Sunday, 20 July 2014

When the Angels Landed on the White House Lawn

When the angels landed on the White House lawn,
Politicians were revealed as demon spawn.
The hounds of Pwyll took them down to Arawn,
Things may be better now they have gone.

The marine saluted, as good Soldiers do,
Said,"Sir, you're welcome. Please come through.
Bring Leo and Perses, Sun-Runner too.
Since Father Washington died we've needed you.

To cleanse this land much blood must flow
On sinners standing here below.
The Bull of Heaven must freely bleed
So People may live by that Holy Seed.
The Blood of the Lamb did not suffice
America's still steeped in vice.
Fire and Firelord shall light the way,
Taurobolium begins this very day.
The Raven brought us your command,
All things needful are now at hand".

The Lad with the Cap bestrode the Bull
And Wall Street crashed as it felt his pull.
His knife in it's neck let forth it's life,
Fearful traders screamed, "less money, more strife!"

As from a Temple far away,
The Moneymen were driven that day.

The Banks, they tottered. Oh! The Banks, they fell.
No more were the People under their spell.
Too big to fail, too powerful to jail,
Yet all connected now feel the flail.

In New York city a statue stands
Greeting visitors from foreign lands.

A radiate crown rests on Liberty's brow,
That of Sol Invictus anyhow.
Return his crown, your tenure's passed
For in this land Liberty did not last.

Conceived in Liberty it may have been,
But choked on greed it's corpse is seen.

The sun runner stood as the Delphian had,
Would his race be good? Would his race be bad?
Yoked to the chariot he held four-in-hand,
Before these horses few could stand.
Their names were Famine and Plague and Death and War
Where their feet struck earth arose uproar.
His iron fist controlled them well,
else the horses he managed drove straight to hell.

When the angels landed on the White House lawn
They evicted the tenants whose time had flown.
'Your mandate's exceeded, your course is run.
Today give place to the Lord of the Sun.'

From the White House lawn came the Lion's roar,
To the Empyrean his Eagles soar.
Angra Mainyu had been dwelling here
The stench of his lies made that quite clear.

Conceived in Liberty, Deceived in Fear
Only self shackled slaves now cower here.
No heirs remain of the Sons of the Free
Liberty's too strenuous for such as thee.

When the angels landed on the White House lawn
Nature shimmered in the glorious morn.
The flowers appeared in joyful bloom
But the powerful knew they had met their doom.

Their spirits trembled as letters of fire
on their bodies wrote their deeds in ire.
Their guilty minds were seared by pain
Evasive tricks were all in vain.

Through the furnace walked the friends of God
In the furnace burned those guilty of fraud.
All the bloated egos fell to ash
As the contumacious felt the lash.

When the angels landed on the White House lawn
The Mechanical Messiah became stillborn.
The degree mills of Satan ceased to turn
And the secret projects were all undone.

When Babel's Tower to the heavens arose
And the gardens of paradise were disposed
He walked in the garden when He so chose
Til He was replaced by a book verbose.

When New York's towers fell in dust and flame
Empire's feet both fared the same.
Not to the stars will their pride go
But to destruction as all should know.

When the angels landed on the White House lawn
Celebrated anew was the Miracle Born
Birth cave and tomb the Sun renew
No feast of life from death eschew.

In Eleusis they drank the barley brew,
though the purple fungus was known to few.

The shamans quaffed what the reindeer staled
Seeking visions and journeys that seldom failed.

The little-great dactyls of Samothrace
Gave their initiates a sense of grace.

The red and white mushrooms were manna indeed
Entheogen to those in need.

When Elijah in the desert was by ravens fed
Prophecy issued from his Raven's Bread.

When the angels landed on the White House lawn
They were small but potent as they sang the dawn.

When the angels landed on the White House lawn
Unseen and unheard by the throbbing swarm.
The literal minded knew they were insane,
Circe's beasts they were and remain.

The battery beasts felt their burden eased
But Circe's beasts were not so pleased.
Work and shopping and a TV show
Was all the life they wished to know.

The Church of Progress, branches in every street,
Nicer people you couldn't hope to meet.
Such generous folk, giving all the dreams you can take;
Ignore that Buddha rudely roaring 'Awake!'

Things were running smoothly, life's a real sweet deal
Til that fool from Nepal put a spoke in the Wheel.
Ignore Awareness, get back to your Dream
Chase Progress and Success even if you're mean.

Progress means running in your hamster wheel,
The faster you go the more you can steal!
Other people's lives and money can be given away,
To be Progressive means you need never pay!

In dreamscape malls of waking day
They make their souls Medusa's prey.

The deadly head of stony mind
only in matter can meaning find.

Enchanted locks are all they see
Refracted through their own TV.

Of skies they know, of heavens none
A nuclear furnace they think the Sun.

Gods and angels they are out
by Science banished; but round about
come tales that make the scientists shout,
- of wars in heaven, space brethren fled
to heap Technology on Mankind's head.

When the angels landed on the White House lawn
The UFO fans were quite forlorn.
No messages of peace and love,
No gifts of even a plastic dove.

The minds of scientists shattered lay,
For the angels had come forth to slay.

They should have known - it was foretold,
T.S. Eliot had it cold:
'In the juvescence of the year came Christ - the Tiger.'

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

The American Brake Company Building

Setting the Scene

In the centre of the Mississippi valley, near the head of natural navigation, stands a city. It is named St. Louis in honour of the medieval French king Louis IX, whose life was such a model of devotion that after his death in 1270 on his second unsuccessful Crusade he was canonised. Notable also for his promotion of culture, his most famous monument is a beautiful building in Paris, the Sainte Chapelle, a masterpiece of Gothic architecture and stained glass, built as a shrine to house what he believed to be the Crown of Thorns and a fragment of the True Cross. How strangely the current of history or fate has flowed to bring the name of this man and it's associations to this place. That occurred when 17th century French explorers of the Mississippi claimed a vast area in the middle of the continent and named it after their current ruler, the Sun King Louis XIV, and the town was founded a century later.

Quite unknown to Saint Louis, his life coincided with the peak of a city and a culture very far from his lands and his concerns. Only a few miles from what was to become the site of St. Louis, on the other side of the river, stood the largest city of the Mississippi Valley culture. We don't know what it's inhabitants called it or what they called themselves, but they left a lot of earth mounds, some shaped as step pyramids in the Mexican style and the largest such site north of Mexico. It seems to have been a centre of human sacrifice and the manufacture of stone hoes. Their culture fell apart and their lands fell to strangers some centuries before the arrival of European settlers, who destroyed and ploughed over some of these mounds, before preserving the remainder and calling it Cahokia after a tribe probably unrelated to the builders.

As the old hymn says:

'Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
     Bears all it's sons away;
  They fly forgotten, as a dream
    Dies at the opening day.'

Time, and the Mississippi, continue to flow.

Genius Loci

Do you believe that a building can tell a story, that it expresses an identity, that it can tell us about the nature and culture of the people who made and used it? Well if you look and listen quietly and respectfully perhaps it may speak to you.Here's one which lasted from one era into another, occupied by a variety of users for a variety of purposes redolent of the cultures of their time and place and resonant to a name which gave associations of much wider history and achievements. Let's try to learn something from it. By 'looking' through the spirit of the building, if we have 'eyes to see', we may be able to summon or at least imagine something of the ghosts or spirits of those who were or may be associated with the building or the city and country which were served by the activities in and around it.

Consider the American Brake Company Building in St. Louis, built in 1901 and since 2007 officially included in the National Register of Historic Places under the category of Industry. If you seek the Spirit of America this may be as good a place as any. 'Si monumentum requiris, circumspice!' If you seek a monument of the Americans, look around you. It was, after all, an American President who said that 'the business of America is business', so it's people may find this a suitable memorial.

The company manufactured brakes for freight trains. The building was it's factory and office, it's ornamental front built in the Romanesque Revival style popular at the time. In it's heyday, which was also that of it's city, country and society, it was part of a great industrial complex, a factory in a major industrial area in the most industrialised powerful and prosperous society the world had ever seen. In it's decline and decrepitude, which was also that of it's city, country, society and civilisation, it also attempted to stave off death by a succession of facelifts,denying mortality whilst tarting up the processes of decay and trumpeting them as Renewal amounting to Resurrection. 

 Has the spirit of the building been overshadowed by or subsumed within the spirit of the country and its people? Does the spirit rest easily? Is it's monument appropriate? Is the site treated with respect by courteous and reverent visitors? Do the descendants of the builders boast of the great works of their ancestors? What offerings do they leave? What tales does it inspire? Other people have left haunting stories, poetry and music, paintings, statues, pyramids, megaliths, cathedrals, castles, palaces, walls and roads. The Americans left a factory. Not a functioning factory of course, full of whirring machines attended by busy workers, drawing in inputs and sending forth products to the ends of the earth - those the banksters sent to China when they found it profitable to do so. No, an empty factory, of bare floors, columns and walls; an empty tomb from which no saviour arose although several imposters were acclaimed. A tomb for the spirit of America, soon thinly infested by scavengers ignorant or contemptuous of the past, like the ruins of Troy.   

Let's look at it from the perspective of 2040.

2040 marked a century since the end of production there and the sale of the building from its primary use in 1941, which was also just before the height of it's country's power and greatness. There had been a long decline and attempts at gentrification of both the Building and it's city and country. 2040 might mark  a recognition point that 'America' and its values or attitudes or culture was irrecoverably over. No one even remembered Humpty Dumpty accurately and few lovingly, let alone wanting or having the capacity to put him together again.

 The Great Simplification

'The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.' As the caravan of world history slowly passed America in the early decades of the 21st century, the rabid dogs in Washington became hysterical and insane in their yapping and barking, their spittle slathered and eye-rolling threats and demands, gnashing their financial and military teeth in the face of the world, savaging weak countries and stalking the strong. They came close to being put down and taking much of the world with them. Fortunately for the rest of the world, the patient and mature statesmanship of the leaders of China and Russia enabled them to fend off the mad dogs of Washington until their caravan was out of reach and the Americans collapsed into their cultural and economic death coma.

After the most productive part of the American economy had been shipped to China by greedy financiers, the 'Homeland' was left to wither and stagnate, it's culture and society dissolving in an acidbath of corruption and perversion. Productive people slowly disappeared and their homes and workplaces decayed into ruin. At first the chattering classes were not much affected. The people who counted had no sympathy at all for the redneck hicks living in the 'flyover country' between the East and West coasts. Whatever happened to them, they probably deserved it, and it was of no interest to the beautiful, wealthy and important people.Their wealth, connections and interests were largely foreign. Wherever they went they were insulated and isolated from the misery and chaos affecting the lives of less fortunate mortals, whose lives their masters thought, were only of significance in so far as they served their masters' interests in enhancing their global power and wealth. When America was used up they fully intended to be elsewhere exploiting the people there.

Initially not much seemed to have changed. Capital and seed corn was used up and living on debt and the seigneurage of a reserve currency attached to powerful military and financial interests and the infinite printing of money to pay the cronies and beneficiaries of those who controlled government,  made it seem as if the dream could continue indefinitely.

The Building had something of a respite at this time. It had attained official notice and protected status as an industrial building of historic interest. It had been somewhat tarted up and gentrified, and for a time housed little art galleries and trendy shops, although most of it remained vacant. It attracted some notice from fashionable urban renewal and town planner types. Photos of its frontage became relatively well known. It's own Indian Summer coincided with that of it's country.

Reality made a slow arrival. Gradually the rest of the world stopped using dollars to denominate and finance their trade. They already had far more dollars than they wanted. The exchange rate just kept sinking. Imports (almost everything) became much more expensive for Americans.Trust in American governments, banks, businesses, institutions and the basic honesty and decency of the people waned. There were too many scandals, too much hectoring, too much spying, too much 'do as I say, not as I do' hypocrisy, and the rest of the world fell out of love with America. No one with an alternative wanted to do business or invest there. As the 'lipstick on a pig' cracked, the porcine snout greedily inserted into other peoples' troughs became much more evident and much uglier. Even the much vaunted American military seemed much less impressive, unable to keep it's secrets or its morale and unable to keep up with Russian and Chinese developments despite its bluster and sabre rattling; unable even to defeat the Pashtuns in Afghanistan let alone introduce 'democracy' to Iraq, Libya, Syria or Ukraine despite destroying them. The eight hundred or so bases around the world became an expensive and sinister burden rather than welcomed envoys and assurances of freedom.

Domestically, the economy continued to contract, despite all the desperate political and statistical lies about recovery. Fewer and fewer people had jobs. Income levels were falling. More and more of the people were directly or indirectly dependent on government for jobs, handouts or contracts. Government and personal debt kept increasing with no prospect of repayment. Capital was not created and invested because interest rates were held too low, which was because government could not afford to pay higher interest on its debts. Only the 'crony-capitalists' of Wall Street who were given vast sums free of interest and with no reasonable expectation of repayment benefited. The dollar was being hollowed out as the 'full faith and credit' of the US government became exhausted. No one had faith in them any more. No one with real money could or would lend them anything. Their only recourse was inflation which eventually became hyperinflation eliminating any savings the populace may have had. It also eliminated the value of government obligations and left those in receipt of government pensions benefits and salaries starving. The dollar followed its predecessor and became 'not worth a Continental.' Most of the land and buildings and productive assets of America were bought up by foreigners, often Chinese, at first to get rid of their rapidly depreciating dollars, and then because they were cheap in foreign currencies. Americans very often became squatters in and on what had been their land.

The 2020's were not a good time in American history, and not just in the clarity of hindsight.Nor were the 2030's much improvement.

Nature also became unhelpful. California had been a major food producer until drought and the exhaustion of aquifers turned it into a replica ofthe 1930's Dustbowl of Texas and Oklahoma. No water for agriculture, and soon no water for cities. That set much of the population marching, first in placard waving and screaming protest demonstrations which Nature ignored, and then in footloose movement eastward, reversing and replicating on a larger scale the movement of the 'Okies' of almost a century before. Naturally, the drought and water depletion  continued and spread across the Great Plains, so that almost all of the land between the Pacific and the Mississippi, with the exception of Oregon and Washington, became again the Great American Desert. St. Louis, (although not the Building) had seen much of the 18th and 19th century westward expansion pass through it, and now it saw the 21st century return wave of population receding from the high point of settlement. The first occasion was much happier.

