Book Review: The Complete Gentleman

Miner, Brad. The Complete Gentleman: The Modern Man’s Guide to Chivalry. 3rd Revised Edition (Washington D. C., Regnery Gateway, 2021)

The reviews on this book were mixed, with several complaining because it was not a guide to manners and behavior – that is, it doesn’t give a clear “do this, don’t do that.” Instead the author discusses the history of the idea of chivalry and who was chivalrous, the Victorian concept of gentleman, and possible large ways to shift behavior and thinking in order to be a better, more chivalrous, gentleman.

Brad Miner points to the movie Titanic and the behavior of some young men while watching it, specifically their mocking the actions of some of the upper-class male passengers. That got Miner to thinking about chivalry, the standards men held themselves to, and where it all began. Thus the book goes back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, notably the Stoic philosophers and Aristotle, the medieval ideals of knighthood and chivalry, the Victorian reinterpretation of those ideals, good examples and horrible warnings, and so on.

Miner breaks the gentleman into three main aspects – warrior, lover, and monk. He looks at each in turn, and how these three aspects blend together in a medieval or Victorian man. Then he casts his gaze at the present day and the younger generation. How can you be reticent and restrained in the age of social media and “post your feeeeeeelings!”? Miner points to Castiglione’s The Courtier, and the idea that became sprezzatura, the appearance of effortless grace (which applies to men and women, just in different ways.)

There’s a lot to chew on here, especially if you are the parent of a boy, or a young man trying to be better. Being a gentleman is about aspiring to better. We can’t be perfect. But we can be better, we can raise the bar for ourselves, be it in conduct, physical skill, dress, faith . . . The book is a lot of “what is a gentleman” instead of “how to be a gentleman.” Miner implies that if you work on the mind-set, the how-to will follow. I’d add that having a few carefully chosen guides and role-models will help a lot, for man or woman. Because women need to understand the origins of the idea of gentleman, in order to encourage more of them, and to raise them.

The book reads well. It is somewhat breezy, a bit pop-history at times, but his sources check out, and that’s probably the best tone to take. People don’t like reading hundreds of pages of Polonius, or Lord Chesterfield. Many of the sources are Christian, which fits the culture, but Miner points out that you don’t have to be a Christian to aspire to certain virtues. He tends to keep politics out of the work, although there are a few “don’t do this” moments. Alas, vice knows no time nor country. Miner might have given more time to the critics of masculinity, if only to show some of the flaws in their thinking, but that’s not his goal.

I’d recommend it for young men and women, parents of young men and women, anyone curious about where the ideas of “gentleman” came from, and people interested in popular understandings of European medieval culture.

FTC Notice: I purchased this book for my own use and was given no remuneration by either the author or the publisher.

An Entertaining Superpower?

What if you could grant people whatever they say that they want? Only for one day, 24 hours, but you could wave your hand and hey presto! The person getting what he/she wants would not know that there was a time limit.

The idea occurred to me after reading a climate activist talking about how terrible all fossil fuel things and petrochemical things are, and how much better society would be without all that icky oil, gas, and coal. But no nuclear, because Godzilla or something. The person was vague on that point. Wind, solar, tidal generators, geothermal where it wouldn’t interfere with the environment, no hydropower (aside from tidal generators). So my evil little mind said, “Hmm, what if this person got what he/she/whatever claims to want?” It would probably cure him/her/whatever, at least for a moment. I giggled at the thought of what the sudden disappearance of elastic and other synthetic fibers would lead to. (Not kind, I know.)

That might be true for a lot of wishes. “I want to win the super lottery!” And the taxes, and the threats, and the people pestering you for money?

“I want to be President of the US?” OK, what if war starts, or a hurricane is attacking the East Coast, or the Big One hits California or Hawaii, or. . .

“I want world peace!” What kind of peace? Graves are very peaceful. Might want to specify a little more on that one.

“I want my heart’s desire!” Are you certain that you want everyone to know what it is you truly long for with all of your being? Think hard on that one.

“I want a McClaren!” Based on what seems to happen with that kind of car and new owners, I hope your life insurance is up to date and you have really, really good medical insurance, too.

The more I thought about it, getting what you say you want, even for only one day, could well be one of the most terrifying curses in human existence.

Tuesday Tidbit: Midsummer Hunt

Skender and Shadow had a rough Saturday night.

