Chapter Eighteen: Nearer My God to Thee

Editor’s Note: the Hermits of Vine are not officially holy men, but they command some degree of reverence. The Hermits are guardians of Vine, and shepherds for the lost among Vine’s mountains. Thanks to some contacts from Jonah, I’ve been able to do more research on and with the Hermits than any other scholar prior. Possibly because I am not an official Historian of Vine. The Hermits have a natural distrust of establishment—not unlike the witches. Here is the story of the first Hermit, Eli Jefferson: 

It was not a thing to kill a man. Eli Jefferson had not done so but he knew. On the bald, the highest point in the mountains of Vine, where the trees stopped growing and the ground was thick with shrub-grass, Eli knew he had killed Eli Jefferson, the man, in order to become a different Eli, one who could reach an understanding on the bald. 

Here he could almost touch cirrus clouds without wings. Higher even than pines, looking like they’re still hiking the mountainside. Higher even than otherwise bold and resilient reptiles and insects dared roam. No—one did not need wings to commune with angels. Only the Will of The Spirit. 

It was not a thing to kill a man—or at least kill the old self, the worldly self, the material-obsessed self. To reduce oneself to naught but a vessel of God, a man of the land.

Eli had worked: calloused hands and bunioned feet and leathered skin building most of the new town square and nearly all of the general store, just another on Swanson’s work crew. Eli had mourned: a mother gone before she could see grandchild and father barely strong enough to survive seeing Vine. Eli had himself been a patriarch: his wife a runaway Indigenous girl, couldn’t have been more than 14 when he found her, no family to speak, of no origin to her appearance at Vine’s borders she could articulate to him yet, Eli took her in and  nursed her to health—after she instructed him which herbs to mix grind into fine powder—Eli made venison stew (in his way) eventually when she healed she agreeably kept house and bore two children after at his suggestion taking the name Ruth. 

That was all gone now, Eli did not know how to admit to himself.

It was not a thing to kill a man—he was no longer needed, Ruth and the children would continue to live humbly and serve God. He walked a higher—in the mountains, he thought with a laugh, a higher path. A path of righteousness. The bald would henceforth be known as Prophet’s Bald, and he would live his life as the first Hermit of Vine. 

What was it to concern oneself with the affairs of men? It was not a thing to kill a man, Eli knew. For a man who has lived in the path of righteousness will know God. Ruth and the children would continue to live humbly and serve God, but Eli—now a Hermit, forever a Son of the Lord—knew what he had to do. For man’s only purpose is to praise the Majesty of The Lord and marvel at His creation. The Will of Men can establish a city, the Power of God can create a mountain, the Will of The Spirit can discern wisely the difference. Facedown on the bald, Eli beheld a chicken egg-colored pebble rise up from the mountain caress a swoop of cirrus. He thought of Ruth and the children below. He thought of God above. 

Editor’s Note: Eli Jefferson’s daughter, Edi, would claim (near the end of her life) that Eli was preordained by his father—Josiah Jefferson, he of the Revelation of Vine—to become Vine’s first Hermit, after he had children. Edi would claim that, since Vine is a land of miracles and mysteries lie in its wooded mountains, a corps of protectors was needed. Edi would claim that, since Vine is sealed off from the rest of creation and its chosen people must be shielded from corruption, an order of guardians should stalk Vine’s borders. Scholars (like L. James Richardson) treat this as an abandoned daughter’s late-in-life method of coping with her father’s disappearance at best, the ravings of a grandiose and hysterical woman at worst. I am inclined to take her at her word. The Jeffersons seem to have been in tune with the land more than most at this time. Josiah, a poor man, experienced the Revelation of Vine. Eli, his son, became Vine’s first Hermit. Jed, Eli’s son, became a Preacher. Edi, Eli’s daughter, was rumored to have either been a witch or to have ascended directly into Heaven—either way, the Jefferson line ceased after Jed and Edi. Unless, of course, the rumors that Preacher Jed Jefferson fathered seven Miracle Babies of Vine are true. 

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