Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Iron Lily - Part 12

Halthor's expression of pained grief made Moridan sigh. "Listen to me," he said to the builder, "When you reach Memmin, seek out Count Olerand. He should be able to help you. The journey to Memmin should not be gravely perilous but when you reach the flatlands, be wary of the ones who would offer to guide you. Look for the sign of the stag. If they do not have it, do not trust them. After you have found Count Olerand, you will know what you must do."

Halthor looked over at Moridan. "The hour of twilight has passed and deep night comes. Finish your fare, traveler," the old priest said, "You will have a comfortable bed tonight. The traveler's rest will not be quite so pleasant but my grandson will keep you well. The men from Wynnwode will seek to beset you at dawn. You will need to leave at the small hours of the night to avoid them. If the Light Father wills it, snow will cover the signs of your passing."

Ewen stood up, setting his bowl aside. "Father Moridan," he started when the old man lifted his hand. Ewen looked over his shoulder at the door. The persistent feeling that something ominous was waiting for dawn beyond the door. The ferryman looked back at his grandfather. "Grand-da," he said quietly in an urgent tone. Moridan frowned at him. "He needs to leave now," Ewen said, "Something waits and grows stronger as the night passes." Moridan looked over at Halthor and then back to his grandson.

"You must leave with him," the old priest said, "Guide him to your brother. You know the path and the dark should not be a trouble for you." Halthor looked over at the ferryman and noted his very solemn and troubled expression.

"What is going on?" Halthor asked. Moridan said nothing as he stood up. He found his way across the room and opened a chest. After shuffling a few things around, he stood up. The old man lifted a short spear from inside the chest. Halthor eyed the piece of equipment suspiciously, as he had never seen one that was shorter than he was tall before. The bronze head of the spear gleamed dully and Halthor questioned if it was even sharp. Moridan handed the spear to his grandson with a measure of finality in his gestures.

"When you return, you know what must be done. Your uncle and I will do our best to prepare," Moridan said as he set his free hand on the ferryman's left shoulder. Ewen nodded. Moridan looked over at Halthor. He made a gesture of blessing. "Go with the Light Father's blessing and mine upon you, young man," Moridan said. Mavora looked up. He saw the spear in Ewen's hand and sighed before shaking his head with a look of disappointment. He stood up and began filling a sack with foodstuffs. When he had finished, he walked up to Halthor and handed it to him. Halthor looked as though he was about to refuse this second sack of supplies when Moridan shook his head.

Halthor shook his head slightly with confusion and took the sack. He then found his goods where he had set them. Mavora and Ewen walked with him to the stable. Mavora loaded the pony with Halthor's goods and patted the hound that trotted up to him. The dog's tail seemed to droop and it looked as though it was upset somehow. Mavora turned to Ewen and clapped him on the shoulder. Ewen gave his uncle a brief, but strong embrace. The clouds above parted and the light of the mother moon and her daughter shone down brightly on the snow, making it seem almost as bright as day.

Ewen, bundled in his coat, heavy cloak, hat, and other winter gear looked apprehensive. When Mavora went back into the temple, Ewen took the pony's bridle in hand. "Come on," he said, "It draws closer. We must move quickly now." Halthor found Ewen's sense of unease contagious and he looked around himself expecting some foe to jump out of the shadows. As the pair moved briskly down the path out of the village of Hyle, Halthor's back itched between his shoulder blades.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Road to the North (Part XX VI)

Lady Al-Uzza was tired. The long hours of riding in the hot sun made her weary. She looked at Althos with something of envy. Somehow, the monk was cheerful and seemed to show no signs of discomfort for their travel. She ignored her secretary but suspected that the younger woman would be equally chipper. Althos laughed and joked with the guards. When a snake appeared in the path and his horse was spooked, the gravelly voiced monk laughed as he got the beast back under control. Then he dismounted, picked the serpent up, and tossed it aside calling after the creature that he wished it a swift journey. It brought some laughter from their companions. Al-Uzza, however, was not amused.

