Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Iron Lily - Part 15: False Light

Part 15: False Light

Halthor was on the predawn watch. It was decided between the cousins that one would gaurd Halthor as he rested for a time after they were awake. The fire had consumed a goodly lot of the wood piled at the windward side of the building. All night, he had evil dreams. Visions of war filled his sleep where figured of astounding inhuman beauty battled each other in terrifying slaughter of any who were between them. He saw a black haired woman clad in bright armor bearing a sword he was sure was barely into womanhood. Still, in his nightmares, this young woman rode screaming into battle with a taller woman of inhuman grace at her side, also wearing armor. Both suits of armor bore stylized images of leaves upon them and were so finely crafted that Halthor was sure no human hands could manage such a thing.

As he watched the embers of the fire glow, all he could think of was this young woman that could have been his own child leading a howling horde of men into battle against another group with which there were two of the terrifying but beautiful people arrayed in black. He tried to tell himself it was just a dream. He did his best to tell himself that no one would let a mere girl dally with such men let alone take arms and attempt to battle them, nay, lead them in battle. Halthor shuddered.

Outside, the voices on the wind began to stop begging for entrance. They sang of dawn and daylight. They called out for him to step out into the day. Halthor's right hand gripped and released the haft of his hammer rhythmicly. It wasn't a conscious gesture. "I wish they'd shut up and let me think," he muttered. Ewen scoffed in his bundled up blanket.

"That'd make it easier. You sleep and I'll mind the night singers," the ferryman said. Halthor looked over at him as he sat up. Ewen paused a moment and tipped his head slightly to the right to listen better. "They're singing of day break. That's a good hour off. This is when they get you," he said, shaking his head, "You hear a choir singing of dawn and rising light. It sounds beautiful and as though it was a thing of the world that should have been. Then you open the door and the screaming horrors come in. And slaughter comes with the wind that puts out most of your hearth light."

Halthor looked over at him. "I thought that was just a story," he said.

"After last night?" Ewen said dryly and Halthor looked mildly chigrined. Ewen waved a hand. "It's a good hour to be up. Then I won't be away from Grand-da too long. Last night was not good. I am concerned for him."

"What happened to your father? Was he a priest as well?" Halthor asked. Ewen shook his head. He looked over at the door that rattled slightly with the force of the wind blowing on it, making it press insistently into Halthor's broad shoulders.

"I was seven. I woke up early because I hear voices singing. I wanted to see who was singing so early in the morning. I opened the door. A woman walked in with her feet not touching the ground. She opened her mouth and it was full of teeth like knives. I screamed and ran. Grand-da heard my scream and my parents. Uncle Mavora ran in and pulled him out as the gore eaters were clawing for him. They ripped out uncle Mavora's tongue as he threw Davian to safety. Stag's grace that dawn came when it did, for they very nearly pulled my uncle into what was once my home." Ewen looked at his cousin that was also his brother. "Until we were of age, I was raised by Grand-da and Davian by Mavora. Then my older brother came here to mind the traveler's rest. I became the ferryman after an arguably short apprenticeship and uncle Mavora went into the temple. Davian doesn't think of himself as my brother. We were but a year a part. Some thought us twins. I doubt that wound will heal. I understand why."

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Dacia's War: Al-Uzza's bane.

The rain that Althos had predicted started falling as they reached the gates of Midloth. The setting sun turned the eastern sky aflame with a ruddy colored rainbow over the city. Lady Al-Uzza would have been less annoyed if the rain had waited after they were indoors to start. The desert god's warrior, however, did prove himself reasonably accurate with his estimate of when the rain would fall. Under the pretext of providing the priestess greater security as they moved away from the village, Althos rode at her side and subtly encouraged her to hasten. If the priestess was as clever as she thought she was, she may have realized what Althos was doing.

Instead, she found herself anxious over the idea of brigands and lawless wild people as Althos began telling stories on the ride to 'entertain' her. As the ground grew more uneven and moved higher, so it was that Lady Al-Uzza, priestess of Julara the blessed Rain Mother, found herself envisioning awful things happening if the raider or the escaped prisoners of Governor Bastizia, whom she was sure had a lax grip upon his domain. Why else, she thought, did it happen that his own wife was murdered?

