Sunday, April 29, 2018

Sending a book proposal.

First the first time in a long time, and probably only really the second serious attempt ever, I've sent book proposals off for "Time In/Time Out" to the only major publisher and only major agent I've had any real contact with.

I figure there is a 70% chance of no answer at all, a 20% chance of an outright rejection, and a 10% chance of a tepid interest. Heh.

But not sending it off at all would result in the same, so no harm and no foul.

I tend to write quirky genre novels, which are limited probably by being both quirky and genre. But this book I think has real commercial possibilities. It's got a strong premise and a breezy tone.

I sent the first 40,000 words and a synopsis.

I don't think I'm rushing it. These guys are looking for strong premises and commercial potential above anything else, and I think what I sent will either catch their interest...or not.

It is a bit of an impulse, but what I've learned about myself is--either I do it by impulse, or I have second-thoughts and don't do it at all.

I have, I think, a very realistic view of the publishing terrain, so I won't be disappointed, whatever happens. I won't take it personal. It's the way of the world.

New title: "Time In/Time Out"

I'm thinking of changing the title of my larping book to "Time In/Time Out."

I've never had a book do this before. A hugely strong first 30,000 words, written in 4 days, two days off, then another 10,000 good words off of the steam of that beginning in another 4 days.

But all the threads don't lead anywhere. They don't excite me. I like everything I've written a lot, but I feel like if I extend them, they'll weaken. It feels more like a duty to extend them.

Then again, the first 40,000 words are really the set up. The situation, the characters, the stakes, the world.

So it occurred to me on my walk to treat the next 40,000 words almost as a new beginning, a new story, if you will, using everything I've set up to drive to an ending.

New beginnings are always the best, and if a book is a series of new beginnings--at the same time it continues the basic premise--then it keeps up the excitement. It especially inspires me to write.

I'm even thinking of labeling Parts One and Parts Two with the tags "Time In" and "Time Out," and having the title of the book be "Time In/Time Out."

I've figured out a little trick to raise the stakes.

I have to do is coming up with 5 puzzle stories, or at least 5 different LARP scenarios, that the two sides have to play against each other, with the stakes raised with each game until at the end it becomes real life and death.

I'm thinking one per genre.


What for the fifth? Maybe Steampunk? If I could pull it off, romance would be cool, but I'm not sure I know how to do that. Maybe give it a try, since each scenario will be like writing a short story.

Very cool.

I think I've got it.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Leaving perfectly good stories behind.

When a story comes to me I immediately start writing it.

When I came back to writing I told myself that I would write everything. I know that's unrealistic and impractical in real life, but amazingly, I've been able to mostly follow through as long as I write every day.

I also love first drafts. I love telling the stories to myself.

I do not love editing. I realize the necessity, and I've come to terms with it, but it always a cinch-my-belt moment to sit down and actually do it.

So when the stories come fast and furious, I'm finishing entire first drafts and then immediately jumping into the next story, and then into the next.

And the books I so loved writing sit abandoned, unedited.

The sad part is that I can edit a book about twice as fast as I can write one, so effectively, I could produce twice as many books if I just edited them.

But no, I'm so enamored with storytelling that I always give myself permission to do that first. I can always go back to editing, I tell myself, whereas the story that's scratching at my brain isn't going to wait around.

I hope I don't get hit be a truck before I have a chance to polish off all the stories I've accumulated.


"Fateplay" is more about mood and tone than anything else. The plot is coming slowly, chapter by chapter. Not sure where it's leading. But the characters feel engaging to me. I'm enjoying the interplay between them.

I want to avoid getting too cute. I don't much like that when I read it in other's fiction and I think it's an easy trap to fall into.

But then again, having them a little "cute" adds to the appeal. So that's a fine line.

When I start every day's writing session, it's the mood and tone that I call up. Then I'm trying to figure out how to get these charming folk moving around. Heh.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Why don't I care about awards?