It was close to midday. They came to a village that the priestess did not think was large enough to support the few goats she saw milling about. The party stopped at the well in the center of the village. A woman drawing water looked up at them in surprise. When she saw Al-Uzza, she bowed deeply. "My Lady," she said, "may the Holy Mother bless you always." The woman's sudden, reflexive gesture of homage made Al-Uzza forget for a moment her discomfort.

She put on a benevolent smile and made a grand gesture of blessing. "And may you and your home be ever blessed, my child," she said, trying to sound as dignified and benevolent as possible. The woman did not straighten. She remained bowed and quietly asked how she may serve Al-Uzza. The priestess's smile turned to one of pleasure.

"Draw us water, my child, and all shall be as it must," she answered. Althos restrained the urge to scowl at Al-Uzza. The monk dismounted as the woman began drawing water up with her pail. He spoke to her in a small whisper. Then he began pulling water up from the well. As he poured it into the trough, the woman stood beside him with her hands clasped and her eyes lowered. When the trough was full of water, Al-Uzza began to motion her mount forward.

Althos stepped up and took hold of the bridle. "You must dismount so that the horse may rest," he whispered in his low voice. Al-Uzza's smile faltered. "May I assist you, my Lady," he said. Al-Uzza gave a nod. Althos's hands took of Al-Uzza's waist and he looked up at her. She awkwardly shifted her weight and Althos's expression turned to an inscruitable mask. "My Lady, if you would turn so that both of your feet are towards me, this would be most helpful," he muttered. Al-Uzza restrained the urge to huff in annoyance, deciding that it was more comfortable to be irritated with the man helping her than the fact that she had forgotten how to dismount a horse.

After an awkward moment, Althos successfully helped Al-Uzza to the ground. He lead her mount forward and began the business of getting it settled. Behind them, the rest of the party dismounted. The woman standing by the well began to draw water for the party when Althos turned to Al-Uzza. "My Lady," he said, "I ask that you allow this mother to rest." Al-Uzza squinted at the woman for a moment. There seemed to be a roundness to her belly that the priestess didn't note earlier. She made a dismissive gesture.

"Of course," Al-Uzza said, "And may our Lady bless you and your child for your service." The woman gave Althos a grateful look before taking her jug of water. As she began to walk off, one of the gaurds walked up. He lifted the jug and set it on his shoulder as he spoke quietly to her. They walked towards a house at the edge of the square. He set the jug down before the door. The woman stepped in her door when a boy stepped out and carried the jug inside.

Al-Uzza looked around the village, her stomach rumbling slightly. "Where are the people?" she said, annoyed that no one else had greeted her or otherwise given indication that they were aware of her presence.

"My Lady," Althos said, "The elders of the village are likely resting as it is the hour of the midday sleep. The able bodied men are away with the army, as her Serene Highness had called them to service. Our pause here will not be long because we are expected at Midloth when the sun is in the third quarter of the sky, a few hours from now."

Al-Uzza glared at Althos. "You do not rule this journey," she hissed at him. Althos straightened from drawing water to add to the trough. He looked at her with his earlier mask like expression.

"No, my Lady," he answered, "But I know that we must travel faster if we are to reach the city before the storm comes. Do you not feel the weight of the air? Do you not sense the way it grows thicker as we move north? A storm awaits us in the most physical sense, my Lady. I did not think you wished to travel in rain. Am I incorrect? I will confess, a bit of rain would be refreshing."

Al-Uzza scowled at Althos. He gestured to the east. She looked towards the hills and saw that the clouds she had been ignoring had grown darker. "No, let us go to Midloth. When the beasts are refreshed, we shall continue on." Althos gave Al-Uzza a bow.

