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.

Firedrake 2

Once again, Mynna started to call out to those inside; and once again, she did not. Her village consisted of an inn and three hartwas; seven men, five women, three children. It lay where road to the Great Barrier diverged from the valley of the River of Souls. Caravans stopped there every spring during the brief season of Greengrass, but for nine parts of the year it was barren and empty and turned in on itself. Nothing ever happened during all those months, and Mynna was unwilling to share this event with anyone while she could still keep it for herself.

The stranger advanced across the snow, keeping a slow and steady pace, like a man who feels exhaustion but will not give in to it. Now she saw that he was on snowshoes, crudely hacked from trical limbs and laced to his feet with rawhide. Around his shoulders he hugged the pelt of a red bear. In the stillness that came upon them as the night wind died away, she heard first the shuffling of his snowshoes and then the rasping of his breath. 

He topped the last drift and dropped down into the stamped snow of the inn yard. She inclined her head and said, “Where is your kakai?” 

He let drop the two bundles that he carried. One struck the flinty snow like a stone; it was frozen meat. He gestured toward it and said, “I ate most of him.”

The voice was harsh with pain, but deep. He let the bearskin slide from his shoulders. It left smears of blood across his tunic and she saw that it was fresh, untanned, just barely flensed. Mynna’s eyes widened at that and she looked more closely at the stranger. He carried neither bow nor lance, only a great knife at his belt. To kill a red bear in the prime of its health with only that — he should have been torn to pieces.

When he had dropped down into the innyard, Mynna had noticed that he was only of her height, and had not looked further. Now she looked again and caught her breath. His face was broad, his eyes black, his beard and hair were thick, coarse and dark. The muscles in his cheeks were like walnuts and the cords of his neck like cables. The breadth of his shoulders was not from layered clothing, for his tunic was thin and threadbare, but was a massing of muscle that would make two of any man in the village.

Like two men in one skin. The quotation from Hean scripture came to her and she made Avert.

The stranger sighed sadly. He said, “I am not the Shambler. I am only a man.”

“What do you want of me and mine?” she asked.

He looked at her with weary and compelling eyes. A shock went through her, followed by a melting readiness. He said, “Shelter,” but her heart heard more, and she knew that whatever she had was his for the taking.

now that’s really all you get

Firedrake 1

Seven years will have passed when we meet up with Tidac again. He is a young man now, on the run from Melcer, who has placed a price on his head. He has no wish for revenge, and no wish to become enmeshed in the affairs of the Valley of the Menhir. To him, his father’s lands hold only bitter memories of being different and alone. He remembers nothing of the  powers he possesses and used briefly as a child.

Marquart is dead. The few who knew him well have mourned him. His own son has not. Melcer is alive, and in command of the Valley; when Tidac thinks of Melcer, he sees his father’s face, and knows fear.

Little else in the world holds any terror for him. He has learned many lessons in the seven years since his escape from the fall of the citadel, but the reader won’t know what those lessons are for a long, long time.

Here are the opening paragraphs of the next section of Valley of the Menhir, so you can at least get a glimpse of the character around whom the menhir series really revolves.

The Retscon Road


In the third hour of the morning, with a good part of her chores behind her, Mynna stepped outside of the inn to let the crisp air wash about her and to breathe something besides peat smoke. The sun was just up, low and red in the southeast, sending slanting light that emphasized the dunes and hollows of the snow. It had been a deadly night, cold and clear with harsh crackings as the trees froze harder in wind that rolled in from the Retscon and the land of the Dzikakai. It was still harsh; a breeze licked around her and snapped the edge of her cloak. The long winter had truly begun.

Mynna shuffled her feet, enjoying the brittle crunch of the snow. The sky was pale blue green, unclouded but tinted by high ice crystals. Across the rolling plains of snowdrifts no tracks remained after the night wind had done its work. In the distance the blanket of snow was seamed by lines of bare trees where watercourses would run in springtime and hold their precious moisture through the brown summer.

She strained her eyes for movement. Sometimes, when the snows were new and heavy, and the deer had not yet lost their autumn fat, there would be a chance for hunting. Even the old men of her village could track and kill a deer on such a day as this.

There was movement. She reached to draw her cloak tighter and turn to get the men, then hesitated. This was no deer.

