Adventure of the Realm of the Supernals
The four (and Guava) continue to sail north; the simurg waves atop her distant peak. On the morning of the third day, the wind is brisk, the sky is beautiful, and a crystal wall rises out of the sea before them, about forty feet long and forty feet high. When they attempt to sail around it, it moves to block their path with a musical note. They bring the boat to a halt.
They decide to sail straight toward it, in hopes that it will allow them passage. As they approach, they pick up speedthe wall almost seems to be pulling them toward it, faster and faster until they are airborne, skimming just over the top of each wave. Isaac pulls out the unicorn hide and throws it at the wall. It sails up and holds fast to the crystal; shimmering lights erupt, and the boat passes through the wall. Guava shrieked, but they came through unharmed and splashed down. Elffin falls overboard and has to be grappled back (again).
The water dripping from him is bright green, purple, red. When they look around, they see bands of rainbow color drifting over the waves. An island is visible in the distance, with a central peak that dwarfs that of any they have seen yet; the Island of Wisdom. There are no clouds, and it is very hot.
They see no harbors, although there are houses on the shore. The water is very shallow, and they see a large rock on the bottom below them. Then a bigger rock. They sail back out to avoid them, but there is another... no,it's not a rock. It's something large and circular, coming up right beneath them. When it hoists them out of the water, it proves to be a giant crab, with claws the size of a man.
It swims toward the shore, carrying their boat on its back. The passengers hang on for dear life as its legs click over the rocks. The claws reach up and grab the gunwales, lift up the boat as the crab climbs up onto the shoreline at a very steep angle. They have a good chance to see the huge flocks of birds flying north and south over the island.
The angle changes abruptly as the crab crosses a ridge, and they are looking very sharply down. There's a tense moment as it actually leaps across a small chasm, the sea foaming through the gap below. Then it deposits the boat in a small, protected lagoon inside the ring of peaks and walks back away. There is a village on the shore, dominated by a large, square building with many doors.
A small group of people is waiting for them as they carefully disembark. The people of this island are tall and muscular, both men and women. One of them, an older man with a gray beard, welcomes them with hearty embraces, as do the others. He tells them that the people of the Island of Binah had sent the gryphon to let them know of the travelers' arrival. There is a feast waiting inside the great building, which is called the Porch of Wisdom, with roast lamb and fresh fruit.
Inside the Porch is a many-pillared square room, with stairs leading down from the center. Beside this opening is a pillar, topped by a statue of King Solomon. The pillar is Boaz, one of those which held up the entrance to the Temple, and which was saved by the gryphon.
They have a very pleasant feast, and tell the natives the things that have transpired in the other realms since their advent in this land. Elffin tells the story very well. It saddens them; the gryphon has been bringing them news, and they knew what should be done, but were unable to share it. The things of the Island of Wisdom are for the entire world, not any one part of it.
The islanders are very enthusiastic about everything they do, including their food, and despite the sad conversation the feast is very pleasant. There is tumbling as entertainment; it's quite impressive, given the size and physiques of the islanders.
Their eyes are continually drawn back to the pit in the center of the room. The natives give them pillows, and they sleep in the Porch that night. There are only about fifty people living on the island, it seems. There are 32 doors to the Porch, as there are 32 ways to wisdom.
The next day the travelers awaken feeling energized. Watching the endless stream of birds in their mysterious travels, they spot a particularly large bird descending.
It's not a bird; it's the gryphon, and it's very large. It lands next to the village, very gracefully, and regards them all before greeting them, "Peace be with you." The gryphon has come from the Island of Knowledge with a dilemma for them to solve. The people of that island see everything that goes on in the wide world, and they send it to the Island of Wisdom, who decide what to do and send the solution back to be written. They all go into the Porch of Wisdom (including the gryphon) and discuss the problem, which concerns a king of India whose heir and second wife dislike one another. The king is concerned that once he dies, the good of both the wife and the son will be protected.
The people here debate as enthusiastically as they do everything else, with many gestures and much pacing. Elffin fits right in. Once they have come to a conclusion (the wife should be given some lands of her own), the gryphon departs to bear their solution to the Island of Knowledge.
