Reflections on a Recursive Faustus
by William J. Piovano
part 1 of 2
The Glasfarne monastery had been built in the embrace of the River Quainte, on a small islet where the water’s snaking body split around a hillock and then changed its mind to bind back to its original form.
Being on a small hill, the monastery hosted but a dozen rooms on two floors, with a great makeshift gate hammered together with driftwood gifted by the river. The walls were wrought of stones fashioned from the remains of a nearby ancient site; Vikings, Celts, nobody knew nor cared where the standing stones had originated, nor did they wonder how the gargantuan pieces had made their way to the middle of a land devoid of quarries or mines a hundred leagues in all directions. Those who did ask received the universal answer: God. And why argue, when the Almighty had his purpose, and that purpose rose above all others?
Or did it?
On a sunny early-autumn morning, a monk known as Aaron the Writer was uncoiling the hempen rope from the stake which held a wooden raft from sailing away in the clutches of the Quainte’s waters. The small boat was the one method of transportation the monks of Glasferne possessed to bridge with the outside world, and since the boat could accommodate only two, the monastery’s inhabitants hardly ever left their shelter.
For the first time, however, Glasfarne was faced with someone coming in, a visitor, an intruder, and that alone had the monks muttering and whispering. Aaron, the bullied and the friendless, was sent to inspect him who had knocked at their metaphoric door. If the man murders him, we’ll just be better off, someone had said, and Aaron was all too glad to escape that which had long grown from a sanctuary to a prison.
The crossing of the Quainte was arduous. Aaron had never performed it, and it took a great deal of grunting arm work to keep the boat on course, struggling its way across the waters. All the while he studied the man on the other side of the river, trying to fathom the reason behind what appeared to be white feathered wings sprouting from the hooded figure’s back.
Nearing the opposite shore, his suspicions were confirmed. How can it be? Aaron asked himself. And like every monk of Glasfarne, he resorted to the ultimate purpose when confronted by a question not readily solvable by human intellect: God.
“Oh, stranger!” Aaron called as the keel of the raft sunk into the mudded bank, “what name do you bear?”
“I am William,” I replied, raising a hand in salute. “Some call me the Author.”
“William the Author!” Aaron exclaimed, “and I be Aaron, called by some the Writer! A fine coincidence, if I may say so!”
“A monk, of all people, should not believe in coincidence,” I said and smiled, watching him tie up the raft to this side of the river with fingers calloused by the years of pressure onto the quill pen.
“That is true,” Aaron said, straightening from the stake and wiping his hands. “I cannot, however, make fathom of those...” he poked a finger in the direction of my expansive angelic wings.
I laughed, for the wings had sparked from a story I had just read, and they seemed so painfully cliché now I was tempted to backtrack and replace them with some fine act more deign of biblical history. God himself had done a finer job with the burning bush, and He of all could be ranked amongst the most monotonous storytellers in any universe.
“These,” I began, waving my oversized wings about in fashion more akin to a chicken than any form of nobler bird, “these are my plagues of Egypt, my miracles of Jesus, that which I bring to convince you I speak the truth.”
“And what truth might that be?” Aaron asked, now intrigued. Locked within the dull confines of Glasfarne, the sight of a stranger alone had been enough to kindle his excitement; and now to be faced with a divine entity, here in this land of nowhere! He has come to speak to me, Aaron thought, it has to be so, it cannot be a coincidence.
Meanwhile, I troubled myself to fashion in mortal words the grandeur of my quest, my mission and purpose which brought me to Glasferne monastery, or rather convinced me that such locations should be the starting point from where to unfold.
It came down to this: “I, William, am your author,” I said, letting my voice carry upon the north wind, for surely this one — as a monk and deeply devout — was susceptible to the awes of images of divine might and intervention. “I created you, and I drive your will as you do for those you pen in your own tales.”
I referred there to Aaron’s secret craft. It is something I left out, initially, for he himself is loathe to reveal such a heretical hobby. A monk does not have hobbies, one would hear the common man say, but that is not so.
Paradoxically, the most bored are those who have the most difficulty finding something which will elevate them from that bored state, and yet Aaron — one whose life suffered from the greatest draught of excitement and grandeur — coined himself the term of monk bard with nothing but the monastery harp — a relic older than the land — accompanied by his very own voice which sang verses lush enough to rival the sirens of the Greek seas. Affinity with the written word Aaron had sharpened to a mathematical precision with the endless days of work upon illuminated manuscripts, and of course that is why I chose him.
“You drive my will alone?” Aaron asked.
“All wills within this world,” I replied, “but yours particularly.”
“Then you are God.”
“No,” I said, and paused. It was important to spell out such crucial distinction. “God is aware of all, in every detail. Implicitly, there are fish swimming in that river, and birds flying in this sky, which I do not have sway upon. I could alter them, but unlike God I do not have infinite time.”
Aaron nodded, his shaven head so perfectly monk-like with the brown crown surrounding a shaven circle, the color matching his roughspun tunic. “So what did you create?”
“You, this monastery, and some other things,” I said. That was beside the point, however. “Let it just be said that I am your author, I have penned your life and your history, your thoughts and desires. You are a character in my story.”
