Tuesday Tidbit: Retail Morning

Arthur prepares for battle . . . with the bank, the account books, and the sales computer. This is almost a nine years after O. Familiar.

Arthur drove first to the warehouse. He noted Rendor’s car, and two others belonging to older Hunters. Good. The young pups would hesitate before testing any of them. They should not, not here, but impulses oft times conflicted with good sense. Arthur eased out of the vehicle and entered by the side door, away from the loading area.

Voices carried from the loading dock. “How many pounds of herbicide?” Ivan demanded.

“Six thousand, five hundred. Florian and Marius say that Oberst has threatened to kill whoever thought it a good idea to ship so early.” Laughter under Rendor’s words. “He has to store it until fall. Florian asked Marius to trade places until Oberst calmed down.”

Laughter in reply. Constache coughed, then declared, “Marius refused.”

“Indeed. The plea of shared blood and birth was not sufficient to convince him.” More laughter.

Arthur ignored the guffaws and went to his small office, then slipped into the hidden sleeping and storage area. He changed from Hunting garb into his preferred style, ate more, and braced for the day. With a quiet sigh he turned on the computer and found reading glasses, then began sorting e-mail and internet orders. The internet had made the shop profitable beyond his hopes, but it demanded so much of his time and attention. He needed to give the child access, so that she could do some of the work. Two orders from Germany gave him pause. He would have to consider that. Shipping and customs might well devour any profits.

He worked on orders, then read the latest news about shipping and customs. Items from Europe no longer suffered delays, but English and Irish goods would take at least two weeks beyond scheduled. He removed the glasses and polished the lenses. Lady be praised that he did so little business with the English clothing suppliers.

[snip]

Arthur logged out. He took the printed orders and packaged what he could. Rendor and Arkady carried some of the boxes and parcels to the shipping dock without being asked. Arkady’s nose remained somewhat flatter than before, just as his respect for his elders remained far greater than before. Most of the younger Hunters had learned from Arkady’s poor judgment. Most, but not all. Rendor cleared his throat.

“Anno?”

“Sir, Deborah contacted Dumitra. The too-large owl has been seen near both the urban garden, and the place where the covens meet.” Arthur’s nephew-by-marriage frowned. “It has not bothered my lady or her mother recently, but they distrust the creature.”

“They are wise. I am warned, and will pass the warning.” He glanced around. Several other Hunters or inactive Hunters lingered, listening. He spoke more loudly. “A second beast stalked yester night, perhaps seeking to prey on the first creature, perhaps hunting Hunters. It was not asked its intentions.”

Grim chuckles greeted his words, and the others made signs of acknowledgement. They went wary. Arthur tucked the orders into his bag and departed. He stopped at the tea shop on his way. A matron ahead of him in line hid a yawn, then grumbled, “Well I heard that the city said no fireworks this year because of the river being too low.”

Unkind snorts greeted her words. A man with a laden drink-carrier said, “Nah. The real reason is that they busted the budget on the new park equipment, the stuff that collapsed the second week after they put it in, and replacing it took all the fireworks funds.”

“I’ll believe that. What cheap junk,” a third person declared.

Arthur listened with one ear. The scent of fresh-baked pastries flowed through the shop. He considered the cost of the little golden buns and filled croissants against what the goth shop’s shipping bill had been the previous week. The pastries won. As he drew closer, he observed the small “two-for-one” sign. Even better.

The owner smiled as he reached the order counter, her hand poised over the register’s keys. “Good morning, sir. Your usual?”

“Good morning. No, thank you. I would like the tea of the day, large and hot, a small mocha, and four of the lemon crescents, and two of the chocolate.” Skender and their remaining sister gave him endless grief over his fondness for chocolate.

The lady smiled even more broadly. “Large tea of the day, small mocha, four lemon, two chocolate crescents. Yes, sir. Anything else?”

“No, thank you.” He stepped aside without being reminded, paid and collected his order.

Traffic remained light, and he reached the shop with steam still rising from the tea. He let himself in the alley door. The alarm’s delay warning failed to chirp. That should not be. He heard music coming from the main shop at a low volume. “Now you’re in trouble,” a smooth tenor voice called, followed by snickering.

“How can I be in trouble for being early? No, do not answer that, Master Tay,” came the weary reply. Arthur frowned as he set the bag down and unlocked his office door. The child should not be present. He had told her not to come in early.

