Saturday, May 31, 2014

Parenting: The Weekend Of Lost Schoolwork

So, we're having a study weekend. A study weekend is a weekend in which nothing fun happens until Firstborn is caught up on his schoolwork, which his teacher kindly sent home at my request, because Firstborn has apparently failed to actually complete any of it for about three weeks, now. So far, after agonizing hours of "I can't think!" last night, we have produced one play. (It relies heavily die-glue.)

This morning, Firstborn popped awake promptly at seven o'clock and went to interrupt his mother (who was grading assignments in the kitchen) by announcing that he wanted to get his work done so he could finally play video games and/or watch videos again. He then settled in at the kitchen table, and promptly dithered around for about four hours, during which he accomplished almost nothing. I woke up a bit later, and came out to help (and make tea). So by the time I got to the kitchen and started walking him through his second assignment, he'd already been at this for several hours. He'd come up with two characters: a mammoth and a toucan. He'd assigned them character traits. He was thinking - if that's the word for it - about the setting. And, in the process, deciding that he really wasn't all that happy with the characters he'd just spent four hours creating.

Writer's Block: We Haz It.

Finally, just to make a point about the need to quit thinking and do something, I sat down and wrote my own little scene. Then I called his mother over, and we did a live dramatic reading. And then I pointed out that I'd written the entire thing in the time he'd spent "thinking" about the setting for his play. I took a moment to suggest, in my best not-at-all-frustrated tone of voice, that if he'd just start writing, he'd be done by now.

But since I now have a sample of homework-worthy play for a second-grade assignment, and nothing else to do with it, I'm going to stick it here.
Monkey - quick, smart, small, lazy
Rhinocerous - big, strong, dumb, impatient

A zoo

Trying to escape

The Scene:

Monkey: Hey! Hey! Over here!

Rhinocerous: Huh? Who's that? Quiet down, will you?

Monkey: Up here! In the tree! Look up, you great big...

Rhinocerous: Monkey? What are you doing out of your cage? You're going to get in trouble.

Monkey: I'm escaping!

Rhinocerous: So why are you talking to me? I was trying to sleep.

Monkey: I need your help. I can't get over this wall.

Rhinocerous: You're a monkey. Climb it.

Monkey: It's too smooth. I need you to knock it down.

Rhinocerous: No way. Then I would get in trouble.

Monkey: Please?

Rhinocerous: No.

Monkey: Look, I'll just come down there...

Rhinocerous: Go back to your... fine. You're here. Annnnd you're standing in front of the wall.

Monkey: I just need you to put your head down and knock a hole right here.

Rhinocerous: No. I'm going back to sleep... Hey! What was that?

Monkey: That was an apple.

Rhinocerous: Why'd you throw an apple at me?

Monkey: Like this?

Rhinocerous: HEY! You did it again!

Monkey: How about this one?

Rhinocerous: Listen, buddy, you keep this up and I'm going to squash you good!

Monkey: Like this? (Splat!)

Rhinocerous: That does it! GRRRRR-CHARGE! Hey! Where'd you go? And what happened to the wall?

Monkey: I dodged. And you went right through it. And we just escaped from the zoo.

Rhinocerous: What? All right, fine. You go. I'm going back to bed.

Monkey: Thanks, man. I owe you one.

Rhinocerous: And I owe you a knock on the head you'll never forget. But if you're leaving now...

Monkey: I'm gone.
I still had to set a timer and tell him that horrible things were going to happen if I didn't see a finished product by the time it went off. At that point, he suddenly started writing, and produced a one-act play in about five minutes. So, now, we're going to go get lunch... because I don't think I can keep going like this. Not without food, anyway.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Today in Parenting... How Die-Glue Is Essential For A Playwright

So I'm working with Firstborn on some of his schoolwork, because somehow he has managed to fall behind... (Well, not "somehow". I mean, we know how. He fell behind by NOT DOING THE WORK. But I digress.)

Me: "So, you have your two characters. You've written down adjectives for each of them. You've decided that they're in, on, or near a volcano. Now you need to write a play about the animals surviving on the volcano."

Firstborn: "..."

Me: "Do you know how to write a play? I mean, do you know how the format works? Have you seen what a play looks like when it's written down?"

Firstborn: "Of course. It uses Die-Glue."

Me: "Die-Glue?"

Firstborn. "Yes, Die-Glue."

Me: "That sounds like something that sticks things together and then makes them die."

Firstborn: "It makes a play. One person talks, and then another."

Me: "..."

Me: "...Dialogue? Are you trying to say dialogue?"

Firstborn: "It looks like Die-Glue to me."

Me: "Only if you put the L in the wrong place."

The Great Weapons - Atop The Rampart 07

"You asked to see me?" Miledha attempted a curtsy, imitating the ones offered by the servants who had hurried out when she arrived.

Lady Langoish turned to regard her. She was tall, slim, and graceful, though her age showed somewhat in the lines on her face and the gray in her hair. She wore black, of course, and managed to look elegantly beautiful even in mourning. Until now, Miledha had only seen her at a distance; standing in the same room with her, seeing her as another woman, was an odd sort of shock.

"I did," said Lady Langoish. "Would you care for some spiced wine? The servants brought enough for four of me."

Miledha nodded, feeling at a loss. She'd come to the keep because she needed Roberr's help. She hadn't given any thought to what it would be like to spend time here; she hadn't thought that anyone would take much interest in a peasant witch. That seemed foolish, in retrospect. Still, she was here, and the people of the keep were interested in her, and she would have to deal with that as best she could.