"I defer to your wisdom, Lady Al-Uzza," he said. One of the gaurds hastily coughed to cover up a laugh. Al-Uzza would have turned to glare at the man but she wasn't sure who it was. The acolyte stood serenely behind Al-Uzza, holding the bridle of her own mount. As the priestess looked over her shoulder at the young woman in white, the acolyte gave Al-Uzza a bland look.

"Note this village," the priestess said, "Let the mother who served us be rewarded for it." The acolyte nodded.

Althos said in a dry tone. "My Lady is wise as she is benevolent." Al-Uzza scowled at the monk but said nothing.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Craft of Writing: To pre-write or not?

Image Courtesy of Plexels
Some people swear by pre-writing exercises before they sit down to work on a big project (such as a novel). Other people feel that it is just too much additional work. This is where the divide between 'pantsers' and 'plotters' comes from.  I fall in to the 'plotter' camp and I do pre-writing exercises. It is not, however, the case that my pre-writing work is going to be sitting down and writing up an outline.

Pre-writing is a practice that I got started on when I was in college taking English 101. My instructor strongly encouraged us to take time to write down at least one page of free writing that was unrelated to the task at hand. It may sound a little funny, but that one page of free writing actually did a lot to help me get into that mental zone for writing larger things. I have since moved up to writing 3 pages of free writing every morning (as per The Artist's Way from Julia Cameron, I highly recommend this book for anyone who is struggling artistically or just looking for a jump start for their creativity).

Pre-writing exercises can take a wide range of forms. It can be anything from writing lists of what you want to accomplish with your writing session for the day to free writing to purging your writing anxieties with some creative journal writing. The focus of pre-writing is to get yourself ready for your writing session. For some people, this may be as simple as spending fifteen minutes to list out what the major highlights of the scene they are writing and listening to inspiring music. For others, it is going to be a whole little ritual of getting their cup of coffee fixed just so, putting on some inspiring music (and their lucky socks), and organizing their writing tools. Usually, it does involve some form of writing, but it doesn't have to.

That is the beautiful thing about writing for yourself. You get to decide just how much and what sort of preparation is necessary for your writing session. You get to decide how much leg work is necessary (usually, college students and anyone writing something research based do have some things that are mandatory, namely research) before you start that first draft. This is sometimes intimidating because all of that freedom can be disorienting. But, it also allows you to tailor your work sessions to your strengths.

So, if you are like myself and you need your pre-writing session, don't feel bad about it. Just schedule that time in and use it as necessary. It may feel a little funny to first start out trying, but you may find that your pre-writing time leads you to develop more as an author and have an easier time finding your voice. And, it may just be that little bit of pre-writing time turns in some self-pampering which everyone could use once in a while when they are working hard. Writing is hard work, so time to reward and encourage yourself is always necessary.

What are your feelings on pre-writing and preparing for your writing sessions? Let me know in the comments!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Dacia's War: Departure (Part XX VI)

Al-Uzza looked at the party readying to go north. She scowled with displeasure at the glaring sunlight and the dry dusty scent in the air from the desert. Though Al-Uzza was born on the sands, she grew up in the halls of the temple proper, given to Julara as a tribute and as a way to make one less mouth to feed. She vaguely recalled her mother as a stern woman and had a dim recollection of her brothers. The black haired woman stood on the portico of the temple, waiting for the junior priestess assigned to her as secretary to arrive. The veil that Lady Al-Uzza wore was the deep blue-black of the higher ranking priestesses. A band of silver thread was woven into it on the left hand side, glistening like water in moonlight. Upon the hem where that narrow band ended at the front of the veil, there was a tassel of silver. This and the silver band marked her as the local high priestess of the district she was assigned to.

The tassel rested against her chest, winking in the light and distracting her for a moment from her bitter musings. She glanced down at it. As she set a finger against the beaded tassle, she marveled at how it felt cool to the touch despite the sun's heat. She considered her gown, of much finer fabric than what she had worn as a mere secretary, though that was also of high quality. The linen and silk fabric should have been uncomfortably warm, but it some how retained the coolness of the temple within it. Al-Uzza smoothed a hand over her shoulder when a voice behind her gave a small cough.

