Monthly Archives: August 2010

I know that a sentence from Calvino was not among the many writing projects that I listed in my last post, but I was reading “From the Opaque” in The Road to San Giovanni this morning while drinking my coffee and watching my kids race toy cars down the slide, and I could  not resist sharing this sentence.

“Instead of considering the source of the rays or the rays themselves or the surfaces that receive them, one might consider the dapple of shadows the places that the rays do not reach, how the shadow sharpens in proportion to the strength of the sun, how the morning shadow of a fig tree from being tenuous and uncertain becomes as the sun climbs a black drawing of the green tree leaf by leaf expanding at the plant’s foot, that concentration of the black to signify the polished green the fig tree encloses leaf by leaf on the side turned towards the sun, and the more the drawing on the ground concentrates its blackness the more it shrinks and shortens itself as if sucked in by the roots, swallowed up by the foot of the trunk and returned to the leaves, transformed into white sap in their veining and stalks, until at the moment when the sun is at its highest the shadow of the vertical trunk disappears and the shadow of the umbrella of leaves curls up beneath, on the fermented squashiness of the ripe figs that have fallen to the ground, waiting for the shadow of the trunk to sprout out again and push it towards the other side lengthening out there as if the gift of growth, which the fig tree as fruit bearing plant has renounced, passed to this ghost plant stretched out on the ground, until the moment when other ghost plants grow so far as to cover it, the hill the ridge the coast flooding into a single lake the shadows.”

I have been away for a while, first on Manitoulin with some friends and then at camp, and I have returned home with a whole list of things that I need to write about but will probably not find the time to write about very soon, especially considering the new semester that is lurking only a few days away.  I would like to write something about what it means to go away together, in togetherness, as family and as friends, something about how increased wealth produces increased isolation, something about John Gardner’s The Sunlight Dialogues, something on the idea of the call in Heidegger, something on the relationship between ideals of individuality and the experience of depression, and this is still a very partial list.

I was full of these and other things  as I drove into the driveway on Saturday, full of the need to do something about them, but coming home disrupted them with its welcome, disrupted them with the pleasantness of the home and neighbourhood.  There were tomatoes, hundred of tomatoes, ripening on the vines, the first ripe tomatoes I have ever managed to grow from seedThere were apples, a very few apples, our first ever crop of apples, ready to be pickedThere were sunflowers, the sunflowers that my eldest son had purchased with his own allowance and planted with his own hands and watered relentlessly, and they were blooming.  There were the friends who dropped by for pancakes on Saturday night, and the friends who came by for pasta on Sunday night.  There was, in short, a fullness of those things that make the home and the garden and the neighbourhood what they should be.

You will not blame me for choosing them over writing the poor things that I might have written.

I am always confronted by the verticality of the forest, by the way it ascends, layer on layer, from the underbrush to the canopy, and my walking through the forest, even when I am walking along its paths, seems like it moves along the wrong plane, fails to recognize the movement proper to its place.  I am always finding it necessary to stoop toward the flowers and the insects and the snakes, always finding it necessary to crane toward the birds and the butterflies and the leaves and the very sky.  I am pulled in both directions, stretched between earth and sky, and this tension is not lessened, only intensified the further I walk in it.  Though I know it is not so, though I can think of countless examples to the contrary, it seems impossible to me that horizontality is not a purely human thing, a purely unnatural thing, confined to those places where we have cleared the forest so that we might break the terrible tension that suspends us, longingly, in verticality.

So, I have this theory that the reboot of the Star Trek franchise reflects a shift in the American self-imagination following the events of 9/11, a shift that disrupted the cultural logic of the original Star Trek timeline and that required the a creation of an alternative timeline to take its place.  Stay with me.  This may take some doing.

