Monthly Archives: June 2018

Banner of the Hawk 24

At the hartwa, Caul tied the kakai and helped Beshu down from the slope saddle. There were traces of red leaking from the bandages under his mail. Once on the ground, Beshu straightened himself and Caul led him into the hartwa.

Emira fed the stranger and Caul. Khadil had already eaten. He sat back picking his teeth and making talk to learn what he could from Beshu, but without effect. Beshu was silent — a great, grim, hulking figure that gave Khadil no confidence. Finally, Beshu said, “I have to see to my kakai.”

“I’ll go with you,” Caul offered. Beshu did not respond, but neither did he demur. Outside, Caul said, “If you leave him in the byre, Khadil will steal him.”

“You think I couldn’t stop him?”

“I think if you bleed any more, you couldn’t stop anyone. Let’s take him up the creek a ways and tie him on a short rope so he can graze.”

Beshu nodded and mounted. It took him two tries to get into the saddle. Caul said, “Can I do anything for you?” Beshu shook his head.

Caul led the kakai about a quarter of a mile to a meadow he knew well. When they arrived, Beshu said, “Boy, when I leave in the morning, go with me.”

“Where?”

“Anywhere is better than here. Your work is keeping both of them alive. You could make a living doing the same work for some Lord or in some town, and be free of them.”

“Emira took me in.”

“I know her type, boy. When you’re gone, she’ll make him do the work you’re doing. You don’t own her anything. He needs you. She doesn’t.”

“All right.”

Beshu swung down and fumbled in his saddlebag for the block and tackle that was required to lift a heavy slope saddle in the field. Caul went up a tree to tie off the topping line, and slid down to do the lifting, but Beshu had already begun. Caul started to say, “Let me,” but before he could get the words out, Beshu heaved on the line, gave a muffled cry, and collapsed on the ground. The slope saddle was in disarray; Caul jumped to it, and settled it back into place, then turned to Beshu.

His face was waxen in the faint twilight. A dark stain covered the front of him, and he was cursing monotonously. “I took a point, boy. A little blade that slipped through my mail. I thought I could wait it out and heal, but I guess it ticked my lung.”

He choked then, and coughed up a gout of blood. For a moment, he couldn’t get his breath. This was the end of him, and they both knew it. He put out his hand and Caul took it. “Get out, boy,” he said. “Get up on my kakai, take my sword with you, and get out before that breecher knows you’re gone.”

“But you . . .”

“Boy, you’re talking to a dead man.”

He once again burst into bloody coughing. Caul held him through it. When it subsided, he said, “Good boy. I’m glad you’re here.” He was silent for a long time, then he said, “I had two sons. Grown men now. I wasn’t any good for them. They had to make their own way and so will you. But that’s not so bad.”

He had another coughing spell, worse than the last. He fell so silent that Caul thought he was gone. Finally, he whispered, “Life is tough, boy, but that’s all right. It just makes the sweet things sweeter.” He chuckled. “Even now, old and worthless and with a hole in my chest, I still don’t want to die.”

Caul waited for him to continue, but that was the last thing he said. more Monday

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501. Preface to Robert Louis Stevenson

As anyone who has read even a few posts here knows, I started AWL to find readers for my novels, specifically for Cyan which had just been accepted by EDGE. I had no idea how many interesting people I would meet along the way. Some of them were fellow writers of science fiction, fantasy, and steampunk, some were fellow bloggers who wanted to be writers (this post is for you, as you’ll see at the end), and some of the ones I met indirectly had been dead for many years.

Of course, I had been discoursing with dead people all my life. Imaginary people, as well, starting with Victor Appleton II, “author” of books I was reading before I got my first library card. If you don’t recognize “him”, “he” was a house pseudonym belonging to the Stratemeyer group. “He” wrote the Tom Swift, Junior books which were my idea of science fiction when I was ten.

Come to think of it, many of the people in the Bible that my parents introduced me to were imaginary as well as dead, but a wise man doesn’t talk about to that in public.

One of my favorite friends-I-never-met is Robert Louis Stevenson. He has been a part of my life for decades, and I recently had cause to dig deeper into his personal story while putting together an upcoming series of posts.

