Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Blood and Spirit in Future History

A Life on the Ocean Wave

Sean O'Rourke lay still on the traditional bull's hide as his mind slowly returned to normal after it's day and two night's journey into the realm of Manannan.He sighed, got up from his bed and went next door to the study where he sat at the table with the light from the window streaming over it as the dust motes spun and sparkled there. He took up his knife and one of the squared tallies of wood lying in a corner of the desk, and began to notch the corners into one of the oghams customarily used for such reports.As he wrote, Bridget the servant girl came in with a warm earthenware bowl of beef broth, a piece of buttered wholemeal bread and a wooden spoon, which she silently left beside him as he wrote. He was a Birdman, one of the Watchers who surveyed this world and others, and whose heavily edited reports kept the kings and druids of Eire informed of much which others did not know that they knew.

'A Life on the Ocean wave!
A home on the rolling deep!
Where the scatter'd waters rave,
And the winds their revels keep!'

He heard Bridget softly singing the old song to herself as she went about the housework. It was often used as part of an induction ritual, and she had heard it many times.She was a pleasant cheerful girl, and he wished her well in finding a young man with whom she could start a family. He turned his attention back to what he was writing.

It was hard to control the course of such journeys as he had undertaken. The spirits, the elementals and the creatures he contacted all had wills of their own, besides being playfully capricious, and it was not wise to try to force them too much. They did however follow patterns and acknowledge greater spiritual entities, and were often friendly, so a good deal could be learned from them.It was not so much a matter of obtaining information from them, as of participating in their life and consciousness.Most of those who made use of predictions about the weather, or the likely location of schools of fish, or the political and economic developments in foreign countries, did not know or care where the information came from, or that it was only a minor aspect of the spiritual activities of such men as Sean.

He had crossed and scanned the Ocean with the eye of a gull, had found and followed fish in the company of porpoises, had sounded the dark depths of the sea with whales.He had danced with the elementals of air and water as they had created clouds and storms, he had ridden the Hurricane, and felt the exhilaration as the storms stirred up the waters and blew themselves out over land. He knew the link between the storms of mass emotions in people and the weather that materialised around them. He had crossed continents with the consciousness of animals and birds, some opening access to aspects of existence not otherwise available to humans. He had entered the minds of men and had felt the shaping of events before they came to pass.His body had never left his homeland, but his spirit had ranged further and deeper than had most men.

His latest trip had taken him across the Atlantic, noting the weather patterns moving towards Europe, the stocks of fish and the movement of those sentient sea creatures who lived on them, and the general sense of the place and time. He had encountered the spirit of Sigurd, the old Icelandic skald who had similar interests, and together they had surveyed the Coast of Death on the other side of the Atlantic. It was a horrible place, still bearing the scars of unclean destruction after many centuries.Even the fish and sea creatures offshore had been sickened and had not properly recovered. Apart from the contorted ruins and areas of rubble where nothing grew, and which were surrounded by areas of sickly and distorted growth, and relatively unaffected areas where strange and savage men subsisted, the whole region was spiritually as well as physically desolate. The sense of evil was strong there, old evil from before the destruction, compounded by that event, haunted by so many whose souls had been destroyed or irredeemably distorted. It was not physically or spiritually safe to linger there.

He had followed the island chain of the Caribbean. This was an area of natural beauty, unfortunately still morally and physically polluted by the savagery of it's inhabitants. He had skimmed the west coast of Africa, and seen it to be in a similar state. The old squabbles over oil had ended with the oil, long ago; but the inhabitants had benefited no more from it's absence than they had from it's presence. Squabbles enough remained, although oil no longer provided an occasion for them.

Had he known, he could have reflected that the disappearance of oil had at least benefited the world in a minor way.No longer was it possible to easily hold conferences of petty tyrants, known outside their countries of domination chiefly for the bizarre and extravagant nature of their attire, or gatherings of pompous and pretentious politicians posing for 'photo opportunities'. A whole menagerie of 'international aid organisations' which had principally aided the growth of their participants' self esteem had faded away without much loss to the causes they had supposedly aided. In fact, Sean gave no thought to oil, because he had never known it, and it had no interest for him. The world got along without it, rather as it had before it had come into use.It's absence was not a reason for sorrow, and the remaining people were less crowded. A bit like the effect of the Black Death. Had someone explained to him that cheap oil had powered a lot of mechanical devices which had enabled a many more people to live, and to live more comfortably, than would otherwise have been the case, he would have asked about the value of those lives; what had the extra people done to justify their existence? Had they lived intensely? Had they devised anything useful? Had they shown a physical or spiritual return on the 'talents' invested in them? If told that they were mainly useless eaters, often criminals and layabouts who harmed other people and were a drain on resources, defended by sentimentalists and government employees whose own income depended on them; he would have pointed out that bad consequences were to be expected from the reign of quantity over quality, and that things were better now.

Some areas of West Africa he found were fairly heavily populated, with a semblance of government,where the cheerfully stoic people tried to conduct their lives with as little as possible reference to government. Other areas were simply victims of that semblance. All were agitated by continual conflict as the Muslims pressed down from the north, waging jihad against the remaining Christians and animists.

As he passed down the length of Africa, he had seen the remorseless jihad, and sensed it as a burning spearthrust into the vitals of the continent. The Arab slavers had burned their way well into central Africa, and were busily depopulating what had been the Congo and adjacent regions, sending a stream of slave caravans back down the Nile to market the survivors in Cairo. Further south there had been mines of fabulous richness. These were now of course merely fables. Some ruins were faintly discernible, but even the Chinese had given up trying to extract anything from them in a ceaseless fight against the diseases, the locals, the difficulty in keeping machinery running, and the distances. The further he passed from the penumbra of Arab influence, which brought trade for simple goods like clothing and pots and hand tools, ahead of the religious conversions, fanaticism,jihad, slavery and death, the more primitive the condition of the people became. Only an archaeologist would have noticed faint signs that Europeans had for a short time maintained a thriving civilization there.

There was little sign of large animals.As soon as the flow of funds from tourists had ceased, and the ego-stroking visits promoting 'conservation',from foreign celebrities to local 'big men',so had any local interest in conservation, or even any ability to protect the game for which Africa had been famous.They had soon been killed and eaten. No more gorillas in the mist. No more elephants, rhinoceros, buffalo,hippo, lions, leopards, giraffes, wildebeest,zebras,kudu, eland, even impalas and gazelle. Just scrawny cattle, some crocodiles, snakes and the ever more successful mosquitoes and tsetse flies spreading disease. Sean had had only a vague idea about these creatures and what they had looked like, but he had managed to contact their group souls. These were understandably shy and hostile to humans, but he was enough of a nature-druid to somewhat overcome this reluctance and get an impression of their appearance and consciousness, and understand why they no longer wished to live on earth.

