Perfection and its Discontents

The on-line world has an excess of perfection. Now, before everyone who has wrestled with lousy code, bad web-sites, “AI” generated garble, and OttoCorrupt throws things at me, I’m thinking about a different part of the ‘Net. Various social media sites, and certain phone apps and functions, allow if not demand that everyone and everything be perfect. With Mary Poppins it was fiction, and readers sorted out that she was a wee bit more than human. For society today, it’s not so wonderful.

Back in the early 2000s, it was Instagram photos of meals. People graded restaurants and home cooks on the presentation, not the quality of the food, leading to complaints from the folks who actually cooked Ye Average Meal. Food had to be perfect, or else.

People have fussed about the unrealistic portrayal of others in movies and on TV and in magazines for a long time, especially once anorexia and body-image problems became better known. I remember one movie lady talking about how it took three hours of work for her to go from “I just got out of bed and am in pajamas” to “cover shot ready.” Vogue came under a lot of criticism, as did other fashion magazines. But most of us knew that those photos had been airbrushed, and the people were NOT your standard. 5’10” tall, 100 pounds, size 32 DD chest, wearing size 2 or 0 clothes is NOT standard.

Along came social media, with all the filters and built-in photo improvers in cameras. Landscapes can be more dramatic or colorful. And people as well. The pressure developed to be perfect when you posted on social media. First it was “pictures or you weren’t really there,” which contributed to ruining the southern European section of the Louvre Museum (for me at least) and to the “selfi-cide” problem. By 2021, “normal” photos were supposed to be improved, retouched, smoothed, and adjusted for near perfection. That’s not healthy.

Add in other parts of society, and a group of young people decided that they had to be perfect in all things, or they were failures. If they can’t do it right the first time, it is a disaster. If a person don’t look like his on-line presence – disaster. Life is a failure if at age whatever they cannot do everything flawlessly the first time. So people don’t try. They aim low.

I’m a perfectionist. I get it. But I also know that there are physical limits imposed by reality. I have never done anything right the first, second, third . . . time. But that’s in this reality, not the Internet. The Internet is perfect. Which is not good for those people who get caught up in it and think that Internet = reality.

Now we have all sorts of image processors, tools for manipulating videos to enhance or remove or adjust events and people. Art must be perfect, for whatever that means. Computer tools make that possible, or do they? How much of the imperfect artist is permitted anymore?

I don’t have a cure, or a solution.

Comments are disabled for this post. It is a think-piece more than for discussion.


A Place for Beauty

What place exists for the beautiful, the inspiring, the work or scenery that speaks to the spirit as well as to the mind? Is beauty something you must go to see, to visit the shrines of art that we call museums, or to national parks and other places that society has determined are specially attractive or majestic, and thus worthy of preservation? Is it something we should strive to find and have for ourselves, small things that we can turn to at home when times are rough and we need inspiration or comfort? Is it a luxury that should wait until the physical well-being of all people [and “the planet”] is assured, and then perhaps society can find a place for beauty and art in all its forms?

One thing I’ve noted over and over in the past two decades or so is that certain ideologies are uncomfortable with what in the western tradition are called “great works of art.” In some cases this extends to the natural world as well. Paintings by the masters of their style, buildings of great beauty and spiritual or historical meaning, music that challenges as well as uplifts, tales and poems that entertain and encourage or that force the reader to work to fully catch all the shades and references that make a beautiful whole … all these things are derided, or waved away by some ideologies as luxuries, or corruptions, or as nothing but symbols of a corrupt and evil system that needs to be wiped away and replaced by a just, fair, and better world.

Certain religions-qua-religions worry about visual and musical art as leading to misunderstandings of Deity and as leading people into trouble. Given some of the music I’ve heard (and promptly crossed off my list), I can understand the concern. And some people do worship Art and Artist instead of what inspired that art. But people also worship athletes, actors, pop-music stars, politicians, and so on, so blaming visual art or music for a human tendency doesn’t seem quite fair.

