Saturday Snippet: A Hunter Does Research

Arthur just acts as if he knows (or remembers) everything . . . (Lelia has given him some clues, and expressed concern about what they might be facing.)

Heavy rain cascaded down the windshield as he drove to the home farm that night. The windshield wipers kept up, but no more than that. He drove with care, alert for deer as well as for drivers. Lady be merciful, please, may there not be a Hunt this night. At least it was warm and wet, not sleet or freezing rain. He would Hunt when called, but perhaps the beasts would stay quiet this night. He did not envy the Hunters in the Old Land, not at all. He turned onto the track leading to the farm, stopping at the appointed place. The watchers recognized him, and he continued on.

Ladislu met him on the porch of the house.


The younger Hunter hesitated, looking out into the rain-curtained night. “Not this night, sir, not yet, but the owl approached Dumitra, then departed.”

“Ah.” That . . . “I came to study a lore book.”

Ladislu bowed and opened the door for him. “We track another dark sorcerer, perhaps. Shadow is warned.”

“Good.” Arthur continued into the house. He saluted the Great God, the Son, and the Lady’s shrine, then continued on past the Hunters’ hearth, still cold as it had been for decades, since the last guardian died. He turned left, and passed a short distance until he reached the chamber housing the most important books and accounts of the Hunts. He stopped at the doorway, waiting until the spell parted for him. Once he had rushed in. The ghost of that headache still haunted him. He had not repeated the test. A faint almost-sound brushed his ears, and he stepped through the doorway.

Here he did not need his reading glasses. His own language’s script came far more easily to his eyes than did Latin letters. Warm, soft light filled the small room, barely large enough for three chairs and the books and records. He considered the volumes, then crouched and pulled a dark-green book out of the bottom shelf, half-hidden behind one of the chairs. He slid a piece of paper into the gap. After a moment’s thought, he sat and opened the plump, leather-covered book to the index, then turned to the section on graves, holy ground, and the undead. Many years had passed since he’d encountered a grave not on consecrated ground.

“Ah.” The age of the consecration did not matter, so long as the priest or clergy had been properly ordained and the consecration completed. Arthur re-read the signs of consecration and blessing. Land separated from other land, fenced or marked in some way, and the land would recall the blessing, even after tens or hundreds of years. But for how long here, in this land, when people moved so very often? He read no dates or limits on time. Certain blessings required renewal, but not those setting aside land for graves. The blessing must be positively revoked and the ground formally deconsecrated. Only then was the land once more unhallowed. The nosferitau, should it be one caused by unnatural death or suicide, came from a grave on unhallowed ground. Provided those burying the dead still followed that law, he reminded himself. Such things had changed over time and place, but not always.

However, consecrated or unhallowed mattered not to other nosferitau, nor to moiroi or strigoi. He allowed his eyes to half-close and looked back into his memories of the nosferitau that he and Skender had dealt with. They ought to have tracked it back, that night. They had not. He could not undo their inaction. Too long had passed, five years. Had that nosferitau shifted form? They had seen no trace but they had not interviewed the creature, either. He bared his teeth in a humorless smile.

He stood and returned the book to its place. Gliding steps and the faintest musical clink, almost chime, of beads warned him. He turned and bowed to the clan’s priestess. “Ah. Please rise.” He straightened. She entered the room, stepping to the right with flowing grace. The doorway remained clear. No Hunter cared to remain in a room with an obstructed exit. Ageless dark blue eyes met his, eyes the color of a clear night sky in the moment before the first stars appeared. The small silver beads on her darker blue scarf gleamed in the soft light of the chamber like a crown of stars around her oval face. “You found what you sought?”

“Yes, ma’am. I did not recall the signs of hallowed ground long neglected.”

One curved, dark-brown eyebrow rose, then descended. “The undead one.”


She extended her left hand. “Your silver, Hunter-born.”

Without thought he removed his blessed medallion from around his neck, slid the signet from his finger, and drew the knife from its sheath. He touched his thumb to the blade, drew blood. He placed all three on the extended hand, then knelt, hiding the pain.

She covered her left hand with her right. “Great God, maker of all, guide your children. Lady of Night, guide Your Hunter; Defender angel, captain of the hosts of heaven, protect this Hunter and his child. Lady of Stars, hear our prayer. Great God who commands both day and night, hear our prayer.”

“Selah, amen,” he murmured, eyes downcast.

“Hunter-born.” He raised his eyes. She extended her right hand. Knife and ring returned to their proper places. The medallion? She stepped closer, inclined toward him, and hung it around his neck once more. “Rise, hand of the Defender.” She extended her left hand. He took it without demur and stood. The priestess turned and departed. Arthur considered the night and followed suit.

Ladislu nodded, acknowledging Arthur’s departure, but kept his attention turned outward, into the wet darkness. Arthur returned the courtesy and listened to the night. Only water moved. He descended the steps and picked his way with care to where the car waited. The biggest of the puddles and holes never moved, but other low places relocated with gleeful malice. Perhaps, when she came into her full strength, the little one could explain why it was so, if not stop the holes from shifting. He detested cleaning farm mud off of his boots and shoes. He drove with equal care for holes and deep mud.

