The Right Knife for the Job

How many knives do I own? Not counting the dedicated kitchen knives, because those live in the kitchen, let’s just call it “probably enough for now, except when I really need one.” You know, Sharpes’ Corollary of Murphy’s Law – whenever you need a cutting blade, you can never find a cutting blade. Or the one you have will be 1) too small, 2) too large, 3) a good knife you don’t want to louse up on cardboard or other junk.

The idea percolated up after an on-line conversation about carrying or having access to a junk-knife to loan to people who are the sort who mess up tools. Or who don’t know enough to know how not to mess up tools.

Swiss Army knife – one, the checkered handle officer version. This is my every-day go to.

Two heavy-duty Spyderco clone lock-blades – gift from Sib-in-Law, one of these will go in a bag, because they are a little big to fit easily in a trouser or skirt pocket. Serrated and very sharp. Do not give to the clumsy or careless.

Truck knife – hunting-style fixed blade, because you need a knife in your vehicle.

Cutting Bean – a handy little gizmo for when you need a small cutting tool (opening boxes, cutting tape) but are not supposed to have a knife. Yes, locking open a pair of scissors can work, but this is safer for all involved.

Little Black Knife – no, not the one that goes with your evening wear. The one you never carry, officially. And hope never to need to use.

[Junk] knife – the one reserved for knife-killing jobs, because it’s a piece of [junk], was free, and never will be missed when it finally dies.

Small multi-tool – because why not.

Large multi-tool – because sometimes you do need a whatsis, even if it is not a dedicated whatsis.

Plus a few others that live in drawers, a desk shelf, and the one I’m always forgetting is in a bag. And three specialty blades, one of which is South American and silver, and that I have had for decades. Because vampires. No, seriously. That’s what I joked when I asked for it as a teen. To my surprise, Santa gave it to me.

Yes, I’m Going to Read Both of Them.

The clerks at the regional B&N probably stopped raising their eyebrows at purchase combinations a while ago. I got a copy of Victoria and a copy of Medieval Warfare Magazine.

I’ve been buying Medieval Warfare and its sister publications since I first found them. They are from the Netherlands, in English, and are great resources. The writing is not quite academic-level in terms of jargon and complexity, but it’s not dumbed-down, either, and the authors of the articles assume that their readers are adults who know the basics of, oh, the Roman civil wars, or the War of the Roses. Some of the issues I don’t take to Day Job, because the blunt coverage of the subject matter might be a little much.

I discovered Victoria when I was in high school, and my homeroom teacher had a few in the room. I devoured them. Lacey things, beautiful houses, gracious living, soothing essays about domestic pleasures, articles about stately homes in England or cozy retreats in France and northern Italy, tranquil places to visit in the US, lovely food and decorating ideas . . . It was a wonderful escape, a bit like Southern Living at the time. Then Victoria disappeared, and Southern Living got watered down and turned into a slick pop-culture-with-drug-ads magazine (and the reading level dropped from 8th grade to 4th, but that’s a different rant.)

Ten or so years ago, maybe more recently, a woman in the publishing business who had loved the old Victoria revived it, more or less duplicating the original. It is still here, and seems to be thriving. Same format, same essays and letters and artist-in-residence and gardening and food.

I buy it whenever I can. It is pure escape. I have no time, place, or patience for the beautiful painted dishes and leaded-crystal table-settings, for the gracious bedrooms draped in soft silk and alpaca blankets and bedding. Going to the South of France and spending weeks doesn’t appeal all that much, unless it is to go hiking and travel to the prehistoric and Roman and early medieval sites. As much as I enjoy looking at the English gardens and stately homes, I can’t afford to stay there, and I’d probably stand out (or perhaps not. Given how my wardrobe inclines toward Victorian-inspired and English-country-shooting-party). Many of the recipes require ingredients not easily found in the Texas panhandle. But oh, it’s fun to imagine, and to look at the pictures!

Escape. The magazine is pure, 100% escape. It is a few hours in a different world, full of different people. No politics, no current events, nothing of what I deal with daily appears between the covers. It’s just attractive and entertaining. It’s the magazine version of a cup of tea (or really good coffee) and cookies or a slice of cake on a cold, wet day after a cup of wonderful home-made soup. Sort of a mental refuge, I can look at the pictures, read about places I probably would not want to spend a lot of time in during tourist season, and hide from the world. The publication features small businesses, often run or founded by women, and neat, feminine stuff that I don’t need but that’s fun to imagine having (fancy stationary, an alpaca-wool blanket, the proscuttio-stuffed black figs).

It’s as escapist as popcorn fantasy novels and formula romance books. And that’s fine. We all need an escape, some days.

Tuesday Tidbit: Marriage

Tarno and Urla get married.

