Saturday, May 16, 2015

Another Scene

I'm not part of the #SaturdayScenes official group, but I still like to post a scene now and then to prove that work is crawling forward on my current book. Often slowly and painfully, but still it moves.

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Plains of Southern Kulhn:

Baron Jurtos snarled, “Mestil, if you don’t shut up I am going to ram my fist down your neck, grab your pouch, and yank it out between your teeth. If you weren’t my wife’s cousin I would have cut your throat years ago, but that won’t save you forever.” 

Mestil laughed. “The day you try is the day I finally get to feed your carcass to my favorite pup.” He looked ahead, where Duchess Julianna’s fortress was looming. Her personal colors were flying from the wall towers, to show that she was in residence. But the main keep was surmounted by a larger flag that showed the royal deer on a some kind of forest-ey background. Over both of them, the queen’s own standard proudly challenged the afternoon wind. 

“Besides,” Mestil said absently, “You need me to vouch for you with the guards. Otherwise, they will never believe someone as ragged as you are could possibly be noble.” 

Jurtos growled something obscene, but Mestil ignored it. He looked back at their escort and said, “Tighten up! We are calling on royalty. If any of you embarrass us, I will draw and quarter you with my own hands.” 

The men, ten of his and ten supplied by Jurtos, stiffened in the saddle. They started tightening and checking their armor and gear. 

“You are more likely to embarrass us than they are, Mestil,” Jurtos said. “Can you please, for once in your rampaging life, try to act like a civilized person?” 

Mestil barked a laugh. “Me? From what the stories say, the new princess grew up in a cave. Literally. Of course I’ll act properly around the queen, and the prince. And I’ll make a show of respect for the princess. But you don’t really think that she’ll know the difference, do you?” 

The drawbridge and main gate were blocked by a camp full of soldiers, none of whom looked impressed by the approaching pair of nobles. They finally stopped when two men, one of whom was nearly as large as Mestil and Jurtos together, stepped forward to intercept them. 

The big one wore plate and carried a warhammer. The smaller one, who was only slighter larger than the biggest man-at-arms in Mestil’s service, carried a bow and wore wolfskin leather. There was a dagger and a hunting horn on his belt. 

Woodsrunner.

Mestil eyed the smaller man with interest. So this was one of the men who lived with witches openly, and slaughtered temple warriors with such ease. He didn’t look unusual. Just proved again that you couldn’t tell much from appearances. 

Jurtos said, “I am Baron Jurtos, this is Baron Mestil. We have come to offer respect and congratulations to the royal house, and to pledge our support to Prince Peteros.” 

The two glanced at each other. The huge one said, “Wait just a moment. We’ll get you an escort.” The other one turned and blew a shattering blast in a simple pattern that Mestil didn’t recognize. It didn’t take long for a small child to stroll through the gate and head their way. Mestil blinked and even went so far as to look at Jurtos, who seemed equally puzzled. 

The little girl, who looked about ten, ambled up to them whistling a soft tune. “Whatcha need, fellers? Who’s this bunch?” 

The huge one bowed to the little girl. “Milady. They claim to be barons who have come to swear for Pete, and congratulate him and your sister. And grovel for everyone in the castle they can catch, of course. Are they lying?” 

Mestil bristled. “Wait right there, sirrah.” The girl looked at him and he stopped thinking or breathing. Her eyes became his whole world. Afterward, he had no idea how long it lasted or what had happened. He slumped and shook his head, dizzy. She looked at Jurtos, who stiffened. 

“They’re telling the truth,” the little girls said. “They wanna weasel some special treats for themselves, naturally. But Julianna said everybody is gonna be doing that. I’d say take ‘em in and let Lora sort ‘em. She told me every low down noble in the kingdom is gonna show up here sooner or later if she sticks around.” Mestil felt his belly tighten at her casual use of the queen’s given name. 

Jurtos coughed softly and asked, in the politest voice he had, “I beg your pardon, milady. Did I hear correctly? Are you Princess Jessera’s sister?” 

She spat on the ground between herself and their horses. “Yeah. What about it? And quite calling me milady. I put up with it from Lankar ‘cause kicking him just makes him laugh at me, and it ain’t right to use magic on a friend. But you ain’t a friend. So quit. You can call me Lili. If nothing else will do you, call me ma’am. It ain’t my fault that stupid Code wouldn’t let Pete and Jess get together until he made her a baroness. I was born a peasant, I’m still a peasant, and that’s good enough for anyone.” She pushed out her lower lip and glared. 