Everyone goes outside and strips down. The natives appear to be dividing into teams; the knights watch, bewildered, as the islanders engage in a series of vigorous relay races, some of which involve people swimming across the lagoon. The knights find themselves a place among the spectators and pick teams at random, just to be participating somehow, since there is no way they could compete themselves. Elffin's team wins. The contest is roughly competitive, but not violent.
The patriarch (who is also named Solomon) wants to know when they are going into the pit. He tells them that all must face Behemoth before leaving the island. There's no sense in putting it off, really; they know they will have to descend the stair, to see what awaits, so after the race is over they go into the Porch of Wisdom. All four must go, and all four must return, they are told. They can take nothing with them but their clothes (and yes, that includes their swords). Guava stays outside.
The stairs go down a brief way, then turn into a passage. A faint light seems to come from the walls. The way is branching. In the distance, there is a sound like something massive breathing. They take the middle passage, and after a short distance realize that Isaac has disappeared. They turn back to look for him, and take one of the other passages. Elffin disappears. Richard and Aeron cautiously attempt to find their way back to the original passage. Aeron disappears. And then so does Richard. Each is about to face Behemoth....
Aeron opens his eyes and finds himself armed and armored, near what he knows is a Saxon farm, with three warriors facing him. He charges them without pause. A great axe rings from his armor and a spear misses him as his sword shatters the head of the third man in a shower of hideous fluids. In the next exchange of blows, the spearman ends up holding his own internal organs. The third man dies with a single vicious stroke. Then the farmer's two sons appear, holding clubs. They don't stand a chance. He feels a twinge of guilt, yet cannot stop himself as he cuts them down, crushing one's head with the flat of his sword. Then he sees their wives... them too. And the babies. All die....
Richard finds himself richly clothed, in a brilliantly colored palace. There's a party going on. Everything is wonderful. As he wanders about, he finds that he has somehow taken a very wrong turn into the ladies' baths. The ladies seem delighted to see him. The scene quickly devolves into one of such perverse pleasures as would make a satyr blush to think of it. Nothing pure and honorable goes undefiled in the course of the passing hours. Throughout, tormented by shame yet unable to stop himself, he still cannot achieve the release he craves....
Elffin finds himself in a dark hall, in the resplendent clothes of the court. As his situation unfolds he finds himself dining with a king, queen, prince and princess, all of whom hate one another. All of whom, over the course of the night, request his help, and promise him great favors. He knows that whoever comes out on top after this evening will have their rivals killed. He knows that he could arrange matters so that all four are out of his way, leaving the power to him. The best he can do is to split the interests of everyone in the room so no one party can gain the critical mass of approval needed to do away with the rest. This of course means that everyone now hates him. When the party is over, he finds himself trapped in the center, and they are literally tearing him to shreds in revenge....
Each of them opens their eyes to find themselves back on the Porch of Wisdom, with the others beside them and the tribe of Manessa standing around. The knights are ashen with shock, having seen the darkest depths of their own souls. Isaac seems to be, too. They exchange halting words with one another, attempting to understand what has happened. The islanders bring them food and drink; they've seen the effects of the pit before. Isaac leaves without a word, however, refusing all attempts at comfort.
Solomon takes the three of them outside and climbs a peak. He points into the distance, where they can see lights in the clouds. That is Kether, the Crown of Perfection, the goal and reward for their journey. There is one more ordeal yet to pass, but he is confident they can pass it. God would not have brought them so far if they were not meant to go the entire way.
When they get down to the village, Isaac is sitting in the boat. He barely responds when spoken to, and appears to have been weeping. They are all ready to leave at once, but Solomon insists they eat something before they go. They don't want to spend another night beside that pit, and since none of them is going to sleep, there's no real point in staying.
The stars are very clear that night. After a while it begins to rain. Elffin, who is working on some writing, begins to put the parchment away when he realizes that the ink is not smearing. Tiny pearls are raining down by the thousand, filling the bottom of the boat in a fine layer. It's rather like watching snow fall.
