Tag Archives: writing

Banner of the Hawk 54

17.

After Tidac and Conger had relayed Melcer’s message, Marquart’s rage redoubled. No one was safe from him except Tidac, who could read the storm warnings better than the others and generally managed to be elsewhere when the explosions came.

Masons could not work fast enough. Cook’s boys could not store enough food quickly enough. Marquart had always demanded both speed and perfection in the building of the Citadel. He had pushed his men to their limits; now he pushed them beyond their limits. When they could not comply with his harangues, heavy fists fell.

Through it all, a part of Marquart watched from the cold, dark recesses of his inner mind and was amazed at his own fall from intense planing, careful handling of men, and icy control.

He had said to Dael, “I was large in the world, and becoming larger. Now, this is as great as I will ever be.” Lord of a poor, weather stricken land, with a few unhappy wardens and the serfs he had just brought back from the brink of starvation. It was too little for a commander of thousands, and arm of the High King. This he knew, but it did not seem enough to account for his rage.

What he could not know was that within his chest beat the heart of a God. Hea had hidden Beshu from the Shambler, and had hidden knowledge of their heritage from Beshu’s line. That Hea had set Baralia to watch over him had been her great error, but Baralia had only been a catalyst. The underlying force that drove Marquart narat was his frustrated Godhood.

# # #

In the winter of Tidac’s ninth year, the Citadel was completed. It rose unbroken for four full stories and extended for no one knew how far underground in a labyrinth of storerooms, cisterns, shops and stables. Gray-black basalt from the mountains formed its skin and the massive entry ramp glistened with oil. The roof was slate, supported by massive buttresses and broken only by the cunningly designed ventilation system.

Marquart was well pleased with the tower, but not with the debts it had brought upon him. Nor with Tidac, who remained more than half mind-mazed since Weikata. Lethargic, uninterested, forgetful; he was all that Dymal had predicted he would become.

# # #

In the evening before the dedication feast, Dymal assembled his priests. Ordinary worshipers had been barred from the temple for the last three days, and during that time the priests had fasted and prayed.

A change impended. Dymal could feel it in the air and read it in the mandalas he cast. The Raven was ascendant and the Hawk was passing into shadow.

# # #

The feast which Marquart had planned was no celebration. It was a display of strength. Vesulan, Janch, Karavi, and Messina, the wealthy merchant with whom Marquart was negotiating a wardenship in Jor’s place, were his guests, along with spouses and cousins and a contingent from the menhir village.

Before the feast, Marquart toured his citadel from the tortuous sub-basements to the battlements, feeling the weight of cold stones between himself and the threatening world beyond. It was as he had planned it, yet he felt dissatisfaction.

When he returned to his new bedroom to change for the feast, he caught a hint of motion at his side and said, “Baralia? I thought I felt your presence earlier when I was inspecting the towers.”

She appeared fully to him then. There had been a sadness in her face before; now it was replaced by cruel satisfaction. “It was I,” she said. “I walked your inspection with you. Tell me, why did you not look more pleased with your handiwork?”

Marquart grunted at the barb and said honestly, “Tonight I felt as you are, only half a part of my own world.”

She laughed as she disappeared again. more tomorrow

Advertisements

516. 15 Best Stories

I’ve been reading people’s lists of favorites just about as long as I can remember. It’s a great game — pitting their best list against my best list. They always lose.

So I decided to make my own best 100 list, but it didn’t work. I stalled at sixteen. Then I looked again at some of those favorites that I hadn’t read for a while, and the number dropped to fourteen. Then I remembered another long un-read classic and the number went up to fifteen.

The small number is partly because I am picky, and partly because I can’t remember every book I’ve ever read. Nevertheless, the ones I remember deserve a shout-out, and I guarantee they are an eclectic group. They do have one unifying characteristic — they all sing.

That they sing is the only real criterion for greatness in my universe. This means finding the precise balance between workaday language and the kind of overblown language that is too precious to live. That point of balance depends in part on the story being told. Hemingway, Roberts, and Le Guin, three authors from the list, are quite different from one another but each strikes the precisely right note for the story he or she is telling.

Here is the list. Six of the entries have been covered already in previous posts. I have keyed most of them with a link at the bottom of this post so you can check them out. The remaining nine will show up as individual posts over the next couple of months.

These are a mixture of novels, novellas, compilations of linked short stories, and series of novels. Some are the best or most accessible books that stand for a writers whole body of work. One represents a brilliant writer whose career was cut short before he wrote a single SF or fantasy novel.

Works that hit the sweet spot.

Nine I haven’t yet written about.

