Why did we not choose this moment to go away?

This morning’s internet brings this little essay about charlatanry. There have been con men as long as there have been men, I suppose; who, I wonder, was first to try sleight of hand, first to sell nothing as something one simply must have? Who was it? Was there a stone you could tuck into your basket in the hunting and gathering days to ensure it was never empty? A charm to ensure your arrows always struck true?

Or were those perhaps articles of faith, and the abuse of that faith came later?

All one needs in order for a liar to exist is a truth that is inconvenient, but at what point do civilizations start to see true con men emerge among them?

Oh, they’re not always bad, not all the time. Some of them can even be the heroes of the piece, in this world where we all grow up with vague mistrust of the Man and a general sense that a degree of cunning is required to get ahead. Sometimes even the overtly criminal type of con man is a little more Robin Hood and a little less scammer, as in the delightful “The Great Pretender,” where our core squad of confidence-folk go after other criminals, mainly. Other folk who have been so bad, and their comeuppances are so satisfying. We love them. We wish we were as smart, as witty, as charming.

Raw “The Magician” energy, I suppose. In its purest form, all fire and heady glee at the Great Work before it.

And yet we also know there is the other kind of charlatanry. The one that promises infinite wealth if only you yourself can be charming enough to convince others to buy in underneath you. The one that promises health and vitality if only you will buy that miracle cure. The one that promises a bright, secure future, one that looks a lot like your past if you squint, if only you will follow that flag, salute just so.

Why do we not choose that moment to go away?

I suppose some of us are going away, or at least trying to. We quit Facebook (as much as it is possible to quit something that would happily buy its way into tracking every minute of our lives, anyway). We stop watching the news or logging into Twitter. We host our own websites, like this one, in a manner that another of this morning’s reads likens to a modern extension of the sixties’ “dropping out.”

Dropping out, back then, was a way to preserve your inner life, protect it from all of the things that The Man was throwing at it. Certainly feels timely now, what with so many parts of our world engineered to devour our attention, keep you “engaged” as cheaply and easily as possible so that out there in a nebulous somewhere a line will go up and a shareholder will be pleased.

Of course, we also feel guilty, now, for not engaging. There is so much in the world that is so awful, and even if we can do little about most of it, one feels that, at a minimum, one should stay informed. Perhaps, after all, there may eventually BE some meaningful action we can take, one where the smallness of our selves will not matter as much as the greatness of our intent.

Still. There must be some sort of balance one can attain, wobbly though it might be.

It is weird to think of this little writing exercise as a form of resistance – as choosing a moment to go away – but perhaps in a way it is.

You meet in a tavern: One

It’s not as though she couldn’t stay away indefinitely. Out There.

Sometimes she fancies she could really do it, really retreat into the green and the wind and the water. The frost of the mountain. The warm damp earth and the scent of moss. No counsel to keep but her own. A satisfying thought.

And yet her boots keep finding their way back to the root-bound trail, keep following it until its tangles relax and smooth into fine packed earth, until the bracken gives way to fences and hedgerows and the trees shake themselves into orderly lines. The breeze tickles through them, catching up a scent so sweet and so golden and so rich one could almost imagine it pooling on the ground along with the afternoon light. Ripe for the picking, surely.

Beside her, the crunch of claws against earth, a familiar earthy tang cutting through the scent of the orchards. She does not need to look to reach down, raking slim fingers roughened by wire and bow-string through the silky fur between her friend’s ears. The dense red brush of his tail flicks against her trousers before he trots ahead of her, proud flag-bearer in their little procession of two.

Somewhere ahead, a horse whickers and stamps; a startled chicken scuttles out of the way. Someone whistles, tuneless and distracted but pleasant; the little path broadens in anticipation.

Maybe it’s just that I get tired of my own cooking.

She chuckles to herself, briefly startled by the sound. Or perhaps it’s that you’ve got to exercise your voice once in a while.

The hedgerow yields to a low stone wall at last, the tidy stacking of blue-gray-green slate that lines the yard of the Huntsman’s Table. Here the little earthen path crosses the broad, pale-gray ribbon of one of the Old Roads, neat interlocking slabs laid by armies of slaves or elemental magics or perhaps just wakened from a long dream in the earth, depending on who you talk to. Here the inn nestles easy and confident into a copse of trees old enough to have sheltered six generations before her, the deer-headed man on its brightly-painted sign inviting all to a spectacular feast at a great stone table surrounded by a circle of monoliths.

The circle is real. The villagers know it, and those with sense show it proper respect. She has walked it many times, breathing in its energy on those crystalline winter nights when the moon crafts the new year, setting it free into the world.

The deer-headed man is real, as well.

Though not so many know that.

Below the sign sits another, this one a larger slab of that gray-green slate. Someone has chalked on it, with more eagerness than elegance, “SPECIAL TONIGHT: Roast pig with gemfruit and greens!”

Her stomach growls a little at the thought. That golden smell. And sure enough, here it is again, drifting through the yard, a gilded flash darting through a spicy darkness that sets the hunter in her to prowling. Yes. All of it.

“You’re back!”

She knows that voice. Anne, the keeper’s daughter, lithe and lively and flaxen-haired, a neat white apron smoothed over her blue dress against the vagaries of the coming evening.

Her companion is quicker to respond than she is, leaping onto the wall with a gleeful bark as the new arrival laughs her own greeting. “And you too, Ren,” she adds, extending a hand as if to scratch behind his ears but not quite touching, not yet. “May I?”

The eagerness of the answering headbutt is all the permission she needs.

“So. Dinner, then?”

She nods, her voice still too rusted from disuse to chance – and Anne’s expression turns a little wry.

“And how will you be paying tonight?”

She smiles broadly in response, detaching a little leather bag from her belt, tugging at the cord until it falls open enough to fill the air between them with a desert-bright spiciness, watching Anne’s eyes widen in delight. Gold of another kind, coaxed from between the roots of the oldest pines on the mountain.

“Really?” She hefts the bag with a practiced hand, feeling the weight – then peers eagerly inside. “That’ll feed you for a week, if you want it! Come inside!”

As she passes under the sign she nods up at the deer-headed man. Freely offered, freely taken.

I pass the night in the realm of men.