As he had hoped, none of the youngsters had yet begun work at the warehouse. He let himself in via the currently-unmonitored door, then logged into his computer. Nothing important awaited him. He logged out and slipped into his concealed sleeping quarters, locking both doors behind him. Once somewhat safe, he drew the blue and silver chaplet from his hidden interior jacket pocket. He removed the blanket from the bed and made a pad on the floor, then knelt. “Sancte Michael Archangele, defende nos in proelio contra nequitiam et insidias diaboli . . .” He recited the sequence of prayers and invocations, then meditated on the night.

Why had the priestess been called to him? He had not sought a blessing since the last vigil night. Should he have done so? What did they face? Lady of Night, Bride of the Most High God, what should Your servant know? What do You call Your servant and defender to do? He repeated the beads, then prepared for sleep. His mind continued to circle around, looking into the misty future. Please, great Lady, may my sufliit fica not be right about another Great Hunt, if it is Your will.

Like the child, he feared such a thing. Now he considered his fear, acknowledged it, and set it aside. He could do nothing about what had yet to exist. Sleep brought clarity, and he’d be triply a fool not to rest now, while he could. Someday, one of the younger Hunters would find his hidden chamber. Were he fortunate, they would only leave a warning token. He doubted such fortune. He would die, as all men died. Only the Great God knew the time and manner of a man’s death. Since he, Arthur, could do nothing to change it, he did not concern himself overmuch about such things. Instead he allowed awareness to fade away into rest.

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

Old Songs, Old Stories

A mild rant.

We seem to be in a time when the old, solid, tales-for-hard-times are returning to popular attention. I was reminded of this when I realized that the preacher for the church where I sing has selected nothing but the solid, old-time hymns since he got to the church. You know, things like:

You should hear a massed male choir sing that, in Welsh. WOW. You might not be a believer, but the sheer strength and power of the song grabs you.

One of my favorite old hymns, not done too often because it is too mystical and too harsh for a lot of people is “Jesus, Lover of my Soul.”

Jesus, lover of my soul,
Let me to Thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll,
While the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Savior, hide,
Till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide;
Oh, receive my soul at last.

Other refuge have I none,
Hangs my helpless soul on Thee;
Leave, ah! leave me not alone,
Still support and comfort me.
All my trust on Thee is stayed,
All my help from Thee I bring;
Cover my defenseless head
With the shadow of Thy wing.

Wilt Thou not regard my call?
Wilt Thou not accept my prayer?
Lo! I sink, I faint, I fall—
Lo! on Thee I cast my care.
Reach me out Thy gracious hand!
While I of Thy strength receive,
Hoping against hope I stand,
Dying, and behold, I live. (Charles Wesley, 1740 or so)

The tune is minor, as so many of the songs I love are.

The stories that people seem to want today are not warm and fuzzy, exactly. Soft, fun escape stories are out there, and are selling briskly, true. But what also does well are the stories about getting through the hard times, surviving the storm and coming out greyer, scarred perhaps, and with your family intact. Or just defeating the enemy and coming home.

One of the weaknesses I see in a lot of Hollywood and NYC fiction is the unending insistence on breaking or modifying the story just to have the proper characters in the tale. Anne Boleyn has to be of recent African descent. The “hero” always turns out to be corrupt, or a dog-hater, or something. You must have so many of this, so many of that, none of those, and if it means invoking waif-fu* and Mary Sues and leaving nothing but the faintest whiff of the core story in place, hey! We’re inverting the trope, Dude! Like the YA novel I saw two years ago that proudly proclaimed that it was a gender-flipped version of The Princess Bride. For all I know, the author might have been able to pull it off, if she was good enough. But the description turned me off of even reading the first few pages. What’s left is worse than cotton candy. Cotton candy is sweet, sticky, and you know that it will be a mess and bad for you. That’s the point. 🙂 This stuff . . . is corrosive, and leaves you nothing to fall back on in hard times.

Hard times call for the old stories, old songs. Where the characters go through H-ll and come out the other side, singed but stronger. The ones that you can read over and over, and that can give you ideas for how to strengthen your back-bone and get through it, whatever “it” may happen to be.

Like old, great songs, the kind that inspire, comfort, that acknowledge that life can be hard, very hard, and painful, and that we feel lost and so very alone sometimes. And that tell us that we’re not alone, that others have suffered the like troubles. We got through the Great Depression and the Spanish Influenza. We got through the Thirty Years War, and the Ottoman Wars, and the Black Death, and the end of the Ming Dynasty, and . . . “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen,” except for the composers and poets and authors who did, and who survived, and left us hope and ideas and inspiration.

This is a setting of Psalm 100, a call to sing and rejoice. Note the composer’s dates. He did most of his work during the Thirty Years War and chaos around that time. He had to write motets because he didn’t have large choirs and orchestras due to the hard times. And yet he produced beautiful music that we still sing today. (This is a double-choir piece, call and response.)

OK, just because of the location and the voices:

*Waif-fu is the martial art discipline that allows a 90 lb, 5′ tall female to go hand-to-hand against a 250 lb, 6′ tall, professionally trained soldier or MMA fighter or police officer and beat him like a rented mule.

Summer Squash Casserole

Yes, squash season is wrapping up . . . sort of. This casserole also works with patty-pan squash. You know, the little flattish white ones that look a bit like tops, and that everyone else uses to decorate with? Those. This is fairly simple once you get all the prep done, and you can make it the night before, refrigerate it raw, then bake it the next morning and take it to a brunch or the like.

