Saturday, December 7, 2013

By What, Your Stars? (Excerpt, If I Should Live So Long, 12-13)

We set out for Saint Albans, then, at the first light. The abbots (though not Vincebus!) had provided us with bread, and ales, and some fruit for the next day’s travels. We would on toward Oxford once we had stopped.

In Reedly Hump, though, I met once more Asmodel who I had done the short horoscope for. But now Porcull was with me! And while Porcull might still have need for the almanack, he might fashion a better horoscope than I for the man, and provide him a better glimpse of his present and future estate. So I passed along the problem, actually.
And in fact, Porcull proceeded to do just that. Asmodel was quick to draw from his pouch my humble beginnings of a chart, and he took it, and made annotations and changes to it. For one thing, he was able to ascertain the man’s other great planets better than I, and insinuate the degree of separation between Mercury and Venus. He gave Asmodel back the annotated chart. Bemused wonderment was about the only way I might describe the look upon his face.

“And now, could you tell me, sire Astrologer, what does it all MEAN?”
“Certainly.” And Porcull waked him through it planet by planet.
“You have a trine between Mars and Jupiter. Your Saturn is occluded in Scorpio and that is not good for your house of marriage. Perhaps you will and perhaps you will not. You seem to have escaped something rather recently, as noted here by the recent crossing of Jupiter to your natal house of Aries. It is possible that you will meet up with more troubles by the end of the year, when your Saturn is conjunct with it, once again. Anyway, you seem to be a bright sort of man otherwise, none of this could interest you in the least.”
“And how is that?”
“I do not know. Perhaps, you tell me?”
Their banter went on in this manner for some quarter of an hour more, when Richard came over to Porcull and mentioned he would like him to rejoin our group.
“So dear sir, you will excuse me, will you? My companions beckon.”
The man Asmodel continued poring over the chart, now and then shaking his head, gesturing at it to a small number of his friends, and I could see them from the corner of my eye.
But Richard wanted Porcull near so he could lead him into the conversation he was about to engage in with me.
“Again, Master Julian, please, what say you of this band of highwaymen we may encounter?”
“False taffy!” I told him. “False Taffy and his Erstwhile- er, Intemperate Monks.”
“Intemperate Monks?”
“Something like that. They roam ‘tween here and Oxford. Should we encounter them, however, we have his word, he shall give me ‘scape. So he said, at least. It is a payment for an errand I did him.”
“You deal with highwaymen?”
“Richard, I deal with whomever it is I must. Circumstance was such on my first journey to London, that it lumped me in with him. There is another group to the north toward Birmingham as well, it would do well we avoid, for I have no such promises of passage from them. They are known as Wigley and His Raveners..”
“And you have been there, yet, they did not rob you either.”
“No, Sire Richard, but ‘twas only by mere chance as they harried others as I went along with them. Perhaps it is best to have the protection of these types, than it is to go without? And be at their mercy?”
“Yet, we cannot allow for loss of goods nor coin, you know. We must all make it back safely to Chester!”
“Yes, indeed, we must.”
The taverner came over to me and requested a song of me. So I gave them the Lay of Arthur and the Round Table, and the Quest of the Grail. All of the local men were quite happy by it, and I found my memory quickened easily with the addition of a little more of the liquid lubrication passed round about our table. Richard bought us bed for the night at the inn, and then we slept all, until the light was fair high in morning’s sky.
And that morning was fine, fair, yet we departed a bit late, once more, Richard paying for more food which could be carried off such as boiled eggs, more cheese, even a jug of milk that only went as far as the next town. Along the roads we kept eye out for other roving purser gangs.
And inevitably, we were taken upon by False Taffy. He rode straight up to Richard at the cart, and gazed up and down, round about it.
“And what have we here? A merchant, on his way out of London! And fair full of fattening, is he not, as London be such a great place for profit?”
“I’ll do not by you but ride right by,” said Richard. I could feel the tension mounting.
“False Taffy!” spoke I. “False Taffy, remember me? I am Julian, of Chester!”
He looked me over and then something in his mind finally registered my face.
“Ah! The young minstrel I charged to take message to Squire Dover at Court! Well lad, stand and deliver, what said he to my message?”
“I shall give you fair word only that you allow my companions - all of us- to return wither we have come, and leave your robbing to men of higher degree than we.”
“Men of higher degree? And what mean you by that? How often do princes rule this road?”
“I mean what I said. We are all prepared to give thee blow for blow, if that be the choice!”
This little bit of bravado was pure and simple, a bluff on my part, but having had a bit of this on the way before, I knew that bluff sometimes worked better than blunder. And so it did!
“Well, well, I suppose me and me boys should have better pickings off others. But you must now tell me. I will give you safe passage, such as I promised, indeed, when last met. Hear now, tell me what the law man said!”
“If I remember rightly, said Squire Dover that your case is familiar to him and he was in sympathy. He said he holds you innocent of the murder of which you are charged, and wishes that it be taken to the King, himself. But for doing so, you must give up thievery. For it be on him to judge, whether your later doings shall not acquit you of your earlier matter. And he said little more, truly, because I was there on other matters...”
“Other matters?”
“Why yes, now we are just returning to Chester from attending to them. It is really a paltry thing. Some man said I stole his song. But his song is an old song of the people, and it could not have been his to own, so said our judge, in other words. And I was charged to return with my six friends here, and well I should hope we all may make it all home safe and sound. I have your word, do I not?”
“Indeed. We who live outside the laws must of necessity be honest among each other, no less.”
“And the men who live by the laws must be free to apply them where they must,” I replied.
