The Roman way is the best way mankind ever devised, and it will endure forever. This is what I want you to understand. Don’t weep for Spartacus. History dealt with Spartacus. You have you own life to live.”

Rome itself, of course, is gone. But many of the ideas that created it are not. As Crassus says, that Rome is eternal.

+ + +

Finally, here are some additional sound bites from that long dialogue between Cicero and Gracchus that just seemed too good to let go unrecorded.

Long ago, Cicero had discovered the profound difference between justice and morality. Justice was the tool of the strong, to be used as the strong desired; morality, like the gods, was the illusion of the weak. Slavery was just; only fools—according to Cicero—argued that it was moral.

+ + +

Politics, as he occasionally said, required three unchanging talents and no virtues. More politicians, he claimed, had been destroyed by virtue than by any other cause; and the talents he enumerated in this fashion. The first talent was the ability to choose the winning side. Failing that, the second talent was the ability to extricate oneself from the losing side. And the third talent was never to make an enemy.

+ + +

Gracchus laughed. “Who knows! Julia, politics is a lie. History is the recording of a lie. If you go down to the road tomorrow and look at the crosses, you will see the only truth about Spartacus. Death. Nothing else. Everything else is sheer fabrication. I know.”

+ + +

Only one or two of the chairs were empty. Gracchus, remembering that session, decided that at such moments—moments of crisis and bitter knowledge—the Senate was at its best. The eyes of the old men, who sat so silent in their togas, were full of consequence and without troubled fear, and the faces of the younger men were hard and angry. But all of them were acutely conscious of the dignity of the Roman Senate, and within that context Gracchus could relinquish his cynicism. He knew these men; he knew by what cheap and perverted means they purchased their seats and what a dirty game of politics they played. He knew each and every particular well of filth each and every one of these men kept in his own backyard; and still he felt the thrill and pride of a place among their ranks.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


“No, the highway was much better; he’d just set off and go along without thinking about anything for as long as he could. The highway—very, very long, with no end in sight—just like human life, human dreams.”
Fyodor Dostoevsky, Devils

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Chapter Twenty-Two


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

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

On the night King Gregorovich Farchrist II died, Sir Gildegarde Brisbane II, stricken with grief, fled from the castle, into the city below, and into the waiting arms of his only love, Amanda. She took him inside her humble home and in the back bedroom, apart from her mother, she did the best she could to console the man she loved. Brisbane felt his world coming to an end, as the sorrow he felt for the passing of his King was only compounded by the sorrow he felt for the separation from Amanda his position demanded. In a fit of anger at the world, of misery for himself, and of passion for his beloved, he took Amanda as a man takes a woman, and Amanda gave herself to him. His climax thundered through his body and into his mind and, in that moment, he knew the end he was rushing towards. When he left Amanda that night with a sweet kiss on her lips, she was already pregnant with his child.

+   +   +

They decided to use the staircase on the side of the chapel they had entered on, the same side of the river they had been on since the beginning of the adventure. The pack mules, who had followed them readily enough through the secret passage and into the temple, refused to go down the stairs. Shortwhiskers had expected that, and he said they would have to leave them there. They leashed the animals to spikes they drove into the stone floor and the dwarf felt they would be safe enough that way until they could come back to pick them up. Dantrius, however, seemed more concerned about the gold the mules carried than the mules themselves.

They weren’t sure if the two stairways went to the same places, but it was doubtful, as after going down a flight, they turned in opposite directions away from the river. If the two staircases did not meet, they planned on exploring the first one as far as they could before going back to the second one.

They gathered again in a small group, like the pips on the five of a die. The staircase was wide enough to permit this and they slowly descended, Roystnof and Shortwhiskers up front, Stargazer in the middle, and Brisbane and Dantrius bringing up the rear. Brisbane’s thoughts were on the demon they had encountered when they went downstairs at the shrine down the river. He did not want to meet such a beast again, but as he padded down the stairs, Angelika coolly reassured him that no evil could stand against them.

