Friday, May 28, 2010

Meeting the Mother - from KING BY RIGHT OF BLOOD AND MIGHT - Published

A few days later, Harris pulled Magg aside. “I have to leave now; my staying is too suspicious for my story. I only wish I could repay you for all you’ve done for me, but I swear I will as soon as I can.”

“The coin you carried more than paid your way here, and your company has been a pure delight. You owe us nothing. But I knew this day would come, so I want you to come with me to the shrine of the Mother before you go.”

He had never been to a shrine before coming to Carolinas, but he had learned to treasure the custom and experience.

He waited respectfully back a bit as Magg said her prayers, left a small offering and lit a candle. Then it was his turn while she waited.

Kneeling before the small white statue of a pious woman, he said, “I ask your blessing and guidance on my journey into the unknown to search for the answers to the puzzle of my life. I offer this of me as pledge of my newly learned devotion.” He made a small cut on his left palm and allowed a few drops of blood to drip at her feet. Then he cut a pinch of his hair and laid it in the blood. “Please protect those I love from the enemy they cannot see.” He lit another small candle and rose to leave.

The next thing he knew, Magg was slapping his face lightly and calling his name.

“What happened?” he asked as he sat up.

“Something I’ve never seen in all my years. I don’t know what you prayed for, but whatever it was, the Mother has blessed you with her touch.” She held up a circle of polished metal for him to see.

There between his eyebrows was a small white stone with a speck of glitter in the center.

Friday, May 21, 2010


The dragons are mostly in another dimension. For them to be seen as more than shimmering ghosts, they must join with a rider. When a dragon and a rider join, they become one - the dragon - though both intelligences remain separate. After they are joined, the dragon becomes as real and touchable as any other creature on the planet.

Joining, however, does take a certain amount of concentration by both parties, and if the concentration is disturbed, the rider falls. Therefore, scientists developed a matrix for the joined dragon to wear that holds the rider in place until he wishes to separate. This matrix can be anything, though it looks like a piece of jewelry most of the time. it is usually worn around the neck or around the leg: the style is anything the pair of them like and want to wear. Of course, since the matrix is made by man, once a dragon and rider separate, the item drops to the floor to be picked up and put on once again when dragon and rider are joined again.

Riders are chosen early and taken to the rider's school high in the mountains where they learn everything they need to know and much more. Dragons choose the riders; every year they visit towns and farms in search of girls and boys who have the right turn of mind to become a rider.

Matthew had always been a bit of a loner. He was tall and blond when most of the people around him were much darker. Unable to make many friends, he turned his efforts to other things in his life, and was never satisfied with good enough. As he got older, this meant that the barn was spotless and the corral fences were in excellent repair. His goats were well groomed and clean, and the milk he sold from them was said to be the sweetest.

Dragons were common all over the planet, but since they were ethereal, no one feared them. Because of the joining, there was a great deal of respect and awe for them though. Matt had always admired them when they came to the village in search of riders, though he'd always had to do so from his lofty vantage point high in the hills.

He liked their smooth glistening hides and the rippling muscles visible even from so far away as the slightest movement made them shimmer and glitter. He liked their colors too, which were as varied as the imagination could conceive, but most of all, he liked to watch them fly. Every move they made was easy and graceful; he loved dragons.

On the day he met his friend, he was laying on a rock, soaking up some sun, when a wing of dragons with riders flew over. They weren't stopping today; but they didn't search for new riders until fall and it was early spring still. No, the wing was on some other errand today, but Matt watched them anyway. They were just crossing the ridge of the mountain behind him when their trajectory led his eyes to spot a riderless dragon sitting among the rocks watching him.

He had never seen a dragon up close, riderless or otherwise. They had always been going somewhere else on some errand he could only guess at poorly.

"Hello," he said as he stood. Everyone knew that dragons were just as intelligent as humans were, even if they didn't have the power of verbal speech. He moved closer to the shimmering ghost. It wasn't as big as he expected, but even so, it was bigger than his entire flock of goats, if he were to lump them all together into one dragon-shaped mass.

He moved closer still with his hand held out. "I wish I could touch you," he said longingly and watched as the dragon lowered its head closer to his level. Even though he was little more than a cloud to him, he admired it contours. He could see the rippling muscles and wished he could have rippling muscles too, but though he did not lack in strength, his muscles were stretched too long over his lanky frame to leave room for ripple.

Curious, he reached to touch the ghostly muzzle and felt a spark travel through his body and mind that was like a spark of lightning. For a split second that left him doubting the sight, he saw a different dragon crouching in front of him with an entirely different world beyond him.

