Argenteus, Humilis, Mitis (or, The Traveller and the Mooners)

Submitted into Contest #121 in response to: Write a story in which someone gets credit for something they didn’t do.... view prompt

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Fiction Funny Kids

Argenteus, humilis, mitis. Three words, a mantra, on every piece of cloth in sight. Banners proclaiming the motto hang in halls and from parapets, blue and luminous white. Flags, billowing in the cold, desert night, sport a spearpoint, a sparrow and an outstretched hand at the centre of a radiant circle, stitched to catch the argentine mid-night light in a striking display. The vesture of the priests in the shrines, the guards outside the walls and the beasts of burden in the stables bear the same emblems, marking their society and shared purpose. High above the paltry symbols and imitations the humans have fervently attempted to render, attended by an expansive, ever-loyal host of celestial servants, at the centre of the known universe, hangs the source of all creation: the Moon.

The Moon is the purest being in the universe, the Everlasting Orb that imparts its glorious life, light and wisdom to undeserving mortals. Over the centuries, many humans partook of the Moon’s sublime fruits, but they failed to recognize and honour the source of their prosperity. They took to worshipping false idols, and many even changed the cycle of their sleep to bask in and glorify the blasphemous sun, that putrid, torrid force that invades the sky while the Moon is away tending to the other realms under its care. The sun is boisterous, prideful and destructive, completely void of the love that the Moon created. The blasphemers who live their lives enveloped in the sinful heat here described have no place among the Mooners, the faithful. The Mooners construct shrines to the Saviour of Silver, offering animals and purified water as sacrifices. They fortify their dwellings and battlements against the invasive sear of daytime. They have been blessed for their devotion with a refreshing, life-giving lake, a rarity for the arid climate in which they reside.

Argenteus, humilis, mitis. “Silver, humble, gentle.” In the shallow vocabulary of humans, this is the communicable essence of their master, the mantra which they sing to all that they meet, so that they might one day embody each of these traits and rejoin their Creator in a paradise in the sky when they are called.

It is a clear, still night in the desert, the Mooners’ citadel gleaming under a benevolent wash of light. Lake Luna is gentle and silvern, though given the inherent inanimate nature of water, the lack of humility is excused. The people of this moon-loving society are functioning as normal. Pedestrian traffic winds in river-like fashion amidst the stands of market vendors in the square; drops of silver and other bartering goods change hands with amiability and generosity. Children play in their homes and in the streets, and one child chases his fellows with a scythe constructed of palms, until a grown-up grabs hold of him and scolds him for wielding a holy symbol with such irreverence. Atop the highest tower in the city, as close to the Moon as is deemed modest, a place of meditation is upheld at all hours of the night; priests and laypeople alike devote their time to maintain a constant stream of prayers and adoration in the Moon’s honour, and the vigil persists within a darkened chapel during the day. The faithful accept the luminous gifts from above with the same outstretched hand their flags bear, a reminder of the importance of gratitude and generosity to a healthy soul.

A holy night like any other, it stands to be; but over the sand dunes, a figure spelling trouble approaches, bearing a most unholy standard.

“Stop!” The guards at the gate rush forward, silver spearpoints leveled at the traveller. “Tread no closer with that infernal device!”

The traveller’s arms point to the Moon’s glorious face most unwillingly, a burning oil lamp dangling from his hand. “I wish you no harm! I would seek refuge within your beautiful city, for I’ve been hopelessly separated from my party, and I’ve travelled long days and nights with dwindling rations. I humbly entreat your hospitality.”

“You’ll not trespass on the Moon’s favoured territory with that flagrant beacon of blasphemy you hold!” one guard shouts fiercely. “Extinguish that flame at once and leave, or subject yourself to a trial before the Mooners, if you believe you can defend your evil practices.”

“My torch?” the traveller enquires in good humour. “What could be wrong with lighting my path in the dark of night? Surely, there’s no blasphemy in merely wanting for steady footing and awareness of space when travelling in unknown lands?”