For reasons beyond my ken, two weekends ago I started musing on the problem beauty poses for some people and ideologies. They don’t like it. They act uncomfortable with the very concept, or deride most works of art as decadent, unfair luxuries, tokens of power and excess wealth that should be in museums for all to see (the best response) or scrapped and replaced, or scrapped and not replaced because art is not needed in the world-that-should-be. Others insist that if it is easily understandable, obviously beautiful and attractive to the eye or the ear, then it is cheap, and wrong, and not worthy of true attention and study. They tend to be elitists of ugliness who insist that “Art that can be understood is not True Art” (with apologies to Daoists everywhere). Then there are the people who seem to recoil from the beautiful and the sublime, who seek only to tear down thousands of years of traditions all over the world, and replace it with— Nothing, as best I can tell. They act as if a Rembrandt painting, or a David portrait, causes them almost physical pain.

One link that might exist among all those different approaches, perhaps, is that making beauty or capturing beauty with a lens or words, requires effort and skill. It also implies a standard higher than the everyday, and perhaps a Creator greater than mankind, a force that made beauty in the world and that inspires men and women to strive to create as well. The idea that great results require great effort doesn’t fit some people’s world. It’s not fair, that some people are Jan van Eyche, and others are not. it isn’t fair or just that becoming a Tuomas Holopainen or Ralph Vaughn Williams or Johannes Brahms or Antonio Vivaldi requires so much innate talent as well as training and labor. Talents are not “equitable” or “fair” or “just.” Neither is working to perfect whatever skills a person does have.

Some great art is effortless for the beholder. You don’t need to know the stories of Christianity or Judaism to se the beauty in a portrait of the Virgin, or the drama of Judith sneaking back into the night with her maidservant and the head of Holofernes. A beautiful landscape captured by a photographer is beautiful in itself without understanding f-stops, depth of field, and other technical details. The knowledge helps, but is not required. You don’t have to know the complete story to be moved by Kenneth Branaugh’s speech before the battle in his film of Henry V.

The love of beauty is part of being human, I believe. Each culture defines beauty in a different way, but all value it to some degree. Those who refuse the beautiful, then inspiring, make a choice to reject. What they reject, and why, varies with the person, but that refusal carries a price. I fear, in the long run, some of those people end up rejecting humanity and their own spirits together.

“What profit a man to gain the world but lose beauty?” to tweak the Gospel verse. (Mark 8:36)

“She Walks in Beauty”

“She walks in beauty, like the night

Of cloudless climes and starry skies;

And all that’s best of dark and bright

Meet in her aspect and her eyes;

Thus mellowed to that tender light

Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,

Had half impaired the nameless grace

Which waves in every raven tress,

Or softly lightens o’er her face;

Where thoughts serenely sweet express,

How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,

So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,

The smiles that win, the tints that glow,

But tell of days in goodness spent,

A mind at peace with all below,

A heart whose love is innocent!”

I’d never really read this poem until I heard it recited by Ron Pearlman on a collection of poems and music from the series Beauty and the Beast. (This was before his politics became too much for me.) Byron’s not one of my favorite Romantic poets, but his focus on the inner as well a outer appearance of his inspiration always catches my attention. In some ways it reminds me of another poem, one I met through one of Louis Untermeyer’ anthologies. The poem is “To Mistress Margaret Hussey,” or sometimes, “Merry Margaret.”

“Merry Margaret,

As midsummer flower,

Gentle as a falcon

Or hawk of the tower:

With solace and gladness,

Much mirth and no madness,

All good and no badness;

So joyously,

So maidenly,

So womanly

Her demeaning

In every thing,

Far, far passing

That I can indite,

Or suffice to write

Of Merry Margaret

As midsummer flower,

Gentle as falcon

Or hawk of the tower.

As patient and still

And as full of good will

As fair Isaphill,


Sweet pomander,

Good Cassander,

Steadfast of thought,

Well made, well wrought,

Far may be sought

Ere that ye can find

So courteous, so kind

As Merry Margaret,

This midsummer flower,

Gentle as falcon

Or hawk of the tower.”