He had passed the southern limit of this increasingly dark continent with a sense of relief.Table Mountain still stood majestic in it's setting, but apart from a few huts and cows in what had been Cape Town, there was little sign of human presence. There were no ships rounding, what to it's discoverer had been, "the fairest cape in all the world". Now there was nothing but the wind and waves blowing in from the south, with only the fishes and seabirds between that shore and the ice of Antarctica.

Joyfully Sean's spirit had leapt to whirl with the winds and as an albatross swoop to the waves, where the birds soar, the whales sing and the winds scream over endless, restless, rolling sea.

"We shoot thro' the sparkling foam,
Like an ocean-bird set free,
Like the ocean-bird, our home
We'll find far out on the sea!
A life on the ocean wave! . . "

Blood of the Earth

Major Augusto Hernandez sat patiently on his horse and smoked a cigarillo as he waited for his men to clear the area of dense bushes ahead. They had tracked a wounded savage into this hideout, and the major wanted to be sure that he had been dealt with before they resumed their steady advance. Already they had killed fifty nine of the savages in the six days since the patrol had crossed the Mississippi, and had taken their ears to prove it. Most of those had been a lucky catch, admittedly, from surprising a small village in the swamp, but they still counted towards the government bounty. Idly he wondered what the total would be for the full two weeks. He had a bet with Captain Roberto Morales that it would exceed one hundred, and he felt lucky.

He knew why patrol activity had been intensified. His Excellency the provincial governor and some of his friends, including his own commanding officer, Colonel Gomez, wanted more land on which to grow tropical crops.Naturally this meant that the land had first to be cleared of savages.This land was too good to be kept from profitable cultivation any longer. Many centuries ago it had borne crops of cotton and tobacco, but it had fallen out of use in the Time of Chaos, and ever since it had been occupied by the savages who had no use for cultivation. After such a long fallow period the yield would surely be very good.He knew that demand for cotton, tobacco, sugar, tropical fruit, coffee, sisal or anything else which could be grown efficiently on a large scale would be strong. The government would smile on local developers who could reduce the country's reliance on the produce of the plantations
and factories of Brazil, saving scarce foreign exchange. It was likely that, if necessary, some degree of protection and even subsidy could be secured, assisted by the right arguments and appropriate generosity to people in a position to be helpful.He himself was hoping for some land or shares in the scheme.

It was also good to extend the territory under Mexican control, especially if it had once belonged to the still hated Yanquis. At first, in the Time of Chaos, when Mexico reclaimed everything taken from it by the Yanquis, there had been too much turmoil to be able to bring this area under control. It had fallen under the sway of gangs of savage criminals, who had raided Mexico when they weren't fighting each other.Then when the Mexicans had become strong enough to defend themselves and launch punitive raids into what had become known as the Blacklands, things stabilised a bit. A regular trade had arisen in which the savages captured and sold their fellows into slavery in Mexico, or via the Caribbean islands, to the plantations in Brazil. Some of their leaders even attempted to form their own slave run estates, without much success as conditions were not sufficiently stable for reliable commerce. Now it was time to open the next phase, in which effective Mexican control would be asserted along the Gulf Coast, and sufficiently far inland to permit the functioning of estates, whose prosperity would solidify Mexican control and add an important new province to the country.Naturally he hoped and expected to increase his own standing and prosperity as a founder of the new province.

Whilst he smoked and waited, he glanced to his right, out over the Gulf of Mexico. Even after half a millenia, there were still twisted fingers of steel rising out of the water,the ruins of oil drilling platforms. The shore was also littered with the the rusted residue of buildings and equipment associated with the old oil industry, heavily overgrown. They seemed like sea monsters which had crawled there to die, or been cast up by the sea, caked with their own blood, or that of the earth which they had injured. Or, perhaps they were like the bloody shattered bones of insolent titans hurled to earth by angry gods.What was it about oil and it's relics which seemed as if man had over-reached himself in using it? Perhaps it was meant to remain as blood within the body of the earth, from which it had been impious to take it. See what a fate had befallen those who had taken the lead in that enterprise, and what trouble they had caused for those Mexicans who had followed their lead.

There was a sudden flurry of shouts and shots, which told him that his men had completed their task. A few minutes later Sergeant Miguel Garcia emerged from the bush grinning as he held up a couple of black ears, from which blood still dripped to the ground. He smiled and nodded to the sergeant and gave the order to advance.

Blood of Sacrifice

Cacique Montezuma Garcia was a man experienced at his work. He had conducted many sweeps of the Blacklands, and led back many thousands of savages to Mexico-Tenochtitlan City. In earlier times his precursors had cleared the more fertile parts of the land, and had captured slaves to labour on it. Things had changed, and nowadays the captives were needed, not for labour, but for sacrifice.

Things had changed in Mexico. Population had grown inexorably faster than resources became available to feed, clothe and employ them. Perhaps more important was the shift in attitudes and behaviour. People had lost faith, and even interest, in a religion imported from Europe and the attitudes and failed technology associated with it. Increasingly they turned to the gods of their ancestors, gods who demanded blood, not just pious words. Perhaps the change had come through popular superstition, which had re-interpreted and absorbed the saints and devotions of Catholicism into new versions of the older faiths. Jesus had become a Flayed One, assimilated with Xipe Totec 'Our Lord the Flayed One',and in popular beliefs, blood was demanded on every occasion. For ages people had resorted to murder and black magic in search of economic fortune and social success. They sought out witches to cast love spells and curses, or to defend themselves against the real or imagined curses of others. Every petty dispute, each minor illness, became an affair of sorcerers.The populace became afraid of their own shadows, each person imagining him - or more fervently, her -self to be surrounded by ill-wishers deploying immense powers of malicious destruction.Those who rose to the top in this society were more cunning and ruthless, but no less superstitious than average, and certainly did not fail to avail themselves of all means of procuring their self advancement.All of this required immense outpourings of blood and money.The country was adrift on a sea of blood. Many priests had become religious generalists, willing to supply rituals for any faith. It was even rumoured that the Pope himself doubled as the head of the religion of Huitzilopochtli and presided over some of the human sacrifices wearing the cured skin of a flayed man.