They reached a small landing at the bottom of the first flight and a second one continued on after a turn to the left. They continued down these stairs and then entered into a large underground chamber. The room was a fifty foot square with a ten foot ceiling, and all surfaces seemed to have been carved smooth out of the solid rock of the mountain. The corners weren’t sharp but were rounded slightly and gave the chamber an odd look to it. Every ten feet, all along the walls, a small archway was spaced, each barely large enough for a man to pass through.

Stargazer stepped out in front of everyone else and stood by herself with a look of partial amazement on her face.

A strange and unpleasant feeling sunk deep into Brisbane’s stomach. The chamber made him very uncomfortable and he was not sure why. For the second time that day, he had an unfamiliar pang of claustrophobia. He tried to push it aside, but it continued to nag him at the back of his mind.

“Allie?” he asked. “What is it?”

Stargazer waved her arm at a wall of archways. “They’re the meditation chambers,” she said. “Where the priests would come to meditate and to pray. In the ancient times, it was said Grecolus sometimes visited the most faithful priests in their meditation chambers.”

Stargazer ran to one of the archways and the rest of the party came out to the center of the room. She looked into one of them and then turned around to look at her companions.

“Come and see,” she said.

There were five chambers against one wall and each person went to a separate arch, with Stargazer at the middle one. Brisbane looked into his and saw that after going in for a few feet, it ended and a very narrow shaft went down into the floor. Carved into the face of one of the walls of the dark shaft were the footholds of a ladder.

“They go down to a small chamber,” Stargazer said. “The priests would go down there to meditate. Sometimes for days.”

Brisbane marveled at the size of the shaft. Even Shortwhiskers would have a hard time squeezing down there. As he was leaning over, looking down into that dark hole, his head suddenly started to spin and he had to hold onto the stone walls to avoid falling in. He backed away from the hole and his head started to clear.

“How big are the chambers down there?” Brisbane asked.

“Very small,” Stargazer said matter-of-factly. “They are really just large enough for one person.”

She suddenly went into her archway. Brisbane ran to her. He saw her poised on the first step of the stone ladder.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

Stargazer looked at him oddly. “I’m going down. I want to see what it’s like.”

Brisbane looked to his sides. Roystnof and Shortwhiskers had joined him.

“We should probably search them all,” Roystnof said. “We don’t want to miss anything.”

Stargazer started down the ladder.

“Wait!” Brisbane said.

Stargazer stopped. “Gil, what’s the matter with you?”

Brisbane felt sweat bead up on the back of his neck. He wasn’t sure why he was so jumpy, but he felt very uneasy about him or anyone else going down into the meditation chambers. Especially him. He just could not imagine anyone willingly going down into those chambers and sealing themselves away into the earth. He didn’t see how anyone could be relaxed enough to meditate under such circumstances.

“Nothing,” Brisbane said eventually to Stargazer. “Just be careful.”

Stargazer smiled and then disappeared into the shaft. Brisbane turned his back on the arch. Roystnof and Shortwhiskers were standing right there and Dantrius was off in another corner of the chamber.

“She’ll be fine,” Shortwhiskers said. “We’ll probably have to drag her out of there. I think this is one of the reasons why she wanted to come along.”

Brisbane nodded his head weakly. His throat was dry.

Roystnof unshouldered his pack again. As he rummaged through it he spoke aloud, loud enough for Dantrius to hear him if the mage cared to. “We will each go down into one of Miss Stargazer’s meditation chambers, and each of us will need his own light source.”

He brought out of his pack a handful of unlit torches. He handed one to Shortwhiskers and one to Brisbane. Surprisingly, Dantrius came over and took one as well. They all stood for a moment in a small circle, each with a short, fat stick in his hand.

Roystnof turned to Brisbane. “Do you still remember your fire cantrip, Gil?”

Brisbane said nothing. He met Roystnof’s eyes and then looked around the circle. He placed his hand around the end of his torch, closed his eyes, and said the magic word Roystnof had taught him. It had been years since he had done it, but Brisbane remembered and pronounced all the inflections perfectly. He pulled his hand away and the end of the torch began to burn with a bright flame.