John Skelton was an early Tudor poet, so he was very far from the Romantics in terms of politics and sentiment, perhaps. And some people have read the poem as being what today is called ironic – she’s as sweet and gentle as a raptor? Really? Is that a compliment? At the time, yes, it was.

Both poems describe beauty, inner and outer. Bryon starts with the outer and pulls inward. Skelton focuses on Mistress Margaret’s personality and is less fascinated by her physical appearance. When I was younger, I really liked Skelton’s poem. I identified with the hawk-like personality, although the “sweet and goodwill” part did not suit me as a teen (goodwill toward mankind was very far down on my list of feelings.)

Today, Byron’s poem conjures up a painting from the 1800s, a young woman painted in semi profile, turning toward the painter. In the soft light of candles the viewer sees that she has dark hair, dark eyes, and a calm expression with a slight smile on her lips. She wear a silk-satin dress in the pink-grey-purple shade called “ash of roses.” The painter captures her inner tranquility and beauty along with her physical attractiveness.

Novel Progress Update

The draft of Herbs and Empire is done at 89K words. I’m going to let it simmer on the back burner for a while while I work on those two fantasy stories.

Fair warning, the French-flavored story is getting dark. It’s still a positive ending, and all ends pretty well, but dang, it’s going some grim places on the way.

I’m on the road, so I won’t be commenting today.

Saturday Snippet: Games and Fools

Art keeps one eye on the food and one on the gamers.

Art pretended to be disappointed. Clyde had already vanished in a food-ward direction. “Thank you. I’ll try to help keep chaos down to the usual level.”

Kim glanced over her shoulder, then leaned closer. “Thanks. Something about Sue’s giving me bad vibes, but she’s sober and not acting odd or anything.” The chemistry PhD student shivered. She came from a family of sensitives, Art remembered. Her grandfather had been a shaman or similar in South Korea.

“I’ll keep my eyes and ears open.” Kim had helped him with some academic messes in the past, and he owed her. “Dancing on the patio?”

She smiled and pointed that way as the doorbell rang. Art scooted out of the way. He glanced in the gaming room as he passed. Three tables had been set up. One held a board game and he smiled. Two Econ MAs had already started debating real-estate values. Luke, a history PhD candidate, ran a second game. He smiled and gave Art a thumb’s up from behind his GM screen. He’d stick to book spells. Art returned the gesture and made his way to food. It ranged from chips-n-dip to fancy home made ethnic goodies. He got a half-dozen sample nibbles of the “interesting” dishes and drifted out to the large patio. He shared the familial unfondness for crowded places.

The white stuff tasted “beany” in a good way. One bite of minced beef with harissa cleared his sinuses, eyes, and probably curled his hair. Garlic-rich hummus and pita pieces helped. Clyde reappeared and gave him a concerned look. “Ahmed made screaming beef,” Art squeaked, then cleared his throat. “Blue and white dish, spoon with fruit on the handle.”

“Yesssss!” Clyde headed for the kitchen, returning with a laden plate. None of the other grad students could remember the name of the dish, so “screaming beef” it was. “I love this stuff.” Clyde ate a large fork-full.

“I hope you and my dad never start trading recipes.” Art soothed his still-smoldering tongue with a bite of creamy, rich flan.

Clyde stopped devouring long enough to suggest, “Introduce him to Dr. Hashmi-the-Engineer,” then plunged into the beef-n-peppers once more.

Stomach padded for the moment, Art found a can of fancy flavored water then tried to decide what to do. A ‘pop’ of magic from behind him, followed by slightly raised voices, got his attention. He made his way back into the main house.

“Aw, come on. It’s just a level one, see?” A young man Art didn’t know waved a page at Luke. “It can’t do anything real.”

“It almost did,” Pedro replied from the other table. “I felt it and blocked it.”

“I felt it,” Luke snapped from behind his screen. “Art?”

“I felt the spell, yes,” Art replied, careful not to say which one. “Stick with what’s in the book, please. None of us want a repeat of the giggling snake mess.”

