Aline & The Magic Pear: IV

She had been dreaming, that she was in a place other than the deep, dark dungeon of the ogre. It had been another room of darkness, but of a gentler kind. Comforting.

Then there had been a light.

Geometric lines and edges, that were soft.

A sweet hum, melodic.

Then her eyes opened.

She took in her surroundings; the first thing she saw was a spacious ceiling made of clean stone, painted white with the black points of many tiny stars.

Somewhere, not too far, calm flutes were piping.

She blinked a few times, moving her sore neck to her left and right.

She had awoken in a fine, restful bed with silken sheets, comfortable pillows and blankets. More than that, she was in a cozy room with walls painted in gentle blues and other lulling colors. Next to her bed on the opposite wall was a tall window, which she could see overlooked to a green, expansive forest and clear sky.

Maybe her dream hadn’t been a dream at all.

She pulled the blankets off of her and stiffly stood up. As she moved her blonde waves, she saw that she was wearing a long, silken night gown. She lightly moved to the window and looked out, and she saw besides a forest, a small town, bustling in the afternoon sun. People were strolling between stalls, carrying goods, dressed in simple clothes and busily talking to each other and the merchants they encountered.

Truth.

Truth, it wasn’t a dream!

“Wooh!” Aline cried, throwing her arms in the air and jumping up in excitement. She went back to her bed and rolled around on top of it, clutching the pillow and laughing hysterically. Tears of happiness were welling up in her eyes. For the first time in a long time, she was smiling and so, so happy.

She was free!

She slowed her excitement though and stopped rolling on the bed as she started putting her memories back together.

Wait, where was she and how had she gotten here?

She remembered running from the burning house and-

Aline’s senses were suddenly alerted as she heard the door to this room suddenly open. She quickly turned her head and saw an older woman, dressed in the gray outfit of an attendant staring in at her.

“Oh my goodness!” the lady cried while Aline jumped out of her bed. “Don’t be afraid, cherie!” said the attendant.

“Who are you?” Aline asked.

“I am Henriette, handmaid to King Grande and his son, Prince Beau, the young man you rescued. Do you remember?” The woman’s voice was as sweet as rose petals dipped in honey, but Aline was ready to bolt if need be.

Aline calmed herself, but still looked at the woman warily. Then she remembered her run through the forest, a deep pool and a young boy at it’s bottom. She remembered diving in cold water and seeing nothing but dark depths and the distant shape of the boy.

That was it.

“I… I remember some.”

“Good, good. Now, stay where you are, the prince would like to see you very much.” Henriette gave a big, sweet smile, while moving a gray bang from her eye. “Don’t worry dear, you are safe here. Oh, and there are fresh clothes for you in that cabinet there. We’ll knock before we come in.” And with that, Henriette closed the door, and Aline heard a few shuffled footsteps of the old lady walking away.

Aline stood there for a moment, swaying. She turned her head and saw a mirror, and saw that she was still in her sleeping gown. Next to the mirror was a large dresser, which after she opened revealed many fine clothes. She grabbed a turqoise dress, an additional cloak and fixed her hair before sitting on an adjacent chair.

Yes, she remembered much now.

She remembered her encounter with the tiger and the promise of her rage for a way out.

She remembered the ogre exploding in a wreathe of fire before her.

And she remembered carrying with her the chest that held Aurore’s heart.

Immediately, she began furiously searching the room for the chest. She had carried nothing else with her during her escape, but had the prince left the chest back in the forest?

“Are you looking for this, cherie?”

Aline, who had been looking under the pillows she had just been sleeping on, turned her head to the doorway. There before her was the boy from the forest that she had saved from drowning, dry and dressed in fine accoutrements. And in his hands was the chest. Behind him was an exasperated Henriette.

Aline eyed him carefully. He was handsome, with dark hair that fell in fine bangs. He had somewhat small eyes, and his cheekbones were well shaped. Once she was sure of him, she remebered some of Aurore’s points on civility. Aline smiled and gave a tiny curtsy.

“Um, bonjour my dear. My name is Beau.”

“The prince of these lands,” chimed Henriette behind him. Beau looked back at his handmaid, cheeks slightly blushed. “Yes, Henriette, I just didn’t want that to be the first thing I said.”

Henriette swatted the young man’s ears, causing him to flinch in pain. “Prince Beau, your cheeks should be redder than that! Cherie, I’m so sorry, I told you we would knock first but this young man was so excited to see you that he barged right in!” Henriette’s frown at the young man was scarier than the kindness of her face would have led you to believe.

Aline giggled, appreciating the silliness of the small exchange.

