Where Does the Water Go?

This will be the last hydrology post for a while. Alas, the topic is a wee bit too current in my part of the world, and people are seeing the effects of the expansion of hardscaping on run-off speed and flow peaks. Granted, getting an average year’s rainfall in a month plays a major role, because no system is designed for that sort of thing, especially when you get four inches in an hour or so.

So, broadly speaking, when rain or snow falls, it either evaporates, sinks into the soil, or runs off. If it evaporates, it goes back into the atmosphere as part of the water cycle. If it sinks into the soil, some will remain in the upper layer, while some should percolate down into the sub soil, or even deeper. Plants will take a portion of that water and draw it into their systems, then return it to the atmosphere as they “breathe” (transpire, part of evapotranspiration). As long as there is space between the grains of sand, loam, or bits of clay in the soil, water will seep in. Once the soil is completely saturated, then the water flows along the surface of the soil and away. Plants, be they grasses, trees, or whatever, also slow the rate of water reaching the ground. That allows more to soak in and less to run off. Some of the water stays on the plants, as anyone who has walked through drew-soaked or rain-soaked grasses and shrubs knows. Or been dripped on by a tree long after the rain stopped.

When the moisture hits the ground and doesn’t sink in, you have runoff. This can occur when the rain falls too fast for even loose, air-filled soils to absorb, like hit Houston a few years ago. The combination of saturated soil and really heavy, fast-falling rain was too much, and all the water ran along the surface of the land, causing floods where they had not happened in quite a while. That happened up here, when an area west of the town of Hereford got between 4-7 inches of rain in an hour. The ground couldn’t absorb so much water so fast, and Tierra Blanca Creek became Tierra Blanca Raging River.

In general, much of the Texas Panhandle and adjacent New Mexico is saturated from thirty days of daily rain, much of that very wide-spread and heavy. We’ve gotten a year’s worth of moisture in a month. The rivers and streams are flowing like rivers, and are flooding areas that were considered outside the floodplain. The rainwater lakes, the playas, are all full. This is great, because some of that will go into the aquifer and help recharge it. It also keeps the soil around the playa moist, so irrigation isn’t as needed later on. This is the sort of high water that used to be considered normal, or as one retired farmer put it, “The river flooded. That’s what rivers do.” The down side is you can’t get equipment into the fields to either plant or harvest, because they will bog, and any seeds will float away, or drown.

The other kind of runoff happens when the surface cannot absorb water. Rain falling on nearly bare rock is one example, and is why you never, ever go hiking in slot canyons or narrow places out west during a rain. Or if there is a high risk of rain upstream. You get flash floods as all that rain races over the rock and joins streams and arroyos. I’ve seen a stream go from almost dry to six-feet deep in minutes. It was impressive. I was on the upper rim of the canyon. The rain was three miles away. Again, this is what you’d expect given the landscape. When people build and pave over the soil, you get the same effect. “Hardscaping” forces the rain to fall and go away. Instead of a curve of flow, you get a saw-tooth. And street flooding, and house flooding. Even if there are catchment basins and ponds, that much hard surface sheds a lot more water a lot faster than most people anticipate, unless they do extended runoff calculations.*

The current problem in several regional communities is that over the years, people have encroached on playas and built new subdivisions in low areas. Or perhaps the developer did not sit down with the city and say, “OK, if this is built up, and that other bit is built up, can the storm sewer and catchments handle the runoff from a two-inch-an-hour rain?” So when either we get a three-inch-an-hour rain, or an inch a day for ten days and more, the water can’t sink in anymore. There’s too little open land left. Those places “that never had water in them” have water in them again, along with the new houses. The planned lakes and drainage basins can’t handle the fast run-off from super-saturated ground, even with pumping, and you get street flooding, then neighborhood flooding. Those of us who shook our heads about developers building [there] are shaking our heads again. It’s not fun for the people with water in their homes, or who are trapped on islands, or who now have non-working septic systems. It’s also not fun for the people who have to try and remove that water so that the urban drainage systems work again. And it costs money and time and heartache.

