The Trepidation of Spheres
The sun rested behind the great green hills and left the sky as an open gaping wound, bleeding starlight unto the dimmed landscape. A cloak of fog enveloped a stone castle rising from the highlands. From his stone tower watched an old nobleman.
His beard flowed upon his cloak as he gazed upwards. “Cursed be that poor soul that breaks the concentration of an old man,” he heard in whisper, and looked about himself, only to find he was still alone. The old aristocrat mumbled to himself: “What a silly old fool, I am, hearing voices of spectres and sirs who are not really there.”
“Do not be so quick to deceive yourself, lad. I am as present as you are.” The man looked about himself again, and saw a young man, with glowing white skin and white hair, and a fair and youthful face. He stood in a listless confident pose, leaning upon the stone. The old nobleman sat speechless at the hapless spectral youth that stood before him. “You needn’t be alarmed, sir. I mean no harm to you or your kin. You may think of me as your newest companion, may I gaze up at the night sky with you?” asked the young visitor.
“From where do you hail, youth, that your entire figure can be bathed in such an eerie white glow?” implored the skeptical stargazer.
“You must never mind that if we are to be as lofty good friends as I hope.” Deep thought struck the old nobleman. His wife had long ago died. His sons were off fighting saracens in the Holy Land. He was alone in his castle, save the servants. He got up immediately to offer food and drink to the this mysterious visitor, but he refused. “I shant need any flesh or wine that you offer, old man. I have already taken my supper elsewhere. Let us sit awhile.”
“Will you at least tell me your name?”
“Of course, you may simply call me Caraid, no more or no less.” The old man went no further in questioning the youth as he sat in bewildered contentment with his new friend.
He was an affectatious man of long winded speech and ancient Catholic blood. Fiery was his temper and his joy as it bubbled up from the highlands he called home as a boy. His hair fell in long tendrils upon his shoulders and his beard was neatly groomed. He wore a serious expression when riding into battle and a haughty grin when taking his drink. Accompanying him was the youth, that same youth to have followed and befriended his father, and his grandfather, and all those generations before him. Memories of war and joy echoed through the halls of the ancient clan castle.
“What a sad thing it is, Andrew.” Sighed Caraid, “To have all of your dear friends die while you must continue to forge companionships with their children, and their children after them. It is not only as bad as that Andrew, but all of them seem to have broken their promises to me.”
“Caraid, what promises are those? I am sure none of us would purposefully hurt such a dear friend,” questioned the Cavalier to his spectral companion.
“All of my friends- I make them promise- that they will remain alive so that I may not go about friendless and alone like I so often do. But have you any idea what they then usually do, Andrew? They die. All of them, leaving their promises to me broken without a care as to my feelings about it. Can you believe they would all do such a thing? Even after years of my companionship, that they should go about and break such an important promise. It’s shameful, really. I should feel silly if I were to ask you to make me such a promise. Will you remain alive, Andrew? It really is not as difficult as it would seem.”
The unusually pensive Andrew paused. “Caraid, I would never break a promise to a good friend, for loyalty is in my blood. I should sooner break a promise to the king than break a promise to you.”
The youth smiled, “Do you mean by that that you will not die like all your fathers have?”
The Cavalier chuckled at the immortal naivety of his companion, “No, I am afraid not. I cannot help it should old age sneak up on me like a fox, or a should a sword be plunged into my breast. That is why I cannot promise you that I will live, and neither should any of my fathers have. We come from different races, dear Caraid. Mine own, humanity, is afflicted with this curious thing called death. No matter the promises made, no matter what lofty immortal things any one of us may claim, we all return to the dust, and that is something you must make peace with. I will not promise you I will live forever, but you will simply have to befriend my son as you have befriended me.”
Caraid remained silent as he walked up the steps to the tower, and Andrew followed. “Do you see those stars, Andrew? How they sparkle and tremble in their twinkling. Do you see also that mouse being carried away by an owl. It is a sad thing you and your kind must forever be a mouse, carried off by time, while I am stuck with the stars. They’re beautiful, yes, but they are in their own realm, and the mouse may look up at them and converse with them, but the stars will remain no matter whether the mouse and his descendants are carried away.”
Andrew pondered still, arrested by the sudden gravity of his friend said “Mice may live with mice, and have young mice and die in their little mouse holes, but every young mouse meets the stars for the first time that he opens his eyes. Those same stars may befriend every little mouse, mourn his passing as they befriend the next.”