Roystnof smiled as he put his torch into Brisbane’s fire and fed off the flame. Shortwhiskers and Dantrius did the same. When they all had lit torches in hand, Roystnof called for them to move out and reminded them to check all the chambers. They set off in different directions and, as Brisbane stood there, he saw each of them choose and arch and disappear down a shaft.

Brisbane tried to swallow and coughed because his throat was so rough. He went over to the arch next to the one Stargazer had gone down. He held the torch out and peered down the shaft. The firelight flickered down and he saw the floor of the meditation chamber perhaps twenty feet down. He looked back into the large chamber, saw it empty, and turned back to the stone ladder.

Brisbane tried to build his confidence. It wasn’t working.

Go, Brisbane, Angelika whispered in his mind. Yours is an honor all would desire. Go down and face your fear.

Brisbane stepped onto the first rung of the ladder. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest.

I am with you, Brisbane. You need not go alone.

Brisbane started down. The walls of the shaft seemed to swallow him immediately. He had to hold the torch almost straight up above his head to keep from burning himself in the enclosed space. The end of Angelika’s scabbard scraped against one of the walls as he went down, making a shrieking noise and running chills up and down his spine. Each step became more and more difficult and Brisbane became sure the walls were closing in on him. He shut his eyes tightly and let Angelika weave her spell of confidence around him. Her seductive voice did not slow his beating heart, but it kept the organ in his chest.

Brisbane touched the bottom. He stepped off the ladder and slowly opened his eyes. He found himself staring at the footholds of the ladder. He spun around in place—there was no room to make a turn—and met another wall with his gaze.

Down, Brisbane. Farther down.

Brisbane brought the torch down next to his head and looked down. The bottom three feet of the wall was an open space.

Through there, Brisbane. The meditation chamber.

Brisbane felt beside himself. Without Angelika, he did not think he could have made it this far. He had never known he was this claustrophobic, but the truth was now being drilled into him. He began to bend down to peer into the open space, but the angle of Angelika’s scabbard at his belt prevented it. It caught against the walls of the shaft and would not let him crouch. He tried time and time again, but it just wouldn’t work.

You’ll have to take me off, Brisbane.

No! Brisbane’s mind screamed. I couldn’t move without you here.

Young Brisbane. Angelika’s voice was sweetness in his head. I will still be able to speak with you. Just set me here against the ladder.

Brisbane found himself doing so before he realized it. He undid the buckle that secured the scabbard to his waist and gently set Angelika, point down, against the wall in which the ladder was carved. He was now able to bend down and peer into the meditation chamber. What he saw when he did so frightened him more than anything he had seen so far. Carved into the rock, dropped slightly below the floor of the shaft, was a space of about three or four feet on a side, a tiny little chamber of air buried thousands of feet under the mountain. There was nothing in it.

Go on in, Brisbane. Go on in and commune like the priests who lived here centuries ago. They saw their god. What will you see?

It’s empty, Brisbane thought. There’s no need to go in. There’s nothing in there. I should go up and check another one.

Grecolus, young Brisbane. The priests found Grecolus in there. What will you find?

Brisbane began to crawl into the chamber. He put the burning torch down on the floor of the shaft and scraped his chainmail poncho against the stone on the way in. He positioned himself in the chamber, his head touching the ceiling and his knees brought up with his toes bent against the wall. His right hand still dangled out into the air of the shaft and now he drew even that into the chamber.

There. Now. Close your eyes and let yourself go.

Brisbane closed his eyes and tried to clear his head. He tried to imagine himself as one of the ancient priests, coming down here to meditate. These chambers must have been the most important part of the temple when it was alive with people. In these tiny cells buried in the earth, men who had devoted their entire lives to the worship and study of Grecolus came to meditate on what they had learned and what they believed. Some of them reached such a state of tranquility that they evidently saw and conversed with this god. Brisbane knew plenty of places in the realm that were considered holy. The Peoples Temple in Raveltown. The Pool of Cleansing in the land across the Sea of Darkmarine. But he now realized he was in, perhaps, the most holy place of all.

