A great philosopher—well, not really, it was just Neal, but he liked to style himself as such—once told him that all mortals were inherently evil. They were riddled with flaws, each born with the capacity to murder and rape and steal. For most people, they were able to smother those impulses but never could complete banish them, and so the potential for evil was always there.
Old Fanche had beaten Neal severely with her ladle and said sharply, “That kind of talk isn’t for a lad’s ears, you drawling whelp.” But it had set Tobe to thinking.
Was that what children were learning in those schools, that humans were inherently evil—or at least that they carried the possibility for it? Did those fancy books they had to read really preach about all this silly slop? How many “great philosophers” believed this, and wrote it, so that future generations could grow up on it? Tobe didn’t know the answer (Neal liked to make stuff up and play Uusoae’s advocate, so this could all have been made up anyhow), but this was one time he was glad he wasn’t an educated boy.
He didn’t like to think he’d be learning a pot full of lies.
“I sure feel sorry for you, m’lord,” he had said honestly. “I don’t think I could live with myself if my head was filled with that horse shit.”
Neal blinked, staring dumbly at him, for once stricken silent. Fanche squawked and turned the ladle on him, but Tobe was quicker and ducked out of the way.
“I know milady doesn’t let you use that kind of language,” she scolded. “So don’t use it ‘round me, neither.”
“Well, it is,” he said crossly. “That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard.”
“How’s it dumb?” Neal demanded, hands on his hips. “The science of philosophy is hardly—”
“Philosophy ain’t a science,” he scoffed. “It’s just an excuse for cranky old men to sit around and argue about morals.”
“Are you saying you believe people are inherently good?”
“I ain’t sayin’ one—”
“If milady heard that, she’d have a fit.”
He scowled at Fanche and began again. “I’m not saying one way or the other, but I’m saying I don’t think everyone is ‘riddled with flaws,’ or whatever it was you were spouting.”
“So what’s your excuse for people like Blayce?” Neal asked, eyes flashing passionately. “Or Stenmun, the Rittevons, Emperor Ozorne, Maggur, Duke Roger, Joren of Stone Mountain, not to mention every common rapist and murderer and thief and wife-beater and child-kidnapper? Can you explain them?”
“Well, what about Lady Yukimi,” Tobe had retorted. He didn’t have the faintest idea who any of them picklers were and he didn’t give a damn—he was beginning to get angry. “She’s a nice lady. The queen started schools, so she can’t be all bad. I ain’t bad.”
“That’s my point,” Neal said. “Not everyone is all bad, but everyone has the potential to do evil. Every person has evil in them, but that doesn’t necessarily make them evil. There are plenty of good people out there. But there’s something in every man, every woman, even every knight—”
“That’s not true! There are good people—what about—”
“You can throw anyone you want at me, but there’s still going to be evil in his heart if not in deeds.”
And finally Tobe just got so angry, because this man was a damned fool and couldn’t see the most obvious flaw in his theory of flaws, and he yelled, “Milady ain’t evil at all! She’s a good lady and she ain’t got no flaws, so you shut your lyin’ mouth and leave her alone!”
It took a lot of his will not to aim a hard kick to the man’s shins; instead, he fled the open courtyard of New Hope, taking the closest set of stairs two at a time. He left Neal gaping after him.
He slipped on the top stair, ripping his knee open and not even caring. His feet slapped along a familiar route, one he had traced a million times, and he burst through Lady Knight Keladry’s clean, open study.
“Tobe,” she exclaimed, half-rising from her chair. “You’re bleeding. What’s wrong—”
He didn’t want her to talk. He flung himself at her, wrapping his thin arms around her solid waist and pressing his face against her belly like he had two years ago when his world had been invaded by his Scanran child-killing brethren. He was older now, and should’ve been ashamed of such a childish display of temper and tears, but all he could think about was her strong arms wrapping around his body and enclosing him, protecting him, like she always did.
Two years had passed and the anxiety never lessened. Every moment she was out of his sight was every moment spent twisting in agony that she would once more be lost to him. He refused to even think about what would happen when he reached thirteen, not so very far away as it was even a couple months ago. Then he’d be released from her bondage, no longer owned by anyone.