Al-Uzza looked over and beheld a young woman dressed in the pale grey of the acolytes who served as the keepers of lore. The woman wore a satchel of dun colored leather over her tunic, hanging on the left side. Al-Uzza knew the satchel well, for it was hers up until recently. Now, the woman standing at her left shoulder bore it and the combination of heavy books and precious writing tools. Al-Uzza's shoulder ached slightly in sympathetic memory of how the strap dug into her when she was sent to bear messages on the Empress's behalf. The young woman's hair was shorn and a grey kertchief covered the stubble. Al-Uzza gauged her companion's age as to be that of sixteen at best and shook her head with a slight look of distaste.

"Remember your vows," Al-Uzza said sternly to the acolyte as she looked forward, "Speak only when spoken to, maid. I will not tolerate frippery and foolishness. Am I clear?"

The young woman behind her answered in a voice that was quiet, almost timid sounding, "Yes, my Lady. I shall do as you command in accordance with Our Lady's will." Al-Uzza felt a measure of satisfaction with the apparent meekness of her secretary. The soldiers who had marshaled for the journey to the north had finished going over their orders. The mules and ponies that served as their beasts of burden had been loaded with their goods. A man dressed in robes the color of the burning sunset moved amongst the party. Al-Uzza frowned as he looked over at her.

Althos of the brothers militant was not a handsome man. But something about him made Al-Uzza highly suspicious of him. Perhaps it was the casual way he smiled at everyone in his party or the way his expression changed so quickly from that easy companionable smile to a look of sober consideration. His head was bald. Al-Uzza could not tell if it was because it was freshly shaven or if he was truly bald. Althos somehow managed to look rakeish in Al-Uzza's eyes, which simply meant he was not a hideous creature and was therefore suspect. He approached Al-Uzza. No smile touched his lips when he walked up to her.

"Lady Al-Uzza," his gravelly voice said, sounding jarringly harsh to her ears, "the party is ready to depart when you are. I have made sure that all beasts are well prepared and all provisions are secure." She wanted to say something stinging to him because of all the men present, it was Althos that made her uncomfortable and she wanted to diminish him somehow. She could not, however, find the words.

"Let us depart then," she said, "The sun is rising high in the sky and enough time has been wasted." Althos gave a graceful bow as he motioned Al-Uzza towards her mount. He stood at the side of the roan nag and made a step for her with his hands. Al-Uzza looked at the horse and found herself wishing that she had a block for mounting rather than the man's hands. He looked at her expectantly. With a small noise of annoyance, she set her left foot upon his hands and then moved to mount.

Though Al-Uzza was not a diminutive woman, she was surprised by how Althos aided her with out any sign of strain. She sat upon the back of the horse and looked down at the monk. He had turned away to help the acolyte upon her mount before Al-Uzza could possibly have considered he had looked at her bare ankle. He vaulted lightly into the saddle of his own horse and moved to the head of their group. Althos looked over his shoulder at the newly elevated priestess with an expectant expression.

Al-Uzza made a gesture in a forward direction. Althos arched an eyebrow. Deciding that her silent response indicated that she felt it was not necessary to invoke the blessing of the holy Yulara herself upon their journey, Althos deemed it necessary to call out to the members of the party to pray for the blessing of the Lady of Rivers on their travel through her lands. His voice was a loud, cawing cry as he shouted, "May the Mother of Life look kindly upon us and guide us in our wanderings over her green fields." The people around Al-Uzza answered with some muttered words, a few giving her uncomfortable glances as they did so.

Lady Al-Uzza could hear her clerk mumbling something indistinctly behind her. The priestess realized that she had broken some sort of taboo in failing to call for her goddess's blessing. She remained proudly silent, however, because the idea of somehow acknowledging her error was something that Al-Uzza believed would undermine her authority. Althos looked to the right. Upon a high balcony, he saw the Empress standing. He pressed his right fist to his left shoulder in a salute while bobbing his head in something that looked almost like it would have been a bow if he had been standing. Mina extended her hand in a gesture of blessing.