Creating an extensive argument was not my purpose, and so I willed him to understand my twisted concept. He was a character in my story, and while the idea was simple enough to me, a normal mind might have had difficulty bending around itself to grasp it. Aaron had no such problems.
“Very well,” Aaron said. “But that still does not tell me why you’re here.”
“I thought you’d never ask,” I said with a wry smile. “I am here to lead you on a quest. A pilgrimage is a better word. “
“A pilgrimage? To where and for who?”
“To Rome,” I said, but hurried to amend, “but not to God. To me, and to yourself. To discover the divinity in me, and in yourself. The potential of our being divine!”
“But you said you are not God,” Aaron said.
“Never did I say otherwise. But I share many of his gifts. I’ll show you, and hopefully you’ll agree to my request.”
Aaron’s eyebrows rose and fell opposite like a seesaw. “Request...?”
I swept a hand back, and a cart driven by two donkeys — one a purest of whites, the other black as soot — was there where perhaps it had not been before. Did it matter, really, if it was or wasn’t, when all I have to say is that it always had been? Aaron was not concerned, and that was all this tale need concern itself with.
“Come with me on this pilgrimage,” I said, leading him forward by the arm. “Fear not for your brothers in Glasfarne — if brothers you truly want to call them, after all they’ve done to you! Why, you shall never need their good grace again! I am offering enlightenment: is that not what every monk in history has ever searched for? More than that, I wish to grant you the gift of Genesis, a work so great the one God will seethe with envy.”
“Genesis, aye? You sound like Lucifer, and his ambition did not do him well. The wrath of the Gods is a fearful thing,” Aaron said, “but I shall come, if only to escape those cursed monastery walls and find opportunity to craft a fine tale.”
And so from the hills of southern England we began our descent towards the capital of Western faith; a God, gifted and willing to give, and his Creature, a created character, sitting on a cart drawn down a broken road by two opposite donkeys.
Opposite is no exaggeration, for so different were the two beasts that one always slowed when the other sped up, and every forking road presented more of a challenge to the beasts than to myself. Two conflicting minds, really, but I preferred it that way. Like the angel and the devil sitting on the shoulders of the choosing man, they pointed different paths for Aaron’s fate. He did not know of these choices yet, however, and I followed the black donkey’s gesturing snout south towards Europe and Rome with a secret glint in my hidden eye.
The lazily rolling hills and sparsely wooded flatlands crawled by us, and I shall not bog the tale in tedium by describing the surrounding greenery flourishing from the all too abundant English rain but rather skip to our entrance of a small village lost to the rest of the world, some distance from the Channel. It consisted of some two dozen thatched-roof houses, long and yellow like rolls of uncooked dough, but with pillars of firepit smoke snaking out of grey stone chimneys.
“What is this place?” Aaron asked conveniently.
“This is a Viking settlement,” I said, feeling suddenly the warm familiarity of home. Aaron, I saw, did not take to such knowledge with the same enthusiasm. His eyes widened as if some great beast had suddenly rushed charging from the bushes, flailing a horned head madly in his direction, and he muttered under his breath. “Viking settlers, not raiders,” I hastened to explain. “They want nothing to do with us.”
“If you say so... why are we here then?”
“We are here for a show,” I said, “and incidentally because I have Scandinavian origins.”
“Really?” Aaron frowned then, jogging his memory for pieces lost. “What about me? You never told me where my parents are from.”
“True...” I bit my lip, searching the pasty-filmed English sky for an answer. “You’re, uhm, half-Spanish and half-Turkish. Your father came as a merchant and married your beautiful English mother. Oh, and you’re very proud of your Latin heritage.”
“I know you are. But enough of that, those are details.”
“The devil lies in the details,” Aaron quoted.
“You’d be surprised where the devil may lie,” I said, but shook my head. “Now tell me, Aaron, what your greatest dream, your ambition, your purpose?” I leaned back in the cart and crossed my legs, waiting for the reply which could not leave me disappointed. Not from this man, not in this world.
Aaron’s eyes lit up as he spoke, “I wish to be a great author,” he said, his gaze peering far into the nothingness of a possible far-away future. “I want kings to take pleasure from my work, and the finest poets to shake their heads in helpless envy. And once that is done, I shall settle with my wife, a woman crafted by God to complete me as perfectly as I can complete her.”
I snapped my finger then. “Ah, but God is not the only craftsman, you see! What if I said I could grant you all that, fulfill your purpose, for one piece of written work?”
“Well, what would that work be?”
“A tale of everything we are doing now, but with you in my place, and one of your creations in yours, borne of your imagination and living in ink. Place the same offer I am dealing now on his plate; whatever he desires, for you know what he desires. And once that short tale is completed all the dreams shall morph themselves from dreams to reality!”
“His, or mine?”
“Yours, his, mine,” I said. “It is the masterful mastermind, that everyone should get what he wants.”
Such a decision, to become a God and supreme ruler of a world, was certainly too grand to be made on immediate notice, mere moments after the revelation, and so I spoke no other words to sway his choice. This pilgrimage, like everything in God’s world and mine, had some purpose after all.
As did the Viking village.
Copyright © 2007 by William J. Piovano