Things got worse. Agriculture in the Mid-West was also in trouble. It was very dependent on oil and chemical pesticides and fertilizers and hugely expensive machinery and long distance transport. More variable weather coincided with the decline of the dollar,and the shortage of fuel and increased costs of machinery and all inputs except labour. Food became much more expensive. Social breakdown and floods of migrants worsened the situation. Trains and trucks suspected to be carrying food or products to and from food processing plants were liable to be attacked by mobs of looters and organized criminals, unless under heavily armed escort. Genetically modified crops and animals worsened the situation. They produced disease and hence were frowned upon by people not under the influence of those who controlled the big industrial interests and their bought flunkies in the American media and government. The decline of the dollar's exchange rate made imports, including oil, much more expensive but cheapened American exports in foreign currency. Food had been a major American export and so increased food exports would have been expected to help ease America's balance of payments crisis. It didn't work out that way. A short tempered public, already having to go short of food, was enraged by the export of food and made it difficult.

Foreign governments, influenced by their own food producers who did not want more competition from cheaper imports, and by the scary publicity of those who opposed genetically modified food,restricted and banned food imports from America. Thus, in the short term Americans got more to eat, but in the longer term their government got less revenue, their system of agriculture became less productive and the American public became more subject to disease both from the genetic modifications and from slow starvation.

 The decline and fall of the American dollar had hugely disruptive consequences, domestic and foreign. Domestically, life and social and political organisation were drastically simplified. Accumulating bigger piles of almost worthless currency and admiring those who had the highest heaps soon lost it's attraction. The important thing became finding enough food to survive a little longer. Tens of millions of jobs remote from food production lost their point. Producing, protecting and preying upon those who produced food became the new  or newly obvious, basis of the economy and society. There were far more mouths than could be fed. Many had to die. There was no immediate or smooth transition. Naturally, the politicians and parasites didn't curl up and die. They tried to maintain their grip and their privileges, but with diminishing success. As the productive base of the pyramid shrank, the number and height of the layers above it that could be sustained had to shrink commensurately.The three hundred million or so guns in the hands of ordinary Americans did not remain unused, nor did the heavier weapons available to those who wished to continue ruling them. By the time the flows of blood declined to trickles, the political culture of what remained of the country had also been simplified. It was no longer possible to maintain large classes of unproductive propagandists, academics, lawyers, jail bait tax consumers and bureaucrats to administer them and to tax and redistribute food and goods from the productive to these and to the political class, nor had such people any political influence. The whole banking and financial, media and advertising, legal and judicial, education and taxation systems had imploded along with the dollar. There was no general replacement for the dollar, just ad-hoc trade in goods using whatever 'near money', such as food or ammunition or booze or silver or scrip issued by local businesses or would-be-authorities was acceptable to those attempting to do business. Local gangs of crooks, politicians and gunmen were now in charge of areas where there was enough of a productive base to sustain a much simpler and arbitrary system of governance. They squabbled between themselves and with their neighbours, but lacked the resources for large scale or long range conflict. Washington was accorded honorific status as a sort of first among equals by the variety of Governorships, Mayoralties, Peoples Democratic Republics or warbands in loose and shifting alliances that tenuously controlled the remaining productive populations and resources, but the notion that they would actually obey or pay more than could be extorted from them by the rather small forces at the command of the self proclaimed President and Commander in Chief and his Congress of cronies, was quite risible.

At an earlier stage, when Washington still hoped to maintain control over the whole country there had been a 'military coup'. This was less than it seemed. The Kleptocrats whose 'democratic' and 'constitutional' public relations fig-leaves had tattered and blown away, leaving them uncomfortably exposed to the ire of the mob, had chosen a military front-man to impose martial law and enable them to remain in control of as much as possible of the remaining resources. He was quite obedient, almost as much of a mouthpiece for his owners as the Presidents had been. Unfortunately for them, the military had proved to be a sword of chocolate rather than of steel. It crumbled melted or broke under the strain and heat of civil conflict. As the dollar depreciated and the revenues of government declined their pretty pieces of paper which did not buy much, became insufficient to buy the loyalty of men with guns, heavier weapons and military training, who held a simpler and they supposed more effective means of obtaining what they wanted. At the same time, the social and economic dislocation revealed that threatening and shooting people was not a magic formula to make them obedient and productive, or at least it did not work unaided and all the time. Dead men grew no crops and baked no bread. The necessity of protecting and providing food for themselves and their dependents, along with personal ambition and the competing claims of would-be-authorities and the palpable inability of the nominal government to provide more than lying promises, broke the loyalty of the military and fragmented its personnel. They became supporters of various interests, including some who ranged as freebooters on their own account and some who tried to seize control of localities or merge their interests with other competing groups of criminals, businessmen and politicians to establish a more cohesive dominance of a region.

  As the situation had started to slip away from Washington's control, and many voices around the country were raised in protest, defiance and despair, a group of officers in the Pentagon devised a cunning plan which they hoped would provide insurance against that occurrence. This was to create a controlled opposition to gather and lead dissidents and potential rebels. At the worst, this would ensure that any new regime would be controlled by people with the right connections. It was to notionally be headed by a mysterious figure called 'Washington' who would create a resonance of patriotism. The Pentagon still contained many well educated and well read officers. They knew that this was exactly what the Bolsheviks had done to infiltrate and spy on or gain control of groups opposed to them after they had taken over Russia, and they had read 1984, as well of course as remembering 'Al-cia-da'. The notion of 'Washington' versus Washington may seem a little too cute, an insider joke, but that was not the reason for it's failure. The forces of collapse and disintegration were too strong. It was soon no longer possible to maintain a central government as large and interfering as that of the USA had been, whoever was to run it. People found that they could only survive by concentrating on what was immediately around them. 

The rest of the world watched the shriveling and simplification of America with a range of
reactions from amusement to horror, via contempt, derision, and even a little sympathy.The USA had become a ghost and fell away or was removed from its leading role in international organizations, including losing it's seat as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, which went to India. After a generation, China, Russia and India combined to track down, buy and dismantle the remaining decaying and almost disregarded nuclear weapons in America, in case some of them might yet cause a disaster for the world.

 Green Leaves

And what of the Building during this time of turmoil and decay? It still stood, and during the Indian Summer of America during the couple of generations either side of the Millennium it had fared relatively well. It's principal purpose long abandoned, it had continued in partial occupation by a succession of gimmicky trendy users, small art galleries and studios for 'artists' producing kitsch and tat, coffee shops, storage spaces; it's outer fabric kept looking good by grants from cultural and civic bodies. Indeed, it looked better and cleaner and was a more pleasant place to visit than it had been in it's heyday. Anyone who had known it when it was a busy workplace, full of noise and bustle, urgent with shouted orders and the roar of trucks bringing materials in and out or passing on the streets outside, in the centre of a noisy, smoky, grimy factory district, would have been astounded by the calm clean and relaxed atmosphere, as well as by the cultural respect accorded to it, and by the change in the type of person who found reason to go there.  Ghosts of the old days would surely have felt uncomfortable among the would-be-beautiful-and-significant-people who now congregated there, eating dainty pastries and drinking incomprehensible non-alcoholic beverages whilst chattering on mobile phones. Thus were the ghosts of the American past exorcised.  

During the Simplification the days of ancient sunlight came to an end. No more was heard the purr of limousines, the growls of motor bikes bearing obese lawyers, aging financial executives and dreadlocked trustafarians garbed in expensively tattered imitations of the work clothes of working men, rather as savages might bear the skins and skulls of vanquished foes, or the coos and giggles of their clothes horse model escorts.

New people appeared in the vicinity and the Building was put to new uses.The storm winds of change stirred and blew, as a precursor of the wrath to come, not just dead leaves, but dead lives across the landscape. Not only the 'Cali-Okies', some of whom were as fierce and deadly as Kali; many people were in motion, abandoning old lives like old leaves, seeking new identities and fresh growth.

A commune of 'Greenies' sprouted in the old Building. A heterogeneous group of practical idealists, as they termed themselves, found themselves cast together into this eddy in the currents of fate, squatting in the Building. They attempted to make a living growing vegetables on abandoned  suburban land and and performing handicrafts such as cobbling. They turned part of the building into living quarters and another part into a market. At first they had named themselves 'Green Shoots', but as the world around became more violent, the pacifist tendency among them insisted on changing the name to 'Green Leaves'.

Adrian Hennessy was one of them. He was a man who appeared to have done everything right. He had 'collapsed early', become a proficient vegetable gardener, honed his practical skills as a jack-of-all-trades, become physically fit, lived abstemiously, paid no attention to the mass media, practiced playing the harmonica and telling stories, was courteously friendly to people and traveled by bicycle. As conditions worsened he had found a nascent group with which he was sympathetic, hoping to ride out the coming storm, able to look after themselves and hoping to be accepted as assets to any community by the people around them.

At first they had been relatively successful.They were housed for free in an approximately functional city.Their produce and their skills kept them fed, made them customers and some friends, so their work enabled them to avoid much of the chaos whirling around them. At that point most people still expected some sort of 'recovery', no longer prosperity, but basic order in a more or less United States bearing some resemblance to the old ways of doing things, even if it had been Simplified and was under new management, a place where there was a sense of participation in a common order, where 'community' meant the ability to be productive and supportive under common standards of decency, not an assembly of murderous lunatics in an unguarded asylum.Things got worse.

Already they were living in interesting times. Now the second degree of the Chinese curse bit them. They came to the attention of important people. Initially this curse appeared disguised as a blessing. Praise from what was left of the media, complimentary remarks from the Mayor as he visited them, a positive example other people were urged to emulate. What was there not to like about that? Surely this validated and vindicated their efforts. They were performing a useful function, spreading the word, making friends and influencing people. Pioneers of a New America some called them.

Alas for the vanity of human hopes.They became targets for those, officials and criminals, who live at the expense of others. Making friends made them enemies, often the same people. Not only did they become increasingly the victims of opportunistic criminals and aggressive beggars, they were bowed under the mass of official and semi-official exactions, fees, expenses ,requisitions, quotas, taxes, voluntary-but-expected contributions, bribes. If the weather was bad and their crops poor, there was no remission, rather an intensification of the abuse. The people who grew the food got the least of it. As things got worse they were viewed with suspicion and hatred as 'hoarders' and 'kulaks'; ironic as most of them had been somewhat lefty.

The Green Leaves or Green Shoots were already withering fast when Adrian died. He had been out with his beloved bicycle to collect some cabbages from one of their garden plots, but failed to return. Next day his corpse was found by the roadside with a stab wound into his heart. Bicycle and cabbages were gone. Shortly thereafter a local gangster or public official, (the functions and concepts had blurred together), was seen riding the bicycle as his official transport. At least Adrian's corpse was buried rather than left to rot, shoved down a manhole or dumped into the Mississippi. His comrades buried him under a garden plot. Rachel Smith, who had some skill as a carver, and who had rather liked Adrian, made a small stone memorial for him and placed it over his grave amongst the growing plants. It took the form of one of the Green Men found in some old English churches -  a head displaying Adrian's features peeking through the foliage of the greenwood.

No Way Back

After the withering of the Green Leaves, the Building, like the society around it, fell upon even harder times. The Building became a doss house for scavengers and itinerants, a den of thieves under the occasional and un-benign eye of the greater thieves around City Hall.

So much for a society and economy based on recycling itself. Some people failed to realise or studiously ignored for as long as possible that 'we' would not survive indefinitely by making ingenious arrangements to cannibalize the less immediately vital organs of the body cultural, social, economic and politic whilst fueling itself on hot air and debt. By 2040 the truth was becoming clear even to the Pollyannas. What had been destroyed in the process of being remade was 'us', the USA as it had experienced itself. It was like an old lion crippled by disease or injury being eaten alive by a pack of hyaenas, or even a column of driver ants. It's pieces were being processed though the stomachs of other creatures, giving sustenance and growth to lower forms of life. There could be no rebound, no further refashioning of it's identity, no miraculous resurrection. It was dead. 'America' was over.

Thus far, the old building although battered and neglected and put to uses for which it had not been designed by the sort of people who would never have been allowed near it in it's heyday, had survived. It's spirit had been demeaned but it was not yet extinct. Let's take a glimpse at a few of the people and events in and around it about this time or a few years later.


The old man appeared to have died peacefully in his sleep lying on a rough mattress, fully dressed with his few possessions beside him, as if prepared to resume a journey. Not that Joey cared. He had been quite prepared to stick a knife into the old man or anyone else who had interrupted his search for plunder as he slipped quietly along the stairs, corridors and sleeping areas of the old Building.Swiftly he went through the old man's pockets and his rucksack, finding disappointingly little to reward this effort. As he rummaged through the rucksack a few paperback books fell out. These did not interest Joey, who had never had any interest in books, and only scorn for the wussies who wasted their time reading. One of the books did however catch his attention because of the picture on it's cover. A huge man whose body was made up of lots of small people loomed from behind a hill with a town in the foreground. He was an impressively cool dude brandishing a large sword and some sort of club, wearing a fancy hat and smiling through his long hair and big mustache.This was someone not to be messed with, he demanded serious respect. Joey was sufficiently impressed by this to take the book with him as he slipped silently away.

Later in the day, as Joey went to meet his buddies Moro and Badass in the ruins of another old building, he wondered about the image on the book he had stolen. Was this a Superhero he had not heard about? He had seen comic books depicting the actions of Superman, Spiderman and Batman, and with the help of Moro, who was certainly no wuss although he could read a bit, he had made out some of the mercifully few words they contained. This book was different. It consisted entirely of words with no more pictures. That was disappointing, but Joey had a hope that they would tell the stories of a lot of adventures of this mysterious Superhero and reveal his Superpowers. After all, there were a lot of words, so there must be a lot of adventures, right? It would be really cool if he and his buddies could find out about these adventures and tell the stories before other people discovered them. Having special knowledge of a new Superhero might gain them some respect and help them to score.

