"The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings.
But mercy is above this sceptered sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings;
It is an attribute of God himself;
And earthly power doth then show like God's
When mercy seasons justice."

The Merchant of Venice, William Shakespeare

V

"I forgive you" she said…

There was much kindness and compassion contained in those few words. Juliet's beatific smile shone light in to the dark recesses of Richard's very old, sad soul. Her absolution took him by surprise, and sent him reeling, at least internally, as if he suddenly lost his balance.

He did not notice at first that she had continued speaking.

"…You didn't force me to come here, Richard." Juliet was saying, "And you are not the one forcing me to stay. I understand that. We are in the same boat, you and me."

Richard realized he wasn't paying attention, "Pardon? How's that?"

"This isn't what either of us signed on for, but it is what it is. We do what we have to do." Juliet explained. "And, Richard, I am sorry for lashing out at you the way I did earlier today."

"It's ok, Juliet. I…I forgive you as well." he replied, shaking off the emotional vertigo.

For the moment Richard could think of nothing more to say, excused himself and began walking back across the compound. He was rendered speechless not for lack of words but from the presence of too many, so much information crowding his thoughts that he had not had the time to process and understand.

In the past 48 hours he had traveled across at least one too many time zones from Miami to the Island, been briefed by Ben about the plane crash and its survivors; argued with Jacob over the implications of the crash, and argued again with Ben over what to do in response. Juliet had yelled at him for actions she misunderstood and with equally little warning had changed her mind and forgiven him. It was exhausting!

But still, coping with all that was a piece of cake compared to the difficulty he was having in wrapping his mind around the news of his family, of the coming danger and of the threat of Jacob's death. All of this together sent his world a little off its axis.

What else could it be? Richard wondered. He could not envision circumstances in which Jacob would voluntarily leave the Island. Never had it occurred to him that he could be left here, alive, without Jacob. He had not entertained the possibility there was anything, anyone, with the power to separate Jacob from the Island. A shudder went down Richard's spine that had nothing to do with the tropical breeze.

His thoughts were becoming too philosophical, too existential, and too metaphysical to manage. He needed time and space to breathe. Instinctively Richard veered off into the jungle instead of turning up the sidewalk toward his house. It was late afternoon and the shadows were growing long though it was not yet becoming difficult to see his way through the trees and vines. Even so after so many years the entirety of the Island was more familiar to him than the docks of London or his home in Spain had ever been. He could navigate here without the sun or the stars to guide him.

Richard cast all his questions aside for the moment and focused instead on the sheer physicality of hiking vigorously through the jungle and up the side of the mountain. He felt the quickness of his breath in his lungs and the heavy pounding of his heart as his organs pushed hard to move enough oxygen to sustain the straining muscles in his arms, legs and torso.

"It is what it is."

Juliet's words looped over and over in his mind matching the rhythm of his breathing, of his steps as he climbed higher up the mountainside, out of the jungle past the tree line. "It is what it is" He repeated aloud as he reached the clearing at the top of the hill, looking back down the valley over the tops of the trees in the general direction of the compound and across the open sea to the horizon. It is a very Zen sentiment coming from the good doctor, thought Richard absently as he found a place to rest.

As Richard sat cross legged on the ground his ragged, labored breathing gradually became slow and steady; his heart beat, no longer racing from exertion, returned to its natural even and measured pace. He emptied his too crowded, worried, confused mind of all thoughts, releasing them to be blown gently out to sea on the warm, fragrant trade winds that continuously caressed the Island.

From this perspective atop the mountain he could not see the actual buildings below where he and his people now lived. From this vantage point he could not make out the wreckage of Flight 815. At this height there were only trees below and rock and sky and sea. With little effort he could remember the way the Island looked to him when he first opened his eyes to this new life, after London, after the shipwreck, after Jacob saved him.

One hundred and fifty years away from priest, confessional, Mass or Eucharist had nudged Richard to expand his understanding and experience of the spiritual. He was fairly certain the Catholic clergy of his day would not have approved of Buddhist mindfulness meditation, or the mantra he repeated, or known quite what to do with Jacob, whatever sort of god he is. But that was then and he was here now.

"…accept the things I cannot change… and the wisdom to know the difference…"

Richard was fairly certain he did not need a twelve-step program for dealing with life on the Island exactly but the serenity prayer seemed to apply in this case too.

Soon a familiar voice came out of the shadows behind him, "Want some company?"

"Sure" replied Richard, nodding without turning to confirm who it was that spoke. He was neither particularly surprised by Jacob's visit nor curious how he knew where to find him.

Jacob leaned against a nearby rock and looked up at the early evening stars beginning to appear overhead. "You ok?"