This had naturally increased the demand for captives to be sacrificed, and it was Garcia's job to supply them. He himself was a devotee of Tezcatlipoca, the patron god of fortune, war and sorcery.He felt protected by him, and thankful for his guidance. He had frequently strolled through the city, admiring it's tall pyramids of sacrifice, it's throngs of bustling people, and it's meat markets where the butchered corpses of the sacrificed were displayed for sale amidst clouds of buzzing flies,as meat to sustain the people. He supposed that he and the shoppers here had often partaken of the meat of sacrificed savages whom he and his men had captured. Although there were farms where slaves were bred and fattened for market, this was slow and expensive; and many preferred the taste of free range meat. He was pleased that his efforts, approved and guided by the gods, helped to nourish the people with the meat, and the gods with the blood of those sacrificed. So busy was the ritual schedule at the main pyramids, and so voracious the demand for their produce, in all the main cities, that ceremonies continued even at night, illuminated by the light cast from bowls of flaming liquid which still oozed from the ground at sites associated with the ancient and long discontinued practice of oil drilling. The underworld deities associated with 'oil' had long ago withdrawn their favour, but now it seemed they might be starting to relent.Perhaps they had been influenced by the deluge of blood pouring on the ground, which perhaps they saw as recompense for the oil that had been taken from the earth. He had seen many grotesque ruins along the coast and in the sea off the Blacklands where he pursued his business, and wondered vaguely whether they might have had to do with the mysteries of oil.

He had always been a landsman, and had worked to the north along the Gulf coast, but he had met colleagues who were seamen and raided the islands of the Caribbean from their bases in Yucatan.They had even passed on rumours that, far to the south, the Brasilians raided the coast of Africa.

Over time the rich pickings from the north had dwindled. Settlers had moved into the coastal lands and established towns and estates. He and those like him, had to travel further, striking inland and eastwards, and then south through the swamps of what had been Florida, infested with snakes, alligators and savages of a particularly virulent ferocity.Some teams were already working up the Atlantic coast. As the savages had disappeared, white men had filtered down from the highlands of the north. These people were much better armed and organised than the savages, so not many had been captured, although their rarity value brought much higher prices. Now Garcia had formed an audacious intention. He meant to make a fortune and enhance his reputation as a warrior by being the first to capture large numbers of these people.He knew it would be arduous and bloody, but he had made arrangements with other leaders and had five thousand men, well armed with clubs, spears, bows, obsidian knives, and even a few muskets from Brazil. Days had been spent in rituals and ceremonies, prayers and sacrifices. Priests had declared the omens to be propritious, and the expedition had set out, carrying plenty of supplies, with whips and rope for captives, cheered by the people they passed.

Now they had passed the area of Mexican settlement and pressed ever northwards towards the region inhabited by the mysterious white men.Garcia did not know, and would not have deviated a step had he known, that he was headed straight for Brigadier Aurelius Jones and his men, entrenched behind a well surveyed and ranged killing ground, supported by artillery and cavalry.There would be a decisive clash between men fully confident of the favour of their gods, and men just as confident in their rifles, cannon and tactical training. Whoever won, much blood was about to be sacrificed.

American Cossacks

Cptain Septimus Stuart sat his horse and observed the scene in front of him.This was Clan MacPherson territory, and he noted the white and grey of their tartan saddle blankets, cockades in their caps and the pennants on their wagons, as the men rode around their scattered herds of cattle, horses and bison. They were all drifting south in front of an increasingly chilly breeze. The northern horizon was darkening with storm clouds as the winter season approached.

He knew that the tartan was an affectation, a bit of nonsense thought up by a haberdasher back east, who had found an old book of tartan designs, had samples produced at a woolen mill,and then sent salesmen on an amazingly successful campaign across the Plains; many of whose inhabitants liked to think of themselves as romantic characters, free men in sympathy with the vague but stirring tales told of Scottish Highlanders from the distant past. Some of the leaders of this group may have been called MacPherson, so it was an instant sale, and an encouragement to their neighbours to find an association with another colourful and distinguishing pattern.

The Republican government kept an eye on such things. They approved of ties to ancient identities, even if more than a little bogus, because they pointed to the greater truth of common European origin and sympathy.There were other groups, guilds, tribes or associations which boasted of other notionally eponymous identities. There were Men of Wayland among the smiths. The Sons of Hermes formed an association of merchants, for instance. Some of the horseclans, particularly those whose leaders could claim Germanic ancestry, called themselves Goths. None of them could claim a symbol of identity as spectacular and apparently historical as the tartan. Some of the envious Goths advanced a claim to share the tartan because of the very ancient tartan-wearing mummies of white people found long ago in the steppe borders of ancient China. The Scots derided this, saying that the Goths were much later arrivals on the Eurasian steppes, and that only in Scotland had the tartan been perfected.

Stuart smiled to himself thinking that the notion of Goths must have been a little hard for the Romanophiles in Pittsburg to swallow. They were well aware of the great battle of Adrianople in 378 A.D. when the real Goths had inflicted a crushing defeat on the Romans. Perhaps they had rationalised acceptace by remembrance that many Goths had served faithfully in Roman armies and even as senior Roman officers. Perhaps, he mused, it had been the easier to accept because the defeat had been inflicted on the Roman Empire, not on the Republic. Of course, the old Americans had also disliked the notion of Empire even though they had become one. It was said that the Romans had acquired an Empire by fighting strictly defensive wars, and the old Americans by defending 'democracy' around the world. In any case, he was sure that the American Republic intended that their Goths remained American, loyal and useful.

He had spent the warmer months riding the Great Plains visiting the various groupings inhabiting this vast grassland. It was the task of officers like himself to keep a finger on the pulse of the Plains.He had noted their needs, absorbed their news, adjudicated minor disputes, kept them aware of the power of Pittsburg and it's benificent interest in their welfare and claim on their loyalty. Wryly he noted that he was not without romanticism himself, as he caught himself comparing himself to the Political Officers in the North West Frontier tribal areas of the old British Raj in India.

As he headed back towards the encampment,Stuart reviewed the history of the Plains. After The Collapse of the old America, the Mexicans had swept through the region, killing almost everyone. They had only established effective occupancy in the south, and the rest became a vast wildlife reserve. Slowly herds of bison, cattle and horses established themselves and roamed freely, eventually attracting some predation from Mexicans and Americans.Wolves or coyotes seemed to have done for the sheep, or perhaps it was the Mexicans. When the Republic was firmly established, they turned some attention to making use of the resources provided by these herds.Slowly people began to resettle the area, a few farmers and growing numbers of herders and hunters. The annual forays for meat and skins to take back east became more systematic, and people who had reason to leave the east behind them drifted onto the Plains, where as permanent inhabitants they felt more free. Back east, some quipped that this movement benefitted both source and destination.

