The Straits of Understanding

The reason they go insane and I don't has to do with their conception of time. No matter how many times they've been on this journey with me, and some of them are descendants of others who had traveled this far as well, they still cling to the idea of "before" and "after" the Straits. For them, this section of sea, flush between the City and some other place which only members of my family can name, is a definite thing. It has borders, it starts and it begins, in both space and time. By clinging to this delimitation, they believe they can preserve their sanity; it codifies their reactions and emotions regarding our journey. When we're "before", they are worried. They have a dozen soldier's rituals, who are well used by sailors on every water, little anxious tics revolving around gear and vassal that gives them something to do. "After" is something to be looked ahead to, a time of calm and relative stability "after" the Straits and before our destination. These templates of thought take a lot of the load off, denying their minds an escape into meta; how to do things has been predetermined by these mental categories and what things are there to do has been predetermined by me, in my stand in role as tradition.

Thus, the journey is filled with song and the creak of greasing gear and a million other sounds that make up a ship and I let all of those things happen, worthless though they are. To be honest, it also takes some load off of my shoulders. My men ease into their routines and away from my thoughts, slow moving caterpillars of ice that are already moving towards the other place. But now, as I stand on the prow of the ship and the narwhal crests the waters, waters teeming with millions of lives, those routines snap around them like shackles, tightened by the truth all around them: there is no "before" or "after" the Straits. Everything we know and see is but the skin surrounding the core of being that makes up the Straits and the lives within it. In essence, all lives are within it; to say that it's a source would be to misunderstand the point exactly but it would also not be wrong. The narwhal's horn crests our mast and its body keeps going, a gigantic mass rising towards the sun in a gesture that feels coordinated for us but is, of course, only coordinated for its own sake.

By the time its shadow lies across the full berth of the vessel, the wails of the crewmen have died down, collapsed as they are on the deck. Now, I am alone to witness something that has been promised me since I was a child old enough to understand. To understand that life outside of this moment, insomuch as it even existed, was but a pale shadow of this; that it wasn't really that everything before this was a preparation for this but that this was the cause and reason of all that came before. That nothing had really come before; that now, as I was looking out on a stretch of ocean that seemed empty of water and instead filled with gold (that much life was teeming in its midst, golden flickers of energy drowning out the blue) was the first time that I was truly living. All of this raced across my mind as the narwhal, great Gatekeeper, Lock and Key Both, a distant prince to end all princes, rose and fell back to the ocean. From here on out, even though time had ceased to exist the moment the gate had been unlocked and the my body was drowned in the shimmering of shadows, I would be judged by how I dealt with this event. How I dealt with never returning here, with never being alive again. This was, beneath all the mundane secrets, beneath all the rumors the denizens of the City told about us, the real secret of the Galadcar; we were all dead for most of our lives, breathing and actually existing for a brief instant, in the time it took the narwhal to crest, overshadow us and then fall again, in the time that it didn't take to cross this stretch of ocean, in the time it took to navigate the Straits of Understanding.

My watch had ended here and a different duty lay ahead; what it was, I didn't know. I never found out whether my ancestors in the tribe were just unwilling or incapable of telling me what happens beyond the Straits; it's possible that language fails beyond that which is infinite, beyond the only thing/time/place that really exists. I was about to find out, all in due time. But it was clear to me that, no matter what shared wisdom I was already the recipient of (the lifeforms in the water, manifested as fish of many hues, were whispering to me stories and facts that would feel a thousand books, could they ever be printed, words that every one of my ancestors had also heard, multitudes of lives and perspectives now contained within me, like so much reagent in a stoppered beaker, reacting furiously within), that this time would be different and unique. Somehow, even though "before" the Straits was an illusion, even though all steps on the road that led to here were already measured, I had done something different. Who knows how? Who can say, even now that I have been touched by the shadow of the narwhal (even as its bone once again peeks above the water, letting in just a bit more of magic into the world), how I managed to stray from the course, how I had managed to tell the story differently? But I did; the evidence was right there besides me, in the form of the guardsman who was, somehow, awake and (relatively) sane; sane and furious. His eyes encompassed all he saw, the endless multitude of life in the ocean, the truth of the Straits of Understanding, the reality of it all, and his heart exploded within is chest with fury. I knew this one would be a problem; his rage was already being beaten inside of him into a sword, a blade which ran with the words that were already echoing in his mind: "how could they keep this to themselves?". And, as we all well know, once a sword is forged, it will find a target. It will create a target if one is absent and, for human rage, for human demands for explanations, for human limits of time and space, for the need of humans to get their answers, there is no shortage of targets where we are going, beyond the Straits of Understanding, into the realm of that which not only exists, but exists beyond.

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