The Old Man and the Sea               Ernest Hemingway
Pavane                                               Keith Roberts
A Wizard of Earthsea                       Ursula LeGuin
The Road to Corlay                          Richard Cowper
Lensman Series                                E. E. Smith
Jack of Shadows                               Roger Zelazny
Davy and
The Trial of Calista Blake               Edgar Pangborn
The Traveler in Black                      John Brunner
Highland Laddie Gone                   Sharyn McCrumb

Six I have written about

Hunter, Come Home                     Richard McKenna
Richard McKenna had one novel in his short career, The Sand Pebbles, a best seller but not science fiction. He also wrote a number of short science fiction pieces including this one.

A Prince of the Captivity               John Buchan
John Buchan is most famous for his novel The 39 Steps. My selection is a less well known work.

The Riddle of the Sands               Erskine Childers
Erskine Childers wrote this, the first modern spy novel.

Kidnapped/Catriona                    Robert Louis Stevenson
There are two posts on this, 508 and 509, both just last month.

A Christmas Carol, et al              Charles Dickens
Altogether, Charles Dickens wrote five Christmas novels.

The Three Stages of …                Robert A. Heinlein
No link here. Check Wednesday’s post.

Banner of the Hawk 53

“Master of birds and hares! You own no man now. Your only power is harm, and that you exercise by merely living.”

Melcer threw back his head and laughed. Once that laugh would have echoed from the roof tops; now it came only as a sucking of air, nearly silent. That much caution he had learned. He said, “I have come to deliver a word to my nephew.”

What happened then shocked even Tidac from his complacency. Melcer turned his kakai toward the fence where Tidac sat. Leaping to the shed, Conger grasped a hay fork and lunged forward. Melcer in turn kicked the kakai’s ribs and it leaped left violently, coming half around to face the assailant. Quicker than Tidac’s eyes could follow, Melcer’s sword left its sheath, described a broad arc, and came on guard. The metal head of the hay fork, cut short of its handle, struck the roof of the shed, skittered and clattered down, and fell to the ground at Conger’s feet.

Conger stood facing Melcer, holding the stub of the fork handle. His face was pure white but he neither trembled nor retreated. For long seconds the tableau held, then Melcer whispered, “Old man, why did you do that?”

“To protect the boy.”

Melcer broke pose and sheathed the sword. “For that reason, and that reason only, I will spare you. The boy is in no danger from me today.” Melcer turned his mount and approached Tidac. They were at the same level. Melcer faced Tidac, hard eyes staring out from the deep folds of his lids. “You are my brother’s son. I am Melcer. Do you know of me?” Tidac made no reply. Melcer squinted, drawing his eyebrows together, and repeated, “What do you know of me?” 

His voice was no louder, but its overtones were menacing. Looking at Melcer, Tidac saw his father’s face, and so he answered, “I know you. I knew you as soon as you drew near. I also know that you are not my father’s brother, but his h’brother, and that you would take what is his.”

Melcer nodded, and said, “That was not true before, but it is true now. Marquart made it so. Can you carry a message to him from me?”

“Whatever you say here,” Tidac replied, “I will remember every word of it.”

Melcer looked closer and said, “There is more to you than first meets the eye. No matter. Tell my brother that, like him, I have made few friends in my lifetime. And only one that was the brother to me that Marquart never was. That was Rondor, whom he killed.

“Tell my brother that I only came to him for money to buy a ship. I did not want his demesne. No man owns a demesne; demesnes own men. I wanted to be the master of my own vessel, to go wherever I wanted, owned by no one. Free.

“But now, I will take his lands, and his life.”

Melcer turned his beast toward the forest and walked it away. His eyes never rested, but were everywhere as he slipped from shadow to shadow. Almost out of sight, he turned back for one last look at the boy and his poor guardian. Across the distance they heard, “Tell Marquart that I still live. And tell him that I hunger!”

A flash of shadow, a clatter of hooves, and he was gone. more tomorrow

Banner of the Hawk 52

Leaves of newborn spring adorned the trees. The sun was visible now and again amongst low lying cloud banks. The manorhouse was just visible, half a mile away. Marquart was off supervising the building of the Citadel; Tidac had gone with Conger to a small complex of corrals and sheds where the kakais were enjoying their spring pasture, and gaining back the weight they had lost during the lean days of winter.

Grooms were cleaning and currying in the shed; the air was filled with the sweet, pungent scent of kakais. Tidac sat on top of the rail fence, intensely silent.

Small, quick and gray, grizzled and bent, Conger reminded Tidac of a mouse, wary from many encounters with cats. At the siege of Port Cantor, he had been old for a warrior; now he was just old

Conger moved about a proud and lovely kakai, sweeping the tight pelt with brushes from her pointed nose and flaring ears, which the animal lowered for grooming, across her high shoulders and down her flanks. The kakai’s brush tail whipped in pleasure; her brown and cream stripes glowed with vitality. She was Encaritremanta, the Cloud Lady, named for the Comanyi goddess who had become the Blossom of the Flower of the Waning Day.

