Tag Archives: fantasy fiction

Blondel 4

Within a mile he found the guard’s horse athwart the trail, dead from an arrow he had picked up during the ambush. Six sets of prints led away from the trail, one feminine, five masculine. There was no way to establish which had been laid down first, but it seemed reasonable that the guard and the girl had taken to the woods with four outlaws on their trail.

Well, Blondel told himself, the guard would have his hands full, but that was what he got paid for. Besides, it was nearly dark, and Blondel would soon lose the trail if he tried to follow.

And it wasn‘t any of his business anyway.

And the guard would probably take him for an enemy and kill him if he tried to help.

And what could one man — with the build of a quarter bred fairy and a fairy’s aversion to violence — do against four outlaws?

But he remembered the look of open innocence on the girl’s face and, damning himself for a fool, he set out along the trampled trail.

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By nightfall Blondel was several miles off the trail, laying up in a willow thicket and staring wistfully across a brook at the bonfire that blazed there. Two of the outlaws were tossing bones while a third slept. The fourth stood guard a hundred paces higher up the hill, but Blondel had spotted him long since.

With a bow, Blondel could have evened the odds, but he had no bow and no stomach for that kind of fighting. Instead he crept back and circled the camp, heading south. A mile further on he burrowed into the leaf mold in a stand of larch and slept fitfully.

He was back on the trail by sunup. A raven accompanied him for a way, gurgling and cawking his obscene merriment. Blondel replied, but gained little information in the interchange. Raven speech is boisterous and bragging, consisting mostly of imprecations and self–congratulation; it is not long on information, but Blondel did manage to pique the bird‘s curiosity so that it circled up in reconnaissance.

Three hours later, led by the raven, he found them.

Blondel was not so stupid as to rush to their aid without first checking out the situation, so he held a course parallel to their flight. The guard had been wounded twice, in the left thigh and left arm. Both wounds were bound with strips torn from the girl’s petticoats and seemed to be troubling him little. Yet Blondel had seen fresh blood spatters on the trail that morning. more on Monday

Blondel 3

Leaves obscured the view he might have had, but he could see the tough, scarred face of the guard, dressed in leather shirt with chain mail worked into key points and leather trousers. It was the poorest sort of armor. Once it had been gaily dyed and painted with some coat of arms; but then once it had been fitted to a smaller man, to judge from the bulging, open neck and the relieving slits the guard had made in the trouser thighs. Second hand leathers and no padding on the wood and iron saddle — no wonder the guard looked surly.

The girl in the cart had fared better. Her gown was probably second hand, but meant for someone larger and cut down with some care. Once it had been gay; now it was subdued, but the life in the girl’s face made up for it. This would be the first great adventure of her life, going to the great Faire with only a serving woman and a hired guard. Her hair was brown and elaborately done up; she wore her rouge with that country gracelessness that can be alluring on the very young; the very innocent.

The serving woman? Ah, well; some things are better left undescribed.

After they had passed from sight, Blondel gathered up some sticks for a small fire and a pot of tea. The other travelers were moving faster than he, but he saw no percentage in coming upon their camp at night. This part of Arden had a bad reputation for thieves and adventurers of every type, and he did not want to prey on their nerves to his own misfortune.

But come upon them he did.

It was still three hours short of nightfall when he found the cart overturned in a roadside ditch with the offside mule dead in the traces. The serving woman was there, face down in a muddy, bloody pool of rainwater. Whatever finery and trade goods had been in the cart were gone. There was no sign of the girl or the guard, the guard‘s horse, or the other mule.

Blondel stood for a moment, drumming his fingers on his sword hilt. It was not his duty to police the world, nor revenge its wrongs; besides these brigands outnumbered him ten to one, to judge from their tracks. But still, there was the question of the girl. If he found her body, he would go on. The guard could take care of himself.

He circled the area, studying the ground. The guard had galloped away southward down the road; whether or not he had been carrying double, Blondel could not tell, but there were no feminine footprints leading away from the cart, so he dared to hope. Four of the outlaws had followed the guard on foot, so Blondel proceeded with caution. more tomorrow

Blondel 2

Like his father, Blondel (the Younger, of Arden, if formality be needed) was of short stature and fine build. He looked like a perfect miniature of a larger man. Seen at a distance where no growing thing lent reference to his size, he might seem a tall, slim viking. On closer examination, it became apparent that he stood no more than five feet in height. Some attributed that to dwarf blood, but of course that was not so. Had it been, he would have been stout and twisted, not a finely sculptured miniature. In point of fact, one of his grandmothers had been a fairy.

