There is a thing which is expressed but unsaid, an uncaring ethos driven by the cold wind over ice and body alike. I speak of course of that last strange telling, Winter’s Riddle. Having done a survey of existing traditions, and modeling the future according to current enigmatic trends, I feel it is time to frame this great mystery. Along the way I will provide examples of the various facets which comprise the Riddle, for, as we will see, the telling goes beyond one voice.
From early days, beyond memory and perhaps time, the Riddle of Winter has been known, told, understood and ignored by generations living through our icebound world. It imparts the notion of cruelty, meaninglessness, savagery and wonton behavior in the smallness of things. What is most tantalizing about this is the promise that there was another world before, one warmer, teeming with life, abundant with pleasure and possibility. Sages and wizards speak of this verdant past, but Winter is cruel to the learned and much information is cloistered by myth and legend, the entropy of time. What is most telling is that no magicians survive from this elder place, or if any do they are too far gone into their philosophies to share their memory.
This brings me to a more formal point on the nature of riddles. As a form of oral storytelling and a mixture of play riddles represent a form of cultural memory, a trait greatly lacking on the savage tundra. These spoken artifacts classically take two forms: psychoma, which are word puzzles couched in metaphor and allegory, and somata, more playful games of language set with puns which must be unraveled in order to come to a solution. Our prime Riddle seems to belong to the psychoma classification, though there is a strong argument from the somata camp. In either event this conundrum often invades the place of other traditions, dominating minds and dousing spirits, and as we will see it is not content to abide classification.
Little time or effort has gone into cataloguing our collective enigmas. The reasons for this are varied from barbarism to the alien hubris of the magically inclined to the vast barriers which lie between cultures fighting for survival on the endless ice. Despite this trouble some examples persist in certain texts and histories and these examples I have provided.
What is most striking about these riddles is the breadth of experience implied. These are beings of all statures and comportment, sex, inclination, and even type. Some are inhuman, while others are simple people who managed to have their puzzles caught upon the written page, saved for future arcane researchers to discover. There are mind games from the ice-chewers of Ka’an Atul and death-curses from the duelists of An’bi, victory rhymes by Jassal tribesmen upon the taking of a finger from a live opponent to freeze-songs sung by the pale women of Xet. All different voices, different tellings.
Canny readers will realize that the solutions to the riddles presented are vexing. I can partially illustrate this. While the subject of each is the notion of Winter’s Riddle, the answers involved are not the Answer. The larger resolution is absent in each telling, which are personal, specific, bounded by contexts which are obscured, hidden or entirely missing to us distant readers. It is as if I burned a stick of incense and then asked where the lighting match was made. Yet answers do persist, even in the face of such adversity.
What is being told here is the struggle of a single being, a survivor of our riddled world. There lies the answer, not in the huge and numinous, but in the specific and personal. The character described is the answer, as they are asking about themselves, in most cases. To engage in these requires one to go out into their story and experience their otherness. Even this writer couldn’t help but add his note to the list.That is the howl of Winter’s Riddle, the many, disparate and heedless of each other. Cast through time, across brittle continents and frozen seas, speckled across cultures according to the law of stories. Each interacts with the Riddle in their own way, their answers riddles unto themselves, in sequence and recursion.
That is the great trouble with discovering the Answer: we are not sure of the Riddle itself. It has many variations and versions, translations, mistranslations, errors, mistakes, all part of some great and unknowable whole. It is perhaps insoluble, despite how greatly this pains the inquisitive mind. So then how might it be solved?The Riddle is everything. Every moment and frost, every sword and barbarian, even unto the house of magicians, the great continent of Summer floating on its gilded impossibility. If one were to have the whole of all information, past, present and future, only then might one have the full telling of the Riddle. I can only imagine that the Answer must be forged through means yet undiscovered, or so sublime that it escapes the educated mind.
Winter’s Riddle is neither psychoma nor somata for the reason that there seems to be no Answer, no dedication to form, any such certainly has escaped this lone chronicler, as all I can do is add my voice to the others in telling. I propose a new classification for the Riddle: nousa, as it pertains directly to the realm of unreality which some call magic. Yet, if even the archmasters are helpless in determining the unknown, then what can any icebound hope to discover?