The lady turned to a small table, where she poured two cups from a silver pitcher. She handed one to Miledha, and sipped from the other herself. Unsure of what to say, Miledha took a sip from her cup; it was good wine, sweetened with fruit, and flavored with a touch of something warm and slightly bitter. Shadeleaf? She sipped again.

"I'm told that the servants are calling you Sha Miledha," said the lady.

Miledha swallowed, suddenly nervous. "That was... not my idea."

"I know," said Lady Langoish. "Sha Lindlen believes it to be her fault. I'm not so certain; you fought with my husband in battle, and brought his sword back after he... fell. That would merit respect, even if Sha Lindlen had never spoken a word." She paused, and Miledha fought a sudden urge to fill the silence with words.

After a moment, the lady continued: "I've come to believe that I made a mistake, where you are concerned."

"How so?" asked Miledha. She heard the fear in her voice, and knew that the lady heard it, too. Lady Langoish was looking for something, and the wrong answer could get her... well, probably not killed, but possibly a lot less welcome here in Langoish Keep. Still, she cursed herself for answering without thought. She had to do better than this.

"I left you entirely to my husband," said the lady, and her gaze drifted off into the distance. "I saw only an orphan that my husband had decided to care for, and so I let it be his business alone. He always wanted a daughter, and since Roberr was our only child, I hoped the time he spent with you would satisfy him."

That wasn't entirely true, Miledha remembered. Lady Langoish had given birth to three others: two stillborn, and one who had lived for less than a moon. "He was a good man," Miledha said, hoping the lady wouldn't guess the direction of her thoughts. "At least, he was good to me. He taught me letters and numbers, and brought me books. Dame Naggia always claimed to disapprove, but when he was gone she had me read to her from those books."

"I think I should have taken the time to know you myself," said Lady Langoish. "It seems obvious now, with Wilmont gone and you so vital to the defense of the keep. Only now, of course, we have no time."

Miledha swallowed and looked away. "There isn't much to know."

"But there is," said Lady Langoish. "Can we trust you? I've counseled my son to accept your help. Was I wrong to do so?"

"No," said Miledha. Suddenly, she was on solid ground again. "I want them, those bastard Shadir and their monstrous captain." Her fist clenched, and she forced her hand to relax. Calmly, she said: "I want them dead."

She took a breath, then drank the rest of her wine in a single gulp. "I can't do it alone. I have to have help, and it has to be Roberr. Nobody else can--" She cut herself off. It couldn't be the wine; not this quickly. No, it was rage, and rage alone, that was loosening her tongue. She was less and less in control of herself, and she couldn't afford that.

Lady Langoish turned her head slightly, and regarded Miledha thoughtfully. "Nobody else can wear it?" she said, in a tone that made the words something more than a question, something less than a confirmation.

Miledha raised her head. "What do you know?" she asked softly.

"I know nothing," said the lady. "I've made my studies, and I have my suspicions. Very few things are completely secret, if someone knows where to look; and Sister Naggia would be a fool not to realize that the local nobility would make some tentative guesses about her true role in this place."

Miledha kept her face blank by an effort of will. "If you know that much," she said slowly, "then you know I can't answer you."

Lady Langoish nodded. "My son is busy making arrangements for me," she said, "and so he hasn't given any thought to arrangements for you. There are empty bunks in the barracks, and the women of our guards would consider it an honor if you would sleep among them."

"That... sounds more comfortable than what I had in mind."

Lady Langoish looked amused. "You were considering the stables?"

"Or the hospital," answered Miledha.

"I see." Lady Langoish smiled, and for a moment her face was unguarded: not just beautiful, but friendly, welcoming, approving... accessible.

She's right, thought Miledha. We should have known each other earlier. I could care for her as much as I did for her husband, as much I do for Sister Naggia. If we had time...

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Great Weapons - Atop The Rampart 06

Miledha was standing atop the gatehouse, looking out at the enemy legions. Their camps were calm and neatly arranged, spreading out and back as far as the eye could see. I should be out there, Miledha thought. I should be killing their adepts, poisoning their troops, disrupting their supplies. They shouldn't be able to just sit there, as if they had nothing to worry over.

She drew a breath, seeing fire and death in her mind. No. I shouldn't. If she did, the men of the camps would assume that the attack had come from Langoish Keep, a dishonorable betrayal of their captain's offer and the flag of truce under which it had been made. They would attack immediately, before the keep was truly prepared, and they would overrun the walls and kill everyone inside. She couldn't allow that, let alone provoke it.

Dezarr the Dreadful had given them an opportunity, and she would be a fool not to take advantage of it.

"Sha Miledha. You've been busy."

Miledha turned. She wasn't the only one staring at the enemy. One of the knights, Sha Lindlen, had come up to join her. "You're the second person to award me that title," Miledha said quietly. "I don't deserve it."

"You do," the knight corrected her. "I saw that adept. He wasn't preparing some general malefice. He was looking directly at the Viscount... and you turned his sorcery back on him."

Miledha looked away. "That wasn't heroism," she said. "That was desperation."

"What's the difference?" asked Lindlen. She was tall and strong, with a square, heavy musculature. Her voice was sure and certain. "You saved the life of our lord, and wiped out a dozen of the enemy in a single stroke. Titles have been granted for less. I'd knight you myself, if I thought you'd take the oath." She paused, then added: "I suspect a great many of history's heroes would laugh at what we've made of them. Fate has always had its jokes."

