Jerome's Retreat

 

The bitter wind howled through the valley, blowing thick broken banks of icy cloud across the mountain peaks as he tried to battle his way onwards. Perhaps this wasn't one of his better ideas. If mountains are the beginning and the end of all natural scenery, he had had quite enough of nature and longed for a decent bed next to a warming fire. It had been three days now since he had made the decision to leave the Marchlands and make his way to the Bright New City, following a notion that he may be of some use to Marco in his struggle with Seth and The Vandal. This notion had been fleeting and he now fervently wished he had ignored it. Yet the truth was he had needed to make some kind of move.

Jerome was once respected enough for people to know to keep their distance. He was not a politician or a preacher, never a fan of crude verbosity, he supported a holy simplicity, venerating thought and reason, and above all, creativity. He would question the nature of existence, of corporeality and the spirit. He was a craftsman and a thinker and couldn't abide the bluster and deception of the city, and let his thoughts on this be known on any occasion which presented itself. He had always believed in the search for a notion of objective truth, and this was not such a welcome pursuit in a den full of liars. He was a man with a great capacity for love and care, despite having a tremendous temper, yet now in his later years all this had mellowed. It wasn't the city itself he objected to - no, the city was a magnificent testament to ingenuity and resourcefulness; the great stone and steel edifices gave him great hope and inspiration - he had designed many of them himself of course, and the wanton, lunatic destruction which Ennio The Vandal was perpetrating on the city made his blood pressure soar. It didn't need to be stated, of course, that since he had left the standard of building had diminished significantly. They didn't understand the beauty in functionality, the inherent artistry of ergonomics. The great glass follies they were building now looked like alien spacecraft crash-landed in the city with no sympathy or relationship to their surroundings. They would make very spectacular ruins...very soon. When we build let us think that we build forever...

They had given him the job of guard on the western border, a nominal position as there were no threats to speak of either in, or likely to come from, the west since Marco had taken power. He knew full well they had sent him out there to get him out of their way, he was under no illusions, but he had acquiesced because it was hard to see it as anything other than a good ticket. He would take their job, which required no input whatsoever from him, they would pay him regularly and he was to be left to get on with his own pursuits without threat or disturbance. He was aware he was being manipulated, sidelined, but despite this it was very difficult to see a down side to this arrangement from his personal perspective. Of course with him gone there would be a change in the culture. It was the vile alliance of Marco and Seth The Scientist - back before they were at each other's throats - which had done for him. It wasn't Seth's fault to be fair - he had merely provided the means for Marco to do what he does best and turn a profit, but it was Jerome who suffered. There was no need for artistry or craftsmanship when objects could be endlessly reproduced, and they grew tired of his endless complaints about lack of quality or longevity. So off to the Marchlands he went and, lo and behold, back in the city novels became light reading, poetry all but disappeared and art and music degraded into - he could barely even think it - entertainment. The great mediums used to raise questions about society, culture and existence were reduced to being the means to avoid thinking about these very subjects. There was no doubting the genius of Marco. In one stroke he had created an economy and simultaneously stopped anyone questioning it. What chance did he have, and what choice for that matter?

Yet now Marco had cut him off. No job, no salary, no reason to be out here in the forsaken reaches of the west. He had some savings of course but they would only see him so far. More worrying was the fact of his redundancy in and of itself. Things must be bad for Marco indeed if he had resorted to cutting costs - this was only ever on the table in dire emergencies, and he couldn't help wondering if Gregor, his counterpart in the east, had also received his marching orders.

The way he saw it he had two options; the first was to somehow find Venn and hit the trail with him. It was never his kind of life but Venn had always been a good friend to him, and seemingly no one else, and despite the fact that he could never entirely be trusted he was good company and would see that Jerome had shelter and security. The only danger from being around Venn came from Venn himself, but Jerome knew he could survive and live an interesting life without having to go back to the city. The other option was to go back to Marco; back to the city. In his heart of hearts he knew this was what he had to do. Whatever Marco had done to him, or for him, positive or negative he knew he owed him. It was Marco who had allowed him to live in relative comfort and to pursue his interests without constraint. He still believed in Photeus of course - at least in theory, and all of Jerome's teaching told him that Photeus' ideas were the best pragmatically and morally. But theory wasn't reality and there was always a nagging question of how his system would work in practice, and what would it mean for him? Besides which Photeus had disappeared some time past, and no one knew where he could be found, and the same could be said for Clio The Diarist. Jerome didn't even know if she was still alive. Her presumed death had even been announced in the newspapers, along with an in depth biography and myriad reasons why we shouldn't be expecting her to appear again anytime soon. Without her advice and her invaluable written record it was ever more difficult to make informed decisions. The truth was that Marco had made the most people happy for the longest period of time in history, and now he needed some help. So it with some sense of trepidation that Jerome packed his most essential belongings, which were few, and his favourite painting - he thought maybe he could find some time to work on it while in the city - and started off towards the Bright New City.

The path was far from easy. The west was a fearful combination of marshland and mountains, both treacherous in their own way, but Jerome knew the landscape better than any. He had taken the time to study it in great detail. He knew all the pathways and clearings, every species of plant, insect and animal which inhabited these lands of which until recently he had been guardian. Every howl in the dark, every fluttering butterfly wing was as familiar to him as his own signature. Yet there was something more out there than nature now. He tried to avoid the eyes of Seth as much as possible, but they reached everywhere, even to these remote abandoned spaces. The news  of his relinquishment of his post and his consequent journey would surely spread, and to the wrong people no doubt.