The Republic knew it could not intensively settle much of this vast area. It was very glad to keep the Mexicans out of it, and worked to develop groups of nomads who would be a counterpoise to them. The cavalry potential had been obvious. The Republic mounted it's own cavalry partly on horses from the Plains, took an interest in horse breeding there, sent it's units to train there, and above all, encouraged and recruited the Plainsmen to function as light cavalry. The Mexicans could do the same, but the Republic hoped that their own Plains cavalrymen,supported by regular units of 'galloper guns' horse artillery, would make a Mexican attack via the Plains too costly to be worthwhile, by harrying it's communications. Now that there were steam gunboats patrolling the Mississippi, the Republic felt a lot more confident about it's western defences. Indeed, the shattering of their cannibal raiding assaults in the old Southern states, and subsequent expulsion of all Mexicans west of the Mississippi, had given the Republic the confidence of a good defence line. The Plainsmen were in full control north of the Arkansas river, and infiltrating south of it, nudging Mexican influence away from the Mississippi,providing a glacis in front of the moat protecting Fortress America.

The comparison Stuart most liked for the Plainsmen was with the Cossacks of Eastern Europe. The name had supposedly derived from the Turkish for free man or unruly wanderer. They had attracted all sorts of people squeezed out of a more settled life, and formed a miscellany of groups serving or fighting the Poles, Russians and Turks. Very romantic characters in folklore, they had mainly served the Tsars as light cavalry and frontier guards and had helped the eastern advance of Russia into Siberia. The development of the old America had proceeded so rapidly that the railroads and then the oil-based surge of automobiles and aircraft had settled and leaped over the Plains very quickly in historical terms. The disappearance of oil had brought back distance as a major factor in life, and the Plains certainly represented distance. The second development of America was going to be much slower, and the Plains would have longer in which to play a 'romantic' role. The Plains Indians had almost fitted the bill the first time around, but although the buffalo had returned, the Indians had not. So, Highlanders, Goths or Cossacks, whoever they were likened to, the American Republican Plainsmen would have their hour.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Books and Blood in Future History

Blood of Christ

Father Enrique Hernandez de Mendoza paused in his writing. Laying the fountain pen carefully on the dark wooden desk in front of him, he glanced casually out of the window. In the middle distance he saw a peasant boy in a dirty shirt carrying a long switch over his left shoulder as he guided the wooden plough being dragged through the ground by the two negro slaves shackled to it. A usual scene, the Father noted. The boy's mother, Maria, was sick again, as he had learned when talking to the boy on the previous day. The family had little land and could not afford the attentions of a medico - whatever they, in truth, might be worth. The crops would be poor again this year, he thought.

Little changed here in the pacified region of what had been one of those 'United States' - Texas, perhaps, or maybe it had been New Mexico, as if it mattered, save to the most nit-picking of chroniclers. Now, of course it was part of the province of Central Northern Mexico. Decades had passed since there had been more than minor troubles in this area. The army of His Excellency Don Arturo Gallenos de Columbo had seen to that, in the usual bloody, but unusually thorough, manner. It was still grimly whispered among the peasants that the sighing and howling of the wind carried the screams of those, and they were many, who had been flayed, impaled or roasted. Now there were few white Americanos left to cause trouble. The frontier raids of black and mestizo bandits were far away in the Blacklands of the eastern coast and Caribbean, where the savages ate or enslaved each other, for sale mainly to the plantations of Brazil.

His eyes turned back to the pen in front of him. He was pleased with it.The pen, of black plastic and gold plated steel, was a treasured family heirloom and was the emblem of his status as a cleric, a man of learning and of at least modest position in the Bishop's entourage. His superior, an avid collector of stories about the past had sent him to this monastery of San Geronimo to search what records they might have, seeking anything interesting. The humble brothers were scarcely literate in Spanish, let alone in the infidel English tongue of the previous heathen occupiers of the area. Although welcoming and hospitable, they had not been able to be of much assistance. He had spent a few days leafing through such records and writings as they possessed. Beyond the sparse hand written administrative records of their monastery, which had never had more than a handful of brothers for the century or so of it's existence, there was little but a few old printed devotional works.

The single exception, which might make his journey worthwhile in the Bishop's eyes, was what appeared to be a popular magazine from the latter part of the twentieth century. It had probably survived so long because it had been lost inside the drawer of an old table which he had idly opened.

As an educated man, he had been aware that the ancients had had horseless carriages, but he had never seen one or even a picture of one. He was fascinated to see colourful pictures of what appeared to be these self-moving machines, but repulsed by the sinful avarice with which they were advertised, and the expectation that every common man and woman should have at least one of these, surely noisy, and possibly blasphemous, monsters.They appeared to be each be made out of many hundred kilogrammes of metal, which must have been a grotesque extravagance. He had never seen so much metal in a single object, yet here were streets filled with them. It was most unsettling to see such a disdainful display of extravagance; all the more so as the arrogant attitudes of the populace would have been hard to take in an assembly of nobles and notables, let alone being quite devoid of the humility properly expected of common people.Then there was the scandal of the women.

Many of the pages not devoted to pictures of horseless carriages, were given over to beautiful women advertising clothing as scanty as their morals. Even the pictures of the people in the streets showed that ordinarily the women were indecently, and even lasciviously, dressed. Their attitudes were quite brazen. No doubt all of this had contributed to the wrath of the Almighty which had fallen upon them, as upon Sodom and Gomorrah. Such a thing could not be left to bring confusion and temptation to the simple people and humble brethren of this place.

More troubling to his mind and spirit was one of the stories set amongst the vulgar commercial dross. It raved in a confused manner about how the god Apollo had appeared at least thirteen times; and borne some of the locals, who had henceforth become heroes, into the heavens,even as far as the moon, in some sort of fire-breathing dragon-like heavenly chariot. At least one of these ventures had ended like Icarus, in falling to earth in flames. Father Enrique considered the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel, which had angered The Lord, and supposed this story of Apollo to indicate similar vainglorious folly, probably with similar results, if the contrast between the Florida of that time and now was anything to go by. This open, public, demonolatry and black magic was deeply disturbing. Perhaps these people had derived their power from summoning demons. There were hints that they had indeed drawn power from Hell, from the realms of Pluto and Uranus, and that it had proved demonically destructive.

He pondered these matters, slowly turning his fountain pen over and over in his hands. The more he thought about it, the more clearly he perceived the influence of Satan. It was obvious in these stories and pictures of the ancient people, the Americans. It was latent in such unholy relics, lying dormant for centuries until Satan found an occasion to use them to tempt the unwary, leading them to taste the forbidden fruit. Even publicising such things was dangerous. There was a temptation to seek to advance a career as the discover of something sensational; but this could be to advance the work of the Devil, to say nothing of the uncertain currents of theological fashion and Curial favour, which could as easily lead to condemnation for heresy, torture and imprisonment or death at the stake. He knelt at the old prie dieu beside him, and prayed for a long time.

