Tag Archives: fantasy fiction

491. Menhir Beginnings

What you are going to see in the next few months in Serial is Marquart’s story. It bears the title Banner of the Hawk because the hawk is Marquart’s kladak (personal symbol), but you won’t see him or his banner until the third week.

As I have told too many times, I had an epiphany in 1972, a vision of a young boy in a castle, looking out at a frozen landscape, trapped in other peoples expectations. His father has recently been killed and he is being raised now by relatives who assume that he will grow up to avenge his father and retake his lands.

The boy, Tidac, has other ideas. His memory of his father is of a violent and overbearing presence who drove him to silence. Tidac is relieved that he is gone, and has no desire to spend his youth preparing to avenge him.

Marquart is that father.

I know that doesn’t sound like anyone you want to spend time with, but trust me, Marquart evolved far beyond that original impulse between then and now.

What I will present in Serial is approximately the first quarter of the first novel of a two novel series. I still plan to find a real home for it, so that is all I am willing to commit to a blog. I call it the menhir series or just menhir, but that is not a good name for public use. It implies that there are any number of books, but there are only — and will be only — two. I have told the complete story and there will be no further sequels. There are other novels set in the same world, however.

The story begins with the coming of two Gods from another world. That was covered Monday and Tuesday. Eighty years later, one of the original pair of Gods is about to die at the hands of his son, whom he has seriously mishandled. This sets up a problem concerning Marquart, his brother, his father, and his son, all of whom are still off stage (and Tidac isn’t even born yet). Starting today, that problem gets handled — very  badly — by the remaining goddess and her offspring.

If this seems like a lot of backstory, bear in mind that it is setting up two long novels, not just this excerpt. Also, I refer you to E. E. Smith’s Triplanetary which has the longest backstory in the history of backstories. Comparatively, this is nothing,. I will admit that the way in which the essential background to the world we are going to inhabit is laid out through action, dialog, and foreshadowing, took me forty years to get just right.

Marquart’s story is a tragedy in the Shakespearean sense. That is a type comparison, not a comparison of quality. Marquart is a strong man faced with a situation he does not understand. His enemies are invisible to him. He is beset by personality traits he does not understand, stemming from events that occurred before his birth. He never stops fighting, yet in the end, he becomes his own worst enemy. Even though it is eventually necessary for me to wean the readers’ affection from Marquart and transfer them to his son, I think you will still be sorry to see Marquart go.

At least, if I have done my job correctly, you will be.

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Banner of the Hawk 3

2.

In the same menhir that had transported Rem and Hea, two human priests sat mehakan casting mandalas. Taipai, the elder, said, “A God is dying.” 

“Who?” his protege asked. “Which one?”

“Rem. Rem Ossilo.”

“Should we fear,” Dymal asked, “or be relieved?”

“Fear, boy. With his father dead, the Shambler will be free of restraint.”

Taipai pushed the runeboard away, disarraying the counters. His hands shook and his face was pale. Dymal reached out and touched his shoulder, giving what comfort ai and a human contact could provide. They were alone in the midst of the menhir; Taipai had sent all the other priests away. Beyond the circle of stones, the thorngall hedge threshed in the dry wind of autumn, and in the Great World beyond the hedge, all the creatures of sensitivity quailed before the outpouring of power that signaled the change.

On the runeboard, only partially scattered by Taipai’s movement, the counters told their story. There in the heart of the heartstar, the symbol of the double-face lay touching the symbol of the twisted branch. The sons of Lorric had joined with the Shambler, and Rem Ossilo’s counter had been shoved aside, all the way left to the deathside of the runeboard.

Rem Ossilo’s era was ending and the era of the Shambler would now begin.

# # #

She sat mehakan in the glade where she had been conceived. Her name was Lyré, and she was a Goddess. Where Taipai interpreted the surge of ai that shook the world through a wooden runeboard with counters of brass, she felt those powers directly, moving through her body as she sat, and redirected by her will.

Before her hung a sphere of swirling, buzzing golden bees of ai that were her counters in a three dimensional runeboard of pure will. Unlike Taipai who depended on the symbols embossed on his physical counters, Lyre saw directly what her counters of ai portended. From time to time, she reached out and touched one of them as it flitted by, and the entire pattern of the sphere changed. Between the counters, lines formed and faded, making a blue cobweb of light which disclosed the forces that impelled the counters.

She saw pictures, and not only pictures, but the forces that lay behind the pictures. Of all the Damesept of the Gods, Lyré’s ai was the least attuned to action and most attuned to understanding. 

Nothing like that could be said of her mother or her son.

