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Staff of Shigmar, Chapter 11, Part 1

Posted by gwermon on March 2, 2015 at 11:35 AM Comments comments (0)

2 March 2015

 

Good day to all! We start a new week, a new month, with a new chapter from the second book in our epic tale, Staff of Shigmar, returning to Delgart and Marilee, on their way north from Holvar to attack the army surrounding Shigmar; the battle, however, begins long before they reach Shigmar. . . .

 

Chapter 11, Part 1

 

The best way to defeat an aperu is to avoid it, although this tactic is not always possible. . . . Never attack an aperu with less than an entire company, deployed to surround the beast and attack from all sides at once, with maghem and kailum ready to protect against its breath; even with this approach, casualties will be high. Pray to the One that one of its fellows does not come to its rescue, for if one does, the aperum will triumph. . . .

 

from the seklesi Manual of Enemies, origin unknown

 

The army of seklesem jogged through the night, stopping at sunrise to rest for a few hours before climbing into the Mountains of the Fallen Star on its way to rescue Shigmar. At sunrise, it crossed the Krystal River at the ford of Reema, making a temporary camp in the narrow valley between the river and the mountains. A scouting party left as soon as the army stopped, going north to check the narrow pass that would lead them to the besieged city of the kailum. Marilee, once she had established a camp for her squad, led Delgart back to the ford.

“Why is it called the Crossing of Reema?” Delgart asked as they walked among the camps toward the ford.

“I keep forgetting that you spent the last ten years a slave to pirates,” Marilee noted before answering his question. “There is much we need to teach you, so that your knowledge of the land is as great as your skill with the sword.”

“I am amazed that you learned so much, as a slave,” Grelsor put in. Grelsor was the son of Ghelvon, who was the Master of Fighting Arts on the council of Shigmar; he was almost an exact duplicate of his father, bulky and strong, short black hair sticking like wire out of his round head with cherub-like face. He was a kailu attached to Marilee’s squad. “How did you learn to wield a sword while a slave?”

“I was first a galley slave,” Delgart replied to Grelsor, “and the pirate cook was lazy, and he would beat his slaves if they failed to prepare meals that pleased the captain and crew. I saw at once that something needed to be done, so I organized the galley slaves, in order to avoid punishment. The cook saw immediately my value and put me in charge of his slaves; he had to do little work and got all the credit from the captain. After a year, he bragged to the captain about how good I was; the captain was suspicious of the cook, so he came and observed our preparations, watching me, I later learned. He was so impressed by the way I directed the galley slaves that he took me from the cook for his own. The captain trained me in all operations of the ship, then placed me in charge of all the slaves, used me to create duty schedules and manage most of the ship’s operations. He was not a cruel man, but a rigorous and demanding master, so I learned much from him, including weapons and fighting. For many years I was in this position, but there were members of the crew who were not happy with his choices, and who grumbled that a slave was telling them what to do. I warned him several times of this, but he felt secure in his position and did not heed my warnings.” Delgart paused, his face becoming bleak.

“What happened?” Marilee asked.

“They killed him,” Grelsor put in, “didn’t they?”

Delgart nodded. “They put me in the hold, manning the oars, and in the bilges, manning the pumps, on short rations. I nearly died, but in my moment of extremity, I thought I saw my father. He came to me in this vision, told me I had to hold on a little longer, and that I would rise to a level of greatness beyond my wildest dreams. I protested that I could not, would not, survive. He replied that, although a slave, I was in control of my destiny. I was so angered by his words that my anger forced me to go on, enabling me to survive. His words often came back to me, but several months passed before I finally understood what he meant: I could not choose how I was treated, but I could choose my response to it, my attitude, and in my misery, I smiled. My captors sensed this change in me, and, fearing that I might incite a rebellion, took me off the benches and locked me in the bilges, manning the pumps to isolate me from the other slaves; they only brought me out one time, during the storm that wrecked the ship, and put me back on the benches. I was the only one who survived the wreck–I survived in spite of all they did.” He stopped speaking and shook his head. “You still haven’t answered my question.”

They were standing next to the ford. Marilee looked horrified by his story, but recovered quickly.

“Your tale put your question out of my mind,” Marilee said, apologetically.

“That is my fault,” Grelsor noted. “I am still amazed at how well you wield weapons, and that you would be sent into the field immediately following testing. There is normally a time of training with the uwonti before seklesem are sent into the field.”

Delgart exchanged a quick look with Marilee before Marilee replied. “I was told that his age and his abilities made the decision to send him into the field, rather than keep him in Holvar for training,” Marilee replied, only glancing at Grelsor once as she spoke.

Delgart raised an eyebrow, but did not mention his own suspicions, thinking that their superiors had good reasons for withholding the whole story. Both kept their faces covered, hiding their disfiguring scars. Taking a cue from her, he did not mention what had happened to them both.

“I’m sure there were other reasons,” Marilee went on, “but they did not share any of them with me.”

Grelsor nodded. He pointed across the ford to the other side. “That mound is the burial site for those who died in the battle here, two-and-a-half millennia in the past. And on this side,” he pointed to a spot to the north of the ford, “is the place where the purem and ghelem who died here were burned.”

Marilee nodded and took up the story. “The ford was named after the merchant who discovered it, in the fourth century of the first millennium, atno 456, Reema. She wanted to trade with the kailum of Shigmar, so she came north from Rykelle and discovered the ford and a narrow mountain pass that led into the valley surrounding Shigmar. In the beginning of the second millennium, atno 1007 as I recall, the path, only wide enough for a single rider or pack animal, was widened to a wagon road, making it easier to trade with the kailum and the others living in their valley. In atno 1013, after the road was completed, several legions of Gar’s forces floated down river from the Iorn Gate, on their way to attack the city now named Holvar, taking the city by surprise and forcing the seklesem to flee north toward Shigmar. At Reema, the kailum army arrived just in time to stop the purem and ghelem’s northward march. The battle raged at Reema for many days until Sheldu, Headmaster of Shigmar, challenged the ponkolu leader of Gar’s forces, Ragi, to a duel. They stood on the waters of the ford, wielding teka forces that shook the ground, until Sheldu’s staff was broken, killing him. While Ragi was momentarily stunned by the forces released from the breaking of Sheldu’s staff, an awemi, hiding in the rocks at the edge of the ford, darted forward and leapt upon Ragi’s back, slitting the ponkolu’s throat. Ragi’s blood covered the awemi, incinerating both. The fall of their leader in their moment of victory disheartened Gar’s hoards, and they were driven back and slaughtered; only a few escaped to bring tidings to Gar. The Krystal River ran black for months, because of the blood spilled during the battle.” Marilee sighed and looked into the distance.

“The ford was renamed,” Grelsor went on, “to honor the many who had fallen in battle. But that is not the whole story: a group of purem and ghelem left the main group before the attack on Holvar and took the city of Komfleu, northwest in the Medyoake River valley. In the midst of raising the cairn over those who had fallen here, a messenger, who had been sent to Komfleu, returned to report. The people of Komfleu would not believe that the purem and ghelem were attacking, so refused to send any aid to the Fereghen. The messenger was driven from Komfleu, and had to travel far to the north to avoid Gar’s forces sent against Komfleu. He knew that the city had fallen, being unprepared for the attack. The survivors held a council, and many argued that the people of Komfleu should be left to their fate for refusing to send aid. Wulfrik, the Fereghen, although wounded, rose from his bed; all in the tent fell silent. He gave an immortal speech of liberty, asserting that as Komfleu was part of his realm, he would free them from the oppression of Gar, in spite of their refusal to send aid. All assembled in the tent were moved by the simple eloquence of Wulfrik’s speech, and they agreed to gather what forces remained and were healthy to go to the aid of Komfleu. The city was easily retaken, and the leaders were tried for willful rebellion against the Fereghen. New leaders were appointed by the people, and all in the city reaffirmed their loyalty to the Fereghen. However, as soon as the liberating forces were out of sight, the people and their leaders returned to their previous attitude, which still holds sway down to this day.”