Caraid’s seriousness escalated. “If I were to declare death to the king and my unbending loyalty to Cromwell and his Puritan roundheads, would you be so inclined as to shoot me dead?”
“You have no stake in earthly death or politics, they’re both straw to you.”
“Still, I command you to shoot me with your musket! Or I shall untie myself from your perception at once and the stars will go forever dim!” Dramatically shouted the increasingly erratic Caraid.
“You silly spectre, I shall yet shoot you to prove your immortality.”
Andrew loaded up his musket while Caraid smirked at the possibility that he too may be mortal.
Andrew lit the match of his musket and fired into his glowing white friend, who tumbled out of the tower and turned into a cloudy vapor before hitting the ground. The wind blew the mist that was his friend into a scattered nothingness, and Andrew began to weep at the idea of having killed him.
“What a wretch I am! I thought that invincible youth was to befriend our every generation, and in proving to him that he was I have killed him! He’s now dead and gone like the mouse while I sit here and sob. Now no one among us is the star.” In the cold and desolate night air Andrew began hearing footsteps behind him.
“Why on earth are you blubbering so, like some poor wretched lady? You look positively disgusting, a weeping cavalier,” Haughtily laughed Caraid as he looked down at his puzzled and sorrowful friend. “You had me believe I killed you!” Shouted Andrew, drawing his sword and swiping at Caraid, leaving no wound and no blow.
“Dear Andrew, wouldn’t you say it is most distasteful to not only switch sides of an argument, but to take the side that has already been lost? Here, I brought you up some wine to ease your heavily bewildered mind.” Andrew sat upon the stone wall, trying to catch his breath at what had just happened, he seized the goblet from Caraid and drank, his anger turning to chuckling as he pondered on his own foolishness.
The heat and fury of battle had long left a soot on the skies above Culloden. Alisdair, arrayed in his tartan kilt and accouterments of his clan, rode intrepid with the force of his cause. Seated upon his horse, the paradox of his position clashed with every touch of hoof on the muddy ground. The thing he was fighting for the most impossible of impossible causes, an arbitrary and beautifully backward symbol that everyone else had rejected. But that for, Alisdair, was not the real issue. Who he was trying to restore the throne to did not matter if all that it stood for was destined to die in that muddy moor. Caraid, with ghostly pike in hand marched next to him, arrayed also in a tartan that was perfectly white.
“Alisdair, you are as Quixotic as I am immortal, why must you go and leave me friendless for another few years?”
Alisdair sighed as he attempted to clear his mind for his inevitable loss. “Caraid, my fight may be Quixotic, and you may be immortal, but allow me to tilt at my windmills, and you may tilt at yours. To keep me from fighting will be your windmill, so I will have your silence when the windmills tilt back at me.” To Caraid, Alisdair was always a wall, a singularity of purpose and conviction whose whole life had been leading to a bloody martyrdom. It was hard to know him at all. A typhoon of red came flowing over the ridge as a startling mechanism. The legion of kilted warriors, fighting to restore a dead house to the throne could not stand against that red tide. As a gentleman soldier, Alisdair was on the front lines, his vision narrowed as his fate became more and more apparent. The rhythm of the march devolved into a cacophony of musket fire and the clang of steel. Caraid, with his spectral claymore, fought alongside his friend. Every swipe of the sword swished through the earthly forms of his adversaries, leaving no blood, no impression, no knowledge that he was even there.
“You,” Caraid yelled through the chaos, “May at least draw blood and bleed!” My sword is but a rid of smoke, and I may be struck with bullet and stabbed with pike without bleeding so much as a pinprick. How I wish I could bleed as well!”
Alisdair heard Caraid with disdain, but accepted with resignation that his friend may never actually know earthly pain, while he and his kind will never feel the immortal and ethereal pain of Caraid. Time became sodden with blood as it slowed and collapsed on the ground with the dead men. The briefness of that calamity felt as if it were years long. Caraid then saw, to his expected horror, a bayonet plunging into Alisdair. He knew then of his own helplessness, he walked over to the corpse of his friend and simply sat beside him, watching the Earthly battle transpire to its inevitable conclusion around him. After the brevity of the bloodshed, he followed the body to wherever it was carried, and sat in on his funeral mass as he had for all of his earthly friends of this family. The sky was now clear as night crept along the hills. The stars shook with sympathy, as Caraid’s solitude became apparent once again.
