Little children, you must never despair, never slacken in your efforts, never flag in zeal. Your cause is just. Your work is urgent.
It does not matter that no one understands what you do. It does not matter if you do not always understand what you do. As the Remnant say, we will never know the deeper effects of our care.
What you do is nothing less than saving our race. Even when it does not know that it must be saved, even when it does not wish to be saved, when its will is to go down into the dark and be lost forever to the ages, you must persevere.
Encourage each other, take heart from your exertions, make them their own reward.
My love and admiration is with you always, whatever comes to pass,
My master was an impatient man, and I chafed under his instruction. I was the most rebellious of his disciples, he often told me, as he lay the switch across my bottom. The others feared his temper, but once I perceived that it was the blaze of his vocation bursting out, my heart caught fire from his.
When I was [sixteen], he sent me into the west, on a mission of reconciliation to several of our young outpost communities. Divisions had arisen there concerning certain matters of doctrine, and my master's message was intended to reconcile them, specifically to enjoin them to reject all deviants from the true way. My master was a loving man, but intolerant of views other than his own.
May his spirit forgive me, I can no longer remember what the original disagreement was, but I have no trouble recalling how vicious and destructive it had already become by the time I arrived, and how wrangling over it eclipsed every other concern. I believed I was an excellent disputer, but quickly found that a mere facility with words would not suffice in debate against the brilliant heretics in that area who had bewitched many of our fledgling faith.
Fortunately, despite my youth, the authority I bore as legate from my master helped me begin to calm the roil of dissension by establishing a kind of tribunal: I persuaded the adversaries to formally present their claims, whereafter I would submit them in a letter to my master, and he would render judgment.
But before the tribunal could be convened, devastating news arrived from the east: my master was dead. Worse were the reports of how he left this life. Soldiers of the Golias broke down his door in the middle of the night, dragged him from his bed, tortured him savagely, then presented him to the mob in the arena the next day, where he was stripped naked, impaled on a stake, and burned alive. He was ninety years old.
I was ready to set out that very day to return to my home, but the elders of the community pleaded with me not to leave them, saying first of all that there was nothing I could do for my master, and second that I would put myself in danger of coming to the same end. What convinced me to stay, however, was their manifest love for me, their anxiety for my safety and well-being, and — most damning of all for me, for it most fed my pride — their desire that I should take my master's place as their spiritual leader.
Just then a similar persecution erupted in a nearby city, where the leader of what my master certainly would have regarded as a heretic sect was also arrested, tortured, and publicly executed. His followers fled to our town, where, rather than being given shelter and succor by our congregation, they were driven away, into the wilderness, lest the [inquisitors of the] Golias find them among us and massacre us all.
I was appalled. I vigorously remonstrated with my hosts for their shocking lack of charity towards our wayward brethren, and shamed them into going after the refugees to bring them back. But of course they could not be found, then or ever again.
It was plain to everyone that something had to be done to unite our quarrelsome communities, and once again the idea of a tribunal to settle all points of doctrinal antagonism was put forth; some even proposed that I sit as arbiter, but I [did] not [yet hold myself in such high regard that I could] accept that [honor and] responsibility. Instead, I proposed that we gather our concerns in a petition to the Eparch in Golia, and place ourselves under his authority, in hope to gain such protection as he might have power to extend over us.
This plan met with approval, although the composition of the letter itself proved to be as contentious as any credal dispute. In the end, however, the petition was finished, and once again the elders of the community turned to me to act for all of them, by delivering it to the Eparch myself.
Why did it never occur to me that this early success might prove my undoing in the end? Because it is always easier to learn the hard way, as the Remnant say: those who prove lucky at the beginning of an enterprise are deprived of the wisdom that a painful lesson can bring, and those who have no experience of the brutal reversals that life can inflict cannot appreciate how quickly and utterly their good fortune can turn into its opposite.
I was just such a creature. Young, intelligent, articulate, and seemingly wise in penetrating the motives of men — when in fact I was merely cunning in debate. I knew many things, but I understood nothing. In any case, I took the step I took, and it may be that, had I been wiser then, I would not be here now, where I belong. But O what suffering I caused! What awful, irretrievable wreckage I created! I cannot believe that that was necessary, just to [teach me a lesson].
