“A Famous Victory:” Blenheim and Memory

Someone over at MGC posted the Robert Southley’s poem about the Battle of Blenheim, as part of a discussion about ordinary people doing hard duties while the Great and Powerful . . . do their thing. I bristled a little, but that’s because I have firm opinions about both sides of that conflict. So, first, the poem:

THE BATTLE OF BLENHEIM

by: Robert Southey (1774-1843)

T was a summer evening, Old Kaspar’s work was done,

And he before his cottage door Was sitting in the sun,

And by him sported on the green His little grandchild Wilhelmine.


She saw her brother Peterkin Roll something large and round

Which he beside the rivulet In playing there had found;

He came to ask what he had found, That was so large, and smooth, and round.


Old Kaspar took it from the boy, Who stood expectant by;

And then the old man shook his head, And with a natural sigh,

“‘Tis some poor fellow’s skull,” said he, “Who fell in the great victory.


“I find them in the garden, For there’s many here about;

And often when I go to plough, The ploughshare turns them out!

For many thousand men,” said he, “Were slain in that great victory.”


“Now tell us what ’twas all about,” Young Peterkin, he cries;

And little Wilhelmine looks up With wonder-waiting eyes;

“Now tell us all about the war, And what they fought each other for.”


“It was the English,” Kaspar cried, “Who put the French to rout;

But what they fought each other for I could not well make out;

But everybody said,” quoth he, “That ’twas a famous victory.


“My father lived at Blenheim then, Yon little stream hard by;

They burnt his dwelling to the ground, And he was forced to fly;

So with his wife and child he fled, Nor had he where to rest his head.


“With fire and sword the country round Was wasted far and wide,

And many a childing mother then, And new-born baby died;

But things like that, you know, must be At every famous victory.


“They said it was a shocking sight After the field was won;

For many thousand bodies here Lay rotting in the sun;

But things like that, you know, must be After a famous victory.


“Great praise the Duke of Marlbro’ won, And our good Prince Eugene.”

“Why, ’twas a very wicked thing!” Said little Wilhelmine.

“Nay … nay … my little girl,” quoth he, “It was a famous victory.”


“And everybody praised the Duke Who this great fight did win.”

“But what good came of it at last?” Quoth little Peterkin.

“Why, that I cannot tell,” said he, “But ’twas a famous victory.”

Blenheim, fought near the town of Blindheim* on August 12-13-14, 1704. The Franco-Bavarian army collided with the forces of the Holy Roman Empire under Prinz Eugen von Savoy, and General John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough. The French goal was to break apart an alliance that opposed the merger of France and Spain, and to capture Vienna. The English and Dutch fought as one group, the Imperial forces as a second group.

Those of you who have read Elizabeth and Empire know blow-by-blow how the fighting went, because that’s the conflict I based the final battle on. For others, I recommend: https://www.forces.net/services/army/blenheim-battle-created-marlborough-legend. However, the web-site comes with the caveat that it is very English, and I personally would give Prinz Eugen more credit. Which does not take away from Marlborough’s genius, especially in logistics. He managed to move an army from the Low Countries all the way to Bavaria without the French noticing, at a pace that was not matched until the 1900s. The Imperials acted as the anvil for the Anglo-Dutch hammer. It helped that Eugen and Marlborough were personal friends, and had worked together before. They trusted each other implicitly. The result was one of the most impressive victories in all of the wars against Louis XIV.

As with almost all battles, especially ones of this size, the results were horrific. Civilians had been burned out of their homes along the English line of march, part of efforts to starve and disrupt the Bavarians enough that the Bavarian ruler would back out of the alliance with France. Wounded men burned to death in cottages in one of the villages. Men and horses died by the thousands. The results . . . are as Southey describes. The Thirty Years War would have been only three generations past, and the memories were refreshed by the War of the Spanish Succession. Early Modern armies were worse than locusts, floods, and fires combined. They carried waste, destruction, and plague with them, no matter how careful the commanders might be.

There are worse things than war. Not for the poor people caught between the armies, or those who starved because the Anglo-Dutch and Imperials burned their crops and devoured their livestock, no. But had Louis XIV captured Vienna . . . I really do not care to imagine Europe remade in Louis’ image, thank you. I give him about 90% of the blame for the messes he got into. He sent his armies into the field for his own personal glory, since that would reflect on France, and he was France, at least in his own mind. Louis is one of my least favorite historical characters and always has been.