When he arose, his mind was calm and his duty clear. He could not leave this snare of the Evil One to fall into innocent hands. Nor could he destroy it, for fear that others and worse, for which the Church would not be prepared, might come to light elsewhere.He knew that he lacked the subtlety of mind and depth of spiritual faith required to deal properly with this discovery. It would have to go to the Bishop, with a carefully composed covering explanation, and probably to the Papal Curia at the New Vatican in Mexico City. He saw that the hand of God may have guided his usually more worldly superior to send him here. As he wrapped the offending object in his spare shirt and bundled it into his saddle bag he was thankful that he may have been of service, and thanked God for having brought knowledge of the saving blood of His Son to the people around him, of infinitely greater value than the vain foolishness of the departed world portrayed in the object of temptation. He went to make his farewells to the Abbot and his brethren, looking forward to the long muleback journey home with far more happiness than he had anticipated.

Blood of Holy War

Cadi Mohammed ibn Abdullah was a man at peace with himself, his world and his god. Life was good. Allah was smiling upon him. He sat on comfortable cushions and looked out over his estate, enjoying the sight of his French slaves tending his crops and his rows of orange trees. Just this morning he had completed the purchase of another farm, adding to a satisfying portfolio of holdings in the area, which marked his growing wealth and influence.

He was becoming a man whose views and participation in business dealings were solicited by other wealthy and influential men. He had hopes of marrying his sons and daughters into even more influential families whose interests extended across the whole Muslim world, from the Maghreb to Indonesia and from the Alps and Istanbul to the depths of Africa. Although Valencia was far from the centre of affairs at Al Quds, where the Caliph Hisham reigned supreme, he was happy here. He had investments in the dhows and their cargoes which busily plied the Mediterranean, the Red Sea and Indian Ocean as far as the clove groves of Zanzibar and Pemba. He had been angling for inclusion in a consortium which traded beyond India to Malaya and Indonesia, even to the Spice Islands. He felt confident that this would soon be achieved, as his reputation and assets increased and he continued in the good graces of His
Highness Ali, the local representative of the Caliph (Peace Be Upon Him).

After noon prayers and a light meal of fruit and spiced meat he had decided to devote the afternoon to reading history. He particularly enjoyed reading about the Great Jihad that had brought Western Europe under the control of Islam, and turned the Mediterranean into an Islamic lake. As a youger man he had hoped to participate as a Ghazi in the next great Jihad, which would surely overwhelm the Germans who still controlled Northern Europe, and plant the Caliph's green banner on the shores of the Baltic and North Seas. Alas, such had not been the will of Allah, as shown through the political weakness of the Caliphate at that time, and in the demonstrated superiority of the Germans' weapons and military organisation.

Now he no longer regretted the path his life had taken. Instead, his knowledge of affairs left him uneasily wondering whether his sons would be permitted to enjoy their inheritance for many years before the Germans seized it from them - but these were thoughts which could never be revealed.

He took pleasure in turning the stiff pages of the lovingly printed and lavishly illustrated volume in it's decorative leather binding, a work of art in itself. He was well acquainted with the tale, a story of Allah's providence to his people in bemusing the minds of the rulers of Europe, so that they contrived their own destruction and that of their people who had once ruled the globe. The book was a couple of centuries old, and the tale, of course, even older.The fools had encouraged Muslim immigration, given them favoured treatment, enabled their growth in numbers, wealth and confidence until they strutted the streets beating, burning, looting and raping the natives, needing to fear little reprisal from people whom they increasingly despised. Thus the first and second stages, infiltration and assertion had been accomplished. The final stage of outright conquest had been deferred for a considerable time.

The leading power of the time had been the Americans, based in the north of the great continent on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. They had involved the Europeans in their financial, economic, social and military follies, so both collapsed into confusion together when Allah had willed it, through the debauching of their government finances and the inflation of their currency, and the social unrest consequent upon their inability to keep paying for more and more as oil and other resources became scarcer. As they declined the rest of the world suffered, but relatively less, so were better able to oppose the Americans and Europeans, who became unable to continue paying tribute to the Israelis who were thus no longer able to dominate the Arabs and retain Al Quds. In their desperation the Israelis threatened and ultimately unleashed their nuclear missiles on America and Europe, in what they called their Samson Option.This had destroyed the main cities, armies and military bases of America and Europe, leaving them open to internal uprisings and invasion from the south.

Zealous ghazis had launched raid after raid into an undefended Europe. His own ancestors had established their family fortunes with the loot which Allah had enabled them to acquire, and to establish a still flourishing business of raiding slaves from Spain, France and Italy, selling them to the relatively prosperous in the cities of the Muslim world. They were even depicted piously following the example of the Prophet Mohammed (P.B.U.H)in beheading hundreds of prisoners. He still had one of their specially made scimitars. Similar armed bands overran the whole of Southern Europe. Miraculously the chaos had resolved itself into Muslim emirs controlling all this territory and subordinating themselves to Ahmed, the newly arisen Caliph who established himself at Al Quds amidst the most tremendous rejoicing ever seen throughout the Muslim world.It was no surprise that many spoke of him as the Expected One, the Mahdi.

Success, however, had been less than total. The Russians had managed to destroy the Israeli missiles aimed at themselves and the Germans, so they were much less damaged by the Muslim uprisings and raids, and had before long managed to repel and expel the Faithful from their lands, and to protect themselves from subsequent attacks. (Russian and Chinese anti-missile defences had protected most of the Muslim cities, but the American defences were ineffective because the Israelis had their codes and the Europeans had no independent defences or deterrents.)

In succeeding generations, as the oil ran dry, it's use was restricted to the vehicles of high officials and the military, and the public came again to rely on camels, horses,donkeys and their own feet for transport.In truth even the vehicles of the high ones, and most of such machinery as could be obtained, came from the Germans, Russians and Chinese who were not motivated to supply much that was dangerous. They still had large reserves of iron and coal, and the superb tradition of German engineering. Thus as oil disappeared they smoothly converted back to steam power, and overhauled their rail network with a close eye on military uses. They were still able to make some oil from coal,(a process they had pioneered before the Second World War,) so were in an increasingly powerful position to maintain military forces smaller than those of Islam, but superior in every way except numbers. This had been amply demonstrated when they had crossed the Rhine and occupied the coal and iron bearing areas of eastern and northern France, routing the Muslim forces in short order.

Quite recently, the Basques had revolted against their Muslim overlords, and the Germans had conducted a lightning campaign through western France and across the Pyrenees to link up with the Basques and expel the Muslims from northern Spain, leaving the Germans in possession and the Muslims deprived of another area of engineering and it's associated coal and iron resources. There was talk of crusades and counter-jihad.