Okay, I start with the observation that the Star Trek franchise before 9/11 was the product and the reflection of a particular sort of  American utopian narrative, a narrative that understands the advance of science and technology and democracy and capitalism as a manifest destiny that will culminate in a world without poverty or hunger and where the threat of violence and disaster can always be met through technological intervention.   It is in this sense that Star Trek is a true science fiction.  The solutions to its problems are always technological and scientific in nature.  They are almost always a matter of reconfiguring the phaser banks, or modifying the warp core, or introducing a new modulation to the sensor array, or rerouting the signal through the secondary power relays.  These are the kinds of solutions to most problems in Star Trek, and these solutions produce a universe that is a coherent and continuing narrative, where the right people are always sitting in the Captain’s chair and making the decisions necessary to ensure the continuation of the Federation’s technological utopia, and it is this utopia that stands as the imagined future of the American way.

With the events of 9/11, however, America’s popular self-conceptions become questioned, and it ceases to be so self-evident that science, technology, democracy, capitalism, and the American way will achieve the future that this utopian narrative had imagined for itself.  The narrative of triumphal Americanism becomes seriously disrupted, and it now becomes necessary both to explain how this disruption could possibly occur and to determine how it might be overcome.

The newest Star Trek film, directed by , J. J. Abrams, responds directly to the challenges that 9/11 poses to the imagined future of technology, science, democracy, and capitalism.  Its story begins with a 9/11-like catastrophic event, a disruption to the very fabric of time and space that changes the course of history laid out in the original Star Trek timeline, replacing it with an alternative universe in which James T. Kirk does not in fact become captain of the Enterprise, but is replaced by the much more logical and analytical Spock.  The Star Trek universe, therefore, like the American nation, has suffered a tremendous shock that has disrupted its story as it was meant to be told.  The enemy has not just managed to threaten and to attack and to hurt.  It has managed to alter the course of events as they were supposed to have unfolded, an alteration that becomes symbolized by Spock’s replacement of Kirk in the captain’s chair.

The film positions the choice between Spock and Kirk as a choice between logical adherence to protocol and instinctual willingness to follow emotion.  A good leader, it suggests, is the one who knows when to throw aside the book, bend the rules, ignore protocol, and just get the bad guys, even when all logic and all odds would suggest another course of action.  As the story unfolds, Spock is represented to be a poor leader because he represses his grief and anger and desire for revenge beneath a logic and an adherence to protocol, whereas Kirk is represented to be a good leader because he embraces his emotions and decides to attack his enemies directly, even when it seems very likely that this course of action will lead everyone to their deaths.

If this is read as a response to the crisis of 9/11, the film affirms a need for leadership that values emotion and immediate revenge over logic and consultation.  It argues, essentially, that the disruption to the narrative of American technological utopia can be corrected as long as the right sorts of people find their way back into the captain’s chair, people who are willing to destroy their enemies at any cost.  Although the film purports to be a “reboot” of the franchise, therefore, I would suggest that its narrative is actually profoundly conservative in nature, advocating for a recovery, by any mean necessary, of the technological utopia that Star Trek has always represented in the popular American imagination.

Though I have said any number of times that I would not go back and make substantial changes to previous chapters before the novel was finished, I have made myself a liar.  In order to continue the story as I wanted it, I felt that some changes were necessary, so parts of Chapter Seven and Chapter Eight have been significantly enough rewritten that readers may need to reread them, particularly the last  bit of Chapter Eight.   As always, those who are new to the story can find the beginning at Chapter One.

Chapter Nine:
In Which Lindy Makes A Decision

The place where Lindy found herself was very dark.  It smelled of damp and mould and rotting things, like the crawlspace under the house across the street where the bravest of the children would go when they played  hide and seek.  She could hear water splashing whenever she moved her feet, as if the whole room was filled with a thin puddle, but the only other sounds were the whispering of her  breath and the creaking of the house and the scurrying of small feet.  Even the house was quiet now, and Lindy was so frightened that she began to cry.

Now, I have said at least once before that Lindy was a brave girl, and I have said this because there was truly nothing much that frightened her.  She was not at all afraid of the dark, for instance, and not afraid of small spaces.  She was not even afraid of bugs or mice or rats or snakes or things like that, so long as there were not too many of them at once.  But now she had to endure all these things together, and she had to face them alone without any idea of where she was or if she would ever find her way home, so it is no wonder that she cried, and I hope that you will forgive her for it, because I know that you and I have sometimes cried over a great deal less.