He found the home farm in mild uproar when he arrived the next morning.  His eldest sister swept toward him, her silver and iron-tipped wooden staff in one hand and a very full basket of fresh eggs in the other. “Shadow was right to request support,” she informed him, then handed him the basket. He took it, walking beside her with great care. He had no desire to drop any of the eggs. Neither spoke more until he’d left the fragile burden in the great kitchen for the other women to deal with. Mistress Cimbrissa handed him a large mug of strong coffee and a plate of breads, cheese, and meats. He retreated to the dining room. Even he and Skender bowed to the ladies when they were minded to work. Cimbrissa would probably make her tonics taste even fouler if he got in her way. The windows stood open, allowing the cool morning breeze to trickle in. The air felt as if a weather change lurked behind the mountains, perhaps.

“How bad?” he asked his eldest sister after she washed her hands and joined him.

His brother’s voice answered. “Very bad. We lost one.” Arthur rose as Skender limped into the room. “Shadow alone could have dealt with it, perhaps, but not well. Sit, eat.” Corava bustled in, gave her husband coffee, food, and an irritated look, then hurried away. She’d probably scolded Skender at least once already. Perhaps. His brother drank the coffee, then continued, “An idiot sorcerer who decided that midsummer would be a good time to try blood-path magic and a summoning.” A bite of cheese and bread, then, “And tapping the power the coven raised for themselves, or trying to.”

Arthur tried to imagine managing three spells at once. Silver could do it, perhaps the Goth sorcerer called Uncle Leopard, but none others save Shadow himself. “What collapsed on whom?” he inquired.

His sister took a long breath. “The summoning, the blood-path spells, Shadow’s patience, and the gate. Or so we felt. The gate backlashed.”

He closed his eyes, acknowledged the pain and the memory, and set them aside. He opened his eyes and ate more. “Who did we lose?”

“Georg.” Skender sounded tired. “Foolish mistake, tried to take the abyssal entity without looking for other presences.” His face hardened. “The other thing watched, then attacked, and a nosferitau circled in owl form, distracting the coven. They recovered and finished their rituals without incident—for them, not for us.” He drank more coffee. “Shadow could have dealt with things on his own, but only if the coven interrupted their work.” He left the rest unsaid.

Arthur and their sister both nodded. A mage or sorcerer could shift spells far more quickly than a coven, even a strong coven well-prepared for trouble and used to working together. The risk of backlash or secondary effects grew very, very high. The men finished eating. “We will feast Georg on the next new moon,” his brother said at last.

That was the proper time, and allowed Georg’s parents and those close to him to mourn in peace. Since the July Fourth plans had already been made, and everyone looked forward to the day and night, the delay fit well.

Skender leaned forward, arms resting on the heavy table. “The nosferitau. Can you deal with it?”

Arthur weighed his words with great care, balancing confidence with the memory of his and his partner’s last encounter with the cursed undead. “With Silver’s aid I can, yes. I believe that the older burial place is the true abode of the primary nosferitau, and the consecrated ground contains the secondary.” He contemplated his coffee cup. “I’m concerned about a third nosferitau, young in power. Or,” he met Skender’s eyes once more, then looked to their sister. “Or something else in the guise of a nosferitau. Thus Silver assisting me.” He did not mention the lone Hunter.

Skender sensed his omission, perhaps. Or felt the weather change and remained restless from the Hunt. “I should come with you.”

“No.” Both men turned to their sister. She shook her head as well as making the hand-sign of refusal. Her white-clouded eyes bored into Arthur, then turned to his older brother. “No, Hunters must stay here. Remember, the nosferitau knows of us. It might not know of Silver. And she is born to this land in a way that we,” a sweep of the hand, “are not, not yet, save for the little one, Deborah Judith.” She frowned, thin lips tight, grey eyebrows drawing down to shade her eyes. Her other hand played with her silver medallion.

“I am his Hunting partner.” Anger warred with caution in Skender’s voice.

Their sister slid her hand sideways like a knife blade. “So is Silver. And you are injured, Skender my brother. As well as stubborn as the stones of the Old Land’s mountains.”

Arthur eased to his feet and retreated to the kitchen long enough to get more coffee. He hid on the rear porch of the big house. He had no desire to taste the rest of that piece of his elder sister’s mind, thank you! Half a cup later, Skender joined him. “Coward,” his brother growled.

“Just so.” More than once he and Shadow had commiserated about women as forces of nature. “Shadow and Silver’s faith shares our difficulty, oh my brother. None dare challenge the Ladies’ Society once they have determined on a course of action.”

A tired snort greeted his words. “Shadow does not realize that he is blessed to have married an orphaned only child.” Laughter, perhaps, under the statement.

Arthur sipped the rest of his coffee. He had crossed paths with the child’s birth mother once. He had understood at that moment why the child had chosen the Streets. “No, he does not. He never met Silver’s dam.”

Silence. “I do not like you Hunting without me.” Silence. “Go wary, little brother.”