It was upright and furred, but it was not a red bear. It strode too tall and it did not sink into the snow. From time to time, it stumbled. It came up the valley of the River of Souls, straight toward her. Of course it was a man, and he was heading for the smoke that curled and whipped above the chimney of the inn. But to Mynna, he seemed to be striding straight toward her. more tomorrow

Banner of the Hawk 59


Melcer sat long after Jor had left, staring into the fire. In the month since Marquart’s death, he had done much to consolidate his rule, starting with Jor’s reinstatement as warden. Tomorrow, he would meet with Dymal to try to enlist his support. Messina would be disappointed that he would not get Jor’s land, but he would he happy enough with Dutta’s. Dutta’s children were too young to effectively complain. Things were going well.

Still, he was uneasy. Tidac had escaped his men, though they had brought back Clevis’ body. The boy was lost somewhere in the hills surrounding the Valley. With winter’s deep snows only weeks away, that would probably be the end of him.

But, he could not be sure. Until he saw the boy’s body, his position would not be secure. He would have to go in fear that the boy would grow up to avenge his father’s death, just as Melcer had avenged Rondor’s.

Melcer’s hands trembled with suppressed rage; if only he could be sure.

He stared into the fire, seeing the sails of a ship, well trimmed, in those glorious hours when a storm had just begun, before the sails had to be reefed and the ship began to wallow in the waves. Those had been the days. Wine and women in every port, the easy camaraderie of the fo’castle. He remembered his old friend Rondor, standing wheel watch with his long hair blowing about him, grinning into the wind. Those were the days.

Rest easy, old friend; you are avenged.

Avenged, but still gone, and the life they had lived was gone with him.

One of the servants was waiting for his attention with yet another detail of the daily administration of the Valley. Melcer stared hungrily at the fire, praying that he would go away, but instead he approached tentatively until Melcer stiffened his neck and shouted, “Leave me alone!”

The servant scurried away and Melcer felt a little better.

He tried to recapture the feel of a ship beneath his feet. He closed his eyes and saw the storm clouds scudding across the damp sky. He opened his eyes and saw the basalt walls of the citadel which had become his prison.

Vengeance had seemed so important, but now Marquart was dead, and it hadn’t helped Rondor at all. Melcer wondered why he had bothered.

He thought of Tidac again. Because he had killed the father, the son must die. It was the way of the world. 

He would have to pass the word that he would pay for the boy’s death, but he would have to be careful not to arouse the High King’s ire. Even though Limiakos was busy fighting back the Dzikakai, he could spare a hundred men to swat a fly.

Again he remembered his nephew’s face and regretted that the boy had to die. Melcer hadn’t really wanted the Valley. But now that he had it, no one was going to take it away from him.


There will be one final echo of this tragedy, Monday and Tuesday.

Banner of the Hawk 58

Marquart saw Melcer’s face, as he had seen him in the Griffon, but this time he was not drunk. This time his eyes held the deep hatred that Marquart had put there when he killed Rondor.

This need not have been!

But was that true? Looking into Melcer’s face, Marquart saw Beshu. Observe much, speak little, and trust no one. Beshu’s words; Melcer too had grown up with them ringing in his ears.

In Melcer’s face he saw Beshu. And himself. And even Tidac, in years to come. So much alike. Too alike for alliance.

Marquart felt all his failings come round to halter him. The dead men at his feet had fought for pay. Not one of them had cared if he lived or died. All that might have cared, he had driven away.

# # #

Clevis threw his left arm around Tidac and began to retreat, sword out in front of him, backing toward a side passage that ran down to the kitchens.

# # #

Marquart raised his lancette. He was dressed in furs and wool and Melcer in leather and mail, but that was not the killing difference between them. Marquart felt his end before his end. Dread filled him, as a rage that matched his own put an end to all his scheming.

# # #

Tidac saw the end. He saw Melcer’s sword fall, and saw his father fall. He saw much more than that.

He saw Baralia throw back her head, screaming out in orgiastic joy, “Free!” and saw her fading figure fly arrow straight through he stone walls of the Citadel to the menhir, to merge finally and eternally with those she had sought to join for all her years of hellish exile.

He saw his father’s soul rise up out of his falling body and follow her flight, crying out, “No!” The menhir had claimed him years before. There would be no need of enreithment. The menhir itself had torn soul and ai from his body as it fell, and all that Marquart had been was swallowed up by the ring of stones before his body had stopped twitching.

