The Pageite wars
From One, by Richard Bach, 1988, Pan Books. Chapter 10, pp118-129.
Where we stopped, grass spread around us like an emerald pond cupped in mountains. Sunset flamed from crimson clouds.
Switzerland, I thought at once, we've landed on a Swiss postcard. Away down in the valley was a sweep of trees, sudden houses, high peaked roofs, a church steeple. There was a cart on the village road, pulled not by tractor or horse but by some kind of cow.
I saw no one nearby, not a path, not a goat-trail. Just this lake of grass, sprinkled with wildflowers, half-circled by snowcapped rocky steeps.
"Now why do you suppose...." I said. "Where are we?"
"France," said Leslie. She said it without thinking and before I could ask her how she knew, she caught her breath. "Look."
She pointed to a cleft in the rock, where an old man in a coarse brown robe knelt on the ground near a small campfire. He was welding; brilliant yellow-white flickered and danced on the rocks behind him.
"What's a welder doing up here?" I asked. She watched him for a moment. "He's not welding" she said, as though she were remembering the scene instead of observing it. "He's praying."
She set off toward him and I followed, deciding to stay quiet. As I had seen myself in Attila, was my wife seeing herself in this hermit?
Closer and we saw sure enough, that was no welding torch. No sound, no smoke, it was a flaring sun-color pillar pulsing above the ground less than a yard from the elder.
"... and to the world shall you give, as you have received," came a gentle voice from the light. "Give to all who yearn to know the truth from whence we come, the reason for our being, and the course that lies ahead on the way to our forever home."
We stopped a few yards behind him, transfixed by the sight. I had seen that brilliance once before in my life, years ago, had been stunned by one accidental glimpse of what to this day I still call Love. The light we saw this moment was the same, so radiant it rendered the world a footnote, a dim asterisk.
Then, next instant, the light was gone. Beneath the place where it had been lay a sheaf of golden paper, a scripture in grand calligraphy.
The man knelt silent, eyes closed, unaware of our presence.
Leslie walked forward, reached for the glowing manuscript, picked it up. In this mystical place, her hand did not pass through the parchment.
Expecting runes or hieroglyphics, we found words in English. Of course, I thought. The old man would read them as French, a Persian as Farsi. So it must be with revelation -- it's not the language that matters, but the communication of ideas.
You are creatures of light, we read. From light have you come, in light shall you go, and surrounding you through every step is the light of your infinite being.
She turned a page.
By your choice dwell you now in the world which you have created. What you hold in your heart shall be true, and what most you admire, that shall you become.
Fear not, nor be dismayed at the appearance that is darkness, at the disguise that is evil, at the empty cloak that is death, for you have picked these for your challenges. They are the stones on which you choose to whet the keen edge of your spirit. Know that ever about you stands the reality of love, and each moment you have the power to transform your world by what you have learned.
The pages went on, hundreds of them. We leafed through, struck in awe.
You are life, inventing form. No more can you die on sword or years than you can die on doorways through which you walk, one room into another. Every room gives its word for you to speak, every passage its song for you to sing.
Leslie looked at me, her eyes luminous. If this writing could touch us so, I thought, we from the twentieth century, what effect would it have on people from the whatever-this-was ... the twelfth!
We turned back to the manuscript. No words of ritual no directions for worship, no calling down fire and destruction on enemies, no disasters for unbelievers, no cruel Attila-gods. It didn't mention temples or priests or rabbis or congregations or choirs or costumes or holy days. It was scripture written for the loving inner being, and for that being only.
Tum these ideas loose in this century, I thought, a key to recognize our power over belief, unleash the power of love, and terror will vanish. With this, the world can sidestep the Dark Ages!
The old man opened his eyes, saw us at last, and stood as unafraid as if he'd read the scripture through. He glanced at me, looked a long moment at Leslie.
I am Jean-Paul Le Clerc," he said. "And you are angels."
Before we recovered from our puzzlement the man laughed, joyfully. "Did you notice," he said, "the Light?"
''Inspiration!" said my wife, handing him the golden pages.