How else did he go? Arthur bowed his head and acknowledged the command and warning. He left his cup in the place for such things, then retreated to the small chapel. He bowed to the Presence and the Great God, then knelt and considered matters. At last he rose, bowed once more, and departed. He checked his weapons. After assisting Master Itzak with restocking the Hunters’ armory, he called Silver, once he knew that she would be home from her own worship.

“Sir?”

“We Hunt tonight. Meet me at ten PM, at the old mile marker on the Sauberfeld Road. Another Hunter may join us.”

“Ten PM, old marker on Sauberfeld Road, yes, sir.” A murmur in the background. “Shadow says that the coven is very, very grateful for the assistance. They know that he had help, but no more than that.”

Would Skender ask blood payment? No, that would be Georg’s family, and they might not, given that it was not the coven who led to the Hunter’s death. “I will tell the others.” He ended the call.

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

Prometheus or Lucifer?

My mind went roaming.Yes, it came home safely, thank you. {glares at the wallaby on the back row}

What got my mind meandering was the song “Lucifer” from Avantasia’s album Ghostlights. The song was playing as I drove to the gym the other morning. Within the past few weeks, Sarah Hoyt had a post about Prometheus, and how he taught mankind to cheat the gods – or to keep unjust gods from getting what wasn’t theirs to begin with, take your pick – and got chained to a rock and tormented by an eagle every day. In the German Romantic literary canon, Prometheus was a hero, and got all the good lines. Sort of like Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost, except . . . Satan is glorious, amazing, and evil. Prometheus is defiant and a symbol of the independent man standing up to the unjust Powers That Be.

It just so happened that the folks working at the gym had put on a hip-hop station, and the lyrics being chanted were about a guy who thought he was a demi-god come down to earth and becoming a mere man in order to rule the place. That approach to the world explains why so many “aspiring young rappers” (as the Canadian news service seems to always describe them) get done in when their egos make demands that society vehemently disagrees with. “You will be like unto G-d,” promises the serpent in the garden. Except not bulletproof, or knife-proof, or free from the consequences of your actions.

There’s some suggestion that Prometheus was a later addition to the Greek mythological canon than some of the other gods. I have not tried to track that down. But I wonder if he’s the Trickster, and goes back a ways in popular belief before he became official. Lots of polytheistic religions have some sort of ambiguous Trickster, be it Prometheus, or Loki, or Anansi, or Coyote, or Raven, or some of the Australian Aboriginal figures. Except Prometheus doesn’t have an obvious “dark” side, if the surviving mythology tells true, unless it is not warning man about the risks of irking the other gods. He teaches men how to cheat the gods, and steals fire for mankind in order to help people thrive as well as just survive. Or he helps people trick the gods and keep the best of the sacrifice for themselves. Who gets hurt there? Only the Olympian deities. Prometheus had already switched sides in the war of the Titans vs. the Olympian gods, because the Titans wouldn’t take his advice, according to Hesiod. So he had a shady reputation to start with, as far as Zeus and Co. were concerned, and then he helps trick them. Instead of promptly blasting the people for listening to Prometheus, the gods blast Prometheus. Then they unleash Pandora and her box on humanity as revenge for mere mortals daring to think we could “cheat” the gods.

Lucifer/Satan refused to accept the role of servant and disobeyed the Most High. For this he and his followers were cast out of Heaven. He is associated with the Serpent in the Garden of Eden, and with tempting Jesus to sin. In Revelation Lucifer/Satan appears as the enemy of G-d, one half of the war in Heaven where St. Michael is mentioned as leading the forces of good. The book of Isiah has a section called the “Five ‘I Will’s’ of Satan,” where a figure proclaims his determination to be like the Most High, to be a deity. The entire section is a promise and a curse, and one of those chapters that generally seem to escape being preached upon, save for verses 13-14. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Isaiah+14&version=KJV

Goethe, in one of the key poems of the “Sturm und Drang” side of Romantic writing, has Prometheus railing against Zeus. Prometheus, the narrator, proclaims that he greater than the god of storms and sky, because Zeus cannot touch what Prometheus has created. The speaker’s heart is the source of all, and the gods envy that. Envy is what leads to Prometheus’ downfall, not justice, and the titan remains defiant. Prometheus uses the familiar “du” to address the chief of the Olympian gods, familiarity and contempt. Very Romantic, very much “storm and stress,” wild passion and defiance of the conventional order by one who knows that he is in the right, no matter what life brings. Sound familiar?

It’s probably best to avoid both Lucifer and Prometheus, at least as they are preserved in mythology and culture. Tricksters can be very helpful . . . or not.

Peach-Colored Sunrise and Skittering Leaves

Autumn arrived on Sunday week, by way of a two-round cold front. First came a wind shift, from southwest to northeast. Then colder, wet skies full of low-hanging clouds and rain. Autumn is fully here, at last.