Now there was reputed to be a great Faire assembling at the confluence of the Raipiar and Andis rivers in honor of the coming visit by King Henrique, and it seemed to Blondel that such a place would be a likely prospect. What, exactly, he would do there was a matter best left to fate and an agile mind. However, since it might include the singing of ballads, he took his voice out of the scratchy throat where it had been hiding and aired it.

                The mighty Artur in his court,
                With knights both brave and fair,
                Did turn his eye with some delight
                To a Lady‘s serving lady there.

                And if in night, the Knight did weave,
                The first warp of a golden dream;
                The last weft brought him black despair.

Not bad. The coarseness of the last week was gone, though he still felt a strain at some of the higher notes. Well enough; by the time he reached the Faire, his voice would be back to its normal sweetness. Such was Blondel’s evaluation, though it was hotly disputed by a magpie whose slumber he had disturbed.

No sooner had the magpie begun his remonstrance than the bird found himself talking to an empty road, though only for a minute. Then a rider came into view leading a gaily painted cart. He was handsome enough, in a sour way, to have been a knight, but his threadbare clothing and the device worked into his tunic said that he was a guard for hire. That would make his charge the daughter of a wealthy merchant from one of the towns; a rural baron, however poor, would have at least one knight and would not stoop to hiring protection.

They were still a long way off, and Blondel hesitated before working his way deeper into the brush. On one hand, he had no reason to confront the travelers and that guard had a surly look about him. On the other hand, it had rained only a few hours earlier, and Blondel had no desire to trade slaps with a hundred leafy branches still wet from that shower. Compromising, he moved back out of sight to let them pass. more tomorrow

399. I Changed My Mind

No, I did not change my mind about cutting back on posts in the A Writing Life blog. Since I made that decision, I have outlined most of, and written the first six chapters, rough draft only, of a new novel. The title is still in limbo so I won’t say more until I can name it properly. The decision to cut back was a good one.

I am actually making a change in Serial. I had planned to run a guest novel. I had written two posts explaining why and giving a bio of the author, Harold Goodwin. I had also reduced the first several chapters of that novel to serial posts, enough to carry through mid-September, and positioned them in the queue, ready to publish.

So, why? First, why a guest novel — then why did I change my mind?

Since 2015, Serial has been a place for me to present short stories, a novella, presentations from Westercon, long and short excerpts from novels, and complete novels.

Christmas week of 2015 I presented five classic poems that have inspired me. Otherwise, everything in Serial has been something I have written.

The cupboard isn’t empty; four novels remain. Valley of the Menhir, Scourge of Heaven, and Who Once Were Kin, are complete fantasy novels. They deserve to be held back to be presented in a more traditional way. Symphony in a Minor Key is a complete novel about teaching. I’m quite proud of it, but it didn’t seem right for this blog, which has been largely aimed at science fiction readers.

I argued with myself through the month of June. Should I run a classic SF novel that is unknown to today’s audience, or should I run a novel of my own about teaching. It was a big decision, since once committed, it would be six months before I could change course. I opted for the SF novel.

One the decision was made, I placed the first 20 posts in the Serial queue. Then I went on with my life, still mulling over the decision. Spirit Deer began appearing, and you all kept reading. I found no reduction in reader’s responses. Hmmm. You had stayed with me through Raven’s Run and through Voices in the Walls as well. Hmmm, again.

I started this blog to reach two audiences. First, I was looking for lovers of science fiction and fantasy who might want to read my novels, if I could make them aware of them. Second, I expected the blog to be read by new and would-be writers.

I found both but, clearly, in reverse order. Ok, I hear you. I never was comfortable with a guest novel, anyway.

New plan — I will post Symphony in a Minor Key. But first, I need to buy time. It takes many hours to turn a novel into a serial (see 245. Serializing), and my guest novel was due to start today.