An older grad student at the board game table waved her tree-of-life pendent at them. Art nodded and she relaxed. She was a member of th Tuesday-night coven, and had been on back-up that night.

Luke cleared his throat. “That’s why made-up spells are prohibited. You’ve got three books to work from. Stick with those, or leave the game, please.”

The girl beside him, Lizzie, rolled her eyes. “Teo, just use a canned spell so we can see what’s waiting up ahead before we die of old age.”

Teo glared at everyone, then snapped, “Fine. I cast ‘far sight’ fifty yards.” He rolled a pair of purple and yellow dice. The colors raise Art’s hackles, but he didn’t sense or see any magic other than Pedro’s shield and the witch’s defenses. Art retreated to the patio again as groans and cheers rose from around the board game, and one of the econ MAs snarled, “Bankrupt, dang it.”

Lord, but he did not want the senior Hunter descending on them over another imaginary-creature-gone wild! Art got some spiced cider and watched as Kellie, one of the history-Eastern Europe MAs tried to pass Dr. Millie’s field sobriety test. “Two X plus three equals eleven. Solve for X.” Doc Millie handed Kellie a small whiteboard with the equation. Kellie, already two-and-a-half sheets into the wind, failed. Kim took the younger student’s keys and added her to the list of people to be driven home.

Art roamed around again and spent a few minutes heckling the folks playing Cat Creator on one of the computer gaming rigs. “Come on, Clyde’s ahead by ten,” he teased Peter Trinh, one of the biology PhDs.

P.T. gave him a rude sign in Vietnamese and muttered, “Quality, not quantity.” He also pointed to Zair. “She’s beating both of us. Not fair.” Zair stuck her tongue out at him and finished her creation, a serval-like feline with a plaid coat. Plaid? Art blinked and peered. Yes, plaid. “That’s just wrong,” P.T. grumbled.

“Wrong but legal,” Clyde declared, then groaned. His cat abruptly dumped its fur and slunk off screen. Apparently, his modification didn’t work. Art eased out of the group and went back downstairs. As he did, he caught sight of Sue. She appeared to be en route to the plant room, so he followed.

Bob Squared still held forth in the corner, giving advice and dreadful warnings about how to navigate the administration. “When it says, ‘Submit within two days of proposed defense date?’ It lies.” He leaned forward. “At least two weeks. You’ve got to have the second draft done and turned in at least two weeks before your proposed date, and the date cleared with everyone on the committee, especially the outside member.”

“But, how can we do all that so close to the end of the semester?” a very young looking grad student protested. “If it says two days, it means two days, right?”

Bob Squared, Art, and several other experienced grad students all shook their heads. Bob took a long swig from his bottle of beer. “No. Two days means two weeks. Two days goes back to when you had submitted the dissertation in paper, gotten it approved, circulated it to the committee already, and the office had assigned a defense date. So two days was enough to confirm everything, in case of illness.” Another swig. “Now that we have to do the work, it’s two weeks.”

“That’s not fair.” The young woman’s whine caused everyone to lean away from her. Art memorized her, just in case he had to deal with her. “Two days should be two days.”

A chorus of snorts greeted her words. “In a just world, yeah, it should be. University’s not a just world,” Sue grumbled. “Listen to Bob and the rest of us. We’ve been burned already. Spare yourself the pain.” Pure cynicism dripped from her voice, joining the disdain in her expression.

Oh great. She’s already in a mood. And what’s with her dress?

Friday Fragment: When Parties Get Wild

This story takes place between “Casting the Die” and Overly Familiar.

“Hey, Art, are you coming?”

Thomas Arthur “Art” Chan looked up from the next-to-last grammar worksheet. “I will once I finish this one.” He’d reserved Mr. Griffin’s paper for last for a reason. If he didn’t take a break from grading, he’d do something regrettable. Like using some of his grandfather’s pungent phrases of disapprobation, which would cause the paint on the office walls to scorch. He’d already muttered more than one Slavic malediction at the undergrads’ papers.