Very early in his career (1878), long before anyone had heard of him, Stevenson wrote a travel book about his voyage by canoe on some European rivers, called Inland Voyage. I’m not recommending it to you, but it went into my massive pile of turn of the century — that’s nineteenth century — marine and canoe travel books, after I had skimmed it and found this in his preface:

To say truth, I had no sooner finished reading this little book in proof, than I was seized upon by a distressing apprehension.  It occurred to me that I might not only be the first to read these pages, but the last as well; that I might have pioneered this very smiling tract of country all in vain, and find not a soul to follow in my steps.  The more I thought, the more I disliked the notion; until the distaste grew into a sort of panic terror, and I rushed into this Preface, which is no more than an advertisement for readers.

A preface is only an advertisement for readers? Imagine that! If Stevenson had been writing 140 years later, he would have had a blog, and wouldn’t I love to read that. Also, consider the notion that one of the world’s most successful writers started out thinking that no one would ever read what he was writing.

Of course, there were thousands of other writers in 1878 who thought no one would ever read their writing, and no one ever did. We never knows in advance what will happen. We just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and hope.

Banner of the Hawk 23

The woman Hea bought from him was Zabeen. The Shambler’s seed had quickened within her, though he did not know it, and Hea had kept that secret from him for all time since. Beshu, child of that union, came to be called the Lost Get. Now he was near his death. Marquart was his son.

“Where we go,” Lyré said, “we must not be seen. I will provide for that, but you must remain silent, and you must not interfere.”

“I have no interest in Beshu, so why should I want to interfere?”

“You may come to feel differently. If you do, you still must not interfere.”

“Where are we going?”

“North. North of Port Cantor, on the edge of the Inner Kingdom. It was the only place Beshu could find employment as a soldier.” She drew her cloak tight about her against the coming cold. He put his hand on his sword and they were gone.

# # #

The place to which Lyré transported them was deep in winter. A hartwa stood in a clearing in brushy, lightly forested land. The herdsman who lived there was in charge of caring for fifty tichan for his Lord. He was supposed to look after the tichan every day, but he rarely left the hartwa. Caul did the work for him, on pain of a severe drubbing.

Evening was coming on; the tichan were gathered into their byre and had been fed their ration of hay. Caul was making his way back toward the hartwa where he could expect another evening of criticism from Khadil, when he came upon a kakai and rider. It was a warrior, still in mail and greaves, with his sword sheathed at his right hand on the slopesaddle. Caul’s first response was fear, but there was so much pain in such an old and weathered face that he set it aside.

The warrior had seen him and nodded toward him. “Boy,” he said, “I’m cold and I’m hungry. What kind of reception will I get from your folks.”

Caul snorted in disgust. “Poor enough, and they aren’t my folks. Come in and eat, but if you sleep on their floor, keep your hand on your knife.”

“I always do. Do you do all the work around here? Don’t look so surprised. I’ve been watching you for half an hour, while whoever is in there could have come out to help.”

Caul walked up to the kakai. The old warrior was short and broad, wrinkled and old, but he looked like he could still hold his own with any three men. Caul said, “The woman inside is Emira, my mother’s cousin. The man is Khadil. The black lung fever moved through here a year ago, and took my parents and my sister. I’ve been living here since.”

“Tell me about the man.”

Caul shook his head. “When you see him, I won’t have to.”

“Then why do you stay?”

“He feeds me.”

The old warrior spat and said, “More likely, you feed him. Well, it’s your business. Lead me in.”

Caul gave the breastband of the slope saddle a tug, and the kakai moved readily to follow him. The old warrior leaned on his arms, trying to look stern, but Caul could see the pain in his face. He said, “Who do you fight for?”

“Essengul. I did; he died in battle last night and his troops are scattered, mostly heading for the coast. I headed for the hills, and here I am.”

“Don’t let Khadil see that you’re wounded,” Caul said.

“Boy, you talk to much.”

“Not to Khadil, I don’t.”

After a minute, the warrior said, “I’m Beshu.”

“Caul.” more tomorrow

Banner of the Hawk 22

“You have other kin?”

“Unquestionably. Those who hold land here have held it for generations. They are all intermarried. I am related to three I know of, which means I am related in some degree to everybody.”

“Dael, I need you to do something for me. Remember every face you see. Remember every name. Find out how many uncles and cousins are in each house and how many servants, and, if you can, how many serfs are in their fields.”