# # #

Argella and Argat stood in the open air on a hilltop overlooking the Dzikakai encampment. They were protected from the heat and dust, and from prying eyes, by the forces Argella manipulated. She was dressed in woolens and lace and power. He was greaved and plated and helmeted, with sword at his side and a longbow across his back. She had transported them to this place by the power of her will, and the ai of Whitethorn; that was a feat he could not have matched, but all the creatures who defend Whitethorn bowed to him, not her, for he was their general.

Different, but well matched; grandmother and grandson, they might have been taken as siblings, for the Gods show little age until their third century.

They watched as Rem Ossilo, mounted on Margyr, reviewed the Dzikakai army he had recruited; watched as the Shambler with three of the sons of Lorric in wereform came down from the hills together, and watched the final battle as father and son strove together until youth and rage overcame experience and a harnessed ai. 

They watched as the Shambler killed his father and the world changed. Argat’s interest in Rem’s passing was academic; Argella watched with bloodlust and hatred. more tomorrow

Banner of the Hawk 2

At the very edge of that forest of stone, Rem turned back to deliver a final curse, but Hea Santala faced him and shook her head. Anger colored his face, but there was no time now for a contest of wills. He turned forward and entered the maze.

Reality shifted subtly. A nimbus of light enveloped them both. The sky darkened, lightened, shifted hue, and they stood in a strange and quiet world of pastel yellow-gray where the menhirs were worried and pitted by time and where the desert stretched away in all directions, sandy and lifeless. The sky was saffron, the sand a dead and deadly cream, like ancient bones ground to powder between the teeth of time. Hea shivered as Rem Ossilo paused. Sweat stood out on his face and his age seemed to come and sit grinning on his left shoulder. Then he raised his head and began to speak again.

The next land was rocks and water. Rocks wet and glistening, fog enveloping them on all sides so that she would not have seen Rem Ossilo except for the bulk of his mount. The rocks emitted water, ran with water, oozed water; they were alternately hard and spongy. The menhirs were lost in a myriad of mere stones. In the soft mist were creatures who felt no need to keep their viscera encased in a fleshy pouch. Bathed in eternal mist, they ran with organs dangling, dripping and functioning in naked sight. 

Hea Santala began to become angry.

They passed through the land of silver, elfin forest; and then they were in another vast, high forest where life moved, grew, suffered, and died in such profusion that the weight of it crushed her mind. She shrank inward at the cacophony of existence around her as Rem Ossilo moved to transport them again.

She touched him then, broke his concentration, and the vine encrusted menhirs which had begun to fade, reappeared. He turned angrily upon her, but she faced him, saying, “This time, I will choose my own destination and my own destiny.”

She released his shoulder and raised her hands. From the forest, a ruddy half-ape, teeth bared, rushed toward them, his talons tearing at the bog, his eyes mad. She ignored him and said a word . . .

# # #

They sat astride their mounts in a circle of stones of burnished basalt. This menhir stood in the bend of a river, on a soft and grassy floodplain. The sky was turquoise blue; the river was black as it hurried its way toward some sea.

She said, “This is where I will spend my exile.” 

Her eyes were soft with sadness as she regarded him. “Despite the years between us,” she said, “I urge you to depart. I have grown old watching your anger, and I am weary. Here, I would rest. Go on to some place suited to madness and dwell there with the devils you conjure.”

He moved to transport, then hesitated. Love and hatred, respect and loathing — all bind; and he was bound to her by the long years between them.

In that moment, Hea Santala could have driven him away with a harsh word, but she lacked the resolution to speak it. The World of the Menhir would suffer much for her weakness.

# # #

So it was that the two of them rode out together into a world temporarily without Gods and into the century of their power. And the century of their striving against one another. It was a vast tale, but we will pass lightly over it. Hea Santala and Rem Ossilo went their separate ways, and each had children, and their children had children, and yet again their children bore children.

Eight decades passed.

more tomorrow

490. Morning of the Gods

Other lands; other skies.
       Not of earth.

Lands of red sky and green sea;
Lands of gray sky and silver forests.
Lands as endless as the sands,
       and nameless as the waves of the sea.

Watch realities shift into one another,
                     Slip by, slip by, slip by,
Like fleeting images seen
       in a nightride through chaos.

Come with me then, to where consciousness ends.
Where experience missed,
       sets an iron boundary on our lives.

Come to a land of red sky and green sea,
And a land where the gray sky
       locks hands with the elfin forest.

Come with me to a land that has no name.

#            #            #

Today, this is a poem, because I shifted its order, set it into lines, and tweaked where needed. It started as the opening paragraphs of a novel. Slide on over to today’s Serial, and see the original.

Banner of the Hawk 1

from the novel Valley of the Menhir
by Syd Logsdon

Morning of the Gods

1.

