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Thursday, October 4, 2007
Chapter 7: Wickedness in High Places

At Council Hall

For some weeks after the reported ingress of "pagans" into Vilka's sacred environs, at which the Philosopher Prince and his friend the Vicar privately rolled their eyes on more than one occasion, both these august leaders devoted some time and effort to encouraging a welcoming attitude among the people of Vilka. Most of the people seemed content, even eager, to reach out to the newcomer -- and, as matters developed, to several members of his immediate and extended family, who soon arrived. A relative few especially pious Vilkans watched and waited, mostly quietly, for the coming of one or more Old Testament plagues, either upon Vilka at large or upon the Prince and the Vicar personally.

No plagues came. Nor, for her part, did the president of the Ladies' Auxiliary resign her post in protest. Instead, she seemed to prefer donning a particularly sour countenance whenever the Vicar was in the same room as she, and speaking to him only when spoken to, and then only in monosyllables. If she murmured to others in her dissatisfaction, or perhaps even prayed for woes to be visited upon the Vicar and the Prince, for Vilka's sake, neither ever heard of it.

Some weeks later, the Vicar made a rare appearance at the hall where the Council of Several was holding its regular evening meeting. Proud as Vilkans were of having an elected Prince and an elected Council of Several, they were equally proud of the commodious Council Hall, with its many, relatively comfortable chairs. These happy accommodations clearly signified that the people of Vilka were welcome to be present when their leaders transacted public business.

Vilkans were likewise proud of their Interval for Public Expression -- the acronym IPE was gaining currency -- a period in each Council meeting during which they were welcome to address the Council briefly on any subject they wished, without prior approval or appointment. The Vicar hoped on this occasion to use the IPE publicly to thank the Council and the Prince for their cooperation, for they had allowed Church volunteers to build a small temple for the newcomers' worship in a secluded corner of an unused plot of City property.

When the Vicar entered the Council Hall, he saw immediately that every chair was occupied. Dozens of Vilkans lined the rear and side walls of the Hall; the Vicar joined them, nodding to some nearby whom he recognized. He watched for a moment, hoping to see or hear some explanation for the crowd's attendance and for their restless energy. The meeting had not yet begun, but the Prince, who would call the meeting to order, seemed on the verge of stepping to the podium.


The Vicar turned to a nondescript man standing near him. "Good sir," he inquired, "do you know the cause of this large crowd? Has a sudden wave of enthusiasm for the processes of government washed over Vilka?"

"No, indeed, Vicar," replied the man. "My neighbors and I are here to protest."

"To protest what, pray?" wondered the Vicar.

"To protest sneaky and deceptive actions on the Council's and the Prince's parts, which threaten to damage a fair portion of our beautiful city."

"'Sneaky and deceptive'? I am shocked," the Vicar said, with gentle irony his interlocutor did not detect. "Of what good do they conspire to deprive us?"

The man did not answer, but pointed instead to the podium, where the Prince was opening his mouth to call the evening's meeting to order.

"People of Vilka," he called, but only a few heard. Some of these began urging those around them to be quiet and attentive.

"People of Vilka," he called again. This time, nearly everyone heard him. Only three or four Vilkans continued their loud, animated conversations, and these were soon urged to silence.

Breaking the Silence

"People of Vilka, welcome," said the Prince. "We begin tonight's meeting of the Council of Several in the usual fashion, with a one-minute interval of silence, so that each of us, according to his desires and belief, may invoke heaven's blessing on our meeting and our excellent city, and express gratitude for the bounties we enjoy. Shall we begin?" He bowed his head slightly.

Five seconds had not passed before an aging woman stood in the second row and said loudly, "Prince, we are here to complain about your secret plan to divert the creek from which my neighbors and I get the water for our households, our gardens, and our crops. We saw men with shovels working on it this very afternoon, and --"

"Madam," said the Prince, almost whispering, "this is our opening moment of silence."

Seconds passed, then the woman continued. "I will not be silent! My neighbors and I will not quietly endure wickedness in high places!"

This time, the Vicar thought he detected anger in the Prince's tone. "Madam," said the Prince firmly, "the Interval for Public Expression will follow the time-honored formalities, of which a moment of silence is the first."

The woman opened her mouth to protest again, but stopped abruptly, as a large, bearded man in the row behind her gently placed his massive hand on her shoulder. The minute of silence proceeded without further interruption.

"Thank you," intoned the Prince, and ignored the lady in the second row, who immediately raised her hand. "We introduce tonight three welcome vis --"

"Prince," the lady demanded. "We have had your moment of silence. Now I and my neighbors will be heard."

"Madam," said the Prince, "I will accord you the honor of the first expression at the proper time, if you will permit us to proceed without interruption until then. Or, if you continue to disrupt this meeting, I will invite the Constable to escort you from the Council Hall."

The massive hand appeared on her shoulder again, and she fell silent.

The Interval for Public Expression

Some twenty minutes later the Prince announced the opening of the Interval for Public Expression, inviting her to state her name and then describe her complaint.

"Very well," she said, and visibly composed herself for oratory. "I am Mrs. U. R. Vurmon, and I have lived in this community for some 41 years, ever since my husband, Mr. U. R. Vurmon, may he rest in peace, married me and brought me here to the humble cottage he had built for us with his own hands. For these many years we have fetched water for our household from East Creek, and have watered our gardens and crops from it as well.

"I visited a dear friend last week," she continued, "in the town of Lozhka, which, as your own maps attest, borders on Vilka to the east. There I happened to overhear a detailed discussion between two men, on the subject of the imminent diversion of the East River from its normal, God-given course, to serve farms in Lozhka. I was horrified! I was aghast! I was scandalized! I interrogated these men and learned not only that one was some sort of town engineer in Lozhka and the other a specialist in irrigation -- no, no, I learned more than that!" Here she waved an unnaturally long and skinny finger in the Prince's general direction. "I learned that workmen are beginning the project this very week!

"I hurried home, determined not only to learn from my neighbors along the creek whether they had heard of this travesty, but also to alert them to the imminent peril to all that we hold dear. I was able to determine that not a single one of them had heard of this terrible thing. I am forced to conclude that our elected leaders, in whom we have vouchsafed our infinite trust, have hidden this thing from us, have done it in secret, hoping we would not learn of it until it was too late. I can only imagine for what favors this perfidy has been exchanged.

"Be it known to all of you that I, Mrs. U. R. Vurmon, widow of the late, estimable Mr. U. R. Vurmon, have sworn a solemn oath that this treachery shall not stand! This very day, I saw two men with shovels on the other side of the creek from my home. With the help of my faithful neighbor, Barry Biggs, this large bearded fellow who sits behind me this evening, who has come to my aid in many crises over the years, despite having no will or personality of his own since a terrible hunting accident in his youth -- with his help I summoned the children of our neighborhood, and we pelted the two shovel-bearing villains with rocks until they beat a cowardly retreat.

"You, Prince, and your minions, the Council of Several, are cowards and traitors for concealing this from us. We will oppose you and your demonic project to the last breath!"

Mrs. Vurmon took her seat, to scattered applause and cries of "hear, hear!" No less than 23 equally vitriolic public expressions followed on the same topic, by the Council Recorder's official count.

Finally, the Prince, having been called 24 kinds of villain in the space of an hour, seized upon a brief interval of silence to inquire, "Does anyone else wish to be heard?" The Vicar himself had long since elected to reserve his expression for another day, so another brief silence followed, after which the Prince closed the IPE and invited his accusers to remain long enough to hear some discussion of the matter by Vilka's Chief Engineer. They looked at each other for a moment, and some of them nodded. All remained, and a general air of anticipation reigned.

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