“Certainly, er, ma’am,” Mestil said weakly. 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

A Minor Stroke

That's what the doc called it. Some nerve damage to one leg. I can walk now. Have feeling in most of the affected are except for the foot. It has hampered my creative juices a bit. Not to worry, though. Like I said before, the book is already written in my head, and pretty much outlined in blocks throughout the existing file on the system. I just need to go through and expand the outlined sections into full sized narrative text.

Neither rain, nor sleet, nor busted plumbing shall keep me from the eventual completion of my trilogy:)

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Oh Well, Why Not?

I'm not part of the Saturday Scenes Community. In fact, I haven't been active in any online community lately due to health and other issues. But I figured I would post another scene that, hopefully, doesn't give away any critical plot points. At least, none that people who read the first two books haven't already figured out for themselves.


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Duchess Julianna’s Castle

Baron Jurtos snarled, “Mestil, if you don’t shut up I am going to ram my fist down your neck, grab your pouch, and yank it out between your teeth. If you weren’t my wife’s cousin I would have cut your throat years ago, but that won’t save you forever.” 

Mestil laughed. “The day you try is the day I finally get to feed your carcass to my favorite pup.” He looked ahead, where Duchess Julianna’s castle was looming. Her personal colors were flying from the wall towers, to show that she was in residence. But the main keep was surmounted by a larger flag that showed the royal deer on a some kind of forest-ey background. Over both of them, the queen’s own standard proudly challenged the afternoon wind. 

“Besides,” Mestil said absently, “You need me to vouch for you with the guards. Otherwise, they will never believe someone as ragged as you are could possibly be noble.” 

Jurtos growled something obscene, but Mestil ignored it. He looked back at their escort and said, “Tighten up! We are calling on royalty. The queen herself is in there, along with the crown prince, a princess, and a duchess. If any of you embarrass us, I will draw and quarter you with my own hands.” 

The men, ten of his and ten supplied by Jurtos, stiffened in the saddle. They started tightening and checking their armor and gear. 

“You are more likely to embarrass us than they are, Mestil,” Jurtos said. “Can you please, for once in your rampaging life, try to act like a civilized person?” 

Mestil barked a laugh. “Me? From what the stories say, the new princess grew up in a cave. Literally. Of course I’ll act properly around the queen, and the prince. And I’ll make a show of respect for the princess. But you don’t really think that she’ll know the difference, do you?” 

The drawbridge and main gate were blocked by a camp full of soldiers, none of whom looked impressed by the approaching pair of nobles. They finally stopped when two men, one of whom was nearly as large as Mestil and Jurtos together, stepped forward to intercept them. 

The big one wore plate and carried a warhammer. The smaller one, who was only slighter larger than the biggest man-at-arms in Mestil’s service, carried a bow and wore wolfskin leather. There was a dagger and a hunting horn on his belt.

Woodsrunner.

Mestil eyed the smaller man with interest. So this was one of the men who lived with witches openly, and slaughtered temple warriors with such ease. He didn’t look unusual. Just proved again that you couldn’t tell much from appearances. 

Jurtos said, “I am Baron Jurtos, this is Baron Mestil. We have come to offer respect and congratulations to the royal house, and to pledge our support to Prince Peteros.” 

The two glanced at each other. The huge one said, “Wait just a moment. We’ll get you an escort.” The other one turned and blew a shattering blast in a simple pattern that Mestil didn’t recognize. It didn’t take long for a small child to stroll through the gate and head their way. Mestil blinked and even went so far as to look at Jurtos, who seemed equally puzzled. 

The little girl, who appeared to be about ten, ambled up to them whistling a soft tune. “Whatcha need, fellers? Who’s this bunch?” 

The huge one bowed to the little girl. “Milady. They claim to be barons who have come to swear for Pete, and congratulate him and your sister. And grovel for everyone in the castle they can catch, of course. Are they lying?” 

Mestil bristled. “Wait right there, sirrah.” The girl looked at him and he stopped thinking or breathing. Her eyes became his whole world. Afterward, he had no idea how long it lasted, or what had happened. He slumped and shook his head, dizzy. She looked at Jurtos, who stiffened. 

“They’re telling the truth,” the little girls said. “They wanna talk Pete and the queen out of special treats, naturally. But Julianna said everyone is gonna be doing that. I’d say take ‘em in and let Lora sort ‘em. She said every low down noble in the kingdom is gonna show up here sooner or later if she sticks around.” Mestil felt his belly tighten at her casual use of the queen’s given name. 