The dragon, Wishindar, reared his head up in astonishment, having experienced the same thing, and then thrust it back down and into the boy's chest for another taste. Both of them were more curious than they should have been, but both of them longed for companionship since both of them were loners. From the first accidental and utterly ecstatic joining, they became fast friends.

Every day, Whishindar found Matt and they would play. At first, it was simply learning how to remain joined without falling apart simply by moving. In the process, they learned about each other. Matt learned that Whishindar was politely shunned because, instead of being brightly colored, he was slate gray. He was no less gleaming; his scales were every bit as shiny as any other dragon's scales, but if he held still enough, it was difficult to distinguish him from surrounding stones.

After weeks of play that usually ended in a few scrapes and bruises for Matt and a lot of laughs, they had yet to fly more than a few feet off the ground.

"Matthew, you should go to the school. You could learn how to do this better. Only then can we fly properly," said Whishindar.

"I can't go," said Matt. "Without the money from my goats, father would go hungry. He can't take care of himself anymore."

Their discussions on this subject always ended like this and then they would try again.

They flew and played all summer long. There was really little else to do except watch the goats and make sure they stayed out of trouble, and they could do that easily enough.

One day, a mountain lion charged into Matt's goats, bringing down one squealing kid and scattering the rest of the herd dangerously. Already in flight, both Matt and Whishindar saw the attack, and galvanized by a joint goal, they swooped on the hapless lion and snatched it away from its kill, dropping it over the side of the closest rock ridge. The lion was bruised and bettered by the attack and the fall, but it limped hastily away and disappeared into the ridge of trees.

Matt and Whishindar then circled around and grouped the heard again, albeit on a different patch of grass. The goats, accustomed to the gray dragon that had been around all summer, were calmed by its presence now.

Grouped and quieted, Matt turned his attention to the kid, and they landed there. Matt hit the ground running while Whishindar watched over his shoulder. The kid was standing, but it was in bad shape. Matt was equipped to deal with some injuries but that was at his camp. He scooped up the kid and sprinted off. Less than half way there, there was no more reason to run.

Matt was heartbroken; he loved his goats. Though he knew at first glance that there was little chance, he was willing to do whatever he could to save it. He even blamed himself somewhat for what had happened; if he hadn't been playing, he might have been able to do something to prevent this loss.


Whishindar watched over Matt, he watched his every move and studied everything about him. Not joined, Matt was just as much a ghost as Matt had said he appeared to him. He didn't understand what had just happened. The small creature had been attacked and it had died; it was nature. He vaguely understood the importance of these goats; they were food in a roundabout sort of way. They were security for his friend and his father.

Then another thought occurred to him. He tried to approach Matt. He touched his shoulder, but Matt flinched away and continued to dig the hole. When the hole was deep enough, Matt laid the kid in it and tossed in the blood-soaked dirt before filling the rest of the hole; he couldn't afford to have the smell of blood around camp - Whishindar could understand that too.


When Matt was finished, he walked away without so much as a glance toward Whishindar. He went to where they had left his heard and Whishindar followed him, puzzled by the way his friend was acting. Matt walked through his goats, checking each one in case there was some other injury caused by the lion or by their panicked flight. With the exception of one dam who couldn't find her kid, the other were all accounted for and unhurt.

Matt found an accommodating rock and sat down on it. He saw Whishindar there a few yards away, but he couldn't go there now; he just felt so guilty.

When Matt didn't seem inclined to move, Whishindar came and settled down beside him. The end result was that Whishindar was wrapped nearly all the way around the rock. He could see that Matt was upset, but he still couldn't understand why. He reached a claw toward Matt's cheek but once again, Matt flinched away. When the sun touched the western horizon, Matt rounded up his pack and then his herd and headed for home.

After Matt had milked and settled all his goats, he went into the house. His father, though he walked with a cane and had a patch over one eye, had supper ready when he came in. Kabil's injuries stemmed from some long ago he would never speak of. All Matt knew of it was that it had cost the life of his mother too.

Though they usually ate in relative silence, Kabil could see that something was bothering his son. Gone was the boy who usually had a secret smile in his eyes and sometimes even in his mouth. "What's the matter, boy? You look like your best friend just died."

Matt flinched. "I lost a kid today - Annie's kid - you know the one."