Other lands; other skies. Not of earth. Lands of red sky and green sea; or gray sky and silver forests. Lands and peoples as endless as the sand, and as nameless. Realities shifting into one another, slipping by like images glimpsed in a nightride through chaos.

Out there in the night that stretches away from us all — there where consciousness ends; where experience missed sets an iron boundary on our lives — there is a land of red sky and green sea, Poinaith, and another land where the gray sky leans down to lock hands with the sliver elfin forest. 

And there is a land that has no name. We will call it the World of the Menhir. Although menhirs are found on many worlds — they are, in fact, the gateways between worlds — on no other world are the fates of its people so intertwined with their menhirs.

The World of the Menhir was temporarily Godless. Certainly, there were plenty of ways to worship. Piety was great among the people, but the last real Gods had departed a thousand years ago. All that was about to change.

The Ved arcanus says:

# # #

They came riding out of the earth, and it was the morning of the Gods.

# # #

In the land of red sky, two riders came, the one skirting the water’s edge and throwing up a spray of spindrift, the other riding some paces inland and throwing up a spray of creamy sand.

The foremost rider, Rem Ossilo, drew rein and his mount Margyr shook its head in rebellion at ending its run. Hea Santala’s mount closed the distance between them and they cantered inland to the cliff base and the path that wound upward. Switchbacking single file, Rem Ossilo in the lead, they ascended the cliff to a rounded, grassy hill. The sea was green beneath them, hurling itself against the headland beneath a rusty sky.

At the top Rem dismounted to look back. There was no pursuit —  yet. Hea Santala’s gaze followed his. Though her face was lined with sadness and his with anger, there was no mistaking the commonality of that gaze. It was a last looking, drawing in memories for an uncertain future, hoarding a moment out of time to nourish them in exile.

Rem Ossilo gazed long at the distance, first assuring himself of their temporary safety, then taking in the panorama of his homeland. That was his way. Hea Santala took in all things at once, loving the land and fearing her enemies in the same unwavering gaze. Even hating her enemies somewhat, not for their animosity, but because she must leave this land. That was her way.

Rem looked then at his wife; that there was still some affection in his glance was a tribute to her, not to him. In the distance there was a hint of dust. She raised a finger to point, saying, “Our children are coming.”

For a moment every light emotion left his face, and it was as if someone had opened the gates of hell. Then hell turned icy and he turned away from the sea, remounting and urging Margyr toward the jumble of menhirs that surmounted the hillock. Hea Santala followed without comment. All her life she had followed without comment, and that had been her undoing.

At the very edge of that forest of stone, he turned back to deliver a final curse. more tomorrow

489. The Cost of Empire 4

This is the last of four posts from The Cost of Empire. Click here for post 1.

Jons had locked the lever, so Daniel gripped the rail in front of him and looked for the shark. By the time the Anne of Cleves had turned far enough to see it, the American had almost reached the outer line of ships. It seemed to be headed toward the narrow gap between two freighters. Daniel took bearings continuously, sending them to the Commander as fast as he could refocus. He marveled at the American’s audacity, and wondered how soon he would shear off.

He didn’t.

The American sub plowed along, passing before the Brixham, causing it to waver and turn partially aside, then turned hard to port and took station inside the convoy.

No, he didn’t take station. The shark did not slow down. It forged forward between the Naesby and the Bamburgh Castle, slick as a knife through butter, far faster than the freighters on either side. Then it made another hard turn across the Naesby’s bow and left them all behind, heading due north. Daniel continued taking readings on its retreating fin as it shot away, twice as fast as the ships in the convoy.

#                   #                   #

Old Ugly was a small ship with a small crew. Even Commander Dane was only in his mid-thirties, but that made him the oldest officer aboard. Daniel and David, just out of the Air Academy, were the youngest and least experienced. That made them the dogs of all work aboard the dirigible, constantly shifting duties through engines, gas bags, navigation, communications, ranging, and munitions. It was a great way to learn a lot, fast.

That night in the officers’ mess, Daniel and David took places on benches opposite each other at the bottom of the table. Commander Dane was in the single chair, bolted to the floor at the head. He mumbled some pleasantries until they had all begun to eat, then said to the assembled officers, “Today we had another demonstration of what the Americans are capable of, and what they are willing to risk. Mr. James, what was the top speed they demonstrated?”

There was a trace of a smile as he asked, and Daniel sighed softly. He was reminding Daniel of the two slight errors he had made today. It was Dane’s way of keeping all his men on their toes. Daniel answered, “Thirty-one knots, Sir.”

“Do you think that was their actual top speed, or were they holding something back from us?”

