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 Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 10 "Mortals" (part 1)

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Nobiles Barbariæ

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Join date : 2011-12-25

PostXartis Psyxis - Chapter 10 "Mortals" (part 1)

The blazing sun of yesterday had proven ephemeral. As if to reinforce the sad truth that nothing - however well planned or burgeoning with promise - could last forever, the weather in this benighted land chose to make itself a reminder of that fact, changing its nature daily, and sometimes even many times a day. Today, despite the season, it had chosen to adopt an almost autumnal feel. The air was cold and barely moved except in the mildest protest as one pressed through it, and as the morning progressed the mist that crept upriver from the Irish Sea muted the colours and sounds around the city so that the streets and buildings had begun to disappear into a ghostly shadow of their real form, one that reeked of that timeless void to which all our supposed existence is subservient, a void commanded by one whose only demand on knowledge is that it is of Him, and whose only demand on our souls is that they submit to his ownership. It was as if the city, in muting the sounds and clarity of her drab existence through such a simple expediency, could impose a surrogate majesty on her appearance which forced her children to contemplate the actual and terrible truth behind that which the illusion conveyed.

But this illusion so imbued with glimpses of divine grace and beauty had been achieved only at the expense of her normally vibrant spirit, which was now almost completely subdued. The Dubliners themselves had caught the mood also. Conversations on the street were muted, almost hushed, and peoples’ movement had slowed to a ghostly shuffle along the city’s thoroughfares, a restriction imposed on them by the poor visibility but which simply recruited them therefore as ingredients of the whole charade. Titus, on his borrowed horse cantering up the cobbles of Ormonde Quay, felt even more like the outsider that he knew he was, but not just an Englishman abroad in a foreign city – now he felt like the only human in a sea of shades which, though they purported to be reality, had as much substance as the woman who he had imagined had lain beside him that morning, and who had proved to be just a half-remembered ghost from the past.

But still, he thought, it had been nice to remember her that way for once. Perhaps, like this morning’s dream, this muted harlot of a town on view today was trying to intimate a related truth, though in her own inimitable and unsubtle way. The purpose of this glimpse into a spectral world beyond the borders of our mortal existence was less contrived to make one feel sombre and subdued, Titus suspected, but in fact to feel reassured. And indeed, to his own surprise, that was indeed how he felt. Perhaps this suddenly eerie landscape, conjured up by nothing more supernatural than a simple mist, was in truth a signal from the world of those who had long left life and clarity behind that one should take both warning and comfort from what it revealed. It does not take much to enter the world of shades and spectres to which we are all eventually consigned, and it would happen soon enough, however much one anticipated, dreaded, or even welcomed the event. It was time now however in the harsh but real world of contrasts and definition that is the lot of the living to start experiencing fully this life again, even enjoying it – and in so doing to pay her the honour of dignifying her memory by remembering her as the beautiful person in life that she was, and not as that lifeless shadow of her real self that he had clasped in his arms on the Thames muddy banks.

Just as he had held her lifeless form tightly to his breast on that accursed day all those years ago, so afterwards in his mind and moods had he equally tightly clung to the shades into which she had passed. He had all but immersed himself in them, as if by doing so he could meet her halfway between this world and the next, and so not have to lose her. But in doing so he knew that he had as good as placed one foot in his own grave, and had thus almost lost his hold on everything, including his own destiny on this earth. Yet, even in his darkest hours, common sense had told him that to continue in that vein was suicide, and a cowardly suicide at that, ever in retreat from the reality of pain but never brave enough to face that pain and its prime cause – his betrayal of someone’s trust when she had most needed him.

So slowly and painfully over the years he had hauled himself back into this real world, though never with a true relish or enthusiasm for what it contained and always with a tentative toehold kept in hers, as if in doing so he might not truly lose all that she was and all that she meant to him. While every inch gained brought him closer to the ugliness of his own vile betrayal, he had avoided facing that betrayal’s implications fully as long as he had kept one eye ever turned back to that world of half-light to which she had been consigned. What he saw now in the swirls of mist that wafted over the quayside and enveloped his thoughts as completely as his form, was that in doing so he was risking being left blind to both worlds. Worse, it showed as little respect for the memory of the soul that had passed through into that world of which this morning had afforded him a foretaste, as it did indeed for his own wretched soul in this harsher world where he was fated yet to reside. Then, with one of those coincidences in which the very miraculousness of it simply enhances logic rather than detracts from it, the mist perceptibly lightened and a resolution with equal alacrity clarified itself completely in his own mind; it was time to recognise this reality, reclaim his vision and self-respect, and let the spectres go.