I woke early Sunday morning and half-napped after taking care of the cat. I’d left the windows cracked open the night before, because the high had been in the low 90s F, and the wind wasn’t supposed to get too strong overnight. The more fresh air that gets into the house, the better it is, to an extent, and I prefer to be a little cool at night. So I heard a few traffic sounds, drying leaves rustling on the northerly breeze, and the burbling trill of sandhill cranes. That caught my ear and I sat up, listening hard. Cranes? Surely if I heard anything it would be geese. No, the sound came again, passing northwest to southeast. Cranes, calling with that distinctive ancient sound as they passed overhead in the pre-dawn hours. Which suggested that the front might be stronger, and closer, than forecast. I got up, petted the cat for the third time, and hurried out to stroll.

A few tiny spitters and drips of rain blew on the rising wind. Low clouds, shredded and torn by the wind and the mixing air, hurried overhead, red-tinged in the city light. I could see glimpses of higher clouds to the west and east, with clear skies retreating to the south. As I walked, the clouds thinned and changed color. Soon they glowed the warm peach-pink and old gold of sunrise. Color swept the sky, stronger to the southeast and west than in true east or north. Peach became pink, then white grey as the first round of clouds passed. The tiny drops and hints of rain didn’t grow any stronger, at least not for a while.

Big brown leaves hissed and clattered across the street and driveways, chased by the wind. The sweet gum trees had begun shedding earlier, first their bark, then their big curved leaves. Now they shapes danced away on the wind, bouncing as they traveled. The big crescents of locust seed pods clattered down to the ground. They didn’t need the wind’s help to fall, they weighed so much, laden with seeds. The neighbors would be out that afternoon, raking them into something like a pile. At least those that the squirrels or the rising wind didn’t send to visit neighbors or into the street.

That afternoon, the light strengthened and shifted. Hard light shone down through the first brown leaves. Only the sweet-gum and locusts had begun turning, although the Bradford pears and oaks hinted at the possibility. The hawthorns, berry-heavy and crimson, glowed, leaves long gone as is their wont. Blue skies full of autumn light arced over the world. The lingering sweet-gum leaves looked almost gilded, the sunlight turning them and everything else faintly gold. The autumn sun has a quality, I’m not sure how best to describe it. Gold, almost hard-edged, but beautiful and almost gentle. Even on warm days, something is missing. Summer’s ferocious lion is tamed, mellowed with the aging of the year, softer. Clear light, free for now of smoke and dust, angled more and more from the south, bathed the afternoon, bringing out the best in the day. Even the rising north wind could not ruin the sweet moments.

Come late afternoon, dark northern skies had flowed south. Heavy clouds covered the sky, rain-laden clouds, their burden wrung loose by the twisting wind. Darkness and rain came together, heavy with a few bursts of lightening and snarls of thunder. The “equinoctial storm,” perhaps, although it came later than usual. This entire year has been off-kilter, so why not the traditional storms as well? No heavy weather here, just the token flash and grumble of a cold-front driven storm line buried in stratus, a reminder of what had come before.

Monday morning, Orion and the Seven Sisters glittered down, fresh-washed and hard in the hours before sunrise. They hovered just past the zenith, winter’s heralds. The morning smelled clean, and crisp, with a tease of smoke in the air. Come Friday, the fatty-rich perfume of piñon would arise from chimneys to proclaim the first frost’s coming.

The year turns, the stars pass in silent order. All is well.

Saturday Snippet: Sabbath and Work

Deborah studies the land.

Deborah felt a lot more alive the next morning. Again she eased into the hen-house, not moving past the door until the biddies settled once more. Two dozen or so hens roosted in the solid building, built to be coyote, fox, and hawk proof. And skunk proof, although Rosie Jones probably could get in if she really wanted to. It didn’t smell very good, but bird poop and really fresh eggs never did. Deborah drew a little magic from inside and whispered, “Ruhe sanft, meinen Hänchen,” rest quiet, my hens. Soft clucks greeted the spell. Deborah worked quickly. Never herky-jerky but smooth and calm, just like shooting, She gently eased the eggs out from under the hens. If one acted upset, she moved on, then came back. They always settled by the time she returned. Task done, she lifted the spell, pulling magic back into the silver medallion Bunicot had given her.

Aunt Ella blinked a little as Deborah brought in the eggs. “Goodness, Deborah! You’re up early. Did you have trouble sleeping?”

“No, ma’am. I’m just a morning person.” Her mother had teased her once about being a changeling, and how some farm family still puzzled over how they’d produced a night-loving daughter.

Uncle Andy smiled from where he sat at the end of the big kitchen table. “Garry must grumble about you and sunrises.”

