One More Tale of the God Emperor
Most men go through life unchallenged, except at the final moment. —Frank Herbert, from God Emperor of Dune
Caution is the path to mediocrity. Gliding, passionless mediocrity is all that most people think they can achieve. —Herbert again, in the same book
In all of my universe I have seen no law of nature, unchanging and inexorable. This universe presents only changing relationships which are sometimes seen as laws by short-lived awareness. These fleshy sensoria which we call self are ephemera withering in the blaze of infinity, fleetingly aware of temporary conditions which confine our activities and change as our activities change. If you must label the absolute, use its proper name: Temporary. —the same
Dear me, I believe I am becoming a god. An Emperor ought at least to die on his feet. —attributed to the Roman Emperor Vespasian, on his deathbed
It used to be, when I was living at a Burmese temple in California, not long before I relinquished the robes and moved here to South Carolina, that I would do walking meditation outside under a large pavilion at night. Sometimes strange artistic inspirations would arise as I walked back and forth in the dark, and a few of those artistic inspirations were based on a mythical God Emperor. (This was partly due to reading Evola’s ideas on such a superman, and also partly due to reading about an actual God Emperor in The Book of the New Sun, by Gene Wolfe.) I’ve already written and posted two such stories, but had a third one also which I’ve occasionally been intending to post here; and here it is, finally. As with the others, it would probably be better told as a poem, but I am not good at poetry. I may not be good with fiction either, but oh well.
Once upon a time, a long time ago, there was a God Emperor who ruled a great empire. The God Emperor, unlike many lesser kings, had the humility to deny that he was really a god; rather, he admitted to being a man much like any other man, but for reasons of their own some of the gods had granted him certain powers, one of them being the power of healing. Any illness or injury could be healed instantaneously by the God Emperor’s touch and a brief blessing, mouthed or at least thought by him. The only healing he could not or would not do was to replace missing parts: a missing hand or tooth could not be restored unless at least part of the tooth, and at least part of all of the bones of the hand, were still intact. He could even restore a hand cut off on the battlefield—even a head if the spirit had not yet fled and the body grown cold. But if the spirit had fled and the body grown cold, the God Emperor refused to restore the body to life. He said the god of the underworld would greatly resent being robbed of spirits already consecrated to him, and so they should not be called back; but there were other reasons, as the following case will testify.
On one occasion a slain soldier lay among the wounded. He had died of his wounds while waiting for the God Emperor to have time during the battle to heal wounded soldiers. This was not noticed by the attendants: the body was bereft of an animating spirit, it had already moved on to the next world. So the God Emperor, hurriedly pacing down the line of wounded men, blessing and healing one after the other, lay his hand on the dead man’s head and blessed it…and a moment later the healed soldier leaped to his feet, roaring and raving in an unknown tongue, flinging his arms about and gnashing his teeth with wild, alien eyes. The God Emperor immediately ordered the revived soldier to be killed; later he explained that malevolent spirits lurk in this world, searching for some doorway to entering this realm in a physical body, and that more than the usual number of these follow armies and haunt battlefields. The dead soldier’s body, returned to life and health but without an inhabiting spirit, was immediately occupied by one of these spirits. The God Emperor sternly warned the army doctors never to let such an event happen again, saying that if a much more powerful spirit than the recent culprit were to enter a revived dead man real havoc could arise. The men of the army who stood by were, every one of them, white-faced and wide-eyed after seeing the raving corpse, and seeing that the God Emperor himself was visibly shaken.
During times of war the God Emperor would lead his armies and heal the wounded soldiers, and sometimes unfortunate civilian casualties, but during times of peace (and only the most brutal barbarians were foolish enough to wage war against the God Emperor’s armies) he healed at least seven hundred citizens every morning. Most of these were lame, blind, deaf, or suffering from some other congenital disease or chronic illness. If there were few with serious illnesses or deformities he would bless the health of children and babies. The attendant doctors who would screen and select the morning’s seven hundred were instructed that if there were any very unusual cases, they should be shown to the God Emperor privately.
One day, after years of healing the sick and wounded and blessing the health of his people, the doctors informed the God Emperor that there was a very unusual case that he should see; and after healing the rest of the seven hundred he was led into an examination room. There he found two teenage girls joined at the waist: from the waist up there were two pale, unfortunate, beautiful girls, but they shared the same pelvis and legs, and probably some internal organs besides. The girls’ mother was also sitting with them in a much greater state of agitation than the two unfortunate twins. She was so agitated because her heart was filled with a combination of hope and fear—hope that her girls would soon be well and happy like other girls, and fear that the God Emperor would not be able, or willing, to try such an extreme case. Besides, for a common, humble, and very unfortunate woman to be in the presence of such an Emperor was awe-inspiring to the point of borderline terror.
