Chapter VI.

12 Jun

Ranid was appalled and disgusted with the hypocrisy exposed to himself and Hyle. How could such duplicity exist for so long a time? How was it that no one outside the conspiracy ever had the least suspicion? Falseness and duplicity rose to incredible dimensions within the framework of the system most precious and meaningful to both of them. They were both shaken by what they had been told.

For several days, Ranid lived in the fog of repeated thoughts about the situation. Over and over, the young scholar had to reconvince himself of the truth behind the outward appearance of his denomination. It was a difficult thing to do. He had to transform his entire view of reality. A new view, a different interpretation of the system he believed in was now necessary.

How had the Apodists kept all their adherents from revealing the secret writings of their inner group? How had they avoided ever raising the curiosity of outsiders not part of their cabal? How had they managed to make themselves so invisible to everyone else?

Why did my parents or my teachers never catch any hint of this subcult? wondered the young man.

He had increasing trouble sleeping at night in his room near the Archivum. His thoughts were burdened with new doubts and emotions.

Ranid sensed growing anger in himself. How could he join the Apod circle and still maintain his self-respect? His personal integrity seemed challenged. He knew that he was incapable of the doubleness and phoniness of having a known and unknown faith co-existing at the same time. Was he going to spend the rest of his life living in duality? The price of what the Capitular demanded would be endless self-loathing. He would come to regard himself with withering hatred. The hidden secret would weigh on his sense of what was good.

The young seeker of enlightenment decided that he needed counsel from Praeposter Hyle, staying for hours in his private sanctum. The older man appeared worried and troubled by what had been revealed to them as had his assistant.

Sitting down across from his mentor, Ranid could sense that the older man felt profound unease over their new situation.

“How could I have been so blind not to have perceived any of this?” asked Hyle in an agitated tone. “But now I notice many signs that point in that direction. They were perfect actors, able to put over a fiction that fooled everyone, high or low in status. This conspiracy is unprecedented. The Apodists, well hidden and camouflaged, enjoyed total success until you came along and made these discoveries about the Institutor, Ranid.”

“No one need blame themselves,” declared the latter. “How could anyone have looked for such a fantastic subterfuge? I myself can only claim to have stumbled on buried secrets. I had no clear purpose in my mind. My lone compass was my unsatisfied curiosity. I searched for one thing and came upon something quite different. But what are we to do now and in the coming days? A decision about that will have to be made before too long. Things cannot remain the way they were before all of this came to light.”

Hyle looked at him with sympathy and understanding. “There is no perfect choice, as far as I can see. If the two of us refuse the invitation to join the Apodists, we are both ruined. Who can say how far the Capitular would go to punish and shut us up? Our careers are at an end if we show any resistance. But on the other hand, if we become part of this great conspiracy, we will be no better than the phony characters who perpetuate it. We shall become liars just like them.”

“My mind wrestles with the same dilemma,” said the younger man. “How can I remain sincerely Salamandrine if I agree to become a part of the secret circle who appear to be in control of our spiritual organization?”

The Praeposter averted his eyes. “I face that question the same way that you do, my friend. Will we have to become the same sort of false Salamandrists as the Capitular and his group of close associates?”

Silence filled the sanctum as both of them pondered these knotty puzzles. Neither, as yet, had specific, definite answers.

Only after a considerable time did Ranid voice a conclusion.

“I can never again see Alsike Caldus the same way I once did.”

“Neither can I,” muttered the head of the Archivum.

“I am rereading the published writings of the Founder and going through his manuscripts,” revealed Ranid. “My aim now is to locate signs or hints of how he handled his spiritual duality. That may eventually help me to deal with the same problem in myself. What do you think of that?”

“Yes, that may turn out to be a pattern we can both imitate.”

Hyle proposed that Ranid join him on a hike through the mead around the capital city. It might help them clear their minds for better understanding of their dilemma. Both of them might benefit from such an excursion, they agreed.

