Looking at Texas’ Bones

A few weeks ago I went to Muenster. Not Germany, since that would entail . . . Heck, I’m not sure what the requirements are at the moment, past two-weeks quarantine at a hotel at the Frankfurt airport at my expense, and then? No, Muenster, Texas, a Catholic German enclave east of Wichita Falls. It’s a part of the state I had not seen much of, and I stared out the vehicle windows, watching the landscape. Continue reading

No, We’re Not Doing Good . . .

we’re planning the best way to update the Evil Overlord’s Handbook.

we’re working out how to saw Canada free from North America, float it into the Pacific, and open the Northwest Passage. We can use Canada, what doesn’t melt, as a retirement property and sell parcels. Yes, the environmental impact statement will be a pain, especially for converting the Great Lakes into oceanfront, but it’s doable. Now, where to tuck Alaska is a bit more of a question, although just sliding it down past where B.C. used to be and turning Seattle into an inland city has some appeal. Yes, rough on the US Navy to lose Bremerton et al, but it will give the environmental people something to scream about besides Canada going away.

we’re contemplating possible methods for detaching NYC and D.C. from the rest of the Continent and floating them out to sea, then plunging them onto the mid-Atlantic Ridge — while keeping the good museums on the mainland.

we’re pondering what the folks at the bar are pondering.

but we’re not doing good.

[I almost corrected the waiter’s grammar, then caught myself. He meant well, and was doing a great job on a very, very busy evening. I think I’ve been a teacher too long and it’s starting to show!]

Saturday Snippet: Arthur Muses

The road to recovery is not nearly short enough. Or is it?

“If you’d like to step outside, sir, most of the paths have dried enough that it’s not too muddy,” the little one offered. She looked very much like her mother, a touch rounder in the face perhaps, her fair hair and dark almond eyes clear evidence of her ancestry. Instead of Hunter black she wore greens and browns, blue as well, sensible and washable as befitted a healer and gardener. The younger Hunters watched her closely, he knew, and several had indicated interest in courting her. None had asked permission yet. They would, or else. He did not intend to allow her to repeat her mother’s near-error in selecting a husband.

“Yes.” He needed to test himself. Continue reading

Runaway Tulips: Free-range, or Feral?

One of the houses in the neighborhood has a, let us say, relaxed yard. It’s not scraggly or weed-filled, but is a bit shaggy compared to the rest of the block. And a miniature, all-white daffodil and solo red tulip are blooming beside the driveway. Something suspiciously like a random iris or two are growing toward the middle of the yard. Continue reading

Thursday Teaser: Arthur Again

So, what DID happen that night?

The child, Lelia, appeared not long after, carrying more flavored water and some small buns or rolls. She set those on the table, grumbling, “If Deborah doesn’t rest, I truly am going to take away her stuffed animals and ground her until her father stops thinking that he’s still eighteen and invincible.” Arthur snorted to himself. The child departed, returning with a large, cloth-filled basket. She sat in the wooden chair beside his bed and set the basket on the floor beside her. Her Familiar, Tay, climbed into her lap. She stroked him, and Arthur heard the odd sound, the false-purr the child called it, Master Tay made when contented or pleased.

“Child. What transpired?” He had to know. Continue reading

April ’21 Author Update

Wolf of the World is done, at least as a draft. It’s at 27K words and I plan on leaving it as a novella. I might market it under a different author name, just because it is so very different from my more recent work. People expecting the humor of the Familiars stories might be very unhappy at the darkness in Wolf. Even though romance is a major element, I’ll sell it as dark fantasy. I fear there is room for spin-off stories, alas, alack.

I’ve started three Familiars stories, no idea where they are going to go. Two are about Deborah, one about Art. And there’s the little piece that was excerpted yesterday.

Once I finish going through Clearly and Distinctly for print, I will get busy on the Merchant and Empire book. I know I’ve been promising, and have fallen through. I do intend to finish it and get it out this year.

I’ve also started a Shikhari short story to submit to an anthology. We’ll see how that goes.