When Joey arrived at the meeting place, Moro and Badass were already there arguing over a dead rat which they hoped to roast that evening. "Hey bro, what ya got there?" enquired Moro as Joey showed them the book. Joey pointed to the cover picture and explained about the Superhero. Badass glanced briefly at it before returning his dead gaze to the dead rat.

Moro's eyes gleamed with more interest as he reached for the book. "" he vocalised. None of them had heard that name before. "Read some of it," Joey urged. Moro riffled through the pages and his eyes fixed on a paragraph:

'There is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain, and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of Time; no arts; no letters; no society. And, which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.'

His brow wrinkled as he attempted to spell out the words, but most of them made no sense and the passage had no meaning for him, or for his companions. After another cursory scan which revealed no graphic account of sex or drugs or violence in the manner they expected of a Superhero, he closed the book. "You bin fooled man," he said sadly and a touch scornfully as he handed back the volume. "That ain't no Superhero, or if he is, he's too Super for you. Ain't ya got anything useful?" Gazing forlornly at the image of Leviathan, and his dashed hopes of cultural and social success, Joey shook his head despondently.

"I know wat dis be useful for" grunted Badass, as he grabbed the book and tore out several pages. "Next time I take a dump this will be a good asswipe."


Michael Malcolm the Mayor of the Democratic Mayoralty of St. Louis was a large and happy man. There he was seated on his mayoral throne wearing his best and most brightly decorated robe in vibrantly clashing colours, crowned with his gold and silver bead encrusted skullcap, waving his trademark flywhisk. Not that the flywhisk was altogether an affectation, there really did seem to be a lot more flies around than there had been. Something to do with blocked drains and the stench of corruption some might have suggested - but those who might have made such suggestions were not present, and the rotting bodies of some of them might be adding to the stench.

Hizzonner was a happy man today. His day of triumph was being seen by a party of observers from far away Washington and he hoped to impress them with a good show. His power for another period in office had been popularly reaffirmed by the most solemn Democratic ritual of voting. Every few years, or in fact whenever Hizzonner felt that his subjects or 'voters' might be flagging in their enthusiasm for his rule, or when he felt that they should be given an opportunity to express their love of him by making material donations to his well-being, he held an election. This was always a joyous and colourful and popular occasion. It had to be. Those who failed to appear and to appear extremely joyful were likely to be visited by members of Malcolm's Macoutes. These latter were the successors of the old social services and welfare bureaucracies, as well as of the taxation and  judicial and police systems. They were perhaps more efficient and certainly more effective in making an impact on the needy, although their notions of service and welfare and need were different.

Each Election involved a choice of and between candidates. Michael and his senior Macoutes chose as candidates a few of those whom they suspected might be less enthusiastic over Michael's rule than was expected, or who seemed to be gaining popularity or prominence for any reason, or who seemed over educated, snobbish, or uppity in manner. If it was necessary to make up the numbers, people might be chosen at random 'to encourage the others'. As campaigning proceeded the Macoutes visited every resident and solicited promises of support. Those whose promises seemed niggardly in relation to their circumstances might risk their names appearing on another list. On election day the voters went to various designated premises where they were identified by the local Macoutes, who received and marked off the promised donations.This was done to public acclaim. Those who failed to produce the promised goods were harangued by the Macoutes and the crowd, and deficiencies compensated by blows. All present were then asked if they wanted Michael to continue as Mayor. A loud and prolonged acclamation was then expected, under the vigilant eyes and weapons of the Macoutes. The other candidates were then brought forward bound and the crowd was asked how they should be dealt with. 'Death!' was the expected acclamation, and the crowd was invited to beat and kick the candidates to death. The corpses were dumped on waste ground or down a drain or sewer, or simply thrown into the river. Late in the day Hizzonner would parade from precinct to precinct, borne aloft on his Mayoral throne by teams of not quite groaning voters, accompanied by his guards and teams of drummers and jazz musicians producing an infernal cacophony augmented by the cheers and acclamations of the crowd. That evening there would be a city-wide celebration, with food and drink provided for the public, partly by Hizzonner and partly by the edible contributions just collected from the voters.

Rough though such arrangements might have seemed to the more delicate sensibilities of previous times, Hizzonner was actually quite popular, not afraid to go amongst his people, and would probably have won elections run under previous arrangements, albeit not so overwhelmingly. 

By mid century such arrangements were becoming usual throughout what had been the United States. Hizzonner's St. Louis was perhaps run with more efficiency and ruthlessness than some others, but allowing for personality and local colour, it was not atypical. Although some semblance of democratic and constitutional forms were preserved, these tattered fig-leaves did not conceal the naked truth that government was for the benefit of the governors not of the governed. Yet the bulk of the huddled populace was not yearning to breathe free. It was keeping close to nurse for fear of meeting something worse. 

Hizzonner was determined to cling to his mayoral throne for as long as possible. He had very little interest in what happened outside his domain. He extorted money, goods and services from his people, redistributing much of the proceeds to his entourage to buy their loyalty. He accepted that the rulers of Washington did the same to him to pay their own supporters. He knew they could muster larger and stronger forces than he could, so he had no desire to oppose them, provided their demands did not seriously damage his own position. In any case Washington was very far away so they could not keep a close hold on him. If they wished him to swear loyalty to them as Rulers of the Universe under whatever flag and form of words they chose, he would happily do so. Actual performance would depend upon the circumstances of the time. Everyone understood that.

Go East Young Man

Some years and many tears later.

Li Chang sat outside the front entrance of the old Building and thought about his future. Realistically it was not likely to be much different from his past, containing little but ill-fed and painful toil. He had however consulted a diviner, who had cast the yarrow stalks, considered the pattern formed, and advised him to go east, to cross the Great Water. Here he was, only a short walk and almost within sight of the great river which flowed through the centre of the continent. When he had accumulated sufficient for the toll and to cover some days or weeks of travel he would walk across the bridge and seek his destiny in the shining east.

He thought he had been fortunate to have obtained temporary employment as a guard, cleaner and dogsbody at Fat Cheng's establishment. It had only been possible because he was already a very junior member of the Triad in which Chong held a more honourable place and he could demonstrate some competence in the martial arts. Li Chang thought that Cheng and the Triad must be doing quite well here. This large building was in fairly good shape although obviously aging and in need of renovation. Cheng ran several businesses here, gambling, prostitution, drug dealing, sale of alcohol, loan sharking, fencing stolen goods, forgery, jewellery, weapons, groceries, import and export  - and probably others even more discreet about which it was prudent to know nothing. It was the hub of the settlement of the Black Haired People which was growing up near this crossing of the Great Water.

As Li Chang sat or strolled in front of the old Building during his rest breaks, he glanced at it's facade. It's reddish colour was a sign of luck, and Fat Cheng's enterprizes seemed to prosper there. He looked in displeasure at the gweilo writing on the sign above the door, which he could not read. He found the letters ugly, and hoped there was truth in the gossip that Cheng would soon  have them removed and replaced with Chinese signs, probably including those for meiguo, 'Beautiful Country' the Chinese name for this continent. He had heard that Cheng was seeking the advice of feng-shui experts to maximise the favourable aspects of the property. Some people said that it would be luckier to have the main entrance on the sun facing southern rather than the northern side. He did not know much about such things, but he had a feeling that the huge river just to the east flowing southwards might be bringing luck through the northern entrance and might drain it away through a southern door. That would be up to Cheng and his diviners to determine. As he idled there he heard a hubbub of raised voices from several streets away. There were still a few feral gweilo slinking about in the ruins of the city and sometimes they attempted to steal things. It seemed that one of these had been spotted nearby and the people were chasing it down with sticks and stones and knives and nooses. Newly alert, he started to patrol the perimeter of the building.

Early one morning, just as the sun was rising ahead of him, inviting him to good fortune, he left behind the Building , where workmen were making the expected alterations above the entrance, and with a brief letter of reference in Chinese from Cheng, which he could not in any case read, in his pocket, Li Chang paid his toll at the bridge and walked slowly across the Great Water and into his destiny.

Here ends our tale. The character and identity of the Building has changed with the people in and around it. It's no longer The American Brake Company Building. It's people are no longer American. There's no longer an 'America'. On the huge stage of this continent the props and the cast have changed. The 'America' production has run its course and ended. Instead, the curtain has risen on a new production, 'The Beautiful Country of China East'.


Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The Sovereignty of Wessex

The King

The King and the Land are One. These old words had depth and strength. They endured; like the land. They focused and settled his mind and described his duty and his life. They had replaced the Dieu et Mon Droit, motto of the old English monarchy, and said much about the people and their ruler in the Kingdom of Wessex.The cities of old had died, and most of their civilisation with them, but the Land lived on.

King Harold III contemplated them inscribed under the flag of Wessex on the wall in front of him. They appeared thus on all courts and public buildings and on the ensigns and liveries of royal officers or state servants. This one was the one whose letters he had filled with his own blood when he had made his oath of kingship and been accepted by his people as their king. He expected that it would be buried with his body. It was not an ornament. It was not only a statement of the social, political, legal and religious constitution of the land, it was the binding force constituting a People and a Land into a Kingdom. It was not an assertion of personal despotism, even his rival Ragnar Redbeard of Mercia, his neighbor to the north, knew that.  They were a link to his predecessors and to the powers of the land, which could be a surprising source of wisdom and inspiration. The golden Wyvern or two-legged curly dragon on a blood red background had long been an emblem of Wessex, perhaps derived from a Roman cavalry standard, and had flown over the armies of the ancient Saxon kingdom of Wessex. Harold regarded it as a representation of the spiritual life force that moved within the blood of the people of the Land and united them.

He considered the situation of Wessex and the main problems it faced. It was King Ragnar of Mercia and Count Dieter the ambassador from His Imperial Majesty Wilhelm who occupied his thoughts at the moment, because they it was who were pressing upon the Sovereignty of Wessex, and Wessex did not like it. He knew well enough that Redbeard, a very shrewd and effective ruler in a tradition of warrior kings, despised him as an effete milksop and would gladly have split his skull. He made no secret of that. Dieter was a different matter and probably a greater danger.  

Harold meditated deeply, in silent, wordless touch with the spirits of the Land. In the peace an image arose. It was of an enormous snake which coiled and writhed along. As he regarded it with alert but unemotional concentration, the King saw that the serpent had coiled around and crushed a man and was slowly swallowing him.

The Lady of Avebury

 Dame Sally Arbuthnot, Lady of Avebury, was Custodian of this most ancient and holy site. She was responsible for the organisation of festivals, particularly the great Midsummer Festival and Fair  which was the most popular gathering and holiday in the country, as well as central to the religious and secular ceremonies which gave focus to the people's sense of identity every year. Avebury, along with Silbury Hill, West Kennett passage grave, Windmill Hill and Stonehenge - it's midwinter counterpart, and Glastonbury not so far away, provided a megalithic skeleton protecting the heart and soul of this ancient land, which once before and now again, was named as Wessex. No one knew what the very old ones who had raised these structures had called them or their land, but this no longer mattered, they had formed the basis and been subsumed into the soul of Wessex. This secular responsibility required considerable organisational skill, as well as a certain amount of tact and diplomacy to deal with the various and sundry people and interests who and which had to be managed, cajoled and placated to ensure that events ran smoothly and activities involving other places and groups were co-ordinated with the minimum of jealousy and ruffled feathers.

In addition to her secular responsibilities she was the current chairwoman of the Green Ladies, those who had cultivated the capacity to make contact with nature spirits and were able to secure their co-operation and hear their complaints.(This involved a certain amount of weeding out of over imaginative women who fancied themselves the central figures in cosmic dramas. This was an Order of people who could perform a function, not an association of lady novelists.) In this capacity she reported to the Archmage and to the King, who wanted to know that the country was adequately covered by such contacts and to be informed of any major problems or significant information gained, such as predictions of unseasonable weather or natural disasters.In a time and place without chemical fertilisers or fuel for agricultural machinery or bulk importation of food for people or animals, or refrigeration, this ability was important. It kept crop yields high enough to support more people and livestock through winter than would have been possible considering only their level of material technology; and  beyond the gains which might be counted, the intangible gains to health and happiness and alertness, of better quality food may have been even more important in helping to produce better quality people.

The Green Ladies, in addition to their psychic work, busily promoted - and demonstrated - organic gardening and farming. (Well, there were no longer the industrial products to perform any other sort!) Findhorn had been far from Wessex, but books about it and about Viktor Schauberger had survived the winnowing of fate which had discarded so much else from the Old Times.People lacking psychic abilities were interested in these as well as in what their local Green Ladies had to say, and it may be that there were selection pressures slowly increasing the proportion of the population with such abilities, and giving incentives to develop them. Most people were happy enough to pay a small fee to a Green Lady to put in a good word for them with their local nature spirits and to leave small offerings to the spirits in appreciation of their work, as well as to protect certain trees or rocks or streams or banks or heaths that the spirits especially valued. Few were so bold as to be willing to risk the wrath of the King, his officials, the Green Ladies and a jury of their neighbours by violating such well known agreements. It was generally appreciated that in such circumstances the spirits had a taste for blood. Green Ladies could initiate prosecutions and present evidence in court on behalf of nature spirits. No appeal against conviction for offences against Nature had ever succeeded. How could it, when the King and the Land are One?

The midsummer festival was a time when people from all over the country gathered to meet friends, exchange news, make business arrangements, attend ceremonies and make merry. The Green Ladies would not be the only group meeting formally and informally. This year Dame Sally would be too busy with other matters to spend much time with her Ladies, but her deputy Maisie Higgins would see that they were well looked after and hear anything which they had to say. She would tell Dame Sally if there was anything which needed to be passed on to the King.