Kabil didn't know the goats as well as Matt did so it took him a moment to place which nanny he was talking about and remember which kid had belonged to her, but when he did, "That one? Cute little bugger, but he would bave been on the butcher block in another month or so, you know that. Why are you so upset at the loss of a few pounds of meat? There's plenty of other young billies in the herd this year."

"Yeah, I know. It's just that . . . ."

"You're not blaming yourself now, are you? You've lost goats before. It happens; every year, it happens. You know that. Tell me what happened."

"It was a mountain lion. I . . . I drove it off."

"Well that's good, but you should probably take the herd to the north ridge for a while, until it leaves the neighborhood."

Matt nodded and tried to finish his supper: he had no appetite for it.

That night, Matt relived the attack in protracted detail. He had just taken off low over the grassy flat; the herd was behind him. The lion appeared out of nowhere. The herd was running and bleating. The smell of blood was sharp. The smell of fear was bitter. He arched high and tight; flexing muscles and twisting his body to make a turn that was too tight for his bulk. The flesh gripped in his claws was satisfyingly warm, and he felt every thrash as the lion fought for survival. There was a malicious satisfaction as he released it over the rocky cliff - too bad it wasn't steeper or rockier, or higher - too bad it lived - too bad he didn't hunt such creatures. Circling low, finding each goat and turning it back toward the other - circling around until he had found them all - all but one. He was running. It was standing on three legs. Its site, from neck to ribs, was skinned, blood dripped from the edge of the bloody pelt that hung nearly to the ground. He lay the bloody skin back in place and picked up the trembling bit of life. At first, it kicked feebly but all too soon, it gave up, and soon after, its little head hung limply. If only . . . .

Matt woke abruptly. Yeah, they'd started out to play at being dragon and rider again, but this time it hadn't been play; this time it had been very different, very serious. Was that what it was like to be a real dragon rider?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Dire Fortune - from TO RECLAIM THE THRONE - unpublished

King Martemic and Queen Jolene of Kashkar were well known throughout their land for their strength and fairness, and were therefore loved my most everyone. Of course, those on the receiving end of some of the harsher judgments thought they were dealt with too harshly and unfairly, but a line had to be drawn somewhere; the laws were the laws and the king was quite strict about the breaking of them.

Martemik was a big, powerful man, standing over six feet tall with the wide shoulders of a swordsman. In keeping with his fathers before him, he had the white hair of the royal family. Other members of the nobility all had varying shades of blond hair and light eyes, but the children born to the rightful king always had thick white hair and pale gray eyes. Even daughters born of the bloodline had the white hair and gray eyes, but their children did not carry on the family trait.

Jolene was also tall; coming from a bloodline that produced men much like her husband. She was a proud and stately woman with copious amounts of pale gold curls and striking blue eyes. With effortless ease, she commanded the attention and respect of everyone around her. She was also great with child.

The knights of the nobility and most of the soldiers wore their hair pulled up and bound in several bindings down the center of their heads in an imitation of the manes on their horses. The number of such bindings was dictated only by the thickness of the hair; a knight wanted a proud crest, now a collection of horse's tails.

Since it was a tradition in the queen's home country to seek out a fortune teller and have the child's future told in the last month before birth, she requested this of her husband, and though it was not necessarily a custom in this country, he was familiar with the practice, so he relented to the wishes of the beautiful wife he had come to value highly and adore.

So they packed up, ostensibly for a tour of the country, to show the people that the queen was soon to produce an heir to the throne. They planned to be gone for a week to ten days. This would only cover a small portion of his kingdom but it would do to spread the word of the coming birth.

Everywhere they went, they were greeted with cheers and many of the women gifted the queen with good luck and easy delivery charms. Jolene accepted them all graciously and treasured all the charms with the respect and deference with which they were offered.

The custom of visiting a fortuneteller at this time was fairly common among the peasantry, so it wasn't difficult to find what they were looking for.

Late one night, the royal couple approached an old cabin in the woods. "I don't like this, Jolene," said the king. "There's no light inside. If you would only consent to one of the fortunetellers who were willing to call at the palace, we wouldn't need to go through all this."

"You just don't like sneaking around in the dark, dear, and you know that those fortunetellers willing to call at the palace would say anything to make us happy; who would know if it was a true telling or not. At least coming this late at night, she won't have any time to set up some show," replied the queen with quiet patience.

The king knocked solidly on the old door. A few minutes later, the old woman who answered was greatly surprised to see the king and queen standing on her doorstep so late at night. There was no doubt that's who they were; everyone knew who the king and queen were. She quickly invited them into her humble home, wishing fervently that her accommodations were better than they were, but there was no helping it now. "What can an old woman like me do for you, Lord and Lady?" she asked as she poked up the fire and added some wood, and then lit the one lamp she owned with a coal from the fire.