Surviving April is my primary goal. This is contest month at Day Job, and I’m either judging events, or working around events, or grumbling about why events have to be back-to-back. I’m sure none of you ever feel the least bit like that, especially if you have multiple offspring.

(I do wish Arthur would quit popping up demanding vignettes. He scares me. And he’s very, very hard to write as a point-of-view character.)

Tuesday Tidbit: Arthur Under the Weather

I was attacked by this idea, from Arthur’s PoV. It is set eighteen or so years after Malevolently Familiar.

No. The pain rose again, every joint aching, burning, body on fire. He would not give them the pleasure of his pleas. He locked his jaws, holding his voice silent by will alone. Demons, abyssal beasts, howled, taunting, tearing at him, joining his tormenters. The men laughed, monsters in man form. Still he held silent. He’d die before he begged.

A woman’s voice, low, soft, not that fiend in the guise of a woman. “Shh, Talshu, I am here.” Clean scent of herbs, mint, cool cloth on his forehead. Pain eased. “Please, drink. I have drunk, it is safe.” Not his language, not Spanish, perhaps safe? Something in her voice, her words . . . Glass touched his lips and he drank. Cool water, mint and hyssop and something else flowed over his tongue. He swallowed. The cloth lifted, was replaced, soothing. “You are safe. I am here.”

Twice more he descended into horrors, ghosts and demons surrounding him, tormenting him. Old pain new again, joints broken one by one, his kindred fighting, buying time to escape, backlash’s white fire killing his sister. His silence drew rage, fury like hells’ brimstone burning him, thread magic twisting into his heart, entangling him before destroying him. Body on fire, pain, — Lady of Night have mercy, Great God grant death, please, hear Your servant, send death sweet death. That he would beg for, as he had once begged for the child’s life, as he would beg? Time swirled, collapsed, heat and cold tore him.

“I’m back, Lovie. Go rest.” A softer murmur, exhausted. “Please. You’re the healer, and if you drain yourself flat, I’ll ground you until your brothers settle down and act like respectable sorcerers and grown-ups. Then Mistress Cimbrissa will get her turn.” Louder murmur, resignation. “I thought so. Go. Rings and I will stay.”

Rings? The words made no sense. Cool hand on his forehead, strong and calloused, cool cloth where the hand had been. Wood scraping on wood, a sigh. Soft sound of beads, beads he knew, the woman began reciting. “St. Michael Archangel, defend us in battle . . . ” Three invocations, an Our Father, three invocations, low and steady. He drifted into stillness, soothed by her words.

“Lelia, you need to sleep.” The voice, irritated and yet resigned, he knew. Lelia?

“I don’t want to leave him alone, Tay. Mistress Cimbrissa said this is the key crisis. He recovers or—” The woman’s words stopped.

“I should force you to rest.” Long silence. “I’m going out. Deborah’s getting more fresh mint and some ginger.”

“Thank you.”

He felt something press on the surface under his hand. A sound like a woman’s quiet tears. Warmth. He reached for the warmth, felt hair, a woman’s hair in braids. “Please no, please?” She implored. “I lost one dad, please don’t take this one, not yet, please?”

Who? Him! She pleaded for him! He stroked the hair, resting his hand. He gathered moisture into his mouth, so dry, so tired. “Child.”

“S- sir?” The head moved, hands cool hands took his. He opened his eyes, saw tear-wet almond eyes, fair hair burned from eyebrow to the end of her braid by backlash’s fire. “Talshu?” She knelt beside the bed.

“Yes.” Speaking exhausted him. She stood and eased a pillow under his head. Sound of glass, water flowing. She drank, then gave him the cup. He drank, cool and warm together. Tired, so tired. He closed his eyes.