“It’s fine, sweet Henriette, I had already changed. Then, Aline’s gaze became strong and her attitude serious. “Prince,” she began while clearing her throat. “May I take my chest back?”

“Oh, of course,” said Beau, as he actually stepped towards Aline and placed the chest before her. Aline took it and as she did so, Beau reached into his pocket and gave her a familiar dark key. Aline took both, walking back and putting them under her pillows. That would have to do for now. After this, she looked at Beau.

“Did you?,” and as she spoke, she motioned to the spot that hid the treasures. Beau shook his head.

“No, of course not, and I kept chest and key with me at all times. No one else but me and Henriette know of it.” Aline’s shoulders dropped in relief, deeply exhaling.

“Merci beaucoup,” was all she could say.

There was a moment’s pause.

Beau stepped forward. “My good friend, what is your name?” Aline blinked, then gasped as she realized she had not introduced herself yet to anyone here. She immediately stepped forward, taking the prince’s hand and looking him in his dark eyes.

“Je m’appelle Aline,” she said, her naturally melodic voice sounding especially lyrical as she spoke her name. Behind her eyes, she thought about how long it had been since she had heard, let alone spoken her name.

Aline.

The prince looked into her eyes, then squeezed her hand. “My pleasure,” he whispered.

They barely had a moment to say anything more before loud, angry footsteps could be heard. Aline and Beau turned around to see a tall, broad-shouldered man dressed in splendid garments suddenly in the doorway. He had long, dark hair, a long beard and the same eyes as Beau. Aline could immediately tell that this man was Beau’s father. But whereas Beau’s light eyes held a temperamentally mild incandescent shine to them, his father’s eyes radiated fury.

“Boy!,” the king roared like a wyrm. “Why are you here right now? Why aren’t you hunting right now?”

“Grand, please,” Henriette began before the king looked down at her, swords of impatience stinging into her vision. Henriette, now forcibly humbled, then meekly silenced herself. Beau then stepped forward.

“Father, please, I was just coming to check on the girl who saved me. Remember? I had my guards bring her up here. Her name is Aline.”

The king huffily regarded Aline, but he managed to take a single, calming breath, his cheeks losing only a hint of their red sheen.

“Yes. Yes, thank you. Sincerely, I thank you. Please, come to dinner tonight.” He didn’t necessarily sound sincere, but Aline graciously nodded in acceptance. The king immediately returned his attention to his son.

“As I said, you should have been hunting by now! Our handmaids would have taken care of this vagabonde, and you could have met her in the evening once you were done.”

“Father, I couldn’t wait until then, I owe her too much. And as I’ve told you before I-”

“You what?” the king growled menacingly, interrupting his son. Beau suddenly stopped any action. Gulping, he quickly flicked his head to look at Aline before returning his attention to the king, straightening himself.

“I hate hunting!”

With a surge of speed, the king stepped forward and slapped Beau across his face. The smack was loud and Beau immediately clutched the cheek that had received the blow. He stared at the ground, trying to fight back the sting he felt before it brought on his tears.

“My prince!” Henriette yelled as she rushed over and gently reached down to inspect the spot. Aline walked to Beau, resting a hand on his shoulder, squeezing it to let him know he was all right.

“Go down, get your musket and make up for the time you’ve lost,” the king hissed. “No son of mine will be allowed to be weak,” he said before turning around, his robes trailing behind him like a lizard’s tail. But as he walked away, Aline turned her attention to him, stabbing at his back with her coldest, iciest stare.

“King Grand!” she roared so challengingly, that the king did in fact stop and turn to face her, his visage belying a crease of open surprise. Though he was much bigger than her, Aline walked forward with no fear felt at all to impede her steps. How dare this man strike his own family! She stepped to him, to let him know this fact. But when she had summoned the breath-

Nothing.

She felt nothing.

Aline gasped, suddenly short for air as a cold rush crashed across her spine, chest and forehead. A sliding feeling was felt in her gut, for in her mind, she had reached forth from there to pull out her own fury. But where there should have been a fire, a heat, there was an emptiness that brought a feeling of weightlessness to her entire frame.

The consternation of the tiger prince.

She stumbled, and the king’s gaze regained it’s edge. Aline looked up at him, and he now suddenly seemed so much more immensely intimidating to her. And his blooming rage felt as though a hot desert wind had blasted her in the face, causing her to stumble back further.

“I said you were invited to dinner. Don’t make me take my invitation back,” the king spoke, grabbing and ruffling the hem of his robes. “Boy, follow me.”

Aline could only wobbily stand there, as she felt Beau walk past her. She saw he was still clutching his face. But he briefly turned to look at her. Somehow, he was smiling.