And so he tried to tune in on the spiritual channel that was reported to exist here, to feel the power of revelation that others had felt here. From the beginning of his attempt, however, there was something in the way. At first, he couldn’t tell what that something was, but as he sat there, and the something grew in his mind, he began to realize it was his own intense and ever-present feeling of claustrophobia that was getting in his way.

The rock, the rock, the rock pushing in on him from all sides, pushing, pushing, pressing in on him from all sides but mostly from above. The ceiling bending under the impossible weight on top of it, threatening to cave in and crush his fragile body flat. His breathing grew very quick and then stopped altogether. He opened his eyes in shock and saw in the dim torchlight the impossible space he had wedged himself into. He could feel the stone surface against the top of his head, against the back of his neck, against the crook of his back, against the tips of his toes, against the heels of his feet. The tears began to stream down his face as he sat in absolute terror, trying to draw life-giving breath.

He was going to die, Brisbane was sure of it. He was going to die down there in that tiny chamber and the only mystery left was whether he would run out of air first or his heart would burst. But what was worse than the fact that he was going to die was the fact that he was going to die alone and before he really learned anything about what life was really all about. Even Angelika had left him. Brisbane had forgotten about her in his fright and her voice could not reach him. He tried to call out for help, but his jaws were frozen and he still could not breathe. Brisbane’s vision began to pop and fade in the corners.


The voice was distant and far away.

“Gil? Are you down there?”

It was Roystnof. Brisbane could hear Roystnof. He tried to speak but couldn’t. Roystnof was right there and Brisbane was going to die anyway.

“Gil, I can see your sword. Are you down there?”

My sword!

Answer him, Brisbane

“I’m here, Roy,” Brisbane was suddenly able to say, his voice echoing strangely in the small space. He was also able to breathe and move. He quickly crawled out of the meditation chamber. He picked up the torch and looked up at Roystnof’s face.

“Gil,” Roystnof said. “Miss Stargazer won’t come out of her chamber. She wants to talk to you.”

Brisbane restrapped Angelika to his side and began to climb the ladder. Stargazer wouldn’t come out of her chamber? She wanted to talk to him? The terrors of his experience were gone and his only concern was for Stargazer. In an instant, he was back in the main chamber and looking down the shaft Stargazer had descended. She had not taken a light source with her and only darkness stared back at him.

Roystnof, Shortwhiskers, and Dantrius stood behind him.

“We’ve searched them all,” Roystnof said to Brisbane. “We found nothing except for Nog, who found a passageway at the bottom of one. We want to go on but she says she won’t come out until she talks to you.”

“Forget her,” Dantrius mumbled in the back. “Let’s go.”

Brisbane ignored the mage. He leaned over the open shaft again.


Her voice came back very softly. “Is that you, Gil?”


“Come on down. I want to talk to you.”

Brisbane straightened up. He looked at Roystnof for a moment and then slowly started down the ladder, his torch held high above his head.

“Don’t bring the light,” Stargazer called out. “The light will spoil it. It really is quite wonderful.”

Brisbane froze on the ladder, halfway into the floor. Roystnof came over and crouched down in front of him and took Brisbane’s torch from him.

Roystnof nodded. “Go get her out of there,” he whispered.

Brisbane pursed his lips. “Just a minute,” he said and then began to unfasten Angelika from his waist. He handed the scabbarded weapon to Roystnof. “I’ll be right back,” he said. He swallowed a lump in his throat and started down the ladder again.

It was a little better in the dark. The walls didn’t seem to swallow him as much and his heart didn’t thump as loudly. But he still felt uncomfortable as he descended the ladder. He was again seized with a tremor of claustrophobia.

“Allie?” he said as the sweat began to bead on his forehead.

“I’m here, Gil,” Stargazer said, her voice closer. “Come on down.”

Brisbane steeled himself and eventually touched the bottom. He looked up at the little square of light so far above his head. He then crouched down, this time unhindered by his sword, and peered carefully into the meditation chamber. His eyes could not see Stargazer.