Instead of saltines, I used Ritz™ crackers. You could also get fancy and use panko, or something similar.

Three pounds summer squash, sliced fairly thin*

Three red bell peppers (or orange and yellow), sliced into strips

1 C. finely chopped onion. The original calls for yellow. I used white, because the yellow onions have been past their prime recently.

Four cloves minced garlic (a large dollop)

1T plus 1t salt

4 cups shredded cheddar cheese, orange or white, your choice.

3 cups crushed crackers (or breadcrumbs)

1 tub of sour cream (16 ounces)

1 lightly beaten large egg

2 T fresh thyme

black pepper to taste (I omit)

5 T melted butter

Preheat oven to 350, and grease a 13X9 baking dish.

Combine squash, bell pepper, onion, garlic, and 1T salt in a large pot with water to cover (I use less water, because the squash have a lot of water in them). Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 6 minutes or so, depending on altitude, until the veggies are tender. Drain very well. You don’t want overly soggy veggies.

Combine squash and friends with 3 cups of the cheese, the sour cream, egg, and thyme, two cups crushed crackers or breadcrumbs, and 1t salt. Mix well, and put in the baking dish, spreading to make an even surface. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese over the top.

In a separate bowl, combine the melted butter with the rest of the crackers and blend. Put casserole into the oven. After ten minutes or so, cover the top with the cracker-butter blend, then bake for, well, supposedly 30 minutes, but I’m at 3600′ of elevation, and 45 was closer to the mark. Until it is fairly firm in the middle. You know, proper casserole consistency. It will be a little moist, but shouldn’t be too drippy.

It is rich, savory, and filling. This is an old school casserole, not one of your light-and-healthy ones. You know the ones, the kind your grandmother made to take to brunch, or delivered to the family of the deceased (if you are in the South or parts of the Midwest). It serves 10-12 people, or fewer if they like it and the meat isn’t too filling.

You could probably add a little bacon, but that might be gilding the lily. Or perhaps not.

*Fear not, this isn’t really as much as it sounds once you cook, then drain it.

Original recipe found at:

Piu Mosso? Didn’t He Play for the Dodgers?

No, that was his cousin, Meno Mosso. You’re thinking of Pie Jesu*, who was the shortstop for the Dodgers back in ’74, before they traded him to the White Socks.

Actually, those are both musical terms, describing how a composition is to be played or sung. Composers generally include descriptive terms to indicate the “mood” and pace of a piece, beyond just the notes on the page. How many quarter notes (or half notes, or eighth notes) in a minute, the feel of the tempo – fast as in driving, fast as in lively, fast as in frenetic – and how connected the notes are supposed to be. Instrumental composers, since they don’t have a text to use to clue in their musicians, lean a lot on “andante” “largo,” “piu mosso” and their cousins. Often, a full symphony will be divided into movements titled after the tempo. “Andante,” then “Largo,” then “allegro,” and so on.

The slowest I’ve seen, and that rarely, is “lento.” This is slow, often mournful. “Piu lento” means a little more lento, but don’t drag. In choirs, we tend to push really, really slow tempi, often because we feel the need for air. Orchestras can go even slower, and do, but choirs need to breathe. Or at least, we think we do. Timing a “lento” is up to sixty beats per minute, or one beat a second, but usually slower. Often the eighth note will get one beat, slowing things even farther.

More common in the music I’ve done is “largo.” Largo is thoughtful, dignified, but not painfully slow. Largo reminds me of paddling slowly across a lake. These are your deep, swelling chords, rising and falling like great waves on the sea. Next comes “adagio”, stately and steady. The so-called “Albiani Adagio” is probably the most famous adagio. Often a movement in a symphony will be labeled adagio. There may be faster bits in the over-all adagio feeling, but the general “push” of the music is slow to moderate.

Andante is a steady walking pace, if you are not walking with me. (I walk allegro). It’s your basic not too fast, not too slow, we’ll get there tempo. Choirs like andante. Orchestras see andante as a lead-up to allegro or presto, or a respite from allegro and presto. String players appreciate andante and slower, while the woodwinds and brass sometimes express doubts. (Remember, orchestra brass and woodwinds don’t breathe. Choirs breathe. Strings and percussion can do whatever the heck they want, and the pianist has a beer on the music-rest so he’s not worried about anything!) When in doubt, andante.

Allegro and vivace are “trot” and “look lively and run fast.” Allegro can be used for choral tempi, but vivace is not all that common. Usually, the composer just changes the time signature, so that instead of a quarter note getting one beat, it is the half note. That means the music suddenly goes twice as fast. At least. Beethoven, I’m looking at you. (The second half of the “Credo” in the Missa Solemnis, the “Et vitam venturi saeculi” portion.)

A musician may also see French, German, and English terms as well, and their general sense is understood. I’ve not seen much French annotation aside from organ music, but I’m very familiar with the German (organ again, and other things) and English.

“Piu” means more of whatever it was. “Meno” means less of it. So a piu mosso direction calls for a bit more speed and a more sprightly style. Meno mosso is a call to rein it in, slow a little, connect the notes more so the tempo sounds slower.

