Sunday, December 16, 2012

Hunter, My Huntress (Almost Done)

The penultimate scene of the next installment of the Mughal Court serial:


Aurangzeb and Shuja had split up to either side of the herd, and were standing in the stirrups, loosing. Where their arrows fell, antelope staggered out of the herd, dead or dying. Shuja ended up on the near side of the herd, Aurangzeb disappearing into the dust kicked up by the herd and their own mounts.

Dara shook his head. While impressive, their antics were denying him a shot. Not that he couldn’t rely on his skills and shoot anyway, it was simply not a good idea to go firing into a field occupied by two princes, whether the shooter was a brother or not.

He briefly considered taking to his own horse while summoning a drink from one of his body slaves.

“Don’t want to take to your own horse?” Asaf Khan asked.

Having already decided against it, Dara punched his chin toward where his brothers were now racing back towards the firing line in a cloud of dust, “When their horses tire, there will be other game.”

Asaf nodded, looked sidelong at his eldest grandson, “Married life agrees with you, grandson.”

“Oh?” Dara asked, taking the gem-encrusted goblet full of iced fruit juice from his servant.

“You are more patient than you were. I may presume too much when I think it your wife’s doing,” he shrugged, “but there are worse reasons for change in the behavior of men.”

Dara hid his smile by slaking his thirst. Smacking his lips appreciatively, he answered: “Yes, many things are put in their proper places, especially now I have a son on the way.”

“A son? You are so sure? The astrologers tell you it is so?”

“Yes,” Dara half-lied. The up-timer history had it that his son rode to battle with him in his war against Aurangzeb, many years in the future.

“You must send me y–” Asaf stopped in mid-sentence, peering into the dust beyond Aurangzeb and Shuja.

Dara followed the line of his gaze, saw it at a heartbeat later: something gold-orange flowing along in the wake of Shuja’s horse.

“Tiger!” Asaf bellowed in his general’s voice, pointing at the great beast stalking his grandson.

Dara tossed his goblet aside, scrambled for his newest gun.

Shuja, hearing the shout, did the wrong thing: he reined in to look at Asaf Khan. The tiger was within twenty gaz of Shuja. When he came to a stop, it did as well. In fact, it went forequarters down, hunching its rear end.

Asaf was screaming, as were more and more of his men. He started running for his own horse and household guard.

Dara knelt and lifted the butt, surging upright. 

Shuja was looking around, trying to identify the threat. His horse tossed its head, moved sideways, uneasy.

Dara pressed his shoulder into the stock, trying to cock the lock, find his target, and get his hand on the firing lever–and had a moment’s panic when he couldn’t find it: Not a lever, a trigger, you fool! 

The tiger was rocking its hips, getting ready to charge.

Talawat was beside him, quietly urging: “Shehzada, please do not try to do too much at once. Slow down. Calmly.”

Dara stopped. Breathed out. Found his aim point and his target. Slid his finger into the trigger guard.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw Talawat’s silhouette nod. The gunsmith cocked the hammer back for Dara, “She kicks like a mule, Shehzada. Now kill us a tiger.”

Dara squeezed the trigger. The lock snapped forward, steel and flint sparking into the pan. A half-heartbeat later, the gun discharged with a thunderous roar and brutal kick to Dara’s shoulder.

The tiger leapt.

Smoke obscured Dara’s sight for a moment.

Shuja’s horse bolted, riderless, into view.

Talawat stepped forward and turned to face Dara, hands busy as he reloaded the piece with quick, economical motions. He could hear the gunsmith praying even over the shouts of Asaf’s men.

Asaf had stopped his rush to mount. It was too late.

The smoke cleared.

The tiger lay prone, part of one of Shuja’s leg and a boot protruding from beneath it.

Dara’s heart stopped.

It seemed years later when Shuja sat up from between its paws, face as white as bleached linen. Hands shaking, the younger prince heaved the heavy corpse aside and stood up, apparently unscathed.

Suddenly thirsty, Dara wished for strong drink and his pipe. 

The line erupted in crazed shouts of joy. Asaf came charging back toward Dara, teeth bared in a smile that split his beard.

Shuja was walking, somewhat unsteadily, back toward the line.

Placing powder in the pan and stepping back, Talawat murmured, “Fine shooting, Shehzada.”

Dara pointed a trembling finger at his sibling, “I will give you his weight in silver, Talawat. Were it not for you, I would have surely rushed the shot,” he swallowed,”and missed.”

Talawat bowed his head, clearly aware of how badly things might have turned out, “God is merciful and loving-kind, to place one of my tools in the hands of one so gifted in their use: I will use your silver to make more fine guns for your use, Shehzada.”

Aurangzeb rode into view behind his dismounted brother, stopping over the tiger for a moment. After a moment he nudged his horse into motion. Quickly catching up to Shuja, he said something the other responded to with angry shake of the head. Shrugging, the mounted brother rode on toward the firing line. 

As he came closer, Dara noticed his quiver was empty and his face had a thin smile drawn across it. For Aurangzeb, such an expression was a broad smile of unrestrained glee.

“I see we each took a tiger this day, brother.”

“What?” Dara asked, wondering where his wits had gone.

Aurangzeb nodded his head in the direction he’d come from. “Another one, possibly this one’s mate or nearly adult offspring, took the last blackbuck in the herd. He took some killing: all my arrows are in him.”

Asaf Khan drew close enough to hear this last, sweating from his exertions. Pausing to catch his breath, he was still beaming and making happy noises when Dara remembered to be civil: “Congratulations, brother, I’m sure it was a fine kill.”

“And to you on yours, Dara, though it appears your beast had an old wound to slow it; an arrow in its flesh, turned to poison.”