Miledha sniffed, but found herself smiling against her will. She'd never thought much of heroes.

"And what have you done today?" continued Sha Lindlen. "Restored our wounded, healed our mounts, strengthened our arms. Am I wrong?"

Miledha turned to look at the knight. Lindlen's hair was pale, and cut short enough that it seemed to disappear against her skin. Her eyes, unlike the rest of her, were dark. She stood in a simple tunic and pants; if the cold of the gatehouse stone bothered her bare feet, she didn't show it. The only thing that marked her as a knight was the blade at her hip, a slender piece designed for a single hand. It was as much a part of the way she stood and moved as a mount would have been part of the way she rode.

"You've been tracking me," said Miledha.

"You don't show yourself willingly," replied Lindlen. "I had to know."

Miledha closed her eyes, turned to face the ramparts, and opened them again. "You're not wrong," she said. "I'll help if I can."

"Good," said Lindlen. "The Lady of the Keep would like to speak with you. So would the young lord, but he can wait; the lady leaves in the morning."

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Great Weapons - Atop The Rampart 05

Miledha wandered the keep and wondered what it might have been like to grow up here -- if the man she called father had actually been her sire, if her blood had been noble, if everything in the world had been different. Foolishness, she knew, but she couldn't help indulging it.

The stables were clean and well-kept, the as were the horses inside. Would she have learned to ride them? The barracks were neat and orderly, for all the evening's chaos and disarray; would she have known the men there? In the corner behind the barracks sat the smithy; though it was nearly dark, the smith still worked with his apprentices. They were forging arrowheads, by the look of it. Dark and heavily muscled, the smith seemed a stolid and practical man. Would she have known his name? Made time with his apprentices? Or simply passed them all by, as beneath her notice?

If everything was different, what would be the same?

She ascended the steps to the keep, and passed between the guards without difficulty. It had always been a small thing for her to deflect the notice of others; it had taken desperation and practice to turn her skills the other way: to attract notice, and coins, and food. Still... she had learned, and it had saved her. The Viscount of Langoish had noticed her, and brought her to study with Sister Naggia, whom the villagers, in their ignorance, considered a witch.

The passage into the keep was a gatehouse in miniature, with its heavy outer doors and tracks in the walls for two separate gates that could be lowered from above. There were murder-holes in the stone ceiling, and arrow-slits in the walls. There were guardrooms to either side, each with its own cache of supplies and steps leading up to whatever passage crossed overhead. In one, a group of group of armed and armored men and women played at dice around a circular wooden table; in the other, the guards had moved back against the walls to observe a pair who practiced against each other with heavy wooden swords.

Weapons like these didn't interest her. For Miledha, they would never be worth the time and effort it would take to learn to use them. She passed by, and found herself facing the massive, ornate doors that opened onto the great hall. They were closed, but Miledha found herself wanting to open them. The great hall of Langoish Keep was said to rival the finest palaces of much greater lords in its elegance and taste. Even if it were bare at present, its tapestries and paintings hidden away, it was said to have the feel of a forest chapel: the columns and buttresses carved with vines and the leafy faces of wood-spirits, reaching up to an ensorcelled ceiling that offered all the light the room might need, or displayed the sky overhead as if its own stones and the keep above did not exist. Even with the fireplaces cold and dark, and the tables stripped or removed, it would be magnificent.

Miledha wished she could have seen it in its glory. Would she have appreciated it with the same strength of feeling that she longed for it now, if she had been born to life in the keep?

She didn't know, and she supposed it didn't matter. She would find the new lord of Langoish Keep, or he would find her; and if he was willing, then they would go together to avenge the man who had been the father of his blood, and the father of her heart. Maybe then she could turn loose of this rage inside her, this simmering need to lash out, to damage, to hurt. Who was it, in the old stories, who had fought the sea itself? She couldn't remember the name, couldn't really remember the story. She only remembered that after his son had died, he had taken his sword and stood fighting the endless waves. Three days it had taken, to exhaust his grief and rage. She knew now how that felt; it seemed she could pound mountains into gravel and still not be satisfied.

She pulled her thoughts away from that; someone was approaching. It was a serving-woman, wearing a simple dress and blouse; not so very different from the peasantry Miledha lived among. She let herself be seen, and the other woman slowed... and then stopped. "Miss? Are you... are you Sha Miledha?"

Miledha turned, surprised. Sha was the femine version of sir, a term used for female knights, military officers, or others who merited respect. She would never have imagined it connected with her own name. It didn't sound like sarcasm, but for a moment she couldn't conceive of it being used any other way. "I am Miledha," she said. "The witch."

The woman was nearly twice her age, but still handsome; she squeezed her hands together and said: "I mean no offense. My brother... he rode out with the lord. He was one of the few who made it back." She looked away. "He has wounds, and they've taken on badly. He's feverish, and keeps speaking to our parents... They've been dead for three and four years. Can you help him? Would you?"

Miledha blinked. She was, she reminded herself, not the only one with griefs to bear. "Take me to him," she said, as gently as she could manage. "I'll do what I can."

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Great Weapons - Atop The Rampart 04

Roberr closed the door behind Sir Berrn, and dropped the bar into place. With Brother Wend gone, he couldn't be sure that the witch wasn't in the room with them, but unless she could walk through walls, the sheer number of people filing out should have kept her from slipping in. "Mother?"

