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The Chronicles of Claudia Labelle -- Part XXIX
By
ZMahnke

The Chronicles of Claudia Labelle -- Part XXIX

Claudia meets with Mr. Vukan for, possibly, the final time.

Entry XXXVII –

The Library was much warmer than my own living quarters. Some of the candles were lit, indicating that another student had been there recently, or was there currently. I could not hear echoes or distant artificial sounds of any sort; only the breeze of the frozen wind beyond the windows, and my footsteps upon the stone floors.

In any case, I found a dark spot between the wooden shelves of the books relating to ancient Greeks and Romans, most of which had been translated into Latin. After lighting a few candles placed before the ice-ridden window, I guided my fingers across the old dusty books. A few of them I snatched away nasty cobwebs from the spines and joints. The old leather numbed my fingertips as I traced the rough edges and beautiful bindings, the vessels of knowledge untouched for years, hidden away in the remote and freezing north. Not to say this is a bad thing. On the contrary, they have long waited for someone like me to come and acknowledge their friable existence.

I gathered a couple of books, one written by a Greek slave, and the other, by a Roman emperor. They were both similar in their contents, as they contained notes and thoughts with an overall diary approach to how they were written. The book by the Roman emperor—whose name I have, admittedly, now forgotten—did not interest me as much as I first believed it would. However, the Greek written book, the maxims of Epictetus, found their way into my heart and mind. The quotation of his that struck me the most: “'Where am I to look for the good and the evil? Within me, in that which is my own.'” A simple statement, yes, but very powerful.

With much perplexing inner debate I have come to define what is good and what is evil; as far as I am aware, it is only the lone word of perception. We, as a population, have been taught the differences through much of organized religion. There is a God, and there is a Devil; therefore there is good, and there is evil. It is clearly defined, easy to understand and to follow. But is that not our own perception of those deities? Why are we to assume our God—the one whom we pray to so vigorously—is a morally just God? Why are we to assume the Pagan religions are unholy and sinful? It is but a mere perception!

But this begs a much more personal question: Is this power I hold—my mediumship—the ability to see the world that exists in another form: Is it good or is it evil? Is the Realm of Death good or evil? Is it my own perception of death that influences my belief in the evil of the Realm? The creatures that exist in the Realm, those monsters and horrors, they do what is in their nature. And if they do what is in their own nature, how am I to judge if their actions are inherently evil?

Soon enough throughout all of my philosophical pondering I had come to realize the sun rose far above the horizon, and that Mr. Vukan still had not come to meet me in the Library. Perhaps I should have been more detailed in my letter addressed to him, indicating a specific time within the morning hours. As I recall my thoughts, I must have believed it would be more respectful to allow the leisure of joining me at his own pleasure. I should have been stern and set my own terms. Each time I heard the Library doors open, I would look to see if it was him entering.

Nevertheless, when he had arrived, I was not sure how to react. I watched him come toward me; his brown eyes never breaking the gaze he held on my own, and it appeared he was wearing his finest attire of gold, white, red and some strips of blue. It looked like the elegant robes of a king attending a coronation. His physical appearance was dashing to say the very least, but his petty attempts to catch my attention through a visual aesthetic was not going to work as he so planned. “Claudia,” he said, standing tall, his shoulders back, glaring as he looked down upon me.

“Mr. Vukan. Thank you for coming.”

“May we skip these silly introductions? Our friendship is well established from all that we have been through together. To pretend otherwise is an act of selfish immaturity, as you are fully aware.” His voice echoed within the stone walls of the Library. I noticed a few other students peer there head around the corners to look at the both of us. I was sure that most, if not all, could not understand what he and I were saying. Still, my face grew hot with embarrassment.

“Why must you raise your voice?” I asked, and sat down in the chair next to the window where I had been reading. “And to act as though I am not upset with your rhetoric regarding Miss Lindberg is quite childish, yourself. Now, if you will please sit down so we may have a civil discussion that cannot be heard by the whole of the known world.”

“Very well.” He slid a chair next to me, and sat down, adjusting the fancy attire to a more comfortable position. “What rhetoric do you speak of? What could I have possibly said to have made you so upset, that you would disappear into the dangerous fog as you did?”

“How could you forget such foul language?” I asked. “The hateful words meant only to degrade the young woman? Do you not recall that?”