“How goes the morning, Lordling?” the old man asked. Tidac turned his impassive gaze on Conger. He said nothing. This habit was disconcerting to many and led them to think him stupid. Conger was neither disconcerted not misled. Whistling tunelessly, he turned back to the Lady, rebraiding her mane into a complex macramé net. Sunshine and the smell of dung impinged upon Tidac as if from a great distance and he sat statue still, his mind wandering far from his body.

The soft clip-clop of hooves sounded from the forest nearby as a mount and rider came into view. Working his way from tree to tree he approached, keeping cover between him and the manorhouse, but not sneaking so blatantly as to appear suspicious. The rider was a big, hard man with shaggy hair and beard. His eyes moved incessantly, missing nothing. There was the look of a fugitive about him, yet mixed with a certain confidence. Obviously, he was an old hand at going unseen in the midst of his enemies. Even Tidac seemed to be interested. Then he came out of the shadows at the edge of the forest and sunlight fell full on his face.

“Good morrow, Conger.” His pleasant voice carried no further than the corrals. “How lies your world?”

Tidac studied man and mount. The kakai’s brown and cream stripes were smudged with dust and sweat to a ground color of uniform tan. The mane was sheared off close in the manner of a dray beast and the saddle was much worn. Whatever gay paint had originally covered it was long since abraded away. Worn, unpainted leather boots housed the man’s feet to the knees and then, surprisingly, instead of leggings of wool he wore short leather trousers which covered only from waist to crotch, leaving his hairy thighs bare. His tunic was dark green, sweatstained, and on his head he wore a bowl shaped cap sewn of multiple layers of leather. A sword hung at his leg and a bow and quiver were strapped to the saddle. Nowhere about his person was there any hint of shiny metal or bright color.

All this told Tidac it was Melcer, but he would have known him disguised as a priest. To the boy’s eyes and to his ai, he was a twin of his father.

“What would you have me say?” Conger was furious. “You know I have to report seeing you. Why are you here? Some thought you dead, and all hoped we would not see you again, even when we hoped you lived. Why? There can be no profit in your returning. All you can do is overturn hopes of peace.”

“That is why I have come.”

“Explain.”

Melcer’s eyes speared Conger. “Does a servant demand explanation from his master?” more Monday

515. Immortal Hunger

Magic requires an agile mind and a good memory.

Immortal Hunger
by Syd Logsdon

Abbit perault desegené . . .

An old man tried to speak the words
That his fading mind could not compel;
Began again, and once again,
Could not complete the vital spell.

Outside his walls a storm was coming
Snow had just begun to fall,
Within his chest there beat the ragged,
Slowing pulse of death’s own song.

Abbit perault divalté  . . . Damn!

The formula locked in his skull,
He could not force them free —
Those words that he had labored long
To etch in stones of memory.

Four thousand years ago he spoke them,
At Marduk’s feet in Babylon.
The old God said that death was conquered,
But warned him, never wait too long.

A hundred years ago he spoke them,
With shortened breath he sang their song,
And rose to live another century —
Remember, never wait too long.

A man grows tired, a brain grows weary
Childhood memories fade away.
Three hundred wives, so many children;
Still clinging at end of day.

Not satisfied, not done with dreaming,
Not ready for his final lay,
Desire unquenched, immortal hunger
Not to simply slip away.

But hunger isn’t all he needs
If memory fades with every breath.
Abbit . . . my God what was that spell?
The one that puts an end to death.

Banner of the Hawk 51

“Is there any reason why this one’s death should endanger my son’s survival?”

“No. Rather the opposite; he . . .”

Marquart dragged Weikata’s body half off the table and pinned his chest into the crook of his left arm. He gripped Weikata’s head with both hands and twisted. Veins stood out in Marquart’s forehead and his neck muscles bulged momentarily. Then they clearly heard the grinding crunch as Marquart shattered Weikata’s spine.

Marquart released him and the overbalanced body slid off the table into an untidy pile. Marquart motioned to Clevis and said, “He is not to be enreithed. Burn him!”

Then he turned back to Dymal as if their conversation had not been interrupted and asked, “What have you done for the boy and what more can you do?”

Dymal swallowed heavily and said, “I removed his memory of the incident. Tomorrow he will wake knowing nothing of today, or even the last several weeks. That is only a temporary expedient, however. This incident has to be faced. I have to bring him slowly through it, and help him place it in perspective.”

“Why you?”

