LUCIFER: It may be thou shalt be as we.
CAIN: And ye?
LUCIFER: Are everlasting.
Lord Byron, “Cain”, Act I
This place they were bound for was not on many maps. In fact, it moved a little, season to season, and though rumors of its existence moved east they did at a rate that, by the time news of its presence worked its way back to the authorities in distant Port Uthen, it was invariably too late. Perhaps, if it was a year where the Buracca tribes sent representatives to Port Uthen and protested of intruders, a destroyer would sally forth or aircraft would run patrols in search of it—on the rare occasion when anything came close to it, the tents would scatter and what couldn’t be taken with them would be burned. This had only happened once, during the winter of ’26, and though the survivors believed that a number of their lot had frozen out in the cold on account of lack of shelter this was ultimately difficult to confirm. The territory their side of the Northern Strait was not just wild, it was cruel—it divided and conquered maliciously. People could disappear into it for two or three years, then come back with enough furs to retire comfortably—or they’d be found frozen, hanging upside down from a tree with a bolt run through their heels and their jaw forcefully removed. So it was difficult to say when someone died—they were bound to show up again one way or another anyhow.
After ’26, the place’s keepers had made a point of keeping Coldbones (hardly a town, but out here any kind of civilization was something profound) more mobile, and by keeping it off the mainland they settled into a pattern of half a dozen sites that they cycled through year to year. The Buracca were remarkably less likely to launch an organized assault on any substantial scale across the arctic waters that far north, and though winters ate a few ships supplies came in steadily enough, offloaded by tall ships at the edge of the icepacks and sent the rest of the way by dogsled. The truth of the matter though was that no one was really very safe out there—getting food could starve you, finding god could haunt you, and you were bound to die making a living if you weren’t careful with your luck.
Into this cold and cruel world the two rode in the winter of nineteen hundred and forty. They had spent two days on the ice, navigating the pressure ridges that the currents caused and hiding their faces from the wind. The evening of the second day, low on firewood and thus life itself, they could see the settlement’s lights in the distance; a chain of wooden posts with lanterns atop them lit early in the night to guide stragglers the last few miles through the icy labyrinth. Having spent one hazardous night in the maze, they pushed on until the lanterns failed in the oncoming night. The two continued to navigate by compass, but more slowly now; on occasion they dismounted and, where it seemed prudent, leading their horses over large upset blocks of ice in a more direct route, though this was rare. The night was clear at first, and the countless stars hung stark against the ribbons of light that waved like shreds of flags. The moon, full, provided good illumination to their staggering march, and the two moved on across the desolate landscape, listening to the ice groan and the wind beg for unspeakable things. It was the wind that drove them on like phantoms on a Halloween night, because the clouds on the horizon were moving on them, boiling darkly and hinting of a wind which could in the course of a night push the ice they tread wearily upon another ten or twenty miles away from the settlement. Sleepless and driven by winds not yet felt the two moved, their breath hanging in the air, their dreamless traverse of the frozen wasteland rendered all the more dreamlike by the strange and wordless stillness of the hour.
After several hours, out of the speechless dark, different shapes rose—no longer jagged like monstrous teeth, but dark and smooth and against which the teeth scraped lonely lines, as if they were bones for some cosmic hound to gnaw upon. From the ice rose hulls, masts, rigging lines and occasional tendrils of smoke trickling from chimneys above dimly lit portholes. Icicles hung from the railings, the bowsprits, the anchor chains, and the snow atop the ice was less clean—footprints from dogs, horses, and men mingled around these ships, and signs of men’s work began to appear out of the dark in the form of sleds and crates and mortal things. The frozen sea gave way to frozen land, and they arrived.
As much of a sight as they were with their horses wrapped in furs that hid their gauntness and the latter wearing armor like an errant knight, they were two strangers in a stranger land of strangers. Coldbones was a rogue town, without law or flag, and no time more lawless than in the dark of arctic night. The wind was beginning to blow as they came, their horses’ hooves cracking into the frozen mud which looked under moonlight like a sea caught midstorm. Against the blue frozen moonlight, the sea of tents sung unhappily, the wind slapping canvas walls and provoking sounds like whips. As lawless as a town as Coldbones was, it was fifteen below zero without the wind, and such temperatures sucked whatever evil might be in the hearts of men into the ground, much like it would their bodies if given the chance. The street, thus, was almost empty; a lone figure moved clumsily across the wide street, not bothering to look at the new arrivals, and stumbled into the next tent over, his entrance briefly sending a column of light into the dark as the tent’s door opened, then closed, and darkness again.
“Coldbones.” The first said to the second, his voice muffled by the cloth pulled round his face. The first’s companion nodded, and repeated the word.
They moved on towards the largest tent, and the first dismounted, and began slamming the bear paw he wore as a glove into the wooden door repeatedly. The noise failed to rouse anyone, and with what might have been a shrug the first unlatched the door and pulled his horse inside. The second rode after him.
Inside the circular structure the ground was paneled with rough, slick wooden boards, and the place altogether smelled of manure. There was little space in the stable for the horses, but there was enough and it did the task. The two stepped outside again into the dark, and the first of the two bumped the latter with his palm before gesturing down the street. He followed.
