This spiritual allegory is the end of the first series of Mikayla’s stories. You can read the whole series by clicking on the following link:
“Why did you let me join?” Mikayla demanded.
Her meeting with Penitent Briar had finally arrived. She’d gotten it moved earlier, and she would have had it the day after her last interaction with Neophyte Kadedus, but Briar had made her wait. He always seemed to be making her wait.
Briar raised his eyebrows at the tone of her voice and replied, “Because you had no idea what you were doing or where you were going. It you joined us with so little idea of who we were and what we were doing, who else might you have joined?”
Briar looked out his window and pointed. “Did you know how to handle those mountains three years ago?”
Mikayla flushed more.
“But can you now find a lost trail? Can you now find and make shelters of all kinds? Can you now perform first aid on yourself or another?”
Mikayla nodded while her gaze turned to the ground.
Briar continued. “Can you now assess landscapes for rock slides, mudslides, and avalanches?”
“Can you now fix a wagon wheel, find native edible plants, and climb just about any scalable surface?”
Mikayla smiled. “You’ve all taught me so much.”
“Can you now use basic forms of self-defense against….whoever you may face?” He leaned forward.
Mikayla felt a jolt around the seriousness of what he was discussing.
He reached out. She took his hand, felt the warmth, strength, and support in it. It was the most warmth she’d ever felt in any way from him. Mostly, he had always felt slightly sad. “We knew that you weren’t meant to be here.”
“But you said you could help me to be a teacher.”
“No.” He shook his head. “I said we could help you get started.”
“Oh. You did. I remember.”
They fell into silence. Briar’s gaze drifted back out the window.
“I’ve watched a lot of young women make a lot of bad choices…really bad choices. I played a role in it.” He looked back at Mikayla. “When I saw you in a rush to get somewhere and ready to believe anything and anyone, I saw a chance to do right. I saw a chance to possibly save you from being hurt or making mistakes…mistakes that might haunt you the rest of your life. So I took that opportunity.”
A knock came from the door.
Arch Penitent Okoye appeared. “Am I in time for the conversation?”
“Yes. Mikayla wants to leave.”
“Then she should.”
Arch Penitent Okoye looked directly at Mikayla. “You came here of your own free will. You may leave of it as well. You owe us and society no debt.”
“Thank you. I just need to find out what this,” she pointed to her chest, “is.”
“You will go through our unsashing ceremony in two weeks.” Okoye laid a hand on Mikayla’s shoulder. “And we will miss you. You have been a bright spark in our order, and I look forward to you becoming a flame that lights the way for others.”
Mikayla’s eyes welled. She instinctively hugged the Arch Penitent. “Thank you.” Then she caught herself. “Oops. Sorry. I know I am not supposed to.”
Okoye laughed. “No. But I’ll allowed it.” She hugged Mikayla back. Then stepping away, she looked seriously at the young woman. “The rules of this place are too small for you. Be more mindful of the rules you agree to in the future.”
Mikayla spent the next two weeks saying “good bye.” She had a great many friends in the spiritual order. More than a few tears were shed. Her parting with Neophyte Dutiful was one of the hardest. They had become sisters of the trail, having been on countless outings together.
“I know you have to do this, Mikayla. But it just won’t be the same without you.” Dutiful hugged Mikayla tightly.
“Thanks for understanding, Cass.”
Cass wiped at her eyes. “Do you think you’ll ever come back. To teach, I mean. You already teach stuff anyway. Climbing routes. Following tracks. I mean why not teach us what all this is ultimately for?”
Mikayla paused, slightly surprised. “I don’t know. I hadn’t thought about it.”
“Well, if you do come back, I’ll listen to your talks.” Cass hugged Mikayla again.
Mikayla pondered this as she finished saying her “good-byes.” Then it was time for the unsashing ceremony. Her pack was full of supplies, and she wore her traveler’s clothes under her gray robe and sash. She’d had her clothes altered by some of the others as she’d come into her full stature as a woman since she last wore them at age nineteen.
In the main hall, the whole order had gathered. The ceremony proceeded. She came before Arch Penitent Okoye and stated her interest to leave.
“I have no quarrel with your request. You have no debt in this order. Nor did you come to repay a debt to society. Since you freely came, you may freely go.”
Mikayla handed over her sash and then her gray robe.
“Go in peace, Mikayla Sincérité. And may The Fates guide you to your calling for the good of us all.”
Then Arch Penitent Okoye surprised Mikayla by stepping forward, tilting Mikayla’s head down, and kissing her on the forehead.
“You will be missed,” she said softly.
Mikayla bowed to the Arch Penitent and the elder Penitents standing with her. She turned and bowed to the full gathering. She stepped deliberately away from the dais and made eye contact with many in the gathering. She saw Chen, Wu, and her other outings compatriots and felt their smiled encouragement. She felt this from most of the Penitents and Neophytes except for a few who refused to look her way, including Neophyte Kadedus who remained steadfastly antagonistic to the end muttering to others how “little miss perfect still gets whatever she wants.”