Clyde gave him a thumbs up and returned to his own lair. Art waded back into the fray, fighting the forces of ignorance and bad handwriting. Was it an “i”, a “j”, or an “I’ll put something down and hope Mr. Chan and Dr. Podjauski accept it?” Art compared the word in question to earlier words and marked it incorrect. Mr. De Leon would pass, barely. Art entered the grade, then locked the papers, key, and pens in their drawers. He turned off the computer and triggered the shield spell on both desk and terminal. Better safe than sorry.

Clyde locked his own door as Art shrugged on his jacket. “If one more person writes, ‘Andrew Jackson was a product of his time,’ I will turn on auto-flunk,” the morose historian grumbled under his breath.

“If your grading program has that function, I want to borrow it,” Art muttered back, equally quietly. A passing administrator gave them a sharp look, and Art continued, “Every update takes away a function I like and adds something useless.”

A vehement nod greeted his words. Clyde sighed, “The invisible tool bar. Do not get me started.” The administrator continued past without further signs of suspicion. “Are there any undergrads left in the building? Thanks.” Clyde followed Art out the door.

“Shouldn’t be.” Nor should there be any administrators. It was Friday. Halloween was Monday. The partying had begun on Thursday. “Or parents, either.” Art glanced over his shoulder. “Dr. Ricardo’s working.”

“Of course. “He’s got two articles to finish before November fifteenth, or he goes on warning from the tenure committee.” Clyde pulled his jacket closer. “Not his fault, but . . .”

“Yeah.” Art nodded with sympathy. He had four published articles and a book chapter already. That was over half the requirement for tenure, and he wasn’t finished with his PhD in Slavic Languages yet. He already had the doctorate in theoretical thaumatology, just not officially. “So, the Green Lemurs are playing at the usual?”

“Them and someone I’ve never heard of before. Gypsy something.”

Art reached out with a little magic as they waited for the light to change. Only the usual flows of power appeared. He upped his shields even so. Accidental magic tended to bobble up this time of year, along with deliberate magic. The light turned green, the walk chirp sounded, and he and Clyde crossed the street. A little breeze teased, hinting that the warm days would end sooner than most people wanted. They’d had a hard freeze already, thanks be. Mosquitoes had been fierce that year.

Hands jammed in his jacket pockets, Clyde asked, “You know anything about that new Polish history reader, the one from Cornell?” He glanced to the left and winced. “That’s expensive.”

“No shit.” A fancy sedan perched in the back of a tow-truck. Someone had parked in the fire access lane for the chemistry building. They would regret that error. “And yes, I’ve seen excerpts of the reader. It’s OK, but you need a solid chronology already for it to work.” He paused as they trotted across the parking lot. “Good to excellent translations, though.”

“Thanks. That’s what I was worried ab—” The roar of a diesel engine drowned him out. The big pickup raced through the lot, clipped the corner, and vanished into the night. The guys shrugged. “Worried about. I’ll stick with what I’m using now.”

Art nodded his agreement. They walked in friendly silence the rest of the way. Art extended his magic a little, more out of habit than actual concern. Yes, Halloween inspired foolishness, but mostly harmless. Mostly. He sensed the usual flows both shadow power and the common streams in the land and air. Elementals tended to avoid the university. A handful of shielded people moved here and there, including Prof. Jacob Renfrew, the herbalist-sorcerer. As normal an evening as ever one encountered around this part of Riverton, in other words. Clyde sniffed the air and nudged Art. They eased away from the hedge and wall beside the dorm yard. It wasn’t entirely pot someone indulged in. Art didn’t bother sighing. My reality is crazy enough without adding chemicals, thanks.

They left campus proper and entered the district of historic homes and student rentals. “Dang, that’s great!” Clyde pointed to a large carved pumpkin that bore a near perfect portrait of the Head of the History Department, down to his reading glasses. Someone had carefully frayed the pumpkin’s stem and managed a passable comb-over. He and Art both paused and bowed to the chairman. A similar portrait of Dean T. Williamson graced the top step of the large house’s porch. A candy cigarette drooped from the pumpkin’s lower lip. “I sense Millie’s hand at work,” Clyde observed, then rang the doorbell.

