Not Specifically Written for Halloween, but . . .

Mom used to sing this to me as a lullaby. It probably explains a lot.

Quiet! Sleep! or I will make

Erinnys whip thee with a snake,

And cruel Rhadamanthus take

Thy body to the boiling lake,

Where fire and brimstones never slake;

Thy heart shall burn, thy head shall ache,

And ev’ry joint about thee quake;

And therefor dare not yet to wake!

Quiet, sleep!

Quiet, sleep!

Quiet! Quiet!

Sleep! or thou shalt see

The horrid hags of Tartary,

Whose tresses ugly serpants be,

And Cerberus shall bark at thee,

And all the Furies that are three

The worst is called Tisiphone,

Shall lash thee to eternity;

And therefor sleep thou peacefully

Quiet, sleep!

Quiet, sleep!

Quiet!

The text dates to 1632, which suggests that early modern toddlers were no more sleepy than the modern version.

https://www.oxfordlieder.co.uk/song/1554

Happy Halloween!

No Extra Points for Length, Martin.

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted 95 arguments he had concerning teachings and people in the church. He attached the list to the door of a church in Wittenburg, Saxony, because that’s what university faculty did in those days. Sort of like all the different concert, lecture, and debate listings plastered all over campi today.

Except this turned out to be more controversial than usual, and Luther was stubborn as all get out. And so was the Pope, and politics got folded in, and today we have, well, more flavors of Western Christianity than Carter has liver pills. The Eastern Orthodox consider all of us sadly misguided, some more than others. The Jews look at all Christians and shrug.

The Western Church had gone through periods of reform in the past. Gregory the Great pushed missions and pulled charitable works back into the center of Church business – bishops and others were getting away from the ordinary believer, and it was causing problems. Francis of Assisi likewise – “Folks, the believers are down here, we need to be talking to them, not over or at them.” The early 1300s were not great for the Church as an institution. Individual bishops, priests, nuns did a lot of work for a lot of people, but the organization . . . didn’t handle the Black Death and the social trauma from that very well. (I’m not sure any large institution could have, to be honest.) And then you had a trio of popes who wouldn’t take “we think you need to retire” as a viable suggestion, and a lot of people were thinking about changes. Many of those people stayed inside the Church, now called Roman Catholic Church, and worked for change and improvement. Others broke away, and thus we got the Reformation.

The performance below is the 500th anniversary, in the Trinity Reformed Church in Speyer. And yes, those are Catholic nuns (and a few Lutheran nuns as well. It’s complicated.) A good hymn knows no denomination.

Saturday Snippet: Family Matters

Uncle Nathan checks up on Deborah’s parents.

“I want to show her the wild garden,” Corey said.

Her uncle looked down for a few seconds, then looked up again. “Deborah, do you want to go look at plants, and learn what some of them can do? The other kids will be going to the river and rafting tomorrow.”

It was her turn to look down. She kinda wanted to go rafting, but . . . “May I go look at plants instead, sir? Um, Uncle Nathan, I don’t think I want to be around Zeke and Amos and a river. And I don’t swim that well outside of a pool.”

Uncle Nathan reached over and patted her shoulder. “Yes, you may. You’re not the only one staying here. Suzie didn’t bring her special goggles, so she doesn’t want to go on the river. She’d going to help Aunt Jo with a quilt project.”

“Thank you, sir.” She turned to Corey. “Sir.”

Both men nodded. How old was Corey? Older than her uncle? He might be, although some people turned grey sooner than others. Her stomach grumbled, and she blushed. Her uncle patted her shoulder again. “Go get dinner, Deborah. I want to talk with you this afternoon, a little about magic, a little about other things.”

“Yes, sir.” She nodded to Corey and hurried off. Her shoulders hurt a little from the water back-pack, and she felt light-headed. She should have brought a snack, in case she had to work magic. She knew better. Her legs started to wobble and ache by the time she got to the little bunk-house.

A lot of dirt came off her hands and face when she washed up for dinner. “How come she gets to go on a trail ride and we don’t?” Amos didn’t quite whine, but he came close to it. He was fourteen, and should have outgrown that. Deborah concentrated on devouring a sandwich made from bits of leftover meatloaf, home-made pickles, home-grown tomatoes, and something a bit spicy and crispy but chopped that went really well with the meatloaf. She should get the recipe and trade it with the clan cousins.  Really good homemade bread barely held the thick filling together.

“One, she knows how to handle tools,” Uncle Andy told him. “Two, do you want to climb up a windmill tower and work on the bearings, or clean dead stuff out of a pond?”

Amos thought for a moment. Cousin Brigham nudged him, finished his mouthful of dinner, and said, “And clean up after horses, and clean horses, and not get to ride the ATVs?”

“No. Horses bite. Three-wheelers don’t.” Amos reached across the table, grabbed the ketchup, and doused everything on his plate.

No, Deborah thought after another bite. ATV’s just roll over and smash you flat. But they didn’t bite, or kick, or poop on you head, that was true. She took the bowl of slaw, dolloped some onto her plate, and passed it along. Monday was housework day for Aunt Jo and Aunt Ella and the others, so dinner and supper were “what’s left that we need to eat.” Like Saturday at her house, now that she thought about it, especially if both her parents were working.