On Imperial Service

His Excellency Dieter von Born enjoyed life. He enjoyed being the ambassador from His Imperial Majesty Wilhelm IV of the Second Holy Roman Empire of the German People to the court of His Majesty Harold III King of Wessex. He enjoyed living in Wessex. This morning he derived particular enjoyment from sitting in the beautiful garden of the German embassy outside the capital, Winchester. As he sat in the sun admiring the flowers and foliage, listening to the song of the birds and the buzzing of the bees, sipping a glass of his favourite white wine from his Rhenish homeland, he glanced at the plans for his next dinner party to entertain those who were prominent in local social and economic circles. He enjoyed being the only permanent ambassador to Wessex - a measure of the preponderance of power and prestige of the German Empire in the affairs of the world of the present day, and he enjoyed the process of acquiring influence in the affairs of Wessex, just as he would enjoy making use of that influence to encourage change in directions favoured by those who ran the Empire, amongst which illustrious company he claimed a modest place.

Sir Peter Conyers, friend and advisor to the King, present at many of the social events which Dieter organised, attended or dominated, saw all this and he was much less happy about it. When Dieter and Sir Peter looked at each other, neither liked what he saw. Dieter saw a lean and hard-faced man with quick eyes, who had 'Security Service' written all over him. Sir Peter saw, if not a man-who-would-be-king, at least a would-be kingmaker.

Dieter had found that amongst the most appreciated treats which he could offer his guests was a simple cup of tea. Long ago this semi-legendary beverage had been the favoured drink of the masses, crassly adulterated with milk (and sugar, whatever that was.) Now it was a rare luxury brought by rail across the whole world from the mysterious land of the rising phoenix, to delight the vanity of the rich and  the palates of snobbish connoisseurs, rather like rare but non-alcoholic wines. Dieter had been amused to discuss the tea trade with some of his guests. They had such romantic ideas for re-creating the era of the tea-clippers and tall ships racing each other to be first home from Shanghai to the English Channel seeking premium prices for the first cargoes to land! Gently he pointed out to them that the economics of transcontinental rail transport prohibited any such notions. Never mind, it just went to show the value and importance of having a railway, didn't it? Not that Wessex was short of food or drink. Quite the contrary. Dieter would die before he admitted a preference for any beverage before his beloved Rhineland wines, but he had to confess a growing fondness for the mead and even the cider of Wessex. Their abundance of orchards, flowers, bees and honey meant that here were a couple of potentially lucrative exports which could sell very well in Europe. The local beers however, were more of an acquired taste, and one moreover not likely to be acquired by a German.
As he relaxed in comfort he let his mind drift over the current state of the world and some of the history which had brought them to this point.  He was happy that the German Empire -its full title was too cumbersome for even its officials to use on other than official occasions - was the strongest power in the world. Its double eagle might be said to soar over all the others. This was literally true since it was painted on the sides of the great airships which only the German Empire commanded. The golden images within circles of black on the white fabric were very striking and most impressive as they floated almost silently in the skies over Europe. Yes, there was another empire, that of the Russians, which also claimed the double eagle as its emblem, but although mighty, they were less so than the German Empire, and as yet had no airships. Curiously, the third empire also had a somewhat similar emblem. That was the Phoenix Empire of China. Happily all three were much in agreement, even alliance, with lucrative trade between them, linked by the Trans-Siberian Railway; they formed the bulk of the world economy. India and Pakistan had used to be moderately powerful, and extremely populous, but they had had a nuclear exchange and any survivors were probably eating or beating each other to death with bones and stones. A vague thought occurred to him that the eagles had been derived from Rome, and then that there had once been another great power which had used it as its emblem - but the Americans had long ceased to exercise influence in the world. Indeed, it was not clear whether they still existed, and no one cared to find out.It was a 'reverse Columbus' situation he mused. Everyone now knew that America was there, but no one wanted to go there. After all, everyone knew there was no gold there any more, it had all gone to China long before.
 Unfortunately, the ointment of world happiness contained a rather large, angry, and aggressive fly. Islam. That brought a worrying thought to mind. He had not heard from his son Pieter for some time. He was an officer serving with the Imperial forces in the Balkans, and Dieter hoped that he was well. The campaign appeared to be progressing successfully, according to both his own sources in the High Command and the official propaganda, but casualties could be heavy. Fortunately superior German skill at arms, organisation, discipline, and technology ensured that most of them were borne by the Turks, Arabs, Albanians and assorted Islamic riff-raff who opposed them. Still, it was a worry. It brought his reverie however to one of the objectives of his embassy, to obtain more recruits to supplement the auxiliary forces of the Empire. Wessex, and the rest of Europe had their own bloody and unhappy history of Islamic aggression. They were one of the three kingdoms, named after ancient precursors , which had emerged on the island which had been Britain, from the bloodshed and chaos after the Old Times ended.  Now that after so much struggle the island had overcome Islam on its own  territory and had achieved some stability, the three kingdoms of Wessex, Mercia and York were willing to allow recruits to join the Germans in helping to free Europe, and what had been the territory of the Roman Empire so long ago, before it had been overrun by the first outbreak of this curse on humanity. Wessex was the least militarised of these kingdoms, but it did produce some recruits. His task was to produce a lot more.

Wessex was quite a strange place in some ways. Mercia on the other hand was much easier to
understand. Their king, Ragnar Redbeard, had served with distinction in leading the British
contingent of auxiliaries, most of them from Mercia. His military capacities and ruthless ambition, which had led to him seizing the throne from his uncle, were well known to the German High Command. His country was efficiently administered and produced a good flow of recruits for the German forces and quite a lot of trade and investment opportunities. If he was allowed to take over Wessex, as it was known he wished to do, he would undoubtedly make it more productive, fiscally and economically as well as militarily. Nobody who knew Ragnar believed that his ambition would be sated by the acquisition of Wessex. All believed he would then make a bid to take York and unite England and even the whole of Britain, as a second Aethelstan. This prospect worried the Imperial Court and High Command because he would probably not be content to remain a loyal and reliable vassal-king, and suppressing him would be a considerable nuisance and distraction from the struggle with Islam. Hence the need to encourage the modernisation of Wessex,whether it remained independent or whether Ragnar was allowed to take it, but under some curb. Dieter' assessment of Wessex's political leadership and military forces was that they would have absolutely no chance against Ragnar; but if he could instigate sufficient change in Wessex to make it better able and willing to contribute to Imperial military and economic strength, that might inspire his own superiors to exert sufficient pressure on Ragnar to keep him in his box, before it became necessary to put him into a much smaller box.

Dieter liked the people of Wessex. He found them very 'gemutlich' and 'volkisch'. They were
generally cheerful, hard working, honest and friendly.They often sang or whistled as they worked and had a vigorous culture of home made art, folk music and tale telling.They admired the Germans, in a distant way, for their successful leadership in the great fight against Islam, even though few were so dissatisfied with their own lives as to be willing to go abroad to join this historic struggle. He knew that they would be far less happy under the iron rule of Ragnar or someone like him, but sadly, Imperial omelettes could only be made by breaking heads as if they were eggs.

One of the oddities about Wessex was how lush it was and how healthy and well fed its people were, despite their lack of large scale farming and chemical fertilisers and weed killers. Plants, insects and animals seemed to thrive. He had never seen so many beautiful flowers, or so many buzzing insects and singing birds. Gardening was a passion with the local people, both to grow food and to produce flowers, and to compete with their neighbours and other villages in local contests. Anyone who took a walk or a ride in the countryside was equally struck by its beauty and the busy cheerful proliferation of nature in hedgerows along the roads and around the small fields. There were many trees and bushes and no areas of clear-cut monotonous monoculture. 

Dieter thought that he and his assistant Heini Schultz had built up a more comprehensive and accurate assessment of local capabilities than the King and his Court probably possessed. In part this was because of their observation and enquiries into the economy and society of Wessex. In part it was because of what Dieter jocularly called his 'Domesday Book', derived from aerial photographs of the whole country, made from the airships as they had passed back and forth and had taken him, and the Wessex notables, even the King, on goodwill visits around the land, to show if not the flag, then certainly the Double Eagle to the admiring gaze of the local people.

Wessex had no oil of course, no electricity was generated, they imported a little coal and iron from York or Europe, but had few if any steam engines. They mined no minerals apart from a little lead. They didn't even make much use of iron, except for the most crucial parts of machines and implements. He'd even been proudly shown a wooden printing press with movable lead type with which Gutenberg himself would have felt at home! Their ploughs and spades were wooden with iron cutting edges added. They had lots of windmills and watermills, mainly for grinding corn and fulling cloth. They made colourful stained glass for lovely windows, whose small panes were held together by lead. It was almost a wooden world where carpenters and their derivatives such as cartwrights, millwrights, wheelwrights and shipwrights were common occupations and common names. Their buildings were mainly stone and wood.They had flourishing traditions of architecture and carving in wood and stone. Brick was an expensive and swanky building material. Their ancestors had not needed steel reinforcing bars or concrete or powered cranes or elevators to build the medieval cathedrals - which still stood, all the more gloriously for again being the tallest buildings around,- and they had no need for such things, nor any intention of building skyscraper temples to commerce or bureaucracy.

Their roads were terrible, muddy rutted tracks - apart from a few which seemed to have been made and maintained in imitation of the ancient Romans. Plants and animals throve astonishingly and the people were sturdy and healthy. There were of course no big cities, but many villages and market towns. Sheep were again an important part of their economy, as they had they had been in the middle ages, the green hills were dotted with them and their fleeces enabled widespread local manufacture of woolen cloth and an export trade in wool and cloth, carried by trains of pack animals to the coast and then to the continent in their small but numerous fishing boats. They produced excellent rugs, tapestries and embroideries - some almost up to the amazing standards of the medieval Opus Anglicanum, those richly decorated ecclesiastical vestments so prized by the Church. Dieter had every expectation that the introduction of silken and silver-gilt thread, brought by rail all the way across the world from China, would enable them to produce fabulous fabrics which would be sold very profitably to both Church and Court in the Empire, and indeed in all three empires. He had obtained samples for experimentation by some of the manufacturers, and he intended to participate in the eventual profits.

Militarily they were not up to much. They could make black-powder, but had only a few antiquated muskets and fowling pieces. Archery was popular, although they were hardly up for a repetition of Agincourt or Towton. A hardy people, devoted to rural pursuits including hunting, wrestling, and horse racing, many of them would make excellent light troops, especially if a bit of German discipline overcame their vague and tardy attitude to time. Few, even of the affluent, possessed clocks or watches. Sundials and stomach rumbles seemed their main guides to time - they found punctuality a foreign notion.

 Dieter estimated that the population did not exceed one million. He thought that a considerably greater population could be sustained, at a lower standard of living, and supporting a much stronger state. "I ask you Heini," he had said in amused amazement to his assistant as they had pored over their evaluations and assessments prior to summarising them for his despatches to Berlin, "what can you do with a people who think that ten percent of their income is more than enough to maintain a Royal Court and an efficient state! Their so-called army is little more than a palace guard."

"Their king is also a little strange, don't you think, mein herr?" had asked Heini."Strange?" repeated Dieter. "He seems to be some sort of trance medium who bases his decisions on messages from the dead! I'm embarrassed to even tell Berlin in case they ask me for the news from Fairyland. I tell you Heini, with a king who's away with the fairies most of the time, I'm surprised Wessex still survives. If somebody pretty heavy in Berlin doesn't stand hard on Ragnar's toes, he'll be here in a flash."

 Heini had paused in his work and asked another question. "That's something else which seems strange, doesn't it sir? What's happened to Christianity on this island? Why is it that here in the south we hardly meet any Christians. In Mercia their king thinks he's a Viking and promotes Odinism, without any obvious Christian resistance.They're not persecuted or anything, just rare somehow. Most of the people seem more devoted to a vague sort of ancestor worship combined with enthusiasm for popular seasonal festivals. There's a few mystics or druids or something, but very few people and activities which we would regard as religious. Why is that?" Dieter scowled. "Thank God the place is no longer infested with mosques! Maybe freeing themselves from the Muslims gave them more than enough of religious fanaticism. Anyway, it seems Christianity wasn't much help to them when they needed it. After the destruction of Rome and the relocation of the Papacy to Koln, our ancestors got a succession of crusader Popes who put fire in their bellies and turned them into Christian soldiers able to withstand and repulse the Muslim assaults without wasting time and effort squabbling with other varieties of Christian. Here I think the Church was too busy buggering around to do anything serious to defend itself or the country before the Muslims nearly killed them." "That could be it, sir" said Heini."It's strange to think that missionaries from the north of England did so much to bring Christianity to Germany. Will we now have to return the favour?" Dieter had pulled a face."That's not currently Imperial policy.We need to concentrate on the Muslims. That means we need to get more soldiers and more supplies from this island. We don't need to stir up any more religious trouble here, that wouldn't help. I've got a better idea."     

Dieter awoke from his reverie with a start. It was time to do some more work on his 'better idea' - a railway.

King of the Birds

'Wren' or Robin Blackmore, was the King's Falconer, his 'King of the Birds'. (According to ancient lore the tiny wren had become King of the Birds by stowing away on the eagle's back until it had flown as high as it could, before itself flying higher.) When they hunted, it was sometimes more than sparrows and pigeons which were their prey. Robin was a quiet unobtrusive man in greying middle age who attracted little attention, even though he was one who had the ear of the King. A solitary taciturn man, he seemed to prefer the company of his avian charges to that of other people. Although few but the King and the Archmage knew it, he had spent many years training in Ireland with their druidical bird-men who could perform astral-traveling or out-of-body experiences and travel in vision wherever they wished. They could also identify with an actual bird and experience the world through it's senses. To see the earth from far above was a very different thing from walking or riding over it, and it gave views such as those of the White Horse of Uffington or much more spectacularly,the Nazca outlines in South America, which could not be appreciated at ground level. He often soared with his falcons and other birds, and saw and heard much that was unexpected, some of which he reported to the King.

