The swishing of scythes filled the air with continuous noise as the preacher and learned one strained in the mid-day sun to complete the day's reaping.  A casual observer might see two small, black figures outlined  against the glorious blue horizon, with glints of light piercing his vision as the scythes made quick work of the harvest.  

Sweat beaded on the brow of the learned one as he raised his scythe aloft once more.  The muscles of his back and forearms protested with painful tightness; he continued his labor, for the benefits outweighed the fleeting suffering.

Beside him, the preacher left a bundle of reaping behind him in the field, readying another burlap sack to fill with the whiteness of a bountiful harvest.  

Working in silence, the duo fell into a trance-like rhythm of reaping and bagging; words felt entirely unnecessary, as their shared labor brought communion enough: purposeful pleasure shared between brothers.  

As the blazing sun blended with the golden horizon of distant grain, the sweat across their backs cooled and chilled their fatigued muscles soothingly.  

"I feel a draught of mead and a smoke of the pipe calling my name, O Learned One.  Shall we end the day's labor?"

"Aye, let it be as you say; I too shall quench my thirst."

With that, they gathered the last few bags of reaping and stored them in the barn that towered over the learned one's humble dwelling of thatch and oak.  The learned one lit a fire and the preacher went down to the cellar to retrieve a small shank of lamb to divide between them.  This meat combined with cloves of wild garlic and onion, salted to taste, were thrown into a pan over the fire and seared.  The dish was simple, but delectably savory, and produced a delicious aroma.  After a hearty meal and a draught of mead, the learned one and preacher sat cross-legged by the fire in the hearth and began their nightly ritual of discussion once more.  

"Have you heard of the newest goings-on in the Cities of the East?" inquired the learned one.

"Nay, since fleeing those cities, I attempt to avoid news, lest it prick my memory, and thereby, my sorrow", the preacher responded flatly, as a waft of smoke floated around his head in light tendrils, released from the pipe the learned one had recently made for him.  

"I do not seek to cast care upon your shoulders, Good Preacher.  Yet, this development may bring joy to your soul and hope for this once wicked city!"

"Very well, state your news."

"Alcibiades the Red, notwithstanding all of his wickedness, hath decreed that the District of the Harlots be forever emptied, purged, and reformed from what was once a grotesque level of filth."

"No doubt to expiate the presence and memory of one of his own whores", the preacher replied, hinting at a level of grim humor.

"O Preacher, why do you view this action of righteousness in such bleak terms?  Will this not create ever-increasing harvests of goodness for this city?"

"Learned One, consider carefully the history of the one giving the decree, as well as the nature of the human heart, and an answer to your question readily presents itself.  Do you believe a city that allowed the existence of such a district, even in the days of the righteous father of Alcibiades, would fully submit to the king's decree? Moreover, might not Alcibiades be about some other business of which we know not?"  

"You mention the human heart as if it holds pits of slime and filth, yet this righteous action clearly evidences, at the very least, the righteousness of the king's subjects, if not the heart of the king himself."

"Very well, take this example: a city arrays itself in space as a visual representation of the sum of the souls living within its walls.  If a city allows even one district full of wickedness, that entire city becomes tainted, for those living in the district of wantonness must invariably go to market, carrying their wickedness with them into the supposedly untainted districts of the city. Does this example meet with your approval?"  

"Aye, let us harvest this truth, whatever it may be."

"If this meets with approval, then consider the heart in the same way: one district of the human heart, left unchecked, to grow at its own whims, can only corrupt the whole tender plant in which it resides.  Do you think the heart of Alcibiades reformed from its wanton display of self-glorification?  Verily, is such a reformation even possible for one such as him, confirmed in his path of blasphemy against all that is holy, having set himself up in the holy place as a god?"

"Nay, it becomes clear as you have spoken: the heart of this ruler has gone entirely dark, and his candle has been put out in utter darkness.  Nevertheless, I do not submit to the notion of the city's residents all bearing corruption."

"Then consider further: how does a flood of destructive water, hastily blocked by some artificial impediment, respond to its hindered course?  Does it maintain stasis or find some new channel through which it may wreak more havoc?"

"Having seen such a terror, the answer lies close at hand: it either destroys all barriers, or moves around them like a snake in the desert dunes."

"In the same way, the abolition of the district of the harlots, while outwardly evident of goodness, will inevitably find some new expression in, I fear to say, an even more terrible and grotesque carnality.  For while the Cities of the East still have the Prince of this World as their king, there can be no true redemption, for they love him secretly, along with all of the things he himself loves."

"Well, I shall no longer act as the herald of news!", the learned one spoke humorously.  

"In this you do well, my son, for such heralds are often shot."