Lady Langoish closed her eyes and folded her hands. Roberr had never been certain if the gesture was actually a sign of prayer, but it always foretold some some special difficulty. His mother was tall and willowy, beautiful in a way that sharply contrasted his father's heavyset plainness. Roberr had come out somewhere in between, neither as stocky as his father nor as slim as his mother.

He was just on the point of turning away when she spoke. "Your father always had an interest in that child. For a time, I thought she might be his - a sister of yours, from the wrong side of the bed. I made inquiries, but it seems she is not. She was merely a beggar, working small tricks of light in exchange for coins. Your father took her in, had her fed and taught, and turned her over to old dame Naggia. If she knows her own history, she had reason enough to ride out to battle with your father -- and he had reason to order her back, just as he did with you. I do not know the child, but she might well be willing to kill his killers, especially to retrieve his sword."

"You don't believe she's a traitor," said Roberr.

"I wish I knew," his mother said. "No, I don't believe she is. And even if she were what I once suspected, proof of your father's betrayal, we would still need her help. Arkiber's story isn't the only one I've heard; she's strong."

Roberr held himself still while he considered that. His parents had always been together. They had had their disagreements, but they had always been united. The idea that his mother had ever suspected his father of infidelity... but she had confirmed what he would have told her: that his father had always been loyal, that whatever their differences he had always been devoted to her. "Thank you, mother," he said at last. And then, because it seemed to need to be said, he added: "I'm sorry you had cause to doubt him."

"I had cause to question him," his mother corrected. "I should never have doubted him."

His mother had never been demonstrative. She wore the black of mourning garb, just as he did; but she neither collapsed, nor sobbed, nor clutched at her only son. Her untouched stillness spoke of grief more eloquently than a hundred eulogies ever could; and Roberr, who had never known quite what to make of his father, could only stand in stillness with her.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Great Weapons - Atop The Rampart 03

"What do you know of her?" asked Roberr, some hours later. The return of his father's sword had caused a stir among the men, and the decision to send the women and children away from the battle required discussion and planning: a hundred little details that had to be settled, and settled immediately if the message was to reach the Lady of Boeringen in time. Somewhere in all that, the witch Miledha had disappeared... along with her offer, whatever that might be. She'd left behind his father's sword, which now rested against his hip. It hummed softly, almost purring, whenever he touched it.

"She is a witch, as she says," answered Arkiber, the Steward. "She lives just north of Litlon, if I remember correctly. The peasants may claim to be afraid of her, but they're quick enough to visit her when they need her arts."

Roberr frowned. "You know this?"

Arkiber nodded. "My sister sent to her when my niece fell ill a year ago. Said she made the girl drink some horrible broth, but whatever it was, it pulled her back."

Roberr nodded. "She has some power, then?"

Brother Wend snorted. "I think we've seen that, already. She was... two strides, perhaps? ...from me, and I had no idea she was there until she spoke."

Sir Berrn, the oldest of the knights, stiffened and looked around. "Could she be listening to us now?"

"She isn't in the room," said Brother Wend. It was a small room, at the top of the northeastern tower, and the door was closed and barred. Roberr had chosen it deliberately. "As for other ways of listening... I've set some wards, but it's always possible that she has some way around them."

"So she actually may have killed some Shadir adepts." Roberr found the idea intriguing.

Brother Wend looked thoughtful. "I don't know," he said after a moment. "The Order, in general, has a low opinion of other adepts. Our official stance is that the untrained use of sorcery is dangerous. Those with skill should be brought into our ranks for proper training, and those without should not attempt anything but the simplest of workings. In practice, it's often true that local practitioners have traditions just as old as our own. The Shadir certainly do."

"She asked your father to let her ride out to battle with us," said Sha Lindlen, with a glance at Sir Berrn. "Or demanded it, I should say."

"He refused," said Sir Berrn, stiffly. "With good reason, I might imagine."

"Perhaps," said Sha Lindlen, with a another glance at her fellow knight. "But for all the shouting he did at her, Lord Langoish believed her when she told him where the Shadir would be... and she was right, every time."

"...Until the last," finished Sir Berrn, scowling blackly as he looked away. "Until they sprang the trap. And now here she is, with his sword. How did she come by it?"

"That's the question," said Brother Wend. "Did she take it from the Shadir? Or was it given to her, that she could draw you into another trap?"

"My son," said a new voice. Roberr's eyes went from his advisers to his mother, who had made the climb to the tower but stood at the back of the room. She had been silent until now, but she was still the Lady of the Keep. The others fell silent for her. "May I speak with you?" Her eyes circled the room and returned to him. "Alone?"

Friday, May 23, 2014

Two Responses to Michael Sam

I don't follow football, but as far as having openly out gay players go? This pretty much sums it up for me:

And, incidentally, as someone who really doesn't understand sports culture, and doesn't find watching sport interesting at all, this is pretty much how any discussion of football sounds to me.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Great Weapons - Atop The Rampart 02

Yeah, okay. I like this one. So here's a second piece of it. First draft, right off the top of my head, so if you see anything wrong please let me know.

"My lord?" Steward Arkiber stepped forward. "Should we send the women and children away with the peasants?"

Roberr drew breath to answer, stopped... and then released it. He had only just reached his seventeenth year; he'd only just finished with the last of his tutors; he lacked any experience with these sorts of decisions. For a moment he was desperately aware of being young and alone, and he missed his father with an intensity that bordered on panic. "...Yes," he said. "They'll go to Boeringen, where my mother can inform the lady of these demands and beg her for reinforcements."