Conductors are free to shift things around, and all these instructions are a range. Some choirs and orchestras or soloists can do certain things faster, or slower, and the conductor’s job is to work within the broad sense of pacing and speed to get the most feeling or precision, or both, out of the group. Unless the composer is standing there, correcting things. Then you listen to the composer.

*”Pie Jesu,” pronounced pee-ay yay-sue, is Latin and is also the title for a movement in the mass. Although I’ve heard a conductor order a choir to “sing it like the Lloyd-Weber ‘Pie Jesu’.” It worked, because we all knew what the composition sounded like.

For more than you ever wanted to know:

Tuesday Tidbit: Contracting a Marriage

Tarno and his Father-in-Law to Be visit the notary.

Two eight-days later, Tarno and Dor Erbstman met at the office of the traveling notary mage. She had rented a small corner of the city council’s hall, and sat surrounded by ledgers, hinged boxes, and stacks of blank parchment and paper. Bottles of ink and a row of pens waited at her left elbow. A fat candle of sealing wax burned on it’s own small, portable table, out of the way of the papers and of drafts. One of the city watch stood in the corner of the room, in part to keep an eye on the people come and go, and in part to discourage the overly frustrated and anyone who thought to steal the notary’s fee. The line moved steadily. Most people brought contracts, sales pages, or documents that only needed a witness and notary seal. Unlike some, this notary did not hear disputes or law cases concerning falsified documents. Three of the temples had truth-priests who had read the law and acted as law-givers.

Tarno had written the marriage contract in his best hand. The notary would read it aloud, copy it onto proper parchment, and both men would sign and make their marks. Then the notary would sign and seal it. Some of the merchants had magic-touched seals and used those on documents as well, but such remained uncommon in Halfeld Fluss.

” . . . Too many lambs,” a man in good but old clothes ahead of Tarno complained. “T’will drive down the price next spring as well as now, mark my words.”

His companion folded his arms. “Neh, ‘Tis a sign of  hard times t’ come, schaef droppin’ so many. Not many will over-live the winter. Yoorst gave ‘t beast sense we don’ have.”

“Price’ll be low een so, come next market,” the first man grumbled.

Tarno looked to Goodman Erbstman. The farmer shrugged. “Radmar turns th’ wheel. More than that, no man can say.”

“Aye that.”

The two men ahead of Tarno got a sales contract confirmed. The grumbling farmer had contracted to the butcher for six gelded male schaef, two years of age, in fat. The pair presented torn copies of the contract. The notary matched the edges. “Goodman Meisser, were the schaef as contracted?

The butcher nodded. “Aye, Yoorst as my witness, the schaef met contract.”

The woman pointed the end of her pen at the farmer. “Goodman Speicher, did you receive one silver or the trade token value of one silver in exchange?”

“Aye, Yoorst as my witness, Meisser paid in full. Trade token.”

The woman set the halves of the contract on her table. She stamped the center, across the tear, then each half, and signed it. “Contract is met, contract is complete,” she called, then returned the halves to the owners. Should anyone ask about the meat, Meisser could show the proof that he’d bought the animals and that they met quality standards.

The farmer and butcher departed, and Tarno approached the notary’s table. She seemed off-balance, as if the legs on her seat were too short on one side. No, he realized when she reached for a piece of parchment, she tilted to one side. Had she been born so, or was it an injury? It mattered not. Tarno inclined toward her and set the contract on the table.

She started to read it, then looked up. “Tarno Halson?”


“And Dor Erbstman?”

Dor nodded. “Aye. I am not fully lettered.”

“Ah.” She took a sip from the tankard set well away from the inks, and read. “Dor Erbstman gives his daughter Urla to be wed to Tarno Halson. She brings her bridal portion and no dowry, and makes no claim on the Erbstman property aside from the daughter’s share.” The notary looked at Dor, eyebrows raised.

He nodded again. “That’s what we agreed to, aye.”

The notary blinked gray eyes, then resumed reading. “Tarno Halson takes Urla Dordatter Erbstman as wife without dower or property claim. He will provide for, shelter, and protect Urla during his life, and leaves her a full widow’s portion, should he die first.” Again the notary paused. “I see no fertility penalty.”

“I have two sons by my late wife,” Tarno said. “More will be welcome, but I see no reason for a fertility penalty.”

The notary nodded and quickly copied out the simple contract. Without property or children specified, the document wasn’t as complicated as some Tarno had seen. She stopped and asked, “Tarno, will your sons retain their portion should you have children of Urla?”


Goodman Erbstman said, “Yes. It’s wrong to favor new children over old.” He sounded very, very certain, and Tarno glanced over. The sturdy man scowled, frowning so deeply that the ends of his mouth seemed to reach the end of his chin.

“I will include that in this, Goodman Erbstman, Master Tarno, so that none will protest.” The notary added the needed words. “Do either of you know of any pending claims against the wedding?”

Tarno took a long breath. “Goodman Fuchsban might protest, but I did not speak with or contract his daughter, and many have heard me say that I do not wish to marry her.”

“The temples of Gember and Donwah have read the handfasting notice aloud three Eighth-Days in a row, and none have spoken against the match,” Dor reported. “Nor has any man approached me with an objection.”

