Rebel Theology

on October 26, 2009 in Other Tales

The man was sitting down in the crook between two thick roots, his back against the tree. Laurel Anne Blaise sat on his lap. She had been looking at a book of engravings with him, but after growing uncomfortable, she’d put it aside and said she just wanted to enjoy the day.

A few minutes passed in silence, the man absently fiddling with her hair, and then he spoke.

“How you feeling now, sunshine?” he asked her.

“Perfectly at ease,” she lied. She was rarely at her ease around the man, and never when they were touching. But she didn’t want him to think she didn’t like it, that she didn’t like his attention or that she didn’t like him… and she’d seen the phrase in a book and it had impressed her.

Perfectly at ease. It sounded airy and sophisticated, like something a well-educated adult would say.

“That’s good,” the man said. “Can I ask you something about your mama?”

“I’d rather not talk about her,” Laurel Anne said. She slid her legs around, turning herself sideways so that less of her was in contact with him.

“Oh, I’m sorry… I shouldn’t have brought her up,” he said. “You come out here to get away from her, don’t you?”

“I come out here to be alone,” Laurel Anne said.

“Oh, well, excuse me, then,” the man said. He shifted her off his leg and started to push himself up off the ground.

“Alone with you,” the girl said, shoving herself forcefully back onto his lap.

“Oof!” the man grunted in an exaggerated fashion. “Alright, then… you come out here to get away from all the myriad and diverse people whom you might encounter at your home. I’m sorry I brought up one of those individuals.”

Laurel Anne scowled, and then laughed.

“Oh, ask your silly question,” she said.

“Well, she seems like an old-fashioned kind of lady,” the man said. “But you’re so young…”

“I’m not that young,” Laurel Anne said.

“I stand corrected once again,” he said. “I was just wondering how someone so modern, then, could have such an old-fashioned mother. Did she have kind of a late start?”

“I suppose so,” Laurel Anne said. “She was thirty, thirty-two or so when she met my father, if I have it figured out right in my head.”

“I’d trust your head,” the man said. “It seems fairly trustworthy, so far. How’d your folks meet?”

“On an airship.”

“Taking a cruise, were they? Oh, no, wait… you told me your daddy was an airshipman in the Imperial Navy.”

“Yes,” Laurel Anne said. “He was a crewman on the ship that carried Mama into the Shift.”

“You mean the Khazarus?”

“That’s dirty,” Laurel Anne said.

“What is?”

“That name is,” Laurel Anne said. “It’s blasphemous. The Shift isn’t holy… it’s all messed up. It’s the only place so wicked the gods themselves won’t walk there.”

“Is that a fact?”

“I… I don’t know,” Laurel Anne said. “It’s what mama says.”

“Do you suppose the gods could walk in… the Shift… if they wanted to?”

“I guess so. But it’s wicked there, so they don’t.”

“That’s interesting,” the man said. “Don’t you think the gods… the good ones… would want to go where it was wicked, so they could do something about it? If they were good, I mean… and if they were able.”

“I don’t know.”

“But what do you think?” the man asked.

“I really don’t know about this stuff,” Laurel Anne said.

“But you’re sharp. I respect your opinion,” he said. “I’d like to know what you think about this.”

“I think… I think they must be able to,” Laurel Anne said. “After all, they are gods.”

“So then you don’t think they’re good?”

“I didn’t say that,” Laurel Anne said.

“But you think they’re able to go into the Shift, this supposedly wicked and messed-up place, but they don’t go in there to fix it?”

“Well… maybe they could fix it, but it would take so much time that they’d rather spend it doing things to watch out for folks who don’t live in such wicked places in the first place?” the girl said.

“That’s interesting,” the man said.

“What is?”

“What do you think a god is, little lady?”

“The gods made the world that is,” Laurel Anne said.

“They made the world as it is,” he said. “But that’s what they did, not what they are, and anyway, you’re only talking about one race of them.”

“The gods aren’t a race. They’re… they’re the gods.”

“Alright, little lady,” he said. “Then one tribe, or kind, or pantheon.”

“My mama says that only the gods who were there in the beginning are true gods,” Laurel Anne said. “The children of the Great Star Drake. The others are all either their children, or are false gods.”

“False gods,” the man echoed, shaking his head.

“What, do you think you know better?”

“I wouldn’t say that I know better than you do,” the man said. “So let’s just say that I have a few different ideas about gods than you do.”

“Like what?” Laurel Anne asked.

“Well, the first thing you’ve got wrong is that those gods of your mama’s, I don’t think they can be the children of the Great Star Drake,” the man said. “I’d say dragons are more likely to be the children of the Great Star Drake.”