It's weird, but I simply can't get interested in awards for either books or comics. My eyes glaze over instantly. I just don't care.

It's not a moral objection, I don't think. It's not because I doubt the accuracy of them. (Though I do. I suspect that in-crowd politics is the biggest factor.) It just seems superfluous, somehow.

I know that it would probably help sales at the store to pay attention, to be aware of who is "important."

But again, I just don't seem to care.

Same thing with bestseller lists. I ignore them.

I have a budget. By the time I've ordered the replacement books that I know I can sell, and added a few more books that I've always wanted to carry, there is little left in the budget. I almost never feel like wasting it on any current bestsellers.

I used to have the objection that new bestsellers, especially hardbacks, are discounted so heavily by places like B & N and Costco that having them at full price just makes us look bad. But...after a few experiments I found that I could actually sell them

Not a lot of them, but one or two. But these experiments were almost always books that caught my attention in some other way. Either reading a description of them somewhere or having someone ask for them.

In this case, my lack of interest might even help. Books rise to my consciousness because somehow they need to. If enough people mention Ready Player One or World War Z, then I'll go out and get it. Doesn't matter if they are on the bestseller lists, what matters is people want them. (I know, same thing--but there is a difference in approach.)

I've mentioned before that most indie bookstores seem to carry the same stuff--the ABA approved lists and bestsellers and heavily reviewed and contest winners.

How can I be right and all of them wrong?

I don't know. I just think individual curation is more valuable in the long run. Paying attention to what actually sells not what people tell you sells.

It seems to me to be foolish to spend almost all your budget on newer books that may or may not sell. Which may or may not be any good--no matter what the bestsellers lists and contests tell you. The same books everyone else has--books which more often than not have a snob appeal.

Meanwhile genre books that actually have a following are ignored.

But most importantly, it's not taking advantage of the history of books. You can pick books out that have a proven track record. Or books you've read. Or authors you like. Or books that have stood the test of time. Or books that have a cult following.

People off the street see these kinds of books and get excited.

If I've fallen off in my job it's from not being diligent about having all these types of books.

Not from missing out on award winners or books on bestseller lists.

Same thing with graphic novels. I pay some attention to awards just so I don't miss on quality stuff, but generally the quality stuff is apparent without the reminder of awards.

I will say, if I was a full-service bookstore, instead of books being a part of my business, I might have a different attitude.

I should also say that people don't necessarily come to us for books--we sell off the street to people who wander in, so having a great selection of great books is probably more important than having the newest bestseller--and admittedly, if I was a full-service store I'd probably be driven crazy by the constant lemming requests for the Big New Thing.

And I do believe if I could force myself to be interested, I could probably cherry-pick both the bestseller lists and the award winners.

If I can just force my eyes not to glaze over.

Writers love trivia.

Doing my daily hour walk in the high desert, surrounded by juniper trees.

I write a fair number of stories set in this terrain, and casually mention the juniper trees often. I mean, it's more specific than "trees" but not by much. It's it bit like saying Toyota instead of "car." It's more of a telling detail but not a lot more.

The thing is, though, that as I contemplate this, I realize I have an reservoir of knowledge about the juniper trees.

They are long living trees, over 1000 years in some cases. They suck up water, making it difficult for shrubs like bitter brush to survive, thus impacting on the deer population. Before homesteading in the high desert in the wet early part of the 1900's, the junipers mostly lived in high rocky places where the fires couldn't get them.

With land clearing and fire suppression, the juniper population took off, now covering 165% more territory. The wood isn't useful as firewood because it burns too hot. In fact, anyone who can find a really good use for juniper trees would have lots of material to work with.

Old growth junipers can be identified by having rounder tops, with dead branches poking up, with lichen covering the lower branches. Old growth is protected, but it would be good for the ecology of the area if the new growth could be curtailed. Old growth is important for the bird population.