The next morning, Tarno dressed in his best clothes. Clia and her man helped move Tarno’s good linens and his dishes and spoons to the confraternity’s hall. Clia and two of the widows had been cooking there, after Tarno paid for the food, and the marriage feast would be held there. Given that he was a widower marrying a woman without dower, only a few members of the confraternity and Clia’s family would join him and Urla’s family. When he’d married Annaka, things had been far larger with much longer celebrations. To do so now? Not wise, especially since he was marrying outside the walls. Keeping things quiet and modest would be better for the peace. And for his household expenses, but everyone knew that.

Tarno got the boys ready as well. The three of them took their time walking to the smaller temple of Donwah in the salters’ district. A great-hauler cart stood outside the temple, carrying an ornate wooden chest. Tarno nodded. Hepsha waited with the birds, talking to them. The lead female’s crest ruffled then settled. The young woman stroked the bird’s neck, peered into the water trough, and walked into the temple. Urla’s family had arrived first, on order to show the contract to the priest or priestess and to confirm that yes, they had agreed to the match, since Urla was not a self-supporting woman of the city.

Hands shaking the tiniest bit, Tarno opened the temple door and led his sons in. They bowed to the goddess. Rand Graber, Widow Dalman, and a few others waited with Urla’s family. Urla herself stood off to the side with her mother. Urla’s soft red-brown hair hung loose under a crown of late-season flowers and a few crimson and gold leaves. She wore a creamy white blouse under a heavily embroidered green and brown bodice. The patterns repeated on her dark brown skirt. Two priests waited with the others. A priestess of Donwah, as Tarno had anticipated, but also a priest of Gember.

Tarno steered the boys so that they stood with the salters. The priests moved so that they stood together before Donwah’s altar. “Tarno Halson come forth,” the priestess called. Tarno did as commanded.

“Urla Dorsdatter Erbstman come forth,” the priest of Gember said. Urla’s mother moved clear and her daughter approached the clergy. She stopped, facing Tarno. Urla looked nervous. “Urla, do you come into this marriage of your own free will, not coerced or under threat?”

“I come of my own free will.” Her voice shook the least bit.

The priest smiled. “Good.” Urla relaxed.

Donwah’s priestess nodded to Tarno. “Do you come into this marriage of your own free will?”

“I come of my own free will.”

The priestess raised her voice and called, “Any man or woman with just and true claim against this marriage, speak now and show forth your witnesses, or abide in silence.”

A cart clattered past in the road outside the closed doors. Someone sneezed. Otherwise silence. The silence grew longer. Donton rustled.

“That’s what I thought,” Gember’s priest muttered under his breath. He eased off to the side, away from the priestess. Tarno wanted to turn and look a question to Rand Graber, but held still. He’d hear all about it later, like as not.

Donwah’s priestess turned and removed a length of blue-dyed linen cord from atop the altar. She turned cleared her throat. “Masters and mistresses, Goodman and Goodwife, Tarno Halson and Urla Erbstman stand before you, seeking to join their households in marriage. The gods decreed marriage as an honorable and noble condition, for it is not good for man or woman to be alone, without comfort and support. It is not good for children to be without guidance and discipline, without care and affection. For these reasons, the gods bless those who join together in the sight of witnesses, pledging their loyalty and honor to each other.”

The veiled priestess turned to Tarno. Despite the veil, he felt her eyes lock with his, as if she could see inside his heart. “Tarno, do you take Urla to be your wife, to protect and cherish, to care for and support, to guide and honor, so long as life is in you?”

“I do.”

The priestess turned to Urla. “Urla, do you take Tarno to be your husband, to support and cherish, to care for and obey, to advise and honor, so long as life is in you?”

“I do.”

“Tarno and Urla, step forward.” They did as ordered. “Tarno, repeat after me. I, Tarno,”

“I Tarno.”

“Take you, Urla, to be my honored wife.”

“Take you, Urla, to be my honored wife.”

The priestess tied one end of the cord around his left wrist. Then she turned to Urla. “Urla, repeat after me. I, Urla.”

A soft voice said, “I, Urla.”

“Take you, Tarno, to be my honored husband.”

With more confidence, Urla repeated, “Take you, Tarno, to be my honored husband.”

The priestess tied the other end of the cord to Urla’s right wrist. “With this cord, you are now one in honor and family. With this cord, you are bound into one life, in good times and in bad, in sickness and health. You move together into life as one, no longer under the protection of parents but under the protection of each other. As many waters mingle into one river, so too do your families mingle into one marriage.”

She raised her hands. “Friends, family of the bride and groom, I call upon you to support and counsel this man and woman. Give them aid in times of need, comfort in times of sorrow. Rejoice with them in times of joy. Speak words of caution and advice when such is warranted and requested.”

