Wednesday, July 17, 2019

A Letter to Former Gov. Mark Sanford

I know you're ticked off about Trump having ruined your re-nomination - it had to hurt.

You never were pro-Trump (he's just not cultured enough for you - not an Elite in manners). But you were steamed when he failed to support your attempt to return to the House.

After all, you supported him in 2016; you claim to have voted for his policies 89% of the time. That number can be disputed - other sources found that claim to be exaggerated.

But, see, here's the thing - it's less important to vote with the President, than to avoid unnecessary criticism. He gets a lot of that, BTW, and he probably thinks, "I don't need this guy to pile on!"

Loyalty is important to many people, Mark. It is especially important to Trump, a man whose battled a LOT of people who talk nice to his face, but stab him in the back. You probably consider it less important than dignity or reputation.

But, you might remember when you were at a low point - little dignity (due to the South American tootsie), and reputation in shreds. The GOP gave you another chance. Unlike the media, that reveled in blasting your actions, making a private affair a public disgrace.

BTW, most people weren't all that scandalized - we know politicians are as stupid and slimy as most of us - but, the media hyped the story because you were effective, and the Dems and RINOs wanted a crack at the job you vacated.

So, when all the "right people" tell you to take on Trump, I have just one word of advice.

Don't.

Auto Da Fe, 2019 Edition

     Nations that try to commit suicide usually succeed. It’s a testament to the resilience of America that we keep trying and fail.

     I could go into great and boring detail about the previous occasions:

  • Southern secession, the Civil War, and the de facto rewriting of the Constitution;
  • Woodrow Wilson’s proto-fascist autocracy;
  • The corruption of the federal government under Warren Harding;
  • FDR’s “New Deal;”
  • The whole of the Carter Administration;
  • The whole of the Obama Administration;

     ...but anyone capable of reading a textbook either already knows about those things or doesn’t care enough to be adequately educated. The remarkable thing about those episodes is how little we learned from them.

     To be coherent and enduring, a nation-state must possess certain characteristics:

  • Its government must be generally deemed legitimate (a.k.a. “consent of the governed”).
  • Its borders must be adequately maintained.
  • It must not permit the formation of exclaves.

     Those requirements ought to “go without saying.” But there’s a factor that’s seldom been mentioned in this connection that’s so shriekingly obvious that it embarrasses me to have to mention it:

It must not tolerate traitors.

     It’s been said, and truly, that one traitor inside the gates can and will do more damage than a thousand outside them. The ability of a traitor inside the power structure to wreak havoc is limited only by the latitude others afford him: i.e., the degree to which they tolerate his presence in their ranks.

     Today we don’t have a mere lone traitor embedded in the power structure. We have an entire political party whose aim is the destruction of these United States. Regard the Democrat Party’s demonstrated attitude toward the legitimacy of the current federal government, the security of America’s borders, and the tolerance of Islamic and Hispanic exclaves, and tell me how you could reach any other conclusion.

     Yet a hefty fraction of the electorate continues to vote for these villains.

     Yes, I said it and I meant it: Any officeholder or candidate who affiliates with the Democrat Party is a villain. (That logic applies to quite a lot of Republicans as well, but that’s a tirade for another time.) Regardless of their personal representations, they vote in lockstep. They never deviate from the Democrat position as dictated by the party’s leadership. And the party’s leadership is utterly determined to delegitimize the Trump Administration, to eliminate the nation’s borders, and to tolerate the emergence of zones in which American law is contemptuously ignored.

     That a number of Democrats recently “came out of the closet” as America-haters shouldn’t have surprised anyone. Their party has given them a tacit nod for their behavior. This can only have one of two meanings:

  • Democrat Party leadership has decided that the time has come to vie for permanent and absolute power;
  • That leadership has become so weak that the party’s lunatics are comfortable in rebellion against it.

     Yet at least forty percent of the electorate will vote for Democrats in 2020.


     It’s unlike me to take a dark view of things to come. Still, I’m having trouble imagining how there can be so many nominal Americans who are willing to vote for Democrats, given their demonstrated behavior in power. It’s not necessarily about love of country; it’s about the bedrock requirements one must meet to have a country. Grasping those things doesn’t require a lot of intelligence or insight. Yet millions of Americans are apparently either blind to them or indifferent to the consequences of neglecting them. How can this be?

     There are possible explanations, including an old joke:

     A Democrat candidate for office was haranguing the crowd that had gathered to hear him speak when one attendee broke through their numbers and shouted, “I’m a Republican! I’ve always been a Republican! My father was a Republican, and his father, and his father before him!”

     The candidate glared down at the speaker and said, “Well, sir, if your father were a murderer, his father were a rapist, and his father before him were a horse thief, what would that make you?”

     For a moment it appeared the candidate had scored a point. But the heckler merely smiled and said “A Democrat, sir! A Democrat!”

     Political affiliations are seldom the fruit of research or reasoning. They’re more often inherited from one’s parents than acquired in any other way. I’ve observed this myself on dozens of occasions. The sense that there’s a family obligation to be upheld might make zero sense from any rational or patriotic perspective, but the effect is undeniable.

     In a way, it’s much like a fandom. Sports fandoms aren’t rational; indeed, in this time of fluid trading and free agency, to declare oneself a fan of some particular team is, in Jerry Seinfeld’s words, “rooting for laundry.” It’s the same with an unthinking allegiance to a political party – not, in this case, because the “team” bears the name of “your” city, or because you like emblem on the uniform, but because Dad, Granddad, and Great-Granddad were all Democrat “fans,” and you believe at some level deep below rational inspection that loyalty is a supreme virtue – that being faithful to “your team” matters.

     Words fail me – and when you hear a professional writer say that, get out your diary and note the date, time, and place.


     Glenn Reynolds and others have popularized the saying that “These are the Crazy Years; we’re just living through them.” The “Crazy Years” were a feature in some of Robert A. Heinlein’s fiction. He proposed that they would be followed by a resurgence of rationality and the emergence of “Man’s first mature culture.” That “mature culture” has yet to emerge, but the arrant, unbounded lunacy of our time is on garish display. With open America-haters claiming to be patriots, Senators demanding the elimination of the borders, candidates for president screaming that transwomen have a right to government-funded abortions, and the complicit media lavishing time upon all their ravings, you have to be willfully blind not to see it.

     And the lunatics have a fair-to-middlin’ chance of destroying the last, best hope for liberty and justice that exists on Earth.

     Have a nice day.

This Got Me Laughing So Hard I Hurt Myself

     Shamelessly stolen from Knuckledraggin’ My Life Away.

US strategy: Wage war, worship foreigners, avoid reality, more debt, coast.

But I have a question:

Why does the global economy need rescuing after 10 years of non stop monetary stimulus?

I also have an answer and it’s an unpleasant one. Because by bailing out markets and economies at every sign of trouble over the past 10 years central banks have given politicians license to do nothing. And nothing is what you get as political discourse fragments and majority solutions are impossible to come by.

But not only are majority solution impossible to get nobody even wants to even talk about them. Why? Because they involve pain. Voters don’t want to hear pain. Hence all you hear is free money. Tax cuts in 2016. Now we hear free college, health care and debt forgiveness for 2020 and who knows maybe more tax cuts.

Nobody wants to campaign on pain. I get it. But does anyone really think solving the structural problems that are behind slowing growth after 10 years of monetary stimulus are easily solvable?

* * * *

Debt ceiling? Nobody takes it seriously and the supposed enemies labeling each other currently as racists and socialists will suddenly find a solution and compromise to raise the debt ceiling. They always do. It’s always drama, and talk and hand wringing, but it never means anything.[1]

It's maddening the way the political swine can summon the will, time, and energy to get done what they really want done. Thousands of troops to Syria? Billions for war? Done and done. Troops for the southern US border? Can't have that. Please wait for our "comprehensive immigration law reform" package. Schedule? Jamais! Items to be addressed comprehensively? Water boarding wouldn't get it out of those toads. Not one troop on the border until we are clear on whether there should be an official Border Patrol no. 2 pencil. Our hands are tied, yo. Meanwhile, let millions of hostile, criminal, parasitic, unassimilable foreigners flow across the border like long lost cousins.

Bottom line: the nation is adrift with a bed sheet for a sail and the captain and crew despise the passengers and the vessel they control. Chance of fixing the engines? Zero. Of official betrayal? 100%.

Mr. Henrich also has this cheery thought:

Nobody is talking about structural solutions. Not the politicians, not the voters, not the central banks.

You know when structural solutions will be discussed? When it’s too late.

What we'll get for now is more debt. Yes, more debt. Hence the word "insanity" in the author's title. People like Ron Paul, Tucker Carlson, and James O'Keefe stand out for their willingness to discuss real problems but they might as well not exist. No, let's earnestly consider the views of Nancy Pelosi and the important issue of Donald Trump's tweets.

Notes
[1] "The Rise Of Insanity." By Sven Henrich, ZeroHedge, 7/17/19 (emphasis added).

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

When Even Maureen Dowd Thinks You're Too Left

You may be overdue for a serious Whompin' by the Democratic Leadership.

Look - the Dems are Leftists, Financial Idiots, and Shrill Antagonists.

But, they ain't stupid (well, most of them). They can suss out the tenor of the public, and they are NOT supporting AOC and the Squad.

Dems have slapped back at their membership before - heck, look at how they took out Huey Long when he started threatening the position of the Leaders. So, treating AOC and the Squad with disdain is not new to them.

But, when Maureen Dowd - the 'lady' who never met a Leftist politician she didn't wanna lap-dance - says the dissidents have gone too far, you know the end is in sight.

The Shape Of Things That Are

     There aren’t a great many things I’m good at – the vast sums I’ve been shoveling into the pockets of various home-improvement contractors will stand as evidence of that – but I am good at spotting patterns. And when I spot a pattern, I tend to become obsessed. I want to know what started it and what sustains it. The answers aren’t always easy to unearth.

     I have a few dots to connect this morning. You might want to follow along with me...though if you’re smart, you might prefer to pour yourself another cup of coffee and turn to the sports pages.