So I know this off the top of my head. (I've lived in Central Oregon my whole life. I read placards at the foot of hiking trails every time I see them)

Here's the point I'm trying to make. At any point in a story any of the above facts can add verisimilitude and or telling detail to a story. I don't have to research this, it's just there.

I'm a fact gatherer, I love just scooping up info at random for no good reason. I read anything that grabs my interest whether it makes sense or not.

I'm currently reading a book about North Wall of the Eiger. I have no idea why. I'm not ever going to be a mountain climber. But...the first nine men who tried to climb the wall died. Why would you want to be the tenth attempt? For the first couple decades you had about a 50% chance of dying versus getting to the summit.

Thing is, I've written lots of stories where the characters are struggling with the elements--snow, heights, ect.

All this adds to the ability to write a story. Just these little random facts. As long as you don't go too crazy doing them.

I rely on my general knowledge to get me through the first draft because I don't want to have to stop my progress to look stuff up. That's a different part of the brain.

After I'm done, I do research, find out where I've got the details wrong, find new details that are pertinent, but it's rare that I'm so wrong I can't use what I've written with a little jiggering.

Anyway, my suspicion is that most writers are like this. General knowledge that they can dip into to add telling detail to their stories. Without these little bits of color, the story inevitably seems bland and generic.

There are more than enough bland and generic stories in the world.

Give us a little juice.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

How much fanboy is too much fanboy?

The more I write "Fateplay" the more I realized it is hopelessly fanboyish. I'm not sure about the propriety of using so many licensed references--which, ironically, is the subject of the book in some ways.

It's probably also a little fanboyish as an older guy--I mean, I'm pretty hip to pop culture for someone my age. But I certainly don't have the reference landscape that, say, Sabrina, my mid-twenties manager, has. I can try to research that, but so much of it is inherent in one's history. Fortunately, in this day and age things don't really disappear, but just become added upon. Star Wars is still out there. LOTR's, ect. big as ever, but what I'd like to do is find some just barely recognizable pop culture references from the last few years.

The trick is to have enough cool references to let people feel like they're hip to know them, but not so obscure that it is all meaningless jargon.

Cthulhu is probably a good reference point. Far too big in nerd culture to ignore, and yet the mainstream population still seems to be mostly ignorant of what it is. So I think things like Cthulhu are probably on the borderline, which is where I want to be.

But I'm pretty sure I mustn't pander. That it all has to be genuine.

Whatever happens, I'm enjoying the hell out of writing it.

The other thing about this book is that is proves once again that there is no routine way to write a book, even for me.

This started off with a few paragraphs in my mind as I woke up. (I'm not sure what this phenomenon is--it really doesn't come from dreams, it's just as if my unconscious mind has been at work and offers it up.)

It exploded into a ten hour day of writing, or 9500 words. The next day was almost as strong, about 8500 words. The third day was another 6500 words, and the fourth was 4000 words before I hit a wall. The second half of the day I couldn't think of a thing.

Worked the next day, and the following day I still had nothing. So after that fast start I had two unfruitful days.

I had a vague notion yesterday and struggled to write a chapter, coming in at 2500 words.

Then woke up this morning with a bunch of ideas for the next few chapters.

So who knows how this works? About the only thing I can do is be diligent. Leave myself open to when it happens.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Writing too fast?

I usually impose a 2000 word limit on writing. If I do 1000 or 3000, that's fine, it all evens out. I just try to make sure that I do that almost every day. To me, that isn't an extraordinarily high number, especially if I devote the entire day to it.

I came on this number after a lot of hit and miss. Basically, I decided that it was a productive number and also rested the creative brain for the next day.

But every once in a while a book explodes out of the gate and I just grab on and ride it to wherever it wants to go. There is no sense not letting inspiration take over when it comes along.

So with this new story, "Fateplay," I wrote nearly 30,000 words in four days. I'm not sure that's the fastest I've ever written, but it's up there.