Eventually, they sleep after all.
The next night, they see an island in the distance. It looks exactly like the one they just left behind them, but Isaac confirms that this is the Island of Knowledge ahead. The sun has grown even more intense, like nothing they had ever imagined.
This time it's a giant lobster, even larger than the crab, which brings them ashore, gently gripped in its main claw.
Things are almost exactly the same, except that the people are unusually small rather than large, with slim builds. The gryphon is waiting there. Instead of the Porch, there is a domed building with fifty doors, for the fifty gates of knowledge: the Library. The Matriarch Leah is leader here, and welcomes them. On this island they receive news from the entire world, from angels, birds, and others. As she speaks, a seagull is walking up and down in the sand before another member of the tribe, its tracks forming Hebrew letters. She takes them into the library, which is entirely lined with shelves and cabinets holding scrolls. Members of the tribe of Ephraim are running busily about the place. At one point, they are sure they see a man reach into a cabinet and pluck out a scroll that did not exist before he touched it. In the center of the Library is another pillar, with a statue of the original Leah, and a podium holding one of the cloud-spun copies of the Torah from the Island of Mercy.
Isaac shows no interest in anything; the knights are very concerned by his continued depression after the events on the Island of Wisdom.
Leah tells them that as a reward for their achievements, they may each ask one question of the island dwellers. It must be a question about a matter of fact, and cannot concern the future.
Richard, still somewhat shaken after his experience on Wisdom, and also thinking of everything they have seen so far and what he has done with his life, asks her with great sincerity what a man should strive for in his life. He receives a lengthy discourse on the virtues as expounded by several of the world philosophies, which gives him a great deal to think about.
Elffin wants to know what happened to the false priest he and Richard had encountered with Rupert. Leah sends a man scrambling up a ladder for a scroll."The traitorous false priest did escape the brave knights," it reads, "and run northward. To this day he is there, fooling the faithful, deceiving the devout, and being covered with riches thanks to his false tongue. To further enhance his schemes, he has actually learned Latin, not relying on gibberish for the effect." The priest is going under the name Paul. He adds that they should beware, for the priest carries a hidden dagger.
Aeron wants to know where the Holy Grail might be found. He is told that it lies hidden near Glastonbury, and that only the purest knight who has ever lived can find it. The showing of the Holy Grail will be the last and greatest of a series of revelations of treasures that the Lord will use to honor Arthur's reign. The treasure the knights will see, should they pass their ordeal, will be the first. After the revelation of the Grail Arthur's reign will be near its end.
The knights are deeply disturbed by her hints of an end to Arthur's rule; she tells them with some sadness that dark forces are gathering, that they have been since the beginning. The glory of Logres shall not endure, and should be treasured while it lasts.
Isaac goes outside; he does not want to ask a question. Elffin goes after him and finds him looking at the stars, and engages him in talk. Isaac does not believe that he will reach the end of the quest, though he is confident of his companions' success. He decides at last that he will ask a question after all, but he will ask it for the others.
They go back in, and he asks Leah what the secret word of the Knight of the Black and White Eagle was. Another scroll is fetched, and she gives them the word. Isaac explains to the knights that when they return to England they will have to continue the fight against the evil Corvid represented. With this word, they can pose as leaders of his organization and work their way in to destroy it. He also tells them to beware anyone who bears acacia wood about their bodies, or who uses the eagle as their symbol. They will all be targets of the order upon their return.
Leah then tells them about the other half of their ordeal: they must climb the island's central mountain. They may take nothing, and all four must go, all four return. They should start off at night, to avoid the heat of the sun, already brutal. It is twilight now.
They set off. The first night is not too difficult. After a couple hours they leave the tree line; from that point it is only bare rock, much of it sheer and pathless. They climb, and stop at dawn. They lick dew from the rocks, the only source of water. High above them they see something odd, like lots of tiny specks with threads coming from them; they can't make out what it is. In the morning they are woken by a tickling sensation, and open their eyes to see a line of spiders running across them, each spider hunting the one before it and fleeing the one after it, in a perfectly straight line.