"Yeah...I just needed some space to think."

"Figured it all out yet?"

"You are kidding, right?" Richard replied "No, no, not at all. I haven't figured anything out."

"Let me help." Jacob urged, gently.

"Before I say anything else, you have to know, I am sorry… sorry for being so hateful and rude, so full of self-pity."

"I know"

"I behaved like a petulant child. "

"Yes…as a matter of fact, you did." acknowledged Jacob.

'Contrary to what I said last night, I don't really want you to replace me; I don't want to leave you, and I am not ready to die." Richard continued earnestly. "I am deeply grateful to you for taking care of Isabel and my children. I am sorry for doubting you, for blaming you."

"It's alright, Richard," interrupted Jacob reassuringly "I know that too."

"Right, you know everything. So, I don't need to tell you of my talk with Ben about the children and the survivors? And you already know I gave Juliet the tape I made of her sister and nephew in Miami?"

"Oh come on, Richard" Jacob said "I know what motivates people; I know the human spirit and the human heart, however, you do have to fill me in on the details." Then he continued with a chuckle"…though I could probably make a pretty good guess."

"Yes, I bet you could"

Richard was silent for while then sighed audibly, "You were serious. Things really are different this time, aren't they? With the people from Flight 815, I mean." His voice reached out softly through the darkness,

"You could say that."

"Over the years I have come to think of this – all of this, existence—"he said gesturing in the dark, arms spread wide "as your experiment or a game. The people who have come here over the years are players; the Island is the arena and I'm the game show host or maybe it's a laboratory and I am the research assistant. You are my lord, and I am your vizier."

Richard rose and began pacing as he spoke. "Maybe that's a little crass or just too simplistic an interpretation?" he said glancing over his shoulder toward Jacob for confirmation without missing a step. "But it is bigger than that isn't it? It's not really a game at all. There is something more at stake here than just proving a point to yourself."

Richard stopped suddenly, directly in front of Jacob. The two stood toe to toe, eye to eye, unwavering "For the first time, Jacob, I don't think I know what is going on...and I am not sure I am ready for what is going to happen. What happens if we lose?"

"We are not going to lose."

"Are you sure? This contest or whatever it is could kill you. Am I right? You can die."

"Yes"

"Are you going to? "

"We all die eventually, Richard, even me."

At this Richard stepped back abruptly a pace, obviously agitated by what he heard. "But…Look at me, Jacob! I haven't aged a day in one hundred and fifty years." He stretched his arms out toward Jacob, palms upward, in supplication, "You did this to me. I just assumed that meant at least you were immortal…all powerful…"

"Think, Richard. Remember the stories of the gods?" Jacob reached out and grasped Richard's outstretched hands and looked squarely into his dark searching eyes. "The Greeks, the Norse, the Egyptians, in all their stories, in all our stories, there are always loop holes, fine print, caveats, exceptions. We all have weaknesses. Every one of us is Achilles with a vulnerable heel. It has always been this way. But Richard, no one who dies, whether mortal or a god is truly lost."

"So you'll come back; you won't really be dead." said Richard quickly, willfully misunderstanding Jacob yet painfully aware he sounded ridiculous and desperate.

"No, Richard, dead is dead" he retorted, releasing Richard's hands. "I will not be some reanimated corpse tromping around the Island like a zombie!" he said, mimicking the heavy gait of the Hollywood Undead.

Seeing Richard's still troubled expression, Jacob continued more kindly "But there is life beyond the physical, material realm. You know this. You have seen it. If in this conflict it happens that I die, then yes, I will be dead in the material sense but I will not be gone. Try to understand. I cannot explain it any more clearly than this to you now."

"I am really getting tired of you saying that…."

"I know that too." Jacob grinned broadly, eyes shining even by starlight.

"I'm being serious, Jacob…Tell me: we are the good guys, aren't we?"

"Richard, do you trust me?"

"Yes, of course I do"

"Just take care of them."

"I have been doing that for a really long time, Jacob"

"I mean all of them. Not only Ben and the others or the people from Flight 815. Can you care for those who have yet to come to the Island, even the ones who want to kill me? Do you trust me that it will all work out in the end, despite any appearances to the contrary?"

"Sure, Jacob, whatever you say. I just don't enjoy doing things blindly. I wish you would tell me more. But, yes, I will do whatever you ask. What is the problem?" slightly confused by Jacob's insistent questioning.

"¿Ricardos, me quieres? ¿Confios en mi?"

"Señor, tú lo sabes todo; tú sabes que te quiero, confio en ti"

"There is no problem. That is all I need to know."

Fin.