The God Emperor had separated conjoined twins before, but never a case like this. He did not know what would happen, as he could not create lost parts, and these two girls were one from the waist down. He gravely suspected that one of the girls would have to die so that the other could become normal and whole.
So he told the girls and their mother about his concerns, saying he had never healed such a case, and saying that he was concerned that one of the girls could die. He could see that they had suffered much, and that they were made thoroughly humble and very sweet, even saintly, by enduring their great troubles. The mother stated through her tears that the father had left them upon seeing them at birth (the birth of which almost killed the mother), and that nobody would befriend them, considering them to be monstrosities cursed by the gods. They lived as outcastes in a small hut granted them by a few compassionate townspeople, including the local priest, who also gave them food and second-hand clothes—yet even the compassionate, generous ones were afraid to come near the girls or look directly at them, let alone touch them.
The God Emperor, not wanting to kill either of these meek, submissive, very unfortunate girls, offered as a substitute for the unknown effects of the blessing a very nice house in the country, with a generous allowance so they could live their lives in peace and plenty. But the girls, silent until this point, began begging the God Emperor to heal them, because each was willing to die so that her dear sister could live like a normal and happy person, to know the love of a husband and a child, to have friends, and to walk down a city street without eliciting reactions of fear and loathing. The mother remained silent, not wanting to sentence one of her girls to death, yet clearly wanting their plight to be better than the state of a two-headed monstrosity.
With the normally quiet and extremely humble girls passionately entreating him to bless them no matter the consequences to one of them, the God Emperor saw the reason of their entreaties. Surely two young women who had spent every moment of their life together, and who shared the same misery and misfortune, knew too well that death for one and normality for the other would be infinitely preferable to a life of comfort and solitude with a body so deformed that no one could love them other than their mother and each other. Also, the girls were so similar, almost identical, that for one of them to die was not so frightening, as their sister was practically the same as them, and so they would continue to live, in a sense. Each was more afraid of her sister’s death than her own.
So after explaining the risk again to them, and asking them to think carefully about their answer, he asked them, “Are you sure you wish me to do this?” All three, the twins and the mother, said “Yes,” though with fearful, trembling, barely audible voices. Then the God Emperor laid his hand upon them and blessed them: “May you be well.”
The result was more amazing to the God Emperor than to anyone else. The two girls, silent and afraid, merged together before his eyes! The single remaining girl stared at him with wide, bright eyes, then down at herself, then at her astonished, weeping mother, and then back at the God Emperor again. The Emperor could see that her spirit was much brighter now than before: twice as bright in fact. One had not died, they simply merged into one. The remaining girl, the combination of the two sisters, sat quietly, with mouth and eyes wide, looking down at herself more and more, and slowly, timidly reaching down with her two perfectly formed hands and lightly running them over the perfect, healthy symmetry of her single form. All the years of suffering and humiliation had almost totally evaporated, giving way to wonder, open-hearted joy, and gratitude. She soon fell at the God Emperor’s feet weeping and stammering out her thanks and blessings to him, and her mother quickly joined her, weeping tears of joy and awe.
The God Emperor was so relieved and happy with the successful blessing that he granted the bright-spirited girl and her mother a very comfortable house in the countryside and a very generous allowance so they could live in ease and happiness. He occasionally visited them too, and invited them to the Imperial residence often. Both twins had had lovely faces, though marked with years of suffering, but now the beauty of the twin-spirited girl shown like the sun, with the intensity of the combined spirit and the near-saintliness developed through steadfast endurance of terrible misfortunes. The Emperor gradually fell in love with the young woman, who went by a combination of her two former names; and in two years he married her. And they lived happily ever after—though that of course involves a fair amount of trouble and sorrow, but trouble and sorrow that are clearly worth it all. The End.
It would be nice if there were magical and benevolent God Emperors in this world, at least one, but I suppose such a phenomenon would be so liminal that it would throw the stability of this world into a fair amount of chaos, allowing wrathful spirits, malevolent sorcerers, and so on to live here too, and negate most or all of the blessings bestowed by such a man chosen by the gods. It all has to balance out in the long run.