“Let’s talk later,” he managed to quietly squeak out before he followed his father out and down the hall.

Aline was still weak, but she felt the kind grip of Henriette lead her to sit at the edge of the bed, touching Aline’s forehead to check her temperature, wiping away beads of cold sweat. So distraught was Aline, and in a cold daze, she didn’t even hear Henriette say she would come back with some cold water for her to drink.

For the next few days, Aline and Beau had been inseparable. The first night had been strained, for Aline had not forgiven King Grand for striking at his son. But Beau was a kind young man and in his own way, he knew exactly how to defuse the situation. Aline watched Beau curiously at the long grand table, as many servants took care of the king and his family. The salad and bread she was eating may as well have come from heaven, it was so good compared to what she had eaten in Brute’s nasty prison.

“Father, how goes the construction of my tower?” Beau asked, politeness spicing his voice. Aline’s eyes widened in curiosity, as this was the first time she had heard of any wall, and in fact she remembered that she had not seen any such thing when she looked out from her room’s window. She then looked at King Grand who was slouched in his chair in red velvet robes. He had a toothpick between his teeth and was in momentarily deep concentration.

“It has been fully planned, the resources fully gathered and my citizens have each been paid their proper allotment,” the king spoke in reserved measure. He looked up to gaze at his son with a hint of doubt. “This shall be a big experiment for you, my son,” the king said.

Beau looked to Aline. “It is not just that we have promised their town a bit of money. It is not just that we have promised to give them our protection should an army attack us. Now, we will be promising them an education; from our walls, our scribes and scholars shall create houses of public education. We shall teach their children how to read and write.”

“My son has convinced me to at least try it, that these gifts will make the people who inhabit my land more capable. If I feel that they are becoming a threat, as I believe in my gut, then I will cease these opportunities. Until then, if this is his first act while following in my wake, so be it. But a tower it shall be, so that I may still have a way to fortify all this that I own.”

Aline straightened her neck and thought about this. Then, with a smile, she looked at the king. “Your son will not let you down, King.” Grand guffawed but otherwise held his tongue. Then she looked at Beau. “I believe this is a wonderful idea.”

Beau smiled back at her happily, a longing look in his eyes. Suddenly, he straightened his expression and busily returned to eating his soup, cheeks flushed. Aline wasn’t sure what had just happened, but from across the table, Henriette, who was attending the King, smiled knowingly.

Later, they retired to their sleeping chambers, and Aline rested wonderfully. But in the middle of the night, she suddenly awoke. In a fit, she looked at the iron chest that she had placed on the part of the bed she was not sleeping on.

She thought she had heard a beat. Or two. But then the room had gone quiet again, and eventually her eyes closed and she slept wonderfully until the morning.

The next day, after having put on a silk, forest green dress with comfortable wood soled slippers, she walked with Prince Beau as he took her on a tour through the village. He was wearing a fine yellow vest and well sewn pants and slippers, and Aline was worried that his clothes spoke too highly of his status. But every peasant they met greeted Beau with respect and hospitality.

“Beau, how does everyone know you here so,” Aline asked, noticing for the first time that she was a a bit taller than him, even though they were both fourteen.

“Oh, I just stroll through here often, I’m sure they are familiar with my appearance” Beau replied. “And, also, I’m sure they remember my mother, Queen Belle. She was very gentle with them.”

“Oh, how wonderful. Where is she, the good queen?”

Beau’s expression became terse. Then, he looked up at the sky.

Aline gasped, covering her mouth. “Oh, my fair Beau, I’m so sorry.”

“Oh, it’s fine, dear Aline. It was during my birth, so I can’t say I remember much. But the people here tell me she would come through here and sing beautiful songs with her harp before the crowd, giving free concerts, wearing a loop of beautiful flowers upon her brow. And if children came to her during the show, she would pluck a flower and give it to them. These flowers would give those children joy and heal them of terrible sickness.

“They tell me that my father had her buried atop the mountains, the loop of flowers upon her coffin. They will never hold ill will to me.”

Aline listened to all this thoughtfully. From the corner of her gaze, she saw a few random villagers wave to Prince Beau, and he sweetly waved back.

Aline began to quickly blink to herself, as an old thought returned to her.

“One day, I will reach the top of those mountains,” she said suddenly. Beau looked at her, rolling the thought in his mind, but otherwise he said nothing.

The two of them were eventually drawn to a commotion, that a large number of the villagers were heading towards. They went with them, and to a great showing of strength. Adroit to several large piles of bricks, the villagers were laying down cement and beginning the building of an immense wall, that was forming a concentric circle, which Aline realized was the beginning frame of the tower. A few guards were posted but, otherwise, the villagers were working to their own accord, a nearby band playing jumpy music to keep the energy constant. When they noticed the prince and Aline, they waved happily to the both of them, their laughing faces covered in sweat and specks of dirt.