They continue through the night until they come to a cleft which seems impassable. The walls are thick with spider silk. They eventually find a steep slope that looks like they might be able to scramble across. Elffin and Aeron make it with no trouble; Richard helps boost Isaac but then finds that he is unable to manage the crossing himself. They make ropes of their clothing and, with that assistance, he is able to make it, though he falls at one point and cuts himself on the rocks. Given the heat, no one really misses the encumbrance of the clothing, and the continue on through the dark hours.
They are all beginning to suffer from the lack of food and water, and the horrible heat. The next night there is an almost sheer rock face to climb, sixty feet worth. Then fingers are bleeding and they are halfway up it, when a vast wave of spiders sweeps down the rock, climbing over every inch of the battered climbers, so many of them they make a soft rushing noise.
Another brutal day passes slowly. Isaac is not doing very well. They are all tormented by nightares that keep them from sleeping more than an hour at a stretch; the others' screams wake them when their own visions don't. They revisit their ordeals on the Island of Wisdom, and worse. That night they continue their journey.
There is a flat depression before the final quarter of the climb. It shimmers oddly in the moonlight, and for a moment they can't tell what it is.
It finds its way into every cut, sears their eyes and lungs. The crystals cut their feet into ribbons.
When they have crossed, Isaac collapses. He does not believe he can finish their ordeal, though it seems another night will see them to the summit. He wants to confess something to them: his vision before Behemoth. His vision in the pit showed him his own desire for the sacred stones of Kether, a dream in which he betrayed everything he loved to claim their power for his own, returned to his homeland and found himself acclaimed as the Messiah.
When dusk falls and they awaken, the rabbi is dead. Aeron is the only one with enough strength left to carry him. It's not that far, but they can't make it during the night; when day comes, however, they find themselves still walking. It is noon when they reach the summit. They are so close to the edge of the world, the sun might very well graze this spot as it passes by.
There is a fountain there, and a small bubbling pool. They drink deeply. Out of some delusional hope, or hopeful delusion, they give some of the water to Isaac.
It revives him, much to his surprise.
To the east, they can dimly see the Island of Severity. To the west, they can cloud-wrapped Kether with its rays of light. Beyond that, a line of darkness, and then further darkness.
The gryphon arrives and congratulates them on the end of their ordeal. They climb onto its back and it flies down to the little village. The tribe of Ephraim greets them joyously and tends their wounds, gives them food and water; between that and the fountain, they find themselves entirely healed. They rest for the night.
At dawn they awaken; before them lies culmination of more than a year of travel and privation. Even Isaac seems fully recovered. They set sail for the northwest, and Kether.
The air is clean, the sea bright, and the stream of birds passes overhead, into the clouds before them, from which stream sixty-two rays of light. The journey is not long, a couple hours, and the island itself if very small. The rim of the world is very close. The water is very deep blue, yet clear; fish teem in the deeps, some of kinds they have never imagined.
The center of the island is a small forest, with a beach all around it. They land on the beach; the sand is scattered with unpolished gemstones. The trees are from every corner of the world, as are the birds. Guava is uncharacteristically quiet.
They walk through the woods, across the island, and come to the last land before the end of the world. There on the beach stands a small hexagonal pedestal of grey stone. Wrapped around it is a legged snake. On the pedestal are two stones.
The snake greets them, "Peace be with you." It congratulates them on the success of their quest, and explains how God has blessed the reign of Arthur, and will continue to do so, and its tales will be told until the world ends. This quest is merely the first in a series of great revelations to come.
They cannot, of course, take the stones away, but they never truly expected that this would be the case; God has placed the stones on Kether for a reason, and there they must stay. But they have been vouchsafed a great blessing in seeing all they have seen.
They are free to wander the island for some time; the snake tells them that the gems of the beach are formed by the heat of the sun as it passes close by. The birds take them from here to the rest of the world, and bring back the seeds from every kind of tree. The birds do not prey upon one another, but play merrily. There is a sense of peace, complete and inviolable.