I also have a very soft spot for Prinz Eugen von Savoy. It’s hard not to admire someone who managed to accomplish everything he pulled off, especially someone who does it on a Habsburg budget! And I can sympathize with the grudge he carried against Louis XIV. I admire Marlborough as well, for different reasons. Emperor Leopold I . . . played into Louis’ hands, and they were fighting over Spain. More precisely, which one would end up with offspring on the throne of Spain. No one asked the Spanish, of course. Leopold is also the one who bailed on Vienna in 1683 when the Ottomans came knocking on the door. Granted, he had a reason, but I’m not really a fan. He was pretty average as Habsburgs go, from what I can tell.

So, was the battle a waste and all for nothing, as Southey’s poem implies? If you were a Bavarian citizen, probably. In terms of stopping Louis XIV and blunting the Franco-Bavarian threat, it was critical. For the average trooper on any side, well, it was another battle, a chance for loot, perhaps, and one collision in a long war. The English were all volunteers, some of whom I have no doubt were “voluntold” by judges, relatives, or others that the man really needed to go fight on the Continent or Else. Others were German mercenaries, conscripts, volunteers, and who knows what.

Blenheim, looking back from a high historical vantage point, was important for a lot of people. But it didn’t make things better for anyone, aside perhaps from the people in Vienna who did not face another siege. That’s the problem with dynastic wars. You don’t really have a hero or villain, not like in WWII or Korea. I root for the Imperials just because I detest Louis XIV. Well, that and because of their commander.

Indeed, it was a famous victory.

*I had the chance to visit the battlefield, but opted not to because the people with me were not interested. I regret that a little.

Owl, or Vampiress?

The painting is “The Owl” by Valentine Cameron Prinsep.

Pure pre-Raphaelite, of course, but that’s not what caught my eye when I saw this on the cover of a catalogue. You see, in the Balkans and a few other places, owls are associated with vampires. Not bats, although bats abide in the same places as (fiction) vampires and everyone knows that Dracula can turn into a bat or multiple bats. At least, movie producers do, based on what I’ve seen. The Latin “strix” (screech owl) became the Romanian strigoi, meaning a vampyric ghost. The term is also a nod to the Greek fear of owls as a form of the bird of ill omen that accompanies witches and other evil-doers.

When you start digging into the actual folklore of Transylvanian vampires, and Balkan vampires in general, the more often you notice that owls are connected with the undead. Also, a person with red hair is automatically suspect. He or she may well be predestined to become a vampire, the same as if he or she had been born on an inauspicious day. It doesn’t matter if the man becomes a priest and lives a saintly life – the odds are strong that his body will leave the grave and steal the lives of his relatives. Better to sneak back to the cemetery, stake the corpse and behead it, or cut out the heart and behead the body, then destroy the heart. (This still happens in some places, even though it is illegal. What’s a few months in prison compared to saving the life of a family member?)

So when I saw the painting, my first thought was “Is she a witch, or a vampire, or was the artist just playing with Greek mythology?” Probably the latter, since Prinsep was a member of the pre-Raphaelite school of painters.

If Arthur and the other Hunters saw the painting? They’d suspect vampire. Had the giant raven that bothered Riverton been an over large owl, the Hunters would have dealt with it post haste.

The Hunters use strigoi, morioi, and nosfiertu to differentiate between different types of vampyric entity. At least, they do in the Old Land. The Hunter clan near Riverton doesn’t worry so much about the nice distinctions, because among other things, they don’t encounter the succubus-like form of cursed undead.

In fact, when an owl lingers in the wrong place, Arthur gets . . . concerned. When Arthur grows concerned, Lelia and Tay start reaching for silver, holy water, strong coffee, and headache powders. Not necessarily in that order. Because it’s going to be a looooong night.

Born For and Born To in the Merchant World

Tycho Gaalnar Rhonarida was born for Maarsdam. He came from a merchant family, and Maarsdam is their patron deity. He was going to be a merchant of some kind. But he was born to Donwah, because of the day and time of his birth. In fact, as readers know, he was born under three of Donwah’s signs, and that completely overshadowed Maarsdam’s role. Tycho repels magic, because Donwah’s influence is so strong.