Already Mohammed felt a chill, and it wasn't just that the evening was approaching and a breeze had started to blow. He recognised the need to submit to the will of Allah, and hoped that he and his descendants would be able to bow with grace to whatever was to be. Then he closed the book, put it back on it's shelf, and went to enjoy his harem.

Blood of the dark haired people

Han Wu loved writing history. He enjoyed the ritual of preparation, of calming his mind, preparing his writing implements, donning his robe, lighting the incense, seating himself on the floor of his study surrounded by beautiful vases, paintings and examples of fine calligraphy. He had consulted the I Ching, deeply considering the meaning of the hexagram which the yarrow stalks had revealed. Naturally he had long since completed his study of the written sources and the interpretations of previous scholars.Now he sat quietly, awaiting the correct moment. When it came he allowed his hand to pick up the brush, dip it in the ink and make the first fluid strokes upon the paper.

He loved best to read and write the history of his own people, the Han Chinese, Old Hundred Names, the dark haired people.He respected their strength and endurance and had on his wall a painting of a twisted pine tree growing out of a sheer rock face, which symbolised their indomitability. Tyrants shed their blood like water, but like water they eventually wore away resistance and found a way to their objective of survival. He had written of their very ancient river-taming works of irrigation and drainage, and of the vast numbers drowned when these had failed. He had written of the Great Wall and the fall and rise of dynasties as the Mandate of Heaven was transferred to stronger and more vigorous hands. Always amid torrents of blood, as if such sacrifice was required to keep the state strong and the land and people
fertile. China was no place for the sentimental, no place for those who babbled of individual liberty, no place for those who disregarded their families and their obligations to state, people and ancestors. In truth, there was no place in China for anyone who was not Han Chinese.

He suited his writing to the seasons. Now, in the winter season, he wrote of decline and death, of hardship, bitter endurance and the hope of better times.

He had written of the impact which the arrival of the Europeans had had on old China, dreaming that it was the centre of existence and unprepared for a spiritual as well as physical struggle with interlopers who denied and derided such an idea. He had noted the response of China in attempting to imitate the ideas and industry of the invaders, abandoning in large measure it's own culture and history in the process. He had noted the similarity of the Tai Ping rebels and the Communists as attempts to appropriate a special relationship to the apparent motivating forces behind the successful westerners, Christianity in the nineteenth century and Marxism in the twentieth.He had noticed that the Chinese response had always been to seek the creation of a new Mandarinate, educated in a different set of sacred texts, to guide the people. He noted how the decline of Western power had inevitably been accompanied by a decline in the status of western ideas and people. The revival of China's traditional culture had been accelerated by the upheavals consequent upon the collapse of the fantasy of 'Chimerica'as the economy built around exporting plastic rubbish to the west and constructing empty cities to meet chimerical targets had imploded, with the usual starvation, bloodshed and eventual transfer of the Mandate of Heaven to a more inward looking and traditional arrangement of power. Now the population, not only of China, but of the whole world, was considerably smaller and poorer, but the Tao had, in some measure, been restored.

Whispers in the blood

Michael O'Malley was tired, and cold. He had spent the night meditating inside a megalithic tomb, at an auspicious season, and he was pleased that he had made contact with the spirits of his ancestors. Not that they had had much to say. They seldom did. Nevertheless, it was important to maintain the connection between the living and the dead, and he felt that they participated in his musings on the old legends and sometimes they added details or even new stories to the traditional lore.

He was a junior bard, proud of his responsibility for maintaining the old songs and recitations, and even perhaps adding to them, subject to the approval of the ancestors and of his superiors in the bardic order. He had work to do on the words and music of a new composition. His secret hope was that he might be called upon to perform before the guests at the regular assemblies of his order, in the House of Wisdom. Perhaps in time he might even be invited to be heard at the quarterly Courts of the High Kings held in their ceremonial centre of New Tara, where there was feasting and rejoicing, contests of strength and skill, gossip and horse trading, as the business of law and politics was conducted in the atmosphere of a fair. That was where reputations could be made and spread, and where a bard could hope to attract the attention of a noble and wealthy patron.

Putting aside such musings, Michael greeted the sun and the morning breeze, as he strolled through the green meadow dotted with the contented cattle of Leary, the local chieftain. He would certainly mention the inspiring energy in the air and the joyousness evident in nature to his friend Finbar of the Order of Blessed Crombie of Findhorn when he next saw him. They were evidently doing good work contacting and co-operating with the spirits of nature to secure the fertility and happiness of all beings in the environment.

He smiled and waved to Gregor and Connor, the lads who had just brought the cattle back to pasture after their morning milking. The morning bowl of porridge and milk would be very welcome when he got back to the house.As they walked together through the village of thatched and whitewashed houses, with the smoke of the peat or wood fires rising from their chimneys,and the hens clucking and pecking around their feet, the boys were eager to tell Michael the latest news. A small group of travellers had stopped at the village last night, after one of their horses had cast a shoe,and had naturally been invited to accommodate themselves in Leary's house and barn. His smith would see to replacing the horseshoe this morning before they continued their journey.The evening spent around the open fire had been cheerful as the strangers shared around a skinful of French wine they had bought in Dublin.The lads had managed to evade their normal bedtime, and listen from the shadows to the traveller's tales.

Micheal listened with interest. Traveller's tales were usually of intrigues between the various kings and sub-kings who ruled the land, with the assistance of the druids, and of sporting competitions between popular teams of footballers and hurley players, often paid by and wearing the livery of kings or towns.This time the news was of a great war, far to the south of Eire. The travellers had it from a Dublin merchant, one of whose trading contacts had heard from someone on the Continent, who had claimed to have seen the German dirigibles and flying machines as they had passed overhead en route to attack the Muslims in the south of France. Business conditions were disturbed as columns of men and horses and wagons and artillery, some of them drawn by steam engines, had streamed south.This was news which would interest the Royal Courts, as some of the young nobles might well have taken service with the Germans to learn the art of war.

Certainly there was likely to be little sympathy for the Muslims. Memories remained of their sneaking slave raids upon undefended coastal villages;there would be delight at the prospect that they would receive a sound thrashing. Stories of the horrors inflicted when they had infiltrated and assaulted a stricken Europe were well remembered over the centuries. The general feeling was that Europe would be the better for their absence, and if the Germans and Russians could drive them back to the deserts from which these fiends had emerged,so much the better for civilization and humanity.