The snake also tells them of itself; it is the brother of the serpent in the Garden. "In the morning of the world, we were happy together. Why he did what he did, I never knew, I tried to convince him not to. Yet he would not listen to me. God knew that I had tried to convince him, and as a reward rather than taking my legs, as He did to all our descendants, He gave me this position, to the guard the Urin and the Thummin here on the island of Kether. It is a great honor."
A brief time passes in reverent contemplation, though not so reverent that they don't check with the snake and see if it would be okay to take some of the gems. The snake assures them that it is fine; they are not acting out of greed.
Isaac suggests that since they will probably never have another chance, they should look over the Edge. So, they cast off and continue sailing on to the edge of the world; behind them, the snake waves a tiny leg. The rim that holds the seas in place is flat and broad, about forty feet wide, and the water is very shallow at the edge. They haul the little boat out and walk to the very edge. Above, below, is the void. Richard drops a pebble and watches it fall towards forever. The moon is slipping out of sight on the other side.
Elffin is so moved by the glorious strangeness of it all that he breaks into a dance. It's catching. Isaac teaches them all the hora on the spot.
Then it is time to head for home. They stop at the Island of Knowledge and inquire after the White Rose, which they find has spent a brief time in piracy and is now engaged in (mostly) peaceful shipping between the islands of Foundation. The squires and horses are alive and well, although the former have had rather too much experience of the world now to continue on as squires. When Elffin inquires, they are told that yes, Deboret is still in love with Richard.
They continue their journey, not in any great haste. The folk of Severity are laconically surprised to see them still alive. When they sail into the harbor at Hod, they are met with such hostility (and so many arrows) that they immediately sail right back out. Everyone there is now wearing Benjamite blue. They move on to Yesod, and find the White Rose docked there.
Their squires greet them with great joy. Christopher is wearing an eyepatch now; they're all quite tanned and muscled and wearing swords, and seem to have become fast friends with the crew. Everyone is happy at the thought of going home. When the knights mention their reception at Hod, there is mention that, well, yes, we did sink a few of their ships.... That night, sailers and squires bid farewell to their local lady friends; it's something of a rude homecoming for the knights after the glories of Kether.
The horses are on Malketh, so they stop there to pick them up, along with a pair of the tiny ones to bring home with them (no room for some of the warbirds, alas). The little boat they tie to the stern to bring with them. While they're there, Elffin takes it upon himself to talk to Deboret and gently explain to her that it would never work out with his cousin (earning said cousin's instant forgiveness for every moment of teasing he's endured on this journey). She seems resigned to this. Haggah is there as well, but it is clear that her mind will never recover after her ordeal; the Samsonites watch after her.
Much as they have missed their home, they have also grown accustomed to the lands they journeyed in, and they set sail with mixed feelings. On the journey home, it's clear that the three former squires will never be exactly like the other knights; they've seen a lot, and been through some strange things. At the same time, they've obviously acquired the martial skills required. They're looking for a way to combine their acquired love of seagoing with knightly pursuits, perhaps questing to the far reaches of the world, maybe the Antipodes. Elffin spends much of time writing a chronicle of their journey, asking Isaac's advice often.
When they at last arrive in Camelot, in their tattered clothes, with their leathery tans and strange animals in tow, they are stared at. Being more dear to their hearts, they find the city more lovely than anything on the Isle of Beauty. They make their way to the palace, where the king immediately takes Isaac off to hear about the stones. He is, predictably, somewhat disappointed that they were not able to bring them back. The knights are feasted and given a chance to tell their story (as usual, Elffin does the honors), which will be spread throughout the lands.
There is one sad note: they receive news that, during their long absence, Elffin's father has died, and his brother has gone out to seek after him. No one is sure of his present whereabouts.
But overall, the time is one of celebration. The squires are duly knighted. Elffin, in a moment of stunning generosity, buys them a ship with some of the jewels from Kether. Richard buys some new armor, rather nicer than the set he lost over the side of their boat. The boat itself remains at Camelot, where Isaac will look after it... in case it is ever needed again.
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© 1999 David Twiddy