"What good will that do?" someone muttered. The gatehouse was crowded with warriors, noble and peasant alike; Roberr couldn't tell who spoke. "A hundred more men, or even a thousand, against the legions outside?"

"We have the keep," he said suddenly. His voice was louder than he'd intended; it cut through the murmurs and silenced the room. "We have our walls, our defenses. It's two days to Boeringen, and two days back - faster if the Order offers assistance, and they have a chapter house there. We can hold the Shadir long enough to make the call, and longer still if they answer it. If the lords of the East unite, we might even turn them back. Here. Now. If we have courage. If we hold to our duty." He wasn't sure if he believed any of that; he was a little surprised to find it on his tongue.

"Well said," murmured Brother Wend, who had moved to stand at Roberr's side. He was short, barely coming up to Roberr's shoulder, but lean and broad-shouldered beneath his simple blue robe. Speaking more loudly, he continued: "The Shadir hate the Order. They execute us whenever they find us. I cannot imagine that my superiors will not see the wisdom in stopping them here, where failure still offers them the chance to fall back to Boeringen. They will send help."

Roberr nodded. "Send a small troop with the women and children. Choose the most experienced scouts, the seasoned warriors. Their skills will be more valuable on the road than they will here, where walls and arrows will matter more than individual skill. Langoish Keep is ancient; the stones of our walls are heavy with protections, grown old and strong with the help of generation after generation of adepts. It will not fall easily, even to sorcery."

"The Shadir sorcerers are strong," said a new voice, "but they are not invincible. I've killed three of them already."

Roberr turned his head and found a young woman standing beside him. She was, if anything, even younger than he was... and while he would have sworn he hadn't seen her before, he also had the impression that she'd been standing there for some time. Brother Wend stepped back abruptly, confirming his mixed impression. "Do I know you?" he asked, quietly.

She turned her head slightly, and answered him just as quietly. "I don't know. Did your father speak of me? I'm Miledha, the witch. I've brought you back your father's sword... and I can offer you more than that."

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Great Weapons - Atop the Rampart 01

Roberr stood alone on the parley overlook, and regarded the messenger below. His father had fallen in battle a week earlier, striving in vain to hold back the advancing armies of the Western Captains, and leaving Roberr to assume the role of lord over Langoish Keep. Of the twelve knights in his service, four had made it back to the Keep. The peasant militias had been all but annihilated; only a single troop of archers and a handful of others had returned.

The messenger sat proudly on a spirited black charger, dressed in captured finery and staring up at the new lord with eyes that were at once arrogant and appraising. The flag of truce, under which he had approached, was now draped down his back; the flagpole was held loosely in his left hand, its length laid back over his shoulder. "Are you the lord of these lands?"

Roberr nodded. "I am," he called back. "Your army stands in the domain of Arch-Duke Molkan. This intrusion will not be tolerated. Withdraw now, or face the might of the Eastern Lords."

The demand was empty. Even if the Eastern Lords would stand together, their armies were too far away to rescue Langoish - and it would take time to raise troops, let alone train them.

The messenger knew it too. His response was unconcerned: "Captain Dezarr the Dreadful extends you an offer, on behalf of his master the High Lord of the Shadir. Turn over the gauntlet, and our armies will pass you by. Your lands will remain your own, under Shadir rule."

"What gauntlet?" asked Roberr, honestly puzzled. He was aware of the crenelations in front of him, the doors to either side that would take him off the overlook and into the gatehouse, his soldiers on the walls above, and the unguessably vast armies of the Shadir that had formed up into an orderly camp seven or eight bowshots away from the keep.

"The Hand of Aribil, the Great Gauntlet, Bandlin's Fist." The messenger called back in a strong, sure voice, amplified by sorcery. It rang along the walls, audible to every man defending the keep.

Roberr laughed. He couldn't help it. To face such an absurd demand, in the midst of so much fear... "That old legend? Not even the peasants believe that anymore." He drew a breath. "If we had such a thing, be assured your captain would have felt it by now."

"Nevertheless, Captain Dezarr the Dreadful bade me offer you five days and five nights from the time of this meeting, to find it and hand it over. I will return after that time, to hear your true answer."

"It will be the same. We cannot hand over what we do not possess." Roberr studied the messenger's face, but saw no change of expression. The offer might even be sincere, but the very idea was madness. The Great Weapons were nothing but stories, morality tales mixed with bits of history.

"The offer stands." The messenger wheeled his horse and walked it calmly back to the lines of the enemy camp.

Roberr cursed under his breath. Then he turned and went back inside the gatehouse. "Send word to the peasants," he said. "We welcome any who would help us defend Langoish Keep. All others should flee. And if, by some madness, anybody does know where Bandlin's Fist might lie, I'd like know about it."

This one was a direct result of last night's Foam Sword Fight - I was fending off both boys with a Nerf sword, while they attacked me with Minecraft weapons. Or, at one point, their empty hands. Various elemental attacks were described, which put me vaguely in mind of Glen Cook's The Swordbearer. I found myself picturing a world in which the course of great events was determined, every so often, by the bearers of the Great Weapons: the sword, the gauntlet, the shield, the spear, the dagger, the staff, the sword-spear. No, I have no idea if this will take off as, y'know, an actual story... but if it does, I need to remember the peasant witch Miledha, the vaguely Soul Reaver elemental empowerments, and the manifold variety of lesser sorceries that serve both friends and enemies. I'm mainly writing it down so that maybe, at some point, when I have time and energy, I'll remember to write the whole thing.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Because Judgement Day's Not Coming...

...soon enough.

I may have posted this before, but I don't care. I love this song. Want another VNV Nation song that I love? Try Dark Angel. "I'm in this mood because of scorn. I'm in a mood for total war. To the darkened skies once more - and ever onward..."

Some days...

Monday, May 19, 2014

Notes from the Mad Science Lab: Self-Defense Breakfast Exposition

Ah, ladies and gentlemen! Welcome, one and all. Welcome... to the Mad Science Self-Defense Breakfast Exposition!

Before we begin, take a moment to survey the delightful repast in front of you. Here at the Mad Science Consortium, our researchers have worker very hard to ensure that all of our self-defense foodstuffs are a perfect match for the finest of ordinary foods. In taste, texture, and smell, you will find that your breakfast is indistinguishable from the work of the finest chefs. It is only on close inspection that the vital, life-saving differences become apparent.

Let's begin with an examination of our bagels. Go ahead and pick them up; in their current state, they're completely harmless - and, indeed, substantially more nutritious than ordinary bagels. Watch, however, as I touch my bagel with the catalyst point on the end of my knife... and toss it at our simulated intruder... Quite an explosion, isn't it? More than sufficient to take out even a small group of attackers, let alone an individual. For added effect, the cream cheese can be activated with the same catalyst, turning it into a combustible gel that burns at over two thousand, five hundred degrees Kelvin - hot enough to melt lead and immolate intruders.

Next up is our razor-edged bacon, lovingly harvested from nanite-enhanced pigs. Our unique laser-carving process also serves to cook the bacon, giving it that crispy, flavorful quality. Handle it carefully, folks! The edges are sharp enough to remove fingers. Razor-edged bacon is intended as a short-range throwing weapon. See how it slices into the simulated flesh of our target? It will work as well or better on real, live intruders.

Safe to eat? Of course it's safe to eat! Well, yes, we did have a few minor issues in testing... nicks and cuts, mostly... and that one fellow whose jaw fell off... but if you sign up for our Mad Science Self-Defense Breakfast Program any time this week, we'll throw in a complete alimentary system upgrade free of charge! Not only will you never have another cavity - you'll even be able to swallow broken glass or razor blades with no ill effects!

So, moving on, let's consider the eggs. Warm and delicious if eaten with your fork... but if you touch them with catalyst point on the other end, they dissolve into a cloud of sleeping gas. It works on contact with the skin, rendering everyone within eight feet or so unconsci... yes, just like that, Mrs. Hatchness. Very good. Would someone please wake up Mrs. Hatchness and her companions? Thank you.

As I was about to say, the most efficient way to render yourself immune to the effect is to make our Instant-Out Eggs a regular part of your diet. Once your body has had a chance to metabolize them, you'll find that their gaseous form does nothing more than leave you with a brief bout of euphoria, followed by a mild headache.

Now let's examine your cantaloupe. Each slice is juicy, delicious, and filling... and with a touch of the handle of your spoon, it hardens instantly for use as a close-quarters weapon. This, of course, is a back-up strategy, in case you have failed to explode, immolate, or immobilize your attackers already.

Should you become injured in the course of defending yourself at breakfast, never fear: our potent restorative orange juice is packed with a nanite mixture designed heal most external injuries. Just pour it over the wound, and it immediately forms a synthetic skin while it sets about repairing the tissues underneath. Consumed, it scours your system clean. Our nanomachines can identify and destroy forty-seven different diseases, including the entire currently-known catalog of sexually transmitted infections. They will unclog your arteries, disassemble kidney stones, and extend your lifespan by up to twenty years. All things in moderation, however; increasing consumption beyond a single cup per day will not extend your lifespan further, and may result in cases of spontaneous human combustion.

So there you are, ladies and gentlemen: the Mad Science Self-Defense Breakfast. Join our program today, and you can once again feel safe at your own breakfast table.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Music: Dr Teeth and the Electric Mayhem

...Because I've got this stuck in my head, and now you can too!

Penultimate Schadenfreude!

So, one of my co-workers was looking at this:
I honestly thought it was a poster for upcoming concerts. It's not; it turns out he was looking for fonts. That's kind of a pity, because I would totally go see a band called Penultimate Schadenfreude. Just on the strength of the name alone.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Legends of Gai

In keeping with something that has become sort of a yearly tradition, I've been coming up with story ideas. It's a bad tradition, because it takes place right now, at the busiest time of my year, when there's absolutely no way I could find time to write any of these - even if I did have the energy. So, instead, I write down little scenes or snippets in the hope that at some later point, when I'm rested, I can come back to them and remember what I was feeling inspired by.

This set actually has the makings of a short story collection. They're myths and legends, or in some cases possibly history, from the world of Gai - the setting that serves as home for The Great Unpublished Pulp Fantasy Novel. These are stories that most people would recognize, in one form or another. (If you're confused by the terminology - and who wouldn't be, really? - there's a guide here. The definitions are towards the bottom.)
In the House of the Wolf
Early one autumn morning, a child appeared at the gates of the forest-keep of House Darmot. He said his uncle had brought him there, but could not say where he had come from or who his uncle was. This was early in reign of High Lord Somerlat, when such fosterings were common; unwanted children could be brought to the Verath, and a suitable family would be found for them. This child, however, was beastkin - a libboeth with the ability to take on the nature of a beast. Ordinarily, this would have made it almost impossible to find a home for him; but the Verath of House Darmot counted the wolves as their kin, and this child (who gave his name a Yarril) had a wolf for his other self.