     First up: If you’re familiar with the Sturm und Drang cooked off by President Trump’s recent Twitter barbs at “the squad,” you’re probably also aware that there’s been quite a lot of hand-wringing about his tweets and other comments on the nominal Right. We can omit consideration of NeverTrumpers such as Bill Kristol and his gang at The Bulwark; they would denigrate Trump for reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. But when usually sensible commentators such as Ed Driscoll, John Hinderaker, and Deanna Fisher of the Victory Girls get into the act, it should draw some attention to the specifics.

     I repeat: the latter hand-wringers are not NeverTrumpers. Indeed, they’ve spoken warmly of the president and generally support his approaches to governance and communication. Yet they reacted reflexively and foolishly to a typical Trump stroke that subsequent events have established as well struck. So what evoked their all-too-swift condemnation of the president’s tweets?

     Give it some thought while I put up another pot of coffee.


     A couple of days ago I found myself in a back-and-forth with another generally sensible person who announced in the middle of an otherwise unrelated conversation that he dislikes and rejects President Trump. I probed for the reasons, and as usual, there weren’t many to be had. His dislike was mostly about Trump’s pugnacious style, which to be fair did rankle quite a few among the glitterati of American politics. He did cite one specific: Trump’s declaration that the U.S. would no longer work with British Ambassador Sir Kim Darroch. He felt that to be an elevation of personal pique over sound management of international relations.

     But soft! What light of evidence through yonder window breaks?

     Leaked U.K. diplomatic cables critical of President Trump have led Britain’s ambassador, Sir Kim Darroch, to announce his departure from Washington earlier than expected. But the story is not yet concluded.

     According to one current and one former U.S. government official speaking on the condition of anonymity, Darroch repeatedly leaked classified U.S. intelligence information, including highly classified information, to a journalist for a U.S.-based media outlet. The sources are consolidated by the reaction my related inquiries have received from other government officials....

     A second source, a career government official, described the leaks as "unprecedented."

     So it appears that Darroch’s disgrace wasn’t entirely about his badmouthing of the president after all. But as the above information wasn’t available to the public until this very morning, my acquaintance’s reaction to the story couldn’t have taken that into account. Nor was he the only person I’ve encountered to react that way.

     Reflexive reactions are often poorly aimed. Yet how common they are! Especially in our era of news-at-the-fingertips, delivered at broadband speeds. The great irony here is that Donald Trump, the uncouth Queens businessman derided and dismissed by the political elite and their hangers-on for daring to bid for the presidency, is proving to possess the supreme political skills the media repeatedly told us were the property of Bill Clinton and Barack Hussein Obama, both of whom now appear destined for ignominy.

     You’d think “we” would have learned by now. So why haven’t “we?”


     When a man does something strange, we tend to look for his reasons, which we assume will be specific to him. After all, we didn’t do the strange thing, so his reasons either haven’t reached us or didn’t affect us. But when large numbers of people all do the strange thing – in the case at hand, at the speed of reflex reaction – it should prompt wider, deeper thought.

     And looky here!

     How is it that Facebook, who refuses to dox any of the violent Antifa terrorists that use its platform, are happy to give up the personal details of the Facebook user who anonymously uploaded a slowed video of Nancy Pelosi, within minutes, to some rando journalist on the phone? (How do you even call Facebook?)

     Well what if I told you a Policy Director at Facebook was Nancy Pelosi's Chief of Staff before taking said job directing policy at Facebook? What if I told you the head of algorithm policy at Facebook worked for Hillary at The State Department? Or that the Head of Content Policy worked for the Hillary presidential campaign? What if I told you the person in charge of privacy policy at Facebook used to work for Al Franken, before he worked for Senator Bonoff, before he worked for Congressman Oberstar? Or that the Director in charge of "countering hate and extremism" at Facebook came from the Clinton Foundation? Did you know that the person at Facebook who currently "oversees programs on countering hate speech and promoting pluralism", and "develops internal third party education and drives thought leadership on hate speech and content moderation" was one of Obama's policy advisers at The White House?...

     How about YouTube? How does Laura Southern's documentary about the border get removed from YouTube within 24 hours of posting without any reason or explanation? What if I told you a Policy Manager at YouTube, before becoming a Policy Manager at YouTube, was employed by Hillary for America and was a manager in Obama's campaign before that? What if I told you YouTube's Global Content Policy Lead previously worked at the DNC? Did you know the person responsible for "growing the next generation of stars" on YouTube worked in the Office of Digital Strategy at the White House under Obama? Or that the person in charge of developing the careers of YouTube creators was the Director of Video for Obama? Speaking of helping the careers of creators, did you know Vox, the company that got Steven Crowder demonetized, was one of the companies that YouTube doled out $20 million dollars to, for 'educational videos'?

     Ten people, directly connected to the progressive Democrat political machine who are now controlling our conversations online. Sounds like an important alarm, no?

     What if I told you there were nearly a hundred more?

     Must I exhort you to read it all? You will, won’t you?

     The moguls of the New Media have acquired a degree of power over our communications that no one anticipated in the early days of the publicly accessible Internet. For reasons beyond the scope of this tirade, that power has concentrated at a few points: Facebook, Twitter, and Google and its YouTube subsidiary. And power attracts those to whom power is the asset of supreme importance.

     Hierarchies all possess a centralizing tendency. Whatever goal the organization was formed to pursue will eventually become the strictly controlled domain of the top people. If the goal of the organization is profit, eventually all profit-and-loss decisions will be controlled by the chief executive officer and his inner circle. If the goal of the organization is power over others, eventually all that power will be controlled from the pinnacle of the highest tier of government. Against this dynamic, no known counter-dynamic is effective in the near term. Only collapse can thwart the progression.

     The power-seeker seeks power wherever it can be had, including in nominally private organizations supposedly formed to pursue profit, the promotion of some interest or enthusiasm, or whatever else stimulates people to form a group. Consider this development as an illustrative case:

     Bodies that practice collective decision making excite those who seek power: they target such bodies for infiltration and takeover. That's what happened to [the Science Fiction Writers of America.] It's also what's happened to both major political parties and quite a few less well known organizations.

     The New Media powers, which have been targeted, colonized, and conquered by the Left, have steadily accustomed us to swift delivery of both news and opinion. They’ve often disguised one as the other, while simultaneously excluding alternative perspectives on the developments of the day from reaching our eyes. One of the effects has been a sharpening of our mental reflexes: we are ever swifter to reach conclusions, despite the demonstrated lacunae and ambiguities in the “news.” We are no longer wary, no longer suspicious of what axe the “reporter” might be striving to grind.

     This is very much in the interests of both the media and the Left. The quicker we are to react, the less reflective we will be. The less reflective we are, the less likely we are to notice discrepancies and “palmed cards” in the coverage. If they can condition us to their liking, they’ll be able to get us to accept anything we’re told, to believe it without any consideration of alternative assessments, and to act on it without qualm. We will have descended from a people to a mob.

     The Spinquark article about the emergence of a new “revolving door” between the Left’s political organizations and the bastions of the New Media should sound an alarm that rings deafeningly, and nationwide. Will it? Or are we all too busy updating our “statuses” on Facebook? Will we take note? Will we ponder what it means that a group of power-seekers, who have already demonstrated that no tactic or lie is beneath them, has acquired de facto control of the most important communications conduits and conversational fora the world has ever seen? Will we take note of how those channels are being used to deprive us of the element required for gathering the facts and reflecting soberly on them – time?

     Take a few moments’ thought over it. Please.

Privatizing Tyranny

Ten people, directly connected to the progressive Democrat political machine who are now controlling our conversations online. Sounds like an important alarm, no?

What if I told you there were nearly a hundred more?[1]

Whoever came up with "privatizing tyranny" is a brilliant. The article below is fascinating and it sheds light on what is the central issue of our time. Private censorship is more dangerous even than mass immigration because absolutely anything can be done by our leftist revolutionaries if citizens' voices are swallowed up by the self-annointed conniving, dishonest, leftist zealots who run Big Tech.

Here's another excerpt from an article highlighting the same issue:

According to PJ Media, during a recent interview at this year’s Aspen Ideas Festival, Zuckerberg began to explain how the social media firm is attempting to work with the governments of other countries to determine what political speech should be allowed on the site. Zuckerberg gave an example of Facebook’s interaction with the Irish government ahead of a 2018 referendum on the legalization of abortion in the country.[2]
The picture of Zuckerberg accompanying the passage just quoted is of a soulless dweeb. He's not my idea of a red-blooded American and I don't want him deciding on what shaving cream I should buy let alone deciding what is or is not appropriate for anyone to say on the internet.

Trump is a disappointment to me on this issue, just as he is with the danger of Antifa, his understanding of his powers under Art. IV, Sect. 4 to repel a blankety blank invasion SHMG, his unwillingness or inability to point out that "health care" is a phrase found nowhere in Art. I, Sect. 8, and his stunning blindness on the issue of vote fraud. Inter bleeping alia.

On this issue, however, his lack of depth is disastrous. We already have a plutocracy and it's a terrible development to have free speech matters off loaded onto freaks like Zuckertrucker. Private tyranny is the perfect description of this spreading poison and Trump and his administration, true to form, are asleep at the switch.

Political cartoonists are missing an opportunity to show a massive freight train marked "Media giant censorship" blasting by with the sleeping switchman marked "Government defense of fundamental liberties."

Notes
[1] "Welcome To 'Social Government' - Privatizing Tyranny." By Spinquark, ZeroHedge, 7/15/19 (emphasis removed).
[2] "Zucked Again! Facebook's Founder Admits To Interfering In Political Speech." By Mac Slavo, ZeroHedge, 7/15/19 (emphasis removed).

Monday, July 15, 2019

To LEO - and Back Again!

To paraphrase Buzz Lightyear.

Which is appropriate, since this proposal is from the OTHER Buzz - Aldrin.


It's clear that NASA's role in space has changed. They primarily see themselves as a research agency, that limits their provider role in space exploration. Much of their plan is geared to using commercial operations for the launch vehicles, shuttles, and other hardware.