“You would so blatantly disregard the generous gift of light the Moon grants humanity?” the other guard growls. “Fire is the spawn of the evil sun! To think the ground before you unknowable without the use of such hellish sources is a proud blindness unbefitting of civilized humans! Stand down, or let your treachery be known to all before the righteous glow of our Creator.”

“These are strange words you speak to me!” the traveller laughs. “I dare say I’ve never met a couple of fellows who worship the moon and condemn the sun; why, from what I’ve seen and heard in my days, it appears to be downright backward thinking!”

“I’ll show you ‘backward thinking’ when I spin your skull on your shoulders like the cap of a canteen!” the first guard threatened. “Seal your blasphemous lips and do as we instruct, heathen! The lamp! Out with it!”

“Alright, alright!” He slowly smothers his lamp, gesturing in a placating manner. “I mean no disrespect or harm. I am not familiar with the customs of moon worship, but I will comply with your wishes. I shan’t light another fire; you have my word. And my, it is a gorgeous night, isn’t it? Dear Selene’s beauty is stunning, as always. Now, as to my taking refuge within your walls. I’ve proven I am no threat, merely a jolly passerby. I shan’t be longer than a fortnight in your company, if I can at all help it; for the search for my kin must continue.”

The guards exchange a glance. Their spears remain leveled, but their voices adopt more respectful tones. “Your manner is courteous; you appear to be harmless, but for your dullness and lack of education. We will escort you to an inn, but be aware you are not yet trusted. Your lamp will be confiscated during your stay, and a post will be established outside your dwelling at all times.”

“Do as you please with it,” the traveller chuckles as the first guard takes his oil-burning device, holding it gingerly at arms’ length. “I was lent it by a friend!”

The party of three marches into the city, drawing peculiar looks from the Mooners; they are not visited by peaceful outsiders often. As his eyes adjust to the effects of the Moon’s subtle illumination in the absence of his faithful fire, the traveller takes in the graceful lunar imagery in the city’s architecture and the oversaturation of blue and white in the décor and dress. What a strange civilization! he remarks silently. Children glance with curiosity at the lamp in the guard’s hand, while elders regard the same with fear and disgust. Soon, much of the city is abuzz with the arrival of a well-mannered traveller bearing tools of sacrilegious destruction.

The traveller bears it all with bemusement. It takes him about two days to adjust to the nocturnal society he’s entered, but instead of leaving as he had planned at the end of that span of time, he remains a few days longer, for he has met a most jubilant realization after his many social exchanges in the streets. All around him, foolish, unfounded ideas about celestial bodies and divine revelation spin like rocks in a sling. The traveller is not very smart, himself, but his limited education in the sciences has taught him all the fundamental truths he could need about the sky and its denizens. For most of his life, he was called lowly, slow, and untalented by his peers. His poverty of exceptional knowledge was a source of great shame to him, so instead of basking in education or debate, he took pride in humouring his fellows. His wit expanded independent of the well which housed his attainments, and why the Mooners have no taste for the traveller's banter is a wonder given the argent quality of his tongue.

But in this utterly alien society around him, modern science is rejected in favour of sedentary mythology. For the first time in his life, this obtuse traveller is the presiding scientific authority; the mere thought is giddying. Thusly, against any better judgment, the chance to prove his intelligence at the table of discussion inebriates him, and he prepares to alight upon the Mooners’ closed minds with the fullest of his confidence, beginning with the children.

Children are a wise target for the novice educator to prey upon; their young wits have been hardened in neither folly nor common sense, so they lack both the steel and erudition to debate an authoritative adult on the matters he professes, just the way the traveller prefers it. Preaching to unformed young minds serves as excellent practice for when unformed old minds come in search of guidance, which surely will happen to the traveller one day. Children are also remarkably, drolly easy to coax into a shaded nook with vague promises of rich knowledge and adventurous tales, so to form a bouquet of malleable ears that await fulfilment; the traveller wishes not to disappoint his newfound audience, and begins to profess the Good Word of Science.

November 27, 2021 04:58

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1 comment

Ben Connolly
18:04 Nov 29, 2021

Sorry, I slacked off again and couldn't complete the story. Didn't even get to the part of credit being given when it wasn't deserved. I'll try again another time.


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