Jurtos coughed softly and asked, in the politest voice he had, “I beg your pardon, milady. Did I hear correctly? Are you Princess Jessera’s sister?” 

She spat on the ground between herself and their horses. “Yeah. What about it? And quite calling me milady. I put up with it from Lankar ‘cause kicking him just makes him laugh at me, and it ain’t right to use magic on a friend. But you ain’t a friend. So quit. You can call me Lili. If nothing else will do you, call me ma’am. It ain’t my fault that stupid Code wouldn’t let Pete and Jess get together until he made her a baroness. I was born a peasant, I’m still a peasant, and that’s good enough for anyone.” She pushed out her lower lip and glared. 

“Certainly, er, ma’am,” Mestil said weakly. 

><><><

“I’d a whole lot rather shovel up the stable,” Jess grumbled. 

“Hold still,” Geleth sighed, tugging on a lacing. “I don’t care what you would rather be doing. You married the man, knowing that he’s a prince. It’s your own fault that you didn’t think it through. You’re a princess now, and you have to take what comes along with it.”

“It isn’t that bad,” Lora sat nearby, sipping tea and looking amused. “These men have come to tell you that you’re beautiful, and they would dearly love the chance to kill people for you and Peteros, and by the way can they please have some money and some more land? All you have to do is smile and say, 'No'. Simplicity itself.” 

Julianna turned to look out the window and clasped her hands. Jess was willing to bet that she was biting a hole in her tongue trying to contain her amusement. 

“Why do I have to wear this getup?” Jess made a last, desperate plea to escape. “It ain’t, I mean it isn’t like we’re in the palace. This is still an army place until Pete gets the crown, ain’t it?” 

“It’s your armor,” Lora said. She put down the cup. “Wearing that, along with the coronet and some of the crown jewels, will protect you from any doubts or reservations about your right to be queen. There’s more to the job than just being the king’s wife, and you have to show the nobility that you can handle the empty rituals. Because they aren’t really empty, you know. They comfort people. They make people feel safe, knowing that things are being done the way that they always have. It makes them trust you to do the important things the right way, also.” 

“It would be easier to strap you into a suit of armor than this dress,” Geleth said, “Hold still. I’m tempted to go get Ildara for reinforcements.” 

Jess groaned quietly and raised her arms so Geleth could tie the sash. “All right,” she said viciously. “But if anyone snickers I’m gonna kick ‘em through the wall.” 

“No, you won’t,” Julianna offered seriously. “You will point your finger and your bodyguard will kick them through the wall. You are not supposed to get your hands dirty.” 

“No one is going to snicker,” Lora smiled. “They will be in the room with the queen, the crown princess, and a duchess. Along with an army of guards. I doubt that anyone will even smile.” 

“I know I won’t,” Jess whispered. She added aloud, “Do I have to wear that baby crown coronet thing? Really? Can’t I put a bandage or something on my forehead and claim I got scratched?” 

“Sorry,” Lora kept a straight face. “Your first public audience as the wife of the crown prince? You need to go all out.” She added with a serious tone. “Besides. In fairness to these men, both Mestil and Jurtos have always been loyal. It is a serious occasion to them. To you, it is just getting dressed up and sitting in a chair while a pair of boring visitors talk for a while. But they have come to swear that they are willing to die for you. They will remember this for the rest of their lives. They deserve to have it done right.” 

Jess let her shoulders slump. “All right. Gimme that stupid hat.” 

There was one thing about it, Jess decided. There was no danger of the coronet falling off, even if it hadn’t been strapped down and fastened to her hair. The rotted dress had her trussed up so tight that her back was stiff as a sword blade. 

When the women walked into Julianna’s largest sitting room, the two men were standing next to the fireplace, talking quietly to each other and looking nervous. Baron Mestil was a small man with dark, greasy hair. He also had dark, greasy teeth and jowls. Baron Jurtos, according to Lili, was the one in red britches. He was an older man, almost Granny’s age, and two-thirds bald. 

Neither of them were dressed like they had a lot of silver to spare, but Jess noticed their swords looked like good ones. And the grips were worn down. 

Julianna led the way into the room. They both bowed. Then Jess came in. Their eyes widened, and they bowed again. Then Lora, and they both went to one knee. 

Julianna seated Lora and fluffed some cushions in around her, while Geleth did the same thing for Jess. Julianna took position standing between the two royal women, and Geleth backed away to prop against the wall. She had to maneuver a bit to find space between all the armored men. Direv, Hefran, Therak, and three more of the queen’s guards didn’t leave much space for the nobility. Or air to breathe, either, and it wasn’t a small room. 

