Monthly Archives: July 2018

Banner of the Hawk 42

“I was saying that after Beshu made his warrior’s sacrifice in the local menhir, and gave the priests the shock of their lives, he came back here to Port of the Gull. Here he met my mother. When Beshu showered her with presents and, I believe, promises, she took him into her bed. He knew she was Kafi’s niece, of course, but at that time no one doubted that Kafi would raise an heir. Eventually, the itch to travel took hold of Beshu and he left on a ship bound for Sarnia. Some friends there obtained a commission for him and he spent the rest of his life in the High King’s service. He became teniai, married properly, and raised a son.”

“Marquart.”

“Exactly. Beshu didn’t know for years that he had left my mother pregnant. When she died, her sister contacted Beshu, and he took me into his household. There I was the bastard and Marquart was the anointed one.”

Rondor had heard most of this before, but never from Melcer himself. This homecoming seemed to have softened what were usually bitter memories. He asked, “Why didn’t Lord Kafi take you in instead of letting you go to Beshu, when it became apparent that he would leave no heir?”

“Hah! He never quit trying. When I left, he had just married a new wife. His fourth. And they had to pry a serving girl out from under him on his deathbed!”

That, Rondor thought, was too good a story to be true. But Melcer had been drinking for hours; his judgment was somewhat liquid.

Lanti returned with drinks for the three of them and crawled back into Melcer’s lap. Like Beshu before him, and like his half-brother Marquart, Melcer was a mighty man. He was short statured but thick in every dimension, with great hands and bullish neck and limbs stacked with muscle. His chest and arms were covered with a thick mat of black hair, now stained with spilled ale.

He stared moodily at the tabletop for a moment, then continued, “The cruelest jest of all came when my h’brother advanced himself in the High King’s service. Mind you, he deserved advancement. He fought like a demon. He inherited his rage from our father, not being sweet natured like I am.”

Rondor smiled at that, for Melcer’s “sweet nature” was likely to scorch the hair of anyone who crossed him on a bad day.

“Marquart has something extra,” Melcer added. “His rages are tucked away under an icy control. Rem have mercy on anyone when that control slips. Or when he decides to let it slip.”

He frowned and paused to drink. Then he repeated, “The cruelest jest — Marquart took Port Cantor and Limiakos gave him the Valley of the Menhir. It should have been mine, if old Kafi had acknowledged me. Damn him! Damn that long-rutting old breecher. And damn Beshu! And damn Marquart!”

Lanti slid out of Melcer’s lap and moved to stand behind Rondor as Melcer slammed his flagon down, shattering it and bringing sudden silence to the common room. He hurled the broken flagon toward the fire. A city guard that he barely missed stood up shouting. Melcer glowered at him until he sank back down and broke eye contact.

Then, as quickly as it had come, Melcer’s anger subsided and he laughed. He said, “Get me another ale, Lanti.”

“Don’t you think you’ve had enough?”

He just looked at her, and she turned to go to the bar. Rondor took his seat again, tying to gauge Melcer’s condition. This was the beginning of rage, not merely abrasive drunkenness. Rondor could not guess how far it would carry him.

“Melcer,” he asked, “what do you really want here? Your kinship to Kafi means nothing; he had more bastards than I have hairs. Jor tried to use kinship to make himself Lord, and now he is an outlaw. You don’t even have that much claim.” more tomorrow

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510. Books About Books

The Great American Read sent me scurrying to my personal library to review some books about books. That is an odd sub-genre, but not a small one.

From my library (i.e., room-filling book pile) I pulled out The Novel 100 by Daniel Burt, The 100 Most Influential Books Ever Written by Martin Seymour-Smith and Twenty-five Books That Shaped America by Thomas C. Foster. I have certainly read many others over the years, picked up while wandering through libraries. I own these three because they were on remainder lists, which made them cheap enough to buy.

I also have A Great Idea at the Time by Alex Beam, which deserves a whole ‘nother post, later. (See the aside below before you write me about my bad grammar.)

Why do we read these books on books? For the lists and for the opinions. Everyone who writes one of these books is highly opinionated. They have to be, since there are no real criteria for making these choices. It’s all very subjective. One person’s Great is another person’s Crap.

It might be interesting to read a few dozen of these lists and see what books, if any, end up on all of them. Moby Dick, might qualify; everyone admires it from afar, although few read it. Still, I wouldn’t bet money on any title ending up on every list.

The best of these authors admit that their picks are personal, and could have gone a different way on a different day. They defend their choices with humor, which is always welcome. A good book-on-books is fun to read. Even when the prejudice is potentially offensive, we get to laugh at academics looking like red-necks without realizing it. And, no, I’m not going to admit which one of the above I’m talking about.