Aline waved back to them, then regarded the brick pile a little bit longer. Then, her face beamed. With a smile, she walked over to a stack of bricks, reaching forwards and picking them up.

“What are you doing?” Beau asked.

“What does it look like I’m doing, I’m helping build the tower,” she responded, carrying the bricks in her toned arms. She walked forwards and one of the older gentlemen working there pointed to where a little bit of cement was lathered on a shorter part of the wall. She then walked towards this spot and laid the brick down. Grabbing a nearby scraping knife, she then wiped away some of the extra cement.

Aline turned her head and saw that Beau had also grabbed and was laying a few bricks along the wall, building it up. Aline smiled at him and the people around them cheered them on.

For Aline in particular, it felt good to be working outside. Though she had enjoyed resting in the luxurious castle, work such as this helped keep her strong and in shape, and she enjoyed breaking a good sweat. Scanning, her eyes caught a particularly large brick, one that only one of the true village toughs or guards could pick up with any real ease. But she bit her lip and walked towards it.

“Oh, I don’t mean to be rude, but that one might be too big for you, dear friend,” Beau called to her. But Aline more or less ignored him and reached down, clutching her fingers at the base. When she felt that she had a good grip, she went to lift it up. But to her surprise, it was indeed heavier than she thought.

“Oof!,” she grunted, unable to have picked it up more than an inch before it dropped from her hands.

“Do you need help?” Beau asked with a tinge of worry.

“No, it’s fine!”

Aline took a deep breath and tried to flex her arms, getting blood to pump into them. She grit her teeth, found the same good hold, and really tried to put some power into it. Indeed, she had picked it up to where she was holding it just above her chest.

“Ergh!,” Aline growled through the strain. She attempted to walk and reach for the fire in her gut when-all of a sudden, a familiar cold rush washed all over her body. The rage she had went for came back completely empty. Immediately, her strength gave out, and she felt the heavy stone falling from her hands.

“Huh!” she gasped in fear, attempting to step back from the falling weight. But from the corner of her eye, a friendly shape came darting to her side. With great reflexes, Beau reached out and caught the stone.

“Woah!” he shouted, helping her grab it just before it the ground. Aline barely was able to keep her grip, but her reflexes were just quick enough to hold on. She looked down and saw that, had it not been for Beau’s help, the weight surly would have fallen on her foot. She stepped back as another guard came up and took her place.

Aline stepped back, out of breath, only to be caught and held with care. She looked to her left and right and saw that two peasant girls, about her age, had kindly caught her.

“Mademoiselle, are you alright?” one of the girls asked. Aline pulled her arms away from them, holding herself.

“Quoi? No, I don’t think-,” Aline began, before Beau stepped forward, having offered his side of the stone to another large man, the two of whom then proceeded to carry it to the wall.

“She’s alright, just a little scared,” Beau said while stepping forward and gingerly taking one of Aline’s tightly squeezed hands. “Aline, are you alright?”

Aline regarded the good prince, but in her mind, all she could think of was a sea of red flowers, and the shadow of a large tiger. Then, her eyes flashed to Beau’s kind and concerned face.

At that moment, the price of it all was fully understood.

“Oh, Beau,” she exclaimed before reaching out and wrapping her arms around him. And he supported her as much as he could.

Selections: Becoming Charlemagne

Introduction

We think of the dark ages as a epoch of great violence. And while this is true, the same could be said of any era of history, including the contemporary. Violence, though it can be fought with the willpower of peace, is always going to be a facet of life on terra firma. And yet, the dark ages seem to be especially straddled with this understanding, formed in the collective, unconscious memory of Western civilization. The truth is far more complicated, however, and through the darkness and fog of distant terror, a light can be seen.

It is the light of the Carolingian renaissance.

What it Is

Becoming Charlemagne is the 2006 non-fiction book by Jeff Sypeck, a professor of medieval literature at the University of Maryland. The title is apt but, in a way, pleasantly misleading. By using his knowledge of the era, Mr. Sypeck presents the decades leading up to the coronation of Karl, king of the Franks, as the first Roman emperor in a thousand years, becoming what some consider to be the first European as well as the father of modern Western civilization, as a straightforward story. Thus, it is also the story of how the rex francorum became Charlemagne, the fierce medieval king of legend, whose influence still affects us.