“No way to know, Sir.”

“Guess.”

By now Daniel knew it was better to be wrong than to be timid. He said with no apparent hesitation, “Probably not their emergency top speed, but their operating top speed, Sir.”

“Why? What is the basis for your estimate?”

“They were showing off, Sir. They always seem to be showing off, but this was more than audacious. This was actually dangerous, yet they did it anyway. Given that it was a show, and that they are showmen, if they could have gone faster, they would have.”

Dane nodded with no further comment and turned his attention to his next victim. Every meal at the officers’ mess was like an oral exam.

This evening Dane worked his way down the table, with a different mental task for each officer present, and ended with David.

“Mr. James — Mr. David James — tomorrow you will take your cousin with you — or he can take you with him, damned if I can tell you apart — and inspect the entire ship from bow to stern.”

“Yessir,” David interrupted, “but its easy to tell us apart. I’m the good looking one.”

“Debatable. As I was saying, you will inspect the entire ship from bow to stern, outside the gas bags.”

“Sir?”

“You do know how, don’t you?”

“In theory, Sir.”

“See Lieutenant Ennis about putting that theory into practice. But don’t waste more than ten minutes of his time. You won’t really understand it until you’ve done it.”

That’s all you get for a while. I’ll sound trumpets and send up fireworks when it gets published. SL

488. The Cost of Empire 3

This is the third of four posts from The Cost of Empire. Click here for post 1.

Another repeater above their heads spun, giving the tillerman a new bearing. He released the stop and heaved the chest high lever to his right. A linked lever in front of Daniel moved with it and he grabbed hold to add his strength. The tillerman could move the great ship’s rudder alone, but in time of need the Eye officer’s added power made things move faster.

Of course, faster is a relative term. Old Ugly never maneuvered with anything like speed. Now her bow swung slowly to starboard. Daniel could feel the increased trembling in the platform underfoot as her engines quickened far below and behind him.

Daniel’s arms felt the jolt as Jons locked the lever. Following the course was Jons’s duty; taking bearings was Daniel’s. Now he said, “Commander, the shark is moving parallel to the convoy, at high speed. Specification follows.”

David’s hands went to the sides of the cage surrounding his helmet, playing the levers there. He focused on the shark’s fin, set a lever, waited a slow five count, focused again and reset. Then he reported, “Twenty-nine knots, Sir.”

He heard the Commander acknowledge, then add, “Farragut class. We are honored by their newest.”

That didn’t require a response, so Daniel kept his mouth shut. They were moving to cut the sub off. Fat chance! The new diesel engines in that sub were much more powerful than the naphtha vapor engines in the Anne of Cleves, but also much too heavy for an airship to use.

Now the shark’s fin turned toward the convoy. Daniel had been waiting for any change in velocity. He took a bearing as it turned, counted a slow five, took another, and said through the speaking tube, “Changing course toward the convoy. New bearing coming on repeater. New speed — twenty-seven knots, but accelerating.” Daniel was taking readings continuously now. “New speed — twenty-nine knots. New speed — thirty-one knots. New speed — thirty-one knots. He seems to have maxed out.”

Daniel gritted his teeth at having added that unnecessary interpretation. The Commander didn’t need him to state the obvious.

“Thank you, Mr. James.” There was a judiciously measured touch of ice in Commander Dane’s voice and Daniel felt a flush in his cheeks.

He swallowed his embarrassment and continued taking bearings. The dirigible had made two more course changes; he had not aided Jons because all his attention was on the oncoming shark’s fin. The Anne of Cleves was small and slow, but she had an advantageous position.

Far below, Lieutenant Ennis and a crew of men had dragged up a spherical object, and now crouched around an open hatch. Commander Dane was calculating and estimating, based on Daniel’s continuous barrage of information. He ordered the drop.

Daniel saw a small black object fall into his field of vision, locked his monocular on it, and followed it down. It hit the water a dozen feet behind and to the left of the fin. He reported, then grabbed the linked lever. The sub has passed out of sight and the new bearings meant turning Old Ugly almost completely around. He and Jons fought the massive force of the rudder, and the dirigible slowed perceptibly as it swung onto its new course.

Through the strain on his body and the pounding of his heart, Daniel heard the Commander’s voice:

“A good try boys. When we bombed the Germans we usually hit our targets, but a stationary target is different from a moving one. It would have felt good to see a bladder of seawater burst on that American’s control deck. Still, we can console ourselves with the idea that they’ll wonder what we actually dropped.”

Jons snorted, and said, “Seawater, my ass, Sir. Brinley has been collecting urine all week. Now I know why.” more tomorrow Click here to jump directly to the final post.