It had been mildly interesting for 'Wren' to note the network of people who met with Count Dieter and his servants, and who met with whom when they went for walks or rides. People who behaved as if walls had ears spoke more freely when they met as if by chance in the countryside and knew that no human had followed them and no one was watching them. Most of these conversations were in English. It would be interesting to know what the ambassador and his senior staff discussed in their own language, seated in the privacy of his garden. His Excellency's laudable efforts to promote cultural understanding, including organising classes in the German language, might prove beneficial to a certain wren in the foliage of his garden, and oh to be a fly on the wall of his study when he was writing reports or reading despatches from home!

The Wessex Rail Way

So, the German ambassador and many of his backers and supporters, men of wealth and power in both Wessex and the Empire, wanted to 'open Wessex to development' by promoting a railway. Initially that idea had not been received well by the King and his advisers. They considered that 'the men of wealth and power in both Wessex and the Empire' might be getting a bit above themselves - 'tall poppies' who had developed rather too much wealth and power in their own hands, and whose further acquisitions and developments would probably not develop in the best interests of the Land and its people. Naturally it would not have been diplomatic to have bluntly told His Excellency so, but the lack of enthusiasm from those whose permission and support were required had given him a sufficient response.

Thus mused Sir Peter Conyers, friend and adviser to the King on more matters than most people were aware. He stood on the hill of Uffington, listening to the birds singing above and the breeze ruffling the grass at his feet as he gazed across the tranquil farmland below him. "That wasn't all", he said to his companion, Archmage Arthur Brown. "The basic idea of a railway to carry goods more cheaply and expeditiously to market and to speed travel was quite attractive, especially to the merchants who expected to benefit thereby. After all that had been the idea when railways had first been developed so long ago - and on this island! We don't really need the Germans to take our ancestors' ideas and sell them back to us, do we?" "Of course not", said the Archmage, "But you're now saying that there's more to it?"

"Oh yes, Dieter's pretty shrewd, his fingers are in many pies and he hopes to pull more than one plum from this one." Sir Peter glanced at the Archmage and said, "my sources and my own inquiries tell me that the merchant community accepts that the railway would be feasible and profitable. They're naturally in favour of it. Those who won't make much use of it for their own businesses see it as an opportunity to make a nice investment. Seeing the Archmage purse his lips in distaste, Sir Peter hastily added, "No, not a revival of those 'get-rich-quick', 'pump-and-dump' paper scams from the past. They think this will be a profitable, useful, long term business, something whose value will increase over time and whose shares will be worth inheriting and passing on to one's descendants." "Not a South Seas Bubble, more like the East India Company, in a small way - but with us as the Indians" he added wryly. The Archmage shrugged. He was not concerned or impressed by commercial considerations. Sir Peter continued, "So far so good for those involved; and make no mistake, Dieter and his pals will be up to their elbows in it. Already they're making loans and buying into businesses which they expect to benefit - and taking the chance to spread the word that Wessex needs to become more Progressive, to move with the times and not let antique traditions stand in the way of making a profit."

"Now it starts to get more interesting", said Sir Peter. "I happen to know that Dieter has very good connections with the bankers of Frankfurt. They're no more than mildly interested in the prosperity of wool growers in Wessex or the tapestry weavers of Flanders, the Ruhr's increased sales of iron rails or the prospects for shipping coal to Wessex from York or Poland. No, what really interests them is the juicy prospect of issuing, underwriting and trading in large loans to governments and companies, and in extending to more moderately wealthy persons the prospects of speculating in rigged stock markets."

The Archmage stared at him. "So, it's back to Boudicca," he said. "Updated of course, but reminiscent of how Seneca and the rich of the first Roman Empire, pressed loans upon the unwary Ancient Britons, and then demanded immediate repayment once they'd squandered the money. We know what happened after that; a lost legion, three Roman cities burnt, and then no more Iceni." "No more Druids either," added Sir Peter. "That's when the King got seriously involved; it's a direct challenge to the Sovereignty of Wessex." "We were both there", said his friend, "when the Land responded through the King,'Go to the Horse, learn wisdom at it's mouth. Consult the Dragon.'"

That was what had brought them, riding the old Ridgeway along the top of the Downs, first to the  village of Uffington to meet the Guardian and his coven of Horsewhisperers and then to this hill which for so long had borne the sinuously elongated and disjointed image cut through the turf and into the chalk, long known as the White Horse of Uffington. They had sat for a couple of days with the Guardian, George Jenkins, and his circle at the Horse's mouth in deep meditation to contact the genius loci and learn what they could. Then they had gone to the strange flat topped hill beneath the Horse, known as Dragon's Hill, and had done the same. They had shared and discussed the images and intuitions they and the Guardian's Circle had had. Now they knew what to do.

"It'll be a major project" said Sir Peter thoughtfully. "The Land has accepted it, and that's the main thing," replied the Archmage. "Dieter will eventually get his railway, one way or another, from Dover to Bristol via Winchester, if he and his backers keep pushing, keep intriguing and keep paying. We expected that," said Sir Peter."It's better this way. The country won't be torn apart, the Land disregarded and degraded again. It'll still take time and a lot of effort to make the preparations, and the railway enthusiasts will have to keep encountering and appearing to overcome obstacles and resistance until they think they've won, without needing a coup d'etat." "They'll get their railway," said the Archmage, "but they won't know and won't care about the Rail Way."

"I like the idea of engines looking like dragons' heads, snorting steam and flame, and pulling wagons and carriages like the body of a dragon or wyrm. An Iron Wyrm. There could be a red one and a yellow one, a green one, a black one or a blue one," remarked Sir Peter dreamily. "Perhaps we could insist on a Royal Golden one. Rail Dragons or Iron Wyrms - whatever we call them, they'll be popular, provided they preserve some romance and don't become merely and drearily utilitarian and commonplace." 

"Yes," said the Archmage, "they can be colourful, useful, profitable and popular. Best of all, with the Rail Way they can avoid the socially subversive effects that would otherwise be the case, and actually help to strengthen the People and the Land."  "You know Peter" he continued,"  a way of life used to be regarded as a spiritual path. Each craft could make it's tools and operations into symbols and meditations. The Japanese even had a Way of the Warrior. In Europe we had Freemasons and Cathedral builders as well as Chivalry. The founder of Christianity and his earthly father were supposedly carpenters. That was before the curse of materialistic modernity blighted the spiritual connection between people and their work. Now that's over we can have a Rail Way for those who use and those who work on the railway. Even better, the Land will contribute to its effectiveness."

  "It's more than that Peter," said the Archmage. "You saw and experienced the vision of the White Horse shimmering and quivering with movement, and felt it expand to cover the whole Land of Wessex. We all saw it filled with a tracery of lines of golden light appearing as fire at its feet and nostrils. That's an image of the energy-body of the Land, its life force and fire of consciousness. Remember that we saw the little dragons moving over it and strengthening the links between the parts? That shows that the Land is willing to help the Rail Way and its Iron Wyrms and those who ride in them, and that in turn their live force and movement can strengthen the flows within the Land and the connections between them."

"Yes" murmured Sir Peter. "Its the Grail Question 'Whom Serves the Grail?',isn't it? The Grail serves those who serve the Grail, and the Land helps those who help the Land, for the King and the Land are One." He laughed and said "As to Dieter and his enthusiasts, if I may misquote Milton,'They also serve who only agitate'. Without them this wouldn't be happening." 

 "Of course, Peter. Now the exciting thing is that with the co-operation of the Land, every rail journey can be an initiation. Wessex people already accept the dragon or wyvern as a symbol of their identity, and will be happy to board it and remain in a comfortable relaxed state as they journey through their landscape, their history - and their souls. The Land will re-arrange its energy currents a bit so one will enclose the route of the railway. Our dowsers will check that and you and I will then plan the actual route. Greedy people may hear rumours and buy in the wrong places." They both laughed."As I was saying, Peter, with the co-operation of the Land, I and some of my mages or druids will be able to summon dragon spirits and have them take the passengers into their consciousness. Iron Wyrms indeed! They'll be able to induce dreams, visions, feelings of joy or terror, nightmares or hallucinations in the minds of those appropriately prepared." Sir Peter interrupted. "Especially those who've 'quaffed the soma bright and are immortal grown' or whose 'railway tea' contains the kykeion or an infusion of magic mushrooms! The herbalists and Green Ladies should be able to advise on that." The Archmage nodded thoughtfully. "I'll speak to Sally about that."

Sir Peter said slowly, "It may not be desirable for every Tom, Dieter and Harry to delve too deeply into all the Mysteries of Wessex, and it may not be good for them. We wouldn't want their corpses to contain any evidence of what might be regarded as poison, or to show any sign of violence."

The Archmage looked slightly startled before he said, "The dragons may be a bit rough. They've Wessex of course, so foreigners will not be attuned to them. People in whom they detect ill intent towards Wessex will receive a very rough time, but it will be mental rather than physical torment." Sir Peter nodded. "A few heart attacks or cases of sudden insanity in people who were up to no good will just serve to maintain awe and respect for the Iron Wyrms of Wessex." He added "The public can be advised that they travel at their own risk. Railway travel may not suit everyone, but most people will find it interesting and enjoyable. That'll be true. I hope we can have the dragons exert a bit of emotional pressure at the railway stations, scanning passengers and idlers, frightening off those who should not be there, welcoming those who should, and putting the fear of fiery dragon's breath into layabouts or potential criminals."

Satisfied with the progress of their work, the two men mounted their horses and began their ride back to report to the King.


Only about ten miles from Uffington lay the village of Lambourn in a valley nestling into the Berkshire Downs. As might be expected from its proximity to the White Horse, this area had been famous for horse rearing for a very long time. In the Old Times it had been the centre of the British horse racing industry and the Royal horse herd were still stabled there. The 'sport of kings' continued, even if there was less money and fewer kings involved, and other people also had stables in the area where racehorses continued to be bred and trained. Nowadays however, horses were raised for more mundane purposes than racing. Unless and until a railway was built they remained the fastest and most convenient means of transport for anyone who was not obliged through poverty or circumstance to rely on 'Shanks' Pony'. Anyone with an interest in horseflesh might therefore be expected to be seen in the vicinity of Lambourn, so it attracted no special interest if Sir Peter or the Archmage were seen in the area.

On some of those occasions when one or other of them might be seen there, their interest was not in the purchase of a new horse or in the racing prospects of some favuorite, or even in reviewing the business arrangements by which the Royal herd was managed and the profits made from sales of its horses. Sometimes when they stopped in passing to greet and gossip with John Daly, one of the trainers, more than business and racing prospects were discussed. Somewhat as 'Wren' was 'King of the Birds', Daly was a 'Horseman'. He had the gift of understanding horses and quietly but firmly getting them  to do what he wanted. Now, under the tutelage of the Archmage, he was developing the skill of identification with a horse and experiencing its perceptions. So were some of his apprentices, who were now on detached service in Winchester, where they were eager participants in Dieter's German classes.

 Sir Peter smiled happily when he thought about it. Wessex horses were well regarded. Closer involvement with the Empire would certainly lead to an expanded and more profitable trade in them. Some of the best would be suitable diplomatic gifts to Exalted Personages. Others would be bought by influential people. These people would go riding on horseback or in horse drawn carriages. They would meet and speak in German with other influential people about important matters, in the quiet confidence that no human could overhear them. Sir Peter laughed so much his horse wondered what had happened to him.


Ragnar would not bring down the wrath of the Empire on his head by flouting a direct and vehemently expressed order not to attack Wessex, but he thought that an indirect approach might well succeed. If the 'feeble and mentally unstable' Harold were to 'lose his head' - perhaps they'd need to look for it in Fairyland, he snickered to himself - the Germans might have a very good idea who was responsible, but if he ostentatiously avoided open military aggression, and instead pleaded with the Imperial Court to be allowed to 'restore order' in Wessex , they might well accept for lack of a better alternative. Even if they didn't, he intended to make a silver plated drinking cup out of Harold's skull, so that at last it would be useful and contain something helpful. Thus when news reached him that Harold would be spending a few days with only a small escort at a place just south of their border, the Thames, Ragnar scented opportunity.  

It was an overcast night, starting to rain and with a distant grumble of thunder, as Redbeard led his household troop of a couple of dozen of his most loyal and effective fighters, down to the river. This was good, they were less likely to be noticed, and if anything went wrong Redbeard was confident in the ability of himself and his men to out-ride and out-fight any opposition.The fools were not expecting them and he looked forward to returning with Harold's severed head tied to his saddle. Smiling happily he drew his sword and flourished it to signal his men to follow him as he urged his horse into the river.

No one afterwards could quite explain what had happened. Some speculated that the king had had a heart seizure and that his legs had convulsively gripped his horse or that he had jerked the reins. There had been a splash and a scream of pain from the horse as it lost it's footing, broke a leg, threw Redbeard and collapsed on top of him with his foot trapped in the stirrup. When his horrified men had recovered the king's body after killing the horse to end it's thrashing and it's screams, they found that he was quite dead, but whether from a heart attack or from drowning or from the way in which his sword had penetrated his neck they could not tell and did not care.They simply took the body of their king back to Tamworth for burial.

When news of this strange event and lucky escape reached King Harold and his people they were unmoved. They already knew that the King guards the Land, and the Land guards the King; for the King and the Land are One.  


Some weeks later when the next airship arrived in Winchester from Berlin, it brought unexpected passengers and news and left with several other passengers. There had been a shift in the current of political favour at the Imperial Court in Berlin, quite unrelated to events in Britain. Some previously influential people had lost their positions and their replacements had naturally replaced many of their appointees to create rewards for their own supporters. It had been no reflection on the excellent service which Count Dieter had rendered His Majesty, but his successor had arrived bearing official instructions, and much to the surprise of the Count and his family, after a hasty visit to the court of King Harold to announce his recall and introduce his successor, they found themselves waving farewell to Wessex from the airship as it serenely floated on it's way back to Berlin and feeling astonished to note how alive the land appeared.