The source of the first voice, a ring-tailed lemur with silver-white head, forefoot, shoulders, and tail, slunk into the workroom, then walked toward him. “Yes, Master Tay?” he inquired in his own speech as he moved the bakery bag out of paw’s reach.

A quiet sigh, and orange eyes too experienced and wise met his own. “Shadow was asked to attend the Memorial Day service. Last night he dreamed of the past. Silver could not return to sleep, and so came here to finish what she left undone yesterday.”

“Ah. Thank you.” Arthur set the drink carrier on his desk, dropped the office bag onto the chair, and locked the bakery items into his desk drawer. He glanced at the message board to see if any new messages awaited. Only one, a reminder about a pending fire inspection. He made a small check mark beside it, then glanced through the bead curtain into the main shop.

The child stood behind the counter, entering sales into the main ledger book. She wore a long-sleeved, high-collared grey blouse with a hint of blue to it, and a long black skirt, both with darker grey lace on the hems. Hunter colors, as befitted her role of wise-Huntress. A small black top hat and miniature veil perched on her grey and dark-blond hair. She turned her head, attention fully on the large book, and he caught a glimpse of the silver-white streak in her eyebrow and hair, the sign of backlash’s fiery kiss. Blue-grey eye-shadow and liner—and reddish-black lipstick over pale base—marked her as another who favored the goth sub-culture. She leaned forward to inspect something. Her silver St. Michael’s medallion gleamed for an instant as it swung. The flash of light matched his flash of pride. She had acquitted herself very well on her first Great Hunt.

“Mrs. Lestrang,” he called, voice quiet so as not to startle her. She turned and curtsied. He acknowledged the honor. “Bring the ledger, please.”

“Yes, sir.” She sorted the unfinished receipts with nimble fingers, then carried them and the heavy book through the bead curtain and into the workroom. He led her to his office and gestured to the desk. She set the book down and turned to go.

“Sit, please, and break your fast with me.”

She hesitated for the space between heartbeats, then said, “Yes, sir.” By the time he shifted the order pages clear and opened the drawer protecting the bakery bag, she had fetched small, mismatched paper plates and napkins. He gave her the mocha, then served himself from the bag. Only when he finished did she sit and take the remaining treats. The bakery had added an extra, one of the small, round buns, and she left it for him, as was proper.

After both had eaten a little, he said, “Two abyssal creatures required attention.”

She set the mocha down on his desk and began touching the tips of her fingers, counting. “Sir, if I recall correctly, that is nine in three weeks. That . . .” Her brow wrinkled as she frowned. “That should not be, not in this season.”

“So says the senior Hunter as well, and you recall correctly.” He sat back, tea in hand. The heat soothed the little aches in his fingers. “Twice in two months we have found evidence of gates.”

Master Tay coughed, and the child lifted him into her lap. She said, “I sensed one, and Art may have sensed a second, although he was not certain.” Her expression shifted from concerned to weary. “That was the night the role-playing game went awry at the university.”

“Ah.” His nume fiiu, named-for boy child, had dealt with the magical mishap with commendable swiftness and firmness. “Rendor says that the over-large owl has returned.”

Tay covered his eyes with one paw. “Blast. Bothering healers again?”

The child startled and gave her Familiar a strange look. Then she met his eyes. “Sir, Tay has a point. The last time the owl lingered, it lingered near Dumitra, her mother, Mistress Cimbrissa, and Deborah. And was seen at St. Margaret of Scotland just after the fire.” Dark almond eyes became wary. “And at the site of the drug factory. I do not care for this.”

He wanted to thump himself. Why had he not seen the pattern? “Nor do I. A fire lit to destroy books and items of physical and spiritual healing.” He drank. He preferred black to green tea, but the fruit and mild clove under-flavors blended well and left no bitterness.  “Master Tay, can the owl be Hunted?”

Orange eyes met his. “If you seek permission, none is needed. If you mean Gears and Wings assisting, no. They are no longer sufficiently strong. If you mean the one who Hunts in shadow,” he turned the silver-bleached paw up, revealing still pink pads. “He yet abides by the law.” The paw swept forward and snagged the un-eaten end of a lemon crescent from his mage’s plate. “But I don’t!” The lemur dove off her lap and raced out of the office, trophy in maw.

