Friday, January 23, 2009

The Free and Good Life of Milo Greenbottle (by Post Festum)

Not being a dull halfling, Tilo has made note of late of the peculiar predilection of his compatriots to stand stout as oaks in battle, but to sneak off into the night aping little innocent goats whenever the opportunity for sex presented itself. To be sure, he did not begrudge his compatriots their desires which are seemingly induced by the lateness of the day. But still, as one by one his battle-tested friends have succumbed to the presence of even the slightest erotic temptation, Tilo cannot help but frown a very modest disapproval.

But his slight chagrin at his friends behavior is tempered by his recognition of his own prejudice. This sort of self-analysis seems to be happening more and more in recent days as Tilo has found his Intelligence to have increased noticeably of late. He is biased, to be sure, when it comes to the matters of the heart and body, and he knows it. And as he has done many times before, Tilo turns to the Portia Halfling to write down the heart of the matter. What follows is a short excerpt from his entry entitled: "The Free and Good Life of Milo Greenbottle" written late in the evenings during the party's first nights in Thanatos.

Milo Greenbottle was the first-born halfing twin of Guppa and Cora of the Greenbottle clan of Southwaite, formerly of the Bucket Halfing Train. Milo was, by all accounts, a philosopher and lover of life, old well beyond his years. He was also a romantic, who believed that true love would only be known by those who willingly and completely gave themselves over it. Above all, Milo believed in the halfing idea of The Good Life - that there exists an objective answer to the question - How best to live one's life? - that applied universally to all intelligent creatures, no matter the species, as long as they were of good or neutral alignment.

Milo had many friends and a great many more who wanted to be his friend. In light of his naturally persuasive and amiable way, Milo was able to talk openly to his friends about his views on love, life, and real happiness without sounding the least bit silly or sanctimonious (not an easy feat to accomplish, believe me). From the time he was old enough to think clearly, Milo set about finding answers in life and, talking to anyone friendly soul who would care to listen. And while very few were ever persuaded by Milo's own romantic views, almost without exception they liked him even more than they did before, for Milo had an inexplicable way of simply making other people happy with his presence. Consequently he wrote and performed many songs and composed and recited many poems for a growing public following.

According to Milo Greenbottle, being free and happy amount to doing what one wants out of life. To deny yourself an action or accomplishment, a conversation or an adventure, out of fear or concern was to shackle oneself in a most unfortunate way. "Intelligent life forms, and halflings in particular, are each born free. But everywhere they enslave themselves," Milo would often pronounce. "The halfing idea of the splendis dior" -- the good life -- "can only be won by forever overcoming any self-imposed barrier to achievement and the satisfaction of desire. The monks, it is widely known, seek the abolition of desire. But who could ever call any monk both free and happy? No, aching lack and burn of desire is to be overcome, but by following a path of satiety, not abolition which would have us be more dead than alive."

By his writings and humble speaking fees, Milo made a considerable living for himself in Southwaite. By age 21, an incredibly young age for halfings, barely considered older than a child, Milo Greenbottle had his name listed in the town's Registry of the Wise by popular acclaim, earning him a token position on the Southwaite Business Council. As his reputation for insight and wisdom grew, Milo's songs and common-language novels became increasingly must-haves in the wealthy and intelligent circles of Southwaite. And as his fame and fortune expanded, he was publicly questioned to expand his insights about the full satisfaction of desire, freedom, and happiness.

For example, on one occasion, the Natural Philosopher's Guild of Southwaite invited Milo to answer questions put to him by Headmaster Axel of The Marshall School. Milo took the stage alone, in the shiniest of silk pantaloons and blouse colored red and white respectively, and elaborated thusly:

"But surely you cannot be claiming that happiness and caprice are the same thing," asked Axel, "For to conflate freedom with foolishly doing what you want, and happiness with a life lead following freedom of this sort, is to equate the highest of virtues with the lowliest pile of garbage." He continued to stand at his podium from the floor of the auditorium, leaving Milo to sit alone onstage and deliver his answer.

"Freedom is doing what you want, this thesis I will defend," responded Milo slowly and deliberately. He looked over the audience as a whole as he continued. "But those of you who have never sang my songs in a tavern amongst comrades, or who have never read my treatises but who have rather scoffed at them for their 'popularity', will no doubt have missed my repeated explanation that what we truly and most deeply want is love."

"Let me explain with a parable of sorts," continued Milo with a mesmerizing, almost sing-song delivery. "Imagine if the world and our lives in it were one incredibly complex game being played out by player-gods. Imagine further that their is one god above all the others who is responsible for crafting our world and for creating the playground for the other, lesser divinities. Each lesser god is in control of one small piece of our world, but the greater master divinity is left to oversee and to maintain the joviality of the game."

