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Reflections on Mortality | Chapel, Wednesday Jan 5th (CD)- Xmas 1677

Charles Audley

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The chapel was perhaps the last place anyone would think to look for Charles, and so it was there he had come in his desire for solitude. No one bothered a man who seemed bent in prayer, after all. He was in a queer mood, not that that was any great mystery. It was the fifth of January in the year of Our Lord 1678, and that meant it was three years to the day since he had lost his eye.

It had been a splinter that had done it. He had been irrationally angry, he recalled with rueful amusement, that it not been a blade or a ball that had torn away his left eye, but a splinter knocked loose from a tree. The sheer undignified unlikelihood of it all had been maddening.

Looking back, Charles wondered if the rage had not been a distraction from how close he had been to death.

He had often considered the inevitability of his own demise, and found nothing to fear there. Life was indescribably fragile, and existence too random for there to be any grand plan behind it all, so why run from it? Everyone died, but it seemed to Charles that not everyone lived. He had determined that he would, and in some grand cosmic joke, embracing that philosophy had seemed to make him invincible. Shot, steel, illness, none of it had made a mark on him. Until Turckheim. Hedonistic nihilism was all very well, but perhaps straying so close to the cold border of death took some of the lustre from it. It certainly added something to the hitherto lifelessly (ha!) intellectual consideration.

But that is not quite it, either, is it?

It was not. Even now, Charles would not say that he feared death. But he did fear old age, the looming threat of decrepitude, of being rendered a prisoner of his own body, and beyond even that, of being betrayed at the last by his own mind. He had seen what that looked like, and the images still disturbed his sleep upon occasion. Deep down, in his darkest moments, Charles sometimes wondered if his rage after Turckheim at been at being deprived of a chance to escape all that.

How much longer do I have? he thought morbidly. Until the veins in my nose crack, until back and shoulders bend and fail, until jowls and waist thicken sickeningly, and my hair turns grey and my eye clouded and bloodshot, until I no longer know who I am? Familiar questions brought a familiar response, an angry fire building deep in him, demanding that he silence such voices with hard liquor and soft flesh, or the mad thrill that came from wagering one's life and winning. But Charles mastered the impulse.

For since becoming Earl, he had been reflecting on a new question.

When I die, what shall I leave behind?

At present the answer was essentially nothing. He would pass from the world and leave not a single trace that he had ever existed, beyond a host of lives cut short and a handful that would never know that they owed their beginnings to him. It was not, he had decided, an acceptable answer.

He looked up and smiled with grim satisfaction.

All that remains, then, is to change it.

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