# # #

Clevis saw none of this, but he heard Marquart’s death cry and knew that nothing mattered any more but getting Tidac to safety. He dragged the boy through the kitchen and out to the entryway. No one was there. All the guards had rushed into the Citadel toward the sound of battle. Clevis dragged Tidac down the ramp. 

One of Marquart’s men, Devlin, came cantering up on kakai. Clevis let him draw close, then jerked him down. He hit the ground hard, stunned, and Clevis kicked him in the face.

There was no time for explanations. Not even seconds. Clevis hurled himself into the saddle and reached down for Tidac. He turned up the road toward Instadt, where the boy’s g’father could offer him sanctuary.

He had not gone a mile when he saw troops on kakai moving to cut him off. He turned north then, in the direction of the mountains.

# # #

Melcer looked down on the empty face of his h’brother. He looked like Beshu. He looked like the face Melcer saw each time he looked into a mirror.

Tidac would look like that someday, if he lived. And he would remember this day. When Melcer had seen the boy sitting on the fence rail, half a year ago, he had actually felt a kinship with him. It would have been pleasant to have a nephew.

Now all that was changed. Now the boy had to die. more tomorrow

Banner of the Hawk 57

In Dael’s chair, there was a coagulation of light as Baralia made herself visible to Marquart, seated at ease in the chair meant for his wife. He started to turn toward her in anger, and paused as he realized that the guests, even Dymal, were frozen in place.

Baralia had never shown such power before, but before he could even feel surprise, a greater wonder occurred. Tidac turned his face toward the apparition and his voice burst out, “Get out of my mother’s chair.”

It was not a child’s voice, and it did not ring in the air, but in Marquart’s head and Baralia’s head. It sounded with a clap of inner thunder; Baralia leaped to her feet and staggered backward.

None of the guests saw or heard anything. Only Dymal felt the backwash of ai, and he did not understand it.

Tidac turned his face back to the guests. As quickly as he had acted, so quickly he forgot her.

Baralia’s breath came harshly into her lungs, though she had no longer any need to breathe. The child had sent a shiver of fear through her, but now he was ignoring her again. How he had seen her at all would have caused her concern, but not now. Not so close to the end. In minutes, the child would no longer concern her.

“Why are you here?”  Marquart demanded.

“For the same reason I have always been here. To pave the way to your downfall and my release. And you have made it so easy! Expecting betrayal, you have assured it. You wanted to be great, but your death will come from the least of these.”

Marquart darted an angry eye at the frozen guests, hissing, “Who?”

“Would you kill him?”

“I would.”

“It is too late. It was a servant. You wouldn’t even know his name.”

“A servant!”

“Of course. They hate you too, you know. They smuggled in your destruction under a load of potatoes.” Suddenly, Baralia laughed and pointed . . .

# # #

Tidac did not know that he had frozen time. He only knew that his hated, bitter enemy, the one who stood between him and his father — the one who had made his father drive his mother away — was sitting in his mother’s place and that was not to be endured.

He did not know when he let time flow again, but he did. The guest’s cups completed their motions; the toast was drunk, and only Marquart and Dymal knew that something had happened.

By prior planning, when the cups from the opening toast clattered back to the tabletop, Melcer’s men-at-arms surged out of their hiding places. Marquart’s guards stood at attention with sheathed weapons. Melcer men had swords in hand, and that made all the difference.

Marquart leaped to his feet, drawing his lancette. A quick cut, backhand, opened the throat of the first of Melcer’s men, and he fell twitching to the floor.

Tidac went to cover. The lethargy of a wounded ai did nothing to stop the movements of a finely trained body. He dropped in place and rolled over under the table. He located sight of his father’s boots, saw the dying armsman fall into his view and shook his head as that dying ai sought the strongest local source of power and scratched for entry at the portals of his mind.

By the movement of his feet, Tidac saw Marquart slide forward. Another wet sound, another cry, and another dying man fell into sight. As Marquart’s feet rounded the corner of the table, Tidac erupted again behind him, heading for Clevis. The old warrior had his sword out but had not left his place by the wall. He caught Tidac as he ran and forced him behind him, standing between the boy and danger.

The battle had reached its climax. All Marquart’s men were down, and half of Melcer’s men lay with them. Melcer’s remaining men drew back. Melcer and Marquart faced off over the tangle of bodies. more tomorrow