"Inspiration, indeed." He bowed as though he remembered her, and she, at least, were an angel. "These words are key to the truth for any who will read, they are life to those who will listen. When I was a child, the Light promised that the pages would come to my hand on the night you should appear. Now that I am old, you have come, and they."
"They will change the world," I said.
He looked at me strangely. "No."
"But they were given to you...."
"… in test," he said.
I have traveled far," he said, "I have studied scriptures of a hundred faiths, from Cathay to the Norselands." His eyes twinkled. "And in spite of my study, I have learned. Every grand religion begins in light. Yet only hearts hold light. Pages cannot."
"But you have in your hands. . . ." I said. "You must read it. It's beautiful!"
"I have paper in my hands," said the elder. "Give these words to the world, and they will be loved and understood by those who already know their truth. But before we give them we must name them. And that will be their death."
"To name a beautiful thing is to kill it?"
He looked at me surprised. "To name a thing is harmless. To name these ideas is to create a religion."
He smiled, handing me the manuscript. "I give these pages to you ...?"
"Richard," I told him.
"I give these pages directly from the Light of Love to you, Richard. Do you want to give them in turn to the world, to people yearning to know what they say, to ones who have not been privileged to stand at this place in the moment the gift was given? Or do you want to keep this writing for yourself alone?"
"I want to give them, of course!"
"And what will you call your gift?"
What is he getting at, I wondered. "Does it matter?"
"If you do not name it, others will. They will call it The Book of Richard."
"I see. All right. I'll call it anything ... the pages."
"And will you safeguard The Pages? Or will you allow others to edit them, to change what they don't understand, to strike out what they please, whatever is not to their liking?"
"No! No changes. They were delivered from the light! No changes!"
"Are you sure? Not a line here and there, for good reason? 'Most people won't understand?' 'This might offend?' 'The message isn't clear?'"
He raised his eyebrows, questioning. "Who are you to insist?"
I was here when they were given," I said. "I saw them appear, myself!"
"So," he said, "you have become the Keeper of the Pages?"
"Doesn't have to be me. It can be any one as long as they promise no changes."
"But someone is Keeper of the Pages?"
"Someone. I suppose."
"And here begins the Pageite priesthood. Those who give their lives to protect an order of thinking become the priests of that order. Yet any new order, any new way, is change. And change is the end of the world as it is."
"These pages are no threat," I said. "They're love and freedom!"
"And love and freedom are the end of fear and slavery."
"Of course!" I said, vexed. What was he getting at? Why was Leslie standing silent? Didn't she agree that this was….
"Those who profit from fear and slavery," said Le Clerc, "will they be happy with the message of the Pages?"
"Probably not, but we can't let this ... light ... be lost!"
"Will you promise to protect the light?' he said.
"The other Pageites, your friends, they'll protect it too?"
"And if the profiteers in fear and slavery convince the king of this land that you are dangerous, if they march on your house, if they come with swords, how are you going to protect the Pages?"
"I'll take them away! I'll escape!"
"And when you're followed, and caught, and cornered?"
"If I have to fight, I'll fight," I said. "There are principles more important than life. Some ideas are worth dying for."
"The old man sighed. "And so began the Pageite Wars," he said. "Armor and swords and shields and banners, horses and fire and blood in the streets. They will not be small wars. Thousands of true believers will join you, tens of thousands, swift and strong and smart. But the principles of the Pages challenge the rulers of every nation that keeps its power through fear and darkness. Tens of thousands will ride against you."
At last it began to dawn, what Le Clerc was trying to tell me.
"To be known," he went on, "to be distinguished from others, you will need a symbol. What symbol will you choose? What sign will you strike upon your banners?"
My heart sank under the weight of his words, but I struggled on.
"The symbol of light," I said. "The sign of the flame."
"And so shall it be," he said, reading history unwritten, "that the Sign of the Flame shall meet the Sign of the Cross on the battlefields of France, and the Flame shall prevail, a glorious victory, and the first cities of the Cross shall be leveled by your pure fire. But the Cross shall join with the Crescent, and together their armies shall swarm in from the south and the east and down from the north, a hundred thousand armed men to your eighty thousand."
Oh, stop, I wanted to say. I know what comes next.