In the world of the Merchant books, a person is born for the patron deity of their family, generally related to trade or location. So a farming family’s children will probably be born for Yoorst of the Beasts, Gember of the Grain, or Korvaal of the Orchards (and other domesticated woodlands). Merchant families generally incline toward Maarsdam or, in some cases, Radmar of the Wheel, who oversees change and opportunity. [Cue “O Fortuna”]. Woodworkers and builders would go to Korvaal, or perhaps, if they are charcoal makers or work finding raw timber, Valdher of the Forests. Trappers and others of the fringes and frontiers incline toward Valdher or the Scavenger. Miners? Scavenger.

Families choose a child’s “born for” patron. The date and time of the child’s birth determines “born to,” unless something very unusual happens and a deity gives an unmistakable sign of patronage. So, a child of the Five Free Cities might be thought to be born to Yoorst, until a freak blizzard hits just before the child’s birth, and then fades away after the delivery. The family would likely declare the child as born to Sneelah, goddess of the north. (At the time of the main-series Merchant books, the Great Northern Emperors are almost all born to and for Sneelah, except for a few who are born for Sneelah, born to the Scavenger.) Aedelbert, the protagonist of Miners and Empire was the first child in a very long time born to the Scavenger, and his family considered this very inauspicious. Those who have read the story know why, and how their attitude shaped his life.

Having the same born for and born to patron means that the individual will be strongly influenced by that god. Or so popular belief has it. The priests will all swear up and down that there is nothing in that combination that predestines anyone to a career or a path in life. As the Scavenger-born frequently grumble, “Your patron is not an excuse.” Just because a man is born to and for the Scavenger doesn’t mean he must be a thief or beggar. However, his skills and temperament might incline him (or her) to work as a miner, stone-cutter, or the like. A woman born to Gember may never learn to bake well, no matter how hard she tries. But popular belief often treats born-for and born-to as a sort of horoscope. Families consider the combination when they look at possible marriage partners, although it is more of a sign of probable compatibility than a requirement. Jens Saxklar, one of the miners, was for Valdher and born to the Scavenger. His coworkers feel that explains his odd habit of wandering and his strange ways. He’s a good miner, one of the best, and works very hard, but he’s exceedingly off-kilter for a miner. That has to be Valdher’s influence.

There are cases when deities do take a strong interest in their born-to followers. Readers have seen the Scavenger at work, a rather uncomfortable presence in a person’s life. In Tycho’s case, his inability to handle anything touched with magic becomes a life-saving asset, although he’d just as soon never, ever have been involved in that sort of thing. The Great Northern Emperor, born to and for Sneelah, is also her priest, and she will overshadow him, just as other gods speak through their priests. No one is happy when the various deities feel the need to make their presence felt, even if it is “just” an overlarge rat staring down the trail at someone. Very overlarge rat.

Alas for me, I was jumped by a story set just after the end of the Great Cold. Part of the conflict between the main character and the emperor centers on their patrons. The protagonist was born for Maarsdam, born to Valdher. The emperor was born to and for Sneelah. Both are determined men, both think they know best how to go about resettling the new lands. But what Valdher wants and what Sneelah demands conflict mightily.

A Difference in Perspective…

A Repeat. I will go into more detail about born to/born for tomorrow.

I just finished a chapter in Miners and Empire where the protagonist, Aedelbert, takes work in one of the mines during winter. He and his partner can’t do the work they contracted to do because of the weather, but they still need to eat, so Caedda hired on with the masons rebuilding the city wall. Aedelbert has reasons not to be seen working stone, and so goes into the mine. Not to mine, however, but to open a dedicated gallery (I’m [mis]using the term adit in the book) linking two shafts for better air flow. This he has no difficulty with.

Those who have read “The Scavenger’s Gift,” about a merchant named Osbert and his visit to the mine called Scavenger’s Gift are probably shivering a little and contemplating moving to a larger, airyer room, or even outdoors. Continue reading

Marriage in the Merchant World

Marriage is the default state in the world of the Merchant and Magic books. Yes, there are people who do not marry, including the main character in Miners and Empire. Some widows and widowers prefer not to remarry, especially if they do not have children and had a bad experience in marriage. For most people, they assume that they will marry and have a family. Depending on their social rank and financial status, they might get to choose who they wed, or they might pick from several candidates presented to them, or they may be informed “you are marrying her. Here’s why. Here’s the date. You’ll get to meet her in two eight-days.”