This information had come from the south. As he sat at table enjoying his breakfast at last, Michael reflected that most of the foreign news they received came from the east, via traders from Britain who brought cargoes of coal and metal ware, and woolen cloth and even guns for the entourages of the kings, in exchange for horses, cattle, linen and whisky. He knew that that country was recovering from the Time of Chaos when the unity of the United Kingdom had been broken.The main power there now was in the Midlands and North as the old industrial areas made a modest resurgence, and there was plenty of room now for a renewal of the herds of sheep in the north and west which had been the mainstay of the medieval economy so long before.

Idly he considered that much less information came from the other directions. The cessation of tourism had left the Highlands and Isles of Scotland almost deserted, and beyond them who hnew whether glaciers had swallowed Scandinavia. From the west, only occasional rumours emerged. Fishermen and a few rare travellers brought stories from Iceland, including a tale that explorers had established friendly relations with Nova Scotia, and even a wild legend that beyond the forests, hills, rivers and badlands, an enclave of Americans might still exist!

Books of blood
James Hopkins sat rocking gently on his porch as he watched the setting sun go down behind the hills. He savoured the tobacco in his pipe, glad that a supply still trickled up from the south. He was tired, but had done a good day's work on his farm and was hopeful that the crops of corn and vegetables and apples would be good. Any surplus beyond what he could sell at the farmers market in the nearest town would go towards making his next supply of moonshine liquor, in itself, like the tobacco, a near-money readily acceptable as a means of exchange and store of value, supplementing the official paper newdollars.

The rocking chair, made by his grandfather, was comfortable and he almost fell into a doze as he rumimated upon the news he had heard in the village. According to the official, and only, newspaper the Pittsburg Gazette, which the government ensured was made available to all settlements within a week or so of it's publication, an incursion of savages from what had been New York, had been repulsed with heavy losses by the local militia supplemented by some assistance from the central government's forces. Nothing in that to alarm him; any more serious news would have spread far more rapidly, and he would again have been called to the colours by his militia captain Geoffrey Hughes, who happened to be a cousin.

He had heard that in the old America, centuries ago, people had played at being weekend soldiers, calling themselves 'militia', and others had squabbled about a right to carry pistols either openly or hidden. What nonsense, he thought, more of the insanity that seemed to have characterised the old times.Now every upright citizen was enrolled in the militia, responsible for a military firearm, regularly inspected, drilled, sent on training exercises. and liable for a stint of border patrolling, as well as being required to assist other areas in the event of serious incursions. It was not a game, certainly no fun, and any loss or misuse of a weapon would be severely punished, not least because they were valuable, scarce and provided part of the superiority over the surrounding savages.The militia system, he mused, was a vital reason for the success of the refounded American Republic, providing relatively cheap and effective local defence and policing assistance to the civil power if needed. If required for a major effort, militia units could be quickly sent to assist those in other parts of the republic, without quibbles as to where and for how long they might serve. Machiavelli would have been proud to have seen such effective citizen forces.

Another news item had been that the fur trade with the northern people was steadily expanding. Not really news, of course, but the government and their journalising academics at the university, loved to instruct people, and liked to fill the pages of the Gazette with improving knowledge. The population of wildlife, including the fur-bearing varieties, had naturally grown a lot since The Collapse, especially because of the colder weather of recent centuries. It was another sign of the insanity of the ancients that, just before The Collapse they had been obsessed with the belief that humanity, particularly the Americans, had caused the earth to warm irreversibly! Sometimes when surrounded by winter blizzards or long lying snow obstructing movement, he wished that this part of the earth would become rather warmer. He had a beaver hat and a bison coat and stout leather boots and glooves lined with fleece, so he was equipped for winter weather, along with a good supply of logs for his hearth and stove to keep his house warm so he was not unduly worried.

Thoughts of his warm and heavy bison coat reminded him of the time when he had joined the hunters on the plains beyond the Mississippi. Over the centuries the herds of bison had returned and resumed their wandering, accompanied by herds of wild cattle, and even herds of horses. These were culled and preyed upon, not only by wolves, but also by Mexicans and Americans, the latter of whom at least tried to prevent excessive hunting. It was well organised, with wagon trains accompanying the hunters to collect, skin, butcher and salt the carcasses, which were brought back to the light railways and rapidly transported east.He thought that bison meat was probably more popular than the tough and stringy beef. At any rate the plains provided plenty of leather and tallow for candles.These were valuable resources, and the government would be reluctant to lose them should the usually lethargic Mexicans attempt to assert effective control over this almost uninhabited area.

The governments of Mexico and the American Republic, he knew, were well aware of each other's existence, but usually tried to ignore each other and avoid precise claims which might give rise to grievances and conflict or force them to deal with each other. Bitter memories were recorded of the way in which the Mexicans and their criminal allies had almost overrun the United States at the time of The Collapse, raping and pillaging, looting and murdering as far as the Great Lakes and almost to Pittsburg itself, before themselves falling victim to a series of civil disorders and military coups. Subsequent incursions across the Mississippi or Ohio, once the American Republic had been refounded or re-organised - and he knew that different opinions were held about that - had been bloodily repulsed. He recalled the dark saying attributed to Heraclitus of Ephesus, that strife is the father and origin of all things, so found it in no way surprising that fear of the Mexicans had stimulated the Republic to seek to strengthen itself through more efficient armed forces, recovery and re-development of old technology, economic development, exploration of it's surroundings, and the education of it's citizens.

The American Republic found itself to be surprisingly well situated strategically and economically. It had good defensible boundaries, forming a rough triangle with the Great Lakes to the north, the Mississippi to the west and the mountains to the south and east.Some called this 'Fortress America'.It had the famously fertile farmland of the Mid-West, as well as the coal and iron of the mountains and the engineering and organisational capacity of it's major surviving city, Pittsburg, which had soon become it's natural capital.It had a relatively numerous, homogeneous and active population which retained it's culture and sufficient social cohesion and political organisation to constitute either the successor to, or the surviving remnant of, the old United States, depending on how one wished to look at it. It had plenty of water and timber, a reasonable climate and the priceless advantage of having, with the rather distant exception of Mexico, no civilised states as neighbours or rivals. Population had dropped by at least half to three quarters in the area of the Republic following The Collapse, and by even more in the rest of the old America. Numbers were slowly growing, as the productive capacity of the Republic slowly increased, but no one wanted the uncontrolled growth of the old times. It was strange to think that the people of old had been been so worried about running out of resources. Now people were the scarce resource.

Canada had dissolved under snow, distance and social disorder. There were pockets of subsistence farmers and scattered tribes of wandering hunters. Some of these people traded furs or timber in exchange for axeheads, fish-hooks, pots, traps and liquor with Americans who crossed the Great Lakes in small sailing boats. Now there were even a few steamships.The probibition on selling them firearms or powder and ball was strictly and quite effectively enforced. Prospectors searched for minerals which might later be explioted, and there would be no nonsense about needing permission from another government if that ever happened.