Thing is, to me it reads just as well as my slower written material--if not better. The excitement, the forward momentum shines through.

Two things help. It's a first person story and it's told sequentially. What usually fouls me up in a story is getting the plot timing all sideways and backward. Writing from a first person perspective usually keeps this from happening. Writing from first person is just easier somehow, you're inhabiting the main character and just letting things flow.

Of course, it needs some editing, but no more than usual I believe.

In other words, I don't think writing this fast is a bad thing unless I'm forcing it. I'm trying to be careful about not forcing it. I want it all to feel fresh and in the moment.

I had to work the store yesterday, so didn't write a word. I'm not upset by it. I had reached a natural break point. But if this book gets entirely written in 10 days or something like that I'm not going to freak out about it.

Then again, I may get blocked and I'm not going to freak out about that either.

The story is what the story is.

Once again, there are some basic plot problems that arise from the original premise that don't become apparent until I'm well into the book. It's rare that I don't have these kinds of second thoughts. But I'm not messing with it. To me, it reads really well. It's only when I intellectually pick it apart that I see the problems.

Four big problems I see:

1.) the main character wins the lottery--big bucks, which he invests into Larping conventions.

Winning the lottery is kind of lame as a story device, and yet--it's really what made it fun to write. The "what if" daydreaming side of it really propelled the first part of the story.

2.) The basic McGuffin is that the good guys and bad guys are fighting over control of---control over a corporation. Over stock shares, essentially. Which is super lame. But there are bigger stakes.

3.) the plotting is a little awkward, a little live scene I added to the front, then the "telling" of his winning the lottery and what he does. Then he meets his mentor, and all the stakes are revealed, and then he has a chapter where he remembers meeting each of the five biggest shareholders, one after the other. Intellectually, almost none of this works. But I think it reads really well. Maybe I'm just kidding myself.

4.) the story involves cosplay and larping, and while as a comic shop owner for so many years I have a bit of awareness of this world, it really isn't MY world. I've set the action 15 years in the future so that I have some leeway with my imagination, but I'm going to need to delve into this world when I'm done writing to add to the verisimilitude.

These are doubts I'm shoving to the side and pressing forward.

Why? Because I'm having so much fun. That has to mean something. 

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Blowing through this book.

23,500 words in three days.

But yesterday I definitely hit a wall in the afternoon. Wracked my brains for another story thread but nothing came. Lay down and napped three or four times, wandered around asking myself questions, went to sleep last night puzzling over it, hoping to prime some dreams.

The story started off so fast and breezy that it's a little alarming for it to screech to a halt.

Part of it is that the further into a story, the more the needs of a plot dictate what you write. You can't just go off half-cocked and see where it leads as much.

But today I'm going to try to recapture the tone and not worry so much about the plot. The tone basically comes from the characters, so I just need them to lead the way. But I don't want to force it. It needs to be inspired. If I have to wait a couple of days, so be it.


Took and shower and Bamm! The ideas started flowing. There's a moment when something just "clicks," when you know you've got it.

It's a mystery.

So the next section of the book is pretty much figured out.

From the beginning premise, I more or less set up five Herculean tasks for the hero, but I've already blown through four out of the five and I'm only a third of the way through the book. I was going to pull a little trick and have the last task fragmented into another five tasks, and I'll probably still do that, but the next section is a bit of a detour. An interesting detour, hopefully, that brings in the larger theme of the novel so that it will have sufficient impact at the end.

But most importantly, I'm looking forward to writing it, that inner excitement to signals a fruitful writing session.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

FATEPLAY, a new story.

Spent four days not writing, not sure what I wanted to write next.

On the fifth day I woke up with the first 3 paragraphs of a story. I sat down and eight hours later I got up having written 10,000 words. Yes, 10,000 words. Got up the next day and wrote 8000 words.

Crazy. I absolutely love it, and not only isn't the speed of writing not hurting the story, it seems to be helping it. 