She smiled back. Gentle teasing was OK. “Yes, sir. He and Mom keep wondering what they did wrong. Uncle Rodney just laughs at them.”

Her uncle and aunt laughed too, quietly. “Mother always wondered how she could have a night-owl in a family of larks,” Uncle Andy told her. He winked. “Some of us weren’t allowed to be night-owls, even if we wanted to be.”

“Since you’re up, Deborah, could you please take this to Corey? He’s the older man working in the horse barn.” Aunt Ella nodded to a fancy insulated dish carrier. “He prefers to eat on his own when we have a crowd.”

“Yes, ma’am. We met yesterday.” Deborah picked up the well-filled carrier and hurried out before the adults could ask. Breakfast always tasted better hot, especially eggs. Cold eggs didn’t like her, unless they were deviled eggs or in a green salad.

She looked around the horse barn. Where was Corey? After a few seconds she heard work sounds from the room with the tack and other horse gear. She coughed and scuffed a little as she got closer to the tack room. Corey met her at the doorway. She checked her shields, then held out the dish carrier. “Aunt Ella sent this, sir.”

“Thank you.” He slid his hand under the carrier. She let go of the handles once she felt the weight lift out of her hand. He took the food and moved it into the tack room, then came back. “Do you remember how to clean tack?”

Deborah tried to recall. Something about using leather soap, and being really careful with the blankets and pads. “Not well, sir,” she admitted. “Don’t let the blankets or saddle pads touch the ground, and really check them for things that might poke or rub, that much I do remember.”

Corey studied her again. He wore a fancier western shirt with pearl snaps, and clean, dark jeans. “Good. Tomorrow, after your chores, come help me here.” He tipped his head back toward the tack room.

“After my chores, help you here, yes, sir.” He really did remind her of Bunicot’s brother!

“Good.” He disappeared into the tack room again, and she hurried back to the main house. Her aunt had hot water for herbal tea, and Deborah wanted a large mug.

Even on the ranch, they tried to honor the Sabbath as much as possible. Uncle Andy and Uncle Nathan led family worship, and some of the older cousins who were elders assisted. They all gathered in the arbor near a pool in the creek. She noticed Corey standing behind the last row of cousins. Shouldn’t he be with the other adults? She shrugged to herself. He might be on snake patrol, like the uncles did when everyone went swimming or on rides. Snakes in the field were good. Rattlesnakes where people might step on them or sit on them weren’t so good. The wind made the cottonwood and desert oak leaves mutter and slap. The air smelled a little wet, and more dusty and hot, like the rocks around the creek. A few cloud seeds floated very high in the deep blue sky.

Uncle Andy talked about how God always led people to good places, if the people let Him. Some people preferred to ignore God, or disobey him, like the Lamanites, and even the children of Israel, sometimes. “Remember, in Genesis, God made the world and called it good.” Uncle Andy waved at the land around them, hard and beautiful. “People make a place good or bad.”

“Good for what?” Cousin Amos hissed just in front of her. “Putting holes in you is all.”

Well, if he hadn’t decided that he knew better than the adults did about cholla, it wasn’t the plant’s fault, Deborah sniffed silently, behind shields. That plant even looked like it wanted to fight someone. Sort of like centipedes and scorpions. Snakes she liked. Snaky bugs with hundreds of legs? No thank you!

Some people had chores after worship, others read or did quiet things while the ladies and some of the older girls, like Deborah, made dinner. Supper would be leftovers from dinner, if anyone wanted them. Deborah chopped things for salad, then helped Aunt Jo carry gelled salads and things from the big coolers and the house chest freezer to the tables. “I bet you’d fit in there,” a nasty voice drawled from behind her as she reached in to get the table ice.

“Don’t, Zeke.” She closed the heavy lid and started to walk past him.

“Why not? You’re small enough.”

She dodged and slipped well past him before he had a change to do more than smirk.

After dinner, she heard Uncle Jake, Aunt Jo’s husband, say that he wanted a nap. Deborah hurried to her loft, grabbed a hat and put on sunscreen, then visited the washroom before her uncle fell asleep. She found a walking stick in the big bucket of them by the door on the house verandah, and started out. She stayed within sight of the ranch house, but far enough way to have a little quiet. A few buzzards and a golden eagle circled on the rising afternoon air. The baby clouds had grown up, and a few looked as if they wanted to turn grey. Could you cut yourself on the cloud edges? They looked sharp enough, hard clouds in a hard sky over a hard land.

Deborah climbed up the little trail the crossed the creek. She kept to the center of the trail, well away from the rabbit brush, yucca, Mormon tea, and thickets of other bristly plants. Snakes liked to nap in the shade, and she didn’t want to get stuck by a thorn, either. Cousin Brigham had once said that the name for yucca came from the sound made by the first person to back into one. Deborah giggled a little, then stopped and turned to look down at the ranch house.

