IN ANSWER TO MARSIPPIUS NICEA, COMMANDER OF THE BASILEGATE
“Oh, I understand you well enough. Lord and commander of the Basilegate. For you see I once was you. You believe that man must be ruled by other men. Strong men. Kings, emperors, imperators. Commanders given rank and title, tithe and sway. Men who give commands so that others may meekly acknowledge, bend the knee, and thus obey. This kind of life is well known to the world. It is the ancient and unquestioned way.
But it is not my way. Not, at least, any longer. For I know well enough now of men who will not bend to summons, who will not submit to commands, who seek no orders, obey no demands to speak and live as others will, no matter how strong the strong man be. For I have learned in countless, hidden toils that man should be strong enough, with God’s help, to rule himself. That all men should be strong enough to rule themselves, even when they do not wish to do so, even when they are too cowardly to try. And trust me, many are those too cowardly to try. Orders given and taken are easy to discover and trade like treasured coins in the many markets of the open world. But courage is earned in private, and a labor of many great losses. Failure to be afraid is its only profit, yet still, that profit is rare enough and high enough for me.
In truth, my friend, you know only of the smallness of man. The smallness of ‘go here, and do that,’ regardless of virtue, and heedless of vice. But I do not speak of the smallness of man. I speak of man as he could be, as he was always meant to be, even as he should be when he will not be. I speak of man as a thing far greater than citizen, or subject, or soldier. I speak of man as Man. And I speak as a Man. A man who needs no king, who obeys no emperor, who short of God has no master and desires no master, for God is no master of man but Lord only of his True Nature, of what Man is at his best. Of what man should be. I can live with that Lord, and gladly so, and he can order me as He will, for that Lord obligates me to my highest self. He demands of me not obedience, but that rarest of all ranks – Real Manhood. Perhaps my refusal is to you but insurrection, perhaps my reply cryptic, and perhaps you know nothing now of what I truly mean but I hope and pray one day you shall. As for me I no longer have a country in this world, though I would not see it undefended. Either country, or the world. But I can give no service to you short of Truth. For I have but one Lord now, and he sits no throne in any city of man. Thus all other lords, all other kings, all other commanders, all other basils can go bray and bid and howl as they wish, but I will not serve them, and they are not my lords.”
Then Rhorric, despite the moonless and unnatural blackness, stood and strode to his horse at the edge of the firelight and mounted it smoothly like one long experienced and free of all doubt.
“If you have need of me commander,” he said placing his spear across his right leg so that the point pierced the gathered dark beyond him, “then I will come. Because I am your friend. Because it is my duty. Because I am unafraid. But I will not come because I am ordered to do so. And you will never speak to me in that manner again.”
Turning his horse northwards Rhorric rode out into the troubled night and disappeared from human sight.
Then the entire party murmured at his words and some found them hot and overwrought, and some questionable and rebellious, and some, like Suegenius and Vlachus nodded surreptitiously to each other and smiled secretly to themselves.
Marsippius, though, was at first very angry at Rhorric’s insurgent answer and he stood slowly and carrying his sword with him walked to the edge of the camp where no one else could see him. Then the Roman looked up into the dark sky and saw glimmering there a strange and distant light such as he had never seen before. A bright light, yet fast moving, varying in color but shaped like a small egg. He wondered at it as he watched – what it could mean? Was it an omen of the moment, favored or ill, or merely some unknown celestial light he had never earlier noticed? For although it was easily visible to him and seemed to move across the sky more like a meteor than a star it did not dim or burn away as it moved. He observed it closely as it crossed the heavens, bright, and cold, and lonely, until it was lost behind the horizon or perhaps shielded by some distant range of mountains not visible to his sight. And suddenly it seemed to him as if this wandering star in the darkness was alone like Rhorric, and reminded him somehow of the man. And like the Cappadocian Vigilant it too was unafraid to be a light unto itself. Seeming to pass well beneath the height of the other stars in its peculiar path it was nevertheless not bound by a fixed and otherworldly orbit, not set to move slowly and forever upon the same sure course. Rather it was a thing unbound. Not really a thing of the distant Heavens, but still a thing far above the Earth. A fire of its own will, free to go where it wished, to do as it found best, to live as it would. Then the anger of Marsippius was gone as well, out like the fleeting star beyond his sight, and he found he was no longer upset by Rhorric’s words, but rather all the more curious, and even envious, for he realized that he had never heard a man speak like that in his entire life. And now he wished to hear more. But Rhorric was already gone and only great need could entice him back again.