What’s the solution? Well, what caused the problem? If it was lots of rain from a persistent weather system, well, you just have to wait it out. Prayer helps. If it was a single storm that dumped a huge amount of rain and then left, again, that’s just how weather happens. Cities and towns plan for an average plus X%, and that usually works. When it doesn’t, that’s when people get the big pumps out, or start calling insurance companies.

I personally would like to see developers required to do runoff calculations and plans their both their own area and the surrounding neighborhoods and shopping areas, and make the information available to the public as well as city planners. That would give a baseline idea about how much water’s going to have to be allowed for, and they can scale drainage or work with the municipality for storm-water disposal accordingly. In my dream world, no one would build in or close to the playas, and they would be turned into nice nature parks, or domesticated urban parks. But that takes a lot of potentially valuable property out of the tax network, limits what property owners can do with their land, and requires a very long civic or regional memory. Especially in places that have other geographic or political constraints. If you are like the town of Borger, with a cliff and river on one side, and rough land on another side, you’re going to build in flat spaces and hope for the best. Borger happens to be pretty well drained compared to Hereford or Sunray, but enough rain fast enough still causes a mess.

It’s a balancing act. If the county plans for the absolute rarest scenario, such as the year of 40″ of rain like 1941, but the thirty-year average is 20″, voters will not be happy about the expense and the restrictions for something that might not happen again. If the city plans for 22″ per year, batched with most of the rain in April-June, and all that rain falls in three weeks, voters will not be happy because of the flooding. Unless the city is Houston or another place where hurricane and tropical rains are not rare, planning for a four-inch-per-hour event doesn’t make much economic sense, at least not unless it happens semi-frequently so people remember.

Compounding the situation, low, flat places are often cheap, so things get built there for businesses and people who can’t afford the high ground (like St. Louis and other Missouri/Mississippi River cities). That’s also a problem, but a social one, not a topographic one.

*Baseline runoff calculations are not difficult. The books about hydrology, and the little pocket “rules of thumb” books include tables with the variables for percentages of ground cover and rainfall rates, and give you a rough starting place. I’m sure now there are computer programs that allow you to plug-n-chug the same thing with far greater detail, faster. It’s knowing how to use the numbers, and how best to apply them, that starts getting expensive. To be fair, several developers did plan for that, and did work with the land. Just not quite enough, as things turned out, in part because of later development that added more runoff.


D-Day plus 75

We are now at D-Day plus 79. But some things will never change ….

Grandpa Carl’s first visit to France began with the emergency bail-out signal. His plane had been hit by flack and the pilots could not keep it in the air (it was sort of on fire.) Windy, loud, dark, and dangerous was his impression of Normandy on June 6, 1944. He landed in a hedgerow, upside-down. Not the best way to begin an all expenses paid walking tour of western Europe.

He said he was lucky – he wasn’t in one of the gliders or in a tank. Tanks attracted unwanted attention. Continue reading

Tuesday Tidbit: Gifts Given

The ‘Paws present their employer with a token of their esteem. And vice versa. [Note: This is the last excerpt that will be posted.]

On the Feast of the Circumcision, Seigneuresse Leoni called the Paws, all of them, to the keep. Arnauld presented her with the fine Italian woolen cloth, leather from Florence, and a book of medicine and magic from Bologna. They had cost more than he wished to pay, but the other men had been insistent. “We’ve got a home, Captain,” Jean Niger had declared, and a loud chorus of agreement had drowned out any further objections.

“Thank you, Captain, men. As the Lord gave so richly to us, so it is my duty and honor to give a symbol of that to you,” the countess said. She gestured, and servants handed out sturdy woolen tunics and other garments, knives, bosses and leather for shields, and heavy winter cloaks for those who did not have them. She’d already sent two barrels of good beer and one of fortified wine to the village at the foot of the keep, along with food and sweets, for later.  Arnauld, Bjorn, Gaston, Karl, and the other officers passed out the goods to the men. They’d hand out the coin and jewelry payment later.