“You may rise,” Lora said graciously. “Welcome Baron Jurtos. Welcome Baron Mestil. It is gratifying to see loyal faces.” 

“You may always count upon our loyalty, your majesty,” Jurtos stood up and spoke in a serious voice. “My oath is good and I know Mestil to be an honorable man.” He looked at the other Baron. “Even if we have had our differences on occasion.”

“Your majesty,” Mestil seemed to be trying to pick out his words real careful. “When we learned that you had endorsed Prince Peteros for the throne, the matter was settled as far as both Jurtos and myself were concerned. We would have come to pledge our support at the earliest opportunity in any case. Learning of the prince’s marriage to her highness,” he bowed to Jess again, “and the expectation of an heir encouraged us to drop everything else and hurry here as fast as possible. We stand ready to serve, milady. Command us.”

Just about every guard in the room either straightened or lifted their chin in approval. Jess firmly suppressed a sigh. Men. 

“I am warmed,” Lora smiled. “It is a great comfort in such times to know who one’s friends are. Believe me when I tell you that this will not be forgotten. Not by myself, nor by Peteros. Nor, I am sure, by Jessera.” Lora looked at her. 

Jess figured that was a hint for her to say something. “Thank you for coming,” she talked slow, thinking ahead and trying as hard as she could to make sure that she got the grammar right. “My husband and I will not forget that you were the first ones after Julianna to come here and swear to follow Peteros. I have led men in battle, and so has Peteros. We both know what loyalty really is, and how much it is worth.” 

They looked surprised and a bit lost. Jurtos cleared his throat. “Milady, you do us honor. We were not aware that you were a warrior.” 

Jess couldn’t hold in a bitter smile. “I’m not a warrior, baron. I’m not even a fighter. Not really. When the Hohdwans came to the southern forest the first time, they came after me. My father is the sheriff, but I’m the baroness so it was my job to lead the fight. My lack of training cost my people a terrible price. We won, but people died who should not have died.” 

The old man’s eyes gleamed. “What matters, milady, is that you won. You are a war leader and the daughter of a knight. We will surely spread this knowledge. If I may say, it will make a difference to some. Not to us, but to some others.” 

“Enough to make up for me being a witch?” Jess kept her eyes on them. “My sister told me that she read you both, and talked about magic. The stories are true, I’m a fire witch.” Lora pressed her lips a bit, didn’t seem to disapprove too badly. 

She wanted urgently to scratch the back of her neck, but Geleth would have a fit and the two noblewomen would look at her all disappointed. Jess locked her teeth and tried to read the men as a distraction.

They hadn’t flinched as much as she expected them to. Interesting. Both of them were surprised, but by something besides her being a witch. What was it? Oh. Naturally. 

Jess told Lora, “These men are easy to read. They’d heard about me being a witch, but didn’t know whether to believe the stories until they met Lili. What really surprises them is how well I speak. They thought that since I was raised in the woods, I probably knew nothing about proper behavior. Not surprising. Lili didn’t help that part, either. I need to talk to her about that.”

Mestil swallowed and looked sick. Jurtos stood stiff and wore a face like ice. 

“Pete knew I was a witch before he ever took me to the palace,” Jess went on casually. “The story about me being a witch is true, but the story that witches worship demons is a lie. The plain fact is that some women are born with water magic, and some women are born with air magic, and some women are born with fire magic, and some women are born with earth magic. But if the temples admit that, they’d have to admit that magic doesn’t come from the gods. All four of the temples would sooner kill everyone in Kulhn than admit that.” 

Jurtos looked thoughtful. “I always wondered why it was all right for a woman use some kinds of magic, and not other kinds. It always seemed to me that there was no reason earth or fire would turn evil when a woman used it. Not if water or air didn’t.” 

Mestil looked at him with a strange expression.

“More to the point,” Lora said, “for the purpose of this meeting, is the Code. Do either of you object to following the Code of Agrahain?” 

They jerked like one man and turned to look at her. “No, milady, of course not,” Mestil blurted out. “The Code has held Kulhn together for six centuries.” 

Lora nodded. “The Code says that the temples have no right to keep handmaidens against their will. It has said that from the beginning.” She gave them a sardonic smile. “You didn’t know that, did you?” 

Mestil wasn’t looking too steady on his feet. “No, milady. I didn’t.” 

Jurtos just listened. It was like he was just used to hearing about things not being done the way they were supposed to. 