In any case, she stood there for a very long time, crying, and the longer she was in the cold and the damp and the dark, the more frightened she became, and the harder she cried, and the more panicked she grew, and then she found that she was running along the wall, or at least stumbling along it as fast as she could manage on the slippery and uneven floor, and then she caught her toe on something and fell and scraped both her hands on what seemed to be a worn stone floor, and then she started to cry like she never had before.

When she had finally cried all the tears that she had to cry and had began to think about things a little more calmly, she found that she was half-lying against a damp and uneven wall and half-sitting on a wet and uneven floor.  She began brushing her hair back from where it had fallen onto her face, which she thought was the best way to start pulling herself together, but her hands soon discovered that Alisdair’s crown still sat on her head, though it seemed to weigh nothing now.  She took it carefully in her hands and set it in her lap.  It grew heavy again, the moment it left her head, and there was a comfort in its warm weight.  Her fear and panic vanished all at once, and she sat, cold and wet and hungry, waiting for whatever it was that would happen next.

As if The Crofts had been waiting for just this moment, it suddenly filled her mind again, and Lindy could feel its pain and fear and anger.  “I’m glad you’ve finally stopped your blubbering,” it said, and there was a harshness in its voice that Lindy had never heard before.  “It never becomes a Queen to blubber.”

The Crofts sounded so full of disdain that Lindy could hardly believe how comforting it had been to her only a few hours earlier, and she had to stop herself from crying again.  “Why are you so angry?” she cried.  “I didn’t do anything.”

The house laughed sadly, but it seemed suddenly more resigned than angry.  “Maybe not, but you will certainly have to do something now, and you will fail, and Khurshid will claim me, and I will become an evil thing, twisted and foul.”

“I don’t understand.  What do I have to do with Khurshid?”

“Do you know where you are?”  The Crofts demanded, ignoring her question.  “You’re in what was once one of my most beautiful rooms, the map room.  I took it into me from one of the Keepers, but it has fallen now, as the Keeper from whom I drew it has also fallen, and it is now beyond my power or anyone else’s to recover it.”  The house paused, and Lindy felt its sadness deepening.  “There are countless more like it.  Would you like to see them?”

Lindy started to say that she would rather not, but she was already sitting against a very different wall in a very different room, with jagged holes in its plaster and with cobwebs on its furniture and with dust lying thickly on its floors.  “This,” said the house, “was Keeper Aulden’s study.  Countless people came from among the worlds to sit here and listen to his wisdom, until Khurshid struck him down at the bridge, and everything that Aulden gave me began to fall into ruin.”

The room changed again, becoming darker and filled with a smell like rot.  Things opened their eyes in its corners, and small creeping creatures began working their way stealthily toward Lindy across the garbage strewn floor.  She gave a little scream and scrambled to her feet, but the house seemed unhurried.  “This was the old chemistry laboratory,” it said, “a place of great learning and discovery, the pride of Keeper Dennison until she chose to give her crown to Khurshid.   Now it’s full of unspeakable things.”  The little lizard-like creatures had come almost to Lindy’s feet now, but The Crofts whisked her on again.

They were now in a long paneled room, littered with debris and pitted on its walls and floors and ceilings, as if it had suffered a terrific explosion.  Lindy was so frightened from the creatures in the previous room and so confused by everything that The Crofts was saying and showing that she felt sick to her stomach, as if she had been on one of the big rides at the amusement park after eating too much candy.  She tried to clear her mind, but everything was too overwhelming.  Her whole body wanted to be sick, or to run away, or just to lie down and sleep.  “This was the sculpture gallery,” the house said, breaking into her mind with its sad, lost voice.  “Keeper Woods once…”

“Stop!” Lindy cried.  She felt as though she would begin to scream or vomit or even cry again if The Crofts said another word about the broken and rotting rooms.  “I didn’t do any of this,” she pleaded.  “It’s not my fault.  Why are you showing these things to me?”

“Because,” said The Crofts, quietly now, but full of a fierce anger, “you need to know that I was once much more than I am now.  I grew up from the homes of the twenty-four Keepers, drawing into myself what was best in them, and I became a house that was truly fit for kings.  But all the Keepers who were killed by Khurshid’s sword left their rooms to fall into decay, and all who were seduced by Khurshid’s promises allowed theirs to become something far worse than decayed, and sometimes the rooms have even fallen away from me altogether, so I am a fraction of what I was, a husk, full of rot and maggots.