Deborah tried to help with the dishes. “No, shoo. There’s no room,” Aunt Jo said.  Deborah eased out onto the ranch house’s main porch. Curling up for a nap sounded good, but then Uncle Nathan might worry. And why did he want to talk about magic and plants? She stared at the distance. The red, grey, and brown land matched the hard white clouds. Mesas of white filled the sky, and mesas of red covered the land. So what did that make pine trees? Sticky. She and Hi had spent a lot of time doing their and other kids wash after a hike when Hi had dared everyone to “really hug a tree!” Pine sap did not like to leave clothes. Or hands, or hair.

A little before two, as the first hints of storm flowed down from the west and north, Deborah followed Uncle Nathan into his “office.” It combined storage for paperwork, storage for heirlooms, his desk and a computer, and, a taxidermied bear’s head that always reminded her of a commercial for a dentist’s office, for some reason. And lots of church books, since Uncle Nathan had served as bishop and did other church things. A shotgun hid behind the door, just like her mom and dad had at home. And Bunicot, and Mrs. Schmidt. “Sit, please.”

Deborah found the empty chair and sat. A stack of file folders filled the other chair. Uncle Nathan squeezed around the end of the desk and sat as well. “Corey asked what I knew about your magical training. I don’t know anything.” He smiled. “I can tell that you are shielded, and Garry said that you are very sensitive to intentions?”

She nodded and relaxed. “Yes, sir. I’m a sorceress and healer. I’m learning how to use herbs to help people help themselves, like catnip and other mints for upset stomach, chamomile tea to help relax before sleep, ginger for stomach upset. Nothing of bane, sir. I can feel when people are really angry and upset, focused angry, and I can ‘taste’ nasty magic and nasty places in the land.”

Uncle Nathan relaxed as well. “Good. That’s exactly what I’d hoped to hear. I think you going with Corey, and helping him with chores, is a good idea.” He stared over her head, then met her eyes again. “His story isn’t mine to tell, but he served in the Marines. Dad and Mom, your grandparents, said that something changed in him while he was overseas. He doesn’t get along with many people, so he stays out here. Horses like him, as much as they like anyone.”

Deborah nodded.

“He’s good people, is faithful to the church, and knows the land and water as well as I do, better in some ways.” Uncle Nathan extended his hand and a ball of light appeared, faint and flickering. It wisped away. “I’m a cunning man, sorcerer of a sort, you’d say.”

She nodded again. “Yes, sir. Not everyone has showy gifts. Mine’s a useful, quiet gift.”

“Exactly.” He leaned forward. “How is Garry? When I ask, he says fine, or he jokes about mileage, but how is he, really?”

Oh dear. She thought hard, then said, “Sir, he hurts, always. He doesn’t not hurt, I don’t think. He uses a cane almost all the time, because of his back. Mom’s trying to get him to slow down, especially now that he’s getting military disability pay, but—?” She shrugged.

“That . . . sounds like Garry. He had two speeds growing up. Race, and sleep.”

She nodded again. “Dad sometimes says that Uncle Rodney is the answer to the rest of the family’s prayers—the universe getting even for Dad being the baby of the family.”

Uncle Nathan laughed so hard that he had to wipe tears away. “I shouldn’t laugh,” he took a long breath. “Ah, yes. On a more serious matter. Your mother. Has she joined the church yet?”

Deborah opened her mouth, closed it, though, and tried again. “I think she wants to, sir. Um,” how much could she say without causing problems? “I think, when the bishop retires, she will feel more comfortable accepting baptism and joining the church in full.” After her parents’ last discussion about her mom working magic and the bishop’s interpretation of church teachings about women with magic, Deborah didn’t dare ask. They’d been terse, cool, and painfully formal about the matter, and that was just with each other! She’d hidden in the back seat of the minivan and tried hard to be invisible. “Thomas, Hiram, and I have, and I’m going to do a mission when I’m old enough, if possible.”

His confused frown shifted to a very relieved smile. “Thank you, Deborah Judith. That . . . eases a lot of concerns. I won’t speak of it with anyone, because I know Garry said that he’d leave things up to Lelia, but that is good news.”

“You’re welcome, sir.” She and her brothers wanted Mom to join the church, but her Dad had laid down the law about pushing Mom. Uncle Rodney and Master Tay had backed him up, too.

Uncle Nathan stood. She did as well. “Tomorrow. If the others ask, you are helping Corey check the water again, and looking for noxious weeds and cheatgrass. If you do find cheat, he’ll show you how to mark it so we can get rid of it.”

“Water and weeds, yes, sir.” She drooped a little. “I like visiting the ranch, sir, but I’m glad I don’t have to take care of it, no offense, sir.”

He hugged her around the shoulders. “It’s not easy, but it is very, very rewarding, Deborah. No offense taken!”

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

More Real Estate Passing Through . . .

On Tuesday, New Mexico and the Permian Basin blew in. Yesterday and today, Colorado rushed past.

Ah, ’tis the season for traveling property. Dust, tree branches, garbage cans, tumbleweeds, small children . . . When a tightly-wound low-pressure system passes to the north of the region, we get troughs and dry cold-fronts that blow in. Translated into English, a large vacuum travels west to east along the jet stream, sucking air into itself to try and balance the pressures. This pulls air (wind) across a relatively low-resistance landscape. That being my house.