The criteria for inclusion are also different from book to book. The Novel 100 is based on pure quality, and on continuing to be recognized as fashions change. Daniel Burt begins with 1. Don Quixote and carries though 100. Gone With the Wind. Then he adds an appendix called the second hundred. The reader gets a two-fer.

Seymour-Smith skips great books which were not influential on other writers or the culture in general, and includes books which were influential, even if they were inherently bad. Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion is an example of the latter. Seymour-Smith’s list runs from 1 The I Ching through 100 Beyond Freedom and Dignity. Mercifully, he does not provide a second hundred.

Foster writes with a light tone, sometimes slipping too far into flippancy, and only gives us twenty-eight books. His twenty-five include a two-fer of short books of poetry and a trilogy of novels. He also provides a list of fifteen runners-up.

If I wanted to collate the books in these three collections, throwing out the duplicates, the number would probably be close to 300. Am I going to read them all? Not in this lifetime, but I can read these reviews and come away with at least an idea of what I am missing. I can also garner a much smaller list of ones I actually might read some day.

========

Aside. If you are a writer, you must ponder the weird cock-ups where grammar meets usage. Take the phrase I used humorously, a whole ‘nother post.

Another post makes sense. If you add the modifier whole, the phrase falls apart. In another whole post , whole seems to modify post when it is meant to modify another. That is, it seems to say an additional post instead of a very different post.

It is similar to German, which has two words for another. Noch eine Bier means “Bring me an additional beer”, but ein andera Bier means “Bring me a different beer, I don’t like this one.”

You might try to break another into an other so you can squeeze in the additional modifier closer to its referent. But that doesn’t work either. You end up with—

An whole other post. That puts an instead of a in front of a consonant. So you try—

A whole other post. But that doesn’t work either, because you have lost the “n“, which leaves your reader muttering under his breath, “A other post? That’s not right!”

So you end up splitting another in a different place, ending up with a nother. Put that back into the phrase, and you get a whole ‘nother post which sounds right, even though it’s wrong.

Ain’t English fun?

This brings up Writers Rule # 1, to wit: If that which is grammatically correct looks bad, use a different sentence altogether.

You might also call it the “There are things up with which I will not put!” rule.

Banner of the Hawk 41

Baralia could not read his mind, nor his face when he chose to make it blank. In fact, he was thinking, “Maybe what Baralia says is the truth, and maybe it is all lies. I have regretted following her advice in the past.”

Even if Clevis had offered such a report, he would have treated it with doubt, so why should he believe this unnatural creature? For he realized that he did believe it. With all his doubts, it rang true for him because it buttressed his long-standing picture of Melcer. Melcer, the bastard elder brother who had tormented him in childhood. 

He no longer feared his brother, but he still hated him.

Marquart stayed silent and Baralia chose not to disturb him. The long shadows gathered together to knit up a garment of pure darkness. The sound of kakais being gathered unseen in the forecourt broke his reverie, and Marquart went down the stairs with no further word to her.

Marquart led his troop away from the manorhouse with Clevis at his stirrup and with Hein and Conger close behind. Fifteen men-at-arms followed, for Marquart believed in Limiakos II’s rule, “Speak peace with a sword in your hand.”

14.

Lanti was young, long legged and slim; her breasts were full and she was just three scarves away from naked. She had taken to Melcer like a moth to cider and despite the fact that she was a bargirl, she had spent more time in his lap than serving drinks. It had been a long night and most of Melcer’s shipmates had passed out from drinking or had wandered off to the loft with one of Lanti’s cohorts. Only Rondor remained.

The Falling Griffon was a typical waterfront inn, tavern, and whorehouse. Smoke had long since stained the ceiling black and, as usual, filled the common room and spilled out into the streets. The warmth of the afternoon was fading; it would be was a cruel night, with a wind from the sea that brought in the fog. No snow had fallen in Port of the Gull yet, but the rising storm was bringing the temperature down fast. Within the Griffon, the rattle of bones scattered from a wooden cup filled the inn, while a minstrel with a thyril tried to make himself heard above the din. The words of his ribald song reached down the street to bring a smile from the city guard.