Parents want the family to continue, and to prosper. If the children are happy in their marriages and love their spouse, that’s ideal, and in truth, it is pretty common. Tycho loves his wife, and she loves him, even though they did nor marry for love. His father considered options, said, “Not any of these,” and then went through the remaining possibilities. The ideal young woman would 1) not be closely related to Tycho, 2) be trained in the basics of running a household and business, 3) in good health, 4) come from a family with a business that complemented the Galnaar family’s hides and fabrics trade. Her father did the same, and then the families started negotiations. Tycho and his wife were both realistic about having a relationship based on mutual respect and children. It grew into love.

That pattern was/is based on the patrician merchants of the Hansa and the imperial free cities of the Holy Roman Empire. Women were expected to be competent in business as well as household management, which meant at least basic literacy and math. Although they had no official legal role in the business most of the time, they were vital to its success. This was also true for master craftsmen, such as the artist, draftsman, and semi-diplomat Albrecht Dürer. His wife ran the business, handled contracts, managed the household, and he did the art and trained apprentices and journeymen.

Everyone knew that marrying just for looks or just for “love” often brought disaster. Love was, in many cases, what developed after marriage, as respect grew and deepened into fondness and then something more. This is also true in the world of the Merchant books. Tarno Halson came to love Anneka and was truly sad when she died. However, he’s pragmatic. He can’t work and raise the boys, and he can’t keep leaning on his sister to help. He needs to remarry. Because he is well off, and knows that the confraternity of salters will provide for his boys if he’s killed on the job, he has some options. He doesn’t have to marry the Fuchsban daughter. However, the confraternity’s leaders might encourage him (or one of the other men) to at least consider her, because of the need for peace with the woodworkers. In this case, since the Fuchsban family are actively making themselves odious to their own craft brotherhood as well as other people, it’s not something Tarno has to brace for.

Tarno is also unusual in that he can afford to marry a woman without a dowry. One would be nice, especially if it is in cash or something that will have value and bring in future income (farm rent, owning a rental property or woodlot). However, a capable woman with child-raising skills who gets along with the boys, and who doesn’t have an obnoxious family, is certainly a woman Tarno would consider. She also has to be unrelated to him to the third degree. That eliminates a number of the other salt-making families.

Tarno assumes that he and his chosen will get along. They won’t love each other, especially at first. The boys may never warm to a step-mother. Tarno will have to take legal steps to ensure that the boys will get their proper share of the estate should he have other children, but that’s standard in marriage contracts. Yes, it is a contract, negotiated, notarized, and kept on file with the appropriate temple. The marriage will be listed in the town records, but the Temple of Donwah will hold the actual document, as well as listing the marriage in their books.

Why the temple? Because of kinship. Tarno is born for Korvaal, born to Donwah. He’s listed in the records of his born-to patron. So if he needs to see if a young woman or widow is too close kin, that’s where he’ll go. It makes sense for the temple to hold the marriage contract as well. First and second cousins are forbidden, unless there is a very, very compelling reason, or one of the parties is adopted from outside the kin-line. Third cousins are OK. Tarno is a first or second cousin of too many salt families. The few he’s not close kin with, either the girls are too young, or the widows don’t care to remarry.

Tarno would like to marry a skilled, beautiful, wealthy woman who loves him. He would also like to be able to have the income of a salter without the dangers, and to be exempt from the really heavy, messy work in the off season. And to eat all the spice root that he wants, without getting indigestion. He’ll take a competent, not unattractive woman with a good bridal portion who he can get along with. Domestic peace and someone to run the household and do “woman things” is the important part. He also misses the pleasures of the marriage bed, but he’s willing to be patient.

Tarno is based on men from two different salt-making situations. I’m using marriage customs from the Holy Roman Empire in the late 1200s-early 1300s, so pre-Renaissance. When you really dig, you’ll find that for most people, the Renaissance didn’t change marriage expectations. Not until the 1700s did love, then marriage, become something like a common goal, and even then? Compatibility, property, and kinship still played major roles if you were in Eastern Europe or toward the bottom of the economic ladder. Or at the very top, where you were married to someone for dynastic reasons.

Which Version of the Story? Fairy Tales and Folk Lore

For reasons I have no clue about, unless it was related to waking up from a dream about doing lesson plans, my mind wandered into fairy-tale heroines and tropes. Oh, or it might have been snickering with a friend about taking a currently popular (and unhealthy) romance trope/reader cookie and subverting or flat inverting it. That was popular for a while in certain circles. You may recall the “self-rescuing princesses!” claims for some books, or last year’s “inverted re-telling of The Princess Bride.” (If you missed that, no great loss, I assure you.)