“The Code,” the queen said, “does not make any exceptions. If something is illegal, then it’s illegal for everyone. Including the temples. A priest has no more right to steal, or murder, or kidnap, or enslave, or torture a person than anyone else. All Peteros did was make a proclamation stating that from now on, the throne is going to enforce the Code the way it was written. The way Agrahain intended it to be enforced when he wrote it.” 

“How do we know that Agrahain intended it that way?” Jurtos asked. He wasn’t arguing. Only curious. Jess was starting to like the old man. So she decided to answer him. 

“Because Pete said so.” 

It got real quiet. 

“Pete told me,” Jess said, “that Agrahain wrote the law to apply to everyone the same. He said that for people to respect the law, they had to trust that the law applied to everybody. Else people wouldn’t have any reason to obey the law. Then the law might as well not be there.” 

They stared at her. “Milady.” Mestil was trying real hard to breathe. “There are rumors. I mean, we have been hearing...” He stopped and closed his eyes. 

“You want to know about the prophecy.” 

“Yes, milady.” Jurtos sounded about as respectful as any man she had ever heard. “I don’t suppose you can provide an answer?” 

Jess turned her head. “Hefran. Direv. Is Pete the first Agrahain come back?” 

“Yes, milady,” Hefran said. 

“Indisputably, milady,” Direv said. “There can be no possible doubt of the matter. I am willing to swear, and pledge my life, to the fact that he is the fulfillment of the prophecy.” 

“As am I,” Hefran said firmly. “My sacred oath upon it. Certainly no one from Kulhn who fights for him has any doubt.”

The other guards looked at them, then at the queen. Lora looked pale and her face was stiff, but she didn’t say a word. 

Jurtos stepped forward and knelt in front of Jess. It caught her by surprise. He pulled out his sword with his left hand and offered the handle to her. Jess looked at Nora in a half panic. Julianna leaned over and whispered, so faintly that Jess could barely hear it herself, “Just touch the hilt.” She did. 

“Your highness,” the old man said. “I pledge fealty to yourself and to Prince Peteros. My life, my sword, and all that I have are yours to command.” 

Oh shit. Now what was it Pete said when Julianna came to the camp?

“I accept your fealty. For my husband and myself.”

Jurtos stood up smiling and stepped back. He bowed and put his sword away. Mestil stepped forward and did the same thing. He didn’t seem quite as sure of himself as Jurtos had, but he didn’t hesitate either. Once it was over he looked relieved. Like someone who had been dreading having a bad tooth out. 

Lora smiled and said, “I believe we are finished here for the present. No doubt you and your men are tired and hungry. I look forward to visiting more at dinner. I am interested in hearing news of how things are progressing in the foothills. Hopefully Peteros will be back by this evening.” 

Julianna said, “If you gentlemen will accompany me, I will see that proper quarters are assigned to you and your men. Peteros is currently out with his men, hunting temple raiders.” 

“Can we help?” Mestil cringed a little, but he made the offer anyway. 

“No need,” Jess smiled. “They killed two priests the last time, one from each temple. The time before that they only found one. Peteros said he had good hope of getting two more this trip. It always makes him happy when he manages to kill a priest.” 

They silently bowed one more time and followed Julianna out. As soon as the door closed Jess slumped and let out her breath in a whoosh. The next thing she did was reach back and claw a ditch across the back of her neck. 

“Maddening, isn’t it?” Lora looked sympathetic. “As the years pass you will get toughened to it, but it never stops irritating you. At least these two were friendly and didn’t come begging for anything. I am pleasantly surprised. Of course, they might be saving their pleading for Peteros. Lucky him.” 

“They weren’t too bad.” Jess stood up and stretched. “What I’m dreading is when the women start showing up.” 

Lora made a face. “I see you took off your belt knife. You might want to keep it on next time. Most ladies of the kingdom wear an ornamental dagger. At least, it is theoretically supposed to be ornamental. Never pays to take chances.”

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Just To Prove I Am Still Working

The stairway was wide and shallow, with short steps that had obviously been carved out of the native stone. It descended endlessly.

“Is there any way that you ladies can tell how deep we are?” Pete asked. He wiped sweat and looked around. “The air is not good here, is it?”

“Not good at all,” Ildara said. “We’re about a hundred and fifty feet below the surface.” She closed her eyes. “I’m estimating that the stairway continues for another two hundred feet or so. Does that feel right to you, Krinla? Nelis?”