But these are pointless maunderings, as I well know, having agonized over them again and again. Best to finish the story, if I can.
For so powerful a personage, at least among our community of believers, the Eparch was, as a man, modest and mild. He listened sympathetically to my introduction, read the petition carefully, and then questioned me closely about the events that led up to my bringing it to him. He also spoke in sorrow about the vile murder of my master, and told me of their friendship, which, though attenuated by distance, was deep and abiding.
But on the subject of my mission, he was evasive — indeed, he seemed not to comprehend the severity of our distress. He explained to me that in his own flock, there was considerable variation of opinion on the finer points of doctrine; heresy was less of a problem than avoiding the agents of the Inquirer General, whose charge it was to ensure the proper reverence for the deities, by whose authority the Golias was said to rule. This was accomplished by not attracting too much attention, and by meeting informally in each other's homes to celebrate our faith. In Golia itself there had been no serious persecution in years, he said, and if the occasional loudmouth got himself dragged off by denouncing the gods or calling the Golias a damned soul, this often inspired as much relief as outrage among the congregations.
On the other hand, he did agree to send a letter back with me addressing each of our concerns, and assuring us of any assistance he could supply in the future. With that, he kindly but firmly ushered me out, saying he hoped that I could occupy myself in the city for a day or two until he could compose his response. When that was ready, he would send for me.
At first I was at a loss to pass the time. There were many diversions in the city for those who have nothing better to do than to waste their substance in riotous living, but though today I can see a kind of wisdom in living like a flame, I have never had the taste nor the talent for that kind of life, and at the time I was very censorious, as is the way with all young zealots, especially those who have been encouraged by the seeming approval and admiration of their elders.
I'd been given lodging with the relatives of a family in our congregation, a pious elderly couple who lived a quiet life in an out-of-the-way part of the city. Upon returning to their home for the evening meal, I found waiting for me in the courtyard a man of my own age who introduced himself as their son, and who persuaded me to forego the humble fare of his parents' table and accompany him to a friend's abode, where we would dine with other members of the faith that I might otherwise not have a chance to meet.
The residence of this friend of my hosts' son was near the center of the city, in an area of broad streets lined with magnificent dwellings. Into one of these we went, and I was immediately swept up into an experience that utterly changed me, and stood as the moment of my life, to use the Remnant's formulation, until the day of my conversion — the day that brought me to you, little children.
It did not take long to discover the heart of the festivity. In the large central room, where a robust fire was burning, a space had been cleared just beside the hearth, and there a performance was taking place — some kind of recitation, or so it seemed at first. A handsome well-built man with shaggy blond hair was speaking in an animated fashion, apparently re-enacting a comical conversation between two people he had overheard, or perhaps had composed himself for the entertainment of others, and in which he was succeeding definitively.
I, too, could not resist joining in the laughter, until I finally penetrated the strange accent this man affected for the more ridiculous of the two characters he portrayed. I realized that he was mocking the Eparch himself, and the source of most of his humor was the satirical twisting of statements of our creed, which he mangled in such a way as to make them completely ludicrous.
I looked around the room, and saw that only two people were not convulsed with hilarity at this man's japings: my new friend, who, while smiling himself, kept glancing at me nervously, and another somewhat older man near the side of the performing area, who was regarding me with dark shining eyes. He nodded to me slightly, then returned his attention to the performance, which was nearing its climax.
With a fine thumping phrase, the animated artiste sent the crowd into an explosion of laughter and cheering, during which he bowed and capered about, then sat pertly next to the man with the dark eyes, who clapped him around the shoulder and clasped his hand.
I was ready to quit the city then and there, with or without the letter from the Eparch, and started to ask my new friend to take me back to his parents' house at once, but the noise was too great to make myself understood. And then the host of the gathering interrupted to tell me that another of his guests wished to meet me.
Although I was anxious to leave, my friend and our host made it clear that I really was not at liberty to decline. And so I was led into the presence of the son of the Golias, the man with the dark shining eyes, and his companion, whose name I never learned, but whom the young Golias called his Historian.
Both men regarded me with frank interest, and the encounter was also a matter of curious attention from a few other guests, though beyond the periphery of our little circle, the raucous party resumed.