By now the wind was picking up and the snow was beginning to blow in, and the two were grateful to step out of it. Inside the tent, their eyes adjusted. The tent, a large, round structure with a central firepit surrounded by tiny partitioned off rooms, smelled musky and smoky; a few huddled figures in the center failed to acknowledge the newcomers. Behind the firepit, on the far side, crates had been arranged like a countertop, and a primitive semblance of a bar was present—the dirtiest white shirt either had seen and the most loosely done bow tie.
In the dim interior, the fire and the radio crackled equally.
Ladies and gentlemen, his majesty King Ian now addresses their people on behalf of their majesties.
(Thank you. Yes. Now?)
To the senators and citizens of the Confederated Kingdom, and our brothers and sisters across the globe: nineteen hundred forty one dawns with the promise of new possibilities. Hope, being the core spirit of civilization, prospers with the most prominent flourish in an environment where all share common freedoms: the rights to travel without fear, to live without harassment, and to stand among equals without regard to state or race.
Commonly, these liberties define a universal bond among the upstanding and honorable kingdoms and nations of our realm, and it is our most sincere aim to promote such earnest relations with all of our neighbors, be they from our northern frontiers or more temperate climates. As lovers of dignity, the people of the Confederated Kingdoms, and our neighbors, should aspire to the common creed of peace, honor, and equality among the nations.
In accordance with these principles, the Confederated Kingdoms enters the new year with a responsibility to promote tranquility among men, respect among nations, and to ultimately forward the objectives of civilization: that none may need fear the ill will of others, that freedom may not be challenged, and that honest dignity shall not be trampled by the cruelties of others.
With the Confederated Kingdoms beginning to further our relations with foreign powers, these principles remain the crux and core of the philosophies that give cause to our order and order to our cause. With the implementation and recognition of the Unuris Agreement between Crowningglory and Nimiskraus, further opportunities for the trade and exchange of materials and ideals now exist between our respective nations, and with the return of the former Lusitanian state to the international community a similar opportunity to better this community of men and women in peace and earnest will exist. The Confederated Kingdom will have a responsibility to match outstretched hands firmly, and to treat as equals any and all who share our common creed.
But a common creed is only as strong as the arms that hold it upright, and this new year also promises opportunities to test our commitment to these principles. By breathing the air, drinking the water, and living our lives, we must all accept the mantle of our times. In spite of our best wishes and hopes, there will be disappointment and obstacles. Lofty ideals such as ours, that a man is entitled to live with hope, and that hate and oppression must in time be relegated back into the flames which spawn such malices, demand constant exercise and practice. We will meet those throughout our day who struggle more with the vices of cruelty and coldness than others, and we must meet them evenly.
Thus, at the start of this new year, we must ask ourselves and our neighbors at home, and our national neighbors, to hold ourselves to these principles: that our strength is nothing without a mind to moderate the ills of fear and apprehension, and that our common soul must stymie instigations of violence and oppression.
In terms of our national spirit, these beliefs are made clear through our international policies; of honoring our treaties with the Buracca tribes north of Uthenland, we preserve peace with respect to the sanctity of all men. In honoring our strong treaty with the Aerah Empire, we promote peaceful coexistence and hope, and in focusing inward on our own nation and rejecting aggressive international ambitions of conflict, we sanctify the values expressed by the words which we honor.
Foreign states, then, would be wise to recognize our integrity and sincerity when we say in turn that our corner of the globe deserves no less a peace than the peace which we have already secured and maintained for nearly twenty years. Foreign adventures amongst our neighbors by glory seekers and would be conquerors challenges the peace and stability which our people, and all people, cherish so strongly. Thus, to conclude the thought, these facts must be established: our virtues, and the defense of our virtues, must be first and foremost in the hearts and minds of all men, and that acts of aggression must be combatted not just with guns and swords, but with pen and tongue. Together, peace may be preserved.
The Confederated Kingdoms thus reiterates our commitment to peace in the north, and to our open hands towards our brothers and sisters in Nimiskraus, and in the former Lusitanian state, and to men and women around the globe. Their majesties finally conclude with our sincerest hopes for peace, prosperity, dignity and honor in this new year, and wish the best to all the citizens of the world. May the gods bless you, and happy new year.
In another dimly lit and distant room, a hand reached out and with a forceful click shut the radio down. There was a happy optimism to the crowded room; a cache of brandy had been opened, and the men and women of Cap Reed Station smiled warmly in the lantern light. They were grateful for the year, and for their home of corrugated metal and wooden planks. Outside in the dark, it was raining, playing staccato rhythms on the roof and the windows, and in the corner the stove crackled and it all came together in a reassuring symphony of voices and environment.
"A toast then!" and a toast it is; in the dark, hands go up and hopes go out--peace, love, hope, good fortune...
Outside, the dark stretches without interruption for thousands of miles. But for the twenty six men and women left on Bonhaven Island, the world resides in their bunkhouse, their storage shed, their radio set, and following the difficulties of establishing their little enclave--bringing ashore supplies, cold nights in tents while the buildings were established and the concrete dried and while they pulleyed antennas into position--their small, civilized celebration feels as large as a city square holding thousands.
Outside, the wind moans, and the rain falls, and in time, the battery bank is shut down for the night, and then in time the candles fade.