Friday, 14 February 2014

An Unholy Book or How to Read a Magazine - Draft 2

The Priest

 Man and mule were both hot, tired and thirsty as they moved slowly through the harsh landscape of dusty scrub and dry grass sprinkled over its low undulations interspersed with dry valleys and flat topped mesas.The thorny cacti in particular repelled the man, although he was accustomed to them. They appeared to him as upthrust fingers of Satan arising from Hell, contorted into obscene gestures and writhing to grasp sinners to be dragged down to destruction. An unsought thought came to him that a flower at the tip of one of these fingers was like the chalice of an unholy Mass being sneeringly offered to him by the Evil One. Such fancies had disturbed his travels for some time, but now they were becoming stronger. Perhaps they indicated incipient sunstroke, but he felt that they were delusions of the Devil, snares to divert his soul and distract his mind from holiness and duty, although they might be an obscure indication and warning that evil had laid a strong hand on this land and its people, and more of it was about to flower.

Much as he - and the mule - would have preferred to have been in green pastures beside cooling streams he put aside such foolish thoughts, well knowing that there would be no relief for him or his mule until they reached their next destination, which he expected to do around nightfall.Then it would be time to rest and share the simple hospitality of his hosts, putting such visions behind him. He resumed telling his rosary beads as the mule continued to plod forward, both absorbed in their tasks.

It was indeed dark before the priest reached his destination, the monastery of San Geronimo, guided over the final kilometres by a local peasant. The porter took him to the Abbot's parlour. Inside they found the Abbot, a thin man in middle age, who was seated at an old wooden desk bearing a lighted candle which sufficiently illuminated the room for those near the desk to see each other clearly. He rose and greeted them, repeating the porter's welcome, before dismissing him and inviting the priest to be seated with him beside the desk.

Carefully the priest took a packet of waxed cloth from inside his robe, opened it and unfolded a document written on heavy paper adorned with florid calligraphy and bearing a large seal of blood-red wax impressed with an elaborate armorial design. "Father Abbot", he began, as he extended the document for inspection. "My name is Mendoza and I am an emissary from His Eminence Cardinal Ximenes. As you can see, this is my commission and introduction to you and the other Religious in the province. His Eminence requests that you will assist me in carrying out a task which he has assigned to me." Slowly the abbot ran his eyes over the letter, pausing to examine the ornate flourishes of the signature and the intricate elaborations of the seal thoughtfully, before lifting them to regard his visitor.
"Naturally, I will be happy to assist you and His Eminence. What is it that you require?"

Thus he was quite unsurprised when a peasant arrived at the monastery a few days later bearing an invitation from Don Roberto Baltassar, the most considerable landowner in the district, and his wife Dona Maria, for him to visit and stay at their hacienda for a week.

This journey was far less tiring than the previous one had been. Both Father Mendoza and his beast (whose name we may reveal to be Nicodemus) were reinvigorated, spruced up and looking forward to their outing. The priest was no glutton and was used to the spartan fare and physical exertion of monastic and peasant life, but he admitted that it was pleasant to occasionally be treated to the table and conversation of a gentleman.

That evening, pleasantly refreshed, he dined with his hosts and their other guests from the local gentry.The roast beef they were served was succulent and a welcome change from the almost entirely vegetarian diet of his recent travels, as was the selection of wines which accompanied it. His interest in local history had been gratified by the conversation of his host and the other guests, who in turn had eagerly received such sketchy and outdated news of the wider world and its important people as his membership of the retinue of His Eminence had granted him before he had left the provincial capital several months ago.  It turned out that Dona Maria had a cousin who was related by marriage to the family of one of the Canons there, so she knew something of its society and they had several acquaintances in common. He had not known of this in advance, but had been fairly confident that something of the sort would emerge once his presence in the district had become known to some of the local gentry and he had been invited to meet them. It usually did. His host and the other gentlemen had entertained him with old tales about the valour and piety of their ancestors and how they had obtained and settled their lands and the subsequent squabbles which made up local politics. Don Roberto's great-great grandfather had actually served the legendary Don Arturo,leader of the Reconquista, and had been granted a wide estate by him. His descendants' prowess, shrewdness and political agility had enabled them to hang on to most of it.

The Old City

Don Roberto was pleased by the priest's interest in his family and in local history and offered to show him some places of interest on his estate. He was well spoken and reasonably well born, with the manners of a gentleman and connections to high ecclesiastical authority, and his visit allowed a diversion in the somewhat monotonous social routine of country life; so the Don was pleased to entertain him for a few days and to gratify as far as he could his interest in old books and antiquities. The priest on his mule accompanied Don Roberto and several of his men on horseback as they went to see the sights of the area. As the Don talked and pointed out places of interest Mendoza felt his pride and love of this harsh landscape made and kept fertile and beautiful in places by the unremitting efforts of men.The Don mentioned that there were some unimpressive ruins, known to the locals as the 'Old City' and offered to take him there."The peasants think it is haunted", he said. They don't like to go there. They think that the ghosts live there. There's a few slaves who hang around there. Certainly only ghouls or bandits or slaves would be willing to live there." 

 As the Don had intimated, the ruins were not impressive. Amidst the scrub there were the low broken concrete walls of a few buildings which had fallen into dilapidation or been destroyed long ago. They drifted slowly and silently through this desolation for a few minutes until the Don noticed a patch of corn and other crops growing adjacent to one of the more prominent ruins. As they approached it became evident that this was a small kitchen garden, presumably watered by a well and tended by one or more of those elusive 'ghouls bandits or slaves'. The priest noticed that there were also some exotic garden plants and bushes as if someone was trying to maintain a humble imitation on a tiny scale of the Don's magnificent estate, perhaps using plants stolen from there.

As they drew closer one of the horses snorted. Startled, a man dressed in rags who had been on his knees among the plants using a broken piece of concrete to scrape at the earth around them, jumped up and stared at them before dropping the shard as he fled. At a flick of the Don's head two of his horsemen immediately flowed into graceful pursuit, their horses trampling a path through the crops as the riders unleashed lassos. With the easy skill of long practice they dropped both nooses over the shoulders of the running man, pulled him to the ground and dragged him to lie, bruised, battered, bleeding and even more dishevelled at the feet of the Don."So Abel, we meet again" he said to the figure at his feet. Then to Father Mendoza, "We call him Abel. I've had to have him flogged occasionally for petty theft or drunk and disorderly conduct, but he's not really dangerous, else he'd have been dead long since. He's a bit simple but sometimes useful when there's extra work to be done. He claims that this was the property and home of his ancestors. Well,its mine now, but I let him stay here. You can question him, although I doubt that he'll be able to tell you anything of interest."

 Father Mendoza gazed intently at the bound figure in the dust before them, held firmly there by the counterpoised pull of the two ropes. Before the man had dropped his head he had glanced at the priest, who had immediately been struck by the intense gaze of those strange pale blue eyes in the sharp featured face topped by a mop of yellowish-brown hair. Most unusual. "He does look strange, doesn't he?" said the Don. "Under the grime and sunburn I think he's quite pale skinned. There's not many of them left, but very occasionally one sees a slave with even fairer or actually reddish hair. They're dying out now, but my father remembered when great nobles would maintain groups of tall fair haired and blue eyed slaves as footmen because they looked so exotic." To the slave at his feet he said in a kindly tone, "Come  round to the back gate tomorrow afternoon and I'll see that the housekeeper sets out some food and old clothes for you Abel." The figure dropped his head still further and muttered his thanks."You can speak to him Father, he understands well enough."

"Look at me Abel!" said the priest. The man raised his head and again Mendoza was struck by the intensity of those strange eyes. "Do you know anything about the Old Times?" he asked."Are there any stories or relics of this place?" Both the priest and the Don noticed the man's furtive glance towards the ruin before he dropped his head again and muttered, "No sir."

Don Roberto extended his hand towards the ruin and said sarcastically "Wouldn't you like to visit the home of one of the former lords of this land? I'm sure Abel will be most hospitable." Whilst the two horsemen continued to hold Abel immobile in the dust the rest of the party dismounted and picked their way to the entrance of the hovel. There was of course no door, but the wreckage above constituted a roof over what had been a ground floor room of the old house. There was also a window space from which any original glazing and metal or wooden frame had vanished long ago, so the place was adequately lit.In one corner was a heap of rags and brush which appeared to be a bed.Under the window was an arrangement of rubble with a flat piece forming a tabletop.On this lay a few cracked and chipped utensils which had obviously been discarded from the Don's house. An old jug contained a little water and there were a few crusts of dried bread on a broken plate. Otherwise the place was bare - except for a small heap of rubble in another corner. This seemed a little out of place as that corner had not collapsed and the rest of the floor had been kept clean and free of obstructions. Idly the priest went over to it and used his foot to move some of the rubble aside. Underneath he saw something strange, a piece of old rag in which something appeared to have been wrapped. Squatting down the priest picked this up and unwrapped it. As Don Roberto and his men moved closer to see what the priest had found, there was the sound of a prolonged howl from Abel and of curses from the horsemen as they moved to suppress his attempt to writhe and rise to his feet.

Ignoring this the men in the room gazed fascinated at what the priest had found. Too surprised to speak they stared at what lay in the hands of the priest. It was something none of them had ever seen, but it was immediately recognisable to at least the priest and the Don.It was an old magazine, a genuine relic of the Old Times! Astonishment of several kinds gripped them all. First, that anything of this sort had survived at all. Second, that it had survived for at least several centuries.Third, that it had survived in such conditions. Fourth, that it was in the possession of a slave. Fifth,to the horsemen, that a mere slave might have a possession and an ability that was beyond them.Sixth, to the Don, that this slave might be literate in a language of which he himself was ignorant. Seventh, to the priest, (who was immediately reminded of his hallucination of being offered a poisoned chalice in the form of the diabolical cactus flower, of beauty and wonder and knowledge and immense achievement combined with corruption,and perversity and horror and outrageous arrogance), that this object might be very dangerous to his soul and those of many others.

"Open it Father" said Don Roberto, and gestured to one of his men to make room on the tabletop. Slowly the dazed priest laid it there and delicately started to turn the pages.It was in far from pristine condition, stained and a bit crumpled and the pages were fragile and coming apart, but the text was still legible and the colours distinct in the numerous photographs - more lifelike depictions of strange objects and situations than any of them had ever seen, - and as the priest slowly turned the pages, the assembled men saw 'wonderful things'.

As the priest closed the final page Don Roberto turned to one of his men, whose dress appeared cleanest, and to the man's bewilderment, told him to take off his shirt. The Don apologised for the inconvenience and promised him a better shirt of his own in compensation. It was necessary to have something clean in which to protect and carry home this very precious object and he would be honoured by association with it. They emerged slowly through the doorway like a procession, led by Father Mendoza bearing their carefully wrapped find in his outstretched hands as if carrying a holy object or even a holy child. Abel slumped with his face in the dust when he saw them and his guards stared in curiosity at what had kept them for so long in the hovel of this slave and what they could possibly have found that would be of the slightest interest or value.

Mendoza's heart and mind were in tumult. Bizarre, incongruous, conflicting and even blasphemous images ideas and comparisons tumbled through him.He saw himself as if at some counterpart of the Holy Birth, carrying this unholy child in swaddling clothes from its manger in the lair of beasts and slaves. He saw in front of him a tableau of three unwise men, not bearing gifts, unless the awe and curiosity of everyone present counted as some sort of gift in the order of myrrh and frankincense and gold.The ranch hands approximated to shepherds. Momentarily the twigs in front of Abel's head appeared as a crown of thorns whilst his wrecked garden was behind him. The priest knew that the route from Abel's Gethsemane to his Calvary would not be long. Alarmingly he had a feeling that Don Roberto and himself might qualify as two thieves to be crucified alongside Abel.

The Holy or Unholy Book

Huge excitement was felt throughout the district in the following days as news of the amazing discovery reverberated throughout the villages and estates. People flocked to see it or talk to those who had seen it. Tales about it spread rapidly, and lost nothing in the telling. Ladies and gentlemen were allowed into the house to see it as it lay in state on a table in one of Don Roberto's waiting rooms, under constant armed guard. No one but the priest was allowed to touch it, but once a day he would approach and slowly turn the delicate pages under the awed gaze of the assembled gentry.At other times, to prevent the peasantry from becoming too clamorous, they were allowed to file slowly past it when its table was carefully borne outside and placed on a veranda under additional guard. Many of them genuflected or crossed themselves as they passed the magic book, muttering prayers.

 Abel had not lasted long under interrogation. He denied knowing of any other ancient objects. He claimed that this had been his only heritage from the past, handed down from those he thought to have been his ancestors. It had always been associated with the old house, so far as he knew. He had no descendants and only remote relatives among the other slaves. So far as he knew, no one else had known anything about it. It had been kept buried as it had been found, to protect it from animals and thieves who would destroy it. He had only a rudimentary knowledge of the language, gained from his parents but never used  with the other slaves; although he thought that previous generations of slaves had spoken it. He had even less understanding of the pictures and of the situations and society which they portrayed and could not make much sense of what the articles meant. He had only the vaguest conception of who these people had been or what they had done, but he was convinced that they were his ancestors and that they had been greater and more powerful than those living nowadays. He had found solace in his hard life from making his little garden on what he considered to have been his ancestral property, and had experienced the same awe and wonder that the public now felt, from just holding and occasionally looking through this last literary fragment of his cultural inheritance. He had not thought of telling any of the other slaves about it, and assumed that after his death, it, like the house, would just continue to crumble away.That at least is how Father Mendoza and Don Roberto understood him.They had not meant to kill him; that just happened as a result of Don Roberto's men applying more enthusiasm than skill in their efforts to beat additional information out of him. By Don Roberto's orders he was buried quietly in his little garden, with as headstone a piece of the rubble from the house upon which a mason carved his name, ABEL. Neglected, the garden soon died also.

The Don and the priest had expected that the discovery would be a nine day's wonder and that life in the district would soon resume its slow pace and even tenor. They were mistaken.