Arnauld spoke for the others. He bowed and said, “Our thanks to you, Seigneuresse, for your great generosity and honor. May the Lord bless you and grant you peace in this world and in the world to come.”

She smiled. “Thank you. And a token of your employment, Captain.” The castellan handed him six small leather bags, one more finely worked than the others. Arnauld took that as a sign and gave the others to his officers. She gestured for them to open them. He did and swallowed hard.

A silver pendant on a silver chain, both heavy and strong, bore the design of a wolf’s head, jaws agape. Behind the head a paw rose up, and behind those, a mountain. The eyes of the wolf were made of green stones, with crimson enamel claws that seemed to glow in the winter sun. He turned the pendant over and found St. George. From the murmurs and half-whistles behind him, the others’ gift must be equally rich and fine.

Arnauld went to one knee, bowing to the Seigneuresse. She came closer and extended one hand. He handed her the pendant. She opened the chain and slipped it over his head. The wolf hung over his heart. The eyes seemed to flash, the same green as his liege’s eyes. Or did they? He looked up to her. Her smile turned old and knowing. Then she returned to her seat of honor. “Thank you, Captain. You may rise, and may the blessings of Our Lord be with you and the Wolf’s Paws. You may go.”

Three days later, as fine, icy snow drifted down, Benedict the Short frowned. “Captain, something moves at the river, something of power.”

Arnauld wasn’t the only man to mouth a curse or to growl at the news. “Could you sense where or what sort of thing?”

The Bavarian nodded. His large mouth drooped under his heavy reddish-brown beard. “Aye, sir. From the north and east, pushing into the river valley. It looked like a dull fog but more solid. Whoever sent it didn’t try to hide his work.” He glanced to the north, as if to see through the walls. “It tasted of fear and bitterness. I pulled the watchers back and warned the seigneuresse’s shepherds and forester.”

“Good.” Arnauld stood and paced, then paced again. “Watch for now. Gaston, Bjorn, get men ready but don’t move yet.” Something bothered him, itched. “I don’t want to reveal that we’re here, and who we are yet.”

Bjorn growled deep in his chest. “All know of the comtessa’s power. Few know of us, other than swords.” The others either nodded, or startled a little, blinking.

“Yes. We may need that surprise, if the tales from the east and west are true. And if someone is dabbling with powers best left untouched.” Arnauld crossed himself, as did the others.

He took watch duty on the keep’s wall the next morning, pacing and planning. The day stayed dark, heavy clouds hanging low but not releasing snow. The wind blew then died, then stirred again, fitful and hesitant. That … Arnauld scowled toward the north. The Paws needed to block the northern river gap, but how without revealing too much? If they faced an attack by men alone, it would be simple. Not easy, no, but simple, and the land favored the defense. And magic could conceal them from men’s eyes, or distract those eyes until the Wolf’s Paws struck. Magic against magic? No, none of his men had a strong attack-magic gift, for which he was grateful. He folded his arms and glared.

Soft steps approached. He turned and bowed as Seigneuresse Leoni approached. “What troubles—” She stopped and pointed. He turned.

A fire flared on the ridge. It faded, then flared again. “That, Seigneuresse. Watchers on the river. Magic crept in two nights ago, spying. Now something more moves.” He inclined toward her once more. “By your leave?”

“Go. You confirm what I sensed. It is blood tainted power, Captain. Go with God.”

“Seigneuresse.” He bowed lower and trotted past her, taking the steps two at a time. He already wore his padded jacket and leather. All he needed was mail and his helm. Those waited below, in the stable, ready.