Arthur fought to hide his laughter and failed. The child covered her face with her hands. “Rodney is a terrible influence,” she moaned. She lowered her hands. “Except Tay stole part of my dinner the first time we met, so for once I cannot blame my Hunting partner’s Familiar. I’m sorry, sir. He knows better.”

Indeed, the small master did, which was precisely why he’d done it. Arthur drank more tea. The child finished her mocha. She had fully accepted her husband’s faith, and he ought not have gotten the coffee for her. But she loved the drink still, and did not refuse his gift. Arthur savored the flavors in the tea, then finished the second chocolate croissant. Cimbrissa had scolded him about his weakness. As few pleasures remained to him, chocolate was the least of little vices. At last he said, “Ask Shadow about gates, please, and about other creatures that should not be present.”

“Yes, sir.”

He waved his right hand, dismissing her. She stood and departed, after she swept the desk for crumbs. He considered the golden brown bun. A wise Hunter would save it for later. But he was not numbered among the wise, as Skender oft times reminded him. The bun contained almond paste, a fitting combination with which to conclude his repast. He washed his hands, disposed of the bag and empty cups, and turned his attention to the ledger.

(C) 2022 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved

Conservation of Energy?

Or just a cat?

Athena T. Cat at rest.

A cat at rest will stay at rest, no matter what her staff wants, until acted upon by an internal impulse. A cat in motion will stay in mo—

No, she’ll flop into a snooze whenever she wants to.

East and West and Strong Men

Rudyard Kipling’s “The Ballad of East and West” is one of my favorites, and I can declaim large chunks from memory. The Australian poet A.B. “Banjo” Patterson observed that Kipling had a gift for describing horses, and that shines through in the mid-section of the poem. But I want to focus on Kamal and the Colonel’s son.

“Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face,
tho’ they come from the ends of the earth!”

For two, or three, strong men, a chase after a stolen horse becomes an occasion for a feat of daring, a display of honor, and a moment of brotherhood.

Kamal has gripped him by the hand and set him upon his feet.
“No talk shall be of dogs,” said he, “when wolf and gray wolf meet.
May I eat dirt if thou hast hurt of me in deed or breath;
What dam of lances brought thee forth to jest at the dawn with Death?”
Lightly answered the Colonel’s son: “I hold by the blood of my clan:
Take up the mare for my father’s gift — by God, she has carried a man!”
The red mare ran to the Colonel’s son, and nuzzled against his breast;
“We be two strong men,” said Kamal then, “but she loveth the younger best.
So she shall go with a lifter’s dower, my turquoise-studded rein,
My broidered saddle and saddle-cloth, and silver stirrups twain.”
The Colonel’s son a pistol drew and held it muzzle-end,
“Ye have taken the one from a foe,” said he; “will ye take the mate from a friend?”
“A gift for a gift,” said Kamal straight; “a limb for the risk of a limb.
Thy father has sent his son to me, I’ll send my son to him!”
With that he whistled his only son, that dropped from a mountain-crest —
He trod the ling like a buck in spring, and he looked like a lance in rest. . .

They have looked each other between the eyes, and there they found no fault,
They have taken the Oath of the Brother-in-Blood on leavened bread and salt:
They have taken the Oath of the Brother-in-Blood on fire and fresh-cut sod,
On the hilt and the haft of the Khyber knife, and the Wondrous Names of God.”

The Ballad of East and West.” Rudyard Kipling

Two strong men, one older, one younger, both brave, both determined, and both seeing honor and respect in the other, even though they are sworn enemies (more or less). And it doesn’t matter, not in that moment.

I grew up understanding what Kipling meant, and what veterans and others meant, when they showed respect (if at times grudging) for opponents and foes. The loss of that sense is something I feel keenly. “The honorable opponent” seems to be fading from popular culture. I try to explain it to younger people, that you can respect people you disagree with, and even feel sorrow at their passing even as you know that they’d have killed you first if given the chance. “For true comrades and true foemen, Madonna, intercede!” Kipling wrote in a different place.

There’s an academic I vehemently disagree with. She sets my teeth on edge. Her work broke major ground in our field, and has opened up useful new lines of questioning and uses of archaeological and archival material. So when I had the chance, I told her how much I admired her work and how valuable it has been to me. She was glad that a younger generation still read and engaged with her ideas. I still don’t care for her, and she probably would not care for me, were we to meet in other than an academic setting. It didn’t—and doesn’t—matter.

