‘Does it have to be on a height?’ Nicodemus said nervously, looking over the parapet of the Solar House.
‘No,’ said Dr Peniel, ‘but it clears the mind. An important element of seeing accurately is perspective. Between walls we all seem more than we really are.’
‘I’ve heard some people do it before a mirror,’ said Alo.
‘And so we would, if it was bad weather,’ said Peniel, putting down a carpet large enough for them all to sit cross-legged.
‘Isn’t that Mistress Weekes?’ Nicodemus pointed to a slender shape on a besom, flitting in the direction of the twon. A second, dumpier figure rose up from behind the dome of the camera and joined the first.
‘Oh yes,’ said Peniel. ‘I think it is. Don’t point, Bellknap. Better to cast a distant eye beyond ladies’ business.’
Alo and Nicodemus settled on the carpet, looking outwards. “I’m not sure what we’re meant to be summoning,’ said Nicodemus presently. ‘The lecture went on about how the zois was our highest part and connected to the Nous, but if we can’t summon the Nous, how can we summon the zois – even if it is our own?’
‘Well, Hapglass?’ said Peniel to Alo.
Alo thought about it. He had paid less attention to the lecture than Nicodemus. This was almost a habit now, because he found the lectures distracting. The battery of the lecturer’s otherness put up a gale between Alo and the idea he was trying to grasp. Then there was the constant buzz of the other scholars, whose nerves, yawning, sneaked glances and shared terror of the final exam was like a fly at his ear.
‘I think it’s not so much summoning the zois,’ he said slowly, ‘as watching for it. Like when you see a deer among the trees. It’s always been there, but you can’t summon it forth from the forest. You can only sit and look until you see clearly what has always been here.’
Peniel nodded approvingly. Nicodemus rolled his eyes. ‘You see these things so much more clearly than I do,’ he said, complaining.
‘That is because you want to be told what to see and then to see it,’ said Peniel. ‘In that way, you will always be limited by what other people see and how well they can explain it.’
‘But I trust that they see more than I do,’ muttered Nicodemus.
‘You shouldn’t.’ Peniel settled himself on the carpept and looked out at the domes and spires, the fragile pinnacles and roofs of The Stowe. ‘Alo is right that summoning is a bad term for what we are trying to do, but his figure of the deer misses something, which is this: the deer is watching you. The zois is that part of yourself which sits apart from the rest, motionless, watching you act and choose, not creating your desting but helping you achieve it.’
‘But if it does nothing, how can it help me achieve anything?’ persisted Nicodemus.
Peniel turned again to Alo and raised an eyebrow.
‘I don’t know,’ Alo confessed. ‘I’m usually busy just doing the acting and choosing.’
Peniel nodded. ‘That is the feeling of being taken up by the world and pushed headlong into its rush. But consider this: when you are in the library, you do not kindle flame. Why?’
‘Because we’ve sworn not to,’ said Alo.
‘Because the librarians are watching us,’ said Nicodemus.
Peniel laughed at their different answers. ‘You are evidently a beter creature than we are,’ he said to Alo. ‘Most of us don’t light a lantern on our desk, or smoke a pipe as we read, even though we would be careful and would certainly not set fire to a book, because we know that we are being watched. The simple knowledge that something of power watches our choices, our actions, alters what we choose and how we act.’
‘So if I act without considering that my zois watches me, I cannot be sure that I have acted well?’ Alo said.
‘You might have acted well,’ said Nicodemus suddenly, ‘but you haven’t acted for the Good. Even if it all comes our wrong, you’ve still chosen well – you’ve chosen in favour of the Good – if you know that your zois watches your choice.’
Peniel sat back on the carpet smiling. ‘Well done,’ he said warmly. ‘Well done indeed.’