Which is OK. After all, the government has a long history of outsourcing their essential functions to private business - the Pony Express, airline-facilitated mail operations, education at many levels, refugee re-settlement (almost all by the NGOs - many of them religious organizations), and, currently, many facets of military support.

I've been watching NOVA lately, with my husband (retired science/math teacher). The quality of the shows is excellent, and - for younger viewers who were not alive at the time - gives background to the reasons why we celebrate the 'moon missions' and should be actively working to ramp up further MANNED exploration.

Yes, there is a role for the drones. But, at this time, nothing can replace the people. Here's a link to the history of the Apollo missions.

I stronly recommend the NOVA programs - visually, they are often quite stunning (of course, the universe provides the raw material, but NASA's graphics specialists lend an amazing level of artistry to the photos in color choices, enhancement, and processing the raw data).

Here's a link to the video/images site. Warning: it's like crack for the eyes - once started, you just can't stop clicking on the links.

Unspeakable? Why?

WARNING!
Rough Language Ahead!
Send the kiddies out of the room!

     Nearly fifty years ago, a great jurist, Associate Justice John Marshall Harlan, decided that it was critical to make an important point about freedom of speech...by saying fuck in an open session of the Supreme Court during his reading of the majority opinion in a freedom-of-speech case. He offended a lot of sensibilities, including those of Chief Justice Warren Burger, by doing so. Yet he had established once and for all that the word fuck, at that time generally deemed one of the “unspeakable” words, is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. The incident is reported in Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong’s excellent book The Brethren, a chronicle of the first years of the Burger Court.

     As with words, so also with opinions, including political opinions. Of course, that’s hardly the attitude of the contemporary Left. Their military wing AntiFa doesn’t believe you have a right to express your opinion. Your opinion is “hate speech,” and therefore beyond the pale. Only opinions they approve shall be allowed the freedom of speech.

     Which brings us to this morning’s pseudo-controversy: a series of tweets from President Donald Trump:

     Quoth our second-favorite Bookworm:

     The reaction from the Progressive and Democrat cohort, encompassing politicians, presidential candidates, and the media, was predictable: RACIST!!! It did not matter that Trump said nothing about race. There was a dog whistle there and, naturally enough, race-obsessed Leftists heard it.

     President Trump refused to be cowed:

     The combination has sent a number of generally sensible and perceptive conservative commentators into a frenzy of hand-wringing, complete with prognostications of doom.

     I have only one question: Why?

     Would the majority of Americans find fault with the sentiments Trump expressed? I think not. Indeed, I think the great majority of the nation has been waiting for a forthright, fearless spokesman for Americanism. It’s part of the reason we elected Trump president, isn’t it?

     Then was there something offensive about the way the president expressed himself? I can’t find it. It was clear to whom he was referring. It was equally clear what he was castigating them for. He made no references that exceeded their persistent, vicious, even slanderous denunciations of the laws of the United States and the enforcers thereof.

     Yet even conservatives who’ve applauded Trump at other times seem to think he’s damaged himself with the tweets above. Either the Republican Establishment and the media have drummed the “niceness uber alles” ethic too deeply into their skulls, or they harbor an unreasonable fear of the sensibilities and judgment of the sensible and reasonable common people of these United States.

     My assessment is quite the opposite of theirs. It’s beginning to look as if, come November 2020, the Democrats will be hard pressed to hold Illinois, New York, and California, no matter how many canvassers they send to the graveyards.


     Several years ago, Historian wrote thus:

     There is a reason that those who would rule us fear a frank and open discussion of their abuses of power, their arrogance, their elitism, their cowardice in the face of our enemies. They fear an honest critique of their Marxist value system, of their attempts to destroy the rule of law, and of their corruption. They know well the power of ideas, of free thought and inquiry, and they have been working slowly for over a century to destroy that which they fear. Above all, they fear being forced to confront the essential nature of their inhuman creed, which is why collectivists pathologically avoid the truth and strive to conceal their acts and beliefs. One of the ways in which this gradual erosion of our liberties has been concealed is by means of perverted politeness.

     Politeness was used as a weapon against the Jews, many of whom would not allow themselves to conceive that the German National Socialist pogrom would actually be so rudely carried out against them, and who politely walked to the gas chambers to the strains of Mozart and Beethoven, as requested. There are many reasons for the Holocaust, but perversion of politeness was one of them. If you think it incredible that thousands of people walked to their death for fear of being impolite, ask yourself, "Am I any different?"

     Wild applause! If your enemies succeed in silencing you – especially in the expression of objectively verifiable truths – what can they not do to you? And if they’re willing to silence you, what wouldn’t they be willing to do? What virtue is there in kowtowing to their strident and entirely insincere claims of offense?

     Fuck ‘em and the swaybacked, spavined nags they rode in on. Fuck ‘em up the ass, sideways, with a rusty ripsaw! Send them back to the shitholes they fled and watch how they express themselves there! The time for prissy self-restraint in the face of their provocations has passed...if, indeed, there ever was such a time.

     My Gentle Readers know I have a fair facility with the English language. Yet even I find that certain sentiments are best expressed in the fashion of the paragraph above. Moreover, I deem it imperative that millions more voices be raised in such terms and to that effect.

     Historian asked:

Why stand you there silent?
Where are the awkward questions, the rude insistence on speaking the truth?
Why are there not MILLIONS of blogs such as this on the Internet?
Why is Liberty a minority opinion?
Why is the rule of law mostly an historic concept?
Why do you let Marxists set the terms of the debate?
Why do you respect illegitimate authority?

     And why, oh why, do we repress our own perfectly justified, righteous anger at these contemptible vermin who, having been succored by the greatest and most generous nation ever to exist, persist in defaming it and accusing it of all manner of entirely fictitious offenses?

     Take the gloves off, Gentle Reader. It’s long past time.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

No Escape

     If you aren’t familiar with the works of the late Jean-Francois Revel, repent of your sins and become so. Revel was among the best thinkers to arise in France in the years after World War II, yet he remains largely unappreciated – indeed, practically unknown – among his own people, to say nothing of the rest of the First World. Those of his works that have been translated into English and remain non-extortionately available include How Democracies Perish, The Flight From Truth, and Anti-Americanism, all of which have valued places in my library.

     One of his books, The Totalitarian Temptation, was until recently unavailable in English. In it, Revel discourses at length on the tendency among “progressives” to champion policies that are totalitarian in nature: i.e., policies that force their vision of “the good” on all of us, willy-nilly. Their combination of intellectual arrogance with an assumption of moral superiority leads them to infer that it is legitimate, even morally obligatory, for them to coerce the rest of us. After all, if the rest of us are so stupid, or so venal, that we won’t embrace “the good” freely, what else can they do?

     The attitude should be familiar to anyone who follows American politics in the present day. It manifests in virtually every statement any “progressive” politician or “thinker” makes – and certainly in every legislative proposition a “progressive” advances. They never show the slightest hesitation or uncertainty about it.

     Given the characteristic American attitude of defiance toward would-be dictators, how such persons can command anyone’s respect is a mystery. Yet they have, and they do – and on issue after issue, including completely fabricated ones, they presume to dictate how it must be – it’s a matter of RIGHTS!

     No one is more creative than a “progressive” at inventing “rights” that Almighty God would blanch at. But as rights is the Ace of Trumps in all political discourse, that’s their immediate claim about everything they demand, from free abortions to a law protecting the zyzzyva.

     (What’s that? They haven’t demanded a law protecting the zyzzyva? Probably because they can’t spell it. Anyway, we shouldn’t give them any ideas.)


     Today, Rod Dreher quotes Catholic Czech thinker Vaclav Benda:

     There are times when Christians do not realize that the idea of the forced establishment of paradise on earth and the emancipation of man with regard to any kind of higher authority comes from the same crucible as the idea of the improvement of sinners (or elimination of their occurrence) with the help of draconian laws, the idea of Christian dictatorship (totalitarianism): rebellion against the Creator stands at the root of all this, the same longing arbitrarily to correct imperfections in His work of creation....

     Totalitarianism devotes all its strength, all its technical know-how, towards a single goal: the unimpeded exercise of absolute power. It is capable of the most bizarre tactical somersaults imaginable, but it can never, under any circumstances, admit that anything is more important, more sacrosanct, than “the leading role of the party.”...

     One has either to submit oneself unconditionally to the violent and totalitarian power which sees a threat in every shadow and every free breath, or to confront it and to pit real strength against it (even if this is “mere” moral strength, for even that has shown many times in the history of Christian civilization how effective it can be). What is without any sense at all is to try to persuade the power that we mean well, and that we intend to limit its monopoly (its very essence!) only in its very own interest.

     Absolutely! The totalitarian is unappeasable; he cannot be bought off with a compromise. Moreover, he’s never really “finished.” There’s always just a little more “improving” he can do; wait while he searches for it. Note that totalitarians in power never voluntarily relinquish it. They depart from their palaces feet first, always. I made note of this in Shadow of a Sword:

     The moral dimension of arranging the assassination of a popular politician didn’t trouble Wriston at all. Living in the public eye had always entailed increased risk. Historically, whenever some troublemaker had roused the rabble to a greater pitch than the Establishment of that time and place could tolerate, it had disposed of him with no compunction and extreme prejudice. There were parts of the world where that was still the inevitable price of rising to power—places where a dismissal from high office was always administered with high-velocity lead. Power seekers in such lands arrived in their palaces with their death warrants already signed and sealed; they merely awaited delivery.

     If there is any Christian moral imperative that arises from politics, it’s to resist totalitarianism with all our might. God did not give us wills of our own just so we could be subjugated to the will of another...even “just a little.”


     David Thompson, in his pithy way, adds a grace note:

     Put another way, “State education is generally sub-optimal and often shockingly bad. Let’s make sure that’s all there is available.”

     That is the true core of the Left’s totalitarian-socialist agenda: there shall be no escape. It’s not about anyone’s “needs.” (Sure as hell it’s not about anyone’s “rights.”) It’s about the Left’s determination to eliminate every last vestige of individual choice in favor of a fabricated Utopia imposed top-down by “our betters:” a scheme guaranteed to produce widespread misery and a privileged caste of commissars.