“But there is neither east nor west, border, nor breed, nor birth

When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!”

Remember, You’re a _______________: Roots and Identity

Growing up, on occasion Sib and I would hear, “You’re from the South. Act like it.” The implication was always that we had failed to meet a certain standard of behavior, usually courtesy or treating people certain ways. Now, keep in mind, we were not living in the area generally considered the US South. The part of Texas where we lived is far more western than southern, or even midwestern. But Mom and Dad Red grew up in the older Southern culture, especially Dad Red, and certain things were hammered into us.

I was reminded of this a little while ago, while musing on the chaotic swirlings of memory, identity, manners, and European nationalism. What does it mean to be a _____________? A sense of place and history, of shared values and faith, shared traditional foes (Russia, the English, Auburn or LSU . . . ), an understanding of how things are to be done and people are to be treated? What if you never had that, and you must form a sense of place-ful-ness over and over?

Younger people today in many cases in the US don’t have the same “rootedness” that their grandparents might have had. Common cultural values have changed, or been rejected, or were never established in the first place. Some will say that this is good, because some old cultural practices needed to go. I can’t argue with that, because they are right. However, love it or hate it, being from a place or culture gives a foundation and touchstone for behavior and belief, even if those are rejected later. Deep down, you always have something to fall back on. “What would MeMaw do?” “What would Mr. Jackson up the road have done?” Family traditions, ways of relating to people and the world, they give a platform and stepping off point.

I suspect a lot of the desperate flailing for acceptance, and for some culture and standards of some kind, comes from the lack of that foundation. What does it mean to be a young person in a world where everything is filtered, influencers do not exist save on a screen, and standards of proper conduct, appearance, and belief change monthly if not faster? I think we all know, and are seeing that playing out far too clearly. Without a foundation, people drift and get caught up in things that do not always lead to good ends. Without roots and a sense of time and place, everything is now, and all changes are signs of doom and the End. No wonder things like end-times environmental beliefs have appeared and become so visible in western culture.

For a while, to be a “person from nowhere,” a true cosmopolitan without a set home or culture was lauded as the grand ideal. The person “from Europe,” or “from the cities [London and New York]” could be happy and contribute to society in any big city of the world. No difference existed between Tokyo and Mumbai and London and LA. Early on these were the “jet set,” then “the cosmopolitan class” as I heard a geographer refer to them. That might work for a few, but not for most of humanity. Roots are needed. Humans are not creatures of the air, literally or metaphorically. Without a foundation of behavior and culture, we have nothing when the storms come.

“You’re from [place/culture]. Act like it.” “Remember your baptism and be thankful.” “Was sagen die Nachbaren?” “Don’t outgrow your raisin’.” There’s a foundation in all of those ideas. Roots.

Tuesday Tidbit: Bad Tidings of Chemical Bliss

Street Chemistry strikes again . . .

On Friday morning, Lelia walked down 24th Avenue with a smile on her lips and a dark song in her heart. Low clouds and fog hid the sun, cool air surrounded her, and the road had reopened. Water ran from the pipes, and the shop could open once again.

The dark day and the prospect of working—and getting paid—eased some of the sting of the week’s excitement. And of the headline on the morning news. She stopped at the door of Belle, Book, and Blacklight, and extended a thread of magic. Arthur had opened the back door. That part of the shields had faded away, as planned. For once. She nodded and continued down the block and around the corner to the alley. It would be less likely to cause shield reactions if she went in through the back door. Motion near the formerly-white dumpster caught her eye. What the—?

“Oohno.” She reversed course at high speed, stretched her stride, and returned to the front door. Once there, she texted her boss. He appeared in the darkness of the shop, flipped the sign for a moment, and opened the door just enough for her and Tay to slide in. “Thank you, sir. Please do not open the alley door.”

He locked the door once more. “Why not, Mrs. Lestrang?”

She swallowed hard, trying to collect herself. Tay unzipped the top of his carrier and poked his head out. He said, “Because there is an individual in the alley under the influence of something that is remaking his or her reality. The person is trying to lift the white dumpster with both muscles and magic.”

Her boss turned to face the alley door. “I see. Add a hard shield over the rear of the shop, Silver,” he commanded. “I do not care to meet this person, nor to have them damage the building.”