Tarno bit the tip of his tongue against a smile, because he knew exactly what the priestess had in mind. If Urla’s expression told truth, so did she.

“Will you do as charged, Donwah as your witness?” the priestess demanded.

“We will,” and “yes,” rose from the group.

“What the gods have blessed, let no man tear asunder.” The priestess lowered her hands. She took Tarno and Urla’s hands and joined them. “Before the Lady of Waters and the Lady of Grain, before these witnesses, I declare you man and wife. Be blessed in all that you do, and may the gods smile on your household and family.”

Tarno and Urla bowed together, then faced each other. He kissed her, carefully. The priestess untied the cord. Goodman Erbstman bowed and gave the marriage contract to the priestess to keep with the marriage cord in the temple records.

Everyone except Tarno and Goodman Erbstman walked to the salters confraternity as a group. The men took the great-hauler cart and went to Tarno’s house. There they left the bridal chest. Tarno didn’t yelp when he took the weight as his father-in-law eased the chest out of the cart, but he wanted to. Had Urla been sent with pots and pans? It almost felt that heavy. The two men carried it with great care into the house and set it at the foot of the large bed. Anneka’s chest had been given to the temple of Rella for the use of a young woman who could not afford a chest. Anneka’s mother had agreed and had given some fine linen to help the young woman, whoever it might be, begin gathering her bridal portion. By giving the chest to a temple not aligned with either family, it might reduce fears of ill-fortune. Tarno did not inquire about the contents of Urla’s chest.

“She’s your problem now,” Dor said with a wide grin. He slapped Tarno on the back. “Not that she was much trouble for me and her mother, mind.” The grin vanished. “But if you lay hands on her in anger, and I hear of it . . . “

Tarno drew himself up. “Dor, I refuse to raise my hand against a woman, especially a women of my house. I don’t agree with hitting a woman or girl in anger, unless she strikes first and with ill intent.”

“Good. I didn’t think you were that kind, but my father ended my younger sister’s betrothal after her intended left her with a broken wrist and bruises on her face.”

“Good for him,” Tarno growled. If the man had done that to his betrothed, what would he do after the marriage? Tarno took a long breath. “Shall we join the others and see if they left anything of the feast?”

“Aye. If Kyle and Donton are the way I was at their age, we’ll find naught but crumbs and a sop of gravy left.”


That night, Tarno sent Kyle and Donton to stay with their cousins. What with Urla being a maid, he didn’t want any more eyes in the house to make her uncomfortable. He wanted her, oh so wanted her, but slow and gentle now would prevent fear later. He let her undress while he saw to the back gate and brought more wood into the house. Then he locked the doors and joined her in bed.

The next morning, he gave her a silver chain that had belonged to his mother as a morning gift. She kissed him and gave him a warm vest of black-dyed schaef wool embroidered in white, and a pair of heavy wool socks. Then she set about making breakfast.

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

Folksongs in Rock: Eversleeping by Xandria

I’d never really sat down and listened to the song before. A pattern caught my ear. “Wait, seven? Seven seas, seven years, seven rivers? Hmm, that’s a folksong pattern that goes back to the Bible and a few other places.” Places like the song “Greenwood Sidie-O [The Cruel Mother]” among others . . .

The lyrics to “Eversleeping” (single version):

Once I travelled 7 seas to find my love
And once I sang 700 songs
Well, maybe I still have to walk 7000 miles
Until I find the one that I belong

Once I crossed 7 rivers to find my love
And once, for 7 years, I forgot my name
Well, if I have to I will die 7 deaths just to lie
In the arms of my eversleeping aim


I will rest my head side by side
To the one that stays in the night
I will lose my breath in my last words of sorrow
And whatever comes will come soon
Dying I will pray to the moon
That there once will be a better tomorrow


I dreamt last night that he came to me
He said: “My love, why do you cry?”
For now it won’t be be long any more

“Eversleeping” Writer(s): Marco Heubaum, Elisabeth Middelhauve, Philip Restemeier, Gerit Lamm, Elisabeth Schaphaus From the album Ravenheart (2004)

The motifs of seeking a lost love, of traveling over multiple obstacles, of dreaming of the lost love . . . Can be found all over the place. I grew up with “Siúil a Rún,” “The Wars of High Germany,” “Scarborough Fair,” “She Moved Through the Fair,” and a lot of other folk songs. Folk tales too include people traveling long distances over mountain and ocean to track down a lost love (“East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” several Russian stories . . .) And of course, the dead lover (“Hills of Shiloh,” Gordon Lightfoot’s “Bitter Green,” “Hills of Loch Lomand.”)