     Yet there are people who condemn Donald Trump, the first president in many years to openly condemn socialism – to proclaim that “socialism is slavery” and that “America will never be socialist!” — for daring to say so. With the Left slavering for total control of every occupation, every choice, and every word or thought, supposedly conservative commentators have condemned Trump for daring to speak his mind openly and fearlessly, and for putting America first.

     “Collegiality” be damned. Trump in 2020.

Neighbors: A Sunday Rumination

     [For Good Samaritan Sunday. -- FWP]


     Smith hobbled rather than walked from his car to the church doors. To walk as able-bodied others did had been taken from him years before by diabetes, gout, and sedentary habits he lacked the willpower to break. It was all he could do to shuffle forward, one minuscule step after another, as he maneuvered his ungainly bulk forward on his two canes and his two disobedient feet. Each Sunday the journey seemed longer than the last.
     He refused to surrender. It was beneath what little dignity he retained. He would not add to the parish’s burdens by subscribing to Eucharist for the Homebound. Already the parish’s eucharistic ministers strained to provide for the sacramental needs of its aged and infirm. While he could still walk, however slowly and painfully, he would attend Sunday Mass in the flesh as well as in the spirit.
     He was reaching for the door when a hand snaked around him to open it and hold it open. Because the early Mass was seldom well attended and he was usually the first to arrive, it was a charity he seldom received. He turned, started to thank his benefactor for the small mercy, and halted.
     It was the newcomer.
     Those who sat near him had remarked on the new arrival, and on how far he stood from the norm for the early Mass. He was middle-aged, no more than fifty. He drove a large black Mercedes that suggested greater wealth than anyone else in the parish. He dressed severely, in dark, forbidding colors. He walked swiftly, in quick, staccato steps, as if he disdained to waste a second. He’d yet to speak to anyone. He carried himself with an air of reserve, even authority, that rendered others reluctant to approach and welcome him. But for the past two Sundays he’d come to the early Mass, had genuflected and made the Sign of the Cross at the entrance to the nave, had seated himself in a pew apart from the rest of the congregation, and at the Mass’s end had departed as silently as a wraith.
     “Thank you,” Smith said.
     The newcomer smiled and nodded.
     Smith eased himself into the rearmost pew, laid his canes alongside him, and strove to compose his mind to gratitude to God. His disabilities and near-total isolation made it a greater challenge than the trip from the parking lot to the church entrance.
     The isolation was not accidental. Suffering had turned him inward. His interactions with others were distracted at best, bitterly envious at worst. Those he’d once deemed friends had gradually stepped away to become remote, inaccessible. He bore the weight upon his soul with no better grace than his physical infirmities. Even his most fervent prayers were stippled with frustration and resentment.
     A hand landed upon his shoulder. Startled, he looked up to find the newcomer gazing down at him. The man’s expression was unreadable.
     “You’re alone again,” the newcomer said.
     Smith snorted. “You don’t miss much, do you.”
     The newcomer’s expression was unchanged. “Three weeks in a row.” He glanced at the two canes. “Do you live alone?”
     Smith grunted assent.
     “How do you get your necessities?”
     “When possible and with difficulty.”
     “Hm.” The newcomer straightened, reached into his inside jacket pocket, and brought out his wallet. For a moment Smith thought he was about to be offered money, as if he were a mendicant. He bridled. “I don’t need—”
     The newcomer held up a hand, and Smith fell silent. He took a pen from the same pocket, pulled a small white card from his wallet, wrote on it briefly, and handed it to Smith.
     Smith eyed it dubiously. It was blank except for what the man had just written on it. “What’s this for?”
     “For when you need it,” the newcomer said. “If you need to get around and aren’t up to it, or need anything else you can’t do for yourself, call me. I’ll take care of it.”
     Smith peered at him. “Why?”
     “Neighbors.”
     “Hm?”
     “We’re neighbors,” the newcomer said.
     Smith snorted. “Get off it. I know the names and faces of everyone within ten miles.” He shook his head. “My real neighbors don’t want anything to do with me. If you were one of them, you’d feel the same.”
     “Maybe,” the newcomer murmured. “But neighbor means one who has been brought near. Here I am and here you are.” A trickle of other parishioners walked past him, each one glancing at him, lifting an eyebrow or two, and passing on to their accustomed seats. He took no notice, merely nodded at the card, and said “Hold on to it.” As Smith slipped the card into his back pocket, the newcomer turned toward the tabernacle, genuflected and made the Sign of the Cross, and seated himself in the pew at the right edge of the nave, the one he’d occupied in his previous attendances.
     Smith stared at him for a long while afterward. His ponderings ended only with the arrival of the celebrant. When the priest turned to the congregation and said “The Lord be with you,” he forced himself erect and strove to concentrate on the ritual.

#

     Smith was unlocking his car when a pair of other parishioners passed him, conversing in animated voices.
     “That’s Evan Conklin,” one said, nodding toward the newcomer as the man headed toward his Mercedes. “Major venture capitalist.”
     Smith straightened and stood utterly still.
     “Hah!” said another. “We haven’t had one of those around here before. I can’t imagine what need we’d have for one.”
     “He won’t be here long,” replied the first. “He came to settle his son’s affairs. The boy died in a car crash about three weeks ago. Conklin’s daughter-in-law is unable to cope.”
     “Excuse me!” Smith called out. The two turned toward him, frowning. “Where does he hail from?”
     “Onteora County,” the first one said. “About a hundred fifty miles east.”
     “Oh.”
     Smith watched as Conklin’s Mercedes threaded its way out of the lot. When the black car was out of sight, he eased himself into his car, waited until the press of departures had slackened, and drove home.

#

     Smith's impediments to motion increased as the week passed. When he woke on Sunday morning, he found that he could not lever himself out of bed. An hour’s careful stretching and wiggling of extremities enabled him to rise, but the improvement was insufficient to make it safe for him to drive. It was plain that he would not be attending the early Mass.
     He remembered the card.
     The card was still in the pocket of his jeans. He picked up his cell phone and dialed the number. Two rings. Three.
     “Evan Conklin.”
     “Good morning, Mr. Conklin. This is Darren Smith.”
     “Hm?”
     “The cripple you gave your card last week, in Chemung.”
     “Oh. Good morning. What do you need?”
     “Eucharist. I can’t leave the house.”
     “Ah. What’s your address?”
     Smith gave it, heard the sound of a pencil scratching paper.
     “Are you okay otherwise?”
     “I’ll manage.”
     “Very good. Hang on.”
     The connection broke. Smith hobbled to his front door, unlocked it, and seated himself in his recliner to wait.

#

     Two and a half hours had elapsed with no sign of a Eucharist-bearing Samaritan when there came a knock at the door. He called out “It’s open, come on in.”
     Evan Conklin entered and closed the door quietly behind him. “Excuse me for not getting up,” Smith said.
     “It’s okay,” Conklin said. He proffered his right hand. It held a mini-ciborium of the sort Smith knew well.
     “Are you prepared to receive the Body of Christ?” Conklin murmured.
     “I am,” Smith replied. He held out his hand, and Conklin put the consecrated wafer in it. Smith put it in his mouth, bowed his head, and prayed briefly. Afterward he looked up at Conklin and said “Thank you.”
     “Would you like some coffee?” Conklin said.
     “Very much, thanks.” Smith started to lever himself out of his chair.
     Conklin smiled and waved him back into his seat. “I’ll take care of it.” He went to Smith’s little kitchen and saw to it. Fifteen minutes later each of them had a mug before him.
     “Difficult morning?” Conklin said.
     “I have them now and then,” Smith said. “Thanks for helping me out. I hate to miss Sunday Mass, but as you can see...”
     Conklin nodded.
     “I’m not on the parish’s list of homebounds,” Smith said. “I’m fortunate you’re still in town.”
     “Hm?”
     “One of the others said you’re only in Chemung to settle some stuff for your late son and his widow.”
     “I was,” Conklin said. “But I’ve been back in Onteora since Tuesday evening.”

==<O>==

     Copyright (C) 2016 Francis W. Porretto. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

You Only Just Noticed Dept: Congressional Theatrics

     This recent bit of drama before Congress has created a fair amount of buzz:

     Former ICE Director Tom Homan had a few choice words for Rep. Chuy Garcia during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on Friday (video below). Homan resented the Democrats’ use of him as a stage prop in their political theater. Expressing my views exactly, Homan observed: “First of all your comments are disgusting!” Garcia echoed him, schoolyard style.

     Homan continued: “I’ve served my country 34 years. This is out of control. And yes, I held a 5-year-old boy in my arms…I knelt down beside him and said a prayer for him because I knew what the last 30 minutes of his life was like. And I had a 5-year-old son at the time. What I’ve been trying to do for 34 years serving my nation is to save lives. For you to sit there and insult my integrity and my love for my country and for children…that’s why this whole thing needs to be fixed. And you’re the member of Congress. Fix it!”

     The exchange was quickly terminated by Democrat Congresswhore Elijah Cummings, the committee chair. Cummings, dimbulb though he is, realized that Homan’s testimony had departed from the Democrats’ script. He realized that to allow Homan’s righteous anger any more exposure would fatally damage the Democrats’ carefully planned theatrics. Fairness be damned; partisan politics uber alles!

     But wait: there’s more! The response of the Republicans on that committee was tepid. They made no serious attempt to counterattack the Left’s outpouring of calumny and vitriol on a good and faithful civil servant.

     Is it really any wonder why the Democrats are roundly hated by decent Americans...or why the Republican Establishment is roundly scorned for its pusillanimity? This is the Democrats’ standard procedure: to pour out accusations and contempt on Republicans and Republican appointees, and deny them any opportunity to reply. The Republicans almost never counter these foul tactics. Decorum must be maintained! Collegiality matters more than truth or fairness, don’t y’know.

     Do we need any further explanation for the contempt private citizens feel for elected officials – Democrats and Republicans both?