"And for every soldier of the Cross and warrior of the Crescent whom you kill protecting your gift, a hundred will hate your name. Their fathers and mothers, their wives and daughters and sons and friends will hate the Pageites and the cursed Pages for the murder of their loved ones, and every Pageite will despise every Christian and cursed Cross and every Moslem and cursed Crescent for the murder of their own."
"No!" I cried. Every word he said was true.
"And during the Wars, altars will spring up, cathedrals and spires will rise to enshrine the Pages. Those reaching for growth and understanding will find themselves burdened instead with new superstitions and new limits: bells and symbols, rules and chants, ceremonies and prayers and vestments, incense and offerings of gold. The heart of Pageism will turn from love to gold. Gold to build greater temples, gold to buy swords to convert the non-believers and save their souls."
"And when you die, First Keeper of the Pages, gold to build images of you. There will be towering statues, grand frescoes, paintings to commit this scene to immortal art. See, woven in this tapestry: here the Light, there the Pages, there the vault of the sky opened to Paradise. Here kneels Richard the Great in gleaming armor, here the lovely Angel of Wisdom, the Hallowed Pages in her hand; here old Le Clerc at his humble campfire in the mountains, witness to the vision."
No! I thought. Impossible!
But it wasn't impossible, it was inevitable.
"Give these pages to the world, and there shall be another mighty religion, another priesthood, another Us and another Them, one set against the other. In a hundred years, a million will have died for the words we hold in our hands; in a thousand years, tens of millions. All for this paper.
"There was no trace of bitterness in his voice, nor did it grow cynical or weary. Jean-Paul Le Clerc was filled with a lifetime's learning, calm acceptance of what he had found.
"Do you want my jacket?" I said.
"No thank you, wookie," she said. "It's not the cold."
"Not the cold," said Le Clerc. He stooped and picked a brand from his fire, raised it to touch the golden pages. "This will warm you."
"No!" I jerked the sheaf away. "Burn the truth?"
"The truth doesn't burn. The truth waits for anyone who wishes to find it," he said. "Only these pages will burn. It is your choice. Would you like Pageism to become the next religion in this world?" He smiled. "You will be saints of the church. . . ."
I looked to Leslie, saw the horror in her eyes that I felt in my own.
She took the brand from him, touched it to the comers of the parchment. The blaze grew to a wide sun-white blossom under our fingers, and in a moment we let the bright shards fall to the ground. They burned a moment longer and went dark.
The old man sighed his relief. "What a blessed evening!" he said. "How rarely are we given the chance to save the world from a new religion!"
"Then he faced my wife, smiling hopefully. "We did save it?"
She smiled back at him. "We did. There is not a word in our history, Jean-Paul Le Clerc, of the Pageites or their wars."
They looked a tender goodbye to each other, skeptic to loving skeptic. Then with a small bow to both of us, the old man turned and walked up the mountain into the dark.
The fiery pages still burned in my mind, inspiration turned to ash.
"But the ones who need what those pages had to say," I said to Leslie. "How can they ... how can we learn what was written there?"
"He's right," she said, looking after the man until she could see him no more, "whoever wants truth and light can find it for themselves."
"I'm not sure. Sometimes we need a teacher."
She turned to me. "Try this," she said. "Pretend that you honestly truly deeply want to know who you are, where you came from and why you're here. Pretend you're willing never to rest till you know."
I nodded and imagined myself non-stop determined resolute, eager to learn, combing libraries for books and back-issues, haunting lectures and seminars, keeping diaries of my hopes and speculation, writing intuitions, meditating on mountaintops, following leads from dreams and coincidence, asking strangers -- all the steps we take when learning matters more than anything. "OK."
"Now," she said, "can you imagine yourself not finding out?"
Whuf, I thought. How this woman can make me see!
I bowed in answer. "My Lady Le Clerc, Princess of Knowing."
She curtsied slowly in the dark. "My Lord Richard, Prince of the Flame."
Close and silent in the clear mountain air, I took her in my arms, the stars no longer above but around us. We were one with the stars, one with Le Clerc, with the pages and their love, one with Pye and Tink and Atkin and Attila, one with everything that is, that ever was or will be. One.