A while back I posted about a different writer’s frustration with the live-action and CG movie Maleficent, and how it collided with the ideas in Sleeping Beauty. These are both Disney productions, and thus Disney’s version of the Sleeping Beauty story. Those who have read the older versions know that Disney sweetened things a great deal, although the animated movie is a great story on its own. One of the blog commenters observed that she does not like the older fairy-tales and folk-tales, because they place too much emphasis on physical beauty as the only thing of value for a woman, with everything else coming a distant second at best.

I’ve been chewing on that for a while, and I’m not really sure that holds up, when you get away from Disney versions, the sweetened and domesticated editions of stories. I grew up with Andrew Lang, the original Grimm’s stories, and some Russian and Scandinavian stories, along with Greek mythology (unexpurgated). Some are certainly about beauty alone – The Little Goose Girl comes to mind, where it is her lovely hair and her attractiveness (and the talking head of her dead horse) that proves her nobility. Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” is another one. “The Princess and the Pea,” where physical sensitivity shows noble rank. But a lot of others . . . require the heroine to do a lot of work, or to atone for mistakes, in order to win her man or win her brother’s freedom.

The German Frau Pechta stories are about young women who help others, and who have strong domestic skills. That wins them supernatural aid. So too some of the Baba Yaga stories, where the girl (with the aid of her mother’s blessing) shows respect for Baba Yaga and completes tasks in order to get the wild spirit’s assistance. “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” is another where the girl must endure hardship and show bravery in order to win back her love. “The Swan Princes” requires the princess to make shirts out of nettles* for her brothers in order to break evil magic. Some other stories, where the prince rescues the heroine, require her to trick her captors in order to stay alive or unmolested.

Those are not about beauty. Yes, they are about following social norms and being a good woman/daughter/betrothed. Yes, the girl is often described as being pretty or beautiful, just like the man is always good looking. The idea that interior goodness or wickedness is reflected in outward appearance goes back a long ways. But looks are also deceiving, as other stories show. The beautiful princess may be the evil one, or the witch-queen uses her looks to seduce the king and take over. (There’s a strong undercurrent of that in Robin McKinley’s Deerskin, a book I do NOT recommend for young readers. Stick with The Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword as teen reading.)

Andrew Lang toned down some of the stories in his collection. He was a Victorian, and had Victorian sensibilities about what was appropriate for young readers. However, a lot more death, mayhem, and misery are in those stories than people assume. The heroes and heroines have to pay for bad choices, for breaking the rules. There’s a reason for the trope of the evil step-parent, of the negligent blood-parent. If you read a lot of history, then read “The Children of Lir,” you sort of nod. Second wives demanding that their son inherit rather than the son of the first wife . . . The pattern shows up over and over in history. Heck, look at polygamous societies today. Hans Christian Anderson made up his fairy tales, for the most part, but they fit his society and time. The French stories, once you take off the pretty trimmings added to please the nobility, are darn grim and close to the bone, just like French peasant life. Balkan folk-lore is full of “don’t go with strangers, avoid strangers, stick close to home and stay with the group or else.” But often the girls have to be strong, and brave, and take risks to free themselves or their family members from supernatural ills. Or at least to preserve themselves until help can come.

So yes, the “beauty is what makes you successful/happy/loved” appears in some tales, and it’s probably not the best foundation for living your life. But dig a little farther and there’s a lot of self-preserving princesses, some who rescue their lovers, some who stand up to supernatural rulers on their own, and some who provide the critical key to help the prince defeat evil. Like so much, it depends on what you read and watch, and how widely you read and watch.

And I’m going to go right on messing with the current Paranormal Romance patterns in some of my stories. Because some Golden Calves need to be BBQed.

*You treat the stems of nettles the same way you do flax – let the outer coating soften in water by rotting a little, then hackle and rett the fibers, spin them, and weave or knit the thread into cloth. It was a fiber that was available to the very poor when even gleaned wool was too scarce. Sort of like bark-fibers (bast) in Slavic countries.

A Dragon by Any Other Name?

Ah, Meister Gruenewald, that amazing, infuriating, arrogant, brilliant . . . [No, Rodney, I can’t use that adjective on this blog. Or that other thing, either.] Sorcerer of shadow. Scholar of magic and other things. Master teacher. Whose most amazing power might be that of official non-existence. As André tells Art, Meister Gruenewald has no first name and no official existence. As far as the German and other governments know, he’s a pink unicorn. The military knows, but not the official bureaucracy. How he manages that is probably the greatest mystery of all.

