A/N: This one-shot picks up where the movie "The Man of La Mancha" leaves off.
Wolf Among the Sheep
After it was lowered, Don Miguel de Cervanates climbed the straight staircase that led out of the holding area as he was bid, accompanied by his manservant. The large basket and costumes that had entered with him were left behind to the citizens of that dark place. The Captain of the Guard urged him to move on more quickly.
"Please sir, a condemned man must have his dignity until the end. It is all that separates him from an animal led to slaughter" Don Miguel said as he reached the top and stood next to the captain.
"You are not condemned...yet, but the day is not over. But even an animal can show spirit."
"Spirit, yes; the wild panic and fury of fear can be seen in many an animal. But God Himself created a man with a soul; and of that no animal can feign or boast. Lead on, for you must play your part as I must play mine." The poet stoically clutched his manuscript and looked the captain straight in the eye. Even with the captain's tall red hat topped with a huge plume, Cervanates seemed to be as tall as the giants of which he spoke in his play.
"Well spoken" the captain replied and ordered his soldiers both front and rear of the prisoners as he marched them back up the circular stairs that led to the surface. Beneath him, Cervanates could hear the grinding of chain and wheel as the movable staircase was retracted once again.
"From one prison to another" Cervanates noted out loud.
"Prison? Nonsense, we are taking you to court" the captain corrected.
"You misunderstand; below is the prison of stone, bar and dark. Above is the prison of mores, church and stifling of speech; both meant to confine and restrict. I only change the inmates with whom I am associated; it matters not whether their clothes are rags or fine linen. Or even if they wear a discarded feather as ornamentation."
The captain reddened slightly, but said nothing about his headwear; it was part of the uniform, and was certainly not what he would have chosen had he the ability to choose. Then he hid a slight smile; Cervanates' point drove most expertly home and he had to admire the skill in which it was done. He was beginning to like the man, despite his efforts to remain detached from those he escorted. The procession wound its way out of the underground entrance and through the courtyard of the hilltop...prison, as Cervanates called it. Temple, church, enclave, monastery; whatever you called it, the place was designed to keep the elite in and the population out. "A religious fortress, wouldn't you say Cervanates?" the captain asked, knowing that a worthy reply was in order.
He was not disappointed. "A fortress has no religion, nor does it force any upon those who may dwell within it. It asks no tithes from the stonemason, no vain worship from the birds that nest in its nooks and crannies, nor does it demand tax upon those that toil in the fields around it."
"You mock God."
"I do no such thing; I mock those who pretend their every word and action are His own. I am mortal and fallible, made that way and I see in every man that same fallibility that is mortality. You are fallible too, friend."
The captain fell back to walk beside Cervanates, allowing him to speak in a lowered tone. "I am too aware of my many shortcomings, but do not misunderstand; I have nothing against thee personally. Indeed, I find your words...refreshing, let us say."
"A brief breeze of truth can be refreshing, before it is once again overcome by the foul smell of dogma. Look upon me kindly when I am found guilty."
"Take heart, for if anyone can reason his way out of this court I pray it is you. Every herd must have a wolf run through its midst occasionally to keep the shepherds sharp."
Cervanates smiled and bowed his head slightly. The captain returned the smile and then quick stepped to the front of the column as he called out "Look lively, for we approach the court!" At the entrance the attending guards took up formation on either side, falling aside and allowing Cervanates and his manservant to enter with the captain. A quick passage through a short anteroom and they were in the main chamber, where a lone man in robes sat in a raised chair behind a desk. A low railing in front delineated the exalted from the common; the captain stopped in front, and his two charges followed suit.
The man looked up from a document he was reading. "Don Miguel de Cervanates?"
"Of the crime for being that man I am guilty, your Worship" Cervanates declared.
"Being you is not a crime, although I would consider it no great honor either" the man retorted. "We are both men of words; mine have been written since ages past, while yours are fresh and from your own hand. We are here to see if yours do not blaspheme mine. I have reports of what you have presented in your play, and with perhaps some small variation I do not believe you would question them. Despite what you may have heard, I am open to reason - perhaps more so than my fellow arbiters. Convince me that you did not blaspheme and you shall go with a warning; do not convince me and you shall be purified by fire or sword. Proceed."
"Your Grace, I do not know where to begin because in my mind there has been no blasphemy. That great crime can only be committed against God himself, an entity that I owe not only my existence to but also my talent, as meager as it may be."
"Your reputation has no record of you being humble."
"My talent is meager compared to all that my maker is capable of even if I tower above the abilities of my fellow men" Cervanates admitted. "But my abilities are not at question here; it is my intent that must be scrutinized."
"And what of your manservant?"
Cervanates' companion and helper gulped. "God granted me great strength and strong loyalty your Grace, but a weak tongue. I stand with my Lord."
