The sun had descended even further in the sky, bathing the grove in brilliant hues of gilded light, a final embrace before the ending of day. The visages of the gathered students soaked up this light, deepening the features the Druid had failed to glimpse earlier–catching the coarse scruff of the skeptic’s jaw, the scattered freckles upon the face of the fire-haired woman, and also the soft curve of another woman’s cheek, the sharp chin on the man who’d just spoken.
In this light, they were beautiful. Noting this, he reminded himself: it is the fading of day, the stride away, the farewell which often reveals the beauty we forget to see.
“We had a little time,” he began again, “before the lights began to fade. Some had known long before, had looked at what we thought we needed and saw we would not have it much longer. Others learned later and tried to horde. But for most of us, we had so much trouble understanding that what we’d thought we needed was impossible to have.
“Again, so much anger. Try not to blame us. I was born into a world full of lights, full of food. It was easy to forget that others did not have so much light or have so much food. What can you understand about such things from images? A starving child flickers across a screen, the next image is of strips to whiten your teeth or pills to purge from your body so much weight–what sense could be made of such things? We learned nothing from what we saw, for they were only images.”
The Druid heard echoes of a poem in his head and smiled, nodding. “I am reminded. A woman once lived in a tower, and by her a great castle and a beautiful man. In her tower, there was a mirror, a screen which showed to her all the world, everything in it but what was outside her window.
“The woman–she was said to be cursed, but she knew “not what the curse may be.” Only, that if she ever looked toward the castle, everything would change.”
“Tennyson,” came the excited voice of the skeptic. The Druid smiled, finding a sudden affection him.
The old man nodded. “We knew not what our curse was, why we could not see just outside our windows, how the images floating across the glass could never match the life they were meant to mimic. Not, that is, until the trilling wires of electric frenzy went silent, went still.”
One of the students asked, “You mean the failures of the electric grids, yeah?”
The Druid nodded. “In some places, there was plenty, and those with money never found their lights dimmed, their furnaces chilled, their screens gone dark. For others, it happened so often that, after weeks without certainty of power, the screens mattered less. We can see in the dark with a candle, in the night by the light of our moon. And if we want to see life, we can look out our windows; if we want to talk to friends, we can leave our house and walk to theirs.
“It was not just in this city that there’d been great gatherings of people to defend others, and it was not just here that we gods-worshippers had found new friends with homes to walk to. And we continued. Spurred on by our belief in our gods and the meaning of the world, we sought to help others, we’d crossed bridges we’d built from the ruins of fear and distrust. The Heathens and Witches, the Eclectics and the Naturalists no longer thought much of the arguments we’d all had before when it became apparent other religions saw value and meaning in what we believed. Plagues and sicknesses have swept through our peoples for millennia, but sometimes belief and hope can also infect humanity.
“What we’d built before suddenly mattered more than what we thought it could. We didn’t know what we were building in those days together, celebrating festivals, writing, reading each other, even by arguing. When the computers began to go dark but the post still ran reliably, we started writing letters. We started holding meetings, groves and moots in this city and others.
“Others joined us. Christians who’d noted how some of our rites resembled theirs, Muslims who returned our respect with their own, Buddhists who’d seen resonance between our beliefs, Atheists and Agnostics who found meaning in the old myths and the deep respect for the earth.
“A shrine can be torn down, a grove might be razed, but the people who raised them from the earth could not easily be dispersed, and we were no longer alone. When misplaced rage turned upon witches, there were people of the Book there to defend them. When hatred welled up against the small store run by a voodoo practitioner, it was the stodgy old socialists who showed up first to protect her.
“You see, we didn’t have to build alone. We never needed to, but we knew this more once all our distractions fell away. When the screens fell into darkness, we’d finally turned and looked toward the one thing we were most afraid to look at. It was not that the curse came upon us once we did so, but that the curse was finally lifted and we could finally see.”
The auburn-haired woman asked a question. “Do you agree with those who think so many became Pagan because the earth was dying?”
The Druid had read the same writers as she had. “I do not know. I never thought Paganism much more than what humans always are, or always become, when they listen to the voices of the land and the gods. It is why so many found our stories so beautiful—they seemed woven from the land itself. Perhaps, too, the gods had become impatient with our tragic attempt to separate ourselves from everything but what we made with our own hands.”
He paused to look at his companions. The light from the setting sun had shifted its coloring of their face again, sharpening the appearance of profound thought upon their brows, their mouths, their eyes. They seemed all to contemplate some past they did not remember, or some un-noticed dream before them.
He waited, listening to his own breath, the slight movement of autumnal leaves upon the trees of the grove, the silent reverie of the people before him. “I will tell you about this grove now.”