A wet, nighttime gloss found its way on the brick streets. Two companions walked in silence by the gaslights, their rhythmic steps were lonely while the rest of the city slept. Caraid, the eternal youth, tried his best to walk in step with Thomas, his friend, with a kind of playful attempt at imparting whimsy to an otherwise dark time of night. Thomas gave a chuckle that quickly faded under the weight of the fog. He was a short and stocky man, dressed in a gray flannel suit, with a wool cloak over him, and he walked with a stern dignity, cane in hand. His beard and hair were both short and dispersed with a salt and pepper mix of white and black.
“Thomas, oh Thomas, it’s a very chilly night. Will you have Frances make us some mulled
“Yes, Caraid. I will have her make me some.” Thomas walked up the steps to his house,
followed by Caraid.
“Thomas, dear, who were you talking to out there? Is this fog getting to your head?” Implored Thomas’s concerned wife.
Thomas responded with his usual coy smile, “Just to an old friend, my flower, just to an old friend.”
The look on Frances’ face betrayed her bewilderment, “In all my years, Thomas, I will never begin to know what you mean by that, or who this friend is. Sometimes I think you ought to be in a sanatorium,” she began to joke.
Thomas retorted, “Well if you have yet to put me in one by now maybe it is you that belongs
there.” The couple shared a laugh, light hearted and amused, but pregnant with disparity of
understanding. Frances handed Thomas his mug of wine and he shuffled away to his study,
followed by Caraid.
“I say, what an endearing woman you have there. Truly, truly lovely, she is.
I just wish she would give me my own cup. Any fellow needs his own drink to keep out the cold,
wouldn’t you say, Thomas?”
Caraid mused as he warmed his hands over the warm vapor rising
above the mug, “Too bad though, that I’m much more like this steam than I am the wine.”
Thomas sat back in his chair, and sipped. “You know Caraid, I am sure Frances would be happy
to serve you some if she knew you were there. Or we could find whichever type of wine to serve
to a spectral fellow such as yourself. You know I cannot tell by looking at you whether you should prefer Port or Claret.”
Caraid continued with mock indignation, “Well perhaps the only reason she doesn’t know me is because you have been too rude to introduce me. And Port, if you don’t mind.”
Thomas asked Caraid, “When, in your entire life – if that is what it can be called – have you been able to talk to more than one mortal at a time? I am sure she would love to meet you, but to her I would be introducing her to thin air, a void in space. I am sorry Caraid, but that is what it comes down to. You are only bound to one of us mortals at one time, and you have the misfortune that it happens to be me right now.”
“No need to disparage yourself, Thomas! You may be an insufferable bore, yes, but you are my insufferable bore.” The room erupted in friendly mocking and laughter. Frances was puzzled, as she always was, by her husbands eccentricities, but she had at the very least made peace with them.
“Look, look! Do you see that break in the clouds?” Caraid hurried excitedly to the window as he always did when the stars were visible. “Ah, what a joy it is to see them twinkling. How I love it when they pull away the curtain of the clouds, don’t you see them?”
Thomas lumbered his way to the window to look out. “Yes,” he said with disinterested curtness, and continued to sip his wine. To one who had seen the wonders of every age a thousands times over, it was curious that to Caraid, everything was new. And Thomas, approaching sixty short years was content with all those things he had seen already. The stars had always been there, and will continue as such.
“Thomas... May I propose a toast?” asked Caraid.
“A toast? To what?” Thomas responded.
“Well, I would like to propose a toast to every passing year and every passing century. I would like to propose a toast to every bleeding, wiggling, dripping alive thing to scurry across this fine Earth.
To everything that breathes. To everything that dies. To you and your father and his father, going back to whichever man it was I first befriended. And to me, lonely me... Who gets to watch it all.”
It was frustrating to him who could never hope to know any mortal creature as well as he had been forced to know himself. Every Earthly friend was a blink as he had to stare at time passing by. To those Earthly friends, Caraid was just as puzzling a figure, one who knew every ancestor as well as he knew them, and will know every descendent as well. His companionships were one of a strange disparity. This family that Caraid had come to call his own were imprisoned by their particularity while he was forever imprisoned by his universality. But his universality was a limited one, and his being was utterly alone. He was not man, he was not God, he was neither angel nor devil. He was Caraid and that was all he was.