"Are you a fortuneteller?" asked King Martemik as he moved his wife closer to the fire; the night air was chilly and damp.

"I am that, my lord, among other things. Do you seek your fortune?"

"My wife seeks the fortune of our child soon to be born. Can you do this?"

"I can, your grace," she replied with a small bow. "My lady, please have a seat." The old woman offered the queen the only seat and pulled a crate out from beneath the cupboard for herself to sit on. "My lord, I have nothing else for you to sit on, even my bed is on the floor."

He was somewhat impressed with the way the old woman so readily handled the simple preparations for this ordeal, without making any attempts to set up any kind of stage or use any elaborate bobbles, but he was still very uncomfortable about all this. He never did like this mystic stuff. "Never mind me," said the king. He had no interest in becoming comfortable.

The queen smiled at her husband as she took the offered stool. It was amusing to see her tall brave husband unsettled by this small frail peasant woman. She would have to tease him about this night many times.

The fortuneteller sat across from her and held out her callused hands to the queen. When the queen's delicate hands were in hers, she closed her eyes, and with a deep breath, she rested her forehead on the table and searched for the future of this child.

Just as they were beginning to worry that the old woman had fallen asleep, she raised her head and spoke in a resonant voice that could not possibly have issued from the throat of the old woman.

"The news I have for your son is grave and troubling. Are you sure you still wish to hear it?"

"I do. Speak your news. I must hear it," said the queen as color drained from her cheeks.

"Your son's life line will be fraught with sorrow, anger and danger. He will loose his father to death, his mother to fear and treachery will hunt him like a rabid wolf. All of this will beset him before he comes of age. But, there is still hope. There is one man who is close to you now; one whose loyalty to you will remain strong, despite all the evil he must see. This man will find your son and help him to see through his sorrow and bitterness. If your son has not become too lost, if he is not too bitter and angry, this man will be able to lead him out of his darkness. Only then will he be able to gather the people to him in a union that will surpass even his father's. If he can do this, he will ascend to the throne and become a king far greater than any of his forefathers."

Friday, May 7, 2010

Spring come Summer

Only seven days ago, I was complaining about spring yuck - now it's almost over. There's only a few spots of snow left, and the frost heaves along the trail are rapidly melting. They'll be muddy for a little while, but they're easy enough to walk around. I had to cut off the tops of a pair of hip waders so I could cross the little runoff creek that crosses the trail but the water is only ankle deep and it too will be gone soon enough.

I walk down to the river now every day, to check on the water level and to make sure the boats are alright. Yesterday, we had our first thunderstorm of the season but the rain didn't last long. The day before, or rather that night, it rained pretty heavy for part of the night. Now, though less than half of my water buckets, carefully filled with melted snow, was available, they are now three quarters full of rain water. It's always a gamble to see if I make the gap between enough snow to melt and either the first rains or until I can get to work. The well there is too deep to freeze, and even if there isn't water to all the buildings, there's water at the well and I can bring some home in jugs. It's what I do for water during the summer if it doesn't rain enough.

The last few days, I've been able to go out and do some raking. Always, in the spring, I regret being so lazy during the winter, but always, at the end of summer, I'm so ready to be lazy for the winter.

Today I chopped some wild rose bushes and elders out of what used to be my strawberry patch. We'll have to see just how many strawberries are left there. Not really much of a problem though. Over the years, they've spread quite a ways into the lawn surrounding the place. If there aren't many on the mound, I'll just have to do some transplanting.

I also trimmed a bunch of baby birch trees from around a stump, leaving one, the prettiest one, to grow. It was all a task I'd put off for too long. I also uncovered some rocks I'd put there ages ago; they now line my flower garden. Since my iris are sprouting already, I'll have to clean that up soon - maybe tomorrow.

Such is another look at my life. I'll be starting to work soon. Maybe I'll talk about that some too.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

A Spring Rant

Here at the end of April the beginning of May, I thought I'd give a bit of a rant. In case you haven't caught on yet, I don't really care much for spring. Oh yes, April showers bring May flowers and all that, but for me, that never really quite happens. For me the snows are melting quickly, leaving behind soggy ground and months worth of man's sins. Out here, 'man's sins' are few and far between, but in the cities and towns, they're everywhere. There's the little plastic shopping bags dangling from a bush or a fence, invisible under the snow all winter long. There's the bag of trash that some dog tore up before it got to the dumpster and never completely picked up (if at all). It's as if no one wants to touch trash after it's gone into a trash-bag once. At that point it suddenly becomes totally contaminated - life threatening if ever touched again without a full-body contamination suit like you see on TV. Then the snow melts away, revealing plastic water or juice bottles, or chip bags, or used paper towels, or the empty soda cans. We all know what we throw away. All the little wrappers, boxes, papers, clippings, and even hair from a trim, now all becoming visible as the snow melts away.