“Gil.” Her voice was very close but he still could not see her. “Roystnof said you searched the other chambers. Did you go into one?”


“Isn’t it wonderful?”

“What do you mean?” Brisbane thought he could see her vague form in the darkness.

“Well, I mean the others can’t appreciate it. They don’t have the faith. But we do. Can’t you feel the holiness of this place?”

The terror wasn’t as strong with Stargazer down there with him. In his position just outside the meditation chamber, Brisbane could also always see the world of light above him.

“Yes,” Brisbane said. “I can.”

“I’ve never felt closer to Grecolus in my life. I feel completely at ease with myself and the world. It’s all so beautiful, don’t you think?”

Brisbane did not answer. He wished he could feel the things Stargazer felt. He wished he could feel the glory and grandeur of Grecolus. He wished he could see the pattern of the Grecolus-created universe and the possible endings that universe would lead to. He wished he could take joy in all these things. But he couldn’t. When he was down in the meditation chambers, he realized all he could feel was the smallness of his being and the helplessness of his situation.


“Come on, Allie. We’ve got to go.” He could see her form now and he reached out and took her hand.

“Gil, what’s the matter?”

“Nothing, Allie,” Brisbane said, tugging gently on her arm. “Nog has found another passage. We have to move on.”

“Okay, Gil.” She shuffled around inside the chamber and stuck her head out in front of Brisbane’s. There were tears on her cheeks.

“What is it, Allie?”

Stargazer shook her head.


“It’s just so…” Stargazer said, trailing off. “It just all seems so wonderful.”

Brisbane smiled. “I know it does. I know.”

He pulled her out of the chamber and they stood at the bottom of the ladder for a long time in a silent embrace.

“I love you, Gil,” Stargazer said into his chest.

“I love you, too, Allie.”

They kissed and then started back up the ladder, Brisbane first because he was closer to it. They were quickly back up in the main chamber with the others in the party.

“I hope everything is all right, Miss Stargazer,” Roystnof said to her after she emerged from the shaft. “You gave me quite a scare the way you refused to come up.”

Stargazer smiled oddly at the wizard. “Everything’s fine,” she said to him. “It was just something I wanted to share with Gil. I am fully prepared to continue on our exploration of the temple.”

Roystnof returned her smile. “I’m glad to hear that.”

“And Roystnof?”

“Yes, Miss Stargazer?”

Stargazer stepped closer to him and lowered her voice. “I don’t think anyone here will mind if you call me Allison.”

Roystnof’s eyebrows flew up. “Very well, Allison,” he said, trying out the name. “Our friend Nog has found a rough stone passage at the bottom of one of these meditation chambers. We have searched them all and Nog’s discovery is the only one worthy of mention. Shall we move on?”

“We shall,” Stargazer said. She took Brisbane’s hand and followed Roystnof over to the arch that Shortwhiskers stood beside. It looked like any one of the others.

They extinguished all the torches they had lit and relied only on Roystnof’s magic lantern before going deeper into the earth. Curious about it, Brisbane asked Roystnof how long his crystal ball would give off luminance for them, and Roystnof said it would shine until he dispelled the magic.

“Or until you die,” Dantrius added tonelessly.

“Well, yes,” Roystnof said. “The power comes from me, so that when I end, so will the light. But I don’t think we’ll have to worry about that any time soon.”

Brisbane gave Dantrius an angry stare and held back a desire to punch the mage in the nose.

“The passage is much larger than the shaft,” Shortwhiskers cut in. “And it looks like it goes on for quite a while. It appears to have been carved in a hurry but it seems secure enough.”

There wasn’t much more to say. Shortwhiskers went down the appropriate ladder first and the rest of the party went down one by one after him. Roystnof, Stargazer, Brisbane, and finally Dantrius. The bottom of the ladder did not give into a tiny meditation chamber, but instead into a corridor with a vaulted ceiling, fully ten feet off the floor and ten feet wide as well. The party gathered momentarily at the bottom of the ladder, arranged themselves into a marching order like the pips of a five on a six-sided die, and them started off down the corridor.