No problem. I have several pieces that were published in Serial before anyone was reading this blog. I’ll recycle one or two — no one now reading has seen them, anyway — while I am preparing the next novel.

And so, PRESENTING—

Blondel of Arden, beginning in Serial today.

Blondel 1

The Blondel of legend was the minstrel who found Richard the Lionhearted when he was imprisoned, and helped to effect his escape. I became aware of him through Gore Vidal’s novel A Search for the King.

My Blondel is a different character, wandering through a different medieval land. I like him, and I think you will too, but don’t expect him to save the world. His ambitions and magics are small, and he is more likely to hang out with peasants and innkeepers than with knights. Come to think of it, that is also true of Tidac and Cinnabar, who came later. Ah well, what do you expect when the son of an Oklahoma farmer sits down at the typewriter.

Blondel of Arden

Blondel was a man of many talents, not the least of which was survival. He could sing a ballad, juggle knives in a sideshow or books in a clerk’s office. He had been a traveling bard at times, but only when no other opportunity presented itself. Bards were, and still are in some rough places, considered of inferior stock. Though they regale, their status remains insecure and the songs they sing must fit into an acceptable mold.

Now Blondel was a man in love with the sound of his own voice, but to play the bard was to play the fool and he had no stomach for it. He had his pride, and he exercised it whenever circumstances permitted.

So Blondel, who was odd in many other ways as well, would pass up easy and lucrative employment at a Lord‘s house one night, only to spend half the next singing himself hoarse in a peasant‘s hut for a meal and a tick ridden tic to sleep on. He had done so only a week past, in fact, which accounted for a certain gruffness of speech and a cough that was just now passing.

Blondel had done many things in his time, but of them all, soldiering appealed to him least. He had a positive aversion to the feel of a blade piercing flesh; an aversion that was exceeded only by the unhappy possibility that the flesh might be his own. He carried a sword, which he had used on occasion, but he preferred flight to confrontation and tried to restrict its use to cutting wood for his night fires.

Blondel was a far ranging man. He never did say where he was born, but when asked his full title he invariably replied, “Blondel of Arden“. This phrase verged on usurpation, but it was merely and literally true. From Channel to Northpeak, Blondel had wandered the face of his native land for as long as anyone could remember. Oldsters remembered Blondel from their youths and said that he looked no different than he had then. This patent absurdity lent a certain mystical cast to Blondel‘s basically simple life, and he did nothing to discourage it. In point of fact, it was Blondel‘s father who had walked these paths thirty years earlier; they shared name, appearance, and an inclination to wander. In the north country, where they had both been these last two decades, everyone knew his secret; but here in the south they saw Blondel, remembered his father, and awe followed him like a shy, stray dog. more tomorrow

397. University of Steampunk

Here I am, quoting myself, from Golden Age of Science Fiction:

Recently I have been reading Neil and Neal, Gaiman and Stephenson, but I know I must have missed a feast of others. I have probably missed more than one feast. Is there a Golden Age of Steampunk? Probably, but I don’t know the sub-genre well enough to talk about it.

Since I wrote that, I have interacted with a bunch of steampunk authors, done a lot of research, and concluded that, “Yes, I was right. There is a golden age of steampunk and it is now about a century and a half deep.”

I love steampunk. i already knew that. But now I have a better handle on what steampunk is, and I am continuing to pursue my education. Let’s call it University of Steampunk (self-inflicted) and I am inviting you to come along. And don’t hesitate to use reply to tell me when you think I’m wrong.

Not only am I immersing myself in steampunk research, I am also writing my first steampunk novel. Since Westercon, it has tumbled out onto the screen. I have it fully outlined, with initial drafts of the introduction and first two chapters.

The rest of this post is drawn from the draft introduction.

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This novel, as yet unnamed, working title Durbar, is steampunk, pure and simple, and designed to be so. It differs from other steampunk novels only in that it emphasizes strong scientific and historical excuses for the prevalence of steam power and pseudo-Victorian culture.

My literary introduction to that age on our own planet did not come from Austen, the Brontes and their ilk. My literary Victorian/Edwardians were Holmes and Watson, Hannay and all his friends, and Davies and Carruthers; in other words, the stories of Arthur Conan Doyle, John Buchan, and Erskine Childers’ Riddle of the Sands.