She watched as Al-Uzza looked up at her. For a moment, Al-Uzza's expression betrayed her loathing of her Lady. Then the party began to move and the haughty woman had to turn her attention upon keeping the horse following Althos. Mina watched as the party moved out of the temple gates. "I fear this will not end well," she sighed. A messenger scurried in the temple gates, the yellow band tied around his arm identifying him as someone coming from the black sands. Mina sighed and walked into the temple, unsure if the sense of weariness passing over her was because of her sense of foreboding about Al-Uzza, the desire to be done with the matters of war, or the fact that her sleep had been troubled the night before.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Food of Evandar: Roast fowl with Herbs

Image from Pexels.Com
It has been a while since I posted any sort of recipe. It is also a day where, at my house, we are dealing with a snow storm and I am interested in not making a whole lot of pots to wash even as the kids want to help cook. After a little consideration, I realized that what I am making for dinner would be rather common fare in parts of my little world.

Now the name of this recipe is an indication of how common it is. It is, however, a little bit deceptive. In the middle ages in our world, herbs was used as a general term for all parts of a plant and pretty much all manner of plant. It was applied to what we consider vegetables, herbs, and fruit.

The recipe itself is exceptionally simple. I am making a relatively small portion here because I have a household of four people (which has two children who are somewhat picky eaters on a regular basis). It is possible to do this with a whole bird. I, however, am using two chicken quarters cut into pieces with enough chopped vegetables to fill a 12 in cast iron skillet. My 'herbs' here are potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, carrots, and radishes. If you were making something that reflected the Middle Ages of our world, the potatoes and sweet potatoes would not be part of this because they didn't come into European cuisine until the Renaissance period. (This is because they are native to the New World, along with corn, modern squash, and tomatoes.)

In my little world, the variety of root vegetables used is pretty close to what you would expect for medieval Europe. They would also include tubers like cattail roots and the more exotic plants native to the world. Lower class people would be having this simple meal with a dash of what ever savory herbs they had collected in the wild (such as dill or fireweed). The upper classes would include more exotic things to their region. Thus, it could have peppercorns, salt, or cinnamon in it. The dish consists of a cleaned bird flattened and roasted upon a bed of root vegetables with spices mixed into the vegetables and upon the bird. The bird would have butter rubbed on it and the root vegetables would be mixed with a portion of oil sufficient to coat them and enough water to keep them from burning to the pan.

The pan would then be covered and cooked at a moderate temperature until the bird was cooked fully. For our purposes, this would be approximately an hour at 350 degrees F. When I added oil to the vegetables, I tossed them with it and some pepper, salt, thyme, and paprika. I then added approximately a cup of water. The chicken was set upon the vegetables. I spread about a tablespoon of butter over all four pieces of chicken. It is probably a little excessive, but I'm not going to deny myself a little luxury after a long day with two boys having a snow day from school. I put the salt, pepper, and thyme on the chicken. I also added garlic instead of paprika.

I covered my pan with aluminum foil because the pot lid that fit it would not cover the pot completely with the chicken in the pan. You want to make sure that your chicken and meat combination is well covered so that the steam from everything helps cook it more completely. When finished, you would serve the chicken with the tender veggies along side. I am also going to be making a loaf of soda bread to go with it. I haven't decided yet if soda bread is a common thing or not, but in the world of Evandar, a loaf of bread would be served with this, as with any meal.

Given the heaviness of the root vegetables, you could do well to serve this with a hard cider. You could also do well to replace the water in this recipe with chicken broth or hard cider. I'm sure that you would get a good result from adding onions to the mix. (I was going to put onion in but then discovered that my onion had gone bad in the depths of the refrigerator sometime last week.)