“Oh yeah. She’s gotten really good.” Millie, or Professor Millicent O’Toole, had taken up carving as a hobby two years ago and had discovered a natural gift. The wicked sense of humor, well, she’d always had that, if rumor and legend were true. She taught math up through calculus and struck terror in the hearts of accounting students and administrators alike. “I wonder who commissioned those?”

“Or if she’s venting?” The door opened and Clyde switched topics. “Haallllllooo, gorgeous!”

“Flattery will get you anywhere,” Kim informed him with a smile, letting both grad students into the house. “Games are there,” she pointed to the next room, “video games in the upstairs den, food’s in the kitchen and dining room, dancing on the back porch, beer fridge’s locked.” She winked. “Unless you are sober enough to do algebra in your head.”

“Madame, you are discriminating against liberal-arts students,” Art intoned, doing his best to mimic Dr. Artemisia-Jones.

“Yes, I am, as is Dr. O’Toole. She’s checking ID for Kyle, Tim, and me. Oh, and Bob Squared’s in the corner of the plant room terrifying the poli-sci grad students.” She closed the door behind them. “So you don’t have to.” Another wink.

Art pretended to be disappointed. Clyde had already vanished in a food-ward direction. “Thank you. I’ll try to help keep chaos down to the usual level.”

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

Born For and Born To in the Merchant World

This is a repost from 2021, because of Day Job duties. New material resumes tomorrow. A quick reminder, Saxo Birdson is born for Yoorst, born to either Korvaal or the Scavenger.

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. [Merchant, Priest, and Empire, and yes, there will be a corrected edition in the next few months.]

Wednesday Wee-bit

This is the opening fragment of the next project. The setting is Medieval France, down in the Vosges Mountains, on the edges of the Holy Roman Empire and what was claimed by the kings in Paris. It was inspired by parts of the song “Blind and Frozen” by Beast in Black.

“All of us, Condessa?” Arnauld had not allowed himself to hope for half a decade and more.

Condessa Leonie d’Vosge inclined her head and spread her arms, graceful and welcoming. “But of course. The land needs defenders, experienced men to protect it.” She gestured to herself with one delicate, brown-gloved hand. “I have reached the end of what can be done without strong arms and steel.”

She spoke only the truth—even powerful magic could only so so much. Arnauld respected her honesty. Behind him, the rest of the Wolf’s Paws murmured. He sensed their approval as well. He glanced to Gaston. The lean Aquitanian nodded and gestured “all agree.”

Arnauld de’Loup bowed. “Then we accept your offer, Condessa. We will stay and defend your lands, per the contract offered.” Food, shelter, arms, permission to wed if any of the local women and their families agreed, it was far better than their last contracts.

“Thank you.” She smiled, a smile that welcomed all. “There are quarters here in the fortress, or you may take up residence in the manor village below. The water supply is better there.” The smile turned a touch weary and wry together. “My honored ancestors trusted perhaps a little overmuch to the saints and Virgin to hear their pleas for rain and snow for the cisterns.”

Arnauld considered. The horses needed more water than did men, and dividing their numbers might be wise. “My lady, we will look at the quarters, and the land, and decide which will better serve.” Gaston nodded, as did the other men. The horses had no preference, yet. Although, given the steepness of the road, they might well voice their opinions in a forceful manner indeed come winter!

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

State of the Author – March ’23

The next Merchant book is at 32K words. I hope to make decent progress this coming week.

I have three stories to finish for the next Familiar Generations collection. They are on the back burner for the moment. I do not have release dates for either of those.

Two short stories or novellas, both music inspired and both fantasy, are also on the back burner. They are not part of any series at the moment.

I’m reading a number of books, including Charles Murry’s By The People. Just his descriptions of Supreme Court cases makes the book useful for me. I’m not entirely sure about some of his ideas, but he makes good arguments and it’s a great spring-board for discussion.

David Carrico’s The Blood is the Life is good thus far. How can you be a faithful Orthodox Jewish vampire? Carrico does characters very well, and I’m enjoying the book.