“But that doesn’t…”

“Make any sense?” the man said, quirking an eyebrow at her. “You mean, it doesn’t match up to what you’ve been told. But stop a minute and think about it. What is the Great Star Drake? Don’t tell me what the Drake did or what the Drake does, tell me what the Drake is.”

“He’s… a big crystal dragon?”

“Yes, ma’am,” the man said. “A big crystal dragon. Though you’re only half right. Kind of surprising, for someone as sharp as I know you are.”

“How am I only half right?”

“Well, you said the Star Drake’s a ‘he’,” the man said. “Tell me, what kind of a ‘he’ have you ever heard of that went around laying eggs?”

“Are you saying… are you saying the Great Star Drake is a girl?” Laurel Anne asked.

“I’m not saying a word about things I know nothing about,” the man said. “I’ve never been in a position to judge… not sure I’d be able to, on a dragon. I’m just saying that if the Great Star Drake laid those eggs, then maybe it’s time to rethink a few pronouns… and if not, then something else did and maybe we’re putting too much credit in the wrong place.”

“I can’t believe you’re saying that,” the girl said, shaking her head.

“Listen, darling… I’m glad you don’t believe me,” the man said. “I don’t want your belief. I’d like it just fine if you hear what I say, and you think about it, and you make up your own mind. You’ve got a good one, after all, and I think you’re old enough to use it.”

“Well, I should hope so,” Laurel Anne said. “So… what do you think about it?”

“’bout what?” the man asked. “What in particular, I mean?”

“Well what do you think the gods are?”

“That’s about a question and a half, isn’t it?” the man said. “Are we talking about your mama’s ‘true gods’, or gods in general, or what?”

“Whichever,” Laurel Anne said. “I just want to know what you think.”

“Well,” he said. “Let’s separate it out: what is a god, and what is it that the gods your mama recognizes actually are.”

“What is a god, then?”

“It’s like this,” he said. “Imagine you’re walking alone through the woods, and you meet someone. He looks like a man, like an ordinary man. And he tells you: ‘Kneel, little lady, for a god am I. Kneel before me and pay me homage.’

“Why would a god be walking through the woods asking g… women to worship him?” Laurel Anne asked.

“Well, let’s say you ask him that,” the man said. “Instead of kneeling and homaging. And let’s say he snaps his finger, and a bolt of lightning strikes you dead.”

“That doesn’t mean he’s a god,” Laurel Anne said. “A wizard could do that.”

“Sure could,” the man said. “How much would that matter to you?”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re dead, aren’t you?” he said. “He said he was a god, you denied him, and yea, he smote your ass verily. Pardon the language. How can you say that’s not a god?”

“How can I say anything, if I’m dead?”

“Well, that’s a point,” the man said. “But I think you see mine: either you worship him, or he destroys you. Isn’t that godlike?”

“A real god’s like a thousand times more powerful than that,” the girl said.

“So if our man in the woods found a crowd of a thousand young ladies and either cowed each of them into worshiping him or obliterated them, you’d call him a god?”

“Not much of one,” Laurel Anne said. “More of a bully.”

“But if this bully were real and not all hypothetical, who could say he wasn’t a god?” the man asked.

“Someone more powerful than a bunch of little girls,” Laurel Anne said. “Paladins. Wizards. Heroes. Maybe he could get some people to call him a god, but then someone would block his stupid lightning spell and then kill him.”

“Well, if that were the case, he wouldn’t be much of a god, no,” the man said. “But what if our would-be god never runs into anyone with the power to defy him? What then?”

“That’s just dumb luck,” the girl said. “Not godhood.”

“Maybe it’s careful planning… but even if it is dumb luck, don’t you suppose your mama’s ‘true gods’ are lucky to be who they are?”

“Who else would they be?”

“Anybody. Nobody. Some people are born to positions of great wealth and privilege, little lady… and some people are born on a hardscrabble farm in the middle of a dangerous part of the world that’s shunned by goodly folks like your mama because their gods won’t have anything to do with it. Don’t you think luck’s got something to do with that?”

“I thought you were going to tell me what you think a god is,” Laurel Anne said.

“I am.”

“You’re going all over the place and running around in circles.”

“That’s quite a trick,” the man said. “Well, I’ll say it simple: a god is someone with enough power to say ‘I am a god’ and make other people agree. Mortal wizard, lich, emperor, dragon, giant, leftover bit of chaos… it doesn’t really matter what it is underneath. What matters is that it has the strength to enforce its claims.”

“But that’s ridiculous,” Laurel Anne said. “Things are what they are. If a dragon lands on a hilltop and tells a shepherd that it’s one of his sheep, that doesn’t make it so.”