Dael’s face showed surprise. She said, “I don’t even know how many servants are in this house.”

“I do.”

It was quietly said, but she took it as criticism. She snapped, “Why do you need all this information?”

He leaned back and looked around. The servants had started to come in and prepare for evenmeal. Their brief time of privacy was nearly over. He noted Dael’s irritation and ignored it. “Because,” he said, “there are too many sitting at every table in this valley. The serfs can’t feed their masters and still feed themselves.”

“No one will leave. This is their home.”

“They will leave, or I will move them out. The only question is how many have to go from each warden’s house.”

Dael shook her head in disbelief. “Have you told them?”

“I have dropped hints. The wise know; Vesulan surely knows. The others didn’t hear me. But they will hear me.”

“When?”

“After the feast.”

7.

Four weeks after Midwinter, far across the Great Sea and far from Marquart’s worries about excess population and hungry serfs, Argat came to Bihag at Lyré’s invitation. From the fortress mountain Whitethorn where Hea Santala had waged a century of intermittent warfare against Rem Ossilo, and now waged it against the Shambler, he came. He rotated out of existence in Whitethorn and, borne by the mighty power of that place, rotated back into existence in the forest glade where Lyré dwelled.

As the lambent energies subsided around him, he stepped forward with a wary look around, always the warrior, and nodded to his mother. She kissed his cheek and took both his hands. As when he had stood with Argella watching the death of Rem Ossilo, an onlooker would have taken them for siblings.

“Thank you for coming,” Lyré said.

“I was surprised that you asked me. You never seem to need help.”

“Oh, I think I would have no trouble with this. I wanted you along to see what I see.”

Argat shrugged. “As you say, Mother. I trust your judgment, although I can’t see how the death of Beshu matters to us.”

“Beshu has always meant something to me. He might have been my brother, in a better world.”

When Rem had first cast him out, the Shambler had wrought harshly in the world, wandering the Inner Kingdom, the swamps of Renth, and the besh towers of Lankarea, searching for someone who could show him the keys to his heritage. He learned something from each of a dozen dziais. He learned of the sealed menhir gate to Lorric and made his first attempt to breach it. He learned of Whitethorn, and after months of effort, found his way through the fogs that surrounded it and made his way to the door of Hea’s redoubt. This was before Lyré and Argat were born, when Hea dwelled there alone with Argella.

Rem Ossilo had kept the Shambler so ignorant of his heritage that he did not even know who Hea Santala was. He only knew that she was a dziain, a woman of power. When he asked for tutelage, she offered prophesy instead, and took as her payment the human woman who accompanied him. more tomorrow

500. Heinlein’s Harems

Heinlein did not invent group sex, but he tried to take out a patent on it.

               (Disclaimer: I made that up about the patent. It’s called hyperbole, the use of exaggerations and untrue statements for effect. The difference between hyperbole and lying is that in hyperbole, you don’t expect anyone to believe you.
               If you offer exaggerated or untrue statements with the style, cadence, and straight face of hyperbole, but you expect to be believed, that’s lying disguised as hyperbole. You may have seen this happen recently. At least one of our leaders makes it public policy.)

The world first became aware of Heinlein’s preoccupation with group sex in 1961 with his novel Stranger in a Strange Land. I didn’t buy in; I couldn’t accept the underlying idea. A successful family of multiple males and females didn’t seem likely. Most 1+1 marriages fail, and a lot of the ones which don’t fail, should fail. The idea of a whole passel of people living together in one big happy sexual family without exploding from the stresses generated strained my willing suspension of disbelief.

Hippies tried it a few years later. It was a lot of fun for the alpha personalities, but not so much for the shy ones who just went along with the idea. Communes tended to fall apart quickly.

Kings often have multiple women. In the orient, they called them harems. In the west, they called them mistresses. But any family of the 1+n style can’t be very successful. It will always result in one tired guy and a lot of women feeling blue and lonely.

Heinlein multiplied his multi-person families throughout the rest of his career, and to be fair, he did once portray such a family falling apart in the novel Friday.