“Might explain why it went for Shuja with dead game at hand,” Asaf gasped while Dara tried, mightily, to still his angry tongue.

He failed: “Anger stirs the killer in the hearts of both man and beast,” Dara said, trying not to look at his brother as he did so.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Hunter, My Huntress

Submitted the re-worked short story, MIDNIGHT COURT Friday night. Now I am at work on the second in the serial, HUNTER, MY HUNTRESS.

Here is what I came up with this afternoon:


Patience growing short in the afternoon heat, Dara’s favorite leopard yowled and spat at her handler, ready to hunt.
  
Dara grinned, ready as well. The beaters had started the day before, working through the night, driving all the wild game resident in several square kos toward where the hunting party lay in wait. The prince welcomed the prospect of release from the tension being around Aurangzeb always seemed to provoke in him. 

Seeking distraction, he again took up the gun he’d had as a wedding gift from Father last year, the inlaid piece monstrous heavy yet reassuring in its solidity. He sighted down the nearly two gaz of barrel, arms immediately trembling from the weight of iron, ivory inlay, and mahogany.

“Here,” he grunted.

Body slaves overseen by his Atishbaz gunsmith, Talawat, hurriedly set up the iron tripod needed to support the hunting piece while he struggled to hold position. 

“Ready, Shehzadi,” Talawat said.

Trying to keep the weight under control, Dara slowly lowered the gun into place. Talawat slotted the pin allowing the gun to stand upright and ready to action into place, easing the awkward weight from Dara’s arms.

Rubbing the ache from his muscles, hoofbeats drew Dara’s attention. He looked down the gradual slope to the watering holes that marked the two sides of the shooting zone for the hunt. The beaters were working toward that spot in a steadily shrinking circle. About one hundred gaz of grassy clearing lay between the slowly-drying watering holes, with about half that much distance between grandfather’s tent and the open space. 

One of Asaf Khan’s men emerged from the wood line at a gallop, crossing the zone and pounding up to the camp. In a fine display of horsemanship, the sowar swung down from his mount to land lightly a few paces in front of Dara’s grandfather. 

Asaf Khan, standing in the shade of his tent, stepped forward and listened as the young trooper made his report, “At least a hundred head of blackbuck and red antelope, a small herd of nilgai, Wazir. Tiger spoor was also found, but no one has laid eyes on it, yet. Should not be long, now, before the first of the beasts make an appearance.”

Gray beard dancing, the still-powerfully-built Wazir smiled, called out as he waved dismissal to his man: “A tiger would make a worthy prize for one of my grandsons!”

“Perhaps for Dara, grandfather. He has yet to take one.” Aurangzeb drawled from inside the tent.

Dara watched Asaf’s smile dim before he turned and answered, “One tiger could never be enough for the sons of Emperors.”

“I did not say it was, grandfather.” Aurangzeb said, striding from the tent and into the sun.

“I will kill it, grandfather!” Shah Shuja, crowed, raising his bow. Born between Aurangzeb and Dara, Shuja seemed always afire with desire to please his elders. At eighteen he was a man grown, however, and larger than Dara by a head. Of course, that head was rarely full of things other than those he might hunt, fuck, or ride.

Asaf turned to face his eldest grandson, “And you, Dara?”

“I will take what it pleases God to place before me.”

“Pious words,” Asaf said, nodding approval.

Behind grandfather’s back, Aurangzeb shook his head and commanded his horse be brought up.

“Where are you going?” Asaf asked, edges of his beard curling down as he frowned.

  “I will take the animals my brothers miss." Aurangzeb's lips curled in a smile, "that way I am sure to have a good day hunting.”

  Doing his best to ignore the insult, Dara gestured at his leopards, “Brother, that is why I have brought my cats, to run down escaping game.”

Aurangzeb shrugged, took up a lance. “Then I will race them, and beat them, to the kill.”

Asaf stepped toward Aurangzeb, “I would advise caution, Brave One, if there is a tiger in among them, it will easily overtake a horseman. They can only be hunted safely from elephant howdah.”

Aurangzeb shrugged again, put spurs to his tall horse and sped off to the left of the firing line, a trail of attendants and guards in tow.

“Here they come!” one of grandfather’s cronies cried.

Monday, November 26, 2012

THE MIDNIGHT COURT

The holiday weekend was quite a productive one for writing, I managed to complete the first, then a second, then a third, and then a fourth draft of THE MIDNIGHT COURT.

The short story is not terribly long at just under 6500 words, but it is the first of what I hope will be a serial that leads to other cool things. Best thing about it: I was asked to write as a sort of proof of concept for the Grantville Gazette. I was given guidelines, the historical figures I should focus on and then set loose.

Special permission and mandate in hand, I went to work.

One thing about Eric Flint's 1632: it's rigorously researched, and people will catch you slipping if you do. Knowing this, I was a bit daunted.  I had to do a great deal of study and research before I could even write word one. Every other thing I have previously written or tried to write involved the use of knowledge I already possessed or things I made up from whole cloth. I had a great deal of research on historical figures from a culture and religion alien to me and anything I had studied before.

It wasn't all drudgery: I have always loved history and learning of times and places I have no experience of, so the research had its pleasing moments, but I did cram reading about 3000 pages of different history texts and biographies into my brain over the course of about a month and a half.

About half-way through the research I started to figure out where I was going, and how to get there.

Then, about two weeks ago, I sat down and started to actually write.

I think it came out well.

Initial feedback was pretty good, though I did get caught on an error: did you know that arab warmblood horses have only been around for a hundred years or so? Arab horses were awesome then, but the sub-breed of warmbloods hadn't been created.

Now, I wait for further word from the editorial board.

