i. fatwa at drake's passage
We start once upon a time, in this world and in the year that I was born… long ago, or maybe not. We start with a boy, a dirty grey boy. His name is Daisuke.
He lives on an island: Signe. This is a real-world place, but far from any place you or I would feel is familiar or comfortable. Singe is an island north of Antarctica, one of the South Orkney Islands in the Scotia sea. Singe is where the whalers live.
Daisuke of Singe was born to heft the harpoon. It is his art; as a fisherboy he gained much renown with nets and knives, but casting a spear into the heart of the monsters of the icy sea has always been his particular skill. This young boy, only thirteen years old and with his hair chopped short (except for a fox-like tail at his brown neck-nape), was fated to be a killer from the time that he first took a breath. He has lived that role exceptionally well and without exception.
With a blood stained weapon in his hands, he won't do it. He refuses to kill.
Daisuke is saying, "This is not right."
On a small and wind-ploughed trawler cutting through the summer sea, his comrades (all male, most far older) stare at him as if he had denied the Creator. This group had spent the better part of the day hounding a fey minke whale, crippling it with poisoned darts and confounding it with nets. Such a kill would provide food for the entire village. The bones would be used for huts and scrimshaw carvings, the skin for bladders to hold wine or pure water. A whale is more than mere capital. In death, a whale is life.
Daisuke shakes his head. Again, he is saying, "It's not right."
The other men become angry and insulting. "Why does a squawking light-feather dare to scruple over trifles?" is what they would say, were they educated and effete. These rough, practical men are neither. Mocking, they begin to accuse Daisuke of cowardice even as they viciously attempt to seize control of Daisuke's harpoon.
"Fucking bitch! Give over or I will clod your balls into fucking Friday…"
"Son of a blubbering sea lion!"
Daisuke loves these men. One is his own father; several are cousins or friends. But something happened to him this day as he watched the hopeless struggle of the giant mammal as it blew air and suffered for its life. He'd never seen anything like it, never in his dozens of kills. He'd taken seals and skates, sharks and penguins. None of them had mattered or bothered him in the slightest, so: why now? His thoughts are profound and mysterious, and now he wants time to ponder the mysteries of this inconvenient new Ethic. But there is no time: he struggles to purchase opportunity for the minke instead, wanting it to escape, wanting (painfully) for it to live. He holds to the harpoon stage as if it were a battlement, accepting blows and hair-pulling and violent abuse. He does not whimper, even as his father berates him and calls him terrible names. He does not cry.
Daisuke is loyal. But he is also very, very stubborn. This perverseness of nature has been a source for grief for him in the past, but never like this. His own friends and family beat him.
He questions his sanity, but says nothing.
The poor bewildered whale thrashes against the web that wants to sink him as prey. The bounding seas flush white with the stirred-up spray. It is nearly tragic. Life does not want to feed life; life prefers to die untouched; there is no biological imperative greater than self-absorption.
What creature doesn't long to be useless and yet loved?
Because he is small and young, Daisuke is eventually overpowered. He doesn't curse when his friend Takeru spits on him, or when his cousin Tai makes good on the promise to "clod his balls." In many ways the moment is surreal. Daisuke's attentions and hopes are fixed on the animal who continues to fight. He wants it to live.
He wishes for it.
Twisting free of the netting, the whale angrily slaps the fishing vessel with its tail, catching everyone off balance and sending two men overboard into the fatally cold waters. Daisuke gasps; everyone gasps. The man who had replaced Daisuke at the helm targets the minke through the harpoon's sights, but forgets it all as he hears the screams of his doomed comrades.
Everything happens quickly. Several deck hands toss out life rings and ropes, but it is already too late. These men are not the sort to own rubber diving suits, and they are definitely not the type to wear orange life-preservers on such a calm and (hithertofor) uneventful day of capture. The whale escapes adroitly as two men with dependant families turn blue and die.
Shocked, the crew of Daisuke's trawler can do nothing but watch in sickening silence. Nothing, until:
"I will kill you," Takeru hisses passionately. One of the dead was his own older brother.
Surrounded by a crowd taken suddenly with vengeance, Daisuke tries not to cower. It is hard because he is mourning too, and he also wants to die. It is his fault that men have died, and he easily regrets his mad lapse into sympathy. Seeing the stricken look on his face causes some of the wiser men to come to their senses, and presently the clan leader calls for order before anchors and other heavy gear are thrown at the boy.
"What is wrong with you, Daisuke?" the leader asks coldly after calm is restored. "Your foolishness has cost us not only the reward of our hunt, but two of our hunters as well."
"I… I don't know," the morally famished boy whispers.
This is not a satisfying answer. The clan leader narrows his eyes, and evaluates Daisuke in silence while the other men grumble and hiss.
"This is how I reckon it," the oilskin-clad patriarch says finally. "By either indifference or cowardice, you are a murderer."
Daisuke nods numbly. He grew up with these people; they taught him his life. To betray them to death is to betray everything.
"For this you will die."
Daisuke again nods. Not surprisingly, many of the men who had previously been eager to rip him to shreds (preferably with their bare hands) begin to weep. It takes a very heartless sort not to realize that despite the fact that responsibility needed to be assigned, and judgment rendered for the peace of the departed, that this had all been an accident. A terrible, terrible accident. Daisuke must pay. This does not stop his friends and family from loving him, even though they are confused and hurt by his odd behavior. They still want to hurt him; and yet: they do not desire his death.
Takeru steps back from Daisuke, angry and yet pitying. "I hope you suffer," he says quietly but his words are empty of true malice.
By custom, the condemned are not executed by human hands, nor are they consigned instantly to the pitiless sea. In funereal form, the trawler makes its way to an ice field near the forbidden main continent of Antarctica, bearing for a sapphire blue iceberg spotted earlier during the hunt. All remain silent during the trip. Daisuke is held closely by a father who refuses to weep or forgive, and who helplessly loves him all the same. Like the men who died, Daisuke will not be granted even the privilege of seeing his mother or sister ever again. He will not even get to say goodbye.
The iceberg is drearily beautiful, seemingly lit from within with eerie traces of phosphorescence visible even under the never-ending daytime of summer's equinox. It is an island of deceptive calms and illusionary comfort. Without ceremony or farewells, Daisuke is left there.
To die as the Gods will it.