“How do you know?” Delgart asked.

“Because my family was driven from Komfleu,” Grelsor replied, smiling wryly, “when I was very young.”

Marilee nodded. “My family also lived in Komfleu, for a time,” she added, “but my father moved us when he could see that the people were content with what they had and were: average non-achievers.”

“We get the word, ‘mediocre,’ from there,” Grelsor said, “from the name of the river, ‘Medyoake,’ which means ‘in the middle of the oaks,’ a description of the valley where the two rivers meet at Komfleu, which is ‘confluence,’ and the people are content to be ‘lost in the middle of the oaks.’”

Delgart shook his head slowly. “It is very sad,” he noted, “that people could be so blinded . . . ,” but what he thought was lost in an alarm bell that suddenly rang out. All their heads turned north in the direction of the bell, and the moment of silence immediately following the bell was rent by a roaring sound, coming from the same direction. . . .

 

Come back next week to learn what the alarm bell, and the roaring sound, mean for our army of seklesem! If you wish to continue the story right away, purchase an ebook copy from Amazon, Smashwords, and other retailers; if you prefer print, order your copy from CreateSpace. Good reading!

Friday Poet's Corner

Posted by gwermon on February 28, 2015 at 12:50 AM Comments comments (0)

27 February 2015

Poet’s Corner

 

Happy Friday to all! We return to Coleridge’s strange, unfinished poem, “Christabel,” in which the narrator begins to describe the lady’s (Christabel’s) chamber; we remind all that last week we saw the two ladies ‘sneaking’ through the castle, so as not to wake her father, concluding with the strange description of ‘walking’ as ‘pressing down upon the floor.’ Now we see the moon shining into the room, revealing the fanciful carvings upon the wall:

 

The moon shines dim in the open air,

And not a moonbeam enters here.

But they without its light can see

The chamber carved so curiously,

Carved with figures strange and sweet,

All made out of the carver's brain,

For a lady's chamber meet:

The lamp with twofold silver chain

Is fastened to an angel's feet.

 

The silver lamp burns dead and dim;

But Christabel the lamp will trim.

She trimmed the lamp, and made it bright,

And left it swinging to and fro,

While Geraldine, in wretched plight,

Sank down upon the floor below.

 

O weary lady, Geraldine,

I pray you, drink this cordial wine!

It is a wine of virtuous powers;

My mother made it of wild flowers.

 

First, we see that the figures carved on the wall all emanate from the ‘carver’s brain,’ which tells us that they are fanciful & fantastic, but appropriate for a lady’s chamber: unicorns and dancing sprites come immediately to mind! Further, there is a lamp with a double-chain, hung from the feet of an angel–likely another of the fanciful carvings adorning the walls (which must be made of wood). Christabel lights the lamp, and we see the weary and wretched Geraldine sinking onto the floor. Our heroine, as a good hostess should, offers refreshment–a cordial wine, made by her mother from wild flowers. This figure is curious, for it hints that Christabel’s mother was something more than wife, mother, and woman, that she somehow had the power to imbue this wine in such a way that it will restore Geraldine’s health. Hm, strange, but we will have to wait until next week to find out more! Good reading!

Staff of Shigmar, Chapter 10, Part 3

Posted by gwermon on February 23, 2015 at 11:45 AM Comments comments (0)

23 February 2015

 

Welcome to all! We return to the serialization of the second book of our epic, Staff of Shigmar, and leave Klaybear and company to return to Kalbant, where Klare watches over her mother and sister, the only survivors of the village’s destruction, and Rokwolf watches over Klare. . . .

 

Chapter 10, Part 3

Rokwolf was uneasy; it was too quiet. Although he had watched over Klare through the night, making frequent sweeps around the area to be sure no one was nearby, he still felt a threat approaching, but he could not decide what it might be, or where it was coming from. He looked down at Klare, whose eyes were red and face streaked with dried tears. Her sister and mother lay beside her, unmoving for most of the night, but there were moments when her sister stirred in her sleep, as if she were struggling against something; her mouth worked, but she spoke no words, as if something prevented her from speaking. Rokwolf wanted to move from here, but Klare’s mother had not stabilized, Klare had told him, enough to be moved. Rokwolf ground his teeth and occupied the time between sweeps dragging the bodies to one of the buildings that had fallen, where they could all be burned together.

“Any change?” Rokwolf asked Klare, kneeling beside her.

Klare looked up, but did not answer right away. “No, no change,” she said after a few moments. “She is still . . . ,” Klare faltered, unable to continue.

Rokwolf put one hand gently on her shoulder. “Klaybear told me that you were the best young healer at the school,” he spoke in a gentle voice, “and I can see that you have done all that could be done: it is in the hands of the One.”

Klare looked up at her brother-in-law and smiled weakly. “Thanks,” she said, “it’s just that . . . ,” she started to say, but bowed her head and sobbed, “I never had the chance to tell her that she’s going to be a grandmother,” she finished, burying her face in her hands, her body wracked with sobs she could not control.

Rokwolf wrapped his arms around her and held her until her sobs subsided.

Klare sniffed and wiped her eyes. “Sorry,” she noted. “Anything?” she asked.

Rokwolf shook his head. “No,” he said, eyes scanning the area around them, “but there is something, some threat approaching. We cannot remain here much longer.”

Klare nodded. “I know,” she agreed, “but we should wait a little longer before we try to move mother,” she added, looking down. “I wonder how long Klaybear will be gone,” she finished, turning to look to the north. “I was a little worried when that big wave crashed into the shore and the ground shook, but now I feel he is fine.”

Rokwolf followed her gaze, also looking north. “I’m glad you think so,” he said. “I am concerned about them; they are not experienced, and that worries me. I shared my concerns with your Headmaster, suggested that I should go with them, but he told me that if I did, they would fail.”

Klare touched his arm lightly, bringing his eyes back to look at her. “I’m sure he had very good reasons. I think he was the wisest person living, except for my master,” she said, and her face became bleak, eyes filling with tears. “Oh, Avril! I’d forgotten!” she sobbed, bowing her head again.

“What did you forget?” Rokwolf asked.

“My master,” Klare replied, “he died yesterday, but it seems like long ago, or that he’s not dead.” She sniffed and shook her head. “No! I must not, mother needs me,” she went on, looking down at her charges. “I have no time for grief,” she finished, dashing the tears from her eyes.

Both looked up and to the east.

“What . . . ?” Klare started to say, but Rokwolf silenced her.

He scanned the east, trying to find the source of the sound they both had heard. He stood silently and unslung his bow, nocking an arrow. Klare reached with her right hand and grabbed her staff, which had been lying beside her on the ground; as silently and smoothly as Rokwolf, she stood and faced the east, holding her staff ready. Seeing her standing ready, Rokwolf nodded to the east, indicating he was going to investigate, then he moved swiftly and silently, eyes taking in everything. He disappeared around the corner of a fallen building, making a sweep of the area but finding nothing; he returned shaking his head but did not speak until close to Klare.

“There was something,” Rokwolf whispered, “I am sure, but I cannot find who or what it was, or any traces.” He nodded to Klare’s mother and sister. “Is there any way we can move her?” he asked. “We are too exposed here,” he added, “we have to find some cover, before whatever is out there discovers us.”