Southwest wind – dust, brown haze, smells like feedlot. The sky gets a brass-like hue to it, brownish-blue with a faint sheen to it.

North wind – my pickup looks as if it is trying to hatch tumbleweeds. There were so many that I gave up trying to pull them loose and just backed veeeeery slowly, hoping to break them free before one ignited. I was successful. Oh, and my house howls. The guards on the skylights catch the wind and moan, then start howling in a north-northwesterly wind (300-320 degrees).

When the wind starts to blow, you cinch down your hat, and start considering if you need to move garbage cans. After a certain point, you chase your garbage can down the block and bring it home. Windage matters: don’t “park” a rolling can with the wheels on the upwind side. That seems to encourage departures. It’s also a good idea to collapse light-weight patio furniture, and fold the umbrella or retract the awning. When the wind gusts to forty-five miles in hour, in town, things are going to move. And billboards collapse if the gusts are just right.

Back in the days of the haboobs, before the 1970s*, you could tell wind direction by the color of the soil that came in with the wind. Now we get far, far fewer of those kinds of storms. South of here still has them, however.

The head-shaking part is when you look at the horizon and see that all the wind turbines are locked, not turning. High winds are not good for them.

We need rain, as usual. Even just to tamp down the dust that moves when the wind blows, as it does out here.

*In 2011 we had the first and last one that I could recall. The sky went red, as in blood red, and visibility dropped down to an eighth of a mile. The power went out, and so I sat by the front window and read from my e-reader. Then a thunderstorm roared through and we got an inch of rain.

Music for Characters

I tend to listen to music when I write, in part to keep from tuning in to whatever is on TV in other parts of the house, or tuning in conversations. I can’t close the door because I might get called to do something. So I’ve come to note that certain things do better with certain types of background music.

Obviously, writing a fight scene to soothing, bedtime New Age keyboard harmonies . . . doesn’t work well. Ditto writing a pastoral meditation as speed metal goes in the background. Beyond that, well, it sort of depends on the world I’m writing in, as well as the scene. And sometimes characters will push me into music I wasn’t planning on. [*coughcoughArthurcoughcough*]

The Familiars books seem to do better with goth-rock, metal, or dark instrumental in the background. That fits the world, and the culture of the main-series protagonists. Except . . . Arthur. In the last two stories written from his PoV, I found myself going to classical, specifically the Mozart Requiem, Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna, and Gjiello’s compositions. No, I don’t know why, but things went much, much better when I had Lauridsen in the background. Oh, yeah, and the current story with Mike and Rich? Orthodox liturgical chant. Which at least makes sense, given what they are prepping for. But Arthur . . . and Lauridsen? Ooooohhhhh kay.

The next merchant book? Corvus Corax. Oh boy. Something tells me that the protagonist is going to yank the story out of my hands, because usually the Merchant books work best with Renaissance or Romantic (Brahms, Vaughn Williams) instrumental compositions. Corvus Corax is medieval texts, and some tunes, set to modern tunes with a mix of medieval and modern instruments. They don’t have the occult element that a few similar groups have, so I prefer their stuff. It tends to be fast, loud, and passionate in all senses of the word. Which. . . sort of fits the main character. Ish.

Interestingly, if I need an extended run of eerie, dark, “no, seriously, don’t open that door” for a scene, I turn to the soundtracks of the Battlestar Galactica reboot. It works better than dedicated horror scores, probably because it doesn’t have the cues for jump-scares. It carries the brooding, dark and misty, “you know, I’m getting an odd feeling about this place. When did you say the odd lights tend to appear” sense of something hidden but creeping toward you.

Arthur. The Lux Aeterna. Really? *sigh* I’m just the author. What do I know?

Note: I think they do the cut-offs too abruptly, but this is one of those places where there are as many approaches as conductors.

OK, the following is because I love the piece, and it works so very well in the setting. I’ve done this, just not nearly as well. And I have s suspicion that it might end up as background.

White Gold is Available

The book, not the metal, sorry.

Salt. The original white gold. Men labor for it, died for it, killed because of it. Now trouble simmers between the salters of Halfeld Fluss and those who need wood for crafts and fuel.

Widower Tarno Halson, master salter, only wants to work, raise his sons, and find a wife to help him. Instead he finds himself in the middle of the conflict.

Set in the world of Merchant and Magic, this blue-collar fantasy tells the tale of an average man who isn’t quite so average.

Tuesday Tidbit: The Hunt

Arthur and Lelia go Hunting.

The peeping frogs sang as he got out of the car. He had parked on a long-neglected county road. The property owners lived in a different state, and the county never quite found time or resources to maintain the road more than once every few years. The pond near the road brimmed full. The owners of the cemetery had visited earlier that evening, before dark, and had checked the trail cameras. He had brought what he needed to blind the cameras without obviously doing so. As soon as the shadows grew long enough, he added the image loops to the cameras, except for the one on the gate. It had failed, completely, and hung forlornly from the sagging metal gate. A weather change thundered to the west, forecast to arrive after one AM. He waved away a mosquito and listened.