“Good.” She finished writing the contract in a fair hand, then drew two lines across the bottom of the sheet of parchment. She stood, limped out from behind her table, and pointed to Tarno. She called, “Does anyone know this man?”  

A passing woman called back, “Aye. Master Tarno Halson, of the salters, father of Kyle and Donton, Maarsdam witness my words.”

“Thank you, and Maarsdam prosper your trade.” The notary gestured to Dor and called again, “Does anyone know this man?”

Two men waiting in line waved their hands. “Aye. He be Dor Erbstman, farmer on the South Road, Gember my witness,” one of the pair called. “His aunt be my mother-in-law.”

“Gember bless your household, thank you.” The notary limped back to her chair and sat with a soft thud. One hip sat higher than the other, which explained her lean. She presented the men with a dipped pen, first Dor, then Tarno. Dor made his mark, a schaef in profile and the letters D and E. Tarno signed his full name and drew a salt paddle. The notary closed her eyes and Tarno saw a little shimmer around her seal as she touched it to a piece of ink-soaked cloth, then pressed it against the parchment. Beside that she dripped wax, and stamped once more.

The men each gave the notary a half silver ring. She handed the contract to Dor. “Upon final handfasting, give this to the proper temple to hold. Maarsdam bless your trade.”

“Maarsdam prosper you,” Tarno replied, as did Dor. Dor studied the contract, nodded, and rolled it, tying it with a bit of twine. The men touched palms and went their ways, making space for the next pair. Tarno heard barely-muffled sighs from both the notary and the watchman both as Master Hammersmith and an irate-looking goodwife marched up the two steps and into the doorway. Tarno and Dor made themselves small and eased out of the way.

“Ye know that I am not a law-speaker,” Tarno heard the notary say from behind him.

Dor shook his head. “Some people choose not to listen.”

“Aye.” Dor stopped to talk to his cousin-by-marriage and Tarno went about his own business.

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

So, He’s Related to Him, and Her, So That Means . . . Arrrrrgh!

Or: Why Environmental History is SOOOOOOO much easier than European history.

Due to a complicated series of events, and research for the next Merchant book, I found myself wading into the politics of the Guelphs and Gibilines, or the Welf and Staufer and Salier families (for those north of the Alps). I’ve been known to joke that the Spanish Habsburg family tree is a stick, because of a number of too-close-for-their-own-good marriages. The alliances, marriages, separations, and relationships between the major and many minor nobles of the Holy Roman Empire, and to a lesser degree (but not too much lesser) Hungary, Bohemia, and Poland look like a thorn-thicket stretching from Wales to Kiev.

Which does tend to explain a few cases of “Why didn’t [Emperor] just slap down [problem person] ten years earlier?” And “Why did he think trying to intervene in [Poland/Hungary/Bohemia]’s civil war was a good idea?” Because he, whoever he was at the time, had a dog or at least an in-law in the fight. Sometimes. Sometimes? Eh, pure power politics, and once or twice I suspect sheer boredom back home.

One reason for all the complicated crosses and out-crosses is that in the 900s-1200s, give or take, the Church did not allow marriages between relatives to the 7th degree. Even second or third cousin was out, unacceptable without a lot of paperwork and penances and really good reasons. So you have Salian princes from the Rhineland looking at duchesses in Anjou, France, but since they have a common great-grandfather, the betrothal is challenged by the Church. It also means that the two family heads on opposite sides of “who gets the imperial crown” fight may also be cousins (probable), uncle and nephew (possible), and step-father and step-son (at least twice and wasn’t that a mess). And the occasional “I’m marrying from way the heck outside the region, in part for dowry, in part because I need neutral help, and in part because I give up trying to shop local.”

OK, perhaps I exaggerate on the last one, but it’s easy to imagine someone looking at the list of possible spouses and having a priest scratch off ten of the eleven candidates, and that last one is only eight years old, and you are twenty. Thus the occasional Byzantine, Rus, Anglo, or Scandinavian popping up in Germanic pedigrees. Trade, diplomacy, and other things played larger roles, but consanguinity was a major legal concern.

So, what I was trying to sort out was: if Frederick Barbarossa’s election as Holy Roman Emperor was a sort of compromise between the (Guelphs) Welfs and Babenburgs (Bavaria, Austria) and (Ghibellines) Saliens and Staufers (Rhineland, central German lands), why did Barbarossa not deal more firmly with Henry of Bavaria and Saxony earlier? Well, in part, the three most powerful dukes—regional rulers—in the central Empire were Barbarossa’s uncles, including Henry of Saxony. Among other things, but the family connection played a role.

However, when we think of Guelphs and Ghibellines, we usually think of Italy. After Barbarossa’s election, the Italians seem to have looked north, shrugged a little, kept the names of the two sides, and continued going after each other for other reasons. Ah, Italian Renaissance politics.

Monarchs and Swallowtails 2.0

It’s that time of year.

Ours are on fennel.

Alas, the giant butterfly bush (Buddleia) in the front yard succumbed to age and hard winter weather.

Fair use from:

We had a lot of swallowtail caterpillars back in the summer. And the cardinals ate all of them. However, Mom spotted a few second-round caterpillars recently, and moved them to a dense stand of fennel, well hidden from cardinals and jays.