“I recall foolish hysteria; your wandering off into the blinding mist, unprotected, almost slaughtered by that deranged bestial wolf. Honestly, I had come to expect sensible judgment from your innocent mind. But now, I am unsure of even your psychological state.”

“My psychological state?!” My voice had grown loud, but I did not allow it to echo through the chamber. How could he blame me for what happened? How could he be so short sighted to think that he did nothing wrong? I glared at him, and he stared back, as I said, “How dare you! How can you be so naive to think that my actions are the product of some girlish hysteria! Do you not remember the cancerous words flowing from your tongue that caused me to react as I did? Naming her vermin! Claiming we are unequal!” I broke the gaze I had upon him and took a deep breath to calm my nerves. I looked at the books on the shelves, reading the Latin names of ancient emperors embedded into the spine of each. “She is just as human as you are, Mr. Vukan, and it harms my soul to see that you are so convinced otherwise.”

“But we are, Claudia,” he began. I did not look at him as he spoke, knowing from the first few words I was not going to enjoy what he had to say. “We are the ones created by God to rule the lowly savages. If it were not so, he would not have given us this life of power and prestige. Surely, you must understand, hailing from a Noble House within the French realm, that you are superior to those beneath you. Your family and your homeland are not as virtuous as you would like to claim.”

I could not deny that he was right. I thought of the many slaves my family own, the ones working tirelessly in the gardens, in the kitchens, in the stables, in the fields. All while I relaxed within the warmth and safety of the chateau, wrapped in the most elegant clothing, dining upon the finest meals, spending my hours reading, and playing when I was a child. “You speak some truth,” I said. “And that is why, when I finish my studies, I will return to France, and upon my arrival, I will immediately set free every slave my family owns. With or without the consent of my father, they will be free men and women. When I am to be married to Henry Beauclerc, I will create legislation to banish slavery from both English and French lands. I will lead the way to prosperity for men and women of all status within western Europe. I may not have been virtuous in the past, but I can change the future.”

“And what if your 'husband' is to disapprove of such actions?”

I looked at him, staring into his brown eyes, his blank expression unmoved for several minutes, and I said, “You act as though I require approval.”

Mr. Vukan laughed quietly, menacingly, and glanced at the old books on the shelves covered in a layer of undisturbed dust. “You are playing quite the dangerous game. Your precious economies will succumb to failure with the banishment of slavery.”

“This is the life I have chosen to live.”

“And it seems you have forgotten who has saved your very life!” he shouted, his voice burst forth from his throat like a singer upon a stage. “Have you forgotten how I jumped between you and the wolf?! How I could have sacrificed my own life in service to yours?!” When the echoing died, the whole Library had become silent. No shuffling parchment, no books opening or closing, and no coughing or sniffing.

“I appreciate what you had done for me, your protection of me when my flesh was on the verge of destruction, and I am forever grateful. But despite all that you did for me, your act of heroism, I cannot allow such horrid words to be said without consequence. And so, I have decided to give you a choice: Either you can apologize to Miss Lindberg, and henceforth be a changed man of equality, forever denouncing the sin of pride and superiority, or, our friendship ends from this point forward. Which will you choose?”

He sat quietly for a few minutes, looking around to the books and parchment that I had left scattered about, and would occasionally glance at me. He took one long deep breath, and said, “I suppose I should take my leave, then.” He stood up and moved toward the walkway that led to the entrance of the Library. He gave one final glance at me, over his shoulder of white and gold elegance, and said, “Enjoy your life as the Englishman's whore.”

I could not look at him anymore, and so turned away and covered my face with my hands. I took several deep breaths to distress the anxiety that pounded within my heart, but it was not enough. My eyes swelled with tears, as they forced their way out from my eyelids. A few of them flowed down my cheeks, but I soon enough wiped them away. I gathered whatever I had placed on the table, and left the Library.

Now, here I sit, writing this entry, and questioning if what I have done was the right thing to do. I have lost someone who can speak my language, a student I went on adventures with and could talk to about the future of Europe and our roles within it. Perhaps this was a good thing. Perhaps I may add this to my growing list of bad decisions . . .

I am going to bed, even though the sun is still high in the sky.

 

Claudia Labelle

20th of December 1097

 

 

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Copyright © 2017 ― Zachary W Mahnke

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