Tag Archives: menhir

624. Jandrax Meets Trenco

When I occasionally borrow, I take from the best. Tidac Wyrd s’Marquart got the s’ in his name from Andre Norton’s Star Gate. That is a classic novel unrelated to the movie or the TV series. The Marquart part, his fathername, did not come from Shrek; I wrote Valley of the Menhir years before Shrek came along. I picked up the notion of “avert” while I was visiting Earthsea.

When I decided to make Stormking fit its name, I was looking straight at my memories of Trenco. Actually, I hinted at that four posts back when I called Stormking “a place of Trenconian extremes”.

Trenco is a planet where the liquid isn’t quite water, and it rains 47 feet every night. Yes, I said feet. The entire ecosystem is made up a creatures who must be born, grow, procreate, and die in one planetary day. Their offspring will do the same tomorrow, and it gets mighty fierce. If you want the real scoop, read chapter 10 of E. E. Smith’s Galactic Patrol.

Dreamsinger has the same underlying theme as Jandrax, the oasis and the desert. In Jandrax most of a group of stranded colonists choose to stay in a fortified village while the remainder become wanderers, following the melt, a moving band of springtime. The wanderers life is crude, but they manage to squeeze freedom and joy out of it.

In Dreamsinger, the oasis is the buttoned-down Home Station in orbit, reasonably pleasant, but dull and lacking in freedom. The desert is the planet Stormking where a Uranian tilt turns the exiles there into perpetual wanderers simply to survive.

Back in 2015, when Cyan was due for publication, I pulled up my notes for Dreamsinger and wrote a few thousand words. Now that I am fully engaged in completing the novel, I found that writing again, and discovered a forgotten prolog.

Gaugi, a young girl exile, is speaking, telling a small part of her story before things shift to Antrim’s viewpoint. It is unlikely that this bit — or Gaugi — will end up in the final novel, but it gives a quick peek at the hardships the exiles endure.

The wind was fierce, but the wind was always fierce. So am I so it doesn’t matter, but it was making it hard to see and that can be dangerous. Deadly. The kamrak rose up before any of us had a chance to be ready for it, or to get out of its way, dripping acid, teeth and fangs ready. We scattered like quail — whatever quail are. They always scatter in all the Earthstories, so we scattered like quail.

Mazie didn’t make it. She almost did, but she didn’t. She fell down, tripped over a tilticle just before she got far enough away that the kamrak wouldn’t reach her, and then it had her. I saw it. I stayed to watch. She didn’t die all at once. That was the worst part. It was the acid that got her. The kamrak had her clawed so he didn’t bother to use his fangs. She lived longer than she needed to, longer than she should have, longer that I wanted her to. And I watched. I didn’t want to, but Ma told me early to watch everything, to always learn what I could. It might keep me alive and it might make my life better. I don’t know how watching the kamrak dissolve Mazie, screaming all the time would make my life better, but I learned more about how a kamrak feeds and someday that may let me escape like Mazie didn’t. I don’t know. Ma said learn everything, but watching Mazie die like that wasn’t something I really wanted to learn.

In that same packet from 2015, there was this description given to Antrim just before he joins the downsiders, by a pilot who knew them well.

Antrim, these people are smarter than you are, tougher than you are, and there is no softness in them. We’ve been dumping exiles onto Stormking for a generation. The dumb ones died immediately; the smart ones survived and had smart children. Those children have spent their lives surviving a harsher environment than you can imagine, no matter how hard you’ve trained. If you underrate them, you’re dead.

Sounds like studying the exiles might be interesting — if Antrim survives.

521. The Eve of Battle

I was cleaning my computer of half started blog posts when I came across this quotation. It comes from the last pages of Scourge of Heaven, the sequel to Valley of the Menhir. This excerpt comes from a time when most of the action is over, when the godly battles have been won and lost, and the only task left for Tidac is stopping the human armies that have gathered in the Mariatrien Plains to do battle.

By this time Tidac is in full possession of his power. He lets his ai move from mind to mind, considering those who will stand on the verge of death when the morning comes and the armies move against each other.

============

Limiakos was king. He strode where others walked. He kept his head high, while those around him bowed. He looked at the men before him and knew that they would do what he told them to do. He walked with armed men at the left of him and armed men at the right of him, and all men feared him.

Limiakos and his kind are rare among men. If they seem common, it is only because they always make themselves so visible. Tidac had no use for them.

Such men are the leavening; they are not the loaf. Tidac set them aside and touched the others, those common men who make up the bulk of armies, and the bulk of mankind. Men neither overpoweringly good nor overpoweringly evil; men with mild ambitions and small accomplishments. Men herded to battle and taught to hate a faceless enemy. Men who die without any real understanding of the issues they decide.

For such men, the movement of nations has no reality beyond the slogans they are taught. The rise and fall of dynasties has only dim and distant meaning for them. To such men, this is reality — a woman in the night, a meal when they are hungry, a warm fire, a dry place away from the rain and perhaps, if they are among the lucky ones, a child to protect and teach.