Gaston met him there, already armed. “The others are getting the horses and adding boar spears, stop-lances, and other things to our equipage, Captain. Serjeant Jean and those staying here will close the gates once we leave. Bjorn should be moving. Benedict the Short and the others saw things coming down the river plain.”

(C) 2023 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved

Product Review: Blue Bell’s Dr. Pepper Float Ice Cream

Blue Bell and other major ice-cream brands often experiment with new flavors, or have seasonal flavors. Peppermint ice cream, or hot cocoa ice cream, are usually found in winter. Key Lime Pie ice cream is summer. Pumpkin? Fall.

MomRed subscribes to the Blue Bell mailing list, so she gets news about new flavors and seasonal favorites. Then DadRed and I have to find the big-tubs-of-happiness, which sometimes is a bit of a challenge. This time, our independent drug store (which has an ever-expanding Blue Bell section in the freezer case) had it. The new one?

Dr. Pepper™ Float. Yes, ice cream that is supposed to taste like an ice cream float.

Fair Use under creative commons. Original found here: https://www.thepioneerwoman.com/news-entertainment/a43941062/blue-bell-dr-pepper-float-ice-cream-flavor/

Yes, it does taste like an ice cream float made with Dr. Pepper™ and a good vanilla ice cream. The flavor of regular Dr. Pepper is correct, and the ice cream is the usual very creamy Blue Bell vanilla. I like it. It’s not my all-time favorite of their seasonal or exotic flavors (that would be the one modeled off the old Drumstick™ ice cream treat), but it is very good. I could certainly see giving it to kids and adults who are prone to spilling things in lieu of an actual ice cream float in a glass. If lumps and crunchy things in your ice cream are a problem, this is just ice cream, no nuts, chocolate chunks, bits of cookie, or other things.

Five stars, will probably buy again.

FTC Disclaimer: I purchased this for my own consumption and received no remuneration from the manufacturer for this review.

Topography Tells the Tale

Everyone knows the Great Plains are flat, and the High Plains/ Llano Estacado are so flat that they make pancakes look like the Appalachians and Alleghenies. You can stand on a tuna can in Dalhart, TX and see all the way to Wichita, KS. Except . . . once you start walking the ground, you discover that it ain’t necessarily so. Especially if you are walking in spring, during or just after the rainy season. Continue reading

Book Review: German Colonialism

Gilley, Bruce. In Defense of German Colonialism: And How Its Critics Empowered Nazis, Communists, and Enemies of the West. (Regnery Press, 2022) Kindle edition.

As you can tell by the subtitle, Bruce Gilley’s book is controversial. It’s also very well written, aside from a few digs at anti-colonial scholars. I’ve read books about the Herero War, and how that may have influenced German responses to Belgian resistance during the invasion of Belgium in 1914. Otherwise, my knowledge of German colonial management in Africa and the Pacific is limited. South Africa, Egypt, and other British areas were more interesting. However, after reading several other historians’ takes on this book I decided to give it a try.

Gilley’s argument is that German colonialism—for as long as it lasted—did more good than harm. Yes, there were inadvertent disasters like the Herero War, and incidents of corruption and mismanagement. All of which where investigated by the Reichstag (parliament) and thoroughly documented. But if things were as bad as later historians claimed, why did residents from Cameroon, German East Africa, Togo, and other places send representatives to the 1919 Paris meetings to ask that the Germans stay in charge? And why did older people in the 1960s-70s tell historians and anthropologists that they’d liked having the Germans running the place? Surely, says Gilley, it wasn’t all false-conciousness and performative internalized racism, or resistance in the guise of supporting the Germans. So he went back to the documents and compared them with current claims. The book was originally published in German, and he has received death-threats for his findings*. It is heavy on historiography, so if you are strictly interested in the German colonial period and books on that topic, the first third to half of this work applies the best.

