That Other World

Sometimes, somedays, you can almost get there. You can just see it, like it’s on the edge of your periphery, with its blending of slanted light among bright, endless colors. You can lay in a dark room and see it, just for a few moments, without really going there, and you get a smell of the grass, of the wind, of the water running through it. Just a few fleeting seconds… perhaps even a minute, where the mind is free of its shackles but before sleep finally takes you to its churning chaos.

The fields stretch on, for forever and yet no distance, because you can see so much further than in the mundane world. Mountains are not hazy lumps beyond sight, nor are they purple shadows beyond smog-filled valleys. They are stark and real, marching away endlessly under a sky of opalescent aqua which fades only to deep blue when the twilight wraps itself on the horizon in shades of orange smearing to violet. Conifer forests swell on the mountains’ shoulders, vast beyond reckoning, rolling on as a great ocean with white peaks as islands.

Between there and here are fields of yellow grass because it is the dry season, or fields of infinite flowers and green turf, for the seasons pass differently there, truer to how they should be. Wheat and barley grow wild on gentle hills with cows lazily browsing. Through the tuffets winds a river of emerald green, moving slowly between shoulders of rock and earth and singing the soft eternal song of running water. Boats move easily through the course, traveling to trading posts and towns nestled among great groves of ancient oak and hoary willow which smell of smoke, fresh meals, and straw.

And these places of human habitation are teeming with life lived in the moment: busy plans coming to fruition or days empty of demands, where a man might lose the sun fishing and never catch his dinner, and yet know he will not go hungry. That same man might walk home slowly, alone or with a fellow from nearby who likewise felt the pull of the cool shade and sighing water under the slightly too-warm sun, and find a dropped antler from some nomadic buck who, having passed the rut and through to the other side of the season of struggle, abandoned his sole weapons only to work on new ones.

This antler, smooth and formed of perfect, graceful curves, nevertheless has the bumps and gnarls of a living thing—it is real and unique within the hands of the fisherman, though he has seen many like it. His sole regret is that its mate is lost somewhere, but the fisherman only needs the one, which his wife will shape into a new handle for her cutlery, or else some small bauble of a sculpture to be given away to someone who will be pleased by it.

The people in this stretch, neither wild nor fully settled, go about with their lives at their own pace, in their own ways, but they are not alone, nor is the world a place purely of such peaceful passing time. Those little people have their own struggles, to be sure, but beyond them are greater contests among greater men—and things other than men. Fortresses stand on rocks and cliffs, proud and unconquered, unchanging since the inceptions of their designs, home to kings and fair queens and emperors, strong legionnaires and knights—the fair people to whom the matters of the plainsfolk are quaint and strange, though in the noblesse oblige of the proud men they care for the small ways, valuing those traditions for their own sake as well as for the sake of the good men and women who carry them.

Elsewhere, trumpets resound in deafening crassness and the earth shakes beneath the war machines of the wild beastmen, hungry and vicious like boars, and even looking like them at times, with hoary snouts and cruel ivory teeth. Upon their banner waves a tusked skull, and always they push forward effigies of swine on their rolling towers and iron machines. Across brown fields, seemingly forgotten, and through dried clusters of oak and thistle they roll forward, called by some unseen malevolence to give battle. It is their purpose, and they are evil indeed, knowing with certainty that one day the proud men will not ride forth, the ramparts will not be held, and they will be able to at last sit themselves upon the burdened throne of nobility and pretend that they are men.

The pigmen don’t remember; they can’t, for the world is old beyond old, its bones laid down long before they ever drew breath. It is ancient, and the proud men and the humble men love it without having to know anything different from their own fields and fiefs. Struggle and tranquility, beauty and purpose all exist there, pushing them to fight once again, to stay the day of doom, that it might never come.

You see this world in glimpses, in half-remembered dreams where the strong men and beautiful women wonder why you must quest to some exit beyond desperate wars, eldritch forests, and gentle rivers. Why you must give up the smells of cracked bread, open flowers, and smoking citrus fires; why you must deny yourself the taste of fruit fresh from an uncorrupted earth, or the feeling of rest after final victory.

They question why you must return to a place of half-light, and fleeting, fading love—a place of struggle without tranquility, of beauty in contrast with ugliness and no purpose to either. Back to the fallen world, and as the vision darkens, as the scent of cool perfume on a light breeze fades away, as you forget the touch of bark under your fingers, more than some mundane tree, you wonder if you created this world, or if it created you, and to which world you belong. But these questions are soon sidelined, because that other place can only be held for a little while, and then it must give way to the mundane, and you forget it for a time, only for it all to come back in a flash of insight when you return to that liminal space, the in-between of here and fay-tinged chaos. And for that moment, when all the lore comes back, when suddenly you inherit a mind of lives and times beyond count, you can, for that moment only, know which world claims you.

Second person is a bit odd, I admit, but that is how I started this piece. I considered changing it to first person (which is probably what some English professors might demand), but the entire mood of the thing changes, and second person seems much more somnial, more hypnotic, which is what this aphorism is shooting for.

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