     If there is such a thing as normality in politics, either it fails to apply to politics in our time, or we must admit to a “new normal” that departs radically from all previous conceptions.

     If you recall the years when Barack Hussein Obama occupied the White House and the Republicans controlled the House of Representatives, you probably also recall the flaccidity of the Congressional Republicans before the Obamunist steamroller. A memorable moment arrived when John Boehner, then the Speaker of the House and one of the most powerful men on Capitol Hill, was asked why his caucus didn’t do more to thwart the Obamunist tide. Boehner replied that as the GOP controlled only one half of one third of the federal government, its power was sharply limited. In effect, he implied that he and his co-partisans in the House could do nothing more to thwart the Democrats’ many statist thrusts against the American economy and the Constitution, and should not be expected to do more.

     Today, the Democrats control one half of one third of the federal government. Yet the above is the merest look at the crap they get away with. If it weren’t for President Trump’s executive actions, the agenda he brought to the presidency would be paralyzed. It certainly gets no serious consideration in Congress.

     Many a commentator has opined that the Democrats’ presidential clown parade is making that party seem unacceptable to all but a tiny minority of left-wing loonies. It’s hard to argue otherwise. How, then, do the Democrats regularly succeed at outmaneuvering and outplaying the nominally stronger and better positioned Republican forces? Why doesn’t the GOP display more backbone, especially in the face of scurrilities such as those displayed in the above video?


     Essayist James Lileks recently wrote that to have a functioning two-party system, it’s necessary to have a second party. Allow me to quote Glenn Reynolds: Heh! Indeed. But which party, judged on its performance, is missing from the pas de deux?

     Many have commented scornfully to the effect that the Republicans seem to prefer to be a minority party – a “loyal opposition” rather than a governing force responsible for good decisions and their implementation. The evidence for that position is mounting steadily. Republican inanition in the face of Democrat hijinks of the sort reported above makes it a difficult stance to disprove.

     The consequence for a weak will in governance is being shoved aside, rendered irrelevant to events. The consequence in electoral politics is being derided and dismissed. That’s a part of the reason the GOP lost the House majority in 2018. It could cost them the Senate majority in 2020.

     Consider the animosity a number of highly placed Republicans have shown toward President Trump. It strikes me that Trump’s powerful will to progress is at the heart of it. A Republican caucus that prefers to avert responsibility for actually governing would naturally be appalled by such a Republican president. It would be far more comfortable with the sort of go-along-to-get-along attitude exhibited by the two Bushes. Yet let it be noted: the GOP didn’t succeed in holding onto its majorities during either of those administrations. The sounds and scents on the political winds are much the same today as they were then.

     No, it’s not a happy thought. But it’s what I see.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Equalizer

     (From the responses to this piece, I detect a hunger for fantasy among my fiction readers. Well, never let it be said that I refused to assuage a demand. Below is the first of my efforts in that direction. Beware: it will lead you down a path you might fear to tread. -- FWP)



     The little man who called himself Acorn stepped close to Michael and looked up into his face. The candlelight playing on his features gave him the aspect of a supplicant at an altar. "Let me hear you speak in your lowest register, clearly but as quickly as you can."
     "Anything in particular, sir?"
     "No, whatever you choose."
     Michael thought a moment. "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our deaths, Amen."
     If he really is a conjurer, that will put him on notice.
     Michael's deep bass echoed from the walls of the cave. Acorn's eyebrows went up. "Nine seconds from start to finish. Christian?"
     Michael nodded.
     "Could you do that, say, two hundred times in succession, keeping your voice that low and maintaining that pace the whole way?"
     The big laborer shrugged. "I don't know."
     Acorn ran a hand over his bald pate. He clasped his hands behind his back, strode to the mouth of his cave, and stared out at the huts and fields of Carach an Lagan.
     "It's important to know. This could be worth a great deal to you. But not the Ave Maria. I have a passage here from an old book, about the same length." He returned to his workbench and laid his hand on a large leatherbound volume. "Would you like to try it?"
     Michael regarded the book uncertainly. "May I have a look at it?"
     Acorn heaved the volume open. Its binding crackled. The pages filled the air with tiny motes of dust as they turned.
     "Here." He pointed to a paragraph inscribed in an unusual script.
     Michael squinted down at the passage. "I can't make it out."
     Acorn grinned. "It's very ornate, but it's the Latin alphabet. You'll pick it up. Watch and listen." He ran a finger underneath the words as he read them off. They sounded harsh, uncouth. The air acquired a hint of tension, as if a storm were gathering outside.
     "What does it mean?"
     The little man shrugged. "To you and me? Nothing at all. To the man who wrote it? No one alive can say. Read it aloud with me, once."
     Acorn had been right. Once he'd heard the passage read, Michael's eyes adapted to the decorative swirls on the letters and filtered them out without thought. They read the passage together, Acorn's light tenor and Michael's weighty bass in strangely perfect unison.
     "Excellent, Michael. How is it that you learned to read so well?"
     Michael looked down at his boots. "I was taught by the priests. They thought I might become one of them, until I married."
     "What do you do to support yourself?"
     "I pull a trashcart, twice daily."
     Acorn nodded. "Not much money in that, is there?"
     "No."
     And Aoife is with child again. Dear God, how am I to feed another?
     Acorn cocked his head. "How long would it take you to learn that passage by heart? As well as you know the Ave Maria?"
     "Well, they aren't words I know, which will make it harder. If I might have a copy, so that I could say it over to myself as I worked --"
     "No copy, Michael. You must learn it here."
     "Ah. I don't know, sir. Perhaps a day or two, but the work --"
     "Two hundred sesterces, Michael."
     Michael gasped. Acorn regarded him steadily.
     "To learn a string of nonsense words? Sir, what can be the use?"
     A corner of the little man's mouth turned up. "I have a use. Let it lie. Two hundred sesterces for you to commit that passage to memory, and to recite it two hundred times perfectly, as low and as rapidly as you did the Ave Maria."
     Two hundred sesterces. I could leave off the hauler's life, buy a plot, learn to farm. Aoife and the babes would never fear hunger again. I might even be able to afford a book of my own. Perhaps two or three!
     "Today, sir?"
     Acorn shook his head. "Today you practice." He put a gold terce into Michael's hand. It was the first gold Michael had ever touched, and he was amazed at the weight of it. "There's something on account."
     Michael tore his eyes from the gleaming disk with difficulty. "I must leave at the ninth hour to pull the cart."
     "Practice till the ninth hour, then." The little man's face shone with undisguised eagerness. "Come, let's go over it again...."

***

     Michael pulled aside the burlap that closed the door to his hut and peered within. Aoife was kneeling with her back to him, sorting through a pile of cut rushes, saving out the broadest for thatch and setting aside the lesser ones to be burned for heat. Her pregnancy had begun to show only a few weeks earlier, but in her kneeling position it made her slender body look unbalanced and vulnerable. Before he could speak, she smiled over her shoulder at him.
     "Where are Eamon and Siobhan?" he said.
     "I sent them to the bog for peat. They should be back soon. What did Acorn want of you?"
     He knelt beside her and took a bundle of reeds to sort. "He wanted me to learn a chant for him. Said my voice was perfect for it."
     Best not to mention the money until it's in my pouch.
     Aoife looked uneasy. "This has nothing to do with the druids, does it?"
     He shrugged. "He said nothing of them. It's just an old chant in a crude old language, but when it's recited at speed it becomes quite musical. I asked him what it meant and he said no one alive could say."
     Aoife paused in her labors and ran a hand down his cheek. "Sweet trusting man that you are, you believed him straight off, didn't you? Father Declan might know."
     Michael considered. "You're right. I hadn't thought of him."
     "Shall we climb the hill and ask him, then?"
     He nodded. "We shall. When the babes have returned."
     "That could be a while, husband."
     "We don't lack for things to do, wife."
     She dropped her bundle of reeds and made to rise. "I only meant to say that -- "
     He pulled her to him and stopped her voice with a kiss. Her lips parted to admit his tongue. Her hands rose and began to undo the laces at the throat of his tunic. His went to the belt of her gown.

***

     Father Declan rubbed at his tonsure. "Are you certain those are the exact sounds?"
     Michael nodded. "I could write them out as letters for you, Father. I read them off a page in a great book, and the image is still fresh in my memory."
     The stooped old priest mused uncertainly for a moment, then pulled a quill and a sheet of parchment from a crevice in his worktable and passed them to Michael. "Do it, my boy." Michael released his wife's hand and took the quill.
     Michael's hand was not as smooth nor as steady as it had been when the priests schooled him. A trash hauler had little opportunity to write, and scant coin for parchment or ink. Yet it was not entirely discreditable. When he had finished, the priest peered down at the writing and read it off slowly but surely, reproducing the chant exactly as Michael had learned it.
     "I do not know it, my boy. It is not Latin. Nor is it Gaelic as we speak it. Perhaps it comes from the Orkneys, where the Gaelic is not spoken true. But it has a rough sound to it, like a challenge or an insult." The priest pondered a moment. "It could be Saxon, I suppose. Michael," the priest said, laying a frail, age-gnarled hand on Michael's huge, heavily calloused one, "when you recited this... chant, did you feel any different? Did anything unusual happen?"
     Yes, Acorn laid a gold terce in my hand and promised me two hundred more like it.
     "Nothing, Father. Oh, the walls of Acorn's cave echoed it for a moment, but no more."
     Declan nodded. "Acorn has a certain reputation among us, my boy. Not a bad one, mind, but he's done much traveling, and inquired deeply of things the Church considers dangerous. I will not tell you to shun him, but I caution you: he may have purposes of which he does not speak. He would not be the first."
     "I understand, Father."
     The old priest sat back and stared at his folded hands. "I should tell the abbot of this, you know."
     Michael started. Aoife drew close to him. Her arm snaked around his waist. "Even though nothing has yet come of it, Father?"
     Declan's inky black eyes rose and probed at Michael's. "Perhaps not. But will you come to me if something does?"
     Michael's mouth became dry. "I will, Father."