Linda says, "This one seems to have a little extra umphh. I can follow and see it all. It has a life."

The tentative title is "FATEPLAY," and it involves a future world of Larping and Cosplay where just about everyone goes about their daily life dressed as a character and Larping conventions are a very big deal.

It is a total daydream. I'm sort of learning to do what I want, if that makes sense.

Thing is, while I'm a nerd, I never could quite get into role-playing. For one thing, it always seemed to me to be the same energy I use for writing and the first time I saw D & D, I was already a writer.

The Cosplay is a little too out-there for me. I'm a very buttoned down person, not terribly flamboyant. My usual desire is to fit in.

But because of owning a comic/pop-culture store for 35 years I'm somewhat conversant with all the little bits of nerdism that are at play.

Specificity of Larping is going to be a bit of a problem, but I'm setting it twenty years in the future so I'm giving myself the ability to flat out make it up.

For details, I'll be going on Youtube and researching it online.

But, right or wrong, I'm writing the story first--I'll add in the specific Larping sessions later.

It really comes down to character and tone, and this story has those in spades.

MOREGONE, complete.

All the chapters of Moregone have been posted on my blog. A little over 30,000 word novella.

This is how a first draft looks, more or less in real time. It's all mostly there, with typos and inconsistencies and all the rest. It was a joy to write, my fourth complete "Tale of the Thirteenth Principality."

As I've mentioned, I intend to write a bunch of these before I officially publish them, because I'm fleshing out the world and want to spread all that over all the stories.

This is my entree into fantasy since I couldn't face building a whole world in advance. This way I world-build and tell stories at the same time.

MOREGONE, a blog story, Epilogue (the end.)

Epilogue.) The time came for us to leave. I made my way to the great tree where the torn down shed once stood. It appeared to be nothing more than an ancient but healthy crabapple tree. The villagers had erected a small shrine at the base, but I ignored it. Seed to me was a friend, not a God.
I touched the bark with the palm of my hand.
“Farewell, Seed. For what is a person but the sum of their memories? You have returned myself to me. Thank you.”
There was no answer nor did I expect one. The giant tree had not moved sense the day of the battle.
Yet…I felt something move up my hand and down my arm and into my heart.
A lightening of my burdens, just a little.

*  *  *

We found the two bags of gems, and since we had extra room on the pack mules, we loaded up what artichokes we could harvest from the neglected fields. To our great surprise, the crop proved to be almost as lucrative to the expedition as the precious stones. While we were gone, the shortage of artichokes had finally been noticed, and they were considered a precious commodity.
Also remembered was the Eleventh Principality. No one looked confused when we mentioned Moregone, and no one seemed aware that they had ever forgotten.
The path to the Tenth Principality was clear and straight, and followed the contours that I remembered.
In the end, I was able to convince all the backers of the caravan to accept smaller percentages than originally agreed. That it was still a very profitable enterprise helped. The merchant, Jonder Maze, who had so loved artichokes that he’d financed half of the expedition, offered me great riches if I would bring back artichokes cuttings to be grown in the Fifth Principality. I respectfully declined, for I had learned my lesson.
As the members of the caravan told their stories, they were disappointed to find that no one believed them. To most of the inhabitants of the principalities, Moregone had never been missing, therefore it never needed to be found. No one believes the story about Shatterspawn the dragon; everyone knows dragons are extinct. At the same time, all talk of an “outside” is—as has always been so--instantly dismissed and forgotten.
Not forgotten were the memories the Beginning Tree granted me.
I had always been known as The Eternal Wanderer. It was at this time that I gained another title: Keeper of Memories.
Now everywhere I wander people ask me questions, and I answer when and where I think it is helpful and decline to speak where it isn’t. Most people accept this mystery, just as they accept the other mysteries of the Thirteen Principalities.
Though I rebuilt my vacation home in Carsan. The Beginning Tree never seems to grow very large, and only occasionally bears fruit. But the orchards surrounding are thriving and the crabapples, which had once been an afterthought in the Thirteen Principalities, were now considered a delicacy.
I wander the lands, the Keeper of Memories, and wonder when the Mirror God will once again emerge to wipe clean the memories of the people of this land.
I intend to be here afterwards to remind them of what they’ve lost.
The poppy fields are gone and forgotten, replaced by artichokes, as it should be.
Every once in a while, a bright red flower pops up among the fields, plucked by the people of Moregone as weeds. They are a reminder to me, if no one else, that outside the Thirteen Principalities is a world outside that would overwhelm us if it could.
It is up to the Keeper of Memories to keep that from happening.