Mikayla made eye contact with Briar. He gave her a warm smile, teeth gleaming his enthusiasm. She felt like some internal light had been restored in him and the sadness had melted away like snow in spring. Mikayla couldn’t fully understand why, but she felt like she’d played a role in that.
Finally, she stepped through the doors and headed towards the gate leading to the road to the Erleuchtenden Mountains. Penitent Abuela walked up beside her.
“Penitent Abuela. Hello? Is there something that I can do for you?”
Abuela smiled her big gap-toothed smile. “No, Mikayla. But perhaps there is something I can do for you. You are heading for Illumeville, yes?”
“Be on your guard. It is not a safe place.”
“What do you mean? Is it like the mining towns of a Avidité and Avarice?”
Abuela laughed. “No. Not like them. And I’ve seen you use your staff. The ones who may try to give you trouble in the mining towns will be sorely surprised.”
Abuela stepped closer, putting her hand on Mikayla’s chest. “You have a good heart, dear. Protect it. Not all those who walk the spiritual path appreciate such things.”
Mikayla didn’t understand, but she said she’d do her best.
They walked to the gate. Mikayla took a deep breath. “Thank you and everyone for everything.” Then she turned and returned to the road and the next chapter of becoming a spiritual teacher.
Interpretation of Free to Go
This story picks up after The Pilgrim, and we find Mikayla having decided to leave the spiritual order of The Penitents. What follows is a humbling conversation, as is often the case for many of us at the start on the spiritual path.
Briar points out all the things Mikayla didn’t know about the road she was traveling. In this case, the road is a metaphor for the spiritual path. All the “survival tools” he discusses should be interpreted as spiritual tools. Instead of hearing what he says about rock climbing, think of doing a variety of kinds of inner work. Instead of thinking about assessing mudslide potential, think of understanding self-care and not overloading oneself.
Essentially, Briar and the Penitents gave her a spiritual foundation to help her handle the challenges of ego dissolution.
Once Briar points this out, Mikayla accepts the truth.
She has her request to leave granted because she is not like the other Penitents. This spiritual order–as those who have been following this story series know–is an alternative to jail for people who have caused harm to others. It’s a way for people to repay their debts to society. Mikayla has no debts, and therefore, they have no hold over her.
However, Mikayla has plenty of issues that she has not yet faced, and because of this, she is being warned about the “road” ahead.
One of the big problems Mikayla has yet to overcome is her self-centeredness. This issue fuels her naivete. A clue to this core issue was given in past stories as she comes from the town of Isekus, which means selfishness in Estonian. She is so involved in her personal journey that she can’t see the truth of who others are. She couldn’t see it about The Penitents, and she sort of lucked out with the situation that she fell into with them.
Briar, Okoye, and Abuela all see this blindspot in Mikayla. At the end of the story, Abuela warns Mikayla about the next place she intends to visit–Illumeville.
We’ll see what she does in her next series of stories.
A sub-story that happened along the path of spontaneously writing these stories is Briar’s personal atonement for the suffering he has caused others. I didn’t set out to write this, but I think it’s a beautiful story that evolved all on its own.
We find out Briar’s motivations for letting Mikayla into the order in this story. He has caused suffering to gullible young women in the past. It’s why he is where he is. Sadness and regret have been two of his defining characteristics. Since this is an order about atoning for past transgressions, we can imagine that he would have gone to the elder Penitents to convince them to take Mikayla on as part of his atonement process as well as to protect this nineteen year old woman.
Clearly, they agreed.
Because Mikayla has no serious past pain or trauma, she learned all the things she needed to learn quickly. This is a subtle comment on the lack of internal resistance she had to overcome. They kept giving her more things to learn not because she was special, but because they knew that she would leave. They knew that they couldn’t teach her to be a spiritual teacher, but they could give her a firm foundation on the spiritual path.
Briar often looks out his window or at the distant world in his conversations with Mikayla because he is continually considering the outside world she’ll go back to as well as his own experiences and issues. He wants her to be safe.
She learned as much as they basically could teach in about 3 and 1/2 years of being there, and so they are content to let the now 23 year old go off into “mountains” that she understands how to handle.
At the unsashing ceremony, Briar’s glow is about a sense of atonement. His work over the years with Mikayla has allowed him to feel like he’s finally completed what he needed to do in his penance.
It’s a beautiful moment.
It also reflects something about the quality of Mikayla too. That while she couldn’t heal the dying many in the mountains in A Lost Soul, her presence has been a doorway to healing Briar.
This is a theme that will be discussed more in her future stories and the nature of certain types of spiritual teachers who just seem to help, offer wisdom, and support healing naturally without necessarily knowing how they are doing it.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of stories. More of hers are coming as are more stories with Ruby!