He didn’t want to be owned by anyone—except her, this great lady who saved his worthless skin because she was above the masses, above the normal noble, fit to be raised to more-than-mortal status.
“What happened?” her voice said soothingly, gently patting his back. She knelt to his height, her eyes holding his with concern and compassion. “Did someone hurt you?”
Not, what did you do to yourself? She was always giving him the benefit of the doubt—giving everyone the benefit of the doubt. She saw the good in people, and he knew, with the sudden calm conviction of a man twice his age, that it was because there was nothing but good in her.
She blinked, completely poleaxed in the face of his sudden composure. He rubbed a hand across his eyes, embarrassed but at the same time somehow at peace.
“Let me get a bandage for that,” she said. “We don’t want it infected.”
“It’s okay, milady,” he protested, but she had already found a wrap and began to tightly wind it about his knee.
“There,” she said after a minute. “Now, will you tell me what’s wrong?”
“People lie, lady,” he said. “It’s not fair that children like us have to grow up on all this ‘people are inherently evil’ rubbish.”
She had a small smile on her face when she asked, “What in all realms are you talking about?”
“Milord Queenscove said all people had bad in them, even if they did good things.”
“Milord Queenscove likes to be difficult,” Lady Keladry said tersely. “You know better than to take all his talk seriously. Why did that so upset you?”
“Because people aren’t evil,” he insisted. “I think there’re some bad people out there but I don’t believe that everyone out there is bad. Look at all the people who fight for the Crown, and all the knights who save people, and look at you—”
“Ah.” She smiled at him, her face compassionate and understanding. “People aren’t perfect, but I agree that people do good things all the time because they are good themselves. Perhaps you should be a philosopher and prove Neal wrong.”
“Perhaps I should,” Tobe said boldly.
She chuckled and ruffled his hair, and they shared crooked smiles. “Now go off and make yourself useful, you imp. I have a report to finish.”
He saluted her sternly and scampered off, wondering if Loey had finally finished her chores yet. It was a seed planted that day that would not grow in the next week, or over a course of six months, or even in a few years, but it would take root and be nourished in the fertile mind of an impressionable young boy. Its leaves would stretch to the City of the Gods and the universities, who would not have accepted such a mere brat if not for the sponsorship of a noble from a fief like Mindelan. Its flowers would bloom in the libraries of old history and seek out books on dusty shelves. It would never stop growing, its thirst would never be quenched, and a scholar would be born.
But for now, Tobe was just Tobe, and he liked to scare all the girls and wrestle with the boys, and all he thought about was how Lady Knight Keladry was truer than a griffin-fletched arrow.
A great philosopher—and truly, he was, with all the wisdom and experience that comes with knighthood—once told me that all mortals were inherently evil. Each infant born to this world possessed the potential to rape and murder and steal. One might grow to be able to suppress those impulses, but they would always be present in the darkest recesses of one’s soul.
Now, I highly doubt that even he himself believed this—the man in question had a way of probing the intellect with opinions he did not expressly hold in truth—but it was the first time I pondered this theme in philosophy and it certainly was not the last.
It was perhaps not the fact that people actually believed this theory that perturbed me so, but that it was being taught to children to breed a new era of ignorance. In this essay, I will present to you, the reader, reasons why the Theory of Inherent Evil might be true, and then proceed to dismantle them and show you in every way possible in which they cannot possibly be true. After that, I will present to you all the infallible reasons why there is not primarily evil residing in every person, and that it is up to the man or woman in question as to which path they will take. Mortals are neither inherently good or evil, but simply human, and it is that aspect which makes us all humane.
While I have many outstanding reasons why I believe this, I will focus on one, for this one ties all others together. If you had read my previous eight books, you should by now recognize the name. My reason—for sure, my oldest, most solid, and most precious reason—for believing so adamantly in the good in people starts in the single instance when a young, abused boy was rescued by a brave knight, more beautiful than any lady and more indomitable than any man, and taught him more than how to simply serve, but how to live.
It begins with the wondrous lady known in legends, history books, and in my heart as Lady Knight Keladry, born to the prosperous fief of Mindelan...