“You too? That makes both of us,” the child said. Tay murmured an answer as they appeared in the deep twilight. “I can see why the guys guard that spell so closely.”

“If we need it, we need it. If not, we leave it alone,” the Familiar replied. “Company,” he murmured.

The child stopped and inclined toward Arthur slightly. She carried the bag that held supplies for her Familiar, and wore a practical split skirt and sturdy boots in her customary black. Arthur removed his own bag from the car through the open window. “Take this, be ready.” He handed her a silver-bladed hunting knife.

She hefted it and nodded once, expression cold and hard. He gestured with his head toward the field with the older graves. She nodded again and followed him, staying in his footsteps as they crossed the open ground.

“Ah.”

He glanced back at her. Shadow magic moved and a shield formed around them. Something else also shifted, racing along the fence line. “As illusion to hide us, sir.” He turned his attention back to the barren area ahead of them. The sense of wrongness grew stronger. He stopped well clear of the patch and set his bag down. Silver crouched and did the same, allowing Rings to descend to the ground.

“Ugh,” the lemur said. “It’s old and mean.”

“Yes. It feels like what Naphtha and Blossom described with the hungry ghost.”

Arthur turned so he could see both Silver and the unhallowed place. “What mean you?”

“Anger, age, a desire for revenge, but also something more, sir.” She drew magic and held out her right hand, palm up, eyes narrowed. “Terra voco.”

The ground shifted as he watched. He reached into the bag and removed a wooden stake. A dark form—another Hunter—eased out of the night toward them, then stopped well clear of the troubled place. The lone Hunter watched but did not speak. The child frowned and murmured once more. “The presence remains in the ground, sir, but . . . It is aware and awaits full dark.”

He had feared that, but better to move now than wait for the nosferitau to emerge fully. “Follow and be ready to use the blade I gave you.”

“Sir.”

He removed the folding shovel from the bag and set to work. The lone Hunter slipped closer and gestured, asking for the shovel. Arthur gave it to him and prepared for trouble. The younger Hunter worked quickly but with great care, not throwing dirt. He had only cleared perhaps a foot of earth when the gleam of white cloth and a hand appeared out of the dirt. The scent of bad death filled the summer night, the stench of mortal sin freely chosen. Silver gagged, then swallowed hard as the Hunters cleared more dirt. A man, his body far too well preserved, appeared in the dark, rich soil. He wore a white shirt, black pants, and had fair skin. Lips too full and red, nails grown into claws confirmed the Hunters’ fears. The lone Hunter moved clear, shovel ready to use as a weapon.

Arthur breathed a prayer and rammed the stake into the creature’s ribs. “Aaaarrrrriiiiiiiiiiiiigh!” The shriek pierced the night, near deafening him. He pulled one of the small bottles of night-rich water from the sacred spring and splashed the creature’s face and staring, open eyes. Both Hunters jumped clear as silver white flame engulfed the creature, then dissipated. Only ash remained, and that sank into the ground.

Silver stepped closer, eyes still half-closed. She extended her left hand once more. “Nothing remains here, but the land will not soon recover. A few seasons will be needed to fully heal the soil from the evil.” She backed away.

“The second presence,” Rings warned. He pointed with his silver-white tail. “There.”

The lone Hunter nodded and turned, starting to move toward the cemetery. Arthur hesitated. Something . . . A sticky sweet taste, like a honeysuckle bower in the heat of the day, filled his mouth and nose. Not decay, but a scent that ought not be here. He inhaled to call to the others.

“No you don’t!” He spun in time to see Silver closing with a lithe, shimmering form. The other woman wore a close fitted gown, pale, that emphasized her feminine attributes. She moved with seductive ease, her eyes and smile trying to draw him in. The stranger beckoned with a graceful gesture that promised much. Arthur glanced to the younger Hunter. The man stood still, entranced but not moving toward the second evil creature. Silver hissed, “Both these gents are mine. Find your own date.”

The pale woman shook her head, allowing waist-length, shadowy hair to flow free. Everything a man desired of carnal pleasure could be found in her eyes and smile. Arthur shook his head. What she offered no longer tempted him. The younger Hunter took a step toward the woman, then another. Arthur called, “Silver.”

She extended her left hand toward him, magic flowing from the night through her to him. He caught it, pushed it through his signet and raised the shield spell held there. He took a step back, and another, moving between the other Hunter and the moroiae. The shield could not break her calling, but would weaken it. He needed to get the stake and get to the grave, end this.

The fell spirit glided toward him. “Leave him, them,” Silver commanded.

The spirit turned and opened her mouth, fingers extending into claws, and flowed toward Silver.

Silver bared her teeth and crouched. The moroiae came closer, jaw unhinging! Silver ducked and lunged. Starlight glinted on the silver blade as she rammed the knife up, into the ribcage. “Crap! Lux Arumque.” Light and gold, shadow magic poured into the silver blade. The seduction call failed. Arthur released the shield and raced toward the fight, the younger Hunter just behind him. The female spirit arched her back, mouth open, blackness pouring out. That should not happen! “Nox arcana, nox benedicta,” Silver chanted, forcing more magic into the creature.

“Arrrrreeeeeee!”