"If you can imagine such a possibility, then imagine one more wrinkle. Imagine that the great master god creates scripts or stories into which our individuals lives and fortunes are fit and our decisions channeled. Our every adventure, down to the most banal detail, handcrafted and set in stone or sluice, whatever metaphor you prefer. Our every choice, chosen for us, excepting all but the smallest detail. Would this...could this be a world of freedom for creatures such as you and me? My answer is an eternally resounding 'No' and I challenge anyone to speak against it. To those who feel that a world in which our lives are games taken out of our control, must assuredly agree with me that being free means being able to do what you want, not what the great master in the sky plans."

Axel approached his podium. "Fine. Freedom is doing what you want. But what of happiness? Why would we think that freedom so conceived will yield the splendis dior - as your folk are want to call it? Whither the link between freedom and real happiness? Do enlighten us, young sir. And, if you would, do not content yourself to simply chide myself and learned colleagues for not having sufficiently digested your writings. But tell us plainly: Why does doing what you want guarantee you will be happy?"

"Because when we are truly free we will always seek to choose that which we love," answered Milo flatly. "You wise men of Southwaite mock me when you call me learned or astute. The only truth I can share with you that has the full confidence of my intellect is that intelligent creatures always knowing choose what they love. No doubt this love can take a variety of forms - from the love of destroying orcs or the unfortunate undead, to the love of a mother for her child, but in all cases when the results of their choices are made clear to them, creatures such as you and me choose love."

Milo stood and held out his arms in an open embrace of the crowd, his philosophical sermon coming to a close. "Freedom to do what you want, as I have taught, emphasizes the wanting over the doing, and rightly so. Imagine once again our world is a game played by divinities. But, whereas before the great master god controlled our fortunes and the twists and turns of our lives, now the lesser gods choose to inhabit our individual lives, getting to truly know us, our quirks, perversions and deep hopes. Now when they act and when they choose, these lesser gods choose only from our point of view. So that when we act their exists a parallel, pre-established harmony between what we would choose if we were in control and what we do in fact choose. Under such a scenario we are just as good as free. And I for one would be happy to embrace this parable if it turned out to be the truth of the universe, for if they truly know us, then the lesser gods would have no choice but to move us closer and closer to that which we love. What we call the good or happy life is just another name for this motion."

The deep irony of Milo's speech that night, unknown at the time to all but his closet of kin, was that Milo had lived this philosophy of freedom-as-satiety and love. And it proved to be his undoing. For Milo's life-long love had been Caistina Housewell who became through marriage the Lady Caistina, wife of the Lord of the Ham. The love story of Caistina and Milo unfolded time and time again from their earliest romantic years. And yet, given the distance that class and family had placed between them from the start, neither could ever find a way to be totally and completely for the other at the same time. And yet, true to his creed, Milo would never let go of Caistina, even after she became the wife of another halfling. Secret indiscretion followed upon secret indiscretion, and the affairs of Milo and Caistina rose to the level of public scandal on more than one occasion, with accusations of false paternity and criminal cuckolding splashed across the town's weekly gossip leaflets. And still Milo would not give up his love for Caistina.

It came as a great shock to Milo's parents, but to hardly anyone else, when his bloated body washed against the docks very early one morning during his 22nd year. And the Lady Caistina stayed out of public view for nearly six months until the failure of the local magistrate to discover the cause of his untimely death was all but forgotten.

Tilo concluded the entry at this point, leaving the moral of his own retelling unstated, but, he hoped, obvious. Freedom and happiness cannot be just about doing what you want when what you want is what you love, Tilo thought. Happiness and freedom are more about learning to love what you have and get. This is a deep wisdom that he made a mental note to explore in more detail later.

But for now he was content in his thought that where Milo had cut his own life short in his failure to recognize that to some love is given, but to others a different destiny awaits, he himself would never make such a mistake. Even if there was the great game in the sky that spun out our world like a long, epic poem or song, wouldn't that be in many ways preferable to the meaningless pain, sorrow, suffering and death that surrounds all those Tilo knows? No amount of making your own choices would remove this stain of meaninglessness. What good is the ability to do anything if no thing more than any other thing is exceptional, curious, begs close exploration or investigation, or is, in short, worth doing? "No, if we must be the playthings of gods, give me a true great master story-teller god," Tilo said to himself as he gently dried the ink of his latest entry. "If their tales be finely crafted enough, filled with opportunities to find excitement, intrigue, and to make yourself a hero and to show your mettle, then I prefer a divine story to infinite choices."

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