How it Relates to the Hearth

For me, one who is deeply attracted to the imagery and idea of the pax francorum, this book is foundational. By identifying and presenting the history of what happened on Christmas day in the year 800 in such a straight-forward manner, the author also peels away a number of unnecessary embellishments that have accrued over the centuries and have poured themselves over this monumental figure. At the same time, we are provided with a fresh pair of glasses to view the Carolingian renaissance in it’s original context. And at the end of the book, I would say it does show the glory of this oft neglected moment in Western history, while still maintaining a neutral enough tone for one to draw their own conclusions. Therefore, it should be nabbed by anyone who considers themselves a medievalist and one who seeks the warmth of the hearth.

Fun Fact

I believe, in an interview, this book was originally conceived as one written for children, about the journey of an elephant named Abul Abbaz, who made his way to the court of Charlemagne. In fact, a good portion of the final stretch of this book goes into the actual history of this event, confirming it’s authenticity.

Frankish Vision IV: Fantôme

There is a ghost in this house

There is a ghost in this castle

It can be heard when no one opens their mouth

It can be felt when no one speaks at the dinner table

There is a haunting presence

It is felt in the blooming flowers of the printemps

It is felt in the miserable, burning été, without stop

It is felt in the splendour of l’automne

But it is especially felt in l’hiver, when you thought it was gone

It does not want vengeance

I see her sitting on the empty chair

In the kitchen, I see her fretting with her hair

I see her playing with her childern, the memory

Through the fields and streets, I feel the lingering energy

She wants justice, closure

That you will never give her

So I am haunted, in your stead

And so shall I be, to this injustice,

wed

This universe that exists spans the bredth of that which will make you burn

You will be taught to unlearn

I yearn for that which I must learn

And so, to God I go, sword in hand, to Carolingian graves, to make me turn

Amen

Frankish Vision III: Clothilda

This moment is her glory

She shines bright in the morning

Giving arms to the radiance around her

Giving alms to the daughters that found her

For seven years, she has worked to destroy

The shadow tower you tried to build over her joy

Every brick a cruelty, every wall, lain with her stress

And yet now she stands before you in golden dress

An address;

The tower has been illumined away

The knowledge and prosperity made the mortar sway

Until all your groomed evil’s weight collapsed

You cannot escape from your new Tolbiacs

Yet, still she comes to you and raises an offering, open hand

And you remember the moment’s stare, in distant land

When the both of you sat across from each other

And pleadingly, she sought truth you would not offer

Please, please be my lover;

It was difficult, to escape the lie of your wing

To unchain herself from your taunts and stings

But she persevered against your relentless sneer

All the courage of the archangels to free from fear

And yet, she understands the power of forgiveness

And for those she shelters, a light through the mists

You kneel to her now, as all will at St. Genevive

Married now to a new, beautiful light and eve

She is the bride of courageous peace

This universe that exists spans the bredth of that which will make you burn

You will be taught to unlearn

I yearn for that which I must learn

And so, to God I go, sword in hand, to Carolingian graves, to make me turn

Amen

Frankish Vision II: Hiver

What constellation, draped softly over form

What distant cries of magi, drifting and worn

‘Neath wolf and bearskin rugs, comfortable and warm

Yet in memorance, tidings forlorn

In Aachen, in moonlight shorne as the palace doth tremble

In Martinopolis, river sigh as chants bore from chalice wrought treble

In the borderlands, frost pretty upon the ancient Goth temple

Yet in preparence, bindings forewarned

Forget the sweeping rain, child has passed

Forget the need for soup, uncle has passed

Forget the beauty, I above have fast

But entwined with thine, I love and laugh

And so, I cannot forget what nigh relapse

For in this sea of beauty, I have completed many laps

And the oaks are my anchors, ice & sharp pine the frame

Hiver has come, soothe is thy name

This universe that exists spans the bredth of that which will make you burn

You will be taught to unlearn

I yearn for that which I must learn

And so, to God I go, sword in hand, to Carolingian graves, to make me turn

Amen

Selections: Jars of Clay

Introduction:

The early 1990s was one of the most productive, wonderful periods for the Christian arts. While Christian music is still produced and is powerful, it is but a mere echo of what was happening twenty-something years ago, when Christian acts were putting out songs that were somehow ending up on the greater pop music stations (Sixpence None The Richer comes immediately to mind). In retrospect, it may even be described as a golden age or renaissance-but this is not a historical analysis. This is a highlight of a specific album, from a specific band, one that may even have truly been at the forefront of this rebirth.

That band was Jars of Clay and this is about their first album.

What it is:

Jars of Clay was a band coming out of Nashville, Tennessee, having met in college in Greenville, Illinois during the early 1990s. For the most part, they have kept the same lineup and have continued to put out albums, the latest being 2013’s Inland. Their first, self-titled album, which came out in 1995, is my favorite album of theirs and also the point of this selection, though I also like Much Afraid and The Eleventh Hour.