“Pretty close,” Nelis, the oldest of the earth witches said. “I’d say closer to another two hundred and twenty. It feels like part of the ceiling is fallen up ahead.”

“Why did I leave that rotted plow behind?” Cyrak asked bitterly. “I could have worked myself into an early grave by now and been done with it. But no, I wanted to see the world and have some excitement.”

“In fairness,” Bukart chuckled, “you got everything you wanted. Think back to when you were a green stripling about city boy’s age. If someone had told you that you’d end up in the bowels of the earth under a haunted death mage temple, in the middle of Kulhn’s cursed forest, looking to gather some six hundred year old dwarf bones, and hoping to get out before the undead find us, what would you have said?”

“I would have said, where’s my mule’s collar harness?” Cyrak growled. The rest of the men laughed.

They did find part of the ceiling fallen. It certainly wasn’t due to construction failure. The entire staircase passage had been hewn in-situ from native stone. Larusel approached and held her hand in the direction of the debris without touching it. “Earth magic. This was ripped down. I would wager that there are bodies under there.”

“Is it possible that the dwarves might be under there?” Pete walked over. The earth witches followed him.

“We could move it,” Ildara said, “but Pete? Wouldn’t the old dwarf have told you if they were hidden or hard to reach? He wants you to get them out. This isn’t some kind of game to them is it?”

“You’re right,” Pete said. “They feel very deeply about this. I’m sure they would have given explicit directions if they thought we needed them. The bodies must be easy to find. Let’s keep going.”

The stairs ended at a flat stone floor that stretched into darkness in all directions. “General?” Pete looked at Setka.

“Left has worked so far,” Setka said. “We’ll keep the winning strategy and hug the left hand wall until we find something interesting.”

Their footsteps echoed, and every word sounded like a shout. They spoke in low voices, and tried not to speak at all. The floor grew rougher. It developed ripples, like a rug that had been kicked. Then small cracks started to appear. Then palm sized splits that ran for several feet in random directions.

“Magic?” Setka glanced at Ildara, who nodded grimly.

“Awful glad I wasn’t here for that one,” Lankar said cautiously. “I seen what milady and her grandma and Luci can do. And those were just tiny little squabbles with temple fops. A full-sized fight when both sides can sling magic isn’t something I want to be around.”

“I’m afraid none of us have the choice, Lankar,” Pete said. “I’m sorry as I can be, I truly am. When Harend leads those priests against Julianna’s castle, the ones that are really going to pay the price are the innocent regulars who are simply doing their jobs. It makes me sick.”

Larusel was obviously biting her tongue. 

“We will try our best to target priests and paladins,” Ildara gripped his arm briefly. “Perhaps when your brother sees that it’s hopeless he will give up.”

“No.” Pete shook his head. “I told Mother that I will spare him, and I will if I can. But I don’t expect him to let me. He’s stubborn, and he has spent his life plotting for this chance. He will never surrender. I’m going to have to kill him, or he will kill Jess and our baby, and a lot more innocent people besides.”

He wiped his face with his hand and went on in a bitter voice. “What a family. I killed one brother, and I’m planning to kill the other one. It looks like Harend poisoned our father. And our sister’s husband invaded our country. I don’t think this is the kind of dynasty that Agrahain intended to found.”

Agrahaaaain.........Agrahaaaain.....................Agrahaaaain..........

Every man had a weapon drawn and was in a fighter’s stance. The women backed up and formed a semi-circle facing outward.

“Can any of you ladies tell what made that, or where it’s coming from?” Setka’s head scanned the darkness back and forth.

Larusel stepped forward, listening. The echo had died, and the faintest rustle of moving air replaced it. “It isn’t anything alive, for absolute certain.”

“Ghaunts don’t speak,” Pete shifted his grip on the sword. “According to everyone I talked to, no one has ever heard a ghaunt say a single word.”

“Well, then.” Setka nodded thoughtfully. “That leaves one other possibility. So. What kind of thing could be spawned from a pack of evil ghosts?”

“Oh, by all the gods,” Ildara moaned. “You might honestly need a death mage to answer that question.” She turned her head. “Keep the fire ready. All of us earth witches will stand ready to throw up a defense, or pull down a wall or ceiling. We might not have much warning, so stay alert.”

Larusel unwrapped the rope of water from her arm and stretched it out into the darkness, weaving and searching like a blind snake. She continued to extend it until the water was no thicker than a thread before pulling it back. “Nothing.”

“Let’s keep moving,” Pete said. “I didn’t come this far only to run from shadows and echoes. My ancestor left three good men behind. That is not acceptable. They died for all of us. The least we owe them is proper respect.”