Currently, out in my soggy front yard, littered with snowmachines that have yet to be put away for the summer, is a carpet of dog hair. Last December and January, my dog decided it was time to shed. She'd go in and out several times a day and scrub her body in the snow - she really loves doing that. I think it's a doggy version of a bath. I'd give her a bath more often but without running water, it's really quite difficult and the creek water is very cold. She generally gets one in the summer though, when the water is a little warmer and I can make her fetch a stick from the creek. She really does love to fetch and it really must be that stick. At any rate, two or three plunges and she's thoroughly rinsed. But that was way last summer. Last winter, along with her gleeful scrubbing in the new snow, which left behind a brown spot, she apparently left behind far more hair than I was aware. I knew she was shedding, I even went out and combed her a time or two, but she really hates being combed and seldom holds still for it, so I knew about that hair, but really, someone could weave a living room rug from all the hair out there. What did she do, molt?

For years, my husband wanted a stack of firewood here in front of the house, convenient for splitting and stuffing in the stove only steps from the door. And since we generally cut a tree at a time that idea was fine by me. So for years, long about now, or a little later when the ground is dryer, I'd rake up all the chips of wood and bark left behind by that chore. This year, what with LOTS of cut wood, there was no way I was going to have all that wood in front of the house so room was made in the long neglected woodshed. Well, tired of my spring ritual of raking up wood chips and bark in front of the house, I figured what better place for that mess than in front of the woodshed where, for the most part, it can stay. Deep heavy sigh here, I still have to rake the front yard. I wonder if hair rakes up any easier than bark.

So yeah, spring, for me, is the ugliest time of year. The snow is no longer white as all its accumulated dust is now on the surface. Nothing is green yet. You can't walk anywhere without getting your shoes full of snow or slipping and sliding all over the place. I did manage to make it down to the boats and made sure all the plugs were in, so when the river comes up they'll float. There's certainly no driving a snowmachine down there. Well actually, that's not quite true. If we REALLY had to, we could drive down there, but that would be driving through mud on both ends and having to turn the machine around by hand on that end - not fun.

My walk was not a stroll in the park. It was very slow and diligent, every step had to be taken with care. I even took my snowshoes, just in case. You see, there's this one part where, when it fills with spring snow-melt runoff, the icy water is generally around three feet deep. This is the place I had brought my snowshoes for. I knew the trail would still be there, but that didn't mean that the water under that trail wasn't deep. As it turns out, no water yet. Back to the walk. Since the trail goes through the woods, it's still about a foot or so deep in most places, but it was soft. I was lucky, most of the time the trail held me up, but there were plenty of times when it didn't and the foot doesn't always go straight down. It's not so bad when the foot slips forward - you gain a few inches. It's a little irritating when the foot slips backward - those two or three inches make a difference. It's awkward as hell when the foot slips out - I mean, how much have you had to drink? The absolute worst is when the foot slips in, under you, it's all you can do to not end up in a heap, there's just no way you can get your other foot over there where it needs to be to keep you off the ground. But that's not the only frustrations of walking this time of year. There's the deceptively solid trail that suddenly decides not to be so solid, only after you've trusted your body and soul to its strength - then you go down that foot or so rather abruptly, and you may or may not encounter one of the slippery problems enumerated above. This always happens right after you've lifted one foot to put it in front of the other, so once again, you're left staggering. You really should try paying attention to each and every step for a quarter mile, though I don't recommend you do it in snow your first time. It can so easily develop into a cussing issue if I was a cussing kind of person. For those of you trying it along your nice safe sidewalks, I'll give you the first dozen steps or so before something (very small) distracts you and you don't think about the next step or two. I totally understand. It's really very boring. It's not unlike walking heel to toe along a line that's not at all straight, but at least you have a task to hold your concentration there.

Ah, but that's enough of my rant about spring. Summer will come soon enough and the trees will start shedding their pollen, and then I'll be miserable for a healthy half of the summer. If I didn't love my job I'd hate summer too.