Melcer drew Lanti closer, slipping his hand under one of her scarves to cup a breast, and shook his cup at his companion. “You are wrong, Rondor,” he said. “One port is not just like another. Beyond the self-evident fact that the women in Port of the Gull are the most beautiful in the world . . .;” Lanti slipped her hand inside his shirt and scratched his hard belly; “. . . there is the fact that I was born here. My mother was not quite like Lanti here, but she was of fallen estate. When old Lord Kafi drove his brother — my maternal g’father — into exile, he left his daughter — my mother — behind. Beshu, my father, met her in this very town. Now I said she was not like Lanti — she didn’t wait tables in places like this or serve men in other ways. How many ways do you serve, little succubus?”

At this shift in the conversation, Lanti leaned forward and kissed Melcer, taking her time and being most thorough about it. Then she stiffened in mock modesty and dropped her eyes. Very softly, she said, “My lord knows.” Then she giggled and squirmed closer.

“A most shy and proper young lady,” Rondor said, and Melcer roared with laughter. He finished his tankard and while Lanti was running to refill it, Rondor prompted, “You were saying?” more tomorrow

Banner of the Hawk 40

Marquart waited until Clevis caught up and said, “You talked to Melcer a year ago.”

“Aye. In Renth.”

“You said he seemed friendly?”

“Yes — to me. He talked about the past with nostalgia, not bitterness. But he didn’t say much about you directly, so his feelings may not have changed in that regard.”

“He claims now that they have.” 

Marquart passed over a parchment. After formal greetings, it read, “I congratulate you on your achievements, and your advancement to Lordship of the Valley. It has been more than ten years since we spoke last in anger. I find that my anger has fled and I hope that yours has as well. You have found your place in the world, and I have found mine. I would have us once again be as brothers.”

Clevis merely raised an eyebrow. Marquart said, “Well?”

“It could be. Or it could be a lie, or a connivance, or even the baiting of a trap. The best thing I can say is that he has no apparent need of you, and you certainly have no need of him. I see no reason for him to send this unless it simply means what it says. But I wouldn’t bet my life on it.”

Marquart frowned deeply and said, “He is my father’s son.”

“I never met Beshu, but I know Melcer well. He is capable of anything. Even, possibly, of telling the truth.”

“Possibly. Not likely. This was brought to me by a hired messenger. Melcer’s ship is in Port of the Gull.”

“Then this letter is to ask for an invitation.”

“Aye. But we will visit him instead. Gather the men. Set half of them to stay here on high alert. The other half are to be mounted, with swords and lancettes. See that they have a light supper and keep the kakais inside until it is fully dark. I want to move out when no one can see us, and arrive at Port of the Gull before moonrise. Then we will see if Melcer’s protestations of brotherhood are real or false.”

# # #

Marquart took a horn of ale and a half a loaf of bread up to the battlements for his supper. Baralia joined him there, as he had known she would. He said, “Did you do as I asked?”

“I told you when first we met, that to serve Hea I would aid you.”

“You said you might. What did you see at Port of the Gull?”

“Melcer is at the Inn of the Falling Griffon, with a troop of men. I counted ten, but they were coming and going. It could have been twice that many. Since I can’t be seen or heard by anyone but you, I was hampered. I could not ask questions; I could only listen and report.”

“So report!”

“He wants your demesne. He plans to kill you and take your place as Lord of the Valley.”

Marquart shook his head. “Melcer is a bastard. He is not even teniai, since Beshu became teniai after he was born. If he took the Valley, the High King would send in troops to take it back.”

“I heard that same argument from one of Melcer’s men,” Baralia replied. “Melcer said much can be done by a bold stroke with an iron hand, and that the Limiakos is overextended, caught between holding the cities he has recently conquered along the coast and the increasing Dzikakai raids from the dry lands.”

Marquart chewed his bread and thought. Then he said, “That much at least is true. I had a letter from Reece two months ago that confirms it. If Melcer could take the Valley, he might hold it for years before anyone could dislodge him.” Then he was silent. Baralia could not read his mind, nor his face when he chose to make it blank. more Monday

509. Kidnapped and Catriona (2)

Catriona, aka David Balfour, continues the story begun in Kidnapped. I prefer the former title, probably because it was the title of the library copy I first read. I have headed this with a David Balfour cover, because all the Catriona covers I found were artistically inferior. By either name, this is quite a different kind of book. The balance between action and moral dilemma has shifted hard to the right.

Kidnapped had too much meat to be properly called a boy’s book, but it fell into that category among booksellers largely because it didn’t have sex or even romance. In Catriona, there still isn’t any sex — it was published in the Victorian era, after all — but it does have romance. Catriona is David’s love interest from early in the novel, and he wins her at the end. But the path of that romance is so slow, self-consciously moral, and tedious that it wouldn’t work as a modern girl’s book either. (Assuming anyone would dare to use that phrase any more.)