The End

Friday, April 20, 2018

MOREGONE, a blog story, 24.)

24.) As I reached the open area between the orchard and the shed, I stopped running. My people were outside, lined up against the rough planks. The Outsiders were formed in a firing line of bowmen, and Martin was to one side, his hand raised. The villagers surrounded both groups, watching helplessly.
They looked defeated, demoralized.
When I appeared, I saw both alarm and relief in the eyes of my people. I walked confidently up to Martin and Carter.
“I’m ready to tell you what you want to know,” I said.
Martin shook his head. “Too easy, boss. Put a few arrows into his people and see what he says then.”
“If you do that, I won’t tell you anything,” I said. For a few seconds I tricked myself into thinking I’d turned the blackmail upside down.
Carter eyed me. Then he walked up to me and punched me in the stomach. I bent in half and retched. Exposed, he slammed his boot into my face. When the pain faded, I was on my back and the big man was looming over me.
“Too bad you didn’t tell me what I wanted to know last night,” Carter said. “Now I’ve got to make an example of you.” He motioned for a couple of his men to lift me to my feet. “Put him against the wall. Move aside people.”
I saw the will to fight in Marston and Tomber’s eyes. But since their hands were still tied, I shook my head firmly. I was slammed against the loose planks, managed to stay on my feet.
Martin chose three of the bowmen to face me.
Memories flooded my mind as they had when I was falling from the mountain, but instead of being confusing, each image was distinct and yet part of the whole, each following the other, fitting neatly into the story of my life. It should have taken hours, days, or weeks for so many memories to unfold and yet in that time, I saw Martin just beginning to raise his arm.
I’m not sure why I wasn’t afraid except I saw how little my own life mattered.
Not only my own memories were gifted. I was given a true history of this world from its beginning, for the Beginning Tree—or the Being that inhabited it—had been alive from the beginning of life. So I learned everything that had ever happened.
My human mind couldn’t contain it all. But these memories existed outside of me and I could dip into them and see them any time I wanted.  
Distantly, I heard a murmuring sound. It was coming from the villagers, who were turning away and looking outward.
Martin hesitated, then put his palm out and slowly lowered his hand. “Form a line!” he shouted. He grabbed several of the bowmen and turned them around to face the new threat.
The villagers parted.
 Seed had grown into a tree, tall and broad, branches thick and strong, dark blue green leaves with sharp edges. Roots sprouted from beneath the trunk, and the roots moved as if they were legs. If I had not known Seed perhaps I wouldn’t have seen the eyes far up the trunk, or the knot where his nose had been, or the slash in the wood that would be his mouth.  
He walked slowly but gulped up the ground in great strides. Arrows flew toward the brown behemoth, most bouncing off, some managing to penetrate the bark. Seed didn’t seem hurt.
He reached the first of the Outsiders, swept down with a leafy branch and the humans tumbled away, lacerated by the leaves, shouting until they landed and then lying quiet.
Seed stopped and stared down at the Outsiders, many of who were dropping their bows and their swords and backing away.
The villagers had watched with open mouths as Seed approached, nowturned on their imprisoners, who were quickly overwhelmed. Most of my people had freed themselves and were joining the fray.
Carter had neglected to tie my hands, secure that he had me firmly in control. As one of the guards backed away from the carnage, I stripped him of his sword and ran at the big man, who turned in time to ward off my first blow.
Martin was a few feet away, fighting a swirling red dervish. Lady Favory was the best sword fighter I’d ever seen. Marston was in the middle of the melee, using the legs of a chair as a club. Tomber strode amongst the villagers, urging them on.
Carter removed a dark object from his belt and pointed it at me.
A gun, came the memory. There was no chance of reaching him in time.
He pulled the trigger. There was a loud click, heard even above the fighting, and then he threw the useless weapon at my head. My sword pierced him in the middle of his chest. He grunted, grabbed the blade with his bare hands, which slid along the length, leaving a red streak on the metal.
I withdrew the blade and he swayed for a few moments, fell to his knees, and then over onto his side.
Martin was still somehow warding off Favory, but as I watched, her blade swished across his throat, and a crescent of blood sprayed outward.
The rest of the Outsiders were clumped together in the middle of the fight, backs to each other, surrounded by villagers and caravaners.
“Surrender!” I shouted, striding toward them. “Throw down your weapons and you’ll live!”
The Outsiders didn’t hesitate. Overzealous villagers clubbed one or two, but the battle was over. They were rounded up and placed inside the shed. I decided they didn’t need to be tied up. They were completely beaten.
When I stepped out again, the villagers were in a circle around Seed, on their knees, their heads down. Seed’s roots seemed to be firmly planted into the ground. I looked for his eyes, but they were gone. I had the sense that the Seed I’d known was gone, replaced by something older.
Hiemhol rose from the circle and approached the tree, putting his hand on the bark. “Yes,” he said. “I understand.”
Something struck me on the top of my head. Next to me, Tomber cursed, looking up. Apples rained down on us. It stung a little, but it probably served us right.
As one, the villagers gathered the apples and approached the shed.
“What are you doing?” I asked, afraid they were going to hurt the Outsiders, who I’d given a promise of safety.
“As we are commanded,” Heimhol said. “The strangers must forget this place and return from where they came.”
I nodded to Marston and Tomber to let them by, and then followed curiously. The Outsiders were naturally suspicious, but they didn’t have any choice. One by one, they bit into the apples.
Nothing happened at first. But late in the morning, one of them came out of the shed. Marston challenged him, but it was as if he didn’t hear. He went into one of the houses and started packing. One by one, the others emerged, none of them seeming aware of their surroundings, certainly not of the villagers and caravaners who watched.
They put on their backpacks and walked away from Carsan, disappearing into the Shield Mountains.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