They allowed a laugh at the moment of humor, and continued the discourse.

"What is more worthwhile, considering the effects of the City's error, considering who bears the fault, or is there some other road by which this discourse may travel? I leave the choice to you, O Learned One."

"Even if it be possible for ten righteous folk to survive in this city, I seek to hear the nature of their unrighteous counterparts, for such a righteous remnant exists as the exception to the unrighteous rule."

The preacher nodded and continued with his answer: "In most cities to which you have traveled, who is considered the wise in the society?"

"Invariably, those who sit near the city gates in discourse or some other deliberation."

"Indeed, and are these wise typically young or old?"

"Mostly old, but a few young find their way into their midst."

"Men or women?"

"A large part of their number grow beards to their bellies, so I must say they are men!"

Ignoring the learned one's quip, "So is it possible to generalize without fear and say the wise-men of the city hold the heart of public opinion in their hands, along with the ability to influence towards good or ill?"

"Perhaps, but I know of many wise women of old, and such could easily drive a society towards good or ill."

"Agreed, yet who typically build the bridges, ramparts, and spires of a city, men or women?"

"Well, the men, no doubt."

"And who most often defends the city from attack from within or without?"

"While many of the women have been known to assist bravely, the men bleed and die most regularly."  

"Indeed, while both men and women struggle to build society, can we agree that the blood and sweat of men keep a culture young, fertile, and vigorous, as well as plot the course through which a society travels?"

"I agree to your premise, though I sense a few loose ends."

"Let us move on for the time being.  If my premise proves true, who bears the blame for the wickedness allowed in the District of the Harlots, as well as any future wickedness that re-channels itself?"

"According to your premise, the men, and, most specifically, the wise-men."  

"This strikes at the heart of the matter.  

....Man, created with the imprint of the One and His soul, with the bent towards Truth therein contained,

Man, made to stand erect and proud, to gaze upon the stars and contemplate the heavens,

Man, set loose to run with wildness in the forests to hunt game and tame beasts, yet return home in tenderness to love the wife of his youth.

Man, a bearer of an image, which he bears more clearly than anything else in all of Creation.

Yet man, waylaid and soiled with the filth of carnal voyeurism, adultery, and wanton desire.

For such things no excuse presents itself.   Made with all of the gifts of the One, the blame falls most heavily upon his shoulders."

"For the wise of any city to allow the District of the Harlots to flourish is unthinkable!  Yet, if the district be eradicated, what else remains for evil to do?" exclaimed the learned one in response.

"Everything, for now it must reinvent itself."

"To what end does this path lead, and what are the effects on such a diseased city of souls?"

"I saw the gorgon riding upon the comet's flame in a dream; she looked out upon a city of stone, with men of stone, held in stasis, unable to move.  This is the effect of such wickedness: a cold, unfeeling heart, as helpless and hopeless as a stone, unable to feel love, pity, compassion, nor any other deep passion of manly existence! Truly the door of the harlot's house leads to the pits of Hades."

"Is there not any hope for the City of the East?"

"There is always hope...

But the danger continues.  I saw in a dream a medicated city of opiate undead, slowly trudging to-and-fro from work to play.  A sorceress gave them a crystal from which every idle fantasy of the most insignificant fool could work itself out in fantasy and image.  I saw a land where every man held a crystal close to his heart in wickedness, as he wasted away in quiet desperation, too weak and cold to cry out for aid to the heavens.  The crystal turned black as the maw of Hades and vomited millions upon millions of images of Harlotry, a new District of the Harlots, spanning the whole earth, attacking every soul, and preying upon many."

"Surely these things have not happened nor could ever occur?" spoke the learned one with absolute confoundment.

"Underestimate not the human heart's ability to manufacture new means of wickedness, beyond any present thought."

"What would such a crystal of doom mean to the world and culture, if –  the One forbid –  it ever came into being?"

"The end of any last vestige of strong manhood, the gelding of the manly heart and body, the loss of any manly power, as it falls as a star aflame before the feet of the Harlot of Babylon, and finally, the end of any fleeting aspirations towards a city set on a hill, peacefully awaiting the return of the One.  The end of all of this?  A destruction of society more far-reaching and apocalyptic than anything imaginable. Destroy the soul of a man, and thereby destroy the man.  Destroy the man, and thereby destroy his family, or any hope of having such. Destroy his family, and thereby destroy the society.  Destroy the society, and...?  Who knows where the carnage ends? For the Whore of Babylon draws nigh every day, with the Dragon in her control, whom the One shall slay with the Word of his mouth and the brightness of His coming."

The fire dimmed with the preacher's last apocalyptic words, as a tear trickled down the learned one's cheek.  

"May such an evil never be!"

"Aye, and amen."