She inclined toward him, then followed him through the dark shop and into the workroom. She helped Tay out of the carrier and onto her shoulder, drew magic, and spun out hard shields over the doors and worked them into the secondary shield on the bricks. The presence at the far end of the alley burned like a flare to her “magic sight,” burning himself out with his efforts. “He’s not going to make it,” she murmured to Rings.

“No. May the Most High have mercy on him.” Rings shifted on her shoulder. “That’s not just the usual street pharmacy at work.”

“If you mean speed, meth, and related pharmacopeia, no, it’s not.” She set him down on a shelf, put his carrier and her small satchel into their cubby, and hugged herself, shaking. She heard Arthur speaking to someone, probably the 9-1-1 operator or that other police phone line.

He emerged from the office. “The authorities are aware of the individual,” Arthur said. Dark eyes, solid black in the dim light in the workroom, narrowed as he studied her, then Tay. “Recharge, Mistress Lestrang.” With that he returned to the office and closed the door.

Lelia shook all over, clocked in, then got Tay’s energy gel out of her bag and gave him the little tub. “Orange! The good stuff.” Sluuuuurp, slurp, slurp, he worked on the container. She wrinkled her nose. It smelled like the icky orange goop stuff the psychiatric hospital people had claimed was a name-brand gelled salad. It wasn’t.

She had some trail mix and drank some water. After she washed her hands, she put the now-empty tub in the trash and started pulling orders. A box of steampunk and other prints also needed to be stocked.

Zzzzzzznnnnxxxxx. Tay had curled up on the shelf, tail over eyes. She stuck her tongue out at him and set to work.

Her boss appeared after a few minutes. “See to the prints. I will assemble these,” he nodded at the orders list.

“Yes, sir.” That’s odd. Arthur usually did office things while she or Corava got ready to open. She shrugged to herself and started through the boxes of prints. A lot were open-editions of popular designs, about half steampunk and half Shoshana Langtree’s cheerful designs. The pastel pot-bellied dragon beamed up at her from four different designs. Ugh, get it away, get it away. At last she got through the sweet, happy, sunny pictures and down to the dark, brooding “spooky” prints. Now we’re in business. Oh, wow, I like that one.

She glanced to the counter. Arthur had assembled a stack of CDs, some shirts, and a handful of books. He wore very dark browns and black, with a touch of amber embroidery on the pockets and collar of his waistcoat. She glanced back at the print in her hand. Should I—? No. A male figure raised a wizard’s staff before a gateway made of rough, rain-darkened grey ashlars. He shared her boss’s coloring, build, and current choice of colors. The white streaks in the waist-length braid, however, were not Master Saldovado. Arthur. Long hair. Hard nope. Come to think of it, she’d only seen one man of the Hunter clans with hair longer than collar-length, and even his hadn’t been more than top-of-the-shoulder, perhaps. Things can grab hair.

Sirens grew louder and louder. An ambulance howled past the front door. The sirens turned toward the alley, then stopped. Lelia’s hands started to shake. She made it to the counter, set down the folders, then sat hard on the floor, hands over her face. Dear Lord, no, how many—? Why, God, why?

An arm over her shoulder, strong, pulled her against her boss. “Sufliit fica,” he murmured. Another presence, warm and furry, shoved into her lap. Eyes closed, she pulled Tay close and leaned against Arthur. “Child,” he repeated.

“I’m sorry, sir,” she whispered, trying not to sob, not to lose it. “Too many memories, I’m sorry.”

“Silver,” Tay said, voice full of warm sorrow. “It’s not your fault, not now, not then. You did what you could, it’s not your fault.”

“I’m sor—” A warm paw on her lips stopped the words.

“Hush, child,” Arthur ordered. She hushed, just leaned against him. “The one in the alley made a choice. The ones who created the drug also chose.” Hardness filled his voice. “May the Great God grant that justice be done.”

“Amen,” Tay replied.

Lelia breathed, smelling Tay’s dusty, musky lemur smell, and Arthur’s lack of scent. She regained control. “Thank you,” she said. She swallowed hard. “Thank you. I’m back in control, sir, Tay.”

“Good.” Arthur released her and stood. Tay moved, and Arthur extended his right hand. She blinked, then took it in her own right hand. He gripped her wrist and almost lifted her, so strong was his pull as she stood. “Please tidy up, and I will open.”