***

     News of the Balogh campaign filtered into Carach an Lagan with the carts of the spring's traders. Evan Balogh and his horde had overrun half of Ireland to date. His most recent conquest was only four leagues to the east. He'd not moved through the winter, nor yet since the thaw, but the portents were poor.
     Town by town, Balogh's spears had humbled the defenses that rose to meet them. In each he'd sworn the tuathan to fealty as his vassal, left a garrison of hard men, and commanded the conscription of half the lads of military age. Surely the training those boys were receiving was not in how to farm.
     Michael pondered the tidings despite his inclinations. Were Balogh's legion to assail Carach an Lagan, there would be little his town could do about it. Aoife's father said that their tuathan Bryndan had not taken his sword in hand since Michael was weaned. Bryndan's people might fight, but against the large, well armed, and ferocious Balogh army, they would have little hope.
     Balogh had not proclaimed his goal publicly, but it was clear. He intended to be the first King of all Kings Ireland had seen in seven centuries. He appeared to have the means. Barring a coalition of the remaining free towns in opposition to him, he would be master of all Ireland within a year. Even such a coalition would face long odds.
     Michael could not hope to affect the matter. Though he was the largest and strongest man of the village, he lacked all training for war. Yet he thought about it as he hauled, and tended his homestead, and practiced the odd chant under Acorn's eye. He said nothing to Aoife.

***

     After a fortnight of practice, Michael wanted only to have done with the old chant. Acorn had told him nothing more about it, had merely sat and listened as Michael repeated it endlessly, straining to keep his voice low and to speak as quickly as he could nonetheless.
     On the fourteenth day, after thirteen days of three hours' practice each day, Acorn listened to Michael recite the old phrase two hundred times without pause or error, and announced that the practices were finished.
     "What then, sir?"
     "Bide. You will see." The little scholar went to the back of his cave and dragged forth a device that looked much like a potter's wheel. The drive mechanism was sturdier than on a typical wheel, a pair of stout gears with thick teeth. The platter was thinner than most, as if it had been shaved down. Mounted to the stem of the contraption was a heavy wooden strut that supported a large horn, too large to have come from a local beast. Wrapped tightly around the narrow end of the horn was one end of a gleaming wire. The other end trailed lightly along the upper edge of a clay drum. Michael leaned close and saw that the wire end actually rested in a shallow groove that spiraled along the length of the cylinder.
     Acorn saw the question in his eyes and smiled. "Time for your labors to bear fruit, Michael. You must run through the chant as before, as low and as fast as you can. Don't bother to count the repetitions. Speak into the horn, and start when I say."
     The little man dragged a stool up to the wheel, sat upon it, and placed his feet upon the pedals. He rocked them back and forth a bit, and the wheel spun to his touch. He closed his eyes, muttered something unintelligible, and then stared straight at Michael.
     "Begin."
     As Michael launched into the chant, Acorn pedaled the wheel carefully and deliberately, maintaining a steady pace of one revolution per heartbeat. The end of the wire inched along the groove toward the bottom of the cylinder. Michael tried to ignore it and concentrate on his chant.
     Twenty minutes later, the wire end had reached the bottom of the cylinder, where it scraped against the platter.
     Acorn bade him stop, ceased to pedal and slipped off his stool. He staggered, brushed a bit of clay dust from his jerkin, and nodded.
     "That was very well done, Michael."
     "Thank you, sir." But what is it that I did? "May I be paid now?"
     The scholar smiled. "Presently. But will you assist me with a test first?"
     "What must I do?"
     Instead of answering, the little man went to the mouth of his cave, scratched about on the ground, and returned with a fist-sized rock. He handed it to Michael.
     "I shall remount the wheel in a moment. Stand back by the mouth of the cave. When I have the platter spinning, take this and cast it at me, as hard as you can."
     "But sir --"
     Acorn held up a hand. "Aim below my neck, please. Just in case."
     He returned to the wheel, fiddled with the horn and the wire for a few moments, and seated himself once again with his feet on the pedals. In two seconds the wheel was spinning swiftly, and the chant was squawking from the horn in a faint but clear voice. It was Michael's voice, raised above the range of the human and accelerated to extraordinary speed.
     "Now, Michael!" Acorn was puffing and pedaling furiously.
     Michael hurled the rock at Acorn's belly with all his force. It did not reach its target. About three feet from the scholar's flesh, the rock burst in a shower of sparks, leaving only a cloud of dust.
     Acorn ceased to pedal, dismounted the stool, and beamed at his device with paternal pride.
     "It works."

***

     Though Abbot Ciaran was three hands shorter than Michael, still the laborer felt the priest to be looking down at him.
     "What you have described is plainly sorcery. Though you were an unknowing accomplice to it, yet you were an accomplice, and therefore excommunicate until you have been cleansed. This proscription," Ciaran said, one hand raised against Michael's imminent cry of protest, "does not apply to your wife or your children."
     Michael turned to Father Declan. The old priest's face was twisted with pity. He held Michael's gaze only a moment, then bowed his head over his folded hands.
     "Of what will this cleansing consist, Abbot?"
     Ciaran pursed his lips, then clasped his hands behind his back and began to amble about his study. His considerable girth jiggled with each step.
     "You must make a full confession of your part in the affair, omitting no detail or condition. You will be absolved, of course. However, you will do penance. It will include the surrender of all your profit from your deed, for God will not countenance a man to retain the gains from such a thing, yet admit him back into grace."
     Michael had feared as much. He'd pondered it for an hour before ascending the hill to tell Father Declan of what Acorn had done. He'd come to no conclusion. He hadn't dared to tell Aoife about any of it.
     He allowed his eyes to travel the breadth of the abbot's office. It was a large space, the largest within the abbey. The stones of the walls had been scraped clean of all moss and dirt, and the spaces between them carefully chinked with river clay that was then rubbed smooth. The floor was covered with thick furs, so soft that when Michael entered, he'd thought for a moment that he'd stepped onto a cloud. A large desk and an adjoining work table stood beneath a large window framed by heavy blue drapes. Several large wooden cabinets, their doors closed to his inspection, lined the other walls. In the man-high hearth, a merry fire consumed half a hundredweight of good oak logs. Despite the open window, the fire warmed the room to the edge of Michael's ability to endure it.
     Bryndan lives in a hut no grander than mine. Father Declan's cell is smaller, and is cold even in full summer.
     "And the abbey shall have my two hundred sesterces, then?"
     The abbot frowned. "They are not yours. They are the fruits of a transaction with a conjurer and a demonolater. They shall be put to God's work."
     "What work does God have that requires my two hundred sesterces, Abbot? You receive a tenth of all the product of Carach an Lagan, and from the looks of this room you don't stint yourself the use of it. Why can't I retain my pay for labor honestly done? Why can't I use it to buy a plot and a few animals, and raise my family out of the trash-hauler's life? Why must it go to your comfort instead?"
     Declan gasped. The abbot's eyes flared wide and his face turned purple.
     "Would you prefer that your whole family be under the ban, young man? Would you want to see your wife and children denied the rites, the Eucharist, and the face of Christ? Take care that your concern for their bodies does not cost their souls an eternity in hell."
     The words sent a chill down Michael's back, yet there was something else there as well, something that stiffened him against the gale that raged from the mouth of the portly abbot. He stared briefly into the blazing fire as his thoughts congealed.
     "Each Sunday dawn since I was five I have climbed the hill," he said, "to hear Father Declan say the Mass. I have heard his sermons, and learned the faith at his hand, and accepted all that he taught me. I have given the tithe with my own hands, even when it left me and mine with so little that Aoife and I had to choose between feeding the babes and feeding ourselves. I have brought Eamon up the hill for a year, and I was soon to bring Siobhan beside him. I have never once complained.
     "Father Declan told us ever that our salvation lies in our own hands, that each of us comes to Christ by his own faith and will and labor, that no man can damn me but myself. I took his words and I laid them alongside those of the druids, and I knew that this was how the world was meant to be, not the bloody sacrifices and grim woodland gods and chanting at the dark of the moon.
     "But now you, Reverend Abbot, tell me that what I've believed all these years is a lie, that my wife and my babes are hostages to my decision. That by your word, they can be denied the hope of heaven, though they had no part of what I did. And I take your words, and I lay them alongside those of Father Declan, and I know that either you are no true priest of Christ, or he is not. And I will keep my two hundred sesterces."
     He turned and departed before the astonished priests could respond. As the door closed behind him, he heard the abbot scream "You are no Christian, Michael!" in a voice shrill with frustration and fury.

***

     There were no immediate consequences. The other residents of the village showed no change in attitude toward Michael or his family. At the market, Acorn's gold spent as readily as the coppers Michael earned for hauling the trashcart. Once Bryndan saw the color of Michael's money, the tuathan agreed to introduce him to some minor nobles who might divide their lands with him at an acceptable price.
     Michael left a terce on account with the blacksmith, that a sword might be forged for him. Word was passing that the Balogh horde would soon be on the move again. With all that lay to the east already under his sway, Balogh would surely be looking in the direction of Carach an Lagan.
     At dawn on the Sunday after the confrontation with the abbot, Michael led his family up the hill to the chapel as always. The townsfolk parading along before and behind him said nothing. At the chapel doors, Artyr and Padraig, ploughmen nearly as large as he, stepped before him and gestured that he halt. Their townsfolk flowed around and past them.
     "You and yours may not enter here, Michael," Padraig said.
     Aoife gasped.
     Michael frowned. "Is it for you to say so, Padraig? You, whose drinking and wenching are the shame of Carach an Lagan? Or you, Artyr, who pray that you'll die on a Sunday, after Mass and before noon, so that you'll not descend straight to hell?"
     "We have been instructed by the abbot," Artyr said in a monotone.
     Aoife's hand closed painfully tight upon Michael's. Their children drew close around them. A last trickle of villagers flowed past them, leaving them alone outside the church.
     Michael made a show of peering into the chapel. "I don't see that particular fellow anywhere about. Has he ever shown you his study, Artyr? Did he call you there to...instruct you, or did he come outside to do it, so the dung on your boots wouldn't offend his fine fur rugs?"
     Artyr's broad face convulsed in a snarl. He looked as if he might hurl himself at Michael, until Padraig laid a monitory hand on his shoulder.
     "There is no point to this, Michael," Padraig said. "You and yours are excommunicate, and have no place in a gathering of Christians, here or anywhere. Make haste to your sorcerer in the cave, for his is the only instruction you'll receive in Carach an Lagan."
     The two retreated into the chapel and shut the doors in Michael's face.