“Look away!” Rings called. Arthur ducked, covering his eyes as a silent explosion shook the night. Birds launched into the darkness, and the scent of brimstone and corruption filled the air. Warm wind flowed back in, washing the night with life and goodness. Nighthawks circled, and an enormous owl passed between Hunters and mage, then departed. “Late to the party,” Rings grumbled.

Silver took a long breath, then another. “That wasn’t Wings, that was—” She sat in the clover, then sagged onto her side.

Rings flopped against her, panting. “Bag. Sugar,” he said. “Still holding illusion.”

Arthur found the recharge bag and tossed the little sack of soft candy to the other Hunter. “Give to the Familiar,” he commanded. He pulled the can of sugar cola out of the bag and knelt beside Silver. He eased one arm under her shoulders and lifted her. Too light, she had no flesh or fat on her bones. He held her up and handed her the can. She leaned against him, opened the can, and drank. Her head sank to her breast once more. “What need you?” he demanded.

“Rings. Water, nuts, fruit, sir.”

“No, you.”

She sagged again. “Pisicagheara?” the lone Hunter asked. A bag with chocolate and nuts appeared. “The Familiar recovers.”

“Good.” Arthur gave her the chocolate, then water. After half the chocolate, she rallied and sat on her own. “Remains anything?”

She nodded. “Another cursed presence, as yet not fully ripe, in the cemetery. The new grave. Hurry, please, something’s trying to feed from them and I don’t know when it will come.”

Rings leaned against his mage. Arthur got to his feet and pulled a second stake from the Hunting bag. The younger Hunter nodded and led the way to the cemetery. They moved quickly over the short clover, releasing a sweet, natural scent into the soft air. They jumped the low fence, not bothering with the locked gate. This time, Arthur dug and the other Hunter watched, alert, mouth part open to taste the night better. The soft dirt moved easily, too easily, and Arthur found the lid of the casket only two feet below the ground. “It seeks to walk,” the lone Hunter breathed.

“Yes. I open, you strike.” He used the shovel to pry the lid up. He needn’t have worried. It jerked open as if of its own accord and he leaped back. The younger hunter struck, driving the stake into the heart of a young man too thin and worn for his years. The body sighed and sagged. No blood emerged. Arthur opened a pouch of basil. “Great God, Lady of Night, grant his soul rest.” He tossed the basil onto the body. Green and blue licked the corpse, then faded. No trace of the dried blessed herb remained, and only the proper scent of a body recently dead reached Arthur’s nose. He closed the lid and re-buried the coffin. As he did, a faint trembling passed under his boots. He and the other Hunter moved clear. The earth sagged, and the coffin took its proper depth once more. Dirt flowed into the grave without their aid, and the Hunters knelt, then rose and departed as they had come.

The child remained in the clover meadow. “No. There was something else in there, besides what Pisicagheara described,” she said to Tay.

“Whatever it was, I don’t think you should remove that knife,” he said, sniffing toward the pale, crumpled shape from beside his mage. “She’s really dead now, but that other thing left a bathtub ring.”

A loud sigh. “Did you have to remind me?” She turned to the Hunters and bowed, then stepped clear. “The body is empty, but traces of a second spirit remain. Or not spirit, perhaps, sirs, I do not know.”

Arthur considered the form. “Link to me, of your grace,” he asked, taking the beads from his pocket. She drew her own chaplet from hiding and laced it over her fingers, head bowed. Shadow magic and clan magic flowed together. With his free hand he removed a second bottle of water from his belt pouch and undid the cap. “Lady of Night who blesses the stars, St. Michael, Defender of the Lady, be with this one, of your grace. Great God who knows no evil, be with this one, of Your mercy.” He splashed water over the woman three times. The form shivered, lost its shape, and dissolved into white smoke. Nothing remained save the knife, now twisted, half-melted.

“Amen, Selah, so mote it be,” the lone Hunter said. “Lady of Night, thank You. Holy God who dwells in all that is good, thank You.”

“Amen,” the child and her Familiar replied. She turned to the younger Hunter.

He rose to his feet and approached her. She smiled and extended her right hand. The lone Hunter bowed, took her hand and brushed it with his lips, then released it and straightened. He turned to Arthur. “Sir. I go.”

Arthur nodded, and the other man disappeared into the darkness. The child undid the illusion hiding the field, then busied herself with collecting wrappers, bottles and can, and packing them back into the bag. Arthur drew the touchstone on its chain from the pocket of his waistcoat and let the blue and brown stone hang from his fingers. It showed no evil—nothing remained on the silver. The child fluffed the clover, then helped Tay onto her shoulder. Arthur got his own bag and placed the knife in it for the time being, after hiding the touchstone once more. He offered the child his arm. She took it, and they walked with slow steps to their cars.

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

Rules Written in Blood

Aviation, at least in the US, has a surprisingly short list of rules. Part 91 of the federal transportation and other things regulations applies to everyone who flies anything. And as I told students, there is a lot of implied good judgement in the rules. Legal isn’t always smart. Smart comes down to the most important rule in the book: The pilot-in-command has the final authority and responsibility for the flight. The pilot in command can deviate from any of the rules if in his judgement safety demands it. Yes, you will have to explain, especially if something gets bent or broken. But the PIC is the boss, and everything else is based on trying to keep flying things out of undue proximity to the ground and to each other.

If you can’t see the ground, and you don’t have a “fly in clouds” license, don’t fly in the clouds. If you have not recently practiced flying and landing at night, don’t fly at night. If you are going eastbound, more of less, fly at an odd thousand feet plus 500 (if you are visual flight rules). Westbound gets the even thousands, plus 500. Don’t fly so close to the ground that you fly into the ground. Don’t be stupid. Don’t fly a broken airplane unless you label the broken thing so that you don’t get fooled and start to trust it. When around an airport, look out for other planes. The slowest, least-maneuverable thing has the right of way. Emergencies have the right of way (i.e. the guy on fire can land ahead of a blimp.)

If you are an airliner, you can’t go sightseeing off the approved route. Why? Because in 1956 two airliners were doing that, over the Grand Canyon, and one descended onto the other. People died. If your airplane is not certified and equipped for flying in known icing, don’t fly into known icing. Why? Because people did, and crashed, and died. Unless you are cleared for take off, or to cross the runway, and you and the controller agree that there is no one else on the runway, don’t take off, or don’t cross the runway. Why? March 1977, KLM and Pan Am 747s collided on the main runway at Tenerife, Canary Islands, killing 583 people. It also showed that better cockpit communication rules might be needed, because the KLM captain did not listen to his copilot/First Officer when the man asked about the Pan Am being clear of the runway. It wasn’t.

Engineering has its own rules. You can’t build certain things certain ways. You can’t build a 2000 foot-tall radio antenna without guy-wires and other supports. Dams need to be anchored to the bedrock beside them with a watertight seal (see Teton Dam, 1976). You have to allow for resonances in bridges where the wind blows (Tacoma Narrows). There are times where heavy structure trumps airy design.

Lots of areas of endeavor have rules written in blood. I’m not going to go into recent events in New Mexico, other than to say that I feel very, very sorry for the families of the woman who was killed and the man who was injured. Had the Four Rules of firearms handling been applied, it is possible that the accident would not have happened. 1. The firearm is always loaded. 2. Do not touch the trigger until you are ready to fire. 3. Do not point the firearm at anything you are not willing to destroy. 4. Remember what is behind your target. Heck, Fr. Martial smiled when he observed that when I stopped cleaning the desks in order to talk to him, I moved my finger off the “trigger” of the spray bottle and pointed the bottle at the outside wall. (Spraying one’s boss with cleaner/disinfectant is generally considered somewhat gauche.)

“Why can’t I skim the bottom of the clouds? It’s fun!” It’s fun until the clouds get lower, or someone else appears on an instrument flight plan and descends on top of you, or you don’t see a mountain in time.

“Why can’t I stay at 6500′ MSL* until it’s time to climb to get through the pass into Albuquerque?” Because there is a 7200′ ridge in the way. It loves to eat airplanes. For a while it was averaging one a year. Beware of clouds with crunchy middles.

*Mean Sea Level. Then there’s ASL, above sea level. The two are generally, but not always, the same. The most important, however, is AGL. Above ground level, where one should remain between takeoff and landing.

Saturday Snippet: Cleaning Tack

Ah, the not-so-glorious parts of horse care . . .

The next day, after breakfast, Deborah found her way to the horse barn as the others got helmets and things to go ride three-wheelers ATVs. Corey showed her how to clean the saddle pads and horse blankets, checking them for worn places and stickers. “Don’t let them drag the ground. They find thorns.”

“Yes, sir.” She could believe that. Sort of like how white shirts found tomato sauce, or her mom and dad’s black clothes attracted white and pastel anything. She didn’t really like the fleecy saddle blankets and pads. They really found the hair and dust and things. As she studied one fancy, thick pad, she wondered if anyone had cleaned it since it came home from the shop. Corey left his task and frowned at the pad as well.

“Bring it out here.” She followed him outside, into the sun, and they flipped it over and set it on a wooden hitching rack, upside-down. She pulled her hat brim down to shade her eyes better as she looked over the pad. “Hmm.” His fast, thick and sturdy fingers pulled two small twigs out of the fake wool fleece. “I’ll get the stickers out, then we’ll wash it. Finish the others, please.”

“Yes, sir.” She liked working with him. He reminded her a little of Mrs. Schmidt. They were both self-contained. By the time she finished checking the ordinary blankets and things, and put them away, he’d gotten almost a handful of little sticks and thorny leaf pieces out of the pad. “Did something make a nest, sir?”

He smiled a little. “It tried.” He pumped some water into the metal wash tub, and they worked the pad and rinsed dirt and stuff out of it. Whatever tried to settle in must have been disappointed to hit the mesh under the fake fleece, Deborah giggled to herself. As heavy as the thing felt wet, she could see why Corey didn’t mind the help. They wrestled the pad onto the hitching post to dry, then carried the tub to the garden and carefully poured the water onto some of the vegetables. “Good. Tomorrow we go ride a little, check some water holes. Do you remember how to ride?”

“Not much, sir. Sit tall, weight in the middle, and I remember how to fall off safely if I need to.”

Corey smiled, a big smile, and nodded. “Honest is good.” He made a small wave-like motion with his hand, and she nodded and went to wash her hands and see about dinner.

The next morning, Uncle Nathan met her at the horse barn. “Deborah, what are you doing?” He didn’t sound angry, yet, just not happy.

Corey spoke first. “I asked her to come with me, check the water in the Rocky Creek section. She’s land-minded, has a good eye.”

Her uncle tipped his hat back and really looked at her, almost the way some of the other magic users did. “Hmmm. I wonder. You do have a lot of Grandmother Judith in you. A bit of Dad, too. You can go with Mr. Corey, but be careful, and take a lot of water.”

She nodded. “Yes, sir. Dad—my dad—sent his water back-pack with me, in case we went hiking or something.”

“Did he? Or did Cousin Rodney pester him until he remembered to have you bring it.” Her uncle winked.

She tried to look innocent. The adults both chuckled, and she giggled a little.

Half an hour later, with the sloshy back-pack on her back, she stared up and up at the black and white horse. He looked as tall as the farm house! It would be a long way down if she fell off or had to emergency dismount. “No, you won’t be riding Leopard,” Corey said. She turned and saw him leading a smaller, brown and white horse with calm eyes. “This is Brown.”

“Brown.” She introduced herself, letting the gelding sniff her palm, then puffing gently into his nostrils the way she remembered to do. Brown puffed back, then let her check the cinch. Corey showed her the mounting block, and she used that to get on board. He adjusted the stirrups a little.

[snip]

The brush and spiky plants gave way to grass and the creek valley widened into a flood meadow of sorts. They passed an old beaver dam that explained the meadow. A few red and white Hereford cows stared at them with half-closed eyes as they rode past. The cows chewed their cud and looked thoughtful. Not that cows thought, unless it was thinking up new ways to be stupid and make trouble. She’d heard enough farm stories from the clan cousins, as well as here-cousins and other relatives, to know that. The cows blended in with the reddish-brown rocks around the lush meadow. Pika pika, pika pika! A black and white magpie flapped by. A large hawk or eagle circled far overhead, and a raven flew ahead of them for a few yards, then went about his business. The wind made the ankle-to-knee-high grass shiver.

About the time she needed a break, they stopped at a pond. Deborah hesitated, then remembered—dismount to the left, just like mounting. She eased her right foot free of the stirrup, then the left foot, and swung her leg over the pommel and slid to the ground, not touching the saddle. She landed with a little thump. Brown gave her a puzzled look, then seemed to shrug, if horses could shrug. Her legs felt stiff, but not too sore. She clipped the rope to the halter under Brown’s bridle and led him to the water.

Corey moved quietly, head turning left and right. He stopped every few feet, listening, then moved again. She copied him, slipping almost into magic sight and just reading the land. It looked good, except . . . “Sir?”

He turned.

She nodded to the northwest. “Is there something, um, off that direction? Off like spoiled milk off,” she explained.

“Hmm.” He crouched and touched four fingers to the ground, half-humming as he did. Something passed from him to the land and back, and she raised her shields. “Yes. It has been here a very long time, but it feels stronger.” He stood. “Not today, but it will be checked. Well done.”

She blushed. “Thank you, sir.”

“What do you sense of the water? I’ll hold Brown.”

She passed him the rope and approached the pond. Part natural, part improved, Rocky Creek flowed through a deep place in the stone and spread a little. Someone had narrowed the outlet and smoothed part of the bank so the cows and other animals could come and go without ruining the water. A few minnows darted, silvery flicks above hair-like green water weeds. A water-strider skated over the top of the slow-moving water. Nothing stood out to her normal sight, so she shifted to magic-sight. Healthy, but not as good as it could have been. What was missing? “Um, should there be bigger fish, sir? It feels as if there’s a gap of some kind.”

“Ah.” She backed away from the pond. “Frogs and lizards. A heron visited in May, and ate all the frogs and water lizards. Some will come in from upstream, with the next flood, but nothing now.” He nodded. “We water the horses, and drink some ourselves, then check the next two.”

Before they reached the second water, Deborah reined Brown to a stop. Something . . . to her left, something watched her. Or was it a Something? She raised her shields and drew a little power from her locket, then cast a light shield around Brown as well. He snorted but didn’t fuss. Corey reined Leopard around and returned to her. “To the left, sir.”

A small dust-devil danced across the meadow. Corey’s eyes narrowed, and he chanted something. Leopard side-stepped, then turned to face the ripple in the air. The ripple shrank, solidified, and a sleek, tidy coyote laughed at them, then disappeared into the brush. “That’s not a regular coyote,” she said.

“No. Later.” Leopard reversed within his own length and started trotting. Deborah nudged Brown, and after shaking her teeth loose, remembered how to post the trot. They slowed down when they turned away from the creek to a windmill. [snip]

A dark shadow passed over the water. She looked up to see a raven tip on one wing and bank away, as if leading them. Corey made an interested sound, then took Leopard’s rope. “The third watering place is on the way to the house.”

“Yes, sir.” Grasshoppers buzzed in the grass and brush, big grasshoppers. A few lizards darted here and there, always in a hurry, and she’d seen the back half of a dark snake as it slithered about its business. Small birds twittered, and the wind rustled and clattered through grasses and brush.

“This is good land,” Corey told her as they rode through another grassy, open pasture. “Nothing stays so long that it ruins things, but the land isn’t left to get weedy, either.”