Indeed, the Republic had sent cautious expeditions all the way to the Pacific and the coast of Alaska. These had found no extensive settlements or sign of organised government. Expeditions which had penetrated the area that had been California reported that it was more or less under Mexican control, quite extensively populated but squalid, dispirited and crime ridden. No doubt such reports were kept in a filing cabinet in Pittsburg, to be dusted off and re-considered if circumstances in future centuries made it necessary to seek control of more natural resources, but for the moment they merely provided reassurance that the Republic need fear no threat from those directions.

As to the Atlantic coast, this had become the Savage Lands.This had been achieved instantly, as soon as the Israeli missiles had struck what had been the most densely populated and culturally and politically dominant part of the country. Not only had they eliminated the seat of government and the main cities, but the prevailing winds had driven the plumes of radiation contamination across the whole area.The region fell into the most savage disorder, which persisted for generations. There had been no recovery, no restoration of civilization.The Atlantic coast became the regular home paddock and exercise ground for the Four Horsemen, although they took outings over the rest of the country. In the early years there had been serious incursions and infiltrations into the mountains, which had helped to solidify a sense of separate identity from the mongrels, mutants, monsters and misbegotten maggotty varmints of the coastlands. Outbreaks of disease had been a serious risk until the Republic had become strong enough to implement consistent interdiction of contact and strict quarantine from the lowlands - which generally took the form of a warning shot quickly followed by a lethal one into anyone foolish or desperate enough to continue advancing. The effectiveness of the militia was honed by their border patrolling. There was no trade across this boundary. Occasional stealthy expeditions confirmed that radiation levels were still high, that the wretched inhabitants had no significant government, social organisation, manufacturing or resources.There was still a surprising number of them, and they did sometimes form gangs or warbands, large or small, to attempt to raid the Republic. Much of the area was reverting to jungle, providing animals for the spears and arrows and clubs of the locals.Unfortunately, it was also improving their woodcraft, so they would probably attempt more sneaky infiltration of the Republic.

Far to the south it was reported that the Mississippi had burst it's man-made restrictions and it's silt was rebuilding it's delta.In the opposite direction, beyond what had been New England, there were said to be small numbers of farmers and fishers. An expedition down the St.Lawrence had reported friendly contact with these people, who seemed to receive irregular visits from Iceland. Whatever might be happening throughout the rest of the globe was beyond the Republic's ken, and they had little appetite to learn. Failing to mind one's own business, and becoming entangled in the business of others had worked out very badly for the old America, and he heartily hoped that the Republic would continue to avoid this error.

Fortress America contained all that was needed to provide the material base for a good life for it's citizens. They did not need to import anything exotic, even were there people from whom these things could have been imported. Not even the legendary 'tea' and 'coffee' and 'sugar' so casually mentioned in the texts from the old America. Strangely or not, these things were not mentioned in the texts from the much older republic - Rome. What was emphasised however was the deleterious effect of 'luxury'on the moral fibre of citizens and their state. The old Americans seemed to have been enslaved by this vice.

The new Republic had a high moral tone. It expected much of it's citizens, and expected them to have similar expectations of it. Serious efforts were made to encourage people to improve their minds.This was quite separate from technical training for work skills, which the old Americans seem to have confused with education, or even with religion.The government press,and there was no other, produced and distributed as much as it's scholars had managed to salvage of the literature and history and philosophy of Greek and Roman antiquity, and of
the Renaissance. It did so alongside the publication of practical manuals, knowing that philosopher kings would feel a greater need for plumbers and plasterers than the latter might for the former. Books were relatively expensive, but free public libraries were maintained even in villages, even if they had to double up with the other public buildings such as schools or post offices or town halls. The carrot came with a stick. A high standard of literary culture, not just bare literacy, was expected of all who wanted a government job or who aspired to a political career, or even to social acceptance as a respectable person beyond the condition of a mere yokel or labourer, who would probably not be allowed to participate in any political activity. Even those who had no nobler ambition than to make money, had become ambitious that their sons at least should acquire some of the polish they had themselves missed.

The Republic admired, demanded and encouraged talent. Quality ordered Quantity, not the reverse. The old American competition between 'Dimocrats' and 'Risibilians' for the votes of the stupid and ignorant, the foolish and feckless, who always outnumbered the more worthwhile people, was quite absurd; so it had ceased. Another absurdity which had ceased was the practice of taxing the decent and productive to pay the vicious and idle to proliferate and live at the expense of the public. Such vermin had been a major cause of chaos at the time of The Collapse. Now those who could not afford to bring up a family were discouraged from marriage, those who produced bastards outside marriage were punished, and only the deserving poor were given alms if their families were unable to support them.Criminals and dubious characters were few, and received a quick death. Everyone was known in their local community, so this presented little difficulty, and there was no need for hordes of bureaucrats. Certainly the notion of importing low class, disorderly, philoprogenerative foreigners to live off the public whilst insulting and commiting crimes against their benefactors,was a notion so outrageous James had had extreme difficulty in crediting it, even of the insane old Americans, until he had been shown surviving accounts of such things. Obviously the ancients had transgressed so blatantly against the laws of nature that their destruction had been a blessing to humanity.

Some of this high seriousness had been forged in the fiery crucible of war, and war to protect one's people and their land and society and future destiny from destruction by savages cunning, evil, strong and numerous. Some rested on the fortuitous recovery and acceptance of the Elizabethan humanist curriculum. A diet of learning which had produced Shakespeare and the English Renaissance, including schooling for twelve hours each day but Sunday in the complexities of Latin language and literature, whilst speaking only Latin, was meat too strong for the stomachs of Republican America.It had, however, given impetus to their education programme, and to their sense of Republican virtue, which sometimes attained an almost French Revolutionary fervour. Another, more practical strand of sobriety and seriousness was contributed by the influence of the Amish. These people were already living
a simpler and more neighbourly life than those around them at the time of The Collapse, and their example had helped to bring about the recovery of an orderly society.

That night James Hopkins, after his humble but satisfying supper of boiled vegetables, washed down by a mug of home brewed cider, lit a candle and opened the volume he had borrowed from the village library, an English translation and commentary on Plato's 'Republic'. As he studied and pondered along with the author and his students on questions like 'What is Justice?' or 'What is the Good Life, and am I living it?', he did not stop to think that this night, in the Republic of America, more people were studying the philosophers of Antiquity than over the rest of the earth, or had anywhere done so for many centuries. Maybe, just maybe - a renaissance was beginning.