***

     "Is it true, Michael?"
     Aoife sat on the ground, knees drawn up and head thrown back. Her eyes were sheened over with tears. She'd said no word since they descended the hill, except to send Eamon and Siobhan to the bog for peat they didn't need.
     "I don't know, wife. He had me do a service for him that I didn't understand, and he did a thing with it I can't explain. So far no harm has come of it, and he paid me well. I don't know what to expect."
     "What was the thing you did?"
     Michael told her.
     "No demons?"
     He sauntered to the door of their hut and peered out at the spring morning. All was quiet. The rest of Carach an Lagan was still atop the hill, celebrating the Mass that had been denied to them.
     "None that I saw. But what should we expect I would see? Would I know a demon if I stared one in the face?"
     "Who made the voice you heard, if not a demon?"
     Michael moved to sit beside her, looped his arms over his knees. "It was my voice, love. As shrill as if I were a mouse not a man, but mine nonetheless. Acorn's device spoke with my voice, but faster and higher than I could ever do, even if you were to take a blacksmith's tongs and crush my --"
     "Enough, Michael." She turned away from him, and he saw the rapid quivering of her shoulders.
     "We will never know want again, wife."
     She would not look at him. "We will never see God's face, husband."
     "Dung of an ass!" Her head jerked around at his sudden roar. "Have we not kept the Commandments with full respect? Have we not taught our children as we ourselves were taught? We are no less Christians than we were before. Abbot Ciaran and his lust for the gold I've earned cannot make us less. Aoife," he said, allowing entreaty to pour into his voice, "it was God made me what I am. It was God gave me this chest and this throat, and the voice they produce. It was God made the laws of the world, not Abbot Ciaran. If this voice and Acorn's skills can produce something wondrous, something that might shield a man from a thrown rock, or a spear, or..."
     As if they'd been churning behind a gate just unlatched, implications and possibilities poured through his brain. Aoife leaned toward him and peered into his face.
     "Michael?"
     The Balogh hordes.
     "Michael!" Her hands clutched at his shoulders.
     He clambered to his feet and brushed the soil from his clothes. "I must see Acorn." He reached down to his wife. "Will you come with me this time?"
     She took his hand and rose.

***

     "Was it sorcery?"
     Acorn's eyebrows rose. "So I am 'sir' to you no longer, Michael?"
     Michael's jaw clenched. "What you are to me is of no moment beside what you are to the world."
     "Which is?"
     "A conjurer. A demonolater. And the agent of my corruption."
     Acorn said nothing. Aoife's hand squeezed Michael's to counsel calm. He looked down at her, then jerked his chin toward the contraption that had spoken with his voice. It sat in the back of the cave, surrounded by other oddments of unclear import.
     "There it is, wife. First I spoke to it, and then it spoke to me. But its voice was far stronger than mine. Strong enough to shatter a thrown rock to dust. Strong enough to shield the man who rode it from a swordstroke or the flight of a spear. Strong enough to cast us out of the Church, deny us the rites, make us shunned of Carach an Lagan and wherever else word of our banishment might travel. Acorn," he said, turning to the little man once more, "would it protect you from the village in arms, should Abbot Ciaran persuade them that you've leagued with a demon? Would it protect you from me?"
     The color drained from Acorn's face. "You have had nothing but good of me, Michael. Why do you turn against me now?"
     "By your hand I was cast out from my people!"
     Acorn's eyes narrowed. He raised one small hand, made a show of inspecting it, and turned it palm up toward Michael.
     "Are you sure, Michael? By my hand? Why doesn't this hand remember that? Was it I who pronounced you excommunicate? Was it I who called anathema upon you before the village? Was it I who told you that your entire family would fall under the ban unless you surrendered your wages to the abbot? And when that threat had been spoken, did I compel your answer?" Acorn's lips pulled back from his teeth. "Truly, I have been many places this past week. I am a man of power indeed!"
     Michael's mouth fell open. "The abbot said --"
     "That I made a pact with a demon? Did you see a demon, Michael? Did you hear a demon's voice?"
     It was my own voice I heard.
     "Acorn, what did we do together? If it wasn't sorcery, then what was it?"
     The fire dimmed in the little man's face. His face worked as if he were tasting the words he was about to speak.
     "We made an experiment, lad. I'd been told a strange tale about that chant, involving a man in a village to the south. He didn't know what it meant, no more than you or I. He recited it to his children as a nonsense rhyme, and they learned it and recited it back to him. One day when they were bandying it back and forth, faster and faster, his wife became irritated with them and hurled a potshard in their direction, and it exploded as it flew. The event terrified them. They scarcely dared to whisper of it.
     "I tried it for myself, but the results were erratic. It occurred to me that speed -- sheer rapid repetition -- might be the key, but as fast as I could speak the words, still I could not make the effect reliable. So I contrived a device that would record the sounds spoken to it, and play them back at need, at a speed far higher than any human throat could manage. And I called you to me.
     "Now that we can make it happen at will, we can study it. We can try to determine why it happens. We will learn more of the marvels of this marvelous world. And from those steps, who knows what other learning might come? We might learn how to rend the earth with sound, that we may have its coal, or cut a path through a mountain, to make way for a road. All because you learned an odd chant in a forgotten language and sang it into my device."
     Michael nodded. He released Aoife's hand and moved to Acorn's worktable, where oddments were piled in no particular order. The hilt of a dagger protruded out one side of the pile. He pulled it free, tested its point and its edge, and turned back to the little man.
     "Mount your wheel, Acorn. We're going to have another experiment, right now."
     Acorn licked his lips. "That's a very valuable blade, lad. I'd prefer that --"
     "Mount your wheel."
     Acorn complied.
     Within a few seconds, the little man had the wheel spinning furiously. Michael's recorded voice once more squawked fast and shrill from the horn. Michael raised the knife high above his head and whipped it down at Acorn's bare scalp.
     It exploded in his hand. The concussion threw him backwards into the cave wall, knocked the breath out of him and sent him to the floor.
     Acorn leaped off his mount. He and Aoife squatted over Michael, their faces filled with fright. Behind them, the spinning cylinder coasted to a halt, Michael's recorded voice dropping through the octaves until it ran out in a subterranean grumble.
     Michael shook his head and blinked away the sparks of impact. "It works." His voice was thick.
     "What was the point of that, Michael?" Acorn said.
     "My redemption. And yours. And the deliverance of Carach an Lagan. Can you make your device to speak at a distance? To protect someone not mounted on the wheel?"
     The question seemed to confuse Acorn. "I don't know, lad. Why?"
     Michael picked himself up off the floor of the cave, straightened his tunic and folded Aoife's hand in his own.
     "Armor for a champion." He looked into his wife's eyes. "Go home and tend to the babes, love. I'll be back by nightfall."

***

     Bryndan saw the two of them approach. The big silver-haired tuathan dropped his hoe and looked ready to flee when he recognized them. Michael hailed him in a low voice.
     "Shall we go inside, Bryndan?"
     The tuathan turned silently and led them into his hut. He indicated with a gesture that they should sit, then descended to his haunches in the far corner of the hovel. He sat silently, eyes darting from Acorn to Michael and back.
     "Balogh is coming, Bryndan."
     The tuathan nodded.
     "Have we the means to beat him back?"
     Bryndan snorted. "We are ten score men, as many women, and a clutch of useless priests. His legion numbers six thousand. He could leave three quarters of it behind and still slay us all."
     It's worse than I thought.
     "Will you take up sword against him, or do you mean to let him have us without a struggle?"
     The color drained from the tuathan's face. "Have you no sense, man? If we submit, we live. If we resist, we die, down to the youngest babe in arms. He had Cullaire put to the torch for resisting after its tuathan gave token of surrender!"
     Michael nodded. "But if we win?"
     "Madness! He has thirty times our numbers, all hard men blooded in battle!"
     "The rule, Bryndan," Michael said in his gravest bass, "is that if the defenders' chieftain offers combat of champions, the attacker must accept. Father Declan says that not once in seven centuries has an attacker refused the challenge."
     Bryndan peered at him as if he'd been babbling in tongues. "If you mean to suggest that I face Evan Balogh man to man with broadswords, you've gone simple. He's killed every man who's ever faced him. He keeps count by notching a cherry staff. There are three score grooves in it. I do not care to be numbered among them."
     "He would not kill you."
     "Why not?"
     Michael closed his eyes briefly. "Acorn can prevent it."
     The tuathan's gaze shot toward the little scholar, who was as startled as Bryndan at having been introduced to the exchange. "How?"
     "I, ah, have a device --"
     "A talisman? A relic? Balogh slew a chieftain who carried a fragment of the Cross!"
     "Not that kind of device, Bryndan." Michael tried to put authority in his tone. "Acorn has a machine that can swaddle you in safety. While he works it, no blade can touch you."
     The tuathan's face writhed between wonder and terror. "How?"
     "I don't know," Acorn said. "But it works. Michael helped me build it."
     The words hung leaden in the air as Bryndan studied Acorn's face. Michael dared not speak.
     "You are what they say you are," the tuathan whispered. "For eleven years I have rebuffed the folk who called you sorcerer. He's done naught to you or to any of us, I'd say. He is courteous and free with his coin, and he calls no man his foe. He keeps his nose to his own affairs and speaks ill of no one. Get you home and do as well. And now," he grated, "I learn that I was a fool."
     Acorn's face spasmed with pain. "I am no sorcerer and you are no fool, Bryndan. You could work my machine as easily as I. There are no earth powers involved. No rituals, no sacrifices, none of the dark and deadly things of the druids. It will not endanger your soul in any way. It will ward you from the blows of Balogh's sword."
     Bryndan stood. Though the tuathan was aflame with anger, Michael could see no trace in him of the warrior who'd led Carach an Lagan to victory in a score of battles.
     "Get you gone, sorcerers. Evan Balogh will be the King of Ireland by Midsummer's Day. I will not stand against a man who wears fate's mantle, no matter what your infernal device might do. I will bend the knee, and submit, and pray that my people do not cost me my life by resisting the inevitable."