So Yarril was accepted into the service of House Darmot. He underwent many trials and distinguished himself in service and in battle. Though he was not naissen and so could never join the ranks of the Verath, he served in the Outrunners and eventually became Captain of the Wolflord's Guard. By the end of his life, he was considered a cousin of the House and was said to be the father of many of its noble children.

The Libboeth Lady
Not all Verath are born into noble houses or recruited during their childhood. Many are accepted later in life, in honor of achievements or service, or simply because the local nobility only discovered their talent later in life. Among the most famous of these cases is that of Lady Abrigela of House Lonildes, whose very existence briefly challenged the entire definition of Verath. Lady Abrigela was brought in to the House after a local lord saw her save a child who had fallen out of a window.

Lady Abrigela was a strange one, even by the standards of Verath. She seemed puzzled by her new-found status, and more at home conversing with spirits than with people. Indeed, where most Verath relied on one or two familiar spirits, Lady Abrigela surrounded herself with a virtual cloud of them. Her status as Verath became controversial when it was revealed that she was not naissen at all. She was libboeth, and the only power she possessed in herself was the gift of speaking to spirits. All the arts she had done - lifting herself into the air, slowing the child's fall, healing and firestarting and everything else - had been done by her tribe of spirits, acting on her behalf.

Lady Abrigela was called to judgement by her House, in what became the most famous trial of its century. Despite compelling arguments to the contrary, and a great deal of public outcry, she was stripped of her rank and expelled from House Lonildes. Justice Trimil dismissed any notion of further punishment, however, noting that the former lady had demonstrated all the capabilities of a Verath and that she may not herself have realized that she wasn't naissen. Abrigela appears to have taken all this with a sort of bemused equanimity; she retired to a small farm near the northern border of the Lonildes lands. (The farm, interestingly, was provided to her by the same Verath who first inducted her into the house.) She lived out her days there, serving as a chosu to the nearby village of Kuleth and the surrounding area.

The Judgement of Fire
Late in the reign of High Lord Varliel, a hundred years before the trial of Lady Abrigela, there was a rebellion in the lands of House Furimis. House Furimis claimed that these uprisings were caused by outside agitators, but most historians agree that this was a popular rebellion sparked by high taxes, neglect of noble duties, and a house of Verath who disdained to follow their own laws. House Furimis responded harshly, meeting any and all dissent with violence, executing rebel leaders, and burning down farms and sometimes whole villages which were suspected of hiding or supporting rebels.

So it was that Speaker Kelil returned to the temple of Sar Halic, which he kept, with the ashes of his village in his hair and the corpses of his family in his eyes. He ascended to Sanctum of Fire, and found Sar Halic there; but what he spoke, what bargain or plea he made, no one knows. It's said that when he emerged from the temple, his eyes were red as coals and his hair had become fire; he went forth as a wildfire that consumed House Furimis, from the lowly soldiers who had destroyed his village to the towers of the Verath themselves. In most versions of the story, Kelil accepted the power of Sar Halic knowing that it would eventually consume him, though in some tellings the Protector intervened to spare his life, that he might rise up against the Verath again should the need arise. What is a matter of historical fact is that the few survivors of House Furimis sought shelter from the High Lord, who considered them "judged by the gods" and condemned them join the ranks of the Forsaken.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Real Work Conversations: What Day Is This?

Me: {puzzled} "I thought you were going directly to [one of our other facilities] today."

Boss: "That's on Wednesday."

Me: "This is Tuesday?"

Boss: "This is Tuesday."

Me: "Right. Don't mind me; I think I'm losing my mind. Only, if I start to mistake my wife for a hat, we might want to get some neurologists involved. I mention this now because if I hit the point where I mistake my wife for a hat, I probably won't be able to suggest getting the neurologists involved."

Note: Yes, it is possible to mistake your wife for a hat.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Hunter Prince: A Gathering of Almost Ghosts

Janiva stepped quietly around the corner and into the larger room beyond.

It had once been a hall of some sort, she decided. The floor was smooth and level, and the ceiling, though natural stone, was supported with columns and butresses. There were carvings everywhere, but she didn't stop to look at them. Her attention was drawn by the sound of voice, louder now, from the far end of the hall.

She released her spell and let the light over her head fade away. There was light at the far end of the hall, and she didn't want to call attention to herself. Here in the darkness under the ground, even the softest light became bright and glaring. At least the floor was bare; there wouldn't be anything to trip on.

Janiva started across the hall, circling towards the light. She kept her steps as soft as she could, and tried to use the pillars for cover. They were solid stone, and wide enough for two people to hide behind; but there was also a lot of open space between them. So she walked slowly and carefully, and all the while the voices grew louder.

They were definitely voices, though she didn't understand what they were saying.

She was halfway across when he heard a soft gasp, and turned to see a white, glowing face regarding her with wide, dark eyes. Janiva flinched back, and in that moment the face vanished around a pillar. It had been a child's face, she thought. At least, it was low to the floor, and had the soft roundness that would define an Imperial child's face.

Ste stepped forward, and saw a glowing shape retreating back through the pillars. It was running, but the movement was completely silent. A ghost? ...No. Despite the way it looked, it couldn't be a ghost. She would have felt it as it approached: the growing fear, the sense of profound cold, of life and magic draining away. However strange it might look, this was a living being...