The gentry were impressed by the find. They were amazed by the intensely realistic depictions of an entirely different way of life, repugnant as much of it may have been. They were awed by the seemingly impossible pictures of natural phenomena.They were astounded by the obvious and casual revelation of wealth and power apparently commonplace among the vulgar.They were puzzled by the proliferation of strange mechanisms whose functions and means of operation were opaque. The more intellectual of them understood that the language was probably an antiquated version of English; but English, ancient or modern, was of no relevance and little interest in the modern world, and none of them knew of any scholars who might be able to translate the writing.

The reaction of the peasantry was much stronger and more emotional. Among them excitement turned into hysteria. Something long buried but not quite dead seemed to have come to life in their emotional and superstitious nature. They were fascinated by the discovery of a 'magic book' and convinced that it contained great secrets of sorcerous power,- as obviously it must- since it pertained to the fabulous and sinister Old Times. They were in any case hag-ridden by fears of ghosts and suspicious that each man's, and more particularly each woman's, neighbour, was a sorcerer devoted to the service of the Devil and cunning in afflicting their good neighbours -i.e. themselves - with illness,loss, crop failures, child death and animal disease, and indeed mishap of every kind. The appearance of the 'magic book' from the earth of the accursed Old City or City of the even-more-accursed Old Ones, the feared but fabled Gringos, whose evil had resulted in their destruction and the reduction of their descendants to the status of despised and miserable slaves, had a powerful impact on them. It seemed an awesome portent of some inscrutable power for evil or good. The fact that was written in an unknown tongue, supposedly that of the Gringos of old, added greatly to its power and prestige. Some of them had a nodding acquaintance with written Spanish, the language of the books owned by some of their superiors and of the religious texts of their priests. That the language of the Gringos was as much a mystery to their religious and secular superiors as it was to themselves added to the imagined potency of the magic book. Furthermore, according to the tales told by those who had seen it, the magic book did not deal with religious matters; instead it seemed devoted to sensuous pleasure and how to obtain much more of every variety of pleasure and desire. Knowledge of how to obtain such things had surely been the property of very powerful sorcerers. It must have been their influence which had kept this knowledge safely concealed for so long in the earth of the Forbidden City. Perhaps the influence of these dead sorcerers was ending, just as the number of their descendants was dwindling away, and that was why the magic book had now made its appearance among them. Perhaps Abel had been the last degenerate scion of their line and since his death the power of the book might have been freed to seek new masters - or servants! Was this a sign that it wished its power to again be known and put to use, and that some of them might prove worthy to attain it, or on a more modest level, just to share in its beneficence? Their ordinary lives became subordinated to this new excitement.

The book began to appear in the dreams of some of them, offering vital but indecipherable advice and instruction, warnings of hellfire or promises of spells which would control this very hellfire and place the chief demons under their personal command. Other rumours flew about it. Soon it was being said that prayer to the magic book had cured illness and disease, and the sick and infirm began to make their way to Don Roberto's house begging for a chance to see and even to touch what had quickly transformed itself in the popular mind from a 'magic book' to a 'holy book'. Already sects and dissensions were appearing amongst those who believed in its power. There were those who accepted its power but believed this to be derived from evil sources; in bitter dispute with the more optimistic who expected that it would lead them to long life, wealth, power and happiness and place them on a par with the favoured ones of the Old Times,if not in this life, then in another.

Crowds besieged the Villa Baltazzar and became a nuisance to the conduct of its normal life and business. Don Roberto's men could push them back, but they always returned, and he was no longer confident in the loyalty of all his men. The crowds and the lurid stories soon attracted further pests. Entertainers, jugglers, pick-pockets, tumblers and touts, all manner of loud voiced carnival barkers, liars, hucksters and thieves came to infest the area along with the literal dung flies as the crowds turned the vicinity of his house into a dung heap and cesspit. Crowds in search of water and sustenance invaded and trampled his garden and committed depredations on his crops and livestock. He and his family were outraged but could do little whilst the hysteria lasted. Don Roberto was not a patient man. He was used to being obeyed and treated with the utmost respect by the common people, and not slow to apply physical chastisement when he deemed it necessary. In normal times legally and practically his word was pretty much the first and last word on all matters in the district, particularly in relation to his people and on his property. The time was no longer normal. He knew that if he pushed the crowd it could easily turn into an enraged mob which would storm his house, killing himself and his family and servants and such of his men as remained loyal, before looting and destroying everything in sight. God or the Devil knew what they might do after that, particularly if the 'Holy Book', which he now regretted ever having had anything to do with, remained in existence and in the possession of some rabble-rouser. The mob might ignite a fire of religious excitement which could consume the whole country.Already some of his servants had slipped away, anticipating disaster.

 He knew that this situation had to be calmed quickly, probably by the departure of the 'Unholy Book' as he now thought of it. When their excitement deflated to disappointment and boredom the people would drift back to their normal ways. If they did not, he knew that he would be in fatal trouble. Already, peasants and servants from his neighbour's estates had slipped away to join the excited rabble around his house, adding to the emotion and chaos of eschatological expectation, which must soon boil over or be snuffed out. God forbid that it should be dispersed into further regions by mobs of excited peasants driven to madness by religious fear or enthusiasm. The life of the district was being disturbed, normal work was no longer being done, and he knew whom his neighbours would blame for their losses. Reports and rumours would be spreading to other areas and would soon come to the attention of higher authority. He well knew whom they would blame for disturbances in his area. He understood the sneers that would be circulating, 'a nobleman who cannot even obtain the normal respect due to his rank is surely no nobleman!' 'If he cannot maintain order and tranquillity in his district he is surely unworthy of his estates and position, and someone more worthy should have them'. 'A nobleman who causes expense and inconvenience to the state and to his neighbours because he fails to control the disorders of the common people is a liability not an asset of the body politic, and should be eliminated before his example infects others.' The Church would also be displeased, and that was not a displeasure which could be lightly borne.

 The priest was even more alarmed, for the souls as well as the bodies of everyone involved. The theological implications of these developments appalled him. He felt responsible, and knew that the Church would hold him responsible, for unleashing a pack of heresies to endanger the souls of very many people. He foresaw that he would be condemned as a heresiarch and probably burnt, if the mob didn't do it before he fell under the condemnation of the Church.He was surprised at the speed of developments. These people had not had more than a glimpse of the magazine. They had not even seen its contents before they fell into the clutches of error, and errors moreover which were not even those stated in the text so far as he had been able to guess at the contents.This in itself was suggestive of an immense power to cause evil. He continued to be tormented by imaginations, visions or hallucinations which he believed were sent by the Devil.In one he became, or was forced by the mob to become, the Priest of the Book, being borne across the country as leader or prisoner of the dionysiac rout, preaching a mad collection of vile heresies to the mob as it laid waste to towns and villages, plantations and estates, robbing, burning, raping and looting as an ever swelling horde, until disease, dissension, starvation and finally an army of nobles and professional soldiers put an end to their existence, and his
own. A variant of this was that the mob succeeded in overwhelming or converting the entire country and he became hailed as the founder of a new religion which would be spread across the whole world by his successors. In another he was martyred by the mob and managed to become both martyr and heresiarch and also to end in hell burning for eternity.None of his imaginings contained any hint of salvation, although he now spent all his waking hours in heartfelt grief and prayer, for everyone around him including the mob and all those unknown to him who would be affected by these terrible occurrences, as well as for his own soul.

The Don saw that day by day the crowd was becoming more organised and more aware of itself as a powerful entity. Already they had regular speakers or leaders and through them had demanded that each day he and the priest would appear on a balcony bearing the 'Holy Book' and hold it up before them for their veneration, and as assurance that it was still there. He expected that tomorrow they would demand possession of the object and keep it under their own guard. He must act that very night. Dona Maria secretly sewed a bag to contain the magazine, which the priest could wear around his neck and under his robe. There was no difficulty in taking it because the Don no longer had sufficient loyal men to guard it at night. Nicodemus was well rested, fed and watered, ready for another long journey. As most of the people in and around the Villa Baltazzar slept that night, the Don, disguised in peasant garb, led Father Mendoza and his mule quietly away from the back of the villa, choosing the route that was likely to least frequented through the estate and its environs.The Don had supplied Father Mendoza with food and water as well as cash and advice on a route to take him away from the area whilst avoiding attention. They parted with whispered good wishes from the Don and an unstated but heartfelt wish that he would never again see either the priest or his 'Unholy Book'. Silently and stealthily Mendoza and Nicodemus faded into the hills and Don Roberto returned to his back gate where Dona Maria was waiting to admit him.

 That afternoon, just before he expected the delegation from the crowd to arrive, the Don appeared on his balcony wearing his most sober black clothes. He appeared to have been weeping, and continued to raise his anguished face and his imploring hands to the heavens, uttering mingled cries of sorrow and joy. He faced the gathering crowd with his arms outspread and cried, "Attend me closely my people! Draw closer so that you may hear. I have great and miraculous news for you. It is both a sorrow and a joy." He broke off for a while as more and more people came to join the swelling crowd, whilst  he continued  to show signs of the most intense and mixed emotions.As the crowd thickened and grew still he resumed his speech. " In recent days we have been blessed by a miraculous occurrence, the appearance of the Holy Book among us.But, as you know, miraculous events may not last for long, lest people become used to them and forget their holiness. Our Lord Himself was only on earth for a few years, and the people who lived to see Him were specially blessed. We have been specially blessed by the appearance of the Holy Book among us, but like Our Lord it can only be here for a short time." Murmurs started. "Where is the Book? Show us the Holy Book!" Don Roberto raised a hand imperiously and the crowd fell silent. "Listen well, my people. Let me tell you what has happened. Jesus could only stay for a few years and He was far more holy than the Book, which could only stay with us for a short time. That time has already passed." He raised his arms again as a louder clamour of sighs, groans, queries and demands arose. "The Book has gone!" Over the immediate hubbub he shouted "That is the sorrow for which I weep and join you in weeping. Now let me tell you about the joy." Curiosity vied with sorrow, surprize, anger and suspicion in the faces and voices of the crowd. Again he gestured for silence."At dawn, as the priest and I were kneeling in prayer before the Holy Book, an angel of The Lord in glorious robes of light appeared behind the table. As we trembled before him and marvelled, he said 'Peace be upon you, and upon all the people of the Book. The time of this book has passed. It must now depart.Weep, but not too much. The priest shall go with the book to be instructed in its wisdom and to impart it to others when it may be time for the book to appear to other people far from here.You Don Roberto must remain here to tell the people what has happened and to ease their sorrow. Tell them that they have been specially blessed and will not be forgotten, although they shall not see the book again. They were accounted worthy to have been the first to see it for many years. Let this experience lead them to behave with increased piety and additional charitable good works'". The people were silent, absorbed in his story of the angel. He drew renewed breath and continued boldly," The Holy Angel then told me that part of the reason for the appearance before us of the Holy Book was to bless the Old City and to thus remove the curse that had lain upon it for so long. No longer should you fear it as a haunt of ghosts. Instead, it has been sanctified. Let the hovel of Abel, where the Holy Book was found be made into a shrine for the book. Let those who treasure its memory visit the shrine regularly and pray there." Here the Don paused again, glad to see that the people were silent, most of them happily approving his story of the angel and its good news, already adjusting to the loss of the book. He raised his arms again and said, "My people, this is indeed good news. Now let me claim the honour of being the first among you to perform a charitable deed for the sake of the Holy Book. I will raise the Shrine of the Holy Book on behalf of us all and bestow a suitable memorial. I will also request the good brothers of San Geronimo to bless and consecrate the site. You may feel safe in going to pray there." Some of the people, although silent were eyeing him strangely, yet most of the crowd seemed happy. He felt that he had negotiated the tricky corners and was well into the home straight, so he drew another deep breath and made a dash for the finishing line."As the Angel finished speaking it became even more brilliant so that its light covered the Holy Book and the priest and I could no longer see them. I fell into a swoon, and when I awoke the Angel and the Holy Book and the priest had all vanished. That is the news which I have for you. It is sorrowful and also joyful and most wonderful." A final  inspiration came to him and he grasped it as a means of sending the crowd home happy. "Before we part to resume our normal lives and to pray over these Holy things that have been revealed to us, let me also announce a pious deed as the Angel commanded. In this we can all share. I declare that each year on the anniversary of this day there shall be a procession to the Shrine of the Holy Book, where additional prayers and offerings may be made." That seemed to please them, right enough. It would also disperse them for a year . "Now let us depart in peace, giving praise and thanks to the Lord and all the saints, and to the Holy Book." He bowed his head as if in prayer as the crowd slowly dispersed. "Thank you Lord" he whispered sincerely as he saw the people drift away to resume their normal lives, "I think that you really saved me there."

The Cardinal

One morning, some two years after these events had passed, a small sleek haired man wearing
spectacles and sober  clerical garb, sat alone in a cool room, at a highly polished desk.As his fingers slowly played with his prized family heirloom of an antique fountain pen, so much more impressive than the goose feather quills used by his secretaries and other scriveners, his mind and gaze turned from the view over his palatial gardens where his servants toiled amid the splashing and tinkling of carefully contrived fountains, to the three documents in front of him. One was the notorious ancient magazine or 'Unholy Book'. The second was as detailed an analysis and commentary upon it as Father Mendoza had been able to compile. The third was his own note on the matter. He had determined that all three should be kept together in a locked leather briefcase in a secret archive, and he hoped that none of them would again see the light of day until long after he and all those involved were dead, if ever. He could have destroyed the magazine as almost every other remnant of this remote past had been destroyed, but had decided not to do so for a variety of reasons. He would preserve it in secret and make Father Mendoza, the only man to have fully withstood its influence, its guardian.

The Cardinal accepted responsibility for what had happened. This had been one of many regular journeys of visitation on which he had sent Mendoza and other priests to maintain contact with remote monasteries and parishes, in order to check tendencies to slackness or incipient heresy. They also provided means to maintain social contact and discreet religious surveillance of the provincial gentry and their administration of the peasantry. He had a personal interest in history and antiquities and he took the opportunity of these visits to have his priests seek out any tales or artifacts which might gratify it. He had a small collection of antiquities scavenged by such means, including some stone arrowheads and curious fossils, together with a few small remnants of the Old Times, being fragments of obviously manufactured objects of unknown purpose and means of construction. His most interesting object of this type was a smooth white vessel without handles or ornamentation, made of that cool and slickly surfaced material known to the ancients as 'plastic', although indeed it was not malleable. He attributed it to the Ancient American Plastic Beaker People and it was prominently displayed with such a label in his cabinet of curiosities.