He rubbed his chin and squinted at me.
“But then, Julian, what do you suppose I ought to do on this matter? Even the law cannot bring me back the life of my wife.”
“Nor will it the life of Lew Grimspittle. Maybe the best thing you can do is return to London and the Esquire, and at least, allow him to plead your innocence to the king.”
“Bah! This king is no man to trust! Did he not starve Richard in his tower? Did he not win his crown by stealth, just as a clever roadman takes account of some fool gentleman’s saddlebags?
Ach. This has no savor to my taste, lad. But I shall think on all this.”
“That I should say you well ought to do. And perhaps, find some other occupation, that you might well earn the esteem of the men who will hear of your travails.”
He looked at me again, squinting. He looked to Richard, and then to Roger, and then to Porcull, and everyone in the cart.
“I do suppose there would be little to gain from hindering honest folk. Truly, my trouble is best spent on the rich and the noble. Alright, Julian, you must continue on your way. Yet I beg you, stay with us one night in the hideaway! We will offer you spit meats and cask ale!”
Richard shot me a look and a frown that said “no’. I hid my knowledge of that and answered.
“No, we hope to reach Chester as soon as Lord allows. The days have been upon us nine since we left to begin this journey, and our people will be expecting us, we dare not tarry.”
“Alright. Go then hence! And dare you return, know that our odds have been evened!”
Richard took this as the signal to begin the carthorses again, and we were soon rolling on, past False Taffy and his Ignobly Erstwhile Monks, mounted on their Ignobly Erstwhile Steeds, and headed again on our way homeward. Our next destination was Oxford, and the Bear Inn of Mr. Pope...
Along the way to Oxford, Porcull engaged me in a most strange discussion about music. He wanted to be certain I learned something, he said was quite important. But his concept was grand and I admit it was something beyond my ken. But it was something as such:
Every place on Earth has its cosmic music. This is music which remains purely and simply to itself, nestled into the landscape. It is the summa of all the human experience there, and of all of nature and her ways, and it is always present, when one comes to that place. Surely he noted to me, that when I made a visit to the great cathedral of Chester, that there was a certain sense of mood I encountered upon entry?
Yes, I admitted, there was indeed. But in my mind it was fraught up with the injunctions of friars and priests and the tones of the incense burners swinging them round at Mass.
No, no, he said. He meant, the mood and the music of the place, absent all other people? He told me he had such an experience when he visited and prayed alone. There in the cathedral, with the sunlight coming through the glass of many colors, he could almost hear, as he termed it, voices of angels, which would only be felt in that deep silence of the holy space.
But, I argued, weren’t all places holy?
“Precisely, Julian! And each place’s holiness has a music apart and unto itself! Your duty as a minstrel should be to attune yourself to these... vibrations, such as they are. They are of our world and yet they are of a higher one. And note you well, when you come to a place, seek out the men of good nature, not those as we have recently passed. Those who have innocence and laughter of their childhood written in their eyes and on their faces. They are the seekers and the children of God! Not the hard, care burdened and case hardened souls such as Vincebus Eruptum, a monk of dubious intent and just as dubious desires. In each one of these honest people is a spark that the Lord has kindled which nothing can put out, not even misfortune, not even the death of their kinsmen by plague or sword, not even the hardships of famine can wrench from them the happiness that eternally springs from within them, in response to the call of the music.. of their place. Mark it well! For these are lessons few learn. Love the neighbor as yourself! For in he is the quality and value of the friend, and none profit but that they do well by their neighbor in the exchange.”
Richard had been listening, and agreed with the last comment.
“Aye, 'tis true, Master Porcull. If you give a man shoddy goods, and charge him more than a farthing for them, soon he will be back at your door, complaining the loss of his farthing, and the wretchedness of your estate.”
“You said there is music in very place. How shall I find it?”
“Ah, Master Julian. You ask such wonderful questions! For this is something only you can learn of yourself. I can talk and talk and talk until the sun turn blue in the sky, and yet, if you have no sense of what you are seeking, you may not find it, ever! But you are clever, I grant, and you are also one blessed by the Lord for your muse. You will KNOW when you have found it. But to get there, I should tell you—if it can even help a little!— When you come to a town, listen. Listen to the sounds of the nature around it. Take note the song of the birds, and their type. Take note of the trees, and their type. Take note of the run of the land, its rivers, streams, the stones with which men have built it, and the fields and what they contain. Keep your ears, and more importantly, your heart! Open in all ways. In such a manner you shall find each place and town revealing that hidden music to you Also take well to note the position of the planets, if you can, and think upon the work of the heavenly spheres, as they reflect in the common life of men. In such a way, the angels may learn to grace you, and you may learn to rely upon them for inspiration! For so it comes to those who seek, or so it was written.”
Indeed, there was so much in what he said that I kept silent all the rest of the day, pondering. When we passed by towns, I looked around me at the landscape and looked deep into the eyes of strangers, who saw in me only a passing face. I looked at the life taking place- the people at their work, men in the fields, women hauling out washing and cutting out firewood. All these different activities seemed to me to have a music of their own! Perhaps this was what he had been speaking of! But I kept silent, because soon we’d be at another inn, and it might well be time I would be called upon to play Luisa once more, and yet... hearing what had been said, keeping it keen in mind, I found the music I played that evening took me even farther along that inner road than I had ever expected.

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