“Because I am the only one in the Valley with the skill to do it, and it needs to be done quickly.”

“But if it were not done, would it not be as if the thing had never happened?”

Dymal shook his head. “No. He has to face it.”

“I will consider it,” Marquart said, but Dymal feared it would never be done.

# # #

Marquart carried Tidac to his room, undressed him, and placed him in his bed. He stood for a long time looking down at him. A strange child; so everyone thought. Marquart found him less strange than they. The impassive face and silences that made others wonder, did not seem odd to Marquart. He was only what Marquart had taught him to be.

He had not trusted Weikata, but he had needed someone who could train his son in the ways of ai. He had never fully trusted Baralia, but he had followed her advice when she said Melcer was his enemy.

He gritted his teeth. His stomach tightened and his fists clenched. Great spasms of anger moved uselessly through him, with no outlet.

He had never really trusted any man or woman, but he had always trusted himself. Now even that was shaken.

16.

Marquart had begun the Citadel as a refuge for himself and his son in a world he distrusted. Now that general distrust had come to focus on one face — Melcer’s — and Marquart drove his builders with redoubled ferocity. Nothing could be done well enough, or quickly enough. He fired his master builder twice, and rehired him twice. Nothing satisfied him.

Tidac did not remember the night of Weikata’s death, nor any of the things Weikata had taught him, nor even that the priest had ever existed. That was good enough for Marquart, but Branbourn and Clevis discussed it privately and worried. To the other servants, the boy seemed the same — withdrawn and just a little dull — but now he did not even show his inner life to Branbourn or to Clevis.

Winter passed into spring. The Citadel moved toward completion and the Valley moved through the normal routine of the passing year. Gradually, Melcer’s threat moved from immanence to a vague maybe-so. more tomorrow

Banner of the Hawk 50

Dymal came up from deep meditation as the scream tore through him, and he knew instantly that it was Tidac. He held perfectly still for a space of time, but there was nothing more. The scream had been cut off at the source. Unkinking himself from mehakan, he called for an acolyte to saddle his mount.

# # #

Dymal dropped down from his kakai and strode into the manorhouse. He carried his wand of office in his right hand, glowing slightly, and the servants drew back. He followed the stairway and hall to Weikata’s room. He needed no guide; the stench of power in the air led him directly to his goal.

The boy had been placed against the wall, but he was unresponsive. Marquart knelt on one side of him with Clevis on the other. Dymal passed his wand before the boy and Marquart swatted it aside, ignoring the burst of sparks when his untuned flesh touched the priest’s wand. “Rem’s balls,” he snarled, “what are you doing here? Get out!”

“If you want the boy to die, stop me. Otherwise, let me do what I can.”

Dymal passed his wand on either side of the boy’s head, then laid his bare palm flat on his forehead. He frowned deeply, and shook his head. He pulled a runeboard from the bag slung over his shoulder, along with his bag of counters.

“What are you doing?” Marquart demanded.

“Before I can help your son,” Dymal replied, “I have to know what happened here.”

Weikata lay stretched out on a table. His limbs were as stiff as a corpse found in a snowbank, but his chest still rose and fell. Marquart saw that Dymal’s eyes had lingered on the other priest. He said, “Weikata was the cause of this, wasn’t he?”

“I think so. Let me find out.” Dymal held the counters in his hands and closed his eyes, concentrating on the power surging around him, drawing a bit of it into the counters he held. He cast them down and looked long at the result.

Finally, he grunted and turned to Tidac. He placed his right hand on the boy’s forehead and his left hand on his heart. After twenty minutes of intense concentration and murmured spells, he sat back. Tidac had lost his glassy stare and lay back now in what appeared to be natural sleep.

“What happened,” Marquart demanded. For once his voice lacked the brittleness of command; it contained only the concern of a parent.

“Why do you have to ask me?” Dymal replied, his voice full of anger. “You were a commander of a thousand. You know how to read men. Weikata is a rapechild; he is half-Dzikakai in a world that hates and fears the Dzikakai. You can imagine what his life has been like. And your son is a nexus of power.”

“So you said before.”

“Aye, so I said. But did you listen? Weikata was put in charge of a child of power, and the temptation to try to control him was too great.”

“You knew this, and you did not warn me!”

“How could I know? You brought Weikata in without consulting me. I never saw him before today. But you should have known better than to put your son into the hands of someone like him.”

Marquart rose roughly to his feet and stood over Weikata, saying, “He did this to my son?”

“No. Weikata had no power to do this. He released power that was in your son. Tidac did this to both of them, in an untrained reflex.”

Marquart’s voice was very calm. “Senior, is there any way in which this one’s life is tied to the life of my son, or reason why this one’s death should endanger my son’s survival?” more tomorrow