As they entered into the small city, Althos looked about. He stood up in the saddle and pointed down a road. There, Lady Al-Uzza could see something of a city square. As per imperial decree, the eastern side of the square would be the governor's palace and the home of the priestesses of Julara. The southern side of the square would be the home of the priests of Ashur. And the garrison would be upon the western side. The northern side would be where imperial business was conducted and the business of the domain. The noise of the city if Midloth comforted the priestess for it reminded her of Dacia, the heart of the empire itself. When they reached the great square of the city and passed through the archway of the second gate, Lady Al-Uzza noted with surprise there was but one wall surrounding the governor's palace and the holy places there making a total of two walls of protection.

The great square was not a place of serene order as in Dacia city. Because Midloth was a smaller place, the market was set up in the great square. Lady Al-Uzza scowled a bit at the straw piled for sale near the gatehouse. When the party passed through the ring of market stalls that were closing up for the day, they entered into a smaller square at the center of the great square of the city made by that double ring of ramshackle stalls. People stopped and stared at them. They had not seen such a company come into their city before. A man walked down the wide staircase that came from the portico of the governor's palace. Behind him came another who was older but not as aged as Lady Al-Uzza expected.

The pair walked up to the party. They bowed before Lady Al-Uzza. The first man, who was armed with a curving sword unlike what she had ever seen before, bowed deeply where as the second gave a very short bow. "My Lady, you honor our city with your presence. If we had known of your journey, we would have sent outriders to greet you and accompany you. If I may be so bold, for what reason have you come to my domain?" the older man said. Lady Al-Uzza blanched beneath her sodden veil.

"It is by her Serene Highness that I go north to bring aid and counsel to Govenor Bastizia," she answered. The man nods slightly and adjusts his cloak slightly as rain began to fall harder.

"Midloth will gladly shelter my Lady's party and supply you for the journey north. Has there been any news of the business in the sands?" the ruler of the city said as he took hold of the reins of Al-Uzza's mount. She glanced over at Althos. The man arched an eyebrow. "I see this is a discussion that requires some privacy," he said, "Grent, make sure that these people are well cared for. Send word to Erlion that his brother has arrived." Althos dismounted and respectfully bowed to the subconsularis of the region. He then assisted Al-Uzza with her dismount.

"The evening meal is prepared, for Erlion had spoken of your arrival after consulting the sand mirror," the Lord Decebal said, "Let us dry off and attend it. There after, we shall speak of business." Lady Al-Uzza found herself annoyed that Decebal had the presumption to make plans for her but was too busy feeling more annoyed that her garb was steadily being soaked through by now driving rain.

"Yes, let us do so," she said, struggling to figure out Decebal's name. As the party moved off to their separate locations, Al-Uzza, Althos, and the grey robed Iona walked with Decebal. "Lord ..." Al-Uzza started when Iona, who was at her back whispered his name very quietly, "Decebal, has the business of the north reached your gates?" Decebal shook his head.

"Refugees come from time to time, but right now we are secure. Three day's hard ride north, we would find things different. Another three days, you will find Lord Bastizia's balwark is threatened. We have answered his call for aid as best we may but we are bound to serve the Empire first," Decebal replied. He sounded exhausted.

"All must serve the Empire," Al-Uzza said, "But their Serene Highness would see the North secure and well. So we have come to render aid as we may." Decebal thought about the party that Al-Uzza arrived with. The warriors seemed hardy enough but this was nothing more than a small squadron at best. He found himself hoping the stories about the witches and their powers were true. For if the black and grey clad women had the ability to rain hail down upon the enemy it could be the beginnings of something hopeful. He kept this thought to himself.

Althos found himself growing angrier with each word that Al-Uzza said. He knew she was putting words in the mouth of the Empress and Emperor. He knew that she had no interest in what Decebal said and likely was thinking it was simply idle talk. "My Lady," Althos said smoothly, "we do not wish to trouble your sweet voice more than necessary. The cold does not suit you, as you had said earlier. Perhaps after a warm meal it would be a better time to speak of such weighty matters, giving your voice a chance to rest."

"A brother of Ashur learned in medicine?" Decebal said with surprise. Althos bowed slightly. "The warriors truly have learned more than I thought they did in my youth," Decebal chuckled.

"I would but aspire to his Lordship's wisdom," Althos replied. Decebal laughed. They stood before a room with a fire burning that was small but quite warm. Robes were laid out for them. Deep blue for Al-Uzza, white for Iona, and red for Althos. The robes for the priestess and acolyte of Julara were hooded. Althos looked at the hoods for a moment with longing as a chill breeze blew in the doors while they were closing and passed over his bare head. Decebal gestured towards the chamber.