"Very well. Proceed, Cervanates."
"Thank you, your Worship. Let me start with an example, if I may. If I were to take a piece of charcoal and sketch a drawing of my manservant, would that drawing be him?"
"If I drew hair on the upper lip of the drawing, would it appear on him as well?"
"Of course not."
"Right you are. For the drawing is not the man himself, but a poor representation of him. Anything I do to it has no bearing on the man; he might take offense that it is a poor likeness, but anything I do to it has no effect on him because it is not him. It only represents him, after a fashion."
"You have made your point, do not belabor it. What of it?"
"I am sorry, for it is clear in my mind and heart but my words may fail me. But my point is this; you cannot harm the real thing when you do something to the shadow of that thing. If I sing a song poorly, it does not change how well a choir may sing the same song in wonderful glory and magnificence. In fact, it might be argued that those forced to hear my singing would appreciate the proper performance even more."
"I have been told that it would be best if someone else sang in your place" the arbiter noted dryly.
"Wisdom indeed, but there it is; someone at any time may come along, shall come along with a better performance. And we are all better for it."
"Where are you leading?"
"To this: God is forever and infallible. Man is mortal and fallible. We were made in God's image, but we are not Him and we are not perfect for reasons we do not need to go into; suffice it to say we fall short of perfection."
"You need not defend mankind, but you have not given a defense of your actions yet."
"Let me ask your Grace this - whom did I insult?"
The arbiter paused for a moment. "I see now what you are trying to argue: By insulting the church and its High Servants, you have not insulted God. But you, sir, have insulted his representatives and institution."
"I have aimed my barbs to his representatives, but not the institution itself."
"A fortress has no religion; neither does it ask tithes from the stonemason, nor vain worship from the birds that nest in it" the captain interrupted as he spoke up. The arbiter gave a stern look at the captain, who shrunk back. "Sorry, your Grace."
"My warden speaks truly" Cervanates quickly continued. "I merely point out and ridicule the flaws of the ways of the representatives, not He whom they represent. Their roll is vital, but what is right and wrong varies from one authority to another. If God is unchanging, then the truth is so as well. I am not attempting to say why they seem almost whimsical and arbitrary in their decisions, but I know they are mortal and therefore fallible. Take for instance this manuscript" he said as he held up his precious book. "Its main character, Don Quixote, is so overcome with the troubles of the world that he descends into madness in an attempt to combat it. His intent is of the utmost purity, but in truth he almost a fool in deed. By bringing his created deeds to light, I inspire those around to see their own foibles and to become better for it. I do so with all the zeal and wit that I can muster, but I do so with a pure heart knowing that I would never blaspheme the Almighty."
"Just his representatives."
"Just the foibles of his representatives. I do not ridicule the person specifically, nor the institution. And if a person admits his fallibility as I do, as we both do" he said, including his manservant by pulling the man towards him "then I count it wisdom. Solomon wished it more than any other gift, and indeed it is far more precious than glib tongue or fat coin purse. That, your Grace, is my defense." Cervanates, who at this point was now leaning forward over the railing, straightened and stepped back into a posture of stoic resolve.
"You put me in a difficult spot" the arbiter said slowly. "One expects me to be wise by my position, but by your argument I am fallible as are all men. Any decision I make is binding, but also due to my position it need not be just or even sensible, also proving your point. My institution stands ready to purify you by fire; you, obviously would do better by avoiding such a fate. And yet we are told that iron sharpens iron, and I know of some who could use sharpening. Let me think." The arbiter closed his eyes.
Cervanates continued to stand, then quickly grew bored while waiting and looked around. Several beautiful colored windows along one wall allowed light to filter into the chamber; outside, he could still see guards lining the entryway. He was still working his gaze around the room when he heard an "Ah hmm" and turned forward again.
The arbiter was looking at him. "It is the decision of this court that, in this particular case, Don Miguel de Cervanates has not commited the crime of blasphemy. However, he is guilty of causing some in the church to look unfavorably at themselves and although that is no crime it will get you into much greater trouble if you continue. I do sentence you - to leave this area and do some great deed in the service of God."
"Great deed of service? What great service is that, may I ask?"
"Cervanates, you are a clever man - discover it for yourself. Captain, free the prisoner and his weak-tongued servant." The arbiter stood and promptly left through a side door, leaving the three alone in the chamber.
"Come along Wolf, there are herds to terrorize" the captain said as he led the two out. "Just make sure the shepherd you shake up is far from here, understood?"
A/N: Now this is what I call framing: This is a story about a movie about an author about a play. Yikes! But the movie tells the end of Cervantes' play, and after backing out one layer it left it hanging about what happened to the author. This story gets him out of that jam, at least for the moment.