How it Relates to the Hearth:

Now, I know that everyone’s hearth is unique unto themselves, but when I think of a soundtrack to go with the formation of your interpretation of the hearth, I can’t think of a better place to begin than here with the first Jars of Clay album. The music presented here, especially on the songs Boy On A String, Flood, and Blind is such a rich, warm, acoustic sound, full of stringed instruments and deep, sober ambiance. And despite what you may have gathered from my opening paragraph, this type of music wasn’t found solely in the Christian music scene; in fact, it was greatly shown off to the world via M-TV’s Unplugged series of performances, such as Alice In Chains, The Cranberries, R.E.M., 10,000 Maniacs, Nirvana, et cetera. The fact that this music blossomed during the post-grunge period is probably not a coincidence either. But what’s weird is this type of music really didn’t carry on too much longer past the mid-nineties, and as far as I can tell, it wasn’t prevalent during the 1980s either. Not even Jars of Clay really continued this style past their early albums, which is why I’m solely talking about this first album (though to their credit, it still shows up here and there). Whatever the reason, it doesn’t change the power of this first album. I want to highlight the song Blind in particular; recall my statement that the hearth is a realm of both darkness and light (point seven, specifically). This is the defining song for that point in the Manifesto, the prime melody for that mood of both light and dark. Nay, in full disclosure, I believe I wrote the Manifesto of the Hearth while listening to that song and the entirety of this album itself.

Another important aspect as to why this is the quintessential hearth sound relates to the apparent beliefs of the band itself. In a later interview with NPR, which I remember hearing on it’s original air date, the band spoke of how they choose subtlety in expressing their Christian beliefs in order to make their music more accessible. I think this directly relates to my belief that the hearth shouldn’t be constricted by the ideals of dogma, that the hearth should be an inviting, neutral place in order to foster personal relationship, faith and the producing of art.

If all of this interests you, then turn off the lights, light some candles, grab some wine and go listen to Jars of Clay.

Fun Fact:

The band takes it’s name from the Bible verse 2 Corinthians 4:7:

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”

Manifesto of the Hearth

As I write this, I stand before a chasm overlooking a vast, shrouded wilderness. Cool mists swirl around an infinity of choices, and nothing can be predicted betwixt the enveloping shadows. But there is a modicum of reassurance, for somewhere in the distance, beyond the wilderness, is the forge of the reason for the fortitude I now carry close to myself. It is the pulse that drives the engines of my quintessence, for I have painted my name upon the immense constellations that now overlook me with the will to get to that place beyond the wilderness, and the prize it keeps.

Fire, warm and gentle, kept and tended between the walls of shield and homestead. Amidst the encroaching darkness it lies and even as far away as I am from it, I can feel it’s heat, beckoning the ice-bindings of my heart to come undone. It is the hearth, and I must walk the trails of love to reach it. If I return to the paths of hate from whence I came, I will be forever lost to both myself and those who wish to see me again.

So many depend on me.

I have decided, then, to make a map-which is the document you read before you. A central thesis, to guide me through this journey, which is physical, philosophical and historical in nature. It is my goal to explore the rich literature, music, and art that defines the hearth. To that end, I must define the hearth, as I understand it, through my soul et avec mon coeur.

The hearth is divided into seven realms, each of which holds one of the kingdoms of compassion:

  1. Realm of Love: The hearth is at the center of the home, providing shelter and heat. And gathered around the fire is the family, who partake in each other’s company and delight. The children laugh and play with their toys in the firelight, while mother and father watch and smile, occasionally sipping their wine. Eventually, the young ones tire, and they are carried to bed; and in their loft, mother and father stare long into each others’ eyes with feelings of adoration. Which is to say that the hearth is family first; with so much of the world today attacked by the corrupting forces of greed and distraction, I think a call to rebuild the family unit is necessary. For I have seen too many broken families, and the struggle to escape that brokenness is a journey in itself that many undertake but don’t finish. I understand that families are chaotic and divorce is common, but I don’t think it always has to be that way. What constitutes that family-or how your cultural background counts your family members is besides the point. If structural violence is a great storm, then building a strong foundation of familial unity is the best way to weather it.

    If the hearth can bond families, I believe it can create them as well. For myself, I was born in a college town-a once kind example of 60s and 70s optimism now forever stung by a post-90s attitude of grunge and acceptance of scuzz. Sexual assault is unfortunately quite common here, and what romance that does form is often merely transitional in nature. I’m not trying to give dating advice and I don’t want people to live in any sort of continued violent relationship, but I believe that there is such a thing as lasting, true love. For every night I place my hand upon my wall and I believe that whoever is out there for me is doing the same, and every morning when I wake up, I wrap my arms around the invisible space where she might lay someday. So whatever your interpretation of love might be, I believe in it, to drive the cold Winter away and tear down the dungeon walls that separate ourselves from the embrace of empathy. Perhaps the hearth is where such love might be.