“Yes, sir.” She inclined toward him in a slight bow, gathered the spare wrapping paper and empty folder and boxes, and departed for the workroom. Tay followed. “Leave the shield on the back door?”

Tay nodded and swished his tail. “I would if I were you. Just for now.”

She started to nod, then stopped and extended her magic a little. That’s odd. The tertiary shield hasn’t completely faded. Huh. She reached out, intending to undo the last bit of spell and send the power to Tay. The spell resisted. Lelia set the packing and other things down, half-closed her eyes, and shifted completely to looking with and for magic. “Rings, are you sensing the same thing with the, ah, Hunter-linked spell that I am?”

A long pause, then a hesitant, “Um, yes, I am. Tell you what, just leave it for now, let it fade. Something’s,” he hesitated. “Quirky. Leave it for now and we can sort it out later. I need a nap.”

Lelia opened her eyes and shifted back to normal vision. “Raj has corrupted you,” she informed her Familiar.

He looked down his muzzle at her, somehow, from knee-height, then stalked off, tail vertical. I swear. Some people’s Familiars. Really. She glanced at the front of her jacket, and the coating of grey and silver fur it now sported. “Aaaaaargh!”

(C) 2022 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved Note: This is the last excerpt from Overly Familiar that will be posted here.

Midsummer Poetry

Of all the trees that grow so fair,
   Old England to adorn,
Greater are none beneath the Sun,
   Than Oak, and Ash, and Thorn.
Sing Oak, and Ash, and Thorn, good sirs,
   (All of a Midsummer morn!)
Surely we sing no little thing,
   In Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!

Oak of the Clay lived many a day,
   Or ever AEneas began.
Ash of the Loam was a lady at home,
   When Brut was an outlaw man.
Thorn of the Down saw New Troy Town
   (From which was London born);
Witness hereby the ancientry
    Of Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!

Yew that is old in churchyard-mould,
   He breedeth a mighty bow.
Alder for shoes do wise men choose,
   And beech for cups also.
But when ye have killed, and your bowl is spilled,
   And your shoes are clean outworn,
Back ye must speed for all that ye need,
   To Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!

Ellum she hateth mankind, and waiteth
   Till every gust be laid,
To drop a limb on the head of him
   That anyway trusts her shade:
But whether a lad be sober or sad,
   Or mellow with ale from the horn,
He will take no wrong when he lieth along
   'Neath Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!

Oh, do not tell the Priest our plight,
   Or he would call it a sin;
But - we have been out in the woods all night,
   A-conjuring Summer in!
And we bring you news by word of mouth-
   Good news for cattle and corn-
Now is the Sun come up from the South,
   With Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!

Sing Oak, and Ash, and Thorn, good sirs
   (All of a Midsummer morn):
England shall bide till Judgment Tide,
   By Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!

Rudyard Kipling, "A Tree Song." https://www.kiplingsociety.co.uk/poem/poems_treesong.htm

Having been around "self pruning" elms, I agree with his reservations concerning that tree. 

Book Review: Clanlands

Heughan, Sam and Graham McTavish. Clanlands: Whisky, Warfare, and a Scottish Adventure like no Other. (London: Hodder and Stoughton LTD, 2020)

Short version: A readable walk through the Highlands of Scotland and their history with two of the actors from the TV series Outlander.

Sam (plays Jamie Frazier) and the older Graham (Dougal MacKenzie), a camera team, and a rather sturdy camper van make their way to the sites of events described in the best-selling Outlander series. It starts with a morning whisky tasting, and Sam admitting that he has not driven a stick in several years, and never driven something that large with a stick shift. Graham begins to doubt his sanity (both his Sam’s and his Graham’s). They survive, although not without one very, very close run for Graham. That wasn’t Sam’s fault for once.

Graham is the older, calmer and more history minded head of the pair. I admit, I’d skim Sam’s adventure tales for the most part, and focus on Graham’s discussion of history, landscape, and the people around them. And how the TV series fits into the history of Scotland in the early 1700s, the time of Bonnie Prince Charlie and Culloden. Although I’m not a fan of buddy-stories or of reading narrative, the two actors do a good job with their respective stories. They also give a good sense of the society of the Highlands before Culloden and the Clearances that depopulated the region. There’s heroism, treachery enough to make Judas blush, cruelty, honor, and amazing scenery. And whisky. And wine, and whisky. And adventures in kilts, and the “joys” of shooting night scenes in cold rain for the third night in a row on a rather steep grassy slope with weapons that, while not all that sharp, can still hurt you pretty badly.