Gilley begins with the Berlin conference in 1884 that Bismarck called to try and get the other European powers to agree to how Africa should be managed, among other things. Bismarck had two goals: prevent a European war over uncertain borders in Africa, and establish a template for how colonies should be run. Bismarck had been opposed to colonies for Germany, but everyone else wanted them, so he set up a foundation for managing them. The foundation included minimal German presence, when possible, keeping local languages and customs if they didn’t collide with European best-practices, and stopping the slave trade. The latter is where the Germans often ended up having to fight Arabs and others who liked the slave trade. Cannibalism, human-sacrifice, slave-trading, and polygamy were also prohibited or at least strongly discouraged. So to were the constant raids and counter raids between political rivals and tribes.

During the brief time Germany had colonies – 1885 to 1918 – Gilley argues that they were among the best run of the European possessions. A very small number of German officials oversaw very large territories and populations. They pioneered treatment and prevention of sleeping sickness, ended chronic warfare, built railroads and other infrastructure, introduced literacy and codified native languages, and introduced new crops like cotton, or improved local crops. Certain groups actually invited the Germans to come in as a neutral third party to stop the instability in certain regions (Togo, German Southwest Africa).

Would things have gotten worse had the Germans remained after 1918? Possibly. Could things have been better? Possibly. Gilley points to what we do know, what was done, and ignores the counterfactuals of a number of post-modern scholars. If it is not in the documents, Gilley argues that we should not assume it to be.

I am inclined to agree with the author that the Germans of the colonial era are often beaten with the stick of the Nazis. It didn’t help that early (1950s-60s) histories were written by East German academics who argued that colonialism was part of capitalism and thus automatically evil in itself. I’ve read a few translated histories of pre-modern Germany from East German authors, and the pattern Gilley describes fits what I read. I’m not so sure about his arguments (ch 10 on) that the forced end of German colonialism led to the radicalization of Weimar Germany because it removed a common ground and cut German out of the civilizing, stabilizing community of nations. I do agree that it could be one of several elements contributing to the rejection of the classical liberal traditions by portions of the German population, as well as by groups like the Communists, Fascists, NSDAP, and others.

Were things under the Germans better for some people, perhaps the majority? Quite possibly, even if you only consider public health. Gilley makes a good case that modern historians have gone too far in the anti-imperial, anti-colonial direction, and that we need to take a serious look at what is actually in the surviving documents. If a scandal was debated and investigated as parliament, that might be a sign that such things were both rare and taken very seriously by the Germans, not that the Germans were horrible monsters who oppressed and abused the native peoples of Africa and the Pacific Islands.

I don’t like the snark that bubbles up in places, but I can understand it. For a historian to claim at the same time that the Germans blocked the free-market economic development of local people by using the native language in government, and stole from the native people by codifying and expanding the use of the local language (or creating a regional lingua franca), and corrupted the local people by dragging them into the free market by using their native language for government and business … At best it confuses the issue, at worst is shoddy thinking and political sleight-of-hand.

I’d recommend this book to people looking for a different perspective on late-phase European colonialism, who are interested in the overseas German empire, and who might want to balance other things they have read. His historiography, which really is the last third of the book, is well done. Gilley writes well and it’s an easy read. It lacks maps, but as you know, that’s one of my constant plaints.

*Gilley bucks the official German government policy and overall academic trends in Germany and the US very hard. This is grounds for getting death threats, because he is “diminishing the lived experience” of modern Africans and “must be pro-Nazi” and a few other things. Since the Nazis were vehemently anti-colonial, unless it was colonizing the European Lebensraum, the shoe doesn’t fit.

FTC Disclaimer: I purchased this book for my own use, and received no remuneration from the author or publisher for this review.

Instant Lake – Just Add Water

August of 2019. It had been wet in the spring, but the summer went dry.

Good grazin.

The weeds make me twitch, but the grasses look pretty good for the season. Now, imagine the scene with a few cacti starting to move in. That’s because it has been so dry. Three La Niña years will do that. Not as dry as 2011, or the 1950s, certainly not as bad as the 1850s, but the rainwater lake was D-R-Y.