M.G. is a sorcerer of shadow. Like André and Lelia (and Dr. Melanchton, and Miranda Reddish, and Kit Wilmington) he specializes in dealing with truly nasty, evil abuses of magic, including blood magic. He is stronger at night, although he likely doesn’t notice the boost anymore. He was a strong sorcerer before the Spell Eruption Event, and banking power is so ingrained that even he probably doesn’t know what his limits are. He’s not going to test them. Why should he? It the problem is that bad, he’ll call in other magic workers to assist, saving his reserves for the truly dire end-of-the-world-if-he-doesn’t-act emergency.

M.G. noticed André when André was first stationed in Germany. The raw power André threw around was, ahem, a bit noticeable, something M.G. fixed on their first lesson. The fix left André with a three-pill headache, but he never did that again. Rodney considered it a win, once his mage quit moaning. M.G. also realized that André was a sponge, and far smarter than he came across. Perhaps this was the student M.G. had been waiting for. So M.G. being M.G., he kept pounding information and magic into his student to see if André could take it. He did. By the time of Learnedly Familiar, M.G. considered André as his only real success as a teacher. He had other students who did well, but only André has come close to his innate potential as a magic user, by M.G.’s standards.

Which was why M.G. persuaded André to accept the duties of being the sorcerer’s heir. André is not Draku’s suflit ficu. The spiritual connection isn’t there. Instead Shadow’s role is closer to that of Arthur and the senior Hunter. Shadow is supposed to take over Draku’s work, lead Draku’s students, dispose of or distribute the books in Draku’s collection, and deal with some other pieces of magically dangerous property. Shadow agreed, in part because he assumed he’d be dead in less than a decade, and so it wouldn’t matter. It kept Draku happy, Ears thought it was a good plan, and Shadow wouldn’t be around to worry about it. Except Shadow didn’t die. He found someone to love, who loved him and accepted him as he was, demons and all*. Alas, poor Shadow, now he does have to worry a little about “what if I outlive the old lizard? I’ve got to deal with his [stuff]. Oh [exquisitely pungent invective]!”

M.G. is a puzzle. His personality is so strong that it overwhelms anyone around unless they are ready for him. He’s the most powerful magic worker the clans have ever produced, and even they don’t know exactly which family he belongs to. He keeps his pedigree to himself. Unless he blurs his features and hands, which M.G. does most of the time out of habit, it’s obvious that he’s physically different from the rest of the population. He stands out, even among the clans. The fixed talons, the oddly scaly skin, his physical strength, and his sheer longevity make him very unusual, to put it mildly. Toss in those too-bright green eyes and it’s easy to see why he ended up with the working name of Draku. And why, from the safety of the other side of the Great Sea, under his breath, André calls him “that old lizard.” Not that Draku gives a flip about what anyone thinks of him.

You see, Draku’s father was a zmaj. Draku’s mother was of the Hunter clans, a beautiful young woman who was the object of much interest and desire among the young men of her generation. She and her parents let their guard down once, and Draku’s father, who happened to be the guardian zmaj of that watershed, carried her off as his bride. When she returned to the family, with a son, everyone knew what had happened. They raised Draku as one of their own, and when he came into the power that all sons of zmaji possess, no one blinked too hard.

By now, that is long lost history. Draku owes a lot of his longevity to his maternal heritage and having been a Hunter when he was younger. However, he is mortal, and he is not getting younger. Thus his increasingly insistent efforts to get Shadow to relocate to the Old Land and take over things. Yet, at the same time, Draku is starting to realize that Europe might not be the best place in the future. Too much governmental control, too many watchful eyes, especially in western Europe. Russia is, of course, out of the question, and in fact Draku has been known to use his private resources to help new magic workers escape Russia before the government catches them. Europe needs workers of shadow, but perhaps not a school such as formed around Draku.

If Draku had seen Shadow after the Terrible Hunt, he would have smiled with glee. The eyes. Draku’s eyes do indeed glow a little. That’s power, raw magic made visible. Draku doesn’t use a medallion or his cane or a knife or ring to store magic like the other sorcerers do. He is his focus. He stores magic inside himself. He discovered the twist a century and more ago, and storing power that way is truly second nature. He doesn’t think about it, or even really remember how he does it. It’s like breathing. It’s scary, actually, because of what it’s done to his body even beyond the legacy of his paternity. After the Terrible Hunt, when Silver observes Shadow’s eyes glowing, it’s for a similar reason. Shadow handled so much power, even with Ears to help buffer it, that it’s changed him.** Remember, Shadow still has some of the basic the wiring of a sorcerer, even though he’s primarily a mage. That makes a difference.