"Towels also await you, my chamberlain insisted it was necessary. I did not know you were coming so far and were unaware of the coming weather. If you do not have heavy cloaks, they will be provided to you when you go farther north. By the time you reach Govenor Bastizia, the first snows will likely have fallen," Decebal, "A servant shall bring you to the feasting hall. You need only ring the bell."

Lady Al-Uzza stepped into the warmed room and noted with some alarm that there was nothing to shield herself from Althos's gaze. She looked at the hooded gowns and at the garb for Althos. "Step outside, Brother Althos," she demanded, "It is unseemly for a man to behold a woman unadorned."

"And yet, my Lady," Althos said dryly, "Her Serene Highness is beheld by two men unadorned many a time. And she has birthed a child. Indeed, the Empress herself is most holy but unafraid of the gaze of men. Sure her bondswoman has no such fears." Al-Uzza turned sharply on her heel and moving with more speed than he expected, she slapped him across the face with her left hand.

"You shall not sully the name of Julara's daughter by speaking of such filth," she hissed at him, "Leave my presence at once." Althos didn't move. As Al-Uzza made ready to strike him again, he caught her wrist. "Unhand me at once," she ordered the warrior-monk.

"Lord Decebal would be most surprised to see you missing your left hand," he replied. "One blow," he said, "One blow is all I'll allow. Upon any of our party. Harm anyone, I will personally see to it that the Empress and Emperor themselves learn of how hideously unfit you are for this task. Julara's mercy is kinder than your anger. Would you see her disdain? You've already insulted the Great Mother by demanding a woman great with child draw water for your horse. Even a priestess bows to a mother and asks blessing. The Empress herself had done so when she journeyed out to greet her Lion from calling on his distant kinsmen and passed through a village where a woman was due any day. Indeed, the Empress not only asked the mother's blessing upon her but helped deliver her child."

Al-Uzza glared at the man before her. "Let me go, monk," she said, "Your life lies in my hands."

"And yet I have possession of one, and your silent sister watches all. Try me, old woman," he replied, his grip tightening painfully on her wrist.

"Release me and this matter will be forgotten," Al-Uzza said, "Do not and I'll have Decebal divest you of your bald head. You haven't the protection of priesthood." Althos smiled. Something about that smile made Al-Uzza uncomfortable, more so than how quickly he caught her wrist. There was the suspicion that Althos allowed her to strike him, not that she had surprised him nibbling at the back of her mind. Althos opened his hand, holding his fingers splayed in a gesture much like one of giving mass blessing.

"I bow to the Lady's will, and shall await her in the corridor after I have donned more fitting garments," Althos said. He stepped back and gave a half bow before turning his back to her. Briskly and silently, he stripped off his sodden clothes and hung them upon the rack near the fire. Al-Uzza looked upon the shadow of his form as he moved, scowling with displeasure. Once he was dressed, he put on the slippers that his brother had sent with the garment and stepped out into the hallway. He stood at the doorway with his sword belt at his side in a very clear position of guarding said location.

"I like him not," Al-Uzza said when she finally began work on changing her garments, "Let his defiance this evening be noted." The large woman looked over at her silent companion. The sister's head had been closely shaved, marking her has a novice. Blond fuzz was over her scalp and she seemed to barely be into womanhood because of how undeveloped she appeared to Al-Uzza. "A child," Al-Uzza muttered with disgust wriggling into her gown, "A defiant, barbaric creature and a child. No wonder my civilizing hand is needed." The novice nun managed to maintain her vow of silence despite the priestess's scornful words. The nun carefully laid out the linen veils for herself and her mistress to dry before hanging up their gowns upon the rack. Al-Uzza had blue leather shoes lined with velvet to wear, soles that were surprisingly solid. The nun left her traveling sandals sitting where she had changed clothes and walked out of the room behind the priestess in bare feet.

Al-Uzza rang the bell and a servant scurried down the corridor. Al-Uzza glanced over at the nun walking at her left shoulder and realized that she was dressed in pure white, not grey. This was not a librarian in training, realized Al-Uzza. The nun at her side was a walking weapon and one who enforced the will of the Empress herself. A cold trickle of fear ran down Al-Uzza's spine at the realization that she had been deceived in something by the Empress. Only then did she realize that her being sent north was a test of loyalty, and if she was found wanting she'd meet Julara personally. Suddenly, impressing Decebal became far less important.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Locales to change content!

Image from
My weekly description of places in my world is going to change a bit. Instead of describing only
nations/states, I am going to start giving descriptions of places within them that show up in the books. This is going to include some maps, details about the population, and information about the politics of the place.