  2. Realm of Faith: The hearth does not exist purely in a realm of logic. While building a fire to stay warm against the sharp frost is smart, to understand that the moment of companionship built around it is in itself a miracle is to comprehend the preciousness of it. The sweet laughter of a daughter, a sip of mead with your partner-all of this is a magic in itself. It goes beyond all forms of science, and is an acceptance of the divinity of life. This is a universe of sweetness, and it must be felt with the humility of acceptance, that there is such thing as a divine.

    For myself, I consider myself to be Christian, for I beilieve in God and the miracle of the Lord Jesus. But I don’t necessarily believe in the rigidity of dogma-of any kind, really. I believe that God exists in the home and with the individual, and that that relationship and your personal understanding of it should be fostered before obsessing with the proving of your conviction, or allegiance to any congregation. God exists in the hearth, foremost, and the beauty of life and the divinity of life built around the hearth provides a richness to the multiverse, that we are all a part of. But the hearth itself transcends, and unites all points in the multiverse that you interact with. And so, to reiterate, love, and the hearth, is a realm of faith.

    While I will be exploring aspects of Christian culture, I hope to explore the understanding of the hearth as understood across the world over.

  3. Realm of Art: The power that comes from the hearth illuminates outside of and inside an individual. It inspires creativity and expression, encouraging an exploration of the senses-be it in the form of music, painting, or craftmaking. If it unites individuals in a shared activity, all the merrier, for through unity, art also has the power to heal.

    For myself, I am French-American and am proud of my ancestry on both sides. But through my French blood, I am guided to the medieval, and the medieval shapes me in turn. In particular, I am drawn to the Carolingian empire, and the renaissance guided by the emperor Charlemagne. I understand the violence and evils of the time, but I also understand the beauty and goodness of the period, and am drawn to it like an elk is drawn to a stream running through the grass of a meadow. The poetry of the time, the poetry I will write set in that distant century, I hope to share with all.

    In short, the hearth is evocative in the images we see in it.

  4. Realm Without Titles: The hearth is a realm that exists for all individuals, regardless of economic status and wellfare. It is a nexus point for peasants and nobles alike; a liminal object to shine on our souls and prosperity, whatever it may be. It is a part of the wealth of our condition, bought for our humbleness, paid for in our humility. And so, it is a gift from God to all who wish to seek it.

    That said, the hearth is a chamber of nobility. It should not be decorated in the cheapness of temporal things, but instead drawn and lined with the chandeliers of eternal pleasantness. And fellow human beings should be above the ideals of business, objects or false scenes, for life itself is greater than all these things. I do not presume to tell you how to decorate your hearth, friend, but it should be held sacred at all times.

  5. Realm That Is Ancient: The hearth is a primal energy, a force that is as elemental as Earth or aether. That is not to say it is anti-technology; we cannot unchange the time or place for when we are born, or the benefits that come from the acceptance of knowledge. But the hearth is something that cannot be touched by any digital outlet, any government force, or any such mechanized presence. It is a power of the soul, one we shape as much as a lord can shape the castle he seeks to build. A martial circle.
  6. Realm That Is Carried: The hearth is not a withdrawn, static item. As much as we seek it, we take the light created by it with us into any monstrous lair we may enter. There are dragons and vampires in this world, corrupting presences of excess and unchecked wants. But we should not be afraid of these beasts; the hearth, and the drive for simplicity that surrounds it, means we have a strength greater than any fire they may breathe over us. Kindness, forgiveness and love our are weapons to heal the wounds of this land. Let us not retreat into cloisters or temples held high in mountains to remove ourselves, but let us walk through the violence of poverty and emerge rich in graciousness. Let us do right, to make us treasure the hearth we have betwixt our blood and bone even more.
  7. Realm of Darkness & Light: Yes, a flame is meant to fight against the somberness of dark and night. And yet, at the same time, as we are bathed in the heat, let us take a moment to look upon the land now draped in snow. Regard the beauty of the brilliant moonlight reflecting off the splendid ice. The air is rich in a new beauty. Even in our house, the shadows we see about us add a softness that wasn’t there before. In this way, darkness should be allowed to enter our being, but in a harmonious way. If our chateau were all light in dark, it would keep us from sleeping comfortably. And if it were all dark, we would stumble constantly if we wished to move through it. Such is the gift the hearth brings us, to rest between. I was born in darkness, yet I walk in light; both are with me.