I have not seen the Outlander show or read the books. Time-travel romance aside, they are pretty smelly, gritty depictions of the harsh world of the Highland clans, and I have a low tolerance for rapine and sadism. I read to escape history. However, the still images I’ve seen from the series are pretty impressive. It’s not glamourous or romantic Scotland, but the hard-scrabble world I’ve read about.

As I was saying . . . . Press release PR image from Clanlands Book, used for review purposes under Fair Use.

The book climaxes with the Battle of Culloden. I’ve been told that the battlefield is haunted, especially at night, and what Sam and Graham describe explains part of why. It was cousin-against-cousin, with clans having people on both sides in order to ensure survival of the larger group. Sometimes it didn’t work. They visit on a chilly, misty day, and Sam is especially moved.

The sense you get from the book is that 1) the Highland clans were hard, determined, and sometimes cruel people who were not the Romantic heroes Sir Walter Scott and others portrayed. 2) But they weren’t demons, either (OK, one or two people aside. That one laird . . .) 3) Do not let Sam drive large stick-shift vehicles.

I’d recommend the book as a light read for people interested in Highland history, in Outlander, and in how guys behave in front of cameras. Sam and Graham are professionals, for all their grousing about each other, and are good friends. It’s an easy read, and if you want the history, you can skim the whisky and vehicles bits.

FTC Notice: This book was borrowed from a family member who purchased it for his own use and the author of this review received no remuneration or promotional consideration for this review.

Cool and Warm voices together

It’s hard to find a good recording of a warm, rich voice and a cool, pure voice together. Here’s one, with the soprano Anna Netrebko and a boy soprano Andrew Swait. His is the second voice, and he has more vibrato than I usually hear in a boy’s tone.

Here’s a cool voice doing “Once in Royal David’s City.”

In total contrast:

I’ve heard a true cold pure boy soprano with a warm soprano doing “Pie Jesu,” but it was not recorded as far as I can find.

Tuesday Tidbit: Recovery and Frustrations

Alas, daily life doesn’t stop for our heroes, er protagonists, um, mages . . .

André was still sound asleep when Lelia dropped Deborah off at Our Lady of Victory High School the next morning. “Is Dad OK, Mom?”

“Yes. Just very, very tired. He forgets that he’s not eighteen and powered by caffeine and Army food.”

Deborah snorted. “He forgets that he’s not Hi. Got it. Thanks Mom.” She jumped out and hurried to catch up with a gaggle of friends. Lelia looked three times before easing into traffic.

She stopped by That Other Coffee Place on the way home and got a very large Mexican hot chocolate for André, a large almond latte for herself, and some pastries. “I’m sorry Sir,” she said as she pulled into the driveway of the rent house. “I’m trying.” She hadn’t gotten a coffee in four months. Her phone buzzed but she ignored it for the moment.

Lelia tidied the house and let Tay out into the back yard. The chilly morning air inspired a quick return. “Not yet,” Rodney called from behind her, and she opened the door again so he could go out. He did his thing and trotted in again. “The Boss is getting a shower. Any news?”

“Yes. The water is still intermittent, so I’m off again tomorrow.”

Rodney shook hard, leaving a scattering of fox fur all over. “Ugh. Arthur’s probably not happy about that.”

“Ah, I’d suspect not.” The text had been terse, even for a text. Nor was she happy with the state of her floor. She ignored it for the moment, and went to get André’s breakfast ready, and to re-heat his cocoa.

He emerged. She handed him the cocoa first. He sat with several creaks and pops, then drank. She set his plate in front of him, then busied herself with the pastries. She heard the mug clunk a little as he set it on the table. “Dark my lady,” he began.

She turned. He did not look good, face gaunt, eyes sunken. “You need to drive me to Fernandez. I don’t entirely trust my reaction speed.”

I don’t want to ask. I have to. “Will you be safe to work?”

His attention turned inward. She waited. He nodded. “Yes. I’m working on two German cars, and probably the cranky Volvo.”

Rodney snorted from where he sat beside his pet fountain. “You mean the not-cranky Volvo, boss. Why won’t he just replace the starter?”