Think of the things that your D&D campaign needs for a location to be useful and that is the sort of thing I'm going to be writing. Some of these places have been touched on briefly. I am going to go back to those descriptions and flesh them out. This is a combination of doing so for my note taking purposes and to enable you to possibly get a better idea of what things are like in my little world.

If requested, I may set up some generic character sheets for NPCs for anyone who wants to use a given location for a D&D game. All I ask is that you share with me the hilarity of the game. Because we all know D&D games start out super serious and then descend into pure silliness. (Unless your gaming troupe is like the ones I've been in, then we start at pure silliness and go WAAAAAY off into left field with the DM going 'You know what, that's not even covered in the book. Throw a d20 to see if it even works.' often followed by a 'well, damn, it DOES work, how about you narrate what happens.'

Monday, February 26, 2018

Flora et Fauna

Hey, I almost forgot about today's topic!

I wanted to give you the opportunity to name a plant. Let me describe it for you.

It is a vine that grows over all but sandy soil. The leaves are shaped like grape leaves but get up to a foot across. It bears no fruit or flowers. It will, however, spread through runners and broken vine pieces. It climbs up trees and has reddish-brown colored roots that grip the tree or other surface it is climbing up. It will strangle the trees it climbs up, like Virginia creeper. It is harvested and retted in water for the bast fibers which are used in rope making. Unlike hemp or flax, this fiber has a uniform and long staple length. The water from the retting process can be used to dye wool a dark brown color. When combined with black walnut, the liquid will dye most fabrics black, except for that which would have been made from the fibers of this plant. That just turns brown from the black walnut.

Undyed, the fiber is tan color similar to old hemp. The rope made from this plant's fiber is used for one thing officially, nooses. Unofficially, it is braided into hemp ropes to make them stronger and used to make sailcloth in the southern regions of Evandar and Ranyth. It is mentioned by is by-name 'sail weed' there.

My question for you is, what does everyone else call it?

Craft of Writing: Write garbage, edit later.

Hi there!

It's been a while. I've been struggling on a lot of fronts right now. Things are beginning to settle down again, though. While I have the chance, I wanted to say something important. Remember your first draft is going to be garbage compared to your final draft. That doesn't mean your first draft is entirely awful. It is just very rough and needs to be polished and cleaned up.

Some drafts are rougher than others. Some drafts are so entirely rough that they get shoved into a drawer and forgotten for a few years. Then you may drag them back out and blow the dust off only to put it back in the drawer. That's ok. An author I knew once who lived in the northern part of Ireland (he wrote poetry and fiction as a hobby) said that sometimes a work needs to mature like fine whiskey.

Seamus Heaney, another Irish poet who is far more famous than the guy I knew only as Puck, described it like the work of digging potatoes. Digging potatoes is hard work. Sorting out potatoes from rocks is mind numbing. In the end, the potatoes may seem like they're just too much work because of how much effort it takes to get them up out of the ground, washed, and ready to cook. The nice thing about potatoes is they can sit for a little bit so you don't have to cook them right today.

Planting the potatoes and growing the plant is writing that first draft. From the top side, a potato plant isn't very impressive. It is just a bunch of leaves. The work of editing and rewrites is digging up those potatoes. Getting them washed up and ready for sale, that's obviously the part where you get yourself a nice little bit of legwork going on the publication process. But even if the potatoes still have dirt on them, they can sit in your cellar for a little while as you work on planting something else.

So, grow those lumpy looking potatoes and dig them up when you're ready. Because potatoes do ok in the dirt for a little while and will get a bit better for it sometimes.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Random Short : How the Scry Mirrors came to Ranyth

The hunter walked through the forest. With a careful gaze, they scanned the forest floor. In some surprise, they found signs of human passage through the trackless depths of the woods where the deer roamed in fear of wolves and the bears. Curious and deciding that following this trail was more important than finding a possible deer path when there had been none in sight for an hour.

Broken branches and brambles showed that whomever had passed by did so with no care for pursuit. A snag of red cloth flapped like a lord's pennant on a thorny bush. The hunter paused and picked it off. Ahead, they could see something red moving. They moved off the path and began to move alongside it. As the hunter drew closer, they heard a voice singing some manner of invocation.

At the edge of the glade where the sun's light broke through the canopy to fall in gleaming rays, the hunter saw a youth dancing in some manner of a circle dance. The young lad's hair shone like gold and bounced in ringlets on his shoulders as he skipped through the dance's movements. His high pitched voice rang clearly in the air and echoed off the trees. Strangely, the birds seemed to join in his song.

