Historical setting: 602 C.E. On the way to Chalôns
Each night of this week on the journey to Chalôns we stop in a town and the boys go to do a task for the baro. They take on the role of royal guardsmen and proclaim Baro Dithrum’s visit at any random house that appears to be important in each village in our path. They knock on a door and when someone answers they step to the side and announce, “The Baro Dithrum! Of Metz.” As the master of the house shows the baro to guest quarters Gabe and Greg come back to these public stables to spend the night in the hayloft. With the stable boys they brush down the horses and pass around the gossip while I look for an inn or a generous household that will sell a pot of porridge and a biscuit I can carry back for my boys to share.
The conversations of stable boys are sometimes about horses, and sometimes this chatter morphs to the topic of men who ride horses. Was the rider of this horse cruel or kindly? And when the stable boys notice a rider is cruel they learn something about the nature of hurt.
Gabe observes, “Those who feel the dearth of power and are most unsure of themselves are the ones who use the stiffer whip.”
Greg clarifies, “That would be Baro Dithrum.”
It seems a simple lesson about humankind or maybe human-unkind, that my boys learn things from the treatment of horses. Sometimes cruelty is a flimsy replacement for authority. It is what scholars and soldiers struggle in vain to understand because it would seem violence and cruelty would display power, not fear. But these who brush down the horses can see that violent lashings are really a sign of powerlessness.
There is, of course, lots of talk of violence in these gentle stables; maybe that’s due to the age of stable boys. This stage of nearly teen sees the awesome future of themselves replete with possibilities; yet dreams are haunted with the fearsome realities and responsibilities of adulthood. They glimpse power sourced in swords and arrows, and a hard kick to the ribs of a fast horse. They grieve for their babyhoods, yet, in secret they search the rumors of love for the most brutal side of sex.
Dear God, how do you still love humankind, when we so consistently repeat loathsome patterns of the power-thirsty generation after generation? I will await your answer.