***

     Only a fortnight more had passed when Balogh's outriders appeared atop the eastern ridge. Though they wore no obvious livery, it was plain that they had come to survey the village for the impending attack. They moved slowly along the rock, studied the roads, the passes, and the village's paltry defenses, then wheeled and rode off without a word.
     Michael had the news of Acorn. The little scholar was flushed with excitement, as if the contest to come were but one more of his absurd experiments. The news put flutters of doom into Michael's stomach. He accelerated his practice with his new-bought sword.
     Aoife took to keeping aside a day's food for the four of them. Their few movable possessions she bundled in a burlap rag, that they not be left behind when the family took flight.
     Each day, Michael went to the market and asked after horses or carts that might be for sale, at any price. There were none.

***

     Three days later Balogh's legion poured through the eastern pass, score after score like a human river, banners flying and voices singing challenge. Michael had never seen so many men in one place. He hadn't imagined that many in all of Ireland.
     Evan Balogh rode at their head on a great roan whose shoulder was as high as Michael was tall. A broadsword in a dark leather scabbard was strapped to the horse's flank.
     Apparently Balogh had expected to meet either a band of defenders or no one at all. When his eye lit upon Michael, he pulled up short and raised his hand. When the legion had come to a stop behind him, he leaped nimbly down from his horse and swept the area from north to south and back. Once satisfied that no ambush was afoot, he buckled on his swordbelt and strode toward Michael, who stood before the market gate with his new-forged sword sheathed at his side.
     With only a pace between them, Michael found that he had to look a little downward to meet the warlord's eyes. It brought no comfort. Balogh was built like a mountain scoured by an eon of storms. He was easily as broad as Michael, and the flesh of his face and forearms bore a multitude of scars. His dark eyes were hard. His manner was that of a man who took the submission of others as his birthright.
     "I am Evan Balogh."
     Michael nodded, conscious of the press of eyes upon his back from where his family and townsfolk huddled. "My name is Michael."
     The warlord cocked an eyebrow at the lack of a surname. "Are ye the tuathan of this place?" His expression said you have not the look.
     Michael swallowed. "I am here in his place."
     "To treat with me?" Balogh's voice betrayed his amusement. His legend said he never gave quarter, nor accepted anything short of absolute surrender.
     "To fight you."
     Balogh and his men brayed laughter as one. Michael fought not to cringe before the blast of contempt.
     "Ye are no more than a boy. A strapping lad, to be sure, but no man of arms. And ye think to try your youngling's strength against the King of Ireland?"
     "You are not king here."
     The laughter from the ranks ceased at once. Balogh's mirth disappeared and his eyes narrowed.
     "One swing of my blade and I shall be, lad. Ye have no more than twenty summers, ye smell of the bog, and that sword ye wear has never been blooded. Ye are no proper chieftain to oppose me, and there can be no more than fifteen score of ye to meet my spears. Have done with your foolishness, bend your knee to me here and now, and I'll not slay ye and all your kindred for your cheek." The scarred face produced a vicious snarl.
     Yet the bluster rang false. A note of uncertainty vibrated in the warlord's voice. He'd expected none of this, and was unsure of what he really faced, either from Michael or behind the walls of Carach an Lagan.
     He doesn't want to fight me!
     "Our chieftain," Michael said in a tone of casual contempt, "toyed with the notion of meeting you himself, but at the last he deemed it beneath his dignity. So he summoned his retainers and bade us arrange ourselves by height, and he selected the smallest of us to go forth as his champion, that you might have some trifling chance to prevail against the might of Carach an Lagan. He wanted there to be contest enough for a song or two. He would not have it said that the great Evan Balogh was crushed like an insect and his legion swatted away without a care."
     Balogh's face turned dark with fury. The gasp from his men rushed through the air like the blast of wind that opens a summer squall.
     "If ye set life at so little," Balogh hissed, stepping back and drawing his sword, "I'll not deny ye a death at the hand of a king."
     Michael pulled his sword from its sheath and stood at the ready. From behind him, faint but definite, came the rumble of his recorded voice, rapidly accelerated by Acorn's furious pedaling.
     Lord God of hosts, I have been Your faithful servant all my life. If I am to die by this man's hand, let it be in Your arms. Let it be as a man, not a wretch who grovels and pleads for his life. Let my family and my neighbors remember me to my credit. And take Aoife and the babes under Your special care.
     Balogh raised his sword high overhead, stepped forward and swung it whistling down at Michael's neck. Michael did not attempt to ward the blow.
     A bare inch from his flesh, the sword clanged against something unyielding. It did not explode nor fragment. It bounced off as if Michael's neck had been sheathed in a slab of the finest steel. The reaction threw the warlord backward as if he'd been struck an equal blow. As his legion cried out in amazement, Balogh staggered and fell onto his rump.
     The protective whine faltered and ceased. Michael suppressed a shudder and smiled. "Perhaps you see now, sir, why we don't need a great many warriors to deal with you."
     Balogh picked himself up, glared his hatred at Michael, and charged again. Michael's ears strained after the protective chant as the warlord swept his blade at Michael's midsection.
     Perhaps the chant faltered at a crucial instant. Or perhaps it had not established its shield around him quite in time. Balogh's blade sliced through Michael's leather jerkin and scored his flesh from one hip to the other, opening a long wound that bled copiously. Though the cut was too shallow to threaten Michael's life, and looked far worse than it was, the surprise and pain staggered him, almost sending him to his knees. Yet once again, Balogh took a far heavier blow. He flew backward to the earth, stretched out supine and witless from the reflected force of his stroke.
     It's time.
     Michael stepped forward easily, blade loose in his hand, ignoring the burning gouge across his belly. He stood over the fallen war chief and smiled down at him.
     "Two of your best blows to none of mine, sir, yet here I stand over you. Will you have the least of mine to remember us by?" And he raised his virgin sword and struck.
     Balogh gave a great and despairing cry as Michael severed his sword arm at the shoulder. His blood flowed out to water the soil of Carach an Lagan's market square as his hand clutched spastically at the hilt of his useless sword. Within a minute, his life was spent.
     Michael wiped his sword on Balogh's jerkin, returned it to its sheath, and straightened to address the leaderless horde.
     "Your chieftain has shown us his best. Is there any among you thinks to better him?"
     In three minutes, all had departed as they had come, leaving Michael to stand alone over the lifeless body of Evan Balogh, he who would have been King of Ireland.

***

     None of the townsfolk would speak to him, or to Aoife. They stayed as rigidly away as if he'd ridden into battle on a demon's back. Three days after the confrontation, he and Aoife decided to go.
     They didn't need to do much preparing. Their few movable possessions, of which Aoife's knives and her two earthen bowls were the greater part, made a pack that even Eamon could carry. After a last dawnlight look at the village that had been home to uncounted generations of their kin, they made for Acorn's cave in the eastern cliffs.
     The little scholar stood smiling at the cave mouth to greet them. He didn't appear surprised at their arrival. He beckoned them in, bade them sit.
     "I will miss you, Michael."
     Michael nodded.
     "It was inevitable, you know. Whether for the abbot's accusations or the defeat of Balogh, it was impossible that they accept you again. For all that you saved them, they are no longer sure what you are."
     "I know, sir." I knew before I went to challenge Balogh. "I can't fault them."
     "Does your wound pain you much?"
     Michael grinned and pulled up his tunic. Acorn approached, peered close, and gaped. Only a thin, perfectly horizontal scar traced across his flesh. It was as neatly closed as the finest surgeon could have done.
     Acorn's eyes darted from the scar to Aoife. "Lady, did you...?"
     She shook her head. "Not a bit of it, sir. It closed of its own. It had stopped bleeding before Michael got home."
     The little scholar's face went slack. He sat heavily upon his stool and clapped his hands against his thighs.
     "When he struck that blow, I thought he'd cleave you in two. When I opened my eyes and saw you standing and him in the dirt, I thought I'd lost my reason."
     Michael's brow furrowed. "But why, sir? His first stroke did me no harm. Why should his second?"
     Acorn didn't answer. Instead he rose, went to the back of his cave and plucked two items from a pile of detritus. He brought them to Michael and laid them in his hands like tokens of payment.
     Michael stared dumbly at the fractured halves of the cylinder upon which Acorn had inscribed his voice.
     "How?" he whispered.
     "It shattered at Balogh's first blow," Acorn said. "You stood naked before his second stroke, with no protection but your jerkin."
     "Then why -- why -- "
     "I don't know, lad." Acorn looked acutely embarrassed by his ignorance. "I'd give a year of my life to know. You had a stroke of luck to equal Balogh's stroke of his sword. That's my only conjecture."
     Michael closed his eyes and sat perfectly still for a long moment.
     Luck never hardened flesh against a sword swung in fury.
     "Acorn," he said, "in a day or two, when we are well away from here, I want you to climb the hill and tell Father Declan of this. He needs to know. And perhaps he will have an answer for you. Will you do that, simply because I ask it?"
     Tension mounted in Acorn's face. "I would not be welcome there, Michael. What would be the use?"
     Michael caught the little scholar's eyes and held them. "Acorn," he said in his lowest register, "it could be worth a great deal to you."
     Acorn swallowed and nodded. Michael rose and put out his hand, and the scholar took it.
     "Go with God, Acorn."
     Michael took Aoife's hand and led his family out of the cave. They set out to the west, along the track of the Lagan, their backs warmed by the rising sun. In two days' walk, they would come to a village where Michael could make a new hut of reeds and stones and river clay, learn to till and sow and coax grain from the earth, teach his children of their forebears and raise them to their strength, and nevermore be taken for a sorcerer, or a king.

==<O>==

     Copyright (C) 1998 Francis W. Porretto. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.