Let me paint you a picture.  Start with a bunch of naked people. The men are okay looking and the women are beautiful. No exceptions on that issue. They are all young; that part is easy enough since they are all Howards and therefore semi-immortal. Put them in a luxurious lounge, with self-aware computers attending to their every whim. Now let the sex begin — but it doesn’t. Instead, we get endless, interminable, unquenchable talking about sex.

I read Stranger in high school. Three years later, in college, The Harrad Experiment was all the rage. It was about a school which encouraged its students to experiment with free love (as it was called in that era). My roommate read it and complained, “They don’t do it; they just talk about it.” I can’t verify that statement. It sounded so much like Stranger that I gave it a miss.

               (Disclaimer: Heinlein is one of my favorite authors. I re-read him more often than anyone but Zelazny. On the subject of sex, however, he sees the smiles and ignores the strains. For him, the cup is neither half-full nor half-empty. It is overflowing. It’s a nice idea, but it strains my credulity.)

When I wrote Cyan, two kinds of multi-person families showed up. Saloman Curran was the product of a ring family. That appears first in Chapter Six, Stranded on Earth [3] in the odd way that book is laid out. Ring families were a disaster for adults and children alike, and their structure goes a long way toward explaining why our villain was so villainous.

The ten explorers who set out on their multi-year journey to Procyon were a family of another kind, and one that worked out fairly well. They were young, healthy men and women, cut off from contact with any other humans, and stimulated by the excitement and danger of exploration. Sex was sure to happen anyway, so NASA made sure they were compatible during training. Read between the lines of that statement. I didn’t set the situation up for titillation; I was working out what I thought might actually happen. Once the explorers returned to Earth, the ten-some did not last. It had existed due to a particular situation, which was not likely to be repeated.

               (Disclaimer: Yes, I know this was supposed to be the future, yet the explorers are all apparently hetero. I started Cyan in the early eighties for that audience. If I were writing it today, I would have to change some things, but it’s really too late now.)

Heinlein was trying to shake up a moribund society, and make it look at what might happen. I was trying, a generation later, to figure out what probably would happen.

=======

Briefly, back to hyperbole as humor. Once in a meeting, I said with a straight face that, “Only stupid people exaggerate. Smart people use hyperbole.” Most of my friends just looked at me (that happened a lot). The one friend who got it, roared.

Yes, I know. It isn’t funny in cold print. It’s all a matter of timing.

Banner of the Hawk 21

Bheren watched with interest; he was a minor player in these games. Marquart had given him the task, three days each week, of clearing out the breakables from the hall and setting up heavy tables and benches so that each practice session found the warriors threading a new maze of furniture.

They had been working each other for long minutes until all were arm weary and gasping for breath. Now Marquart kicked a bench in front of Conger, forcing him to jump back, then took out Hein with a backhand slash of his sword rod. Conger, however, was too quick and vaulted the bench as it spun across the flagstone floor. His false sword slammed into Marquart’s back as Marquart’s ersatz lancette slashed Conger’s ribs.

They all stopped by mutual consent and laughed. “You’re dead, Lord Marquart,” Conger crowed. “It’s the first time I’ve gotten you in a week.”

“Maybe, but you’re deader!”

Conger grinned and looked ruefully at the weal across his ribs. “Aye,” he admitted. “I’ll be packing snow under my tunic this evening.”

Marquart accepted a hot, moist towel from Bheren and then shrugged into his tunic. He found Dael in the kitchens, supervising preparations for Midwinterfest. He touched her shoulder fleetingly, then said, “Can you leave.”

“Of course.”

They moved back to the great hall. Bheren was directing serving boys as they put the tables and benches aright. Marquart and Dael took a bench in a completed corner. “Tell me how you have things arranged,” he said.

“None of the wardens will leave their houses until late in the morning. The first will arrive here about midday. We will have roast krytes ready by then . . .”

Marquart waved away her recitation. He didn’t care about preparations for food and drink; he was satisfied that there would be plenty of both. 

“Who will sleep where? Who will arrive first, who will stay latest, who will want to get me alone to talk to, who will get drunk quickest, who is likely to pick a fight, and with whom?”

“Oh, man stuff.”

“I have visited each warden in his home, but other than Jor, I don’t know much about them. When we crowd them together and feed them wine and ale, they will show me who they are. Tell me what you know already.”

“Jor thinks he is a wolf, but he is really a weasel.”