The two men crossed a field of brown grass, entering a marsh covered with yellow mullein, purple foxglove, scarlet eyebright, and butter-and-eggs toadflax. Here and there, catkins rose above low spots where eelgrass grew. Ranid looked at the vegetation while Hyle expressed his intimate thoughts and feelings to him.

“I would never try studying the life of our Institutor in detail the way that you have been doing,” confessed Hyle. “My knowledge of him was not complete, but it was adequate for practical, day-to-day purposes. There is less curiosity about his human existence than one would suppose. We think that the truth about his life is part of our daily faith. Most Salamandrites do not thirst for broader or deeper knowledge of him. Somehow, they sense that it might be upsetting to them. They feel that they know enough and need no new information. The Founder is treated like a legendary character. No one wishes to discover ordinary human drives or emotions in him. That could result in disappointment and pain.

“Your findings could disorient masses of believers, Ranid.”

The young man did not reply at once. As they walked on, he began to talk in a meditative manner, as if only to himself.

“Alsike must have been like only a limited few of the adherents to his doctrines. For me, he was a seeker on an endless quest. There were periods of depression and self-doubt. I believe that he experienced much inner turmoil. For me, he was a gravely troubled explorer of the soul. Alsike was not the average typical man of his time. He had many warring impulses. All of this makes him a difficult person to understand.”

Hyle asked him a direct question.

“Would we be wrong to join up with the secret, invisible conspiracy? Perhaps we have no real choice and will be forced to become a part of it, whether we wish to do so or not.”

Ranid decided to express himself candidly and bluntly. “For me, it is a matter of personal honor. What integrity would be left me if I compromised my beliefs? My conscience screams out against hypocrisy. How can I preach the principles of Salamandrism, yet hold to another system inside myself? How can I be one thing in private and another before the public? Can the inside and outside selves be opposites? What will be my true identity? No, my choice must be against dualism.”

Hyle attempted to dissuade him from drastic rejection. “We have to remember that life is a very practical matter. This duality is not new. It goes back into the early mists of amphibiotic spirituality. There have always been more than a single side to our faith. What does it matter that some honor the frog and others the salamander? These are only intermediaries. There may be a multitude of them. What is the real nature of our differences? How important will they be in terms of eternal time? I doubt that the central essence really varies. The odyle is a single odyle. It can only be one. Why should there be argument and conflict?”

Ranid was astonished at the heretical tolerance and latitudinarian breadth of the Praeposter of the Archivum. He had never expected such opinions to be expressed by the veteran official.

“Are we only play actors in a masquerade, then?” he inquired.

The Praeposter meditated a moment. “I have always been an ambitious individual. Perhaps that makes me a cynic. Despite all doubts, though, I believe we must let the Apodists absorb us. There is no alternative for you and me. It is our duty to accept conditions and circumstances the way they really are.”

As Hyle proceeded through the marsh, he suddenly stumbled, losing his balance in a fraction of a second. Not able to regain equilibrium, he collapsed on the ground in sudden, accidental calamity.

Ranid stopped and turned in alarm. Eager to help his companion, he bent down over him. “What happened?” asked the anxious researcher.

“I took a misstep and fell over,” explained Hyle. “My left leg is twisted and hurts terribly. I hope it isn’t sprained or broken.”

“Let me look at it,” said Ranid, stooping down and helping the other into a sitting position.

“The pain is horrible,” moaned the sufferer. “I’m not sure I can make it back to the capital on my feet.” He considered a second. “It may be necessary for you to go to the nearest village for assistance. What do you think?”

Ranid made him as comfortable as he could, then ran down the meadow path. Fortunately, there was a small clachan less than a league away. Not more than a dozen thatched cottages were visible in the small settlement.

As he approached nearer, Ranid had an eerie feeling. A kind of intuition told him that this village might contain Anurans who honored the frog.

Would they refuse any aid to two wandering Salamandrites from the capital city?

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