All these objects, especially those that were man-made, exerted a certain fascination. Men of intellect and culture wondered briefly about the circumstances of their creation and use, how and why they had been made and what they might reveal about the attitudes and ways of life of the long dead people who had produced them.The Unholy Book was of an entirely different order of fascination and danger. It was a portal into the minds and souls of those departed people, and posed immense risks for those whose intellectual arrogance and curiosity or whose emotional and sensual desires led them through it. The Cardinal well understood why the Church had destroyed the writings of the ancient Maya, as indeed they had destroyed nearly all the writings and culture of the much more attractive Greeks and Romans and Egyptians. He also understood why, very much later, scattered remnants had been of such interest to men of discernment, including many Princes of the Church, and in spiritually,intellectually, and emotionally diluted form, had acted as a beneficial stimulant on their societies. The ancient Americans had gone into the same darkness, but in distant times after a millennium or several had passed - the Church was patient - similar scattered remnants might have a beneficial purpose, but that time would be long after his own.

His mind turned to the strange influence which the Unholy Book appeared to have had on his priest. The poor man had endured a hellish journey following his hasty departure from the Villa Baltassar. He was in a mentally and spiritually disturbed state and had fallen into delirium, soon losing his way and wandering in the desert, if not for the biblical forty days and forty nights, at least for an extended period. He was beset by intense visions or hallucinations, in which he was convinced that the Devil haunted and taunted, tempted and tainted him. It was about the Unholy Book of course. The visions of power and perversion were more intense than they had been. In his confused state he sometimes felt there was also a female figure who called herself the Soul of America, who both tormented and comforted him, seeming to express the best and worst capacities of that ancient people and who pleaded with him to be allowed to continue influencing people in the present. He would gladly have laid down his burden or destroyed it, but he knew that it was his duty to endure this test and to bear the Unholy Book back to the Cardinal. It was the instinct and endurance of the beast which saved him, bearing him at last out of the desert, far from their starting point, when they were both almost dead of thirst. Fortunately, the people who found them were strangers who had heard nothing about the events we have described. As Good Samaritans they tended man and mule and set them on their way by easy stages back to Santa Fe, but the Father Mendoza who returned was not the same man who had left. His experiences had changed him, and it showed in his face and manner.He had gone through the fire, his mettle had been tested, much that was inessential had been burned away. What was left had the ring of steel.

His Eminence had been alarmed and impressed. He was alarmed at how easily the danger of a
spiritual and social calamity had arisen. At that time he had not heard of what Don Roberto had said to the peasants about the disappearance of the 'Holy Book', but the very fact that there had been no rumours or reports of social upheaval suggested that the wily Don had probably defused the problem. He was concerned for the spiritual and physical well being of Father Mendoza, but he was very impressed by his fortitude and spiritual stamina.  He had instructed him to examine it thoroughly and to write a report about his findings. It would serve not only as an intellectual and theological review, but also show whether the priest had fully mastered the power which it initially had had over him, and help him to complete his recovery.

The priest had calmly accepted and completed this task.The Cardinal and such scholars as he had been able to find, had helped Father Mendoza to improve his knowledge of Ancient English and had been delighted to have an additional text in this archaic tongue. For scholarly and theological reasons they had accepted his right to be the first to study it in depth. They had accepted the need for secrecy which the Cardinal, using the authority of the Church, had urged upon them, so he felt fairly certain that no rumours would be spread from those sources, at least in his lifetime. 

He had discussed his report and examined the magazine several times in the company of Father Mendoza, as well as independently, and had compiled his own report which he had not discussed with anyone. Superficially the 'Unholy Book' was just a commonplace object of little importance in its original context. It was just a popular news magazine. Small magazines of a not altogether dissimilar nature had still sporadically appeared in his father's and grandfather's time, although their circulation had been restricted to intellectual, artistic and religious or political groups amongst the gentry and the clergy. This magazine however was much more impressive in several ways. It consisted of far more pages and may have been published as frequently as weekly. It's content seemed aimed at an uneducated audience, more for entertainment than for instruction or to encourage thought or devotion. Amazingly, it seemed to assume widespread basic literacy amongst the common people, and even more amazingly that they had the wealth and interest to spend on such a thing and were allowed to do so. It's topics seemed, well, 'topical', but pertained to the whole globe as if such news and such publications were collected and distributed very rapidly widely and cheaply.Its paper was glossy and it contained much that was vividly coloured. Perhaps its most impressive feature was the large number of beautifully detailed and realistically coloured pictures which it contained, as if viewers were actually looking at the people places and objects right in front of them, rather than seeing paintings of them. Quite obviously it would have been very difficult to make so many drawings so rapidly and distribute them so cheaply. He understood that the technology of printing had survived from ancient times but the quality of production of this trivial ancient object far exceeded anything more recent that he had ever seen. The pictures must be specimens of the lost art of photography. He had felt awe at the casual power and intricate skills deployed to make and distribute vast numbers of things of such charming appearances but such sinister purposes. Here, he was convinced, he was seeing a Devil's picture book where the images were enticements to idolatry, seductions to glorify the senses rather than inspirations to put them to noble uses. It was not entirely bad. The pictures of Nature and of people could in themselves lead to awe and appreciation of the might and majesty of the Creator, but here they seemed to be used to glorify human pride; Pride, the sin of Lucifer which had led to his downfall. In some ways, the impression of the society of these ancient people was that, in line with the Parable of the Talents, they had indeed striven to increase and make full use of their God-given talents, which was admirable; although disturbing in that it implied many such ways were no longer available, or that he and his people were slothfully, like the Foolish Virgins, failing to make good use of their capacities and apply them to the service of Our Lord. However the main objects this publication seemed to serve were human lusts and Titanic pride. Good in the service of Evil became debased, a means of misguiding the unwary.

It would have been a matter of idle historical curiosity to have known the date of the magazine. That part of the page where it was expected had disappeared, perhaps torn off long ago for some unknown reason. So far as he and those experts in the somewhat sketchy history of the late period of the Old Times whom he had consulted could determine, it probably dated to the closing decades of the 20th century or the early 21st.That had been the apogee of American power or even a little past it. This impression was reinforced by the fact that some of the contents referred back nostalgically to the vaunted American Space Programme, which apart from their rapid settling of the continent had been their greatest and most famous achievement.

Some of the academics whom he had consulted were of the opinion that the American Space
Programme had been the re-writing of myth, or an outright diabolical lie. They expressed disdain for the idea of men walking on the moon. They queried the attachment of the name of the ancient Greek god of light and the sun to the programme, and the superstitious coincidence that it had supposedly been the unlucky number thirteen in the sequence of voyages which had come to grief, like Phaeton falling in flames to earth because of his inability to control the Sun's chariot or Icarus flying too close to the sun and melting his wings. After seeing the photographs in the magazine of the Earth seen from space and of strangely garbed men supposedly on the moon, the Cardinal was convinced that the Ancient Americans had indeed had such incredible technology that it would be difficult to discern just what they could or could not have done, in fact rather as the Bible reported of the builders of the Tower of Babel.

As to the other contents of the magazine he was much in agreement with Father Mendoza, whose comment had been that as an educated man, he had been aware that the ancients had had horseless carriages, but he had never seen one or even a picture of one. He was fascinated to see colourful pictures of what appeared to be these self-moving machines, but repulsed by the sinful avarice with which they were advertised, and the expectation that every common man and woman should have at least one of these, surely noisy, and possibly blasphemous, monsters.They appeared to be each made out of many hundred kilogrammes of metal, which must have been a grotesque extravagance. He had never seen so much metal in a single object, yet here were streets filled with them. It was most unsettling to see such a disdainful display of extravagance; all the more so as the arrogant attitudes of the populace would have been hard to take in an assembly of nobles and notables, let alone being quite devoid of the humility and decorum properly expected of common people.Then there was the scandal of the women.

Many of the pages not devoted to pictures of horseless carriages, were given over to beautiful women advertising clothing as scanty as their morals. Even the pictures of the people in the streets showed that ordinarily the women were indecently, and even lasciviously, dressed. Their attitudes were quite brazen. No doubt all of this had contributed to the wrath of the Almighty which had fallen upon them, as upon Sodom and Gomorrah.

He understood that the forces manifest in the ancient people were latent in the souls of himself and his people, and that intellectual and emotional exposure to this ancient object however innocently it had been created and preserved, might re-awake them in a form that was no longer appropriate, if it ever had been. He felt that the Old American Form or Soul, which had dominated the world in its own time, would attempt to do so again if given a chance, and the consequences would not be good. To destroy the magazine was too simple a solution and itself a temptation, as the priest had seen.There was, for instance, no assurance that something similar or even more dangerous might not come to light at any time, and fall into less cautious hands.It would be better to learn from it and be more able to deal with further manifestations - and not least, learn that its temptations could be withstood, with the help of The Lord. Good might be drawn from Evil, and might provide something beneficial or even necessary at some future time.

His Eminence was well aware that the common attitude of the common people would be to see the possibilities inherent in these capacities or technologies as great sorcerous powers which could satisfy their basest desires - perhaps not so different from the attitude of the Ancients to whom the magazine had been addressed. He also knew that the attitude of the Men Of Power would be little different, except that they would treat it as Black Alchemy which would generate wealth and weapons to increase their own power. He wondered indeed, whether the fabled 'Science' and 'Technology', those idols worshiped by the Ancients, had ever been more than Black Magic, in intent and outcome if not in form.

It struck him that the 'oil' which had so obsessed the Ancients and provided them with the financially cheap but spiritually expensive energetic fire which they craved, came from a sort of fiery liquid found under the ground in desert regions.It contrasted with the life-giving effects of water as it only imparted a false form of life to machines.It amused him that the civilizations based on olive oil had been worthy of the name, those based on rock oil, not so much.

The Cardinal knew the lines from an old American song,
'John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave,
but his soul goes marching on.'
He considered it high time that John Brown's soul rejoined his body and that they were left in peace to continue their mouldering. For his part he would let the Unholy Book, which somehow seemed to express so much of that restless titanic American soul and to induce distorted and disturbing reactions in the soul of his own people, resume its slumber in the darkness of time until change and decay reduced its potency or converted any remaining influence into a fertilising compost.

His Eminence had made cautious enquiries and had been gratified and amused to hear of Don Roberto's speech or sermon and of how events had transpired around the Villa Baltassar. Perhaps an unseen angel had guided him after all. There had been an unexpected consequence. Some of the peasants had been so impressed that they now regarded him as a holy-man, and he was coming to be known as Don Roberto the Blessed. It was even said that he was trying to live up to the name!

  It was difficult to find priests for such remote and unfashionable parishes, which is why the vacancy there had remained unfilled for so long, but His Eminence had now ensured that they would have the good offices of a down to earth pastoral priest for at least the next couple of years. He hoped that would help them to avoid any recrudescence of the hysteria that had nearly overcome them and to ensure that lingering memories of the 'Holy Book' did not become a source of heresy and dissension.

The courage and resourcefulness of the Don and the faith and sanctity of the priest had been tested and not found wanting. He wondered why he himself had not been tested so severely, at least as yet, and prayed that he had not already unknowingly failed, and would not do so in future.
 He reflected upon Biblical parallels.God had tested Moses by attempting to kill him, and Jacob had gained a blessing and a new name by wrestling an angel of the Lord, despite having a leg put out of joint. It was noteworthy that those who measured up to the test benefited as a result. He could see that it had brought Father Mendoza closer to sainthood. The Don had also survived and enhanced his reputation.  It might be that further good might be wrought from further tests. He would preserve the object in secret and make Father Mendoza, the only man to have fully withstood its influence, its guardian.

Finally His Eminence gathered all the documents into a pile before him. He tinkled a small hand-bell and Father Mendoza silently entered the office and stood before him bearing a leather briefcase under his arm and a lighted candle and stick of blood red sealing wax in his hand. The Cardinal inserted the bundle into the briefcase and locked it, removing the key. The priest melted the sealing wax over the lock and the Cardinal impressed his official signet ring into it. Father Mendoza took the briefcase away to lock it in a secure cupboard. Both men turned their attention to other things.

And what of the Shrine of the Holy Book? It is pleasant to note that Don Roberto had been as good as his word. Abel's hovel became a site of local pilgrimage. The garden was re-established and lovingly tended by the local peasants, with a little judicious encouragement from Don Roberto the Blessed, who proudly led a procession there each year and paid for a fete and for regular blessings by the local priest and the brothers of San Geronimo. Memories of the exact nature of the Holy Book faded but it became firmly entrenched in local lore as a beneficent presence. Strange to relate, the slave Abel had a greater career in death than he had in life. Before many years had passed he had become a well loved local celebrity, albeit unrecorded on any list of saints in the Vatican; Saint Abel the Hermit whose Holy Book had cured the afflicted of many ills. In another generation or so his bones were piously dug up and distributed as holy relics, but his sanctity endured. Thus we see how eras may change. The Last American, as he may be termed, found a treasured place in the affections of his successors, not, to be sure, in life, but when death and the tides of time and circumstance had turned his memory into an adornment, 'something rich and strange' that their souls could harbour and honour.

And what of that magazine, the Holy or Unholy Book? It continued undisturbed in peaceful slumber and decay, forgotten in a back storeroom in the Cardinal's palace.Bell, book and candle; had they exorcised the unquiet ghost of America? The sensitive or fanciful soul might intuit a link between the gardens of the Shrine and of the Palace and that their waters perhaps sparkled a little more brightly and that the bees buzzed and the butterflies fluttered a little more sweetly and that the winds sighed with less sorrow, but who can tell everything that goes to make really good compost?