Allen Varney, Writer and Traveler

Piercing A Veil


Herein, O Ananda, let a brother, as he dwells in the body, so regard the body that he, being strenuous, thoughtful, and mindful, may, while in the world, overcome the grief which arises from the body's cravings.

And so also when he thinks, or reasons, or feels, let him so regard his thought that he, being strenuous, thoughtful, and mindful, may, while in the world, overcome the grief which arises from the craving due to ideas, or to reasoning, or to feeling.

Those who, either now or after I am dead, will be a lamp unto themselves, relying upon themselves only and not upon any external help, but holding fast to the truth as their lamp, and seeking their salvation in the truth alone [...] it is they, Ananda, among my monks, who shall reach the very topmost height! But they must be anxious to learn....

-- Farewell address of the Buddha

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And now I sit and think.

For one instant I did hope that Merron's wealthy would mend their ways, but of course they have not. The workhouses still stand, workers still die slowly within them, and in Oldtown and Keystone the owners make the same bitter complaints about their greedy and shiftless laborers.

Some few among the Old Families went home from Vilph's nightmeal party and promptly hanged themselves or swallowed poison, ending callous lives with final acts of cowardice. Yet their heirs, eager to fill the vacant roles, worked resolutely to clean the familial stain -- by behaving in all respects like the late parents.

No one threw a party for two moons after Vilph's. At last Landswoman Barghill-Bhurn, with iron will, coerced every guest from that nightmare evening to attend a dinner of unsurpassed extravagance. There the nervous Families saw with relief that nothing had changed, and they knew gaiety again.

They need never have doubted themselves. After all, even in the best times, society builds great skill in denial.

Ennis Roodville still runs Antimere, but he has not replaced his broken stingrod, and to exactly that degree the inmates live better lives. The cost of a single Oldtown party could make Antimere a place of healing, not of squalor -- but no one of the Old Families will ever turn loose a single copper to help, until forced. The people of Merron could force them -- but in Twopenny and Nightshade, workers practice denial of a different variety, as a sleepwalker travels the landscape of dream. Filantha Decrevi, the dispatch house workers, Morinnan's surviving thugs, the teeming workers -- like chips on the current, all drift from one day to the next, finding work or failing.

Magicians, though -- magicians do not deny, and Schools has seen change. Through cautious gestures of amity, the guilds have begun to heal their long rivalry. Each college now accepts new students from other disciplines, and guild elders gather at Manmidden under each new moon. Haerlam has entered the black building to learn from Ghantrem the secret names of spirits; Thanyx Destrovan hears songs of wind and rain from the chastened Taundis Boyhan.

In death Padia Villandry has achieved something of what she desired in life. In that decade she spent trying to get the rich to help the poor, throwing herself like a wave against the unyielding wall of custom, she could not improve the workers' lives by a hairbreadth. Using her body, I have helped them. I move among them unseen, working a kind of shallow, cosmetic justice: preventing injuries, returning stolen objects to their owners, sending questors where they can do good.

Trivia. Yet the workers have responded well, with good cheer. Legends have begun to circulate in town, telling of a benevolent entity. The Quiet Lady, they call me.

Obviously, I far prefer rescuing a trapped pet to stalking the Merronese for their limbs and organs. But I see that I can do no lasting good -- not while cursed with Vilph's infection, self-awareness.

I act in darkness, the darkness of the mind. Can I see clearly, act with insight, as Alban did?

Alban began a wealthy magistrate, finished a penniless nonentity. He had a mansion but ended homeless, and he had a talented wife, now lost. An enemy wrecked his life and escaped punishment.

Yet Alban clearly won. He transcended the discontent I see in every other name-giver and feel in every moment. It springs from -- what? Ceaseless yearning.

Now, at the summit of a sunlit hill, I strive as he did to overcome that yearning, to find and dissipate that self. Ants swarm thickly over this body; they envelop it in seething circles. Flowing in their hundreds of thousands, in living streams and rills, over days and weeks of ceaseless concentration, these motes of my mentality view the vessel that I took in fire. In all those manifold perspectives, in that empty vessel, where do I find me? I flow; I live in those shifting patterns.

Forever I have sought, striven, moved, flowed. Now I seek a quietude, the tensionless balance beyond striving. Now, in this ceaseless flowing pattern, a new idea moves, stills the swarming ants. Now, as this fresh wind falls away and these grassblades grow placid on the hillside, I find the peace that passes achievement, that triumphs over triumph, that rends the veil of illusion. It says: I am.

And in that final I am... I am not.

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