So now Draku wants to train Shadow’s son. Draku has high hopes for Letters, and assumes that of course Shadow will send the boy over, and of course Letters will take up his father’s mantle. Because why wouldn’t he? Draku really is that arrogant and entitled. If he were any less powerful or respected, it would have bitten in the rear by now. Or Chlotilda or one of his other students would have taken a leaf from Silver’s book and have whapped him with a frying pan, rolling pin, or something similar. He probably needs it.

*Lelia is why André returned from that near disaster that happened just before Intensely Familiar. He really should have died at least twice during that [mess].

**That magic is helping André, even though no one realizes it. He ought to have a lot more medical problems than he does. Lelia, not having the wiring or the training, doesn’t get that bonus. Knowing her, she’d run screaming from the possibility if offered. Or just shoot whoever made the offer, and ask her suflit talshu for recommendations on where to dispose of the deceased. He has a list.

Fur in History: A Quick Overview

Another repeat. I’m still on the road.

So there I was, trotting along under the January stars, pleased that I had found my fur-lined winter hat, and my fur neck-piece, and my fur muff, and thinking about fur, who wore fur, fur in art, and realized that I have not yet seen a book about the history of fur. The North American fur trade, yes, lots and lots of books, because my early childhood was spent at a place where two major rivers and multiple trading trails crossed, trade routes that predated Europeans by quite a while. So I grew up reading about fur trappers and beaver and that sort of thing. But what about fur in world history? Fur is a no-no for some people today, although that seems to be changing a little, and no one seems to shed tears over lining a hat with rabbit, or using rabbit fur to make felt hats. Back in the day, before central heat, fur meant survival and was one of the most important trade items around. Fur carried status, even squirrel and other “low-class” furs. Continue reading

Manners: Current Day and Fictional

I was reading a book entitled Why Manners Matter, which concerns the need for some sort of self-restraint and code of behavior in society. I had trouble getting into the book at first, until I caught on that the author is Australian, and so “manners” had a different cultural connotation than in the Southern US culture that I grew up with. “Manners” in Australia carries the sense of class difference and pretensions of rank and station, something that is anathema in Australian popular self-perception. Being polite and decent, on the other hand, is OK.

The book’s author tries hard to avoid religious and philosophical arguments, and instead focuses on practical “because it keeps people from going nuts trying to figure out everything and makes people happier and less stressed” sorts of benefits. She also notes that the military requires manners and self-discipline, something she sees as good. I’m inclined to agree with her on many points, although I’d point out that all people deserve to be treated with respect and dignity until they prove otherwise just because they are human and made in the image of G-d. Once they prove otherwise, then especially treated in a way that you maintain your self-respect and dignity. Sometimes the kindest, best thing to do to a rabid dog, once it is proven rabid, is to put it out of its and society’s misery. That can apply to social situations – tossing someone out of a gathering, for example, or ending a relationship, on the mildest end of the spectrum.

Which got me thinking a bit about self-identity. How we see ourselves, how we see our place in culture and society, which bits of culture we accept and which we try hard to stay away from. Readers know that I tend to avoid the easy, casual style of modern day popular media culture, and incline more towards formality and “good manners.” Not quite Victorian or Edwardian levels of politeness — I don’t wear gloves indoors, I drink soda-pop from a can, I’m bad at small talk — but certainly more restrained behavior than most younger people, and than a lot of people my age. Part of it is my being an introvert who gets twitchy around groups of emotional people, part of it is that I prefer having a mental script to fall back on in new situations.

Restraint and distance also help prevent a lot of problems from starting. It’s easier to start “hard” and then relax than it is to back up if you start all hang-loose and casual. In the fraught world of men, women, and “harassment means he looked at me for a half-second too long,” manners and formality are safety.

Self-control is part of good manners. I learned as a teen that letting my emotions show guaranteed trouble. That’s what the bullies wanted. I also realized that I might do something really, really antisocial if I lost my grip on my temper. The two are probably related, but the dark streak may predate my teens. I’m not going to dig in that part of my mind to find out. The point is, if you are in control of your mouth and temper, you are a lot less likely to get in trouble or cause trouble. Good manners are part of that self control. “A gentleman does not . . . A lady never raises her voice in anger.” OK, sometimes increasing the vocal volume is needed just to cut through the roar and get attention, but projection is not yelling. Emoting all over the place is rarely called for, at least in my personal world. Other cultures are different. There’s also a balance between making other people aware of your discontent with the situation and repressing things so much that it causes you problems.