The child stood with him once more in the Lady’s chapel in the Old Land. Together they bowed to the altar and the One who stood in shadows behind His Lady and Her Defender. The night-eyed figure on the altar grew, stepped down from her crescent moon to stand before them. He knelt, his heart-daughter, spirit-daughter knelt as well. The Lady flowed, pure grace, the silver on her robe and headdress shimmering, the faintest hint of sweet chiming bells as she approached them. He closed his eyes, bowed his head, unworthy. A voice — rich as night, tender as the darkness between the silvery stars — flowed over him and whispered his true name. “Boianti, my Hunter, good and faithful servant. Hear my Lord’s word for you. Rest and heal. Allow your child to be your child.” A cool, delicate, talon-like finger traced the double barred cross on his forehead.

The chapel faded before he dared ask for understanding. Rest, sweet and calm, true rest without pain or danger filled him, carried him on a slow stream, peaceful and gentle. “Gentle sir” the child called her Hunting partner and mate. The phrase calmed Garridon, eased his long-carried pain. Katoka and Garridon, wise huntress and keeper of secrets, their names had come easily. Hunter Talshu she had named him once, then cast the spell that connected them together, Hunter and mages, priest and defender. He slept.

He woke in dimness. The child did not sit beside him, but his nepatisha did. Healer twice over, land-touched, child of his child. “Bunicot?” she murmured.

“Yes.”

“Mom’s asleep. She wouldn’t rest until you passed the crisis and the fever broke. I think Master Tay did something to her.” Deborah offered him a mug. “Broth with herbs, sir, nothing more. Mother made it, I tasted it.” After he drank, she offered water with mint. “Oh, Master Tay also threatened to shed on everything in her closet if she didn’t sleep.” Laughter under her words, and frustration. “As if he didn’t already.”

He slept again. When he woke, the child watched him. He checked himself. He was clad sufficient for decency. “I need—” She nodded and helped him stand, then go to the washroom. A clean, dry shirt and loose trousers waited for him, neatly folded. She left him to care for himself. He heard fabric sounds in the room, more fabric sounds. The face in the mirror, too thin, unshaven, eyes sunk into his skull, hair oily and sweat-spiked. His left leg moved stiffly. He looked down. Bite wounds, and fading crimson streaks. He’d moved too slowly, the beast’s jaws unclean. He should be dead. He washed enough to feel more alive and changed clothes, then left the washroom.

The child had replaced the bedding and opened the curtains a tiny bit. She lifted the window sash, opening it just enough for cool morning air to trickle in. The breeze carried the scent of dew-damp herbs and growing things. She left her task and helped him, walked beside him back to the bed. How long since he had been so ill? He could not recall. “Before you ask, sir, Cousin Corava runs the shop. We are on reduced hours for the July Four holiday, so no one knows of your illness. I made the deposit yesterday for the week, and paid what bills I could.”

He shook his head a little, smiling at her words. “Child, the shop is unimportant.” Not entirely true, because it brought money to the clan and kept her where he could see her, but sufficiently close. His smile faded. “What transpired?”

“After you eat, please, sir. You have not been able to eat for over a week.” He smelled food, and the door to the room opened wider. The little one came in with a tray. He had not eaten in bed for . . . longer than he cared to think about. The child claimed a bite of vegetable and nibbled on it. “I made the stew, Deborah picked the herbs and vegetables and made the salad. No one else has been near the meal.”

Why the precautions? Another threat? He would ask later. He could do nothing until his strength recovered. He ate. As he did, he pondered the Lady’s words. Allow his child to be his child? The seasonings tasted exotic, as if the women had used the once-precious spaces from Asia, filling but not overly so. Greens, fresh greens, cleansed the blood and rebuilt strength. He needed to be out and moving, testing himself to see what he had lost.

Instead, when the women left, he tried to stand on his own and failed. His left leg buckled and he could not catch his balance. He landed on the bed. Rage flared— had the food been drugged? No, because they had eaten from the same dishes. Illness, not poison, drained his strength.

(C) 2021 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved

Music in a Familiars World

So, the question has come up a few times – which bands are real and which are made up?