I recommend both novel and sequel to adults who are willing to take a journey, not only to another land, but also to another time. It’s easier to follow the lowland Scots dialect than it is to understand why David is so backward in his pursuit of Catriona. Once you get past that, you will be closer to understanding the era.

The book is in two parts. In the first, David is trying to get his friend Alan to safety overseas, and trying to get a chance to testify that James of the Glen cannot have committed the Appin murder. The latter turns out to be no easy task. The level of bias and corruption is astounding, on both sides of the political spectrum. (Sound familiar?) Shenanigans abound; David is kidnapped, again, this time by his friends and held captive on Bass Rock to keep him from the trial. He manages to get there anyway, after the trial is over, but before the verdict is announced. He falls in with those who are James friends, and finds them as blind to justice and reason as the ones who want James dead. David says:

And it was forced home upon my mind how this, that had the externals of a sober process of law, was in its essence a clan battle between savage clans.

There were no quotations in the last post, but Catriona is a garden of quotations, so brace yourself as David tells you what happened in his own words.

. . . in course of time, on November 8th, and in the midst of a prodigious storm of wind and rain, poor James of the Glens was duly hanged at Lettermore by Balachulish.

So there was the final upshot of my politics! Innocent men have perished before James, and are like to keep on perishing (in spite of all our wisdom) till the end of time. And till the end of time, young folk (who are not yet used with the duplicity of life and men) will struggle as I did, and make heroical resolves, and take long risks; and the course of events will push them upon the one side and go on like a marching army.   . . . (James) had been hanged by fraud and violence, and the world wagged along, and there was not a pennyweight of difference; and the villains of that horrid plot were decent, kind, respectable fathers of families, who went to kirk and took the sacrament!

What follows immediately thereafter is perhaps my favorite quotation from all of literature.

But I had had my view of that detestable business they call politics–I had seen it from behind, when it is all bones and blackness; and I was cured for life of any temptations to take part in it again.

David may have accomplished nothing, but he has given a moving example of decency in his attempt.

The last third of the book is a romance, mixed with more intrigue. Alan appears again, David ends up as the temporary guardian of Catriona, which makes him morally bound to say nothing about his feelings for her, since she is in his power. It is all very touching, frustrating, and Victorian. I would not blame a modern reader for wishing David would just say, “Hey, Babe, we’ve got a problem here, let’s talk about it.” But of course, he can’t. Living through his misery with him is the price we pay for diving deep into a historic culture, told through the words of a man who lived it.

Spoiler alert: all comes well in the end.

In his dedication to David Balfour/Catriona, written in Samoa, RLS revealed his affection for both books and added:

And I have come so far; and the sights and thoughts of my youth pursue me; and I see like a vision the youth of my father, and of his father, and the whole stream of lives flowing down there, far in the north, with the sound of laughter and tears, to cast me out in the end, as by a sudden freshet, on those ultimate islands. And I admire and bow my head before the romance of destiny.

Kidnapped might be mistaken for a boy’s book; RLS suggested it himself. Catriona, or Kidnapped/Catriona seen as a single story, is an adult look at a very different world.

Banner of the Hawk 39

Marquart turned away from the room he had shared with his wife, when he had had a wife, and moved on to the small chamber where his empty bed lay waiting.

He had failed Dael; he did not know how he had failed her, but he had. She had also failed him, but that was not something he could control, so he dismissed it. He thought, “I must not fail my son as I failed his mother.” But he worried that he did not know how to avoid such failure.

13.

For fire safety, Branbourn’s forge was housed in a separate building of stone, roofed with poles and dirt instead of thatch, and set some distance from the other outbuildings. It was one of Tidac’s favorite places, where he spent long hours gazing into the fire and listening to Branbourn’s tales and his instruction.

Branbourn was not a tutor; he taught because he had come to love Tidac as if he were his own son. While the new hireling priest Weikata taught the boy the ways of the Gods and the history and governance of the Inner Kingdom, Branbourn tried to teach him to be a man.

To Branbourn’s eye, Weikata was a pale and sickly thing, unfit to tutor a boy like Tidac. He stank of too much priesthood.

Clevis taught the boy warcraft, strategy, swordsmanship, and nurtured his physical strength. He was doing so now, sparring with Tidac on the packed earth outside the smithy door. Clevis was an old friend to Branbourn, and the boy could find no better tutor for what Clevis had to teach. But who was there to teach him kindness, forbearance, and tolerance? Not Dael, who had run away. Not Marquart at any time, but especially not since Dael had left him. Every minute of Clevis’ teaching was centered on what the boy would need to survive in a harsh world.