Ansel Oommen, Black Swallowtail Caterpillar. Used under Fair Use for non-commercial usages. Image from:

The monarch butterflies came through a few weeks back, in late August. This is early, and they didn’t linger. The main migration seems to have shifted east this year, although that might be due to the lack of rain in the few weeks before they appeared. NM and CO dried out a little before we did, and were hotter, so that might also have encouraged the shift. Plus we didn’t have much that the monarchs cared for. They were all next door, pestering something red and fluffy (not a Buddleia) at the neighbor’s place.

The Mississippi kites, which arrived late this year, departed about the same time. The cicadas went silent last week, more or less, and the crickets are not as numerous as in August. Spiders have begun moving into the building at Day Job. We’ve had a few cool fronts knocking the temperatures down from the mid-upper 90s to our seasonal average lower 80s, but nothing really huge, yet. Those came through in August. We are also dry, even for this time of year. It is as if a switch flipped. Last week was hot and muggy, this week is warm and dry (from upper 60s F dewpoints to upper 40s dewpoints).

Orion is at the peak of the sky when I go out at 0600 to walk. The year is turning, will we or nil we. I want cooler weather. I’m a little worried about a repeat of Snowvid 21, or the October storm of last year. But there’s nothing I can do to change the weather, or to stop the change of seasons.

I am peeved about the Buddleia, though. I have yet to find a replacement as hardy as the big yellow one in the front garden. And the big purple one in the back took quite a beating from the cold this past winter, and June’s heat didn’t help.

*shrug* Welcome to gardening on the edge of a high desert.

Kipling and . . . Dante?

The textbook I use to teach history has a picture of Dante in the section about the Renaissance. This year (September 14 to be exact) is the 700th anniversary of his demise. He is most famous for a series of three epic poems detailing a soul’s journey through Hell and Purgatory into Paradise, and then back to the world.

The third chapter (Canto) of The Inferno describes souls and angels who are tormented, but are not in either Hell or Heaven, because the angels would not choose between G-d and Satan, and the people were neither good nor evil. They can’t go up because they lack virtue, but they will be lorded-over by the truly damned in Hell, which isn’t just (and would reward some of the damned, so that’s not acceptable, either.)

For some reason, this year I was skimming over bits of the Inferno to use in a lesson about education and the Renaissance, and thought of someone who was neither good enough for heaven or bad enough for the infernal realm.

Now Tomlinson gave up the ghost in his house in Berkeley Square,
And a Spirit came to his bedside and gripped him by the hair —
A Spirit gripped him by the hair and carried him far away,
Till he heard as the roar of a rain-fed ford the roar of the Milky Way:
Till he heard the roar of the Milky Way die down and drone and cease,
And they came to the Gate within the Wall where Peter holds the keys.
“Stand up, stand up now, Tomlinson, and answer loud and high
The good that ye did for the sake of men or ever ye came to die —
The good that ye did for the sake of men in little earth so lone!”
And the naked soul of Tomlinson grew white as a rain-washed bone.

“Tomlinson” by Rudyard Kipling.

The poem is much longer than the excerpt above, but Tomlinson, the newly dead, can’t get into heaven or you-know-where because he never did anything. Now, [spoiler] since Old Scratch is a lawyer at heart, he finds “the roots of sin” in the unhappy Tomlinson and sends him back to go, you know, actually commit a sin and earn his place among the damned.

Both Dante and Kipling are riffing off of Revelation 3: 14-22, the letter to the church in Laodicea. Because the Laodiceans were neither hot nor cold, they are rejected. “Go do something!” Preferably good, of course, but anything is better than nothing. Dante finds himself in trouble at the beginning of the Inferno because he is guilty of acedia (sloth). He knows what is good, what he ought to do, and . . . can’t be bothered. He’s spiritually lazy. He doesn’t do any good (” . . . those things which we have done and those which we have left undone,” as one confession puts it.) That’s Tomlinson’s sin as well. Acedia, “sloth,” not doing what should be done. In Tomlinson’s case, he hadn’t bothered to do anything but read about other people’s activities. Dante . . . spent a wee bit too much time on politics, but he claims sloth/acedia.

I’m sure that Kipling had read Dante. Everyone did, in those days. I know Kipling knew the Biblical reference. And he probably had met more than one Tomlinson, people who lived only in books, and never thought for themselves. “This I thought that another man thought of a Karl in Norway,” Tomlinson claims. But he, himself, never did.

Be either hot or cold, a saint or a sinner, choose G-d or Satan. But don’t just sit there!

State of the Author, September ’21

Short version: less frazzled than last week.

Longer version:

The short story for the next Tales Around the Supper Table anthology is done. I’m going to give it another once-over, now that it has “rested,” and send it off to the editor. That collection should be *taps wood* out later this fall.

I got the draft of White Gold and Empire done last weekend. It needs major revision before it goes to the alpha readers, mostly to get the “voice” unified across the book. Keep in mind, I started it in the fall of ’19, then set it aside, so it needs to be smoothed out, and one big plot thread tucked away.

I have the plot for another Merchant book sketched out. I’m going to work on it for NaNoWriMo (November). The tentative title is City, Priest, and Empire, and it is set at the end of the Great Cold. It appears that I can’t really do a good Merchant world book unless I am immersed in Central Europe stuff, either being there or doing a lot of heavy research for something else. *shrug* #WriterWorldProblems

The stories for Familiar Paths are well underway, and I hope to have those done by the end of October, for a December release.