“I still don’t understand what this has to do to me.”

“Then listen more and question less.  Alisdair was the last of the Keepers, the last of the Crowned, and his will was a strong will, so he and I and Penates, we strove to hold together much that was good in me, the libraries and the kitchens and the cottages and the great hall and much else that you have not yet seen, or these too would have fallen into decay.  I was broken, but because of Alisdair’s strength, I was no longer breaking further.  And now he is gone.”

The house paused, but Lindy said nothing.

“You are now the sole remaining Keeper.  Alisdair granted you his crown because there was no other choice, because his crown was the crown of your world and must be worn by someone of your race.  So now it falls to you to turn Khurshid back at the bridge on Midsummer, and you will most certainly fail, for you have neither the strength of arms nor the strength of will to resist him, and so I will fall to Khurshid.  And even if you somehow succeed, I will still diminish, become smaller and darker, more ruinous and more haunted.  You lack the will to hold me to myself, and you lack the memory of how I once was.  Perhaps Penates will be able to keep the kitchens as they were, but all else will fall into ruin, and all that will remain of me is what you have added from your own poor house.”

The house laughed mournfully.  “Would you like to see what would be left of me?”

Before she could answer Lindy found herself in her very own cubby, with her books, and her radio, and the old Christmas decorations, only she knew right away that it was not really her cubby.  The window looked out onto the trees of The Weald now, not onto Mister Hat’s yard, and she knew that her own cubby in her own house was still far away.  She did not cry again, but she wished that she could.

The house had left her alone again, and everything was very quiet, like in her real cubby at home.  She sat on the old couch cushions with the orange fringes, turned her back to the window, and pulled her sleeping bag up over her legs.  Then she took her crown off again, which had somehow found its way back to her head, and she laid it in her lap and tried to think what it was that she should do next.

As she was sitting there, propped in the comfort of her cubby, a strange sensation began creeping over her, as if she was no longer entirely awake but not yet entirely asleep, and it seemed to her that she began drifting through the attic window, out across the huge bulk of The Crofts, and over the fields of The Weald, until she came to the bridge that crossed the great river.  She hung there for a moment, and she could see a shining figure far below her walking along the stream, the same figure she had seen when Alisdair had been talking to her in the great hall, only now she could hear what he was singing, a strange song, a mixture of sadness and hate.  Then she was moving again, over the tops of the trees, following the path that led away from the bridge, and she flew for what seemed like miles and miles, until there arose a tremendously tall and peculiar tree beside the path, its leaves shimmering gold-green in the sun, taller and brighter than any other in the forest.  Lindy paused again in her flight, hovering above the tree, then and swooped down through the forest to her left, weaving her way through the trees, and then the trees came to a sudden end, and a small clearing opened in front of her, with a stone cottage in its very centre.  Lindy began to settle toward the front door of the cottage, and she was filled with an overwhelming need to know what was inside it, but her dreaming ended just then, and she was back sitting in her cubby once more, and she knew now what she had to do.

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The Gulls

The ragged clouds of gulls come over the trees,
frayed and straggling, black against a grey sky,
chasing the last fragments of the sun,
and each is tethered to the next by stray wings,
in two or threes, clutches, small sprays of shadow
that spring from the occluding forest,
that are swallowed by the indefinite brightness of the horizon,
like bits of ash returning to the fire that first flung them
into the high and cooling air of a still un-starred sky.

I was raised in a fairly traditional Christian family.  There was much that I appreciated about this upbringing, and I still have an  immense gratitude to my parents for raising what was, despite the faults that all families have, a loving and supportive family.  Still, my beliefs, religious and otherwise, have changed a great deal from those that were taught to me, and as I have been confronted with raising my own family, I have begun to realize the need to articulate my beliefs more clearly.  While my own thinking might tolerate a great deal of ambiguity about some of these things, a child’s thinking does not, and I am struggling to say clearly, concisely, and simply what it is that I believe.