She thought about it. “Like back home, where the woods get rank with nettles and burrs if people don’t cut dead and bug-sick trees, and take care of things?”

“Yes.”

That made good sense. Her dad said that deer and elk and even buffalo had grazed here, and had moved around, not wearing out the land. Sheep could work, too, and cows, if people kept an eye on things. “Ignoring the land doesn’t keep it healthy.”

“No.” Leather creaked as he shifted. “Our family learned that early. Others have not, not yet.”

Our family? “Yes, sir.” What did he mean, our family? Was he one of the cousins? Something her grandfather had once said, something about her namesake, Great-grandmother Judith . . . Oh! Her grandmother had been a Shoshone woman of power, that was it, and that’s why Grandfather Roger was a strong Sensitive. Great-grandmother Judith was also a Sensitive, and maybe a sorceress, but her dad had never said one way or the other. So, Corey was Shoshone, or part Shoshone, and they were cousins. And if she didn’t get her mind back where it needed to be, she’d be flat on her rump in the dust with a long walk back to the ranch house!

The third watering place needed a little help. “Hold,” Corey ordered, handing her Leopard’s rope. She held as he got tools out of the saddlebags and straightened something, then banged the metal case twice. A metal-on-metal squeak, then water started flowing again. “That’ll do for now.” As he put the tools back, she realized that a carbine or other small rifle poked up from a saddle scabbard. Why had she not seen it before, or noticed an illusion hiding it? Deborah chewed on the question a little, then set it to one side, the way her father and Mrs. Schmidt, and Mistress Cimbrissa had taught her.

After Corey finished, Deborah nodded to a clump of yucca-like plants. “Sir, those don’t belong, do they?”

He gave her another thoughtful look from under his hat, then drank from his canteen. “Why not?”

She looked from the plants to the in-ground water tank and back. “Ah, they are the only ones here, in this meadow, and they seem close to the water, closer than other yucca.”

Corey smiled again. “Their ancestors were planted here, when a spring existed over there.” He tipped his head toward some bushes and things, a sage-colored island in a grassy meadow. “They are soap-root. Other useful plants were planted, too, before things Changed.”

Deborah filed the information away. “Soap root. Yes, sir. Thank you.” What did he mean by Changed? When Uncle Rodney and Master Tay spoke with capital letters, it meant something very serious. Or very silly, sometimes, if they were talking about Rich the Mongoose. Corey didn’t seem like the silly kind. He took the rope back, mounted, and they rode at a brisk walk back to the ranch yard. The raven returned, then wheeled up and away once more. More clouds floated above them, a few with grey bellies already.

As they “undressed” the horses and brushed the sweat and other things off of them, Corey said, “The coyote.”

She nodded and walked around Brown’s back end, keeping one hand on the gelding’s rump and staying very close to his legs. He wouldn’t be surprised, or have room to wind-up the kick that way. She remembered watching Cousin Alice almost get a leg broken by surprising a horse from behind. “Yes, sir. Dad said that a clean, well-fed, and tidy coyote’s probably not, um.” How much should she say? “Not the kind of local coyote that sneaks chickens and chases roadrunners.”

“No.” Corey too moved closer, lowering his voice. “The Coyote we saw is a Trickster spirit. They are only deliberately mean if you are rude and mean, or disrespectful. Their tricks can still hurt, though.”

Oh, that made too much sense. She nodded hard. “Yes, sir. When one spoke to me the other morning, I remembered what Dad had said and was very polite.”

She couldn’t quite read the expression on Corey’s face. It wasn’t unhappy, just . . . Deeply thoughtful? He looked the way her father did, or Bunicot, when they thought about something magic and very serious. “What did the Coyote say, Miss Deborah?”

She swallowed hard. “Ah, he said that I was my father’s daughter indeed, and asked if I was my great-great-great-grandmother’s as well.” What was that other bit? “Oh, and he called me a child of a green land. He said, ‘We’ll see, child of a green land, we’ll see,’ and then got onto his back feet and twirled away.”

Corey brushed Leopard a few more times, then turned back to her. “Do you have a use name?”

She nodded. “Patruyeh. It’s the name of a plant.”

He nodded in turn. “Kaak’ki.”

Something . . . It wasn’t just a use name. “Kaak’ki,” she repeated, very quietly, locking it into her memory.

“Good.” After they finished, Corey said, “Well done, today. You like plants and plant knowledge?”

“Yes, sir!” She caught herself. “At least, I like the ones that don’t attack me, or make me itch and hurt.”

Corey tipped his head back and laughed, a full, rich sound. Uncle Nathan had come up close to them, and he too smiled. “Ah, Nathan,” Corey said when he caught his breath. “She sounds just like Cousin Maria.”

Her uncle folded his arms, still smiling. “Deborah learns from other people’s bad experiences. Sort of like her father, except her father then had to try it just once himself, in case he could do whatever it was that the rest of us couldn’t. Or wouldn’t.” A very long sigh followed those words, and Deborah closed her eyes for a moment. Sometimes her dad-as-a-kid sounded a lot like Uncle Rodney. Was that why her dad said that Uncle Rodney was how the universe got even with him for being the youngest kid? She probably shouldn’t ask.

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