Purely fictional: Nox Gothica, Flaming Cow Flops, Bat Bhoys, Bat Seeking Belfry, Nuit Ardent Gothique, Darker than Midnight, Aurochs Ghost, Kinder von Grimm, Curling With Cats {added}

Real bands currently recording: Nightwish, Within Temptation, Sabaton, Avantasia, Dark Sarah, Seven Spires, Leaves Eyes, Evanescence, Ad Infinitum, Nox Arcana, Walk in Darkness, August Burns Red, Epica, the Crüxshadows, Voltaire, Rasputina, Rammstein, VNV Nation, Assemblage 23, Eluvite, and Corvus Corax

Real Bands either on hiatus, retired, or disbanded: Poisonblack, Xandria, the Cure, The Mission (UK), The Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus, Souxie and the Banshees, Joy Division, Dead can Dance, Ozzy Osbourn, Das Ich, Blue Oyster Cult

You’ll notice that I didn’t include the classical music, or country, even though Country is referred to (Kathy Mattea in particular). Genres include goth rock, goth bands that swear they were/are not goth, Dark Wave, metal, symphonic metal, and “no idea but I sort of like them.” Lelia, André, Uncle Leopard, Arthur, and Co. will listen to almost anything once, and tend to be pretty catholic in their tastes. Is it dark and interesting? Then they’ll give it a try. André in particular listens to a fair amount of country, not always of his own free will. He prefers pre-Garth Brooks country, and western. But that’s what he grew up with. Uncle Leopard leans toward the metal end of the spectrum. Lelia will try pretty much anything, including Dark Classical, although she has banned Rammstein from the house. Especially now that all the kids know enough German to suss out the lyrics.

Easter – for the Western Church

He is Risen! And this year those of us who celebrate the feast can celebrate together.

Tintoretto (Jacobo Robusti) “The Resurrection of Christ” 1565

One of our local Catholic priests observed that “This has been the longest Lent.” Leaving aside some theology about the life of the believer being a Lenten observance until the Second Coming, if you see Lent as the period before the feast of Easter, he’s right. Many Western churches in the US did not get to celebrate Easter in person in 2020. No sunrise services, no masses, perhaps a clergy-only TV broadcast or a parking-lot service, depending on your state, country, and denomination. This might work for hermits, or those of an anchoritic* persuasion, but not for most Christian denominations, and I dare say not for most believers.

This year, at least where I am, we are having the usual services, with the usual chaos (for the choir at least). Truly, it is good to be here.

(Needs more basses, but that’s true of almost every Western choir doing Russian music.)

*Yes, I’m making “anchorite” into an adjective. At least I’m not verbing it! Happy Easter, for those who celebrate it today.

It Ain’ent Dead . . . Maybe

This year (2021) had been a bit rough on people and plants. Last month we had a bit of cold weather (-11F with wind chills of Let’s Not Go There) after a week of highs in the 70s and lows in the 40s. Spring was springing, when winter came slashing back. That’s a very, very bad combination for plants. The buds are tender, there’s a lot of sap in the stems, and if they freeze, it can rip the cells and thus the plant apart. We got some snow, but was it enough?

It appeared not. The hawthorn tree, being smart, had not budded out. The roses, especially in the front yard? Looked horrible, black from tip of stem to the ground. The buds withered and died. My two “pets” turned completely black and seemed to be as dead as could be. I try to be philosophical about garden plants, but maaaaan, I’m tired of digging up dead roses.

We did not prune anything back. Pruning tends to encourage new growth, and the average last freeze is in mid-April. Something about tempting fate and all that.

Hope springs eternal . . .

Two weeks ago, green appeared. Not on the stems, but at ground level. Keep in mind, these are all own-root (tissue culture [cloning] or seed). So these are not the grafts sprouting at the expense of the desired rose. It seems that the roses have mostly survived. Thus far. Dad braved some of the plants yesterday and cut the obviously dead canes back. Sweetbriar remains untouched, because that is a two person job – one to hold back attack canes, and one with a power saw cutting out (or off) the dead canes. Unless you have a pole saw, you can’t do it yourself without getting stabbed. And even then, well, this IS the Sweetbriar we’re talking about. She likes to get even.

Gertrude takes over . . . as usual.