What follows is a first attempt.  It is not adequate for more reasons than I can list here, but I hope that it might be a place where I can begin thinking through these kinds of ideas with others who are like-minded.  Though the following statements are very influenced by my Christian upbringing, they are only those that I feel that I can defend experientially, apart from any specific text or tradition.

1. I believe in a God who loves us, though I confess that I do not understand this love.

2. I believe in a God who comes to us because we are unable to come to God, though I confess that I do not understand how this  is accomplished.

3. I believe that the only proper response to God’s love is to love God in return, and that it is only possible to love God through loving one another.

4. I believe that all true religion, in whatever faith it arises, leads to an increase of love, and that any religion leading to anything else, in whatever faith it arises, is false, absolutely.

5. I believe that God appears through the Christian tradition, through its scriptures and sacraments, though I suspect that this appearance is neither exclusive nor absolute.

6. I believe that the only essential theology is this:  “God loves us, so we must love God through loving one another.”

Once there was a man named Silas, a good and quiet man, a farmer, and known in all the country around for his honesty and his generosity.  He had three children: two older girls, now grown with families of their own, and a younger son, just now coming into his strength. They were good children, though the elder daughter was perhaps too proud, and the younger daughter was perhaps too vain, and the son was perhaps too willful, but something of this kind could be said about us all, and Silas was proud to be the father of three such fine children.  Indeed, the only thing that gave him sadness was that his wife had not lived to see her children grow, for she had died of a fever when her son was only a few months old.  Silas had not mourned much, for that was not his way, and there were many who said that the marriage must have been an unhappy one if so few tears were spent at its ending, but Silas had loved his wife deeply, and he never married again, though there were many women who would have been glad to have a man as honest and gentle as he was.

One day, just before midsummer, the year his younger daughter married, Silas set out to drive a few cows from his own farm to the farm of his new son-in-law who lived some way to the west.  The journey was a long one by the main road, because it led first southward through the nearest town, but there was another path of sorts, a cattle trail and a woodcutters’ track that ran more directly westward, bending only slightly to skirt Charcoal Hill and then joining the main road close by his son-in-law’s farm.  The path had been often used in earlier days, despite the many strange stories that were told of Charcoal Hill with its blackened and fire-blasted summit, but the woods had been mostly logged now, and there were fewer farms now also, so the track had fallen into disuse and become almost overgrown in places.  This suited Silas very well, for the tall grass was no obstacle to his cattle, and he was less likely to meet someone on the way who would want to talk with him if he was the only one on the road.

He had taken this path many times, first rambling as a child and then driving cattle as an adult and now visiting his children in his old age.  He had even now and again seen the forest folk who lived around Charcoal Hill, though always from a distance, just a glimmer and a shimmer and a glimpse of something unearthly, and he had always made sure to give the forest folk a wide berth, for there were too many stories of travellers who had angered the forest folk and been taken into their halls forever.  There were other stories as well, of course, where the forest folk granted wishes or wisdom to those who pleased them, but Silas had never much wanted for these things, and he had been content to see the uncanny forest dwellers from afar, though he had not seen even so much for many years.

Silas was thinking idly about these and other things as he drove his cattle along the track, whistling to himself in his quiet little half-whistle, when the air became suddenly dim and thick and golden, and he knew that forest folk were near.  He continued quietly on his path, knowing that the people of the forest most often leave alone those who mind their business, but a little man, slender and lithe, soon appeared on the path in front of him, and the cattle stopped so stiffly that they might have been frozen.  The little man looked at Silas closely and then placed his right hand over his heart.  “Mortal,” he asked, “what is it that you most desire in all the world?”

Silas chose his words carefully, not wanting to risk offence.  “Spirit,” he said, for he knew that the forest folk were pleased to be addressed in this way, “though you honour me with your question, truly, my happiness needs nothing more than it has to be complete,” though even as he said this he remembered to himself his long dead wife, and his voice betrayed him.

Your words are well chosen,” said the little man, “but they anger me, for they are untrue.”

Silas was frightened because he knew that even the least of the forest folk could be terrible when angered. “You are wise, Spirit, to see so keenly,” he said. “There is indeed something that my happiness lacks, but it was not my intent to deceive you, since the thing I desire lies not within the power of any to grant, neither man nor spirit.”

“Do you presume that I will grant what you desire?” answered the forest man.  “And are you so wise that you can judge what is possible for me?  There is much within my power.  Only do as I ask, and speak your desire truly.”

Silas did not want to speak of the wife that he had lost, but he knew that the forest man would tolerate no further lie, so he said, “Please, Spirit, the only thing my happiness lacks is the wife of my youth, for she died many years ago, and I have never found another to love so much.”

“Would you have me return her to you?”

Though Silas knew that he should be wary of gifts offered by the forest folk, his mind was suddenly full of memories, and he yearned to see his wife again, and he spoke with his passion and against his judgement.  “Oh, Spirit,” he cried, “if such a thing was possible, I would desire nothing more from this life.”

“The thing you desire is possible,” replied the forest man, “though it is difficult, even for me, and it must come at a cost.  You must go with me under the hill, and you must obtain something for me, something that lies beyond me because of my power, but that you may gain because of your weakness.  This will be our bargain: your wife in exchange for the Leaf-Crown.  Are we agreed?”

Though Silas felt even more now that he should accept nothing from the little man, he could not overcome his longing for his wife, so he bowed his head, and he said, “We are agreed,” and he felt then a sudden hurt like a knife in his left palm, and he saw his blood drip onto the forest floor to seal the bargain he had made.

“You may call me Metsan-Vaki,” said the forest man, “and you must follow me closely.  Leave your cattle behind.  No harm will come to them, but if you do not follow in my very footprints, great harm may come to you.”

So Silas followed the little man, and they made their away around the base of Charcoal Hill, first in wide circles, and then narrower, until they were winding their way around its very slopes, and all the while the sun did not move in the sky, but hung still like a distant lamp.  Their path wove this way and that in its circuit, squeezing between trees and climbing over rocks, until at last they came to a tall  stone of white quartz, roughly hewn, standing where the forest gave way to the blackened summit of the hill.

The forest man turned then and said to Silas, “Here lies the marker between your lands and mine.  Once you pass it, you may not return until our bargain is complete,” and Silas stepped past the stone.

Their way now turned uphill, toward the summit of Charcoal Hill, but it was much higher now and no longer blackened or barren but covered with a huge grove of trees that would have reached high above the rest of the forest even had they not been standing atop the highest ground in a hundred miles.  They seemed to Silas like a great fortress or cathedral, stern and massive, and he was afraid, but his feet took him ever closer to that imposing height against the little will that remained to him.

When they reached the summit of the hill at last, the trees of the great grove rose above them to such a height that Silas could not guess at it, many hundreds of feet, and the tunnels that ran between their trunks, close-spaced and massive, were like the galleries of a vast cave, dark and cool and still.  There was no brush on the floor of the great wood,  so wholly did the canopy shade the light of the sun, and the branches of the trees all lay high in the dimness, so there were only the trunks of trees to be seen, huge, like pillars for the sky.   Silas followed Metsan-Vaki among these vast trunks, but he shrank from touching them, though his guide ever chose the path that came most closely to them and never lost a chance to run his hands along the cavernous crevices of their bark.

In this way they came at last to the centre of the wood, though there was little to mark it, lying as dark and as still as the rest, only there was also a small sapling, the first that Silas had seen in all that forest, no taller than himself, with small leaves, deeply and darkly green, and with still smaller berries, wetly and lusciously red, and with a crown of many-coloured leaves, interwoven gold and green and red and brown, set on its topmost branch.

“There,” said Metsan-Vaki, “on the topmost bough, lies the Leaf-Crown.  Bring it to me, and I will restore to you the desire of your heart.”  As he said this, he cupped his hands together, and droplets of water began to bead on the trunks of the trees and on the litter of the forest floor, like a sudden dew, and the droplets rushed toward the forest man, one following the other, running up over his body and filling his hands, and then they subsided again, with a sound like a sigh, and disappeared once more.

“Look into my hands,” the forest man commanded, “and see that I can do as I have said.”