The bright blue metal roof on the main house stood out against the red and brown rocks and dirt. The red horse barn with its brown roof fit in, sort of, as did the little loft-house. A group of cousins splashed in the creek, and others sat in the porch of the big house, reading or talking. A few people did chores, including the girls and boy assigned to help with the milk cows, or “milch” cows as Uncle Nathan called them. Those cows stayed near the house. The beef cows wandered around the ranch. The white-painted chicken houses and the chicken pen looked sort of right. She heard a soft whisper over her head, and glanced up. The sun glinted for an instant off of an airliner waaaayyyyy above her. Two white cloud trails streamed from the plane, then vanished. A hint of storm top looked as if it was coming from the west. Deborah crouched and touched the ground, easing her shields open.

Dry and old, so very old. The dirt came from old rocks on older rocks and had been here for a very long time. It made her want to sneeze, sort of. A shield of some kind arced over the home place. She didn’t try to learn more. Instead she just felt the land, trying to get a sense of things. Everything felt good, pretty much. At least nothing jumped out, not like that one icky spot north of the clan’s lands in the hills that Mistress Cimbrissa and Mrs. Schmidt both said to stay away from. “Like not poking something that’s rotting?” she’d asked.

“Exactly. If it’s not bothering you, don’t bother it,” Mrs. Schmidt had stated. Her Familiars had nodded in unison.

Wait, what was that? Something shifted, bounced along to the west of the ranch. It felt a little like the Coyote she’d met two mornings before, except not quite. But Coyotes could play tricks on people, everyone knew that. Deborah raised her shields and pulled her magic closer to herself. A soft grumbling growl sounded from the north, a little rumble.

“Craw! Craw!” The largest raven she’d seen in a while circled over her, then soared on. Ravens made the crows back home look tiny. The first time she’d seen a ranch raven, she’d almost panicked until her brother Art explained that these were real ravens, not transformations like poor Cousin Corava. Deborah blinked, then pushed her hat back and looked to the north.

A heavy stream of rain, blue-grey, swept down over the crimson and grey-cream mesas. A cool puff of air, heavy with desert rose and moisture, brushed her face and made the bushes around her rattle a little. A tongue of lightning flashed down. Another rumble followed, this one louder. “Thunderbird hunts,” she whispered, then turned and hurried down the trail. She trotted with great care, slowing to a crawl almost as she eased down the slope to the creek. If she turned an ankle or knee on the loose rock and dirt, she’d hurt. And she’d get teased, and have to do house chores all the time.

“Something chasing you?” Cousin Brigham called from beside the creek. He sounded worried.

“Storm coming. I don’t want to be the highest thing on the mesa.”

Uncle Andy blew a small whistle and waved his arm. He held a red shop-rag in one hand. “Out of the water, for now. Storm coming,” he hollered. “Thank you, Deborah.”

A wave of cold air washed over them, and Deborah joined the small stampede to the ranch house porch. Gush! Cold rain rumbled down, and lightening danced on the mesa. She made herself flat against the wall of the sturdy stone and wood house. The storm belonged, it fit the place, but it still spooked her a little. Things traveled in storms, her dad had warned her, things as old as people, almost as old as the land itself. They belonged. She didn’t, not quite. The storm passed as fast as it arrived, leaving damp diamonds glittering on the plants and puddles here and there. The puddles dried quickly, except for that one place. Deborah had learned about that from Hiram, who had almost lost a sneaker forever. They’d never gotten all the red off of his shoes, and their mom had threatened Hi with a dire fate of some kind. Mom had never specified which fate, but she never needed to, either!  

Oops, I Misplaced Saxony! That’s Awkward.

Things in Europe move. I keep forgetting that, and so my mental map lets me down. I couldn’t find Saxony. It had to be there. It was in his title, but where was it? I’d left Saxony over in the east, where it’s supposed to be . . . in the modern country of Germany. That’s not exactly where “Saxony” could be found in 1100. Oops.

Today, when we use a place name, it usually refers to a specific state, province, nation-state, or location. “Alberta” is a fixed spot on the map of Canada, for example. Especially for Americans, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Texas, those are all places with a set and fixed location, in saecula saeculorum, amen. OK, those of us who grew up in the Cold War are aware that countries split (Czechoslovakia) or reunite (Germany). For people who studied the 20th Century, countries appeared and borders could be briefly fluid (The Austro-Hungarian Empire became: Austria, Hungary, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Ukraine, Croatia, Slovenia, and a bit of Yugoslavia). But things don’t move all that much, just get parceled out and redistricted. You know, like Congressional districts in the US every ten or so years.

At this point, my European, British, and Medieval historian readers are laughing mightily at the innocence of a Yank abroad. Saxony was a descriptor loooooong before it became a specific region of a country called Germany. Saxons moved into a swath of Central Europe in the 300s or so, give or take, maybe later. “Here be Saxons” was for the Romanized peoples of the south akin to “Here be Dragons.” Just not always as friendly as dragons. Charlemagne dealt with them, several times in fact. His successors, and the later Ottonians, dealt with them farther to the east as they pushed the Holy Roman Empire away from the original Frankish core. Always, Saxony was where you found Saxons.

However, when borders got set for various administrative districts, Saxony as a German Land (state) locked into place. After 1945, for now.

Saxony is northeast of Bavaria, with the Czech lands between them, more or less. Fair use under Creative Commons. Original found at: https://www.mapsof.net/europe/central-europe-political-map

So, there I was, tracing out some things with Frederick Barbarossa and his peers, and looking at the push to settle northern and eastern areas with cities and people, and to establish trade. This is all 1100-1150 or so. And I was reading about Henry “the Lion” Welf of Saxony and Bavaria. The linkage of the two areas made perfect sense, since they have almost-common borders.

But wait, what the heck’s Henry doing up around Hamburg, and Lüneburg, and that area? That’s not Saxony. Lübeck is certainly not Saxony. Why is he interested in things there, when he’s east and south?

*waits for snickers and eye rolling to stop*

Yes, you guessed it. I know better. I was imposing the modern map on medieval German lands. When I finally found a good map of the area at the time of the events described, I felt more than a little foolish.

Note Saxony, well north and west of the modern official Saxony. Because that’s where the Saxons had been and still were. Ouch. Fair Use under Creative Commons. Original source: https://www.theapricity.com/forum/showthread.php?206172-Holy-Roman-Empire-Central-Europe-and-European-Empires

Oh. So Henry the Lion had good reasons to be encouraging development of the northern areas, and the development of the Hanseatic League. And that explained why he controlled so much territory for so long (until his ego wrote a check his skills couldn’t cash.)

Places move, in the sense of “regional names associated with places.” Part of modern Saxony had been in Polish lands or claimed by Bohemia, or both at the same time (until the early 1300s and Casimir III of Poland.) Modern Saxony, and Lower Saxony, and Saxony-Anhalt, had Saxons in them, but were not necessarily Welf Saxony entirely. Yes, I thumped my head lightly against the desk. I know better, much better, but the books I’ve been reading don’t have maps in them. [Insert long cartographic rant here]. So I defaulted to modern maps, and went far astray. No excuses, and I kicked myself once I really started thinking about who was where doing what.

Thursday Teaser: Night Musings

I had not planned to write, or post, this, but the character grabbed me by the throat. I now know where’s he’s going, perhaps, and just how strange his path might become . . .

The wind racing out of the valley pushed him. He welcomed it, feeling it blow his past away, memories and even a dream driven away into the night. Clouds ripped, tearing into shreds of black and dull red in Riverton’s lights. Above the clouds the eternal stars looked down, fading as the moon glided silent and untroubled through the night. Lady of Night, Great God, Son of God, when would it end? The wind carried the scents of the river, and the faint hard, bitterness of the city, but not answers. Just as well. “West wind, wanton wind,” he quoted, lips twisted into a bitter smile.

“How long, oh Lord, wilt Thou turn Thy face from me?” Perhaps David rather than Jude should be his name. Yet . . . He turned his thoughts back, to the morning two months before when he had ventured into Riverton, to where the Dark One kept his shop. Something— The mage, the Dark One’s daughter, and her Familiar. They and the Dark One himself carried the Defender’s touch. A guardian’s blessing, unsought, had followed the risk. The Dark One had remembered and believed him. Perhaps things with the clan changed? The night winds had carried rumors, and that night, Battle Night, when magic fell and ancient had torn the night, and older, shining power had answered it . . . Something had changed. But the Dark One did not lead the clan.

He flexed his left hand. He could hold a dagger, or thick-handled tool. Martha’s skills and a miracle allowed him that much use. Claws and the knife blade had nigh unto destroyed his hand along with him. Karol had died that day and night, killed by the Senior Hunter and a fell beast both. Martha— So much he owed her. She had not known what had lurked in the storm, waiting for her, evil and hungry. She’d left the shotgun by the back door, too far to reach. He’d stumbled onto the creature. Though delirious from pain, he had attacked. He would die a Hunter’s death, not an animal’s end.