To such men, death is the reality. The last reality they ever confront and its lessons live through eternity. If such men knew while still living, that which they learn in the moment of their deaths, there would be no wars.

507. Sita as Symbol

Be warned: this post is about symbols, double entendre, hidden meanings, fecundity, and has a few references to the religions of India.

Over in Serial today, Marquart is engaged in a symbolic exchange. He gives three gifts, and a young man and his wife give a pledge of lifelong loyalty. When the ceremony is over . . .

. . . the boy, who as son of a serf had been nobody, gained status and lost freedom. And the girl, who had been of the village, lost freedom and gained a husband.

That insert is the first sentence in tomorrow’s post. Things don’t always come out even when you serialize something that was written as a whole.

All this is nothing new to fiction, or life. It closely resembles a young man becoming a squire, or a successful warrior being knighted. There is an exchange — fealty for security in the master’s service — and there is both a gain and a loss as someone passes from one status to another.

The thing that makes Marquart’s exchange a bit different is that the young actors in the drama are lowly. You might call them peasants or serfs, which are technically not the same thing, but which share being low on the scale of status.

I go low all the time. I grew up on a farm, wading through cow manure. At school I used a slide rule (google it) but at home I used a shovel. I feel comfortable with lowly folks; with working folks. Even though Tidac is a god, he doesn’t know it and ends up being raised . . . Oops, I nearly let a spoiler slip there!

The girl receives an iron pot, and Marquart says:

May your hearth be always warm, and the pot and your belly always full.

The audience laughs. Marquart could have said that differently — more coarsely — but that would have been offensive. As it is, “the girl blushed and the villagers giggled”. Unmarried, in a culture like this one, the girl was a danger and was in danger. Once married, pregnancy becomes appropriate, and even desired. The “full belly” refers to hunger satisfied and pregnancy.

Marquart says the right words at the right time. The moment is ritualized, and ritual makes the unsayable, sayable.

The iron post was given to the wife from the hands of a female servant. No man touches it.

The plow shear is given to the man. The girl touches the package, but the man opens it. More symbolism. Later, when the man receives the axe, she does not touch it at all.

After giving the plow shear, Marquart says:

Urel, plow deep and often, so that your seed may be sewn, and your harvest may be bountiful.

“The villagers and serf alike howled with laughter.” Double entendre rears its lovely head. Yes, Marquart is telling the serf to be a farmer, but he is also commending him to the marriage bed. And everyone present knows it.

If he had said the same thing baldly, everyone would have been offended at his lack of tact. They would also have missed a chance to be in on this great joke that they all got to share.

It resembles the rules of cussing. Every time I hear someone casually saying f**k, I think, “What a waste.” A good cuss word has to be saved for the appropriate occasion, and delivered with perfect timing. Throwing it around like an ordinary word wastes it. If you say f**k every time you bump your knee, what is left to say when you drop an anvil on your foot?

Double entendre is fun. Sometimes kids don’t get that. They think their elders are afraid to use plain language, but it’s all a game. If you don’t follow the rules, the game is no fun.

By the way, I didn’t think up that bit with the plow shear. In some South Asian languages, the word for the act of plowing is the same word used for the act of intercourse. A professor in one of my anthropology classes told us that, but then he added, “Just because the word is the same, doesn’t mean that when a farmer says, ‘I’m going out to plow my field,’ he is really saying ‘I’m going out to commit ritual intercourse with the earth’. He just means that he is going out to plow.”

I don’t think my prof was being entirely honest. I think he was wanting to keep a class full of post-adolescents under control. In fact, that farmer would be saying both, simultaneously, and enjoying the double entendre.

One last note. In the Ramayana, the god Ram’s wife is the goddess Sita, and the word sita also means furrow.

494. We Can Have Archaic and Eat it Too

Marquart rode into my life on horseback. The day after my epiphany, I had a couple of hours off. I was in the Navy at that time, working as a dental technician in an oral surgery, and we had back-to-back cancellations. I wasn’t a writer yet, just an over-committed reader, but I had written the first chapters of a dozen novels. That was usually as far as I got before the impulse ran out.

I took that two hours to write Marquart and his companion’s entry into the Valley of the Menhir. You can see what it eventually became over in Serial today, but it took a long time to reach that level of sophistication.

When Marquart first rode into the valley, forty-six years ago, he was riding a horse. It was all very medieval because I hadn’t done any world building. All of the religious aspects aspects of the story, enreithment, the relation of souls to bodies, and both to ai — even the existence of ai — were nowhere in my mind. It was just a bunch of soldiers in armor riding horses into a valley populated by deer and dotted with oaks. The only fantasy element was a werewolf. I didn’t even know then that shapeshifters were not native to the world of the menhir, having been brought in through the Weirwood menhir from the world of Lorric by the Shambler. I didn’t even know there was a Shambler, nor any of the other gods that you met during the last two weeks.

After two hours I had a short chapter, and the next customer knocked on the door, ready to have his wisdom teeth extracted. I put the chapter in a drawer. I wasn’t a writer then, and had no intention of becoming one.

