The Flight of the Sorceress

The Flight of the Sorceress
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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Prologue to the Flight of the Sorceress

Part 1

When I first wrote The Flight of the Sorceress, I included a prologue. I figured that most readers’ knowledge of the 5th Century was pretty thin and that a little background might help. Pre-publication opinion was loud. “Get to the story,” it shouted. So, despite my craving for context, I took it out, stuffed it in my files and waited for a day of reckoning. Now, here it is — the long suppressed, totally dehydrated, deconstructed, digested, “Prologue to The Flight of the Sorceress” — one hundred years of Roman history compressed into twenty-five hundred words (including snarky commentary.) That that Gibbon!

But first, here’s my point of view:

From time-to-time, down through the ages, men have plotted to rule the world in the name of God. These days, we tend to think of Muslim jihad when we ponder the goal of ruling the world. But if we look under the rocks, we will easily discover lots of historical precedent. Since the beginning, men have plotted to rule the world and were not above using religion as a tool to accomplishing their objective. There have been times when Christian zealots roamed the land with just such a mission in mind.

Many among us do not like to think of Christianity that way. They have a blind spot when it comes to introspection. For such people, Christianity is universally “good.” Rejection of their brand of Christianity is evil, sinful, heretical and blasphemous. They demand conformity to their version of the religion. Opposition to their agendas makes them enemies of God. Thus all opposition must be crushed. And because God seems to consistently ignore His own best interests by allowing subversion in His kingdom, it is pretty clear He needs help eradicating the infidels. Who better to serve God in this way, to institute a reign of terror against the unbelievers than the men tasked by the Almighty of founding God’s Kingdom on earth?  And so, since the dawn of religion, self-proclaimed righteous servants of the Lord have commissioned themselves executioners,  insisting that the mayhem they create is justified because they are merely attempting to rule the world in God’s name.

Well that’s what commenced to happen in the fourth century, about 100 years before the Romans quit Britannia, a century before Glenys of the Silures is declared a sorceress and Christian fanatics torched the great library in Alexandria, Egypt. As the Roman Empire rotted, Christians read their tea leaves and prophesized that a holy kingdom of God on Earth with its capital in Rome, loomed on the horizon — if only they followed God’s commandments.

Sometime between 305 and 310 A.D. Constantine, the Roman General in charge of all the legions in northern Britannia, saw the handwriting on Hadrian’s Wall. His legionnaires looked out across the moors from their parapets on the Wall and saw waves of angry, face-painted Pict warriors—a never-ending opposition. And they wondered whether there was any point in hanging around the grim north of Britannia, soaking wet and cold, when they could be sucking oranges on a Mediterranean beach. Everyone seemed to sense that the days of Pax Romana were numbered. Citizens and slaves alike we’re pretty sure the vaunted Roman Empire had seen better days and that pretty soon, their walls, like the walls of Jericho, could come a’tumbling down. Rome was falling apart. The Empire was on its last legs.

“What am I doing freezing my balls off in Eboracum?” Constantine asked himself. Then, one dark, dank, nearly-Nordic winter, a light came on. “I can be emperor. And this is how I’m going to do it….”

He calls a counsel of his officers. He leans in close to the fire. A dozen scarred, sun burnt, grizzled faces follow suit so that the glow is captured within the circle. It’s bright as day while he’s speaking.

“We all agree the empires going to shit. Our Roman citizens don’t want to fight for it anymore. So, if we want to keep our empire, we’ve got to hire the army. We’ve got to rely on mercenaries, or,” and he leans back now, far enough that his officers have to strain and tilt so that they can see around the flames, see the face of their general as he speaks to them, “we can recruit the most zealous folks who now live among us.”

His minions frown, grimace, scratch their noodles and wait for the punch line.

“There’s basically this one group of people out there with zeal, and a willingness to die for their beliefs,” he tells them. “Diocletian kicked the shit out of them for years – feeding them to his lions. But God bless’em they keep stickin’ to their catapults.”

He pauses; looks each one of them in the eye. “Don’t you wish we had more soldiers like that?”

They nod and make animal sounds of agreement with his every word.

“Well we can,” he assures them. “All we have to do is get the hell out of here and take control of that sorry imperial government.”

Leaving Britannia though is the easy part. Lots of Roman generals, like Julius Caesar have done that. They just pack up their kits; order their legions to march; rip off every ship they can find; cross over to Gaul and invade Rome. But there’s always competition for the top job. To become emperor, you’ve got to fight for it. You’ve got to cross your own Rubicon. And Constantine it is no exception.

It’s late October, 312 A.D. Constantine is about to engage Max, another wannabe emperor, at a place called the Milvian Bridge. Max has a lot of seasoned troops. He’s done pretty good so far, in defeating other challengers. Constantine knows he needs an edge.

The story gets a little confusing here. One Roman historian claims it was the dead of night and Constantine is taking a stroll. Another Roman historian pipes up thirty years later and says “No, it was daytime and Constantine saw it just right next to a brilliant sun.” Anyway, lo and behold, whether night or day, Constantine looks up into the sky and sees this giant cross with the words “In hoc signo victus,” (“By this sign conquer.”) kind of looping like an overly dramatic pole dancer around it.

“Eureka!” he exclaims. 

And so he gets all his army together and tells them, “I just had a vision.” Curiously, if it was the nighttime version, despite the fact that there are literally tens of thousands of soldiers lying there on their backs that night, looking skyward because they can’t sleep, because they’re scared shitless that they’ll end skewered the next day, or the day after that for no good reason, no one besides Constantine happened to witness this message from God. And if it was the daytime version, it’s just as strange that only the general saw it, and he failed to mention it right then and there. It’s not like he was travelling alone. It’s also a little curious that he is spending his time blinding himself by looking directly into the sun. No matter. According to myth, everyone believes him.

And so the next morning or that afternoon, or the next day, whatever, they get up, take paintbrushes in hand and upgrade their shields with crosses. Thus fortified with the patronage of the one true god, off they march, jazzed up with the promise of victory or eternal bliss. (No mention yet of 72 virgins. That’s the Muslim upgrade and not yet available on the market.) They’re building a fucking Kingdom of God on Earth after all!

Yup. You guessed it. The Christian soldiers win at the old Milvian Bridge.

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