Excited.

Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Latest Thing

For the last few weeks I have been doing a great deal of research on a project for Eric Flint's 1632 Universe. Today I felt ready to begin writing, and put this together in relative short order:


The honeybee took flight from the flower, releasing the siblings from the stillness that held them. They had barely greeted one another when it flew between them to land on the orchid and crawl into purple folds of the flower, seeking the nectar within and drawing them to watch in silence.

As the bee disappeared deeper into the gardens, wingbeats joining the hum of others of its hive, the brother and sister leaned back and regarded one another, much as they had many times before and, God willing, would have opportunity to do for many years to come. 

She noted his smooth brow was furrowed under the gorgeous yellow turban he wore. She had not seen him so troubled since father had sent Aurangzib from the court. Jahanara folded hands in her lap, waiting. It was not often that the eldest came to visit, but when he did, it was nearly always to ask the same questions. 

“And what of Father, sister mine?”

She smiled inwardly–but not wanting to show how easily she had read him and therefore hurt his feelings–she didn’t let the smile curve her lips. “He still pines for our beloved Mother, of course. The only thing he looks forward to is the daily meeting with his advisors regarding her tomb.”

“His remaining wives?” Dara asked.

She smiled openly. She had been composing a verse this morning, a playful little thing, and used part of it now: “The harem persists in its perennial practices: showing their love of Father and whining at his inattention.”

Dara nodded absently, but didn’t return her smile.

It was rare that he missed an opportunity to show his appreciation for her work. Resisting the urge to show her displeasure, she asked, “What troubles you, brother?”

“I wonder what it will take to shake Father from his grief.”

She strangled a sigh. “Must he be shaken?”

“Our brothers are not idle, sister.”

“No, but neither are they gathering armies to usurp father’s place.”

“Not that we know of, at least.”

“Our friend Mian Mir, in his wisdom, would have you set aside your fear, brother.”

Dara sniffed, “I know. I would argue that it is no sin to fear for one’s family.”

“If you only feared for your family, rather than fearing certain members of it.”

Another sniff, this one companion to a bitter twist of the lips, 
“It has always been thus for the sons of this house.”

And the women of our house, they have free reign to do exactly as they wish, do they? She refused to let him see how much his self-pity annoyed her. “But our Father has chosen otherwise, for you.”

Looking through the walls of the garden, Dara whispered, voice so low it nearly drowned in the buzz of industrious insects about them: “Some days, I think he might have chosen the wrong son…”

Monday, November 5, 2012

Angsty Angst

I am returning home from Toronto, having spent a pleasant five nights here for World Fantasy 2012.

I enjoyed catching up with friends and socializing with other writers and industry folks I had not met before. The disaster which struck New York and New Jersey prevented many people coming; about one hundred and forty, according to one count. I, personally, missed them all the more because I am almost certain I will not be able to attend WFC 2013 in Brighton (my budget will not bear travel costs to the UK).

One of the better things about WFC is the opportunity to talk to other writers who appear to be in a similar position to oneself and use their experience as a sounding board for perceptions I might have about where I am and where I should go.

The convention also presents opportunities to speak with individuals who are more experienced and get their sage advice, when offered.  I add "when offered" because a WFC attending membership is not a license to pump near-strangers for information, but rather a chance to talk with people who might know a great deal more than you do about the many aspects of the business  and craft of writing.  One must tread lightly, be someone others want to socialize with, and then set the mind and ears to record what is said by the company you keep.

It is not often, at least in my daily life, that I find I am fully engaged by the people and ideas around me. When full engagement happens for me, it's like being hooked to a power source that hums through the mind, making me restless and eager to write something, anything. The difficulty is, that, while WFC can be enlightening, inspiring, and engaging, it is also exhausting.

I call this time, the return trip home and the first few days back, "limbo". Too tired to process it all, I take a few days to let the experience settle, then the excitement of that 'full engagement' returns and I generally produce a great deal of material in a very short time.

I cannot wait, yet I have some other things I must consider in the meantime: I have the oral board of the sergeant's exam to take, something I do not relish doing for a number of reasons; most of them concerning where I thought to be at this moment. Regardless, I will do my best, and having done that, hope for full engagement to carry me through a feast of fine writing.

So, in the meantime, some research regarding the Mughal Empire and its dynasty's most famous daughter, Jahanara.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

More Of The Same


This section is both a re-post and continuation of yesterday's. I am hoping to get this chapter done today:



“And what does he want?”

“A word with his son.”

“Were it simple as that, you’d have it to give to me.”

A shrug of broad shoulders, “You would know better than I, Yarvis.”

“Carefully said, Novis.”

A toss of the head, getting iron-grey hair out of grey eyes. “I’ve had some experience treading the ground between you two.”

Yarvis pulled his hat from the peg by the door, pushing past the older man and out of his home. “Tell me, does it ever get muddy, that ground?”

His father’s oldest servant turned to follow. “Never more than it was when you denied him, Yar.” 

Yarvis snorted, “You mean when I, a grown man, decided I knew what was best for me?”

“Each has his place in the thing, I suppose.”

“What does that mean?”

Another shrug. “Your father thinks different.”

“Every man entitled to his thoughts, I suppose. Of course, my father would like to charge everyone for his, even while he’s ramming them down your throat.”

Novis stopped walking. “Will you see him?”

Yarvis turned to face him, “In due time.”

“And when can I tell him to expect you?”

It was Yarvis’ turn to shrug. “When I arrive at his door.”

Thin lips drew tight around the scar he’d earned turns ago, defending the old man’s money, not his family. “You know what he’ll say to that, Yar.”

“I do,” Yarvis said, “and aside from the shit he’ll likely toss your way for telling him, can’t say I much care.”