“Because he thinks it will hurt the value of the car. It’s a ’68, certified antique,” André sighed as he reached for a pastry. “That’s not the sort of thing that hurts collector value, but he’s new to collecting.”

The kit fox shook his head a little. “Got it.” Lelia added water to the fountain. Rodney slurped some. “Thank you.”

André had another pastry, then pushed the plate toward Lelia. “Eat at least one, or else.” She took the smaller one. He glared at her, then stopped. “Are you closing?”

“Tomorrow? No, because we’ll still be closed. Arthur’s not happy. Neither are a lot of people, I suspect.” She leaned against the counter and nibbled.

André muttered something in German as he eased to his feet and walked with painful slowness to the bedroom. She finished her snack and followed. She changed back into boots and made the bed. By the time he finished getting ready, she’d even collected the Familiar fur off the living room floor. André leaned on one of his canes as he walked to the pickup. Lelia lowered Rodney’s ramp for him, then raised it again once he was in the truck. She got Tay’s carrier secured as well while André buckled in.

Only after dropping him off, and getting groceries, did Lelia vent her frustration. “Why, blast it? Why won’t he slow down, Sir? He’s going to hurt himself, or work himself to collapse. Why can’t he take a few days off and rest?” She pounded her fists on the bed. She wanted to tear a pillow apart, or something. She chopped vegetables and shredded cheese to use in a pasta bake instead. If he saw the little bit of fuzz on the cheese . . .

That night, on the way back from church, Deborah rustled a little. “Um, Mom?”

“Yes?” André had pled fatigue and stayed home.

“Um,” more rustling from the passenger seat. “Chloe wants to know if I can go to the new teen club with her next week Friday. It’s under eighteen only, with real security, and the band is The Green Lemurs.”

“The what?!?” erupted from the back seat. “Sloths are green, not lemurs!” The lemurious sputtering and indignation continued for at least two blocks.

Lelia bit her tongue to stop at least two comments, and some laughter. Deborah had her hand over her mouth, stifling her giggles. By the third intersection, Lelia felt safe to respond. “Yes, if your father agrees, and you are back by ten. There’s fencing meet the next day. Will Chloe be driving?”

“No, her mom. Her mom’s one of the bookkeepers at the place, and will be a chaperone.” Deborah frowned for a moment. “Does Two Bats have chaperones?”

“Nah, they just turn on the lights and everyone disappears,” Tay drawled. “Goths are kinda like vampires and roaches that way.”

Lelia sighed at the top of her lungs. “No, but security does check on the dark corners, and if a woman says no, and the guy pushes it, or vice versa, a lot of us regulars are willing to help.” No one wanted real trouble. “Plus there’s a list of designated drivers, and a Wheelz fund if someone can’t or shouldn’t drive home.”

“Oh, OK. That makes sense. No one wants a headline like the one on the computer news last week.”

“No. Those of us into the scene prefer not to be used as the horrible warning.” Most of us, that is. There’s always the outlier. A dark-colored convertible, top still down, ran the yellow doing at least ten over the limit. The car in the lead in the left turn lane waited a second or two before daring to venture into the intersection. Good choice.

Deborah asked her father before she went to bed that night. “The Green Lemurs? Isn’t that the band that started in the biology department at the university? I think Art mentioned something about them once.”

“Yes, sir. That’s them.”

“Yes, you may go, if you don’t talk back to your mother, and get your work in, and don’t get into trouble between now and then.”

“Thanks Dad!” She kissed his cheek, then hurried to bed.

André rested his head on the back of his chair, eyes closed. He didn’t seem as thin as he had that morning, and he moved more easily, Lelia had observed. Maybe working had helped him? She waited until he opened his eyes, then offered her hand. “Yes, please.” He gave her his right hand. She gripped his wrist with both hands and waited. “On three.” He steadied himself, then rocked forward a little. “One, two,” she braced, “three.” He flowed to his feet as she pulled steadily.

He held her close, both arms around her. “I refuse to be old enough to have a child who goes clubbing,” he whispered.

“Oh good. That makes two of us.” She kissed him. One of his hands began to wander as the kiss grew warmer.

A vulpine whine of, “I gotta go!” rose from floor-level behind her.

“Spoilsport,” her husband snarled, then released her with a wink.

(C) 2022 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved