WORLDS UNDER HEAVEN
There were variations on similar themes every time Thaw and Ghee met up. This was usually on Ghee’s barge, though there was one time when he visited Thaw in his cabin in the hills of Burn Haun, near to where it joined the northern shore of Send Ehros. It was in a time when the frosts were cruel, and fierce winds came relentlessly from the heights of the Horseshoe Mountains.
Thaw’s cabin was a wooden, L-shaped construction, with a veranda between its two wings. It was not large, having only a main room – with a table and benches and long-chairs around a central stove – and two small bedrooms. Not much space to avoid anyone who may be staying.
The veranda faced south-westwards and, though the cabin was not far into the hills, had clear views over most of the western half of Send Ehros, including the heights of the Isle of Etolairira, whereon the Forest King had his Summer Palace, and the wooded hills thirty miles beyond.
The friends’ first few days were fairly relaxed, but then Ghee began to get more intense. Thaw grew to cherish the mornings (he habitually got up before dawn – in the winter at least), for Ghee did not rise much before noon, complaining he had trouble getting to sleep. There were plenty of tasks for Thaw to see to: especially keeping the large stove fed, and it brought home to him (again) why he lived alone in the hills and away from easy access from any other dwelling except Toft’s.
Lu-Toft was an old friend of Thaw’s, the earliest he could remember, distantly related, who had studied obsession and depression and claimed some understanding. Thaw did not claim to know much, though he did know Ghee well, but he felt the need for a more detached and studied view of his friend. For he could be a difficult and repetitive individual. Although with deep-seated and valid concerns … of course … but all wrapped up in a fire-worm’s dream.
So Thaw had told Toft about Ghee and his staying with him, and dropped hints that he, Toft, should drop by. And he did; with exquisite timing: to help Thaw. He was sitting by the stove when Ghee rose and came to share the warmth, wrapped about by a blanket, for it was bitter out even when only walking from just up the hill.
From an initially halting conversation their talk grew in warmth and complexity – with Ghee the last to join in – and they moved from huddling close around the stove to break fast at the table, and then on to the long-chairs.
At some point, not really following on from previous subjects, Ghee started to regale Toft with his preoccupations, but this time concentrating on how anyone could be so callous, so cruel, so stupid as to behave in such destructive manners as mankind did. What motivated them.
“And do they think they have the right?” he asked Toft.
“Well,” Toft replied, “they probably don’t see the world as we do. You used the word ridiculous earlier, and I think that is an apt description of their perceptions.”
“When I look at someone who seems to advocate or commit crimes against others,” continued Ghee, not obviously taking notice of Toft’s commit, “I find it hard to understand what allows that. How their philosophy, their world view, is so constructed that they can sanction so much harm being done to others. Even that they think they have the right to.
“Then I think of what I’m like when I’m ill – even just under the weather – be the illness physical or mental, when I’m living in a feverish imagining. It is a human trait that when we are down with a cold we become more selfish and withdrawn. That we think less of others. I sit in my chair, blanket over me, dosing in idleness – and other people and their feelings don’t come into my thoughts. This is certainly not wishing them hurt, or to be suffering as I am convinced I am, but they are at those moments of little thought to me.
“I know this is a very mild example, but my selfishness grows the more ill I am. And is more acute when I am suffering mental distress – let alone full mental illness. And I do not live in an emotional world where hate and fear predominate. I think this may be the key. Not just that one doesn’t care about others (or enjoy the inflicting of pain: I’ve never thought that there are that many sadists out there – under normal circumstances), but that some people are so full of pain and rage that they think it is the normal state of affairs. Hiding under their towers of shadow – assailed even by lightning.
“But if I did one thousandth of what they do, I would consider the sea as blood flowing from my eyes as tears of rain falling from the clouds wherein are heralds of storms. Uniting heaven and the world under the columns of the six Lords of Might and seven Dukes of Mass. Leaving not a sight of the wide open sea, the three Princes of the Elements standing to obscure that visage. Helms shut tight as limpets.”
Ghee paused. Thaw looked at Toft, not knowing what to say, but hoping he did. It was so quiet that the falling snow outside could almost be heard.
“Perhaps,” said Toft, eventually, “that is the crux of it: that they are so consumed by hate and lust for vengeance that there is no room for anything else.”
“You mean that their thoughts go round and round,” said Ghee, unaware of the irony, “and being so wrapped up in themselves there is no scope for other consideration, such as the feelings of others.”
“That is one way of viewing it.”
“Ensuring everyone feels completely alone, as they are.”
There was more in this vein, but the essentials of the argument did not particularly vary. Although Toft changed what he said, Ghee only rehashed – frequently in very similar phrases – reminding Thaw of a drunk with a point to make. He took it as long as he could, then suggested a break for something to eat.
Toft flashed him a thank you smile.
At lunch – or tea really, given how far gone the day was given Ghee’s late rising – they talked about different, easier subjects. Toft was very entertaining throughout, but Thaw and even Ghee took up the baton and talked about trivial matters as though they were really interesting. All knew exactly what they were doing.
Afterwards they repaired to the long-chairs again and returned to the previous topics as though it was a delineated working day.
Toft soon tried however to move the discussion in a new direction, honing in on more specific considerations. Ghee resisted, though he would have been surprised if anyone had thought that.
He started to bring up examples from his reading, rubbishing those tyrants’ ideas of civilisation, pointing out that though some of them would embrace its technological aspects and improve the material existence for some at least of their subjects, all impoverished the cultural part. They did not exalt what it meant to be human: they denigrated it.
“This is bad enough if they don’t believe themselves to be a someone of destiny for whom normal moral and ethical considerations don’t apply. They spout on about looking at the bigger picture always – for which sacrifices must be made – and ignore the small-scale: little people, individuals, trees and flowers. It’s the same with those who profess themselves to be better than others because of their religious beliefs, especially devoting themselves to a monotheistic god; I am not completely rejecting that there is any validity in their beliefs or their devotion – but I question when they concentrate on the religious to the exclusion of the humane.”
“Some would say they are considering the greater concepts: justice, faith and equality,” said Thaw. “Hope.”
“Maybe, but always there are individuals, and we had better have extremely good reasons for ignoring their feelings or wishes; even if we genuinely do know what is better for them than they seem to themselves, we do not have the right to make their decisions for them. Even if their vision is obscured by clouds. But so many people ignore this. And they think it’s for the best!”
“I agree it can seem strange,” said Thaw.
Toft and Thaw continued to argue with Ghee, putting forward justifications for many specific behaviours, or at least different ways of looking at things. Not so fixed. And Toft made a key point:
“You are looking for reason where there is none.”
“Doesn’t everyone?” replied Ghee.
“Perhaps. But when trying to understand something that is driven by emotion and belief, reason – as a tool for understanding – will fall short. Their perceptions, the world in which they live, are different from that of most of us; not least due to their impositions. They suffocate with a culture of their rigid thought – all they allow to exist. Here we have freedom and education to explore alternative themes and expressions.”
“Alternative?” said Thaw. “To their homogeneity?”
“Yes. And to their preaching.”
“And yet most still do just the same mundane stuff,” continued Thaw, “repetitious and unengaging. Failing to take advantage of the generosity of this world, explore and meet on the wide steps.”
“But not all,” said Toft.”
“Yes,” said Ghee, sarcastically: “we’re better than others.”
“Do you really …?” began Toft.
“No. If we go in that direction we end up just like those who seek a control that’ll lead to uniformity – everyone precisely accounted for. And become tyrants like them. Just because we climb the steps and see above the clouds. We must be otherwise. I think it took me years, but now I think I understand cultural heterogeneity as a valid existence. I’ve always advocated it … but did not always fully comprehend what it meant.”
To this they all accented, but not about how to achieve it – as they disagreed about most aspects of music and the visual arts, Ghee preferring the more discordant and abstract.
It got quite heated at times, but eventually Ghee said: “I know that if I continue I’ll just go round again, over certain well-known markers – familiar and perversely safe. I cling to them. But eventually they bore even me.”
And that brought their discussions to an end.
Toft left that evening: having become almost friendly with Ghee, though he usually held himself apart.
He dropped by on a couple of other occasions, before announcing he was off to look at the ice-sculptures of the dawn-witches on the northern slopes. Thaw missed him, as he always did, though he was used to such separations and had many other friends; Ghee also missed him – and he now knew few others – but he did, perhaps because of this, hold his few remaining friends dear.
In all Ghee stayed with Thaw for nearly half a moon, before deciding he should return home. The weather was no warmer, though stiller and with no snow looking about to fall. But, whatever his reasons, unexplained, Thaw knew his friend’s decision would not be altered by argument. So he wished him a safe and speedy journey, and stood on the veranda and watched as Ghee walked down towards the shore.