“Then just come with, start a fresh ledger. You know he won’t.”

“No, he won’t.” Shaking his head, Yarvis patted his father’s man on the shoulder, “I never understood why you stood by him all these turns, Novis. You’re too good for him, should have left him ages ago.”

Novis raised scarred hands: “I’m an old man, set in his ways. I’ll thank you for not starting in on me for doing as I have always done.”

Yarvis nodded, turned to go.

“It’s important, what your father wants to talk to you about.”

The man’s tone gave Yarvis pause, “But he didn’t–wouldn’t–tell you what it was?”

“No, just an old man’s instinct, earned in close to thirty turns of service.”

“But not important enough for him to come himself.”

“Your father does have many demands on his time.”

Yarvis sighed. “Alright, let’s go.”

After a few steps the pair was walking in lock-step, much as they used to when about Sadris’ business. 

They made it across Market and entered Mintside before Novis broke the companionable silence with a question: “How’s the wife?”

Yarvis smiled, “Ciorran’s well, thank you for asking.”

“Still working for her father?”

“Yes, the mill is doing quite well.” Despite Sadris pressuring the other moneylenders to deny them credit for the repairs last year. 

“Any grandsons on the way?”

Yarvis felt his smile thin, shook his head. “Not yet.”

“Plenty of time, plenty.”

“Yes.”

“I heard you were recently before the magistrate, some murderous gangster?” 

Of course you heard: I’m sure father gave the Lord Magistrate an earful on that. “Two, actually. One for trying to kill me and another for murdering the first gangster. Both hung for their crimes against Duke’s Law.”

Novis shook his head, whether in wonder or disapproval, Yarvis couldn’t say. 

“What?” he asked as they turned onto Mint, the spacious boulevard lined with the most prosperous of the counting and exchange houses of the city. Yarvis felt his guts clench. Kolp House was the last of the houses at the far end, at the corner of the small square fronting the imposing building of the Duke’s Mint. 

And inside it, your father.

“Always knew you for a hard one, Yar.”

Yarvis grinned despite the tension, “I had a good teacher in you, Nov.”

“And your father.”

Never one to take credit where it’s due, are you, Old Nov? “By the time I was old enough to learn, he wasn’t doing his own collections.”

“There’s hard in the heat of things and hard in the head and heart when things need to be done cool as you please and right the first time. Whatever talent I might have at the first, your father is the best I’ve ever known at all of it. You are two sides of the coin in that.”

Yarvis didn’t argue.

Friday, September 28, 2012

A Day Spent Sweating It Out...

Had a fever of 101 last night and this morning. Sweated it out by midday, though I'm left feeling weak and dried out.

Managed to write a bit despite the ick. Some of it seems to work:


“And what does he want?”

“A word with his son.”

“Were it simple as that, you’d have it to give to me.”

A shrug of broad shoulders, “You would know better than I, Yarvis.”

“Carefully said, Novis.”

A toss of the head, getting iron-grey hair out of grey eyes. “I’ve had some experience treading the ground between you two.”

Yarvis pulled his hat from the peg by the door, pushing past the older man and out of his home. “Tell me, does it ever get muddy, that ground?”

His father’s oldest servant turned to follow. “Never more than it was when you denied him, Yar.” 

Yarvis snorted, “You mean when I, a grown man, decided I knew what was best for me?”

“Each has his place in the thing, I suppose.”

“What does that mean?”

Another shrug. “Your father thinks different.”

“Every man entitled to his thoughts, I suppose. Of course, my father would like to charge everyone for his, even while he’s ramming them down your throat.”

Novis stopped walking. “Will you see him?”

Yarvis turned to face him, “In due time.”

“And when can I tell him to expect you?”

It was Yarvis’ turn to shrug. “When I arrive at his door.”

Thin lips drew tight around the scar he’d earned years ago, defending the old man’s money, not his family. “You know what he’ll say to that, Yar.”

“I do,” Yarvis said, “and aside from the shit he’ll likely toss your way for telling him, can’t say I much care.”



Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Yesterday

I took the first part of my department's sergeant's promotional exam yesterday, the written.

This is the third time I have taken the exam, and the happiest I've been with the quality of the questions. I don't mean to say that I did exceptionally well, I'm just saying I thought the exam appropriate to the  job. That could not be said about the first exam I was eligible for, and I could only say the exam developers improved the questions for the last iteration three years ago.

No, this time the questions were appropriate and appropriately difficult. I am usually a fast test-taker, but I used more of the allotted time on this occasion than I am accustomed to.  The first half of the written exam was challenging; I required all but five minutes of time to make initial decisions, leaving only five minutes to review my answers for completeness.

I think I did passably well. Perhaps better than ever before. We will see if it was good enough.

The oral board is scheduled to take place in November.

Friday, September 21, 2012

End Of An Era


The Coolness was out walking the dog and snapped this as it flew by overhead. A last viewing in flight. An end to an era. Farewell, Endeavor.




Friday, September 14, 2012

The Busy Ahead

I see some busy ahead, so I may not be posting here as frequently as I just resumed posting (is that as tortured and twisted a sentence as it seems?).

I want to post frequently, but I am also giving myself a bastard of a deadline for A Friend To The Watch while I await word from Baen on The Last Captain (which should come soon, I hope.). I am setting a tight deadline in hopes that I will finally add to the pile of DONE SHIT rather than the shittier pile of TO BE DONE SHIT that I have accrued over the last year or so.

I am also still percolating on what to do to bring my next Grantville Gazette story, A Time Piece, to a tight and entertaining conclusion.

So, off to work it is...