I know how the next Elect story will go, it is a matter of clearing space in my head to work on it, now that the reference book I needed has arrived. The main character is Paulus, and the female lead doesn’t have a name yet. She’s an environmental science major with more Grand Plans than sense, at least until reality, ahem, bites.

Day Job is rather calm for the moment this term, as usually happens. Spring is when things tend to go rodeo.

Thursday Tidbit: A Hunter’s Lair

Arthur’s evening, when he’s not Hunting (or filling orders, or cursing software, or . . .)

Kssss! Blade slid across gleaming blade. Skender pressed the attack, using his greater strength to force Arthur back. He bared his teeth and twisted, then ducked to the side and feinted with his left hand. A deep snarl greeted his evasion and Skender swung hard. Too hard. Arthur leaped, then shoved his brother’s shoulder as he came down. The blow caught Skender at full extension and off balance, unable to regain his footing. Thud, he landed on his face in the soft dirt of the practice ring. Arthur staggered, caught himself, spun, and came up on guard. Red haze filled his vision.

“Break! Break now!” two voices commanded. Ladislu and one of the Healers, Arthur’s younger sister, ordered the halt. Arthur saluted and sheathed his sword. He breathed slowly, pulling the still-warm, humid air into his lungs. He exhaled fury and adrenaline both with the breath as he calmed mind and body. Murmurs rose from the younger Hunters. He turned to face them. Silence, and two stepped back, away from him. Arkady swallowed loudly, face pale. Perhaps he would cease pushing his seniors for the next while.

He turned back to face his older brother. Skender rolled to a seated position. “Damn it, Boianti. Too much time you spend with that lemur. You are half become one.” No malice in the malediction, perhaps a touch of humor. Skender accepted Ladislu’s extended hand, regained his feet, and kept his weapon. Ladislu sketched a bow and backed out of the ring. Skender saluted both judge and opponent, then slid his blade into the sheath hanging between his shoulders. He breathed hard, beads of sweat making his forehead shine in the dim light from the lamps in the now-empty barn.

“Point to Boianti,” Ladislu declared. “But that was a true desperation counter, sir.” The faintest hint of disapproval colored his dispassionate tone.

Arthur nodded only sufficient to be seen by the judge. He turned to face the younger Hunters once more. “What result should that move be used against many of the beasts we hunt?” he asked.

Quiet. He heard Skender—no, felt Skender—moving to stand at his left shoulder. Georg shifted his weight, then said, “Sir, it might catch you in air, impale you should it posses claws or digits of sufficient length and strength?”


“A second beast, concealed, could catch you as you land, sir?” Tadeuz spoke with greater confidence. He had survived an ambush, but not without a scars.

“Also correct.” He waited.

Rendor spoke from the pool of darkness where he and several other inactive Hunters stood. “Sir, a magic user could cast a spell to catch and hold you as you descended, or to tangle you as you touched ground.” We,” he gestured to the Hunters, “do not always consider magic literally under our feet. Shadow, the big redhead, Silver would all do the like.”

“As would the sorcerer called Spots,” Skender growled. “Here, at this moment, we Hunt no known magic users. That is . . . not always so.”

Arthur inclined his head in agreement. “Exactly so. The Terrible Hunt.” He let the others nod or snarl. “Strong magic aided us. Come the future?” Hunters Hunted against magic users, more often than not. So had it always been. The pups needed to learn that, or die.

Rendor bowed, left the shadows, and approached the ring. “Florian,” he called.

Florian grinned, teeth full bared, bowed with an extravagant flourish, and joined his elder in the ring. Nikolai, Florian’s Hunting partner, rolled his eyes and whispered, “Lady of Night, lend me patience,” sufficiently loud for all to hear. Florian ignored the jibe as he and Rendor saluted the judge, then each other. Skender stalked to the left. He passed behind the judge to stand as secondary watcher. Skender’s fingers flicked the pattern of dismissal. Arthur acknowledged the command and departed for the main house. He smiled to himself, once clear of the other Hunters. He had not bested his brother for several years.

Soft summer stars shimmered above him. The waning moon slept yet, her light hidden by the gently rolling land. A bat fluttered past and avoided him with an adroit tumble. The child bemoaned her inability to enjoy nights as she had once done. He inhaled. Warm, life-rich summer night smells flowed around him. The usual night sounds of the home farm filled his ears. “Who-hoo!” He froze, one foot on the lowest step of the main house.


He drew the silver dagger from his boot sheath and triggered the shield spell in his signet ring. A faint bitterness tainted the air. Where? He turned, listened, tasted the wind for more hints.

“It passes, Hunter. It lingers not.” His eldest sister spoke from the deep porch surrounding the house.

He bowed to her and returned weapon and shield to their proper places. “It watches.” He climbed the steps and joined her.

She nodded, then gazed into the night with white-clouded eyes. What did she see? “It watches and waits. It is canny, and old.” She turned to him. “That concerns me.”

He opened the house’s main door for her, then followed her through. A shield closed behind them as the door latch touched the plate. “I shall wash, then join you,” he said. He did not care to eat while smelling of dirt and sweat.