Then along came May, 2023, and El Niño. And a Rex Block. A rex block steers the jet stream over the area, a bit like zonal flow, but they can last longer. The pattern in the image (bottom of article) matches what’s currently in place, steering moisture-rich water from the Gulf up to meet a series of little low-pressure disturbances. The combination has been sending slow-moving storms over the High Plains night after night after night. We’re getting rain – all at once.

The blue and red are open water. All the weeds are underwater, and the water is easing past the fence line. I was shooting across the fence in the first picture, now I’m shooting along it. In part because I didn’t feel like getting in mud up to my ankles.

Same fence, different angle.

Now the weather guessers think we might get three more inches of rain Wednesday – Saturday. RedQuarters started with an inch and a half in an hour on Wednesday morning. This is not making people happy. The farmers need to plant, or to get ready to harvest. People with flooded homes and businesses want to dry out and start assessing the damage. The Canadian River has been at or above flood stage for almost a week. (The record thus far was in 1941, where, between the spring and autumn floods, the river was in flood for three months – six weeks in spring and a deeper six weeks in autumn.)

It’s weather. It happens. “It’s either drought or plenty,” as the song says.

Now What?

Saturday, I couldn’t figure out why my ability to focus seemed to have gone out the window. I’d gotten the edits for the next Merchant book in, those that had already come in. I’d finished the d’Vosges story draft. Day Job was pretty much wrapped up aside from one admin thing that had to wait on a third party. So why was I staring at a story, unable (or unwilling) to buckle down and write? I had a similar problem reading. I have a thick TBR stack to get through this summer, and sitting and reading for more than a chapter at time seemed impossible. I had too much energy, or I was fighting to stay awake.

The weather played a role. We’ve gone from drought to flood. Literally flood, as the Canadian River is reaching levels not seen in over 25 years, and other streams are bursting their banks and causing major transportation snarls as well as inundating homes and businesses (Hereford, Texas and Rita Blanca Creek did not get along well this past weekend.) Palo Duro Canyon state park has had lots of flooding and road closures, and the hiking trails were also closed because of wash-outs and mud. Lakes that people assumed were empty forever abruptly have water in them again. This is great, but it also gets old if you are not used to daily rain and high humidity. The constant grey and other people’s worries were chewing on me.

Part of it is trying to sort out transportation to and from an event. In the big scheme of things, it’s a very minor concern, but it’s still there.

Then I realized the problem. A chunk of my feeling scattered came from the lack of urgent deadlines and pressure. This spring has been odder than usual, for a host of reasons, most of them far outside my control. Everyone around me was running at flank speed from April 15 until this past Thursday, or so it felt. As event and deadline piled on each other, tension got higher. Some things happened that left grumbling, muttering, and frustration in their wake, mostly because it was a case of “Oh please, not NOW. I have no time to deal with this.” Except my associates and I dealt with it. That’s what grownups do.

And then it stopped. Everything stopped. No more race-stop-race. Welcome or unwelcome, everything wrapped up. There was no gradual taper down as often happens, no steady slowing. Instead it just ended, period. That’s … odd. And so I found myself without a looming deadline, without stacks of incoming and outgoing pages. No outside pressure remained. I stared at the screen, thinking I had to be doing a lot of something else, or fighting off a nap. (The cool, humid, grey weather wasn’t helping that bit.)

Once I realized what the problem was, or rather, the lack of problem, I pushed through and got things done. I can force myself to get back into the habit of concentrating. But it still feels odd not to have an external deadline trying to run me over.

Tuesday Tidbit:A Damp Discussion

Age, mileage, the Comtessa’s lands, and company business. All of which can land a man in hot water.

As the feast of the holy birth drew closer, Arnauld d’Loup mulled over the state of the d’Vosges lands. He did so in the steaming warm comfort of a mineral spring two valleys west of the keep, eyes half closed as he listened to the other men and to the sounds of the forest. His shoulders, back, and legs lost some of their aches in the wet heat. Now he understood why the old emperor had liked the waters at Aachen so well!

The Romans had, perhaps, improved the spring. The bench-like stones that allowed a man to sit with the waters not quite to his chin suggested that someone had added to what the Lord had left. Other hot springs flowed in the d’Vosges lands, including a boiling pool with brimstone-tinged waters that flowed straight from Hell. He’d watched a miner gathering the foul yellow stuff. These waters pleased him far more.

“What think you of the news from the east, Captain?” Serjeant Jean Blanc sounded hesitant, as usual.

What did he think? “If the story is true, it should be a matter for the Church and the emperor, unless the magic worker thinks to come here.” Merchants coming from Strasbourg claimed that a new lord had been named to the region, a duke of Lotharingia, one who dabbled in things forbidden by both the Church and the emperor. “Since the Duchy of Lotharingia and the bishops of Freiberg, Strasbourg, and the Abbey at Basel have earlier titles, and the emperor has two sons, I doubt anyone who says he has been named to govern this area. As a palatine, perhaps, but not as duke.” Still, something bothered him, had been bothering him since the trader passed the news. And it was not the price in good silver of the fine fabric and the book he’d purchased for the Paws to give to the Seigneuresse during the feast of Christmas.

Noises of agreement came from the others. With a swallowed grumble, Arnauld sat straight, then eased out of the pool. The chilly afternoon air encouraged haste as he dressed once more, drawers, trews, tunic, leather jerkin, socks and boots. He raked his hair back with his fingers and wrung some water off the tail in the back. He needed to cut it before Christmas. He’d been told he had his mother’s darker coloring, almost southern, with brown hair, black beard and brows, and dark green-brown eyes. He’d not looked in a mirror or pool for two years and more. The last time he’d seen himself, he’d noticed white streaks in both hair and beard. They matched the white scars on the rest of him.

“Has the miner on Stinking Creek forgiven Left-handed Paul?” Karl asked Sergeant Jean.

A snort came in reply. “No, and he probably never will, not even if they have four sons. Be damned if I know why not—Paul married her, and she had no prospects or dowry.” Arnauld turned to look at the others. Jean, still in the water, lifted one hand out and shrugged. “I’d be pleased, but she’s not my daughter.”

“No. Your daughter would be selling her—” Splash. The other serjeant’s head disappeared under the waters with Bjorn’s hand on top of it. The lieutenant made a show of counting to four before he removed let Michele back up. “Damn it, I was joking,” the sopping serjeant spluttered.

“And I don’t want the pool fouled with your blood and shit after someone gets tired of your jokes.” Bjorn got out and dressed as quickly as Arnauld had. “That rumor from the east.”

Arnauld sorted through words as he finished arming. Yes, they were on safe lands. But a wise man went ready for anything, because trouble didn’t respect borders or holy days. “If that were the first time we’d heard the rumor, I’d ignore it. But this is twice, both from the same area, told by different people. I think we should start preparing for a fight.” Only a fool fought in winter, fools and the northern pagans.

“Ja. And if the second part of the stories are true, he draws on powers that favor the darkest days of the year.” Bjorn scowled. “Perhaps the Wild Hunt will ride and take him away, if things are true.”

“And perhaps we will awaken to find self-roasting deer and boars that stuff and stew themselves waiting for us under a meat-pie tree.” The old joke drew chuckles and mutters of “Please God may it be so,” from the others as they shook off the waters and dressed.

On Christmas day, after the solemn vigil and mass, Comtessa Leonie began the feast. She sent food out to every settlement on her lands, and to the mines in the west. Venison and some boar graced tables in both the keep and the villages. Several troupes of musicians visited and added their songs and wit to the gatherings, within proper limits. Arnauld kept a close watch on Karl and some of the others who had a habit of drinking past the point of wisdom. Merriment too often turned to bloodshed, something he did not want at all. Neither did the other Paws, or so it seemed. He heard no reports of trouble. At least not from within the d’Vosges lands.