Klare looked at her mother, then looked around. “Maybe if you found something flat,” she noted, “like a wide plank; we could slide her onto it and move her, but we dare not go very far.”

Rokwolf looked around. “I’ll find something,” he noted. “There is space in the cellar, if we could get them in there, you could stay there with them, out of sight, and I could draw whatever is out there away from you, erasing all traces of your presence.” He stood and slung his bow over his shoulder, sliding the arrow back into his quiver. He circled the rubble, then remembered the door he and Klaybear pulled off of the cellar entrance; it was bulky, but he was sure he could drag it with Klare’s mother on it. He carried it back to where Klare waited, laying it next to Klare’s mother. He knelt beside Klare, across the cellar door from Klare’s mother.

“If we pull by the clothes she is lying on,” Klare said, “we should be able to slide her carefully onto the door.”

Rokwolf nodded, and they both took hold of her clothes. When Klare nodded, they slowly slid her mother onto the door, which caused her to wince in pain.

“Careful!” Klare said needlessly, and she moved to the end of the door, at her mother’s feet.

“What are you doing?” Rokwolf asked. “I think it is too heavy for you.”

“How do you plan on moving her?” Klare asked.

Rokwolf shrugged. “I’ll pick up one end and drag it around back.”

“You must not,” Klare replied, shaking her head. “Her condition is too fragile; one bump would kill her.”

“I don’t think you can lift it,” Rokwolf noted.

“I’ll have to try,” Klare said.

Rokwolf squatted to lift his end; Klare did the same, lifting when he nodded. He lifted his side easily, but he could tell that Klare was struggling with her side.

“Are you okay, Klare?” Rokwolf whispered.

Klare nodded. “I can’t go far,” she replied through clenched teeth.

Rokwolf started to back in the direction of the cellar, looking behind him and looking back at Klare. He could tell after a few steps that it was too much for Klare at this point: the strain of several hard days, losing her master, and now her father and brothers, and no sleep through the past night had all taken a toll on her. On a normal day, he knew that she would have no trouble, but this was not a normal day. A few more steps and he could see her fingers slipping.

“Set it down before you drop it,” Rokwolf said, stopping and squatting slowly.

Klare gasped as it touched the ground, wiping the sweat from her eyes.

Rokwolf looked at her and thought for a moment as she caught her breath. “I have an idea,” he said when her breathing slowed. “I think we should save your strength to help me get her down into the cellar. I can carry her by myself.”

“How?” she asked, skeptical.

“On my back,” he replied. “Your mother is not that heavy, so if you can help me get the door onto my back, and then you can steady it as I move her.”

Klare looked down at her mother lying on the door. “How can you get this onto your back? I cannot lift it there.”

Rokwolf shook his head, slipping bow and quiver off his shoulders and setting them on the ground. “No, but you can hold up one end, allowing me to get under it.”

Klare again looked skeptical, but did not speak.

Rokwolf lifted his end, holding it at waist height. “Come and hold it up,” he said, and she came to his end and took one corner. He slipped under it on his knees, putting his back against the door. “Let it down,” he said, putting his arms and hands over his shoulders and behind his head, gripping the edge of the door. “If you would lift and steady the other end, I will get to my feet and start to move.”

“Ready,” she said and lifted her end slowly, and Rokwolf got slowly to his feet. They started to move toward the cellar.

“Are you okay?” Klare asked softly.

“Fine,” Rokwolf replied. “It is easy, once it is on my back and I am on my feet.”

They moved around the house to the back, stopping when they came to the cellar entrance.

“We’ll set it down the same way,” Rokwolf said, “steady it while I kneel, then set your end on the ground, then come to my end and lift it off my back while I get out from under it.”

As Rokwolf started to kneel, they heard a muffled scream from the front of the house.

“Jally!” Klare exclaimed, turning to look and losing her grip on the door.

Rokwolf had made it to one knee, and the door tilted to that side, and Klare’s mother started to slide. The scream came again, louder and more frantic. Rokwolf could tell by the shifting of the weight that something was wrong, so he tried to compensate dropping the arm opposite the leg kneeling. His sudden movement stopped the body from falling off that side, but then it slid the other way, too quickly for him to compensate. He flattened himself to the ground, shortening the distance to the ground.

“Klare!” Rokwolf exclaimed, hoping that she would see and stop her mother from falling off, further injuring her.

“No!” Klare exclaimed, rolling her mother onto her side; her hands glowed green, as she passed them over her mother’s body.

“What was the scream?” Rokwolf asked, heaving the door aside.

“My sister’s run off,” Klare said, a note of panic in her voice, “go after her!”

Rokwolf jumped to his feet and ran off, pausing to pick up his quiver and bow, slinging the quiver over his shoulder then nocking an arrow. A quick glance over the ground told him what he needed to know: the direction she had gone, running toward the central square of the village. He darted between the wrecked buildings, following her tracks while at the same time looking for enemies; something had awakened and frightened her into running. As he came around the last building before the square, he caught a glimpse of something lying face down about ten yards from the buildings. In an instant, he dove to the left and rolled, hearing something hiss past through the place he had been a moment before. Flattening himself against the wall out of sight of the village square, he heard the missile strike something hard, turned toward the sound, and saw a crossbow bolt quivering in a beam that had fallen from the building next to him. He turned the other way, back to the square, and could see that Klare’s sister lay motionless on the ground, bloody, steel-tipped bolt sticking out of her back. From its position and angle, he knew there was no hope. He cursed under his breath: this was all Klare needed, another death of a family member, and from what he had seen before he left Klare, he suspected that her mother would not survive much longer. He looked back at the now still bolt, imagined where Klare’s sister must have been hit, then looked back along what must have been the trajectory of both bolts. On the opposite side of the square, there was a two story building, still standing, the two windows on the second floor were broken, but he could not see anything in the dim light just before dawn. He scanned the area around the building, and as his eyes searched, he heard voices, the sounds of scraping wood and tinkling masonry, of things being shifted in the rubble.

“Looters,” Rokwolf whispered to himself, and he hoped he was right, that it was not another army of ghelem and purem, looking for them. For a moment, he listened to the sounds; it could not be more of Gar’s servants sent to capture them. For one thing was certain, they would not make so much noise, especially if they knew there were enemies about. He could not move; the space between these two buildings was in clear view of the windows, and he did not know which one concealed the archer, maybe both. He looked at the building next to him; there was the wall across from him, partially standing. If there were something there he could disturb, he might be able to distract the invisible archer long enough that he could get back to Klare before others found her, since he knew there had to be others nearby. He could see nothing in the next building, but just beyond it, he saw a chunk of ceiling plaster, maybe two feet square, dangling from a beam. He slipped the arrow he had nocked back into the quiver, slung his bow over his shoulder, and grabbed a shard of pottery from the ground. He took careful aim, then lobbed the piece of a broken pot toward the dangling plaster. He watched the shard fly toward its target, ready to spring as soon as something happened. The shard hit the dangling plaster, knocking it free; it struck the ground with a resounding crash, and Rokwolf leapt out of the shadows, zig-zagging his way across the open area. He almost stopped when he heard more crashing behind him, as more of the building had fallen. He darted out of sight of the central square, running back to where Klare was. He arrived out of breath, and pulled up short when he saw Klare’s face turn toward him, eyes red, face streaked with tears, and he knew that her mother had died. He knelt beside her, laying one hand upon her shoulder.

“I’m so sorry,” Rokwolf croaked, then he went on before she could say or do anything. “There are looters in the village,” he said, “we have to take the horses and get out of here before they find us.”

“What about my sister?” Klare sobbed. “Where is she?”

“They killed her when she entered the square,” he replied, “and nearly killed me. We’ve got to go.”