He’d lived. Martha, a wise widow, asked no questions. She’d healed him, given him a haven of rest and peace. She’d even brought him red wine against the teachings of her faith. Herb magic and blood wine, he’d lived. The Defender, the Great God and His Lady, they yet had a task for him. What, he had not known, did not know. Something had shifted inside him that night, and after. Magic now moved in him. He’d discovered it while working in Martha’s kitchen, trying to repay a drop of the ocean of debt he owed her. “Ah, what a brave new world, to have such magic in it,” he misquoted to himself.

Now he Hunted alone. Martha had granted him home-right with the door key, still asked no questions. He’d found Kipling at her house, and “Martha’s Sons.” Ah, it fit so well. She’d introduced him as her nephew, her brother’s son, when an overly curious neighbor pressed the matter. He saw no reason to argue, and it explained much to those who felt the need to pry. He did not abuse the gift. She insisted that he could stay—had ordered him to remain longer more than once—but he dared not. He would not endanger her. Devon County had places enough for a canny Hunter. The Dark One – Guardian – claimed River County. He had Devon to himself.

The Dark One remembered him. Did the others? Likely not, he decided, flexing his maimed hand. Karol had died of his injuries, another young fool lost due to folly. Jude lived, obscure, and worked in exile. The night wind swirled, carrying away the past. Why? He lived, magic touched, something so rare for a man of the clans as to be nigh unto legendary. Why? What purpose had he, Hunter in exile, dead to the clan? And yet . . . The pale shape of a screech owl glided past on silent wings, patrolling the edge of the woods.

The owl belonged, had a home. He . . . did not, did he? Could he? Martha had offered, but it remained her place, not his. He would not abuse guest right. He folded his arms, tasting the night. Something moved, a presence neither friend nor foe, passed through the woods behind him. It traveled slowly, as slow as roots through the soil, almost. An earth Elemental traveled through the loam.

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

Roads, Home, and Wanderers

The first time I heard Marta Keen’s song “Homeward Bound,” a defense contractor had made a video of US service men and women about those who were out and would come home again and used that as the background music. This was 2003 or so. Ever since then, the song always takes my breath a little. I’ve used it as inspiration for several scenes. It is not the only song that makes me wonder about people who are away and turning toward home, or looking for home.

I was working on the story, or perhaps “extended scene” “Haven of Rest,” about Martha, the widowed herb-wife, and the Hunter who calls himself Jude. Why I even started the piece, I have no idea, but I had a recording by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the baritone Bryn Terfel that includes “Homeward Bound.” It may be my favorite version of that song, although their pure choral version is also very good. That song also inspired a scene in one of the Cat books, where Rada assures Joschka that she will always try to return to him. She can’t promise that she will come home, they both know that. But she will try.

The theme of the ones who go out and the ones who wait runs through most of my stories, I think because it has been true for so much of human life. Men hunted, or went out and traded, or went to war, or explored. Women stayed at home, tended the home place, managed the business and household, raised children, and waited. It’s a theme that appears in music as far back as ballads go. “Shenandoah” is probably the first one that I learned, the capstan shanty. It has been arranged by almost everyone, it seems, which suggests that it speaks to a lot of people. Gregorian’s setting of the Dire Straits song “Brothers in Arms” kicked off detail in a scene in an earlier Cat novel, since what came to mind didn’t really work for Rada or her associates, but needed to go into a story. It also finds a place in the fragment “Donald McGillivray,” which may or may not ever become a full-fledged story.

When I was younger, I tended to wander a fair amount. Which collided hard with my need to nest, to have a place to come back to. In the fall, when the weather changes, I get that itch again, the urge to roam, to head west to see what’s over the horizon. Stan Rogers’ “The Giant” hints that perhaps it’s in my blood, one of those things that never quite leaves those of us with proto-Indo-European in our veins. But I also heartily agree with the lyrics of Stephen Paulus’ “The Road Home.” Away and back, away and back, wandering and finding my own place and way, but still thinking of what I left, perhaps wondering where I went astray (if I did), it’s a pattern found in stories back to The Odyssey and earlier.

Young men go out, viking, or raiding, or exploring, getting it out of their systems and returning to be stable men of the community. Some older men go out as well, called by “Something lost beyond the ranges/ Something lost and waiting, Go!” as Kipling put it. Or called to protect what remains at home.

The lone Hunter isn’t Arthur 2.0, or André. Jude is more bookish, not quite a nerd but bordering on it for clan versions of bookish. He’s pretty well balanced emotionally, for someone who intended to die—perhaps—and failed. Arthur fought with every atom of his being to live, if only to spite those who wanted him dead. Jude likes baking, and does it very well. But Jude is in exile, not entirely self imposed, and has his own challenges. He’s alone, and that could well be his death.

Until he risks his life—perhaps—to warn Arthur about a nosferitau . . . And sets one foot on what might be the long road home.