Food, his eldest sister, and Raj and Corava awaited him in the small dining room. “Eat, please,” his sister ordered. “We have already dined, including you, small mistress.” She shook a warning finger at the Pallas cat. Raj gave her a look of feline hauteur and remained in the chair, head well above the top of the table. Arthur ignored the determined stare and served himself. He murmured his thanks, then sat and ate.


“Before you inquire, that is not Charles the Bold Bird in the stew.” His eldest sister’s irritation drew a curious look. “Skender knows better than to go into the poultry yard without performing the proper rituals.”

Again, he smiled at his brother’s expense. “Indeed. All know that monarchs demand the honors due their dignity and rank.” And due their very sharp spurs and beak! “I confess, I still savor the memory of Tay and Rodney fleeing in panic from Charles’ wrath.”

He sipped the dry summer white wine, blended with a hint of sweet apple juice. His thoughts returned to the Hunt. “The undead. A full Hunt at the dark of the moon?” Which would also be midsummer night, he realized. Would the two balance?

Corava turned her hands in a gesture of uncertainty. “Something else shifts, sir, and we . . . are not certain which is a greater threat.”

Alas, that matched what Tay had said the day before. Perhaps the two would meet and destroy each other? No, such never happened in his world. Use one evil to track the other? No, but . . . “Imperotessa, could Wings track the undead in owl form?” He would have Silver request Wings’ assistance, should it prove possible.

The large cat’s golden brown eyes narrowed, and her long whiskers tipped back as did her ears. He heard the swish of her tail. “It is possible, Pisicagheara, but only should she find the nosferitau with eye first, then her mage and Silver help track the ill presence. Wings recovers from a hard working, and might refuse.” Her tone implied likely refusal.

“Thank you.” He stood. “And thank you.” He bowed to his sister, and then to his sister-by-marriage.

“You are welcome. May the Lady watch you this night.” His sister locked eyes with him. “Go wary, brother. We know not the second presence.”

He inclined toward her once more. “Wary shall I go.”

He heard the other Hunters dispersing as he descended the steps behind the house. Where could he rest? Not on clan land. Like as not one of the two creatures of darkness had begun to track him. Not the concealed place in the warehouse, either, not tonight. One of the pups would challenge him, or think to take him by surprise. Arkady, mayhap, or one of the others who still did not truly realize the price of failure. Four years had passed since he or Skender had blooded a fellow Hunter outside of formal training. Fifteen, perhaps, since either had killed a fellow Hunter. The youngsters grew overbold.

He studied the stars and tasted the wind’s scent as he prowled through the shadows. A hint of river, so faint as to be almost unnoticeable, caressed him. “Thank You, Lady of Night.” He started the nondescript dark sedan and drove with care down the faint tertiary path away from the home farm. It required him to open and close a half-hidden gate. The hinges resisted, then protested as they complied. Someone had failed to do his duty to ensure that the gate could be opened. Someone would regret that carelessness.

Arthur drove slowly once he reached the edge of the bluffs over the river, upstream of the city. The valley below grew rugged and narrowed, with a half-dry, marshy side-channel for part of the run. No one had cared to settle the flood and miasma prone stretch. Now the land belonged to River and Devon Counties, preserved for nature. No one knew of the old mine—or perhaps quarry—tucked into the bluff. He had found it by accident, then found its secret and took both as signs, with gratitude.

He parked in a secluded opening and listened. Only the proper night sounds came to his ears. A small animal hurried about its business, and the breeze whispered in the heavy summer leaves. The air smelled cleaner despite the heat-miasma rising from the bar, muddy places below. Arthur nodded to himself and crept down a small, twisting animal trail. The narrow way descended below the crest of the bluff, hidden by the heavy canopy and thick trees. A skunk had expressed pungent displeasure, nose-searing displeasure. Raccoon scat and half-eaten sumac buds littered the ground. Deer had nipped tender shoots here and there. All appeared well, for the moment.

He waited several minutes before he eased down the slope to the old mine. Or perhaps quarry, but the work stopped where a coal seam faded into the bluff. Nothing moved or appeared to have changed, so he ventured into the darkness. Unlike the spring cavern, this remained dry. Animals avoided it, for reasons he did not quite understand. The floor sloped up, climbing a few feet as he walked, bowing lower as the tunnel progressed. Not sand but fine stone covered the floor, smoother than the sandy stone and not as gritty to the touch. The passage widened once more, allowing him almost to stand. The tunnel seemed to stop, save that it turned hard to the right. Air moved, warm in summer, cool in winter. That had reassured him—a second way out existed, even if it would take much work to find and use.

Over time he had cached a few things here, weapons, food, other necessities. All wise Hunters did such, if they could. None knew when friend might become foe, alliances shift, and the Hunters become hunted. Better to prepare for dangerous times then to die for lack of a place of refuge. Arthur brushed off the stone bench left by the long-forgotten miners and spread an old, dirt-brown blanket across the cool, tight-grained stone. He could sleep on bare stone, had done so in the past, but preferred not to save of necessity. He removed his boots and set them and his knives within easy reach. He lay down and composed himself for rest. “Great God be with me, if it is Your will,” he whispered as he closed his eyes. “Lady of Night, watch over Your servant and protect me if it is Your will.” He slowed his breathing and relaxed tired muscles. Rest came easily.  

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