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Assholes Getting Something of What They Deserve

Watch the video embedded in this article, and watch it to the end. Painful, but the final bit is some rough justice.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Greatest Loss

What a horrible, slow, agonizing way for a planet to surrender its atmosphere; under the lash of the sun.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Soccer Season, Fall 2012

We played our first game of the fall season today, played quite well, in fact. I managed to keep a clean sheet, helped a great deal by my team, who spent most of the game hammering at the gates of the other team's goal. We won 3-0. The other team was gracious and played well, they just couldn't impose their will on us.

Longer-term readers of the blog might remember me mentioning muscle-tits and other characters from previous seasons of play in this league. Well, it appears that muscle-tits and his team are no longer allowed to play in the league, something I must say was a bit longer than it should have been in coming. That said, I am content with the league's decision. The reason I say it was a bit too long coming was that Muscle-tits had an incident with the refs at one game. Another incident with a different team led one ref to ask the league to bar a player from play. When he didn't get a prompt response, he walked away from the league. Well-liked by his peers, many of our other refs walked away too. I understand the response, I just wish people were a bit more patient all around.

So now the league needs referees. They pay, if anyone reads this and is interested.

Ah, well, one must take the good with the bad. At least muscle-tits won't be screaming invective at me or anyone else in the league. Hyper-competitive pricks can find somewhere else to masturbate upon their self-recognized magnificence, I'm playing soccer!

Friday, September 7, 2012

How Did Chicon Go, You Ask?

Why, it was most excellent, thank you.

I did what I usually do, drank, ate and mucked about with some of my favorite people. Alistair Kimble was my wingman and guide for it all (I lost my guidebook within minutes of getting the damn thing.).

Highlights included:

Dinner at Gene & Georgetti'sMark Van Name was kind enough to invite us after I'd suggested the place as somewhere he might like to dine. I hadn't eaten there in more than 14 years, and they did not fail my recommendation.

A Literary Bheers with Chuck Gannon, which was lots of fun and resulted in a tale that shall be told a few more times in the future.

The Baen Party: I love this publishing house, and know many of their authors, so I enjoyed myself quite a bit.

Hanging at the Big Bar and soaking in the sights and conversation with folks like Writer's of The Future winner, David Carani and several other winners of that competition, including an old hand, Myke Cole.

Another fine dinner with Eric Flint, Chuck Gannon, and several other contributors to the Grantville Gazette. It was nice to put faces to names.

I also met a few more people I have seen before but not had opportunity to speak to before...

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

This Weekend, Chicago

This weekend, I return to sweet home, Chicago for WorldCon, ChiCon 7, whatever you want to call it. I call it some fun filled with some hopes and lots of friends and more than one or two memories.



I love Chicago like no other city I've lived in. It moves me, much like this song. I hope to see you there. I hope to see it all.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Back From The Green Goodness

I had posted that I would be getting more up here, then I went on vacation, etc. So, in the interest of giving you something for your patience:

The Coolness, Boo, and I just returned Monday night from my parent's home outside Spring City, TN. We were there with my brother and his family to reunite with kin and have some fun.

This is from Monday night, I think? That's my dad on the right and my (older) brother hamming it up in the center. I had to put that he's older in there, given that he still has his hair, damn him! I think, because after working our way through 2o some-odd years worth of Spanish Riojas (2007, 2008, 2005, some others) recollection is a bit fuzzy. 




That's paella we're preparing. It was awesome. So sorry you could not have some (Not really, your absence meant more for me).

The night before was ribs, if I remember correctly. Then there were burgers and brats, as well as a fish fry night. And I won't even tell you about the awesomeness at each breakfast.  Needless to say, I gained a few pounds while in the hot green of Tennessee.

The vacation was a great time, and Boo greatly enjoyed playing with her cousins all week. We did a great deal of swimming, water-skiing, fishing, and general-hot-day lazing in the sun. 

The Coolness and I actually got free for one night for dinner in Chattanooga. 

John Ringo and his wife Miriam met us in town. We had a nice meal and exceptional conversation. They had us back to their home, where The Coolness was introduced to all seven cats in the Ringo household while I had a tour of John's writing cave, caught a glimpse of his process and got to read some work in progress. The Coolness even got a signed copy of Queen of Wands, which she'd been eager to read ever since finishing Princess Of Wands some years ago. An exceptional night.

The return trip was not so pleasant. The flight was fine, it was after landing in SF at 1030 PM that things began to go awry. As an experienced traveller, I went straight to where the luggage disgorges onto the carousel. I wasn't quite in the preferred spot, but I was close to it, ready to grab my bag. 

A woman came in from my right, stomped on my foot, reached across in front of me, and grabbed a bag. I bit my tongue so as not to curse and swear a blue streak in front of my daughter and the rest of the public. Stomper dropped the bag after discovering it wasn't hers. 

Balancing on one foot, I stumbled into the man on my left's space. He hissed at me. 

I apologized to him, "I'm sorry, but I just got stepped on."

Stomper didn't apologize at all, and continued to occupy the space. 

"Lady, there a reason you don't feel the need to apologize?" I asked.

She made no response, AND DID IT AGAIN when her bag arrived a moment later! When I had recovered sufficiently to decide whether or not to deck her, she was gone.

Foot throbbing, I waited for another twenty minutes while bags kept coming, none of them mine. I asked The Coolness to check with the lost baggage counter. The carousel stopped moving some minutes later, so I limped over and joined The Coolness, who was just getting to the front of the line. It was now nearing 1110 PM.

I handed across my baggage claim ticket and was told that the bag went to Atlanta and would not be arriving till the next day. I arranged for them to deliver the bag the next day and we got out of there.