...And it was running back to its friends. Janiva could see them, now; she'd come forward far enough. They were all of a kind: white skin, glowing from the inside; wide, dark eyes; soft hair of white, or pale gold, or the lightest gray. They were built along the same lines as Imperial men and women - or shimmers, or the beast-men of the great forest, for that matter: two arms, two legs, a single head with eyes and mouth and nose where she expected to find them. They were different sizes; Janiva suspected she'd found a group of children of various ages, though it might have been some sort of family group, with the largest two being the parents. She couldn't be sure.

They'd been gathered around some sort of square on the ground. They sprang up as she approached, still jabbering in their unfamiliar tongue, and three of them darted away through a nearby doorway. Their movements, like the little one's, were completely silent.

Before she could even lift a hand in greeting, the largest one scooped up the little girl and the remaining four retreated as well.

Janiva swore softly (using a word that wasn't at all fit for the lady she might become, but found a very great deal of use among the guards and soldiers with whom she'd been training), and turned back to find Cyjar and Morius.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Weird Dreams, Highland Myst edition

So last night's dream was basically a Jon Keeyes film, which if it was an actual film would have been called Tropical Vacation Island of the Inbred Voodoo Cannibals... Yeah, I think that hits all the high points. There was the cheerful arrival of the vacationers, the lovely tropical island, the little wooden huts with their thatched roofs, and of course the little shrine hidden somewhere off the path, with its creepy little statues and ominous sigils. (How do I know it was a Jon Keeyes film, in particular? He was one of the vacationers.)

The huts were more a series of platforms of varying heights, connected by wooden stairs and walkways; the outer walls were only waist-high, making the whole thing very open and breezy, but the angled roofs offered a nice amount of shade. The arrangement provided a pleasant atmosphere and the illusion of privacy, but no real shelter. I'm pretty sure that's why we all headed into the woods when we figured out that something was wrong: we had to find a place where we could hide and defend ourselves, before the inbred voodoo cannibals started searching for us.

What we found was an old, derelict building which had probably been some sort of factory back in the day. In the back was an altar room, where three big blocks (old bits of machinery? I think so) had been converted to altars. The first two altars were tall and prominent (like, taller than my head), and of course they were covered with offerings and fetishes and candles and darkly smoking braziers and like that. The third one, though, was set further back and lower than the other two, so it was kind of hidden behind them. We wound up taking shelter on it, or possibly behind it. (My waking mind says that if I were making this slightly more believable, I'd have us find a secret passage back there.)

As usual, I got woken up before the really interesting bits - in this case, before the inbred voodoo cannibals could do more than start looking around to see where we went - so I can only imagine the increasing tension of the hunt, the occasional flash of terrifying violence, and our eventual dramatic escape (probably by boat). It's too bad, really. It was a fun dream, and it would have been even more fun to follow it through.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Wrong Button

My job would be a lot easier if the little button on my phone was for "massages" instead of "messages".

That is all.

Ghosts of Detroit

The band is called fancy Werewolves, and I really don't know anything about them; but this caught my attention, and I thought some of you might enjoy it, too.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

But Daddy, why not?

We have two noisy cats. Because of that, we have two cages.

The two cages came from my mother-in-law (who is awesome). Because of that, the cages are large enough for mid-sized dogs.

The boys can easily squeeze inside of them. Because of that, Secondborn wants to sleep in one of the cages.

...And yet, no matter how often he asks, or how compellingly he begs, I can't shake the image of me, in handcuffs, trying to explain to CPS that he was only in the cage because he asked for it - not "asked for it", actually, um, y'know, asked for it. This isn't going to end well, is it?

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Monday, May 5, 2014

Shining Walls

Busy busy busy this week, but I managed to pull a bit together over at The Shining Walls. This is something like Version 4, but apparently that's what my writing process looks like anymore: a lot of false starts and odd sidetracks. I doubt that's going to change any time soon.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Weird dreams, part Loki

So, last night I was trying to corner Loki in some sort of summer camp/getaway spot. He kept turning invisible, and being mortal I couldn't see him at all when he did. I did make him trip, though, once, by sticking my foot out just in front of a doorway a moment after he turned invisible. (Thor was not amused.) Also, at one point, the staff hooked up the entire building (which was big enough to have at least two floors, several bedrooms, a kitchen, and a dining hall) to a truck, and drove it to the spot where the rest of the vacation was supposed to take place. Every once in a while it would slow down or stop because of traffic, and people would fall over. Even Loki, once. And there was a crystal sword that I went somewhere to get - I *think* it was supposed to help me see him, but I still couldn't, and I think there was something I was supposed to do to get it working but then the boys woke me up.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Some Thoughts On Being A Parent

Parenting is a rich and varied experience. It has its moments of joy, its occasions of sadness, and its occasional thunderclaps of pure terror. There's the joy of watching your children grow into marvelous little people; the frustration of watching them destroy every object you value; the pride in their accomplishments; and the ever-present awareness of how easily they can hurt themselves doing things that seem perfectly sensible to them.

There is also that one particular, transcendent part of parenthood. It starts with your child's first breath. It surrounds you all through their childhood. It never goes away.

When you distill the experience of being a parent down to its purest, most refined form, you begin to see what it's all really about: the poop. Wiping off the poop. Picking up the poop. If you're lucky, flushing the poop. But no matter what else your children may do, your job as a parent will always come back to the poop.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

No Sacrifice

Another random bit of music; this time the band is Uh Huh Her.