“I can’t leave my mother here, unburied,” she sobbed, “unmourned.” Her face was hollow, filled with grief.

Rokwolf looked into her eyes, thinking hard. “We’ll put her body in the cellar, then set fire to the ruins, then no one can desecrate her body or your home.”

Klare’s eyes filled again with tears; she choked back her sobs, nodding.

Rokwolf gently lifted her mother’s lifeless body, descending the stairs into the cellar. Moments later, he emerged, carrying a golden chain and locket, and handing it to Klare. Klare took it, looked at it for a moment in her open hand, then her hand closed tightly over it. She looked around.

“I think I lost my staff,” she noted, her voice tight and unnatural.

Rokwolf jogged back to where Klare had spent the night, kneeling beside her mother, and returned holding her staff. She accepted it from him and turned to face the ruins of her home, holding up her staff.

“Stalna-kailigater,” she said in a firm voice, and pointed her staff at the ruins of her family home. From somewhere high overhead, a beam of green fire descended, striking the ruins, and setting all of the rubble on fire at once. Rokwolf covered his eyes until Klare released the orthek. She started to slump, but Rokwolf caught her in his arms, lifted her, and carried her toward the place where their horses were tethered, shedding tears of sympathy, knowing exactly how it felt to lose one’s parents.

 

Next week we will pick up the story with Delgart and Marilee, as the seklesi army heads north to meet the attack on Shigmar. Meanwhile, for those who wish to continue the tale, purchase your copy from Amazon, Smashwords, and other sellers of ebooks. If you prefer print, order your copy from CreateSpace. Good reading!

Friday Poet's Corner

Posted by gwermon on February 20, 2015 at 1:00 PM Comments comments (0)

20 February 2015

Poet’s Corner

 

Last week, we saw the weakness that filled Geraldine as she crossed the threshold into the castle, and we noted this weakness was a sign of evil, for evil creatures cannot enter hallowed spaces without someone on the inside. We also saw the family dog’s negative reaction–in her sleep–as Geraldine enters, and now we will see them as they pass through the hall, going to Christabel’s chamber:

 

They passed the hall, that echoes still,

Pass as lightly as you will!

The brands were flat, the brands were dying,

Amid their own white ashes lying;

But when the lady passed, there came

A tongue of light, a fit of flame;

And Christabel saw the lady's eye,

And nothing else saw she thereby,

Save the boss of the shield of Sir Leoline tall,

Which hung in a murky old niche in the wall.

O softly tread, said Christabel,

My father seldom sleepeth well.

 

Sweet Christabel her feet doth bare,

And jealous of the listening air

They steal their way from stair to stair,

Now in glimmer, and now in gloom,

And now they pass the Baron's room,

As still as death, with stifled breath!

And now have reached her chamber door;

And now doth Geraldine press down

The rushes of the chamber floor.

 

Here we see another sign that Geraldine is not what she appears to be: as the two women pass through the main hall, where the ‘brands’–wood burning in the fireplace–have all but fallen to ash, a single tongue of flame flares, as if in response to the presence of one who can master the elements. Christabel reminds us, and Geraldine, that her father sleeps poorly, so tread softly. We next see them passing through the castle, the moon illuminating them as they pass from window to window, and when they pass the baron’s room (Christabel’s father), the poet notes how they pass “as still as death, with stifled breath,” meaning that they held their breath as they passed so as not to disturb the sleeper. The poet concludes this stanza with an odd turn of phrase, not saying that she entered the room, but that her feet now “press down / The rushes of the chamber floor”–an odd way to describe it, while calling attention to the fact that the floor is covered with ‘rushes,’ which were aromatic branches cut to both insulate the floor and freshen the sometimes stale air within the chamber. Next week we will see how things proceed after the two women enter the chamber of Christabel! Good reading!

Staff of Shigmar, Chapter 10, Part 2

Posted by gwermon on February 17, 2015 at 12:20 AM Comments comments (0)

16 February 2015

 

Happy Presidents’ Day! May we not forget the sacrifices made by those who have led this country in the past. We return with the second part of the tenth chapter in the serialization of the second book of our epic, Staff of Shigmar, and follow our heroes as they try and survive the fire realm, where the environment assaults them, and all their efforts are focused on survival. . . .

 

Chapter 10, Part 2

They stood on a small, round, stone area, surrounded by what looked like a cross between liquid fire and molten rock, flames dancing across the surface. The heat haze made it difficult to see very far, but a raised stone pathway extended as far as they could see. Blakstar nodded toward the pathway, and Tevvy moved down it, scanning the stones in front of him before stepping forward. The others followed.

“Now I understand,” Klaybear said to Thal.

Thal gave him a questioning look, but refrained from speaking.

“What Rokwolf meant,” Klaybear replied, “when he described traveling through the Desert of Thruplar, beyond the Skergrut Escarpment, as trying to walk through water about to boil.”

Thal smiled and nodded.

They trudged forward in silence, each withdrawn into himself. After ten minutes, the water dried from their hoods, and Blakstar took one of the water bags he carried, pouring some over Tevvy’s hood, until the water dripped, splashing to the black stones, turning instantly to steam. He did the same for Klaybear, Thal, and then himself, which virtually emptied the water bag. He slung it over his shoulder, each drank from his personal waterskin, and they trudged forward again. Five minutes later, Klaybear’s orthek expired, so they stopped; he renewed the orthek, and each drank. The path never varied, never ended, moving inexorably forward through the heat and bubbling flames. Five minutes later, they stopped and Blakstar emptied the second water bag over their heads; ten minutes after that, their hoods dried again and the orthek expired. Klaybear handed the third water bag to Blakstar, who started pouring, while Klaybear renewed his orthek. They paused for a moment when these actions were done, so that Klaybear could refill the water bags and each person’s waterskin. These actions became a monotonous routine: empty a water bag, take a drink, renew the orthek, another drink, empty a second water bag, drink, orthek, third water bag, drink, refill, first bag, drink, orthek, drink, second, drink, third, orthek, drink, refill, the path never varied, going straight on, four times through this routine, the path went on, five times, stumbling forward, six times, Tevvy fell forward, burning his hands on the stones; Blakstar lifted him, helped him to drink; seven times, and Thal stumbled, helped up by Klaybear; Klaybear collapsed after refilling the bags; Blakstar and Thal helped him to his feet; Blakstar tripped, nearly stumbling off the path into the bubbling, liquid flame; eight times, and Klaybear could no longer produce water or renew the orthek.

“It’s time,” Thal croaked, “to use our first potion.”

The others nodded, and each took out one of the small bottles, which were still ice cold, and each drank eagerly. The temperature around them seemed to drop, and the environment became tolerable. Klaybear was then able to refill the water bags and skins. They moved forward again, strength renewed by the icy cold potion, the water soaking their hoods evaporated more slowly while the potion was effective, lengthening the time to fifteen minutes. After the third drenching of their hoods, and Klaybear refilling their bags and skins, the effects of the potion began to wear off, and they began again to stumble forward. They returned to their previous routine, first water bag, drink, renew orthek, drink, second water bag, drink, third, drink, orthek, refill, but this happened only twice before Klaybear was again unable to produce more water. The path continued forward, lost in the heat haze, with no end in sight. They drank their second potion, which carried them forward again for an hour before expiring, and when it did, Klaybear no longer had the energy to refill their bags. They staggered on, Tevvy soon falling down, unable to rise, even though the stone burned his hands and face. Blakstar wearily picked the fallen awemi up and slung him over his shoulders, staggering on; Thal stumbled, falling forward into Klaybear, who turned to lift him, pulled one arm over his shoulder, and staggered on; Tevvy, limp, Thal wheezing in Klaybear’s ear, the two stronger wethem staggering forward under the added burden, wringing drops out of empty waterskins, staggering, tripping, bumping into Blakstar, both falling to the stone.

The air felt suddenly cooler, although still oppressive; the stone under them did not burn. Klaybear pushed himself up and saw that they were on a large circle of stone, which explained why they felt cooler. He shook Thal, who managed to get to his hands and knees, and they both crawled forward to where Blakstar lay with Tevvy on his back, shaking him. They looked up, hearing a croaking sound.

“Water,” the voice croaked, “please, water.”

They saw what looked like a bundle of rags, a red-skinned arm reaching toward them. They crawled toward the fallen wethi, Tevvy slipping from Blakstar’s back as they reached the fallen person.

“Help me,” the voice croaked, and the face was red, barely recognizable as a man. “Water,” he croaked again.

They looked from the fallen man, to their fallen companion, who did not move, but appeared to be in a similar state.

“Please,” the voice from the fallen man croaked, “one last drink to ease my passing,” he implored.

They looked from one to another, and Blakstar reached for the only water left, the Waters of Life. “There is only one swallow left,” he said, taking the special skin from his belt.

“You should give that to Tevvy,” Thal whispered, barely able to speak.

Blakstar shook his head. “This man’s condition is worse,” he rasped, “his need greater.”

“But he’s about to die,” Thal protested.

“We are all about to die,” Blakstar countered sharply, “and the kortexi code is clear: I must help him, although it costs me my life,” he corrected himself, “costs all our lives.”

Klaybear nodded, constrained by his own code of conduct.

The kortexi pulled out the stopper and poured the last few drops of the Waters into the wethi’s open, parched mouth. For a moment, his skin color reverted to normal, his breathing eased, his eyes cleared, and he looked straight into Blakstar’s eyes. “Thank you, lord,” he whispered. “Your sacrifice will not go unrewarded.” With a sigh, the wethi went limp, his life spent.

Wordlessly, Blakstar struggled to stand and lift the lifeless, nameless wethi. The kortexi staggered toward the nearest edge of the stone circle, lifting the body over his head and hurling it into the bubbling, flaming liquid. They heard a slap as it hit the liquid flame, heard it hissing and sizzling as the flames consumed it. Blakstar watched for a moment, then turned to his companions where they lay at the center of the circle.

“Let the heat and flames that have taken his life, cleanse and purify his remains,” Blakstar whispered, staggering closer to where the others were, but he stumbled before he reached them, fell to his knees, stretched his hand toward them, and fell on his face.

Thal groaned and slumped next to Tevvy.

Klaybear turned his head, and he saw that all of his companions were still. He cradled his head on one of his arms. “Oh, Klare, I’m sorry,” he sighed.

 

Next week we return to Rokwolf and Klare as they tend and try to heal Klare’s mother and sister, the only survivors from Klare’s family, the only survivors of the destruction of Kalbant. In the meantime, get your ebook copy of this fantasy novel from Amazon, Smashwords, and other retailers. If you prefer print, order your copy from https://www.createspace.com/4523632" target="_blank">CreateSpace today! Good reading!

Friday Poet's Corner

Posted by gwermon on February 14, 2015 at 12:30 AM Comments comments (0)

13 February 2015

Poet’s Corner

 

We wish all good luck and a happy Valentine’s Day! We return with more of Coleridge’s strange, unfinished poem, “Christabel,” reminding our readers that last week Christabel responded to Geraldine’s plea for help as any good person would, offering her a place to stay, help to return home, and a chaste invitation to share her bed. This week, we see the two ladies returning to Christabel’s castle, but something strange happens as they enter and cross the threshold:

 

They crossed the moat, and Christabel

Took the key that fitted well;

A little door she opened straight,

All in the middle of the gate;

The gate that was ironed within and without,

Where an army in battle array had marched out.

The lady sank, belike through pain,

And Christabel with might and main

Lifted her up, a weary weight,

Over the threshold of the gate:

Then the lady rose again,

And moved, as she were not in pain.

 

So free from danger, free from fear,

They crossed the court: right glad they were.

And Christabel devoutly cried

To the lady by her side,

Praise we the Virgin all divine

Who hath rescued thee from thy distress!

Alas, alas! said Geraldine,

I cannot speak for weariness.

So free from danger, free from fear,

They crossed the court: right glad they were.

 

Geraldine nearly passes out over the threshold, which the narrator attributes to her pain; however, all in Coleridge’s day would have recognized the why this happened: supernatural creatures cannot pass through doors that have been blessed, not without the help of someone who can cross, in this case, Christabel. The original audience would have recognized this sign, knowing that something evil has been allowed to enter the castle. A further hint is found in the description of the door, bound within and without in iron, a metal particularly effective against supernatural, evil characters. The Romantics were very interested in what is called “liminal spaces,” like the door threshold, or sunrise and sunset, the border between night and day which is neither night nor day, but something in between. To further reinforce this notion, the next stanza tells us of the family dog, commented on in the beginning:

 

Outside her kennel, the mastiff old

Lay fast asleep, in moonshine cold.

The mastiff old did not awake,

Yet she an angry moan did make!

And what can ail the mastiff bitch?

Never till now she uttered yell

Beneath the eye of Christabel.

Perhaps it is the owlet's scritch:

For what can ail the mastiff bitch?

 

The dog, without waking (which is significant–it should wake and greet Christabel, so why doesn’t it?), lets out ‘an angry moan,’ an unusual occurrence that the poet tries to attribute to the ‘scritch’ [scratch] of the night owl. However, when added to the weakness of Geraldine crossing the threshold, we know something wicked has penetrated the castle defenses. Come back next week and we will see what happens as the two ladies pass through the castle and reach Christabel’s room! Good reading!

Staff of Shigmar, Chapter 10, Part 1

Posted by gwermon on February 9, 2015 at 11:50 AM Comments comments (0)

9 February 2015

 

In this week’s installment of the second book of our epic, Staff of Shigmar, our chosen heroes return to their starting point in Shigmar’s tomb, discovering that the inscription in the archway has changed. . . .

 

Chapter 10, Part 1

 

There are times healing when the kailu must admit defeat, must recognize that the patient’s life has run its course and the patient should be allowed to die; this decision–to stop healing–is probably the most difficult that we ever face. . . .

 

Tarlana, Headmistress of Shigmar, 167-194

 

“Is this the same room as before?” Klaybear asked, looking around.

“Look,” Tevvy said, pointing, “there is the sling bullet I threw into the room.”

Blakstar pointed to the wall. “And isn’t that the crate that contained your weapon and armor?”

“But the inscription is different,” Thal noted, pointing at the archway that had lead them to the earth realm, “so the inscription must change as we successfully pass through each of the five realms.”

“Why couldn’t we,” Tevvy began, “just skip the other realms, and go directly to Shigmar’s tomb. Wouldn’t that save time?” he finished, raising his hands.

“I don’t think we could,” Thal said, shaking his head. “The fact that the inscription has changed indicates that we must progress forward through each realm before we can enter the place where the staff lies. Remember that Shigmar told us that this was a test, mostly to prevent the staff from falling into any hands but ours.”

“Wouldn’t it have been simpler,” Tevvy said, “simply to prevent anyone but us from entering? Surely the fact that the founders knew us well enough to create these,” he pointed to his black leather bracers, “means they could have locked the staff away in a place that only we could enter.”

“They did,” Blakstar said impatiently, “this place.”

“I meant,” Tevvy said, throwing up his hands in exasperation, “some place that was easier for us to enter than this one is.”

“If they made it easy for us,” Blakstar growled, “it would be easy for anyone, and the staff would have been removed long before now.”

“Let’s examine the inscription,” Klaybear said, cutting off further argument.

 


 

Thal moved closer to the archway and ran his fingers over the new words. “Creatures made of heat alone,” he translated, then pointed to the first word of the second line. “I’m not sure about this one, it means, literally, those who make statues sacred,” he noted, and Klaybear interrupted him.

Idolaters,” Klaybear said, “people who worship idols, or statues.”

Thal nodded. “Your realm, more than mine, I think,” he said, then looked back at the inscription. “Then I should think the line reads, idolaters worship us, the right-wise. . . .”

Righteous,” Klaybear inserted.

The righteous,” Thal corrected himself, “hold us in high regard, always the source of heat,” he finished, thinking for a moment before speaking again. “Fire,” he said, “we must next pass through the realm of fire.”

Tevvy groaned. “So instead of constant earthquakes and grinding boulders, flame spouts and blistering heat? That’s just great!” he added sarcastically, throwing up his hands.

Thal nodded. “Since we have a better idea of what to expect, what can we do to prepare?”

“Can’t I just sit this one out?” Tevvy asked plaintively.

Klaybear shook his head. “I don’t think so,” he said, “since Shigmar told us that the four of us had to pass through the test.” He turned to Thal. “There is one orthek I can cast on us, an orthek that will help us better tolerate the heat, but it is not very powerful, because I’m not very powerful, and it requires a drop of argwiwo, a very expensive and rare item, of which I have very little: for the four of us, maybe two applications.”

“How long would that last?” Thal asked.

“Maybe fifteen minutes each,” Klaybear replied, “if the heat is not too intense.”

“I think we can count on the heat being ‘too intense,’” Tevvy noted wryly.

Thal nodded. “I suspect that you are right,” he said. “Thirty minutes, then, it took us several hours to get through the earth realm, it won’t be enough,” he finished softly, speaking to himself.

“I should add,” Blakstar said, “that part of my training included surviving extreme conditions, and with heat the advice was to keep a cool head.”

Tevvy snorted. “That is the problem!”

Thal frowned at Tevvy. “How did they tell you to do that?” he asked the kortexi.

“Cover your head, and neck, with a cloth,” Blakstar said, “and keep the cloth damp.”

“That sounds like an awful waste of water,” Tevvy said, “water that could be drunk, rather than dumped over one’s head to evaporate.”

“The evaporation,” Blakstar replied, “is what keeps you cool.”

“We will also need,” Thal went on, “some kind of shield, to protect us from flame spouts, if, as Tevvy believes, we are assaulted in that way. I can create a shield, but, like Klaybear, it will not be very powerful, or proof against all.”

“Do you think there might be something here that will help us?” Blakstar asked. “Extra filled waterskins would be helpful.”

“The extra containers would be enough,” Klaybear said. “We kailum work many of our ortheks using the element of water, so I can create as much as we need, at least until I run out of energy.”

Blakstar went and opened the crate next to the one that had Klaybear’s armor and weapon. The others followed. The kortexi lifted up several empty, canvas water bags and handed them to Klaybear.

Klaybear took them, one eyebrow rising. He examined them carefully, and was surprised to find that they looked newly made. “How is it possible,” he noted, holding up one of the bags, “that this could survive three and a half millennia and still look brand new?”

“Not only that,” Tevvy added, “how would any of this stuff still be here, if others have tried to enter the tomb? We saw the signs in the earth realm that someone had died there.”

Thal shrugged. “It is a one way trip,” he said, “the only way out, once you enter, is with the staff.”

Blakstar pulled a small crystal vial from the crate and held it up for the others to see. “What’s this?” he asked, looking closely at the vial, then handing it to the maghi.

Thal took it, then he smiled, handing it to Klaybear. “Will this help?” he asked.

Klaybear looked at the vial, then shook his head. “Do you have any idea how much this would cost? There’s more here than I have ever seen, and if we sold it, we could all live comfortably for the rest of our lives.” He slipped the vial into one of his pockets; Tevvy was eyeing him closely.

Blakstar was watching the awemi, watching Klaybear. “If it goes missing . . . ,” the kortexi said, glaring at Tevvy, but not finishing his thought.

Tevvy jerked his eyes away, looking at the kortexi. “I had no such thought,” he noted, looking away quickly.

“Well, that will enable me to cast the protection orthek,” Klaybear said, turning the subject back to what they were about to do, “until I run out of energy.”

“There are several small bottles in here,” Blakstar said, having turned from glaring at Tevvy back to the crate. He picked up one of the small bottles and passed it to Thal.

Thal took it, his breath hissing past his teeth as he touched it. He transferred it to his other hand, using his sleeve to hold it. “It is icy cold,” he noted, seeing the others looking at him. He held it up to look at the symbols on its label. He smiled widely as he read the symbols, “potopator ghwerpuri,” he said, “a potion of heat protection; there is only one white maghi who could create such a potion today.” He looked at Blakstar. “How many are there?”

“It looks like enough for two each,” Blakstar replied.

Thal shook his head. “Another fortune,” he noted, “if we sold them.” He slipped the small bottle into his belt pouch, along with the second Blakstar handed him. The others also took their portion of the small bottles.

“How long will these last?” Klaybear asked.

“Depends on how potent each one is,” Thal replied, “an hour, maybe longer.”

“Now we just need some cloth,” Blakstar said, reaching again into the crate. He shifted things around for a moment, then pulled out a bundle of thick, white cloth. “This is the kind of material used for towels,” he noted, “it should work quite well.” He passed the bundle to Klaybear, who found, when he opened the bundle, four hoods--one of them smaller--that they could throw over their heads, with bands sewn on the inside of the hoods at neck level to hold them in place. Klaybear handed the smaller one to Tevvy, one each to Blakstar and Thal, and threw the last one over his head, tying it in place.

“Hold up the water bags,” Klaybear said, taking his staff out. Blakstar held up two bags, and Klaybear touched each with his staff and said, “kreyakwa.” Each bag suddenly filled.

Blakstar slung the two bags crosswise over his shoulders, with each bag hanging under his arms at waist level. He then held out the remaining bag, which Klaybear filled, then slung over his shoulder. The kailu touched each hood, whispered the same word, and each hood was suddenly drenched in water. He nodded to Thal.

The white maghi turned to the arch and touched the fire symbol, with a glowing finger, bringing the archway to life for the second time.

Klaybear took the small bottle of argwiwo from his belt and handed it to Thal. “Open it and hold it up for me,” he said, and waited until Thal opened the bottle. He took the small dropper out, and put one drop on each person’s head, beneath the hood, including his own. He touched the spot of argwiwo on each head, and said, “nemfagelu.”

Tevvy shivered. “That’s cold!” he exclaimed.

“It won’t be as soon as we step through that archway,” Blakstar noted.

They stepped from cool darkness into a furnace, lit with red light, the air so thick with heat that breathing was painful, walking difficult. The water dripping from their hoods hissed and turned to steam as soon as it touched the blackened stones beneath their feet. Tevvy danced from one foot to another, digging frantically in his pack for a moment before removing a pair of thick leather-soled sandals. However, he could not stand on one foot long enough to get one sandal on the other foot. The kortexi, seeing Tevvy’s plight, lifted the awemi off of the ground and held him in the air until Tevvy managed to tie on his sandals. Blakstar set him back on his feet.

“Thanks,” Tevvy whispered, his voice echoing dully.

The kortexi nodded, but refrained from speaking. . . .

 

Next week come back for another installment of this tale, where we will see them enter this realm of elemental fire, where the test is much different from the one they have already faced and overcome! Meanwhile, purchase the full ebook copy from Amazon, Smashwords, and other retailers. If you prefer print, order your copy from CreateSpace today! Good reading.

Friday Poet's Corner

Posted by gwermon on February 6, 2015 at 1:00 PM Comments comments (0)

6 February 2015

Poet’s Corner

 

We’re back . . . with the latest edition of the Poet’s Corner. We recall that last week we heard the lady, named Geraldine, share her sad story, and we pointed out the fact that there were anomalies in her story that cast doubt, for us as readers, on the veracity of her tale. This week we will see Christabel’s response, and it is obvious that our heroine suspects nothing:

 

Then Christabel stretched forth her hand,

And comforted fair Geraldine:

O well, bright dame! may you command

The service of Sir Leoline;

And gladly our stout chivalry

Will he send forth and friends withal

To guide and guard you safe and free

Home to your noble father's hall.

 

She rose: and forth with steps they passed

That strove to be, and were not, fast.

Her gracious stars the lady blest,

And thus spake on sweet Christabel:

All our household are at rest,

The hall as silent as the cell;

Sir Leoline is weak in health,

And may not well awakened be,

But we will move as if in stealth,

And I beseech your courtesy,

This night, to share your couch with me.

 

Christabel responds as any good person would, finding someone in need: she offers her sanctuary, and conveyance home protected by her father. So the two begin the journey out of the forest and back to the castle. Christabel adds the caution that all are asleep (if so, why is she out alone at night?!?), and her father is in poor health, so must not be awakened–a simple plea for quiet as they enter the castle. She then adds, what seems to us ‘suspect’, an invitation to share the couch, or to sleep together. Now before anyone makes a wrong assumption, this kind of invitation was common among women of the time, and invitation to shared warmth: castles were cold and drafty, and the best way to stay warm at night was through sharing bodily warmth. Thus, her invitation is at this point innocent–a hostess offering to give warmth and comfort to her guest, nothing more. Come back next week to learn what happens as these two cross the threshold of the castle! Good reading.

Staff of Shigmar, Chapter 9, Part 3

Posted by gwermon on February 2, 2015 at 1:10 PM Comments comments (0)

2 February 2015

 

Welcome back for another installment from the second book of our epic, Staff of Shigmar! We return to our heroes, still moving through the elemental realm of earth, and learn who they think is trapped, about to be sacrificed by the strange creatures of this stranger place, and the argument over who each believes he sees. . . .

 

Chapter 9, Part 3

The others nodded, and all moved quickly onto the path. Almost as soon as they entered the left way, a clearing opened, different from the others: this one was a depression, like a shallow bowl, with rocks like standing stones around the rim providing cover, as if they were supposed to see into the bowl without being seen by any who might be below. They took cover behind the rocks, looking carefully down. They could hear clinking sounds, and a rhythmic grinding sound that they soon discovered was stony chanting. Below, they saw a flat area at the bottom of the depression, a stone pillar at its center, surrounded by a score of the stone creatures, who appeared to be dancing and chanting around the stone pillar. Next to the pillar stood another stone creature, waving a rod topped with some kind of feathers. The stone pillar was revolving slowly, at the same speed as the creatures who circled, but in the opposite direction, and sinking slowly into the sand. As it turned, they could see chains binding something to the pillar, then they saw what was clearly a female figure, which caused them all to watch the pillar more closely.

“It looks like . . . ,” Tevvy started to say, before the others, since his awemi eyes could see farther than the eyes of his companions, “but that can’t be true; she can’t be here,” he finished looking both concerned and puzzled.

“Who do you see?” Klaybear asked.

“An awema I know, named Elanor,” he whispered, “she graduated from my father’s school with me; we grew up together, I think our mothers . . . ,” he started to say, but was interrupted by the kortexi.

“The figure is too large to be an awema,” Blakstar objected, “she is a wetha; she looks like . . . ,” he trailed off, not completing his thought.

“Your eyes are wrong,” Thal said, “and I don’t know how you could know her, she is from the village near my master’s tower.”

Klaybear did not speak, more puzzled than before, as he thought he saw Klare chained to that revolving pillar, about to be sacrificed to some stone deity.

“You wethem are blind!” Tevvy exclaimed, “she’s shorter than me, so she cannot be who you think she is!”

As they argued, the stone pillar lurched and sank deeper into the sand; the figure chained to the pillar screamed. Blakstar growled and leapt to his feet, and, before the others could stop him, he was running down the hill, brandishing his golden, flaming sword. They were so stunned by his sudden action that no one spoke or moved until he reached the bottom of the depression and shouldered his way past the circling stone creatures. Klaybear, Tevvy, and Thal stood and followed him, but as they stepped out from behind their cover and started to run down the hill, the kortexi had swung his sword at the creature next to the pillar, cutting off one of its stony arms. Predictably, it fell down before Blakstar, prone upon the sand. They heard Blakstar’s command, echoing around the shallow bowl.

“Release her!” he shouted, “and send her back!”

The prone stone creature waved its remaining arm, and both pillar and victim vanished. Blakstar stabbed his sword into the single glowing eye of the prone creature, destroying it. The circling creatures stopped, apparently stunned into inaction by the sudden appearance of the glowing kortexi.

“Idiot!” Tevvy exclaimed, stopping. “What’s he going to do now, surrounded by twenty creatures who are not going to be happy that he interrupted their sacrifice? Run, you fool!” he shouted at Blakstar. “Before they close ranks!” Tevvy grabbed and stopped Klaybear and Thal, dragging them with him as he turned back up the hill.

Tevvy’s shout brought Blakstar back to himself, and he immediately ran toward the others, removing the heads from two of the stone creatures as he passed through their circle and started back up the hill. The other creatures turned and started after the fleeing kortexi and his companions. Tevvy and the others reached the top of the bowl and turned at the entrance to the path. What they saw stunned them: the stone creatures did not run after the kortexi, but their short legs had vanished, and they were rolling forward on the stone that formed their lower torso, quickly moving up the hill and nearly upon Blakstar.

“Can you slow them down?” Tevvy asked.

In reply, Klaybear whipped out his staff, pointed it at the stone creature closest to the kortexi, shooting a bolt of green fire, which struck the stone creature and blew it apart. Thal raised his rod and shouted, “Plotugel!” A stream of water issued from the tip of his rod, hitting the sand behind Blakstar and freezing into a sheet of ice about ten feet square. The stone creatures behind the kortexi lost traction, but only for a moment, until their bulk broke through the ice. However, that moment was enough, and Blakstar reached the place where the others waited. They backed into the path, Klaybear swapping his staff for his mace as Blakstar turned back to fight the stone creatures. Klaybear smashed the head of the first one to approach; Blakstar stabbed the eye of the second, and the stones that made up the two creatures fell apart, blocking the entrance to the path. They turned to follow Tevvy and Thal, who had already reached the fork.

“We should turn again at the fork in the path,” Blakstar said, looking over his shoulder, “to slow them down again.”

Klaybear looked back and saw that the remaining stone creatures were pushing past the stones of their fallen comrades. “Not for long,” he noted.

“It will be enough,” Blakstar added as they turned down the other path.

They again turned and waited only moments before dispatching two more creatures and blocking the path. Klaybear looked up and saw more of the stone creatures coming from the previous clearing toward them.

“There are more coming,” Klaybear said as they turned to flee again.

“I saw them,” Blakstar replied, looking over his shoulder periodically as they ran. “We will have to turn again, soon.”

Klaybear nodded, looking ahead. “It doesn’t look like we have far to go; the others appear to have entered another clearing.”

“And what will they find?” Blakstar asked. “More of these creatures, I suspect. They are nearly upon us,” he noted after glancing back again. “We need a good archer,” he mumbled.