“Captain d’Loup, I was with the Duke of Swabia in the imperial camp two summers ago,” one of the traveling musicians said on the Feast of St. John the Evangelist, three days after Christmas.

Arnauld studied the man, then nodded. “I don’t recognize your face, but your playing I remember.” The man had suffered some attack, by man or beast, and scars and a bent nose marked him now. What did the man want?

The lutenist glanced off to the side, and adjusted one of the pegs on the head of his instrument. “We came from the west and south. The lord there is new but powerful.” He met Arnauld’s eyes. “Perhaps strangely power full. We did not linger, or visit his court. The peasants moved quietly, and the women stayed close to their houses.”

Arnauld crossed himself, as did the musician. “You were wise. We have heard rumors from the east, carried by merchants, but they spoke of a newly named Duke of Elsas. No such person has sent word to the Seigneuresse, nor has an imperial messenger brought word.”

“May God grant that only one such exists, Captain.” The traveler began to play, a quiet, melancholy tune. Arnauld gave him some copper coins and went to take his turn on the wall walk of the keep.

Clouds covered the stars and seemed to press down on the ridge behind the keep. The wind hissed and snarled, pulling at his cloak and driving bits of snow into any tiny gap in a man’s clothing. Arnauld scowled at the sky and pulled his heavy leather gauntlets farther up his wrists. The night disturbed him, but he had no good reason why. He heard faint sounds of feasting in the courtyard below, in those moments when the wind faded. A bonfire burned. Given the news, perhaps a bonfire on the ridge, a warning, should burn instead? He folded his arms and walked, eyes straining against the dark. Unbidden, a quiet voice hissed in his memory. His father had been able to see clearly in the darkest of nights, and to run without tiring for a full watch, or so people had sworn. Why did he not take up that gift? Arnauld gritted his teeth. “Curse, not gift,” he snarled to the poisonous voice. “Get thee behind me, Tempter.”

What was that? He turned to face east, and the ridge, listening. The wind faded. A sound like hounds and geese brushed his ears. He listened harder, mouth going dry. Voices like those of men calling to others on a hunt grew stronger, as did the baying. “St. George defend me.” Arnauld ran along the wooden wall walk, then down the steps.

The Seigneuresse’s castellan met him. “What comes?” the older man demanded, eyes wide.

“Wild Hunt.”

“All under roof, now!” The castellan bellowed. The courtyard cleared, and Arnauld wasted no time himself, ducking into the closest open door.

It closed, and he heard the bar sliding home. “The Hunt, Captain?” the countess’ maid, Matilda, demanded.

“Yes. In the Rhine valley. I heard hounds and huntsmen both.” He crossed himself, and sensed her do the same.

Matilda moved farther into the room, away from the door. He stayed where he was. The maid said,  “The Seigneuresse feared that such might move this year.” She sounded troubled. “It’s a bad omen, that the Hunt rides so far west.”

Was it? He’d never heard such, but he’d also done all he could to avoid being out when in places where the Hunt was known to visit. “I’ve heard of the Hunt being roused out of season by battle, such as when the Romans died in the north, but nothing more than that.” He avoided things and men of magic, especially land magic, lest they stir his curse into being. Bjorn, Gaston, Benedict the Short, and one other dealt with things of magic.

“Huh.” She fell silent.

Arnauld listened, waiting. Being out of the wind was welcome, but for how long? He recited ten Pater Nosters and the Credo, then slid the bar away and opened the door. The bonfire yet burned, red and gold and warm. He eased out, listening. His earlier discomfort had faded away. He crept back up the steps to the wall walk. Only the wind troubled the night, and even that seemed gentler despite the snow. Tension left his shoulders, and he resumed his duties. The night remained dark. Sounds of laughter resumed below.

(C) 2023 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved