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Tales of Virtue: Table of Contents
Stories taken from the official Ultima Ascension site
The storm blew in from the Eastern Sea, and when at midday it struck the coast, it paused, as though resting a moment before resuming its long journey. The mariners called it a mere squall, took in their sails a bit and pressed on to the next port.
But for those caught out on a journey on the king's highway, where the wind made the trees sway and crack, and the rain churned the ruts into tiny, treacherous swamps, there was no choice but to seek shelter. Three such travelers found themselves thrown together in a large, open building, where at times the local farmers would gather their cattle to be driven to market in the city. Today there were no cattle, just three soaked strangers.
The first, a portly man of middle years, was a merchant going to the city to buy goods. The second was a soldier, a young woman returning to her company after a short visit with her family. The third was a man somewhat younger than the first, and he did not speak of his errand. The three built a fire, and shared their provisions, and settled in to wait out the storm.
To pass the time of day, the merchant and the soldier fell into conversation with one another, while the third seemed content to listen to the sound of the rain pelting the roof. The two speakers soon fell into philosophical disputation, since they had quickly exhausted any meaningful topics. In due time, the subject turned to the Virtues, those eight guides to conduct which, it is said, lie at the heart of the society and the government of the land.
The young woman, who seemed happiest with the negative side of any question, said, "What are these Virtues, anyway? I'll tell you, they're a lie told by the powerful to keep the humble happy in their service. When did a rich man or a noble ever bother to follow the Virtues they so solemnly preach? One is honest because they hang caught thieves. One does one's duty because deserters are beaten. That's what Virtue is."
"What a sad view," the merchant replied. "We may as well be dogs, who are taught to stay out of the kitchen with cuffs and yells. No, my young friend, the Virtues exist to ennoble us and make us fully human. They are the distillation of those high impulses which allow us to progress as a people, and their very existence betters us."
Then the third man stirred himself, and for the first time joined the discussion. "Excuse me, but this topic is of great interest to me. And I'm afraid I find little understanding of the Virtues in either of you."
The soldier grinned mischievously, and said, "Well then, pray pour the light of your pure understanding on our sadly darkened souls." And the merchant added, "Yes, please, share your view."
"As for you, Miss," the stranger began, "you say the Virtues serve to keep the humble weak, but I say they exist to make the weak strong, and the poor but Virtuous man can look unafraid into the face of Lord British himself. As for the rulers of the land, I know something of what has been sacrificed in the pursuit of Virtue, and it is no small cost.
"And to you, Sir, I say that your conception is more fair, but it falls short. Your Virtues are as airy and pleasant as a scrap of a tune borne on a summer wind, and they are no more substantial. You savor the aroma, but do not touch the meat.
"Here then is my concept of the Virtues. They are a guide for daily life, and their application strengthens our resolve and calms our doubts. They are a map, if you will, for living, and a map has no use if it is not followed to some destination."
"You speak with all the solemn certainty of my old Granny," the soldier said, "but where are the teeth in your words? If these old ideas have the power to make a king out of a peasant, show us how the miraculous transformation is accomplished."
"Indeed," said the merchant. "You call my concepts airy, but where is the substance to your own? How do the Virtues apply in the simple equations of daily survival?"
"Your questions are fair," the stranger said, "but with your permission I will answer indirectly, for I am minded of a tale or two that reveal my beliefs far better than any argument I could construct."
The other two willing agreed to listen to his tales, for they had begun to weary of argument, and were willing to let another bear the burden of speech for awhile. So the stranger detached a wine skin from his pack, and took a good long drink. Then he passed it around, and as he did so he began to speak.