Which led my wandering mind to a comment a reader made about how Arthur’s manners around Lelia changed. In the first two books, he’s more “relaxed” and “casual.” Over time, he becomes more formal, as does she. The clan tends toward formality, partly because of the need to keep intraclan violence to an acceptable level. Formality is Arthur’s default within the clan. As Lelia became more of a dependent, then peer, then family member, Arthur treated her more and more the way he would treat a relative in the clan. Part of Lelia’s persona as glamor [glamour?] goth is formality, likewise André, so she slid into the role relatively easily. It’s armor in a sense, for Lelia, her boss, and her husband. Especially when André is having trouble, formality gives all of them space to sort through what is bothering them and how to deal with it. Both men are predators, both are territorial, and both respect each other, and love Lelia in their different ways. Formality is appropriate. And as in other situations, Lelia and André look to the senior person for cues as to when manners are relaxed.

“An armed society is a polite society,” as Robert Heinlein phrased it. When people are armed and situations can shift quickly from irritating to lethal, civility and manners lubricate things and keep the friction to a minimum. Low friction doesn’t cause combustion.

Writing, Writing, and Typing

I’ve been hand-writing a lot more fiction recently, because of various and sundry reasons. Down at FoolzCon, pen and paper were easy to get out and put away, didn’t need to recharge* or plug in, and could be left unattended without fear of a Small Person accidentally knocking them to the floor and breaking them. At Day Job, I can flip from page to page — lesson plans and test notes to fiction and back — and since I write in cursive, it is a nearly unbreakable code.

However, if I don’t remember to bring my braces, after an hour or so, I start regretting it. I have a bad habit of gripping the pen too tightly, and when combined with carpel tunnel problems, it leads to wrist pain and weakness. If I use a fountain pen, I don’t lock onto the pen as badly, but . . . fountain pens have their own complications, like bleeding through the notepads I use because the paper is not glazed properly for fountain pen ink. It used to be, but something changed. So I use an ultra-fine Pilot™ pen and plot or class-outline away.

I’m also grading papers that are turned in online, and adding my comments and critiques. I can answer students much faster with a keyboard, because I type as fast as I think (almost. I can still lock up wordprocessors when I’m going at full speed.)

On paper, I move more slowly, and leave out considerable description, especially when my wrist gets tired. My mental narration has to slow in order to keep from overloading my hand and losing ideas.** The description and details get filled in on the margins (I use notepads designed for margin notes and citations), or when I transcribe what I’ve written into the computer. I still see the story unfolding in my head, but it is wordier, for lack of a better word.

When I type fiction, I fly, writing hundreds of words at a go. I see the story in my head, in pictures as much as words, and I type what I see. One problem is that often, description gets skipped because I know what everything looks like. I forget that readers are not “seeing” the story that’s unreeling in my mind. Which is why I go back and fill in things like “what so-and-so looks like” or “landscape around Rigi’s house” so readers don’t get frustrated. The end result is the same if I write or type, but what has to be tucked back in varies. The spelling on my hand-written copy is much, much worse, because of my memory problem. I see the errors faster on the screen now, and there’s spell check to flag things if they are really off. Homonyms and the like are still my own fault, especially when I type at speed.

I don’t think readers can tell a difference between “started on a paper notepad” and “started on screen.” That is, if I do the revisions and polishing properly.

*This is why I carry at least four pens in my satchel at all times, two super-fine and two fine ballpoint. Plus correcting pens and a pencil, because one never knows.

**I have a lack of RAM. By the time I remember what I want to say, how I want to say it, grammar and punctuation, and the mechanics of writing/drawing letters on the page, I’m out of processor space. I can’t spell well, to put it mildly, and I can’t talk. I register that words are being directed at me, but I don’t process them and can’t answer unless I stop writing. Even when I sign my name, I have to do that, stop, talk to the person, the finish writing. What saves me is that I was forced to learn cursive by rote, copying copybook essays over and over and over, trying to match the ideal example on the page with my own handwriting. Do that almost daily for two years and more, and you too will learn cursive as muscle memory, not conscious thought. Mostly.