If you take a look at the world (you don’t even have to look very look) you will quickly see that it is a fantastically dangerous place. One miss step and you will wind up quite thoroughly and irrevocably dead. And not in a fancy metaphorical or spiritual kind of way. Just dead. Stone dead. If anyone ever tells you that the world is not a dangerous place then they are one of two things: 1. Hopelessly naive, or 2. One of the exact reasons the world is a dangerous place. (I’m talking about the sort of person who confronts threats to their person by horribly murdering them before setting about turning the offending party’s bones into soup and their eyes into jam.)
But one of the most dangerous things you are every likely to encounter is a Question. Now I bet some of you are sitting there either laughing your pants off or furrowing your brow and going “Eh? What are you talking about? Are you mad?”
I’m not talking about questions; things like “What’s for tea?” or the perennial favourite “Have you seen my keys?” I’m talking about Questions. The big lumbering things that have really got some meat to them and you can real give a good swing. A swing hard enough to do some proper old-fashioned smashing when they hit something. Like a face; an idea; a government. They don’t even need to be very. Questions are like spiders, it’s the small ones that are most likely to kill you. Questions like “Why?”
Now Questions, as I’ve said, are dangerous things. But Questions aren’t half as dangerous as Answers. Answers are really, properly deadly. Deadly in an old school, biblical, apocalyptic fire and brimstone sort of way. A Question can make you do things, it can make you change who you are, it can change your world, it can transform and revolutionise, it can make you blaze a trail of fire across the countryside and tear down walls, topple the unjust and unseat the unrighteous mighty. A Question can remake the world! An answer though? An answer can make you realise it was all a waste of time. A really thorny Question might eat you away inside with its maybes and what-ifs. But an answer can shatter you and sunder into an entire universe of fragments than no will could ever reassemble. An Answer is a thing of ruin. Ruin, it turns out, is not exactly a good thing. For one, it’s inconvenient.
Why is this important you might ask. Well things which are dangerous also have power, it’s part of the package. Questions have power. If they didn’t have power they wouldn’t be able to do any of the things they invariably tend to do. And if Questions have powers by virtue of they inherent dangerousness then think what sort of power an Answer has. If a Question can kill, what can an Answer do? And should you ever happen upon someone who has all the Answers, a person with the capability to quiet your Questions. Then what sort of force do they exert of the fragile weave of the world? How great is their skill and might if they can wield the magic of Answers? To have tamed such things as Answers should be enough to inspire a terrible awe.
This is all knowledge you need. You need it to give you perspective on the way things are. Otherwise a lot of things aren’t going to make a whole heap of sense to you. Ignorance is dangerous too.
The Mongolian word for yurt is Ger, it means home. But this particular yurt is something a little big more than someone’s home. It is a sacred place, a place of ancient power. It is a place of power.
The air within is close and hot, every breath is filled the smell of fire ash, smoke and an undercurrent of something that doesn’t seem entirely of this world. There is a tiny section to the rear of the great tent, it is barely large enough to harbour a single person. It is partitioned from the rest of the tent by drapes of deep navy blue felt. A handful of people sit scatted about the interior, resting on red velvet cushions. The carpet beneath them is a patchwork of animal skins, ranging from sheep and goat, to bear and tiger. The people wait, they wait for her.
Everyone here has Questions and things they want, nay need to know. It should be obvious what they seek. They seek solace and confirmation, consolation and vindication, but most of all they seek an end. They seek Answers.
Without warning the drapes are cast aside and from the darkness within that concealed space appears a woman of great age all dressed in black and her back bowed with the weight of years and the burden of what she knows. They call her The Crone. She is a seer. She knows things. She knows your desires, your doubts and she knows your questions. And though she may not have to hand the answers you seek, she knows where they hide; where they can be found. And she will find them, and break them, and bring them to bear. She may even give them to you, which is perhaps the most dreadful thing of all.
She raises a wizened finger and points at a seemingly unremarkable young man near the edge of the tent
“You…” she begins “You have a Question”
“Yes” he replies nervously
“You want an Answer, yes?”
“Please” he begs. The Crone fixes him with her gaze, her eyes an intense blue; like the ocean, only deeper.
“Are you sure? Are you willing to pay the price?” The Crone asks
“Yes, I’ll do anything. Please…” he says stumbling awkwardly to his feet.
“I doubt you will be so polite or insistent once you have what you seek. No one ever is, but I will answer your question all the same.” The Crone reaches into the sleeve of her robes and produces a wisp of paper so thin as to be nearly transparent; an ephemeral and nebulous thing; an almost nothing. She hands it to the young man.
“Look at it if you will. But know that it is folly. You would be wise to just burn it.” The Crone says and then turns and begins to walk back to her sanctuary behind the drapes. The young man looks at the coil of paper in his hand.
“What is the price for this answer?” he asks. The Crone stops before her drapes of navy blue felt and turns to face him.
“Knowing it” she replies. The Crone casts the drapes aside and is swallowed by the inky blackness of her reliquary.
The young man careful unspools the paper and reads that which he has so desperately sought. And then everything changed…