Silas was afraid almost to sickness of what he would see in those hands, but he could no longer command himself, and he stumbled to his knees before the little man and looked into his cupped hands.  There, just as he remembered her, was the face of his wife, so many years gone from him, and he began to weep at the sight.  Her eyes were closed, as though she were sleeping, and Silas knew that he would not now refuse anything the forest man asked of him.

He rose to his feet and rushed toward the sapling at the centre of the clearing, neither knowing nor caring what might await him there, but as he reached to take the crown from where it lay on the highest bough, his sight was overcome by a vision of such power that he could move no further.  No longer could he see the sapling or its crown, but in every direction he seemed to be surrounded by the most beautiful figures, tall and grave and green-gold and filled with light, and their voices spoke as one, like a great chorus, and the sound of it was like a great music.

“Mortal,” they asked, “by what right do you take the Leaf-Crown?”

Silas was filled by a great dread, and he despaired that he would ever see his wife again, but he was by nature an honest man, and he felt besides that these spirits would surely penetrate any deception, so he spoke his heart truly.  “I take the crown by no right that I know,” he confessed, “but only by the instruction of another, so that he will restore to me my wife who has been dead now these fifteen years.”

“To whom would you give the crown?” the spirits sang, and there was concern now in their singing, though their faces remained unmoved.  “Who promises to return the dead to the living?”

“His true name is unknown to me,” said Silas, “for he is one of the forest folk, and they guard their names closely, but he told me that I might call him Metsan-Vaki, if this name is known to you.”

The faces of the spirits were suddenly moved, and they swirled among each other, blending themselves together into one great light of green and gold, and their song became filled with anger.  “Mortal,” they said, “the laws that govern the Leaf-Crown compel us to grant you the Leaf-Crown, for you will not purpose to do evil with its power, but you must know that great evil may be done if you give the crown to Metsan-Vaki.  Though he is a creature more of mischief and trickery than of evil, he will certainly do great harm should he have the power of the Leaf-Crown.  Though we cannot deny the crown to you, still we would beg that you refrain from taking it, though we know that it means sacrificing what is most dear to you.”

As they said this, the column of light began to dissolve into separate figures once again, still tall and grave and beautiful, and Silas could see that their faces were saddened and grim, and he thought to himself that they had little hope in his choice, but were prepared already to have Metsan-Vaki wear the crown.  Silas felt in himself the demand of both his duty and of his heart, and it seemed to him that they waged a very war in his spirit, so that he knew nothing but their conflict.  “Please, Great Spirits,” he asked, “is it true that Metsan-Vaki has the power to return my wife to me?”

“Yes,” they replied, “once he wears the Leaf-Crown, Metsan-Vaki will be able to do many things, even make the dead live, though the cost to him will be very great.  His oath to you binds him, and he will grant your wife to you as he has promised.  Is this your choice then?  Will you take the crown?”

Such was the conflict in Silas that he could not at first reply, and when words came to him at last, they seemed not of his choosing, but of another who spoke through him.  “Please,” he begged again, “I know my duty, but I also know my heart, and I cannot choose between them.  Is there no choice that might bring them into unity?”

“No,” the spirits sang, gently now, “Our nature will not allow us to return your wife to you, and your weakness, even with the Leaf-Crown, would make it impossible for you to raise her yourself.  If you were to attempt this thing, you would surely join her in death rather than have her join you in life.”

These words, though they were not meant as a consolation, came to Silas like a fresh hope, and he suddenly knew his course.  “I will take the Leaf-Crown,” he said, and the singing of the great spirits lapsed instantly into silence, and they disappeared from his sight, and he awoke to himself and found that he had indeed seized the crown in both his hands.

“Yes!” cried Metsan-Vaki, his face filled with a sudden and terrible joy, “now give me the crown, and I will grant you what your heart desires!”

Silas held the crown in his hands for a moment, and he felt the certainty of his choice, and he set the crown on his own head, and he willed nothing other than his own death, that he would be where his wife lay waiting for him, and then the clearing was filled with a fierce light, white beyond all whiteness, and he was gone, leaving the Leaf-Crown on the branch where it had first rested, and it is said that Metsan-Vaki’s eyes were ever after blind.