Fear snaked through the hunter's heart. Something of magic was happening here, or worse yet of the gods. Feeling as though he was in danger, the hunter began to slip back into the deep brush. Then the boy stopped dancing and looked straight at him, his song ending. "You have come as I have summoned," the boy said. The hunter was compelled to emerge from the woods. The red cloth of the boy's torn tunic looked all too much like heart's blood for the hunter's liking. He wanted to drop the cloth in his hand but his fingers refused to obey his will, clutching it tighter like some holy relic.

"Your quarry awaits you in the hedge of the river," the boy said, "But first you must send me home."

"Where does your mother await you, lad?" the hunter asked uncomfortably. He had heard old, old stories from his father of the walker in the woods. The one who demanded sacrifice of blood and flame.

"I have no mother," the golden haired boy replied, "Nor father."

"Where then is your home and who cares for you?" the hunter asked. In the distance, thunder rolled. The boy pointed skyward. The hunter shook their head. "No man lives in that place, only the Stag Lord and his goats," he answered.

The boy smiled. It seemed as though light shone with such brilliance it blinded him, though he could still see the boy. In amazement, the hunter watched as the boy leaned forward and was upon all fours. His form changed to that of a goat with a ram's horns. The red color of the tunic had transformed to a rich caramel color fur. The goat bleated.

"I can not kill a child," the hunter said. The goat brandished its horns fearsomely at him. "I reject this temptation," the hunter said. Thunder grew louder. The goat charged him and the hunter dove aside. It ran in a quick circle and came back again to charge him, all four horns ready to strike home. The hunter moved aside, grasped the forward facing horns and wrestled the goat to the ground. The goat bleated and kicked. The hunter continued to hold the goat down with great effort.

As rain began to fall, a man walked out of the trees on the far side of the glade."You have found my son," he said. The hunter looked over. The man's face looked familiar, but he couldn't recall why whilst holding the struggling goat. "Release him to me," the man said, "Your willingness to adhere to mercy is admirable." The hunter stood and the goat ran to the side of the man who was also dressed in red and had golden hair. "I shall give you a gift as reward for your mercy and care of my child," he said.

The hunter was blinded by the lightning strike and left deaf. He fell to the ground quavering. When his vision and hearing eventually returned, the hunter was soaked from the driving rain. At the center of the glade where the lightning bolt struck, was a glistening black thing. The hunter cautiously picked up the glass. He thought of his home and wondered if he was now too deep in the woods to get back safely. The black mirror seemed to have its surface ripple like water and then he saw the cottage of his father by high cedars. "Father will not be pleased," the hunter said, "My first hunt alone and this happens."

As he began to move along the path, he wondered if there was a way that took him to the place the child-goat said a deer waited. The mirror glistened and he saw the deer track that started not far from him. The young man put the mirror carefully into his pouch. He followed the track. It was a sudden surprise to find himself at the thick wall of brambles with the river flowing on the other side. With its horns trapped in the hedge, there was a great stag. It was larger than the hunter thought it could be.

Exhausted from its efforts to free itself from the hedge, the stag just stood there placidly as the young man walked up to it. Slowly, he drew his knife and slit its throat. A great wash of blood flowed as the stag sagged down to the ground to weak for even death throes. The newly blooded hunter struggled to pull the stag's crown free from the thorny vines. He pulled out the strange black mirror and said, "Show me my father, let him hear my voice." The mirror rippled and the hunter saw his father at work chopping wood. "Father," he called, "Father, come to the hedge at the river. I can not bring the deer home with out you." The image of his father looked up and looked around confused. The wood axe was set upon the sled the man grabbed and he began walking.

A noise came nearly an hour later from the hedge on the river side. His father called out for him and the hunter answered. The axe hewed a path through the thorny hedge and father embraced son with great relief. He wondered at the mirror and the stag. Working together, they freed the deer from the hedge and dragged it on the sled back to their home. Never in the rest of his days did the hunter forget the child-goat. And ever on did he keep the mirror secret in his home only sharing its knowledge in times of deep need.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Forcing yourself to write is painful.

Some people say, my friend Reader, that forcing yourself to write is like forcing yourself to fart. It is painful and has a high chance of being crap. I'm still working on this but I'm not doing very well. As you can probably tell by the fact it has been a week since I posted. I am finding that this medication adjustment is more difficult than I expected it to be. I am also finding that recovering from a bruised rib has made my sleep difficult. Thus, I get my morning pages done by sneaking in time through out the day.

I feel pretty horrible about that. I have not given up. I'm just struggling. I will try to post again tomorrow.