Xandria plays with those folk-song ideas a fair amount, at least in some of their albums. “Rose on the Grave of Love” is probably the most obvious (“Barbara Allen,” and a host of others). Xandria tends to be more melodic than some other Goth-rock groups, which also fits the folk-motif borrowing. And of course, mourning over a distant or deceased lover is a staple in Goth-y stories and romances and characters and so forth. Edgar Allen Poe’s “Annabel Lee,” the premise behind some of Behind the Black Veil‘s songs from Dark Sarah . . . The tropes are common, and ancient. It’s just intriguing to find them used in new ways, by new genres of music. Part of me wonders if some of this is the influence of groups like Jethro Tull, Steeleye Span, and the folk-rock side of rock, blending with the Goth and metal sides.

Since Xandria appears to have broken up [ah, band dramas!], I can’t exactly ask them, but it’s fun to speculate.

Sunday Snippet: Blue Öyster Cult was Wrong

OK, this started with a photo and went downhill. Or as Dorothy Grant put it in a conversation concerning story origins, “Questionable food, poor life decisions, and good music!”

Captain Mikael Sergeivich “Mike” Radescu folded his arms and leaned back in his office chair. “Let me make sure I heard this correctly, lieutenant. A chaplain at Ft. Bragg called Colonel-Reverend Hewett because some guys from one of the chaplain’s study groups lost a fight with a couple of ghosts?”

The junior officer’s grin looked a lot like Magnolia the Opossum did when LSU lost to Ole’ Miss, except less blood-thirsty. “You got it, Captain!”

“And this is our problem why?”

“Your problem, sir, because Reverend Parker told the Colonel-Reverend that she doesn’t do ghosts with fangs.” Lt. Gerland eased into the office and handed Mike a set of orders.

“Road trip? Road trip! Whee, road trip this’ll be fun!” A white-tailed mongoose darted out of his sleeping basket in the corner and clambered up his mage’s leg to peer over his arm and read. “We’ve never been to wherever, I like new places.”

 Lt. Gerland backed out of easy choking range and raised his shields. “He’ll fit in well with the other snake-eat— Oh shit.” He realized the enormity of his error two syllables too late.

Snakes!! Yeah, snakes, I love snakes,” and Rich was off. Mike bared his own teeth at Gerland. The smaller sorcerer gulped and departed at full speed, leaving Mike to deal with the chaos. Rich swarmed up onto the top of the desk. Mike managed to contain the mess, and nothing important tore or broke before Rich calmed down.

“Dude, St. George hear my words, one day someone’s going to turn you into a hat band after you do that. Chill, Rich.” Mike placed a large, firm hand on his Familiar’s back, gently pinning him to the steel desktop. Even that could barely stand up to Rich’s claws when he got wound up.

Mad giggles filled the office before the mongoose calmed down. “Where are we going?”

Mike unfolded the pages and skimmed past the usual “destroy before reading” and other standard opening clauses until he found the meat of the orders. “North Carolina, Ft. Bragg, in the mountains. Detached duty to deal with ghosts that . . . Oh boy.” He stroked Rich’s back. “That almost killed two seasoned troopers and injured two more.”

“That doesn’t sound like a ghost-ghost, Defender.” Tik-tik had gone still. “Lost spirits don’t kill people.”

Mike glanced at the icons of St. George and St. Michael Archangel on the small table tucked into the corner of the office. “No. They drive people to die, sometimes, maybe, but ghosts don’t have corporeal form. That we know of,” he added, just in case.

He looked down at Tik-tik. The Familiar looked back. “Research,” they groaned in unison. Mike locked the orders in the proper place, logged out of the regiment’s computer network, collected his cover, and helped Rich onto his shoulders. The other people with offices on this floor did not care to have a mongoose visiting their spaces. Since one of them was the First Sergeant, Mike did his best to maintain peace. Army captains outranked sergeants, but the First Sergeant knew God, Old Scratch, and had several saints on speed dial. A wise officer erred on the side of extreme caution bordering on paranoia when Top got involved. Or even better, kept Top from getting involved in the first place!

Once they were safely out of ear-shot, Mike asked, “How did Top get an office in this building and not the Head Shed?”

Rich, draped around his neck, sniffed, whiskers twitching. “No idea, not going to ask. He has one next door to the Colonel-Reverend, too, but never uses it, much.”

Given how intense the Southern Baptist colonel could get, that made good sense to Mike. “Should I start with ghosts in general, or ghost-like things?” He turned right, away from the fastest route to the library and from the troopers doing something under the less-than-loving eye of Master Sergeant Butler.

“Ghost-like, and then, um,” Rich wiggled a bit. “Haint lore, I think, so we can get a sense of what we should see, if it is ghosts.”

“Haint lore? Oh, right.” The Appalachian version of haunt.

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

This started it. Photo by Dorothy Grant, used with permission.

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.