|Our histories are incomplete, but here is what is known thus far.
One evening, in the abnormally-cold winter of the year 892 AD, an old man fell to his knees upon a precipice, rising magnificently above the sea. The symphony of the waves on the rocks were a lulling white noise, rising up from a world below, and an age ago. We have never learned his name or origins.
The cold ate angrily into his fingers. His eyes watered and he shook terribly, but he held his position under the vastness of the cloudless sky.
One by one, he took objects out of a small knapsack. Upon his lap, he placed this small assortment of trinkets; keepsakes and sentimental items of long history and personal significance. There was an old animal knuckle-bone, worn and pitted like pumice. A short length of twine, tied into a small loop. A hand-carved spoon with a rune cut into the terminal. A tobacco pipe. Some pebbles of no obvious significance. Each of these he produced, held a moment, and placed upon his lap.
Finally, the most prized object—a frayed, dog-eared envelope. He placed it gingerly among the other items on his lap with great care. It was soft and tanned with age. A cracked wax seal. Pencil lines danced delicate tracks across its face, which came together to form words, nearly invisible under the Moon's watery light. Hope and naiveté followed the stroke of those letters. Younger hands had written them. Rendered into modern language, they would read,
"Never shall my heart forget you Always you shall be here Unrestrained by death am I Love unbounded by fear"
The envelope had never been opened.
The old man remained kneeling on the edge of the precipice, contemplating his treasures. In the moonlight, high above the rolling collisions of Earth and Sea, he stilled his violent shivers under the unforgiving sky. He watched his lap, and the silvery ashen shapes upon it, and nothing else. Then it began.
Even over the whitewash below, the beating sobs of the weeping old man were unmistakable. His lonesome and pointless pleas scratched at the indifferent air, and hissed and fizzed to nothingness in the darkness around him. Out of his face streamed all his regrets; all his fears and vulnerabilities; all his anger; all his love. Onto his few treasures, he rained himself out entirely.
Then, up came a plume of a curious steam or vapour from the old man's lap. It was luminous in the black night, and of every colour imaginable. It cast splashes of light everywhere, beautiful and warm. The plume rose up around him, slowly at first, but ever more rapidly. Tendrils of it circled around him, again and again, til he was completely enveloped in thick, writhing, whirling shroud of colours. It absorbed him; a cloud alive with memories and hues. The old man had disappeared.
Upward, the colours bore adrift into the sky. The sobbing was gone. The ocean below was now still, the whisper of the sea was hushed. All fell silent. The cloud of colours, spinning and dancing, rose high into the dome of stars.
When the spiralling colours were distant in the heavens - barely visible from the precipice where the old man had knelt - it peeled apart. The colours spread gently, scattering to the winds of the world, eventually disappearing from sight entirely. Then, finally, all was dark again.
These are the only facts that we have been able to establish so far, for rocks speak very slowly and there are not many which were there that still remain. We call this event The Precipice.
Though unsure of the exact nature of this cloud of colours, we do know that for centuries hence, much of it remained in the upper atmosphere, circulating the jet streams. Precipitation of it has been gradual—and is indeed ongoing to this day. Whatever constituted this curious plume of colours, when it does eventually fall to Earth, seems to be readily absorbed by anything it comes into contact with. It’s a process we call 'cordialling'.
Of course, most of these objects that undergo cordialling are inanimate: rocks, sand grains, trees and grasses, buildings, and so on. People, less numerous, are far less often affected.
Having undergone cordialling, these people, animals, and inanimate objects find themselves urged on by some force unknown, toward something ineffable, but common to them all.
The first caravan of these fellow travellers was assembled about a hundred and twenty years after The Precipice, and consisted of very few. They were: a woman fleeing accusations of heresy, named Fina; a porcupine; half a pint of gruit ale (and, shortly after, the porter boy, Edmund, who drank it); two flies from a Sahara Desert oasis; an unknown second woman; and a small number of plants and other objects. It is this unnamed second woman who is to be credited for the title now given to this diaspora of associates, aligned by these mysterious impulses. She coined us, ‘Caravan of Strangers’.
We have been in continual existence since then. At various points, there have been as many as six hundred and forty-three human members of Caravan of Strangers (1620-1621), and as few as a single individual (1795-1802; 2016-present).
Today, Caravan of Strangers numbers not less than one human, some 920,000 non-human animals (mostly insects, particularly beetles), and tens of millions of inanimate objects (from knitting needles to the Pacific Ocean).
Together, as through history, they are united by a number of principles and practices they hold in common—the catharsis of sorrows and remorse; the seeking of enlightenment, jubilation, true friendship, tune and good drink; achieving some modicum of comfort and redemption, joy and fulfillment. Enrichment of every kind. And, most significantly, a deep and ancient drive toward something ineffable, but common to them all: A love unbounded by fear.
Unrestrained by death am I, this is the story of Caravan of Strangers.
- The Horsemaster