“Maybe not, though I expect the shepherd would prefer the fiction,” the man said. “And I agree. Things are what they are. Words mean things. If I tell you I’m a table or a tree, that’s a load of nonsense even if I am stronger than you are. But you’re assuming that ‘god’ has a meaning beyond what I’m saying. If a strong and capable man bullies his way into an organization of weaker ones and says ‘I’m the boss’… well, if the others wanted to refute that, they’d have to do something about it, they couldn’t point to the definition of ‘boss’ while he’s bossing them around.”

“Well, yeah, but ‘god’ isn’t something you can do,” Laurel Anne said. “You can’t ‘god’ someone around.”

“It’s not something that most people can do, certainly,” the man said. “But you asked me what I thought a god is, and that’s my definition… and a more inclusive definition of godhood you will not find. Your mama’s gods are included in it. The things the elves call gods, they fit in just fine with it. If you asked the gnomenkind about their god or gods, they’d give you one definition, but it would probably fit. If you asked the goblinfolk about their gods, they’d tell you something completely different, but they’re included, too.”

“I thought goblins worshipped demons,” Laurel Anne said.

The man sputtered a bit at this, and then started to laugh.

“What’s so funny about that?” she asked him.

“Oh, nothing in particular,” he said. “But, no, they don’t worship demons. They worship gods, or so they call them, and who am I to say they aren’t? They fit my definition.”

“What are they, then, if not demons?”

“Leftovers,” the man said. “Moldy old leftovers someone forgot at the back of the cosmic fridge. Things older than demons, older than your mama’s ‘true gods’.”

“But they’re as old as time,” Laurel Anne said.

“If you say so, I won’t argue it,” the man said . “But these things are older still.”

“You know… your definition is not actually all that different from my mama’s,” Laurel Anne said, an impish tone in her voice.

“Oh, no? Were you not listening?”

“I was,” she said. “But the true gods are more powerful than anything. So no one can stop them from calling themselves gods… and if anyone wanted to say they were a god, the true gods could stop them.”

“What if the ‘false’ god lived in the Shift?”

Laurel Anne didn’t have an answer for that.

“So, do you want to know what I think about those ‘true’ gods?” the man asked her. When she didn’t answer, he said, “Well, I guess we can talk about something else. I understand if you don’t want to go against your mama.”

“I didn’t say that,” she said. “I was thinking. You said you wanted me to think, didn’t you?”

“That I did,” he said. “So, do you think you want to hear, or not?”

“Yeah, I guess,” she said.

“Well, I think you had it about right,” he said. “They are about the most powerful folks around… and they’ve been lucky or clever enough to avoid anybody who could challenge them.”

“Who could challenge them, if they’re the most powerful?”

“Do you know who’s stronger than the strongest man in the world?” the man asked instead of answering.


“The second strongest and just about anybody else working together,” the man said. “And all three of them could be killed by someone who’s a good archer, or a powerful wizard. There are all kinds of power, you see, and all kinds of ways of being powerful. If there was someone or something somewhere with no power but the power to kill the gods, for instance, wouldn’t you say that’s pretty powerful?”

“The gods are immortal,” Laurel Anne said.

“Sure, and so are the elves,” the man said. “Doesn’t mean they can’t be killed, does it?”

“Are you saying… are you saying that there’s something in the Shift that can kill gods?” Laurel Anne asked.

“I’m saying that’s as likely a theory as any as to why they won’t go there,” the man said. “Of course, the real question is, what was a pious and saintly woman like your mama doing in a place so wicked and godless?”

“I don’t know,” Laurel Anne said. She shrugged. “Mission work, I guess.”

“Carrying the word of the Lord of Humanity to a place with few enough humans and the gods fear to tread,” the man said. “Oh, yes, that makes sense.”

“Well, I don’t know what else she would have been doing there,” Laurel Anne said.

“What else indeed,” the man said.

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4 Responses to “Rebel Theology”

  1. pedestrian says:

    understanding the pious nature of religious zealotry to enforce a “World Peace” under “The True God”, I would assume that punitive expedition was along the lines of the Fourth Crusade that resulted in the Sack of Constantinople. Proof positive that your enemies may hurt you but your friends can destroy you.

    Resulting in the eventual collapse of the Second Rome {Moscow is the Third Rome, just ask any Russian, they are such fucking poets.} and the surge of Turkish tribes into overrunning Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean coast.

    Current score: 1
  2. MackSffrs says:

    If I am catching this, granny Blaise was all up in the Shift smiting terrible bad demons’ asses?

    Current score: 4
  3. sengachi says:

    That’s a pretty good definition of godhood.

    Current score: 10
  4. Penguinator says:

    I’m beginning to suspect that Mackenzie isn’t just a half-demon after all…

    Current score: 1