Klaybear heard and smiled, getting ready to turn.

“Now!” Blakstar exclaimed, stopping suddenly and turning to stab his sword into the eye of the closest stone creature. It fell apart, causing the creature behind it to stumble. Klaybear brought his mace down hard, crushing the stone head of the second creature. The two creatures’ remains blocked the path and again, momentarily halted their pursuit. Blakstar and Klaybear turned and ran, hoping they could catch up to Thal and Tevvy before their pursuers could catch them again. They heard grinding stone behind them, and looking back, saw their pursuers pushing the stones blocking the path out of the way.

“They are getting better,” Klaybear quipped as they ran.

Blakstar shook his head. “How many more are following us?”

“It is hard to tell,” Klaybear replied, “since vision here is obscured by dust.”

“Too many for us to handle easily, I’d say,” Blakstar said.

“I fear you are right, which seems to contradict what we were told,” the kailu noted, “equal opposition.”

The kortexi looked back and saw the stone creatures were, again, gaining on them, and turned back to Klaybear. “We’ll have to stop them just before the next clearing opens, if we want to have any chance of surviving.”

“Let’s hope there are not more of them waiting for us,” Klaybear replied.

Blakstar nodded. “A little further, I think,” he noted, continuing to glance back periodically. They could see the opening twenty yards ahead of them, and they took four more strides and turned, ready to attack. When the first pair of stone creatures neared them, Blakstar lunged forward, stabbing out the eye and sidestepping as the pieces of the stone creature rolled past him. Klaybear swung overhand and sidestepped, bringing his mace down on the second stone creature’s head, crushing it. The pieces crashed into the remains of the first, blocking the path behind them. Before they could leap over the stones, the next pair of creatures were upon them, so they both repeated their previous actions, sending more stones to pile against the others blocking the path behind them.

“I think we made a mistake,” Klaybear said.

Blakstar nodded, lunging for his third stone creature, stabbing out the eye; Klaybear swung at his third, crushing another stone head. However, the pursuit had caught up to them, so the stone remains of these two did not roll as far as the others, which gave the kortexi an idea. “Go!” he shouted to Klaybear. “I’ll hold them here!” He turned to lunge toward his fourth stone creature, stabbing out its eye. He parried the swing of the next creature, but before he could stab out its eye, a bolt of green power passed over his right shoulder, then it struck the eye of the creature whose blow he had parried. The bolt flashed and sizzled for a moment, the creature shuddered and fell apart, the orange gem going suddenly dark and sliding from the eye socket.

“Now!” Klaybear shouted from behind, and Blakstar ducked and rolled beneath a second green bolt, coming to his feet again and leaping over the stone remains that had stopped just behind them; Klaybear stood grinning at him, pointing his staff toward their pursuers. The kailu opened his mouth to speak, but stopped suddenly, hearing Thal’s voice from behind them.

“Duck!” the white maghi shouted, pointing his rod in their direction. Both dropped immediately to the ground. “Strelo-sporna-okwum!” A bolt of yellow lightning leapt from the tip of Thal’s rod, touching the eyes of the next three stone creatures, who were trying to push the stony remains of their fallen comrades out of the way. All three stopped and started shaking, as smaller bolts of lightning forked from Thal’s main bolt, surrounding their bodies with crackling electricity.

On the ground, Klaybear heard and recognized Thal’s incantation. “Stay down!” he hissed to the kortexi. Both felt their hair standing up, hearing the bolt of lightning crackling overhead. As quickly as it had flashed to life, the bolt winked out, but the three closest creatures remained, for a few moments longer, encased in forking bolts of lightning, shuddering and grinding, until the lightning winked out, and the three creatures fell apart, the charred remains of their gemstone eyes falling to the ground.

“Quickly!” Thal exclaimed, “while we have time!”

Klaybear and Blakstar jumped to their feet, half leaping, half crawling over the stones blocking the pathway and entering the sandy clearing where Thal and Tevvy were waiting for them. This clearing was as small as the first one they had entered, what seemed to them days ago; there was no other pathway, except the one on which they had entered, and the boulders surrounding this small clearing leaned over the clearing, threatening to collapse and cover the sandy space.

“Over here,” Tevvy said, waving to them from the side farthest away from the path. “I think I found the way out.”

They could hear the grinding sounds of the stone creatures, pushing the remains of their fallen comrades out of the way. They rushed over to where the awemi squatted, brushing sand off a portal stone, next to a pile of bones that included a skull. Thal squatted next to him, examining the stone.

Blakstar nudged the bones with his boot. “Looks like he didn’t quite make it,” he noted.

Klaybear nodded. “That could have been us, if we did not get lucky back there,” he added, turning to the others.

“There,” Thal said, touching a symbol on the stone with a glowing finger.

A gray shimmering archway, similar to the one opened by Blakstar’s sword, flared to life in the air before them. At the same moment, the stones blocking the pathway into the small clearing ground out of the way, and their pursuers rushed toward them. They stepped through the archway and back into Shigmar’s tomb.

 

Come back next week as our heroes move into a different elemental realm, one that will not test their combat skills, but their ability to endure extreme conditions. For those who wish to read on, purchase an ebook copy of this, and the other books in this series, from Amazon, Smashwords, and other ebook retailers. If the reader prefers print, order a copy of this epic fantasy from CreateSpace. Good reading!

Friday Poet's Corner

Posted by gwermon on January 31, 2015 at 12:55 AM Comments comments (0)

30 January 2015

Poet’s Corner

 

Last week in Coleridge’s poem, we saw the lady under the oak tree, unprepared to be out in the woods at night, and so we speculated that she was either in distress, or some kind of supernatural creature, neither of which bodes well for our heroine. This week, we learn the lady’s name–Geraldine–and she gives an account of what she is doing here:

 

The lady strange made answer meet,

And her voice was faint and sweet:-

'Have pity on my sore distress,

I scarce can speak for weariness:

Stretch forth thy hand, and have no fear!'

Said Christabel, 'How camest thou here?'

And the lady, whose voice was faint and sweet,

Did thus pursue her answer meet:-

'My sire is of a noble line,

And my name is Geraldine:

Five warriors seized me yestermorn,

Me, even me, a maid forlorn:

They choked my cries with force and fright,

And tied me on a palfrey white.

The palfrey was as fleet as wind,

And they rode furiously behind.

They spurred amain, their steeds were white:

And once we crossed the shade of night.

As sure as Heaven shall rescue me,

I have no thought what men they be;

Nor do I know how long it is

(For I have lain entranced, I wis)

Since one, the tallest of the five,

Took me from the palfrey's back,

A weary woman, scarce alive.

Some muttered words his comrades spoke:

He placed me underneath this oak;

He swore they would return with haste;

Whither they went I cannot tell-

I thought I heard, some minutes past,

Sounds as of a castle bell.

Stretch forth thy hand,' thus ended she,

'And help a wretched maid to flee.'

 

The lady, Geraldine, claims that she was taken in the morning of the previous day–it is now after midnight, so that means a single day–by five rough men, who tossed her on a horse and rode like the wind, and then when night came, they left her under this tree promising to return. This raises several questions, and puts her tale into doubt. A horse cannot gallop all day; a horse can gallop for a time, but then must be walked for a time before it can be again ridden–she makes no mention of this fact. Even at a horse’s fastest speed, she would still have to come from someone’s castle within Christabel’s knowledge. Further, why would they steal her, and then abandon her in the woods? Why did they take her in the first place? If their reasons were nefarious, as they seem to be, they would have carried out that purpose–rape, murder, etc.–rather than leave her here with a promise to return. There is something strange going on here! Come back next week and learn Christabel’s response to this apparent damsel in distress. Good reading.


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