Three years later, I decided to give writing a try and got hooked. Two years after that I pulled out that chapter, dusted it off, and started world building.

All this was about the time of the fantasy revival led by Ballantine, and there was no lack of books on how to create fantasy worlds. Purists were arguing that a simply medieval world hardly qualified as fantasy. I could see their point. Although it never kept me from enjoying fantasies that did not rise to that standard, I decided that horses just weren’t going to work for me.

During those Navy years I had lived near the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. On one trip there I had seen okapi, had fallen in love with them, and now added them to the book. That lasted about a week before I realized that I needed a true fantasy creature, not just a real one most people had never heard of, so I created kakais in okapi’s much jazzed-up image. Their heavily sloped backs — much sharper than okapis —  gave me the need and opportunity to design strange saddles which would require unusual practices for troops in the field. They also gave me reason to design a harsh culture for the riders of the plains, the Dzikakai (literally, men of the kakai) who were going to be the perennial enemies of the people of the Inner Kingdom.

Okapi.

Eventually, I populated the world of the menhir with a mix of “normal” and created critters. Besides kakais, I brought in tichan as bovine substitutes, added krytes (described and used for plot purposes)  and jaungifowl to my list of birds, made my bears red, and kept ordinary squirrels and deer.

Plot building, world building, and language building all took place as I wrote successive drafts. I don’t recommend the technique. Not only did it take me decades to finish the project, but I ended up with at least a hundred thousand words of text that had to be cut out as the project grew out of hand. Maybe a few chunks of that will end up in Serial late this year, but most of it will never be read by anyone but me.

Still, I doubt if this particular fantasy could have been written any other way, so I guess I shouldn’t complain. At least that’s what I tell myself.

During all this, I went to Westercon 33 in Los Angeles in 1980. I sat in the audience of a lugubrious discussion of what the magic horses in Lord of the Rings ate, and whether it was Tolkien’s responsibility to tell us. (My answer, unspoken as I gritted my teeth, was, “No, you damned fools, it wasn’t!”)

This was followed by a spirited but deeply nerdy debate on the use of language in fantasy. The language of the Inner Kingdom in VOTM was just beginning to come together for me, so I perked up my ears. The idea of archaic language was floated, and someone said that it should only be used as a spice in regular English. The concept spice morphed into general food terms, and the metaphor had become almost embarrassingly labored when one member of the audience stood up and said:

“Are you trying to tell us that we can have archaic and eat it too?”

I wish I had said that. Maybe sometimes we do try too hard.

492. Runeboards

If you are wondering what a runeboard is, look at the top of all the menhir posts. It is a stars-within-stars tool of divination used all over the world of the menhir. Dymal and Taipai were using one in the opening last Wednesday’s Serial and Hea Santala herself has one incised on a truncated stalagmite in her island fortress Whitethorn.

Normal folks, like Taipai, have runeboards incised on wood with counters of brass. There are seventy-one spaces on the runeboard, and seventy-one counters. Each counter bears a rune, but I’m no Tolkien. I didn’t design seventy-one unique runes. That is left for your imagination.

Each rune has several different possible meanings, so simply spilling counters on wood doesn’t mean much. There is a role for intuition in reading which meaning is appropriate to the moment. Also, in a typical spilling of counters about half of the counters just bounce off and lie mute around the board. The ai (personal power) of the caster is involved in a proper scrying.

Really exceptional runecasters, like Lyré, conjure up three dimensional runeboards out of their own personal ai, but normal people, including the rest of the gods, stick to wood and brass.

The inverted star in the center of the board is called the Heartstar. The pentagon that forms its center is called the Heart of the Heartstar. In a true reading, the rune carrying the personal symbol of the caster, or the subject of the casting, falls on the Heart of the Heartstar. If it does not, the scrying is suspect.

By the way, there is no diabolical reason for the inversion. It just lines up better that way with the small stars on either side. Aesthetics rule, in this case.

On very rare occasions, when the caster is a dziai or dziain (man or woman of power) a full mandala emerges. This means that all the counters fall on the board, one per space, with the kladak (personal symbol) in the Heart of the Heartstar. From such a casting, much can be learned about its subject, so achieving a full mandala gives the possessor power over the subject of the mandala. You will see that occur late in Banner of the Hawk.

Incidentally, if you want to pronounce dziai properly, the d is nearly silent, just a whisper of air over the tip of the tongue, as if you were saying “tisk“. Pronounced properly, dziai sounds almost like tziai. But not exactly. A native speaker would hear the difference.

I suppose there are writers who work all this kind of thing out in advance. I further suppose that those people are good at video games. Not me. I played video games with my nephew one time and found it supremely boring. In my case, I discovered (rather than invented) the rules of the runeboard as I wrote the first draft of the menhir books, and refined them while I refined the rest of the work.

That’s also how the language of the Inner Kingdom crept in, one word at a time. Grammar came later.

Also, Lyré is pronounced lee-ray.

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. .