I can tell you the exact hour the new novel was born. I had gone looking for understanding of the steampunk phenomenon. I was aware of the movement; it seemed to always be in the periphery of my vision, but it wouldn’t come clear. Certainly Jules Verne, especially Twenty Thousand League Under the Sea, was steampunk before steampunk. So was the Wild Wild West, and both were staples of my childhood. I had stumbled onto Kenneth Oppel’s Airborn while teaching middle school. It was a fine novel which seemed on the verge of steampunk without completely fitting the mold.

Add a few inspiring steampunk short stories off the internet and childhood memories of reading my grandfather’s copy of Tom Swift and his Electric Rifle — also steampunk before steampunk — and I was ready to write something of my own. Still, it is foolish to write in somebody else’s genre without understanding the boundaries.

I visited a series to panels on steampunk while I was at Westercon 70. I found an inviting openness and nobody seemed interested in defending boundaries. I also came to appreciate the culture of steampunk (their term) and the joys of cosplay. Appreciate, not join in; I’m the guy in the corner, not the dressed up dude on the stage.

The panel which saw the birth of my new novel was called The Science of Steampunk: What Makes the Gears Go Round? As it turned out, there are steampunk authors who are perfectly happy to write their novels without caring what makes the gears go round, and there are also hard-science types who just can’t live that way. This panel had about an equal mix of those two.

They all had fun with the question, but the only scientific underpinning for some kinds of steampunk is magic. I enjoyed the interchange, and I want to thank Ashley Carlson, Bruce Davis, Steve Howe (not the guitarist), Susan Lazear and David Lee Summers — and Ryan Dalton who moderated — for the education.

As I was listening to the science types trying to find an equation for magic, it occurred to me that is would be great fun to write a novel which did tie up all the scientific and historical underpinnings of a steampunk world, neatly and realistically.

That was when two bombs went off in my head. I’m not ready to go public with what they were, but In the course of an hour, the new novel had gone from nonexistent to a full blown embryo. My thanks to the panel, but don’t expect any royalties.

385. Westercon Report

I flew down to Tempe (part of greater Phoenix) to attend Westercon 70. It was a business trip — right? Like an amusement park attendant going to Disneyland is a business trip. That is, I had to go, but I had great fun.

There were panels and workshop on many subjects. I concentrated on the Books and Authors section, where there were enough things happening to keep me occupied three times over. I missed a lot of good stuff because I was presenting, or because something I couldn’t miss kept me away from something I didn’t want to miss. There were also panels on Art, Diversity, Fandom, Science, Steampunk and more, most of which I didn’t have time to attend.

I finally feel like I have a handle on what Steampunk is all about. I was born on the Nautilus, grew up with the Wild Wild West, and flipped out about Brisco. I have read a few Steampunk novels, and some short stories, and liked them all, but I never got what these people with goggles and gears glued to their clothing were all about. After two panels about Steampunk as literature, by Steampunk writers, and a panel by costumed members of Steampunk culture, I get it. And I like it — although you’ll never see me in costume. I also got the kernel of a new novel. That one is your fault, Steve Howe (not the guitarist) and Bruce Davis. Thank you Ashley Carlson, Suzanne Lazear and David Lee Summers for the literary education on Steampunk, and thank you Dirk Folmer, Katherine Stewart, and Madame Askew for the cultural education.

Those are just a few of the authors I met. They were mostly young people. Understand that, at my age, young is defined as under forty, and there weren’t many under thirty because it takes some time to have enough books published to get invited.

I won’t name drop at this time, except for Amy Nichols whose reading from Now That You’re Here (or was it While You Were Gone — I missed something at the introduction) was calm, clean, and unaffected, and sounded just like a teenager. The character in the book, that is; not Amy. I will testify that science fiction and fantasy are in good hands. I have at least a dozen new books on my must-read list, and a lot more on my want-to-read list. I expect to provide some reviews here and on Goodreads and Amazon. After all, that is how readers keep their favorites in sales, so they will be able to write more books.

I learned a hundred other technical tidbits on writing and publishing, but I won’t share them until I’ve tried them.

Worldcon is in my back yard next year. I can’t wait.