“Jor I know.”

“Vesulan is the oldest and the most stable. He is not particularly ambitious, but he loves his home. If you had not come along, Jor would have taken over the valley, but he would not have held it. Vesulan would have taken it away from him, not because he wanted power, but because Jor would have been a poor lord. I think Vesulan will take your measure slowly, and eventually welcome you.”

“Does he have children? Heirs change attitudes.”

“Vesulan had two daughters, both married out of the Valley, and has one son, Iolo. When I saw him last he was a stripling but he should be a young man by now.”

“What can you tell me about him?”

Dael smiled. “When I saw him last, he was a boy — and I was just a girl. Our paths hardly crossed, so I can’t even tell you what he was like then. What he is now, I have no idea.”

“You are related to some of these people. Tell me about it.”

“Lord Kafi was Vesulan’s uncle and Jor’s g’father. Dutta is a cousin through a tortuous connection where he is twice removed by direct relationship, but brought back closer by being adopted by his uncle Press when his father and mother died. I was supposed to memorize the details, but,” she shrugged and smiled, “who knew I would meet him again as an adult, far less be the Lady whose husband held his fealty?” more tomorrow

Banner of the Hawk 20

When she was ready, Baralia let herself be fully seen. She was sitting at the high table when Marquart entered the great hall. He stopped, scowling at her presence; then he realized she was his phantom. He crossed to her and saw that the chair was quite visible through her body. He did not call her ghost. That word is not found in Lankhara, nor Renthian, nor in the language of the Inner Kingdom. Nor is the concept.

On Marquart’s world the souls of the dead are either enreithed or fade into nothingness within days. His world knows neither heaven nor hell, nor any other form of afterlife except the one that all men aspire to, the joining together at death through enreithment into a besh. Disembodied souls are abahara. An abahara that does not fade away cannot exist, so there is no word for such a creature.

Marquart said, “What are you and where do you come from?”

He took for granted that she was not of his world. There were other worlds, and menhirs were the gates to reach them; this Marquart knew. The Comanyi had come through the menhir on the top of Mount Comai to rule as Gods for a thousand years, and his world’s more recent Gods, Rem Ossilo and Hea Santala, had come in through the very menhir for which the Valley was named. Shapeshifters had come from Lorric; kakais and tichan had come in with the Comanyi. Marquart’s world had no concept of ghosts or heaven, but other worlds were well known to them.

There were even reputed to be dziais, men of power from Marquart’s world, who could tap the power of the menhirs and travel through them to other worlds.

Then, as Marquart looked closer, he realized that this apparition could be of his world, could even be from this region. Her dark hair, broad cheekbones and copper face could belong to the daughter of one of his own serfs.

Baralia saw that recognition, and answered, “I am of this place. This is my world.”

“How can this be?”

Hea’s geas had placed many constraints on Baralia, but telling the truth was not one of them. However, Baralia chose to simplify her lies by staying close to the truth. She said, “I died, and Hea Santala took me before I was enreithed and made me her servant.”

“To what end?”

“Ours is the menhir of her entry into our world, and she holds it precious. The worshippers of Rem Ossilo had it for a time, but Hea took it back so that the priests of our menhir now worship only the Damesept.”

Marquart nodded. This was common knowledge.

“Now there has been a change in the Remsept, and she felt the need for another, unseen watcher over that which is Hers.”

So close to the truth, as all good lies are.

“If unseen, then why do I see you?”

“Because I choose to let you see me.”

“Again, why me?”

“The menhir is Hers, the land is yours. It may be that to serve Her, I must first aid you.”

And she faded, leaving Marquart to stare at an empty chair and ponder how to deal with this supposed messenger from the Damesept.

# # #

Marquart had stripped to leggings and leather slippers. In his right hand he carried an ironwood rod balanced to the weight of his sword and in his left hand a lighter rod to match his lancette. He fought in a style he had learned from a minor prince of Renth, using his sword to deflect blows and depending on the quickness and grace of the lancette for most of his offense. It was a style that favored his bulk and power. Now he was facing both Hein and Conger. Sweat clotted the black mat of hair on Marquart’s chest and slicked the smooth skins of his adversaries as they moved around the great hall in the mock-deadly dance of sword practice. more Monday