The son of the Golias said he perceived that I was not entirely captivated by his Historian's performance. I replied that I was not a qualified judge, being an outlander and unfamiliar with such matters.
He asked how I'd come to be in the city, and I gave a guarded reply, that I'd been sent by associates to conduct some business on their behalf.
"My friend," he said with a smile, " — and I hope you will honor me with your friendship? — I know something of the business that brought you here, and would be glad to help, if I can."
I did not know how to respond, so I merely bowed.
"You seem puzzled, perhaps skeptical. That is wise. What do you know of me, except that the Golias my father persecutes your brethren, torturing and executing them in the arena for the enjoyment of the rabble? But perhaps that policy can be emended. Would that be a good thing?"
"Certainly, my lord."
"Then I shall see what can be done. But I would be grateful to know what you found offensive in my Historian's performance."
The Historian himself then spoke up, "I thrive on criticism, you see — it keeps my skills at their highest pitch."
I looked in his face for the first time. His smile seemed sincere, and his voice sounded friendly. But in his eyes there was a cool light, as if he were sizing me up as an adversary. I returned his gaze as steadily as I could.
Perceiving this, the Historian smiled more broadly. "You were going to say...?"
"It took me some time to recognize the Eparch as the object of your satire," I began carefully. "At first I could not understand what he was supposed to be saying."
"My thoughts exactly," said the son of the Golias, "The impersonation was rather crude, my dear."
The Historian conceded the point with a sideways nod of his head. "My first attempt," he said. "Too primitive. I'll work on it."
"I suspect our young friend here would rather you did not — am I right?" said the young Golias, turning to me.
I stammered, "The Eparch is a holy man —"
"The Eparch," said the Historian acidly, "is a fussy old woman —" but the young Golias laid a hand on his arm, and he stopped.
"The kind of man the Eparch is does not matter," I shot back. "It is his Mission —"
"The kind of man anyone is always matters," the Historian returned, a fire kindling in his eyes.
I found it hard to resist this obvious personal challenge. It had been some while since my last battle with another mind, as I so much enjoyed to do in my master's house. But there I had also learned not to enter the fray until I knew something of the terrain. Here I was a stranger, in the presence of one who after all held my life in his hands.
The room grew quiet. Our eyes were locked together. I knew that to break this contact, to glance at the young Golias, for example, would be to flinch, and the advantage would go to my opponent, who clearly understood the same.
The silence lengthened. Then there was a slight stirring from where the Golias' son stood. The Historian softened his stance, but kept his eyes on me. "And what kind of man are you, my disapproving young friend? What is the Eparch to you that he calls forth such a fiery defense?"
"Until this day," I said, as evenly as I could, "a man worthy only of admiration and respect. What has he done to warrant such contempt from a man so prominently placed as yourself?"
The Historian inclined his head slightly to acknowledge that he may have underestimated me, but there was also a kind of warning in his eyes. As I contemplate this moment from the distance of years, I perceive that he was perhaps trying to spare me what would follow if I did not back down now, but of course even if I'd understood this — and maybe I did, a little — it would only have fired my self-regard, and I would have done exactly what I did, or worse.
In the event, he said, "Forgive me, but are you saying that the leader of an outlawed cult is worthy of admiration and respect? Does not his very claim to be the so-called Father of the Faith constitute treason against the deities by whose command the Golias rules his people? Is this not a capital offense?"
I was staggered. I had assumed I was at a gathering of friends — if not fellow believers, at least those sympathetic to our ideal. But of course, there was no reason at all for this to be true, as I now realized: how did I know that the young man who called himself the son of my hosts was in fact who he said he was? — we never entered his "parents'" house together. Had his unexpected appearance been a snare laid to have me arrested? Had I been drawn into this very argument in order that I might expose myself to my enemies?
Even were that the case, I thought, my fate was likely already decided, and there would be no shame in dying a martyr to the cause. Or so I believe must have been my reasoning then. In truth, I'd tasted this man's blood, and though he'd wounded me in return, I was now intent on finishing him off, or at least bringing him down with me when I fell.
"As he is under the sentence of death," I said, "he merits your compassion, not your ridicule. It is like jeering at a legless man because he cannot walk."
At this moment the young Golias gave a shout of laughter, startling us both and everyone around us as well.