Then began the long walk to the shuttle for long term parking. Followed by a long wait for said shuttle. Then the shuttle had to stop 9 times in the mile it takes to get to the parking garage. 

We got to our car at 1200 AM. 

On the drive home, a trio of moronic drivers raced between packs of traffic, swapping lanes without signaling and generally putting the public at risk. Stressful, to say the least.

So, to recap: Great vacation, and SF is full of people that are either out to hurt or stress me out.


Still Can't Get Enough of These Two




Thursday, August 2, 2012

ANCHORS

The title about sums things up for the last few weeks, too much treading water, not enough diving in. Not enough production, too much work.

Trying to keep my head up, knowing my shit isn't the mountain I make it out to be, but rather a tiny pile easily ground underfoot, if only I could tolerate the scent of shit lingering on the limb.

I have friends facing mountains of their own, and doing it with better grace than I.  I look to them for example, try to stride forward in similar manner, but feel chained to events and concerns that should not weigh so much, yet drag me, inert, gasping, to a standstill as the world passes.

Anchored.

Monday, July 30, 2012

A Goodreads Review


The Skybound Sea (Aeons' Gate, #3)The Skybound Sea by Sam Sykes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of this book, and I thoroughly enjoyed it! Sykes smoothly closed the trilogy, tying up the many character arcs in fine fashion.

The climax of Skybound Sea, without getting into spoilers, is much like Tome of the Undergates in that most of it takes place during a prolonged battle sequence.  Few writers are able to convey such quality non-stop action and yet develop characters that are both believable and interesting. And Sykes is a smooth hand at making disparate, believable, despicable, desperate characters. So smooth is his writing and character development that the reader is drawn along, even made to feel concern for: various mass-murderers, the possessed,  racists, religious nuts, Gods, Demons, and sundry homicidal sorts.

Through all the blood and gore, Sykes' has worked a deep vein of longing and strange, off-angle perception that is evocative of a modern-day Lovecraft, if Lovecraft were to have had a three-way brainchild with R.E. Howard and someone of more literary bent...

I am a fan of sword and sorcery. I am a fan of epic fantasy. This is something more, and slightly different, from both. I thoroughly enjoyed it, heartily recommend it, and can't wait to read additional work by this author.


View all my reviews

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Full Chapter From A Friend To The Watch.


Because I want to show someone something, and you few are my only audience:

Qezzon went still as stone, barely daring to breathe. On clear, cold nights like this one, even the fog of a single breath could cast shadows in the light of all Three Sisters.
If ever I needed proof there’s a difference between what I do and a common street-robber, that’s it! Qezzon thought, watching a White Sash stalk a merchant who’d taken a wrong turn wearing too much of his wealth in plain sight.  
Here in Dockside, the business affairs of the various merchants and merchant-captains conducting trade on the River Ragoìn were sometimes on the streets a bit late for perfect safety. The smarter ones hired bodyguards. Smarter still were those that bought the protection of the White Sashes. The smartest were never out after dark in the first place. 
Regardless of whether the Three Sisters were showing their faces or not, it was still dark in the alley. This particular idiot hadn’t even had a servant with him, instead hiring a lamp-bearer off the street. 
Said lamp-bearer was currently legging it for the far end of the alley, arms pumping. The merchant picked up the lantern-pole the boy had left behind in his haste. “Where are you going, you shit!?” he shouted, unaware of the White Sash sneaking up behind him. 
The heavy thud of weighted leather striking bone under thin flesh reached Qezzon even on the roof. 
The merchant tumbled, senseless, sprawling like a string-cut puppet.
One handed, the robber caught the lamp-pole as it fell from nerveless fingers. A powerful jab drove the hardened metal spike at its base into the muck. The lamp swung from its chain, casting odd shadows as the robber waved back the way he’d come. 
Turning to the body with the contented sigh of a workman having done a job right, the robber tucked his sap into the front of his sash. Unhurried, he knelt and lifted the merchant’s purse, then stripped rings from hands, ears and nose.
A second White Sash arrived, keeping watch while the first continued a careful search of the unconscious man’s clothing.
“Foller was right again,” the first Sash said.
“So far! I’ll believe him when I see every coin the man said he’d have, not before,” the second man grumbled.   
The searcher grunted as his hands found something. Qezzon heard fabric tearing as the Sash pulled the inner lining of his victim’s cloak free of the outer layers. 
Coin glinted in the lamp-light as it fell from its cloth prison.
“Guess you’ll believe me next time, eh?” the first man said. Both Sashes laughed, squatting to pick their coin from the alley muck.
Waiting for them to leave, Qezzon filed the name away for future reference. He wouldn’t even have stopped if the robbery hadn’t happened right outside the back door to Annon’s place.
If the lamp-lighter had called the pumpkins he should hear a few whistles soon. Doubtless thinking the same thing, the robbers took their time, leaving only after they’d checked the body to their satisfaction. They took the lamp with them, the red glow allowing Qezzon to track their progress until even it was lost in the darkness.
Already late, Qezzon slowly and silently counted to one hundred, straining to hear whistles. Wouldn’t it just set Istar to laughing if the lamp-bearer returned with a bunch of pumpkins just as I’m standing over a dead man. Grinning behind his muffler at the idea, he looked around, assessing the risks. 
I’d go back the way I came, but the spot near the River Rose is too exposed, right across from Vallof’s brothel. Everything else is too far to walk without being seen by someone who might remark on it or choose to do to me what I just saw done to that poor fool.
Hearing no whistles through the entire count, Qezzon made up his mind. Best do as I planned in the first place.
Reasonably sure the pumpkins weren’t going to descend on the alley any time soon, Qezzon mouthed a brief prayer and slipped from his perch. Changing directions and killing his momentum with each touch on his way down, Qezzon’s feet and hands slapped from roof to gable to wall to shed roof to wall to rain barrel, the weight of which he used to kill the last of his momentum by striking it at an angle. The heavy vessel tipped but didn’t go over under his weight, absorbing the last of his speed. He let the energy of its desire to stand upright push him erect against the wall, using his thighs to ease it back into position at the same time. Coming to rest, Qezzon looked along the alley for anything he might have missed from the rooftops. 
Nothing having changed, the young thief shifted his weight forward and squatted on the rim of the barrel. He stuck out a foot to step down and stopped. The muck is a problem. Not enough traffic in the places I need it. Guess I’ll have to go around front instead of using the back. Defeats the purpose of using the High Way…Damn.
He leapt from the rain barrel to the middle of the alley where the muck was already well-disturbed. He slipped on landing, managed to catch himself by throwing his hands out and crouching low.
He was just standing up when the body groaned. 
Qezzon nearly soiled himself, leaping straight up and spinning in midair. The flight, much like a fall, wasn’t the problem; it was the coming to earth again that began another battle for balance he won only by dropping a knee into the cold, wet muck.
Heart galloping hard as horses’ hooves, Qezzon barely restrained the urge to kick the unconscious man for scaring him. Getting control of himself with effort, and frankly too fascinated not to, Qezzon leaned over for a closer look. 
The merchant, struck so hard a swollen knot the size of a baby’s fist was rising behind his ear, was still breathing. 
And they call me hard-headed! was his first thought. Closely followed by: Still alive! and, That’s right, he’s not some Pathless creature back from the dead, eager to tear your soul from your body for your sins!
Don’t recognize him, thank Istar… There was nothing to be done for the man that wouldn’t bring attention he neither needed nor wanted. Maybe Annon will have some idea what we can do that won’t give us both up.
Enough! Get a move on before someone sees you here. 
He stood and left. Keeping to the deeper shadows, Qezzon paused at the mouth of the alley. The street beyond was empty. He stepped out, making for the wagon ruts carved by centuries of iron-rimmed wheels bouncing along the ancient stone pavers. In all but the driest weather the ruts filled with the filth of the streets, becoming shallow gullies of sewage rushing toward the river every spring. Sticking to the wagon ruts was the surest way to both cover his tracks and ruin his boots.
As he’d more money than time to spare, it was an easy decision. Which is not to say he didn’t regret it. Despite the short distance he had to cover, the soft boots he used for walking the High Way were already beginning to soak through and numb his feet. 
 Burning down every few span of years, the wooden expanse of nets, rope, and other myriad tools of sailing that squatted by the river rarely stood long enough for wagons to wear ruts in its surface. 
Everything had its trade-offs though: something about the docks made the ice harden faster here, so there was little chance of leaving tracks.
Aware he was still dripping dirty slush, Qezzon walked a bit further than he had to, trying to make it seem he’d come from further down the docks before turning and hurrying to Annon’s door. Head down in the light of Three Sisters, he knocked once, paused, then six more times in a pattern known to all who walked the Crooked Path. He stood waiting, nervously glancing up and down the docks. 
A ten count of breaths passed before the door yawned open. “You’re late,” a voice said out of the darkness beyond the doorway.
“I know, something happened out back,” he explained. 
“Come back some other time,” the voice didn’t sound much like Annon.
“No heat on me.”
The door opened wider, “Well then, be welcome.”
He stepped forward, stopped in the doorway. “My boots are foul.”
A pause, then: “I’ve a pair of sandals somewhere.”
There was something in that pause that made every hair on Qezzon’s body stand up and begin to dance.
Thinking fast, he remained where he was. “How are your daughters?”
“They’re fine, come in.”
“On second thought, someone might have seen me. I’ll come bac-“
“Fuck this!” a new voice muttered. Something clicked, immediately followed by a TUNG sound he could not place.