He was startled out of these solemn thoughts however by what met his eyes when he turned the corner into Dublin’s Smithfield Market. Although bearing the same name as its London counterpart, Dublin’s version was quite different. Its large expanse had been enclosed all around by recent building, most of which was in the form of large stable compounds. This was a livestock market and its principal trade was in one commodity – horses. There were thousands of the beasts, or so it seemed in the fog ahead of him in which one’s ears were as taxed as one’s eyes in discerning the world around. Some were tethered together in large groups and shackled to large posts. Others were corralled into high walled pens in which they exhibited the fact that they had yet to be broken by rearing on their hind legs and neighing in seeming terror at their imprisonment. The majority seemed to roam loose however, though it was obvious they could not be doing so, for as many people as horses inhabited the giant market space, most of whom were attached by some form of rope, halter, rein or tether to a mount. Even louder than the terrifying whinnies of the beasts, was the drone of a thousand deals being negotiated, a thousand prices being agreed and a thousand spits and hand slaps indicating sales.

Titus suddenly felt as if he was a character in Bunyan’s recent allegory, having strayed from one celestial plane to another, and one that was not altogether displeasing. His own horse seemed to have detected the change in atmosphere too and thoroughly approved of its new location. Its ears swivelled like sycamore seeds in a draught and its head shook from side to side as it endeavoured to sense all of its fellow creatures at once in this strange new territory where horses, it seemed, were equal to humanity in their dominion and the air buzzed with the melodious equine language as much as with the grunted human version to which he was normally subjected. Titus smiled and smacked the horse on its neck – not so much in remonstration, but as a friendly reminder to the beast not to get too carried away in its delight as it still bore a human master on its back. With great difficulty he steered his steed through the melee towards the market’s northern exit.

He hadn’t even noticed the market in his carriage trip two days before. But then that wasn’t surprising, for much of the time the market space lay idle. Once a month only, and on designated days such as Holy Thursday, the place erupted into the organised bedlam that surrounded him. This was where Irish breeds, much prized abroad for their health, strength and stamina, were bought by agents of buyers from as far away as the Lowlands and Spain. Even the draconian laws that England had recently applied to Ireland’s livestock exports could or would never extend to an embargo on her horses. Banning that trade would be tantamount to England declaring war on all her European neighbours at once, as well as depriving herself of one hugely valuable asset. Some things, even to the minds that devised the planned extermination of the island’s Catholic majority, were just too extreme to contemplate it appeared. If ever one needed proof, Titus thought, that preserving the sanctity of human life as set in Christian teaching was far down the scale of moral imperatives, one only had to stand at a place like Dublin’s Smithfield for a few minutes and witness how another god – Mammon – still set those imperatives for the bulk of humanity itself.

And there was no shortage of humanity to assist Mammon in his task. The square resounded with the noise of a hundred dialects, and many different languages. The rule that only English could be spoken within the city was another law that obviously held no jurisdiction here. Titus recognised French and Teutonic tongues, and what he guessed were Spanish or Italian also. Many traders of course were speaking Gaelic too – in fact, judging by the many accents in which the tongue was being mangled, the Irish language was as much the ‘lingua franca’ of the dealers as English, reflecting the fact that some of these beasts had been brought to Dublin from further afield in the island than the great studs of Kildare. Those horses bound for export to the continent were being traded largely in French, and loud cries of “trop cher!” and “vendu!” rent the Smithfield air along with “cé mhéad?” and “Gadaí!” as characters were taken, effronteries were assuaged by dropping the price and bargains were eventually struck. From time to time he even spotted and heard some men with dark features speaking in a language so alien that it sounded more like a series of spits than words (though as every deal was secured by spitting on the hand before shaking it, he reckoned this practise might be contributing to his illusion).

As he slowly muscled his way to the northern end of the great square he saw too that there was a tavern doing a roaring trade, outside of which were placed tables and benches, populated by men of wealthier stock judging by their clothes. Perhaps indeed these were the real purchasers and sellers, whose agents bargained in the melee on their behalf. Perhaps they were just locals come to watch the great drama of the day. One person seated there definitely was such a local. Titus recognised with some surprise and relief the slightly stooped form and red nose of the Surveyor General himself and realised this unexpected encounter spared him the problem posed by etiquette in arriving at Robinson’s house without an appointment.
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