Branbourn taught by metaphor. With every new sword, he brought beauty out of fire and sweat — heating, pounding, layering, quenching, drawing, tempering, sharpening. These things are not unlike what must happen to a man, if he is to become bright and clean and strong, but not brittle. This is what Branbourn taught, by example and slow explanation, remaining careful never to preach.

The sun had moved behind the manorhouse, throwing its shadow across the yard. Within the smithy, Branbourn spread the coke and doused it, set his tools in order for the next day’s work, and hung his ragged leather apron on a peg.

Outside, Tidac young body was drenched with sweat as he strove to ward off Clevis’ blows. He was short for eight years, but massive, and there was a shambling roll to his gait, almost like a sailor at sea. He was thick to the point of oddity, unless one had seen Marquart’s squat and heavy frame and knew what the boy would grow up to be.

Tidac was working with the sword Branbourn had made for him last winter, a lovely thing of layered iron and steel, with a chasing of silver vines. Clevis was using an oak wand, chopped and splintered now by Tidac’s blade. Tidac’s eyes were eager and his movements deft. In such moments, he almost forgot to hide his smile.

Then for a brief moment, fear moved in the boy’s eyes, and just as suddenly was gone. So was the light and eagerness as the boy withdrew into himself again, turning and bringing his sword up in salute as his father came around the forge shed.

Marquart nodded to his son in acknowledgment of the salute and said to Clevis, “Come away.” He spun on his heels and headed back toward the manorhouse; Clevis hurried to follow.

Tidac moved to wipe down his sword, running his thumb along the blade to see if it had acquired any nicks that would need honing out. His face was calm, serene — blank — but Branbourn had seen in that one unguarded moment how Tidac feared his father. more tomorrow

Banner of the Hawk 38

Marquart turned to follow Tidac. He did not know that there were three of them walking down the hall. Baralia walked at Marquart’s side. She always did, but he only knew it when she let him know it. Tidac, who saw auras and read character in colors, felt the unseen presence of that one who hated him, hated his mother, who both loved and hated his father. He could not yet see her form, but he felt the stark, desperate emptiness of her soul. And he feared her.

# # #

The manorhouse had only minimal defenses and Marquart put no faith in it. Now, with his son and heir at his right side and Clevis at his left, he led the thirty new soldiers across the just harvested fields of his direct holdings to a bluff overlooking the menhir and its village. There the stonemasons he had brought in to dam the Gull were working to build a keep. It was being constructed of black basalt, four stories above the ground with cellars and dungeons below. The only entrance was at the third level, with a ramp that could be withdrawn in time of siege.

Those in the village below could see it going up. Dymal could see it from the Menhir. It was Marquart’s final stamp of ownership of the Valley, and his statement of defiance toward any who would oppose him.

Marquart saw the progress that had been made, and was pleased. Baralia saw it as a sign that she had wrought well in smothering kindness and nurturing Marquart’s natural distrustfulness.

# # #

There was feast of welcome for the new soldiers, with much drinking. Marquart set it in motion, then withdrew. The Lord does not drink with those who serve him. As he made his way up the stairs, he felt a pang for the simplicities of the past, before he was a Septaur, or a Commander of a Thousand, or a Lord. It surprised him that the pang was so small. Even when he was young, ambition had pushed him upward; even when he was a new warrior, his face had been set toward advancement. Now he was Lord and, however dissatisfied he might be, he had no desire to return to what he had been.

Marquart walked the upstairs hallway, deeply aware of the door frames which were still naked of doors, four years after Dael was no longer here to hide behind them. He paused at Tidac’s room, listening to the boy’s even breathing as he slept.

“Will you be great?” he asked himself. “What will you become? I have been remiss; I must get you the tools you need for greatness, if you wish to pursue it.”

He said those words to himself, on the boy’s behalf, but he did not say them aloud. Tidac never heard them. Baralia never heard them, though she stood at his shoulder. Marquart’s silence was the only thing that defeated her.

As a boy, Marquart had not dared to speak before Melcer, who would taunt him. He had not dared to speak before his mother, who was weak and might betray him. He had not had the opportunity to speak before Beshu, for Beshu had never been there to hear him.

He looked one last time at his sleeping son, then withdrew. He did not say, “I love you,” even in the secrecy of his silence. He did not quite know how.

He moved on up the hall, pausing at the open doorway of the room that had been his and Dael’s. So Tidac could feel her presence here? Marquart remained quiet, listening, but he could not hear her. He knew that he probably had never heard her, although he had tried. more tomorrow