He moved on with his teeth locked and the others followed. The rustling sound got slightly louder.

Agrahaaaainnnnnnn

Pete stopped and spun to face the darkness. He raised the sword and turned it so that the glyphs on the blade caught the torchlight. “Step forth! Show yourself. I am not Agrahain, but I carry his blood. I will stand as champion for my family name. Come forth and face me, coward!”

The air movement became a reeking breeze foul enough to make eyes water. Valli bent over and emptied her belly where she stood. The others didn’t look far behind her. Luci raised her athame and unleashed a flaming spiral into the darkness. Nothing changed, so she shifted slightly and did it again, and again, and again.

Ildara ordered, “Fire witches, stand together. I want each of you to take on third of the area in front of us, On signal, just send out a broad fountain to cover as much as possible. Concentrate on sweeping your own area. Ready?”  They all nodded. “Go.”

The darkness ignited. Light from the magical fires displayed an open space with a ceiling that disappeared into the distance above them. The wall they stood against gradually curved around toward the far end of the room. A huge carving on the wall had been savagely defaced at some point, to the degree that no one could tell what it had originally been.

In front of the carving was an altar. Troughs led down from the altar and emptied into urns on each end. There were rusted remnants of chain on the slab. The floor was littered with skeletons. Most appeared intact. Some few were missing limbs or heads, which lay nearby.

“We found them.” Pete slumped in relief.

“All we have to do now is identify which of these are dwarf skeletons,” Cyrak said, “gather them, and get out without that thing eating us.”

“Is that all?” Stegg snorted and waved his hand. “Compared to some of the hangovers I got in Tygonfys, this should be effortless.”

“We’ll crisscross the floor,” Setka said. “We go from wall to wall, as straight as possible. Trickle a little salt as we go along to mark areas we’ve been. Periodically one of you ladies can give us a burst of brighter light, just long enough to orient ourselves.”

“Surely,” Ildara said. “Ready whenever you men are.”

“We move,” Setka said. The group proceeded, with everyone trying to look in all directions at once. The stinking breeze kept fluctuating, it would gain strength for a moment, then die down to almost calm. But it never completely stopped.

The first skeleton the came to was obviously human. So was the second. So were the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth. “Kezekeye did tell me that a lot more humans died,” Pete said. “This floor is covered, and all but three are human. It might take a while.”

“What does a dwarf skeleton look like?” Lankar scratched his chin. “Any difference besides being short?”

“Uh...” Pete shrugged. “I don’t know. We’ll look for really short ones I guess.”

Agrahain.

They stopped. The voice was clear this time, as well as the pronunciation of the name. There was still no way to locate the direction.

“Where is it?” Pete snarled, turning slowly.

“It may be all around us,” Larusel said. “Recall what I said at the top of the stairs. There, but not there? Perhaps it has no real form.”

“It has to have some kind of form,” Ildara said. “It’s real. It was real enough to make the ghaunts, wasn’t it?”

“Ghosts are invisible sometimes,” Bukart offered, He was looking upward, as if hoping to pierce the darkness that covered the ceiling.

“Invisible to normal sight,” Larusel said. “Yes. People who can work magic are usually able to see them, unless they are hidden inside something or behind something that masks magic.”

She paused, then all seven women turned as one person to look in the direction of the altar.... 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Temptation Toward Verbosity

I used to be a pantser. Meaning I wrote by the seat of my pants. I never bothered with anything resembling an outline, I never even bothered figuring out in advance what the story was really about or how it was going to end. I just sat down and turned my subconscious loose. Some of my favorite authors are reported to have written that way. Rex Stout. Mark Twain. Just to name two.

But as I got older and my stories got more complex, I realized that I had to either impose some kind of order on them or resign myself to writing stories that would ramble on for years. I personally think it's self-evident that Robert Jordan was a pantser. Poor guy. Although considering the cash he no doubt piled up, sympathy may be misplaced. But his story even outlived the author, and somebody else had to finish it. That's kinda sad.

I (briefly) tried the rigid outline approach. Huh-uh. Not for me. What I do now is figure out who the story is about, get a rough idea of the situation they are in and what they are facing, and pin down how things are going to turn out for them. Then, and only then, do I turn my subconscious loose to fill in the details. Sometimes it works.

Other times, like with my current book, it needs tweaking. As I have found while I am in the process of content editing parts one and two. There are too many side trails and fascinating little snippets that distract from the plot. They provide background on the main characters, and they help flesh out the world. But they are irrelevant to the plot of a book that is already longer than I had intended it to be. They are going. I will put them in the next book, instead.