Something ripped his hood off, spun him sideways and yanked the muffler tight around his throat. 
The bolt, barely slowed by the cloth wound around his throat and the leather hood, struck the wood upright of the crane across the dock with an evil sound he would never forget.
Crossbow! He realized too late, reeling from the doorway. He tried to turn the reel into a run but slipped and fell. Another bolt whistled past into darkness.
Istar’sfuckingsmokingballs! Shooting to his feet, Qezzon slipped and slid his way into a panicked run. Has to be more than one man, no one could load and fire that quick. 
Back muscles tensing in full expectation of a bolt bearing his death, Qezzon offered a silent, fervent prayer: Please don’t let it be more than two, Istar, and I’ll honor you with a great offering, I will.
“He must have it! Get him, fools!” Qezzon heard the first voice say.
At least three, then. A part of him realized as he caught his stride, each step pushing him faster. Finding breath hard come by, Qezzon reached up and pulled at thick wool of his muffler, trying to loosen it as he ran.
He heard someone pounding along in his wake. Rather than drive Qezzon to further panic, the sound brought hope: the one giving chase would surely block anyone else’s attempt to feather him. It wasn’t much to hang his hopes on, but it he didn’t require much. 
Trying to keep their man between himself and another bolt for as long as possible, Qezzon angled his run toward the water’s edge instead of heading into the first alley he came across.
From the sound of his breathing and footsteps, the pursuer was gaining. Qezzon drifted closer to the water’s edge, picked his moment, and jumped sideways. Grabbing the upright of one of the wooden structures net-makers used to frame out their work, Qezzon spun around the timber. 
His pursuer managed the turn, no mean feat on the ice, but slid into the bottom rail of the frame, tripping him to cartwheel into the icy dock with a heavy crunch that spoke of breaking things.
Approaching a right angle to his original direction of travel, the young thief released his grip on the frame. While his landing was less than graceful, cold feet barely able to compensate for the demands made of them, it served. 
Legs burning, he put on more speed. 
Ten paces to the alley.
Five.
A toe caught, tripping him. Arms windmilling, he bounced off the corner of the building jutting out from the alley. Spinning, sobbing for breath, he staggered forward. Safety lay just a few steps ahead.
Just as he made the mouth of the alley, a bolt sprouted from the wooden wall of the building on his right, quivering at waist height. Unable to avoid it, Qezzon’s hip slapped into the thick hardwood shaft, shearing the bolt where it met the wall. Sharp pain followed. 
Limping on, he refused to be stopped. The alley made a turn ahead, but there seemed a lot of ground between him and it. No alley had ever seemed so straight for so long a distance. Them that reach the alley while I’m in here will have a fine shot up my ass.
It was a thing of breaths, and paces, and Istar’s blessing, that he was staggering gracelessly around the corner when he heard the crossbowman loose again. 
The bolt sparked as it glanced off the opposite side of the alley and disappeared into darkness.
Qezzon kept moving, looking for an easy climb to the High Way. Nothing presented itself by the next intersection. He paused there, searching the moonlit skyline. His position relative to the familiar spire of Lunara’s Tower proved a useful landmark. There’s a climb I can manage about four streets over.
He heard running footsteps. 
Limping as fast as he could, Qezzon found himself doing something he’d never thought to do: hope he’d run across a pumpkin. 
As ever, none were in sight when needed. 
Several tortured breaths later he entered another intersection. Torchlight danced from around a corner about thirty paces down the left-hand street. No one but a complete idiot left an open flame unattended, so it had to be a carter or merchant with cargo. 
He turned, saw shadows moving back the way he’d come, and put everything he had left into a dash toward the light. 
He was still a good twenty paces from the corner when, over his gasping breaths and pounding heart, Qezzon distinctly heard the ominous creak of tension being put into a crossbow.
Not going to make it. 
Eyes lighting on a covered stair that climbed the side of a tenement just shy of the intersection, he altered course. Putting his head down, he took the stairs three and four at a time. 
He didn’t see the landing until he was soaring over it. Qezzon’s thighs struck the far hand rail, the rotted timber shattering and sending him head over heels into the air. Firelight alternated with darkness, did it again. 
Tempted to curse Istar, he drew breath for it but couldn’t didn’t have time. Knowing the fall would end his days or cripple him for life, Qezzon closed his eyes and tried to meet his fate like a man.
He was immediately rewarded for failing to blaspheme; landing in something far softer than cobblestones. Still the impact pounded the air from him. For a moment it felt as if he were floating, then everything stopped with a squeal of wood on iron; someone setting a handbrake. 
His eyes snapped open, only to be blinded by reddish torchlight.
An excited voice shouted, “What the Dark-Damned? Waller, what the hell is this shit? A body ain’t s’posed to fall outta the sky like that!?”
“That’s fer sure not right,” another man’s voice, presumably Waller, answered, “people fallin’ outta the sky inter our wares. Not right at all.”
Eyes adjusting to the torch light, Qezzon discovered the reason for his soft landing: shit. Lots of shit: a thick slurry of horse, oxen, and smaller pellets that might be pig shit filled the cart to nearly the top of the sidewalls. Qezzon wheezed, shit-laden air the sweetest thing his starved lungs had ever known.
Fuck! he thought, sitting bolt upright before it occurred that peeking might be safer. Qezzon twisted and turned, trying to see everywhere at once, each movement casting dung from his clothes and hair. Much as he tried, he couldn’t see beyond the torchlight. 
“What do you think you’re doing, boy?” the first asked from the driver’s bench. 
“I-“ Qezzon panted, sagging back into the shit to look up at the pale faces of his questioners.
“No excuse, falling out of the sky and interruptin’ our work,” the one called Waller said.
Qezzon swallowed. Above and beyond the faces of Waller and the man he shared the bench with, a shadow appeared at the broken railing, steel tip of a quarrel glinting in the torchlight. Realizing the crossbowman was hesitant to loose another bolt when so many might raise the alarm, Qezzon thought quickly. 
Pretending not to notice that death was but a trigger’s pull away, Qezzon mustered his courage and took a deep breath. 
He drew another and charged his voice with as much sincerity as he could muster, “I know, masters muckraker, that I shouldn’t interrupt your work, and I do apologize for doing so.” He drew another breath, “I ask if you’ll let me lie here a bit and catch my breath while you drive on to your next spot. I’ll even pay-”
It was the mention of coin that decided the muckrakers.  
“Prolly just doesn’t want to pay the landlord fer the damage he done,” Waller said, hiking a thumb up at the landing while looking at his partner.
The other man nodded slowly. “Could be.”
Qezzon glanced up again. No glint. No shadow. Good enough… Might still follow though, and with my muffler down, he’s had a good, long look at my face.
The tenement-dwellers were just getting a candle or lantern lit in response to all the ruckus, because light bloomed between the shutters. 
“A half-mark to split between you two fine tradesmen,” he said softly.
Waller flicked the reins. The cart began to roll.
It was nearly dawn by the time he saw what he’d been waiting for. A patrol of pumpkins was making their way back to the Hole from Sluicegate. Knowing any pursuer discouraged by witnesses would think again before doing anything that might bring them to the attention of the watch, Qezzon settled up with the muckrakers and climbed out of the shit right as the watchmen drew abreast of them.
The line of watchmen bowed out and away to avoid the filth and stench of him as they walked past. The man bringing up the rear looked straight at him, blue eyes flashing even as Qezzon recognized Sergeant of Watchmen Yarvis Kolp.