And so, I have said my piece and spoken my peace. In my time, I have visited all of these kingdoms, staying in all of them to varying seasons. I do not remember which I visited first, or second, but in each passing visitation did I have more understanding of the language spoken in their courts, the dialects and accents of amour. And as I walk through the forest, I transcribe the words I have learned in those courts upon the trees I pass to mark my crossing. For should I get lost, I will know from where I came, yet never shall I consciously return from whence I came.

Floating in the air, I hear remnants of ancient chants. At midnight, plumes of raw light pour forth from mossy banks. And the lavender scented breeze that caresses me gently reminds me of a lover running her hands through my fair hair. And so, I am not alone, as I make my way to the valley of rest, and the castle that lies within that holds the source of gentle dreaming. A shelter of hope, to calm my shattered matter.

Amen

Frankish Vision I: Liutgard

Against my brow, upon ground now long hallowed

My heart beats in tandem with the drinks of wine bottles so shallowed

I hear calls from beyond bar door frames yelling “hall’o!”

Yet on this dark road I, myself shall not allow

For instead I feel hollow upon ground long lay fallow

By constricting knives of asphalt and concrete

I know deep beneath lie ancient seeds to flowers sweet

Of a land where life is good and love is as strong mead

But instead I carry on to my abode, alone

I tarry to kitchen, alone, to couch, alone, to bed, so alone

“This does not bode well,” I intone in my temple

Once upon a time, I remember a friend, with laugh fair and smile gentle

Who held my hand in hers-but now she is gone and my heart doth tremble

Yet no one is to blame, just the passing of re’membrance

Remove the ghostly hands to forget thine distant embrace

Run my hands through my locks and against my face

As I sit at my wine stained table and close my eyes

I close my eyes and comfort myself in dimming shroud

My breath slows and the cars and random club songs become not so loud

A darkening cloth of rest, conscious, no longer at test

The melting of the walls and bookshelves

As the walls to my mansion erase themselves

And replace, with forests mighty and castles great

I stand up and partake in the sights of ancient length

Not far is a glowing ocean, vast, and adroit, a gold tower of sublime make

Upon a mountain, towering with mist, rain and fortitude

Towards it I go, with no intention of intrude

With confidence, I walk with sword, shoes, and cloak of blue

With intense, I fight and defeat routiers and wolves

And without incensed sense, I pass time with elks but not with drunken fools

As I ascend, walking past mud and stone

To the shining door, I reach, alone-always alone

And into a hall, long and made with diamond

Around me, sweet sounding, bells that are chiming

Lily and rose petals start falling as I begin climbing

Distant memories of love, endless, unbounding

Begin resounding

In an empty hearth where my heart’s

Fire was lit, rebounding light to tear the darkness apart

And reforge the shards of my quintessence

I remember my mother’s guiding lessons

My mind is calm, prepared for any and all repentance

As I push open a final, silver door-lavender scents

And music fills the air, as there, not far and against a window

Stands a maiden fair overlooking the crescending meadows

She is tall, her hair bright like a spindle

She puts down on a nearby bench, a fiddle

She shines, especially in the midnight moon’s light

Her hair falls down the span of her pale back

In artisan-like, royal elegance-braided with excellence and delight

I approach, slowly and cautiously, no course to retrack

When at last I am by her side, I announce my gentle tidings

And to my surprise, she turns and wraps her arms around me in kindness

Shock gives way to tears in my eyes, yes

As she calmly reassures me that all will be well,

To trust and love with God, and the loneliness in my soul will not dwell

Undo the bindings of resentment entrenched in my matter, get up from where you fell

Live life as the story you wish to tell

And to make no sell of character that would unseam

And I embrace her tightly, this forgiving queen

In this palace room, grand and clean

Like the Aachen air, warm as that of steam

And to be in the arms of a woman again, fills my heart with joy

And to hold her in mine fills my marrow with joy

And for a moment we sway in the calm breeze, not alone

Like the meeting of the  Isère and Rhone

Holding each other, feeling sincere, not alone

I hold her dear

But then I turn to gaze at her features

And I find that I cannot see the grace of her features

Even in fine starlight I cannot find her face

In this shining, immaculate place

“My love, why can I not see you clearly,” I ask

And she told me, “My love, your heart is kind and can make the task,

But how can you profess to call me love

When you have yet to know that which is?”

This universe that exists spans the bredth of that which will make you burn

You will be taught to unlearn

I yearn for that which I must learn

And so, to God I go, sword in hand, to Carolingian graves, to make me turn

Amen