What I am doing to bring myself under control is inserting mini-outline notes as I go along. In each section when a scene, or a group of scenes, will be needed in order to balance out the plot I write a summary and insert the note at the place where the scene will go. Then I make sure that the notes are arranged in correct order and start writing. If it doesn't make the cut for a summary note, it doesn't go in. That still leaves me with the task of chopping out the underbrush that I have already planted, but it should keep more from sprouting.

I got this trick from Holly Lisle's website, where she describes using index cards to do essentially the same thing with hard copy. Anyone who aspires to be a writer would do well to stop in there. She teaches paid courses on how to structure stories. NOT how to create them, but how to make them coherent and internally consistent, and to make them flow well. She also offers a lot of useful free advice.

Meanwhile, I have a battle to finish. Back later.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Law v Morality And The Conflicts Thereof

Laws do not define the behavior patterns of a society. They reflect the behavior patterns of a society. This, to me, is blatantly self-evident. A majority of the people are already acting in a particular way. A smaller portion is refusing to comply with the majority's defined standards of 'appropriate' behavior. So a law is enacted that gives the majority the official power to smack the minority into line and make them march to the tune of the proper drummer. If/when the minority becomes the majority, the law either becomes unenforceable and ignored, or it gets repealed. I don't understand, I guess I will never understand, why so many people get enraged when this idea is presented.

My male protagonist, Peteros, is trying to change the behavior patterns of his society. As a prince, and a member of a dynasty that has ruled long enough to be regarded with awe, he has a lot of influence. But there are limits. There are also differences in the behavior patterns between the classes of a rather clearly stratified power structure. He's running into trouble.

So how do I present this in a realistic and reasonable way? I am looking at our world and trying to find situations that I can adapt. There are a lot of prime examples here in the US. I don't even need to get into the politically provocative ones like gun control, or abortion, or drug Prohibition. There's a long list of minor laws that illustrate this. I don't need to find something in our world that causes major upheaval. I am looking for insight into the way people in groups think and react under circumstances like that.

One example is the highway speed limit. Originally it was set at 55 mph. It wasn't a bad idea, in theory. Most cars and trucks really do get better gas mileage around that speed. But people didn't like it so they ignored it. For a while it was a windfall as the local police made out like bandits writing speeding tickets. But it soon became a running joke everywhere across the country. Especially in places where towns might be scattered 50 to 100 miles apart. Eventually the cops stopped paying much attention once their ticket quota was full, unless someone was driving recklessly. Then the speed limit was raised to 65 mph, and then in some places even higher. The law had become effectively irrelevant because the behavior patterns of the majority had rendered it null and void.

The nifty idea of switching the US over to the international metric system was another case. For a few (brief) years road signs started displaying speed limits and distances in both miles and kilometers. Whereas, as Dave Barry pointed out, the American people promptly shot them full of holes. The law was allowed to die of neglect.

The majority had an established behavior pattern. The government attempted to change the behavior patterns of the majority by decree. It didn't work. I have spoken to immigrants from China and Viet Nam. They tell me that even under oppression, people merely render lip service to the almighty state, then go back to doing whatever the hell they want, They just make sure not to get caught.

This also ties into the principle of jury nullification. Although in my kingdom trials are not conducted by juries, so this doesn't specifically apply. But in practical terms, if whoever is in charge of a trial, be it a jury, or a judge, or a magistrate, or a prince, decides to find the accused innocent then that's all of it. It doesn't matter whether they did it or not, if they don't get punished the law has no teeth and is irrelevant.

One more complication for Peteros is that what he is trying to do, while it complies with established civil law, is in direct defiance of religious doctrine. This does tie in with current controversies about abortion, and marriage rights, and posting the ten commandments in schools and courthouses, and prayers before legislative sessions, etc.

The difference is that the people of Kulhn are members of a society that is just coming out of the medieval period. They, like people in many places in our world, believe in their gods with all of their hearts and trust their priests and priestess to be the living mouthpieces of the dieties. To them, their religion is not a theoretical matter for debate, It is Truth to live by. To defy the will of the gods is functionally equivalent stabbing yourself in the guts. So it's going to get ugly.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Sleep Deprivation

I noticed that my last post used the old, obsolete title when citing my latest book. That's what I get for trying to function on three hours of sleep and four pots of coffee.

The title is "Recompense". If I refer to it by another name again, just assume that I haven't taken my medication.