MOREGONE, a blog story, 23.)

23.) Hands tied, we were led to a large shed on the other side of the poppy fields, which hadn’t been visible from Carsan. It was crudely built and the slats were loosely fitted. The most work had been done on the roof, which looked sturdy. There were long benches down the middle of the open interior, where the extracted sap of the poppies was being refined.
The sun was falling below the horizon, but it was still possible to see.
As soon as I was pushed to the dirt floor, my back to the wall, Carter and Martin stood over me, discussing our fate. Those who’d sat at my table were separated from the rest of my crew, who where at the other end of the shed. Marston, Favory, and Tomber were tossed down beside me. 
It was clear that our captors didn’t care if we overheard. It was probably meant to intimidate. As far as they were concerned I was a coward, who’d given up at the first sign of a fight.
Maybe I was a coward, but there was no way we would have won that battle, and even if by some miracle we’d came out on top, many of us wouldn’t have survived.
“What do we do with them?” Martin asked.
“Put them to work, of course,” Carter said.
“I don’t think these people are like the natives. Look at Evard—he looks like he wants to roast us over that spit.”
“We’ll give them some of the product,” Carter said, shrugging. “That’ll tame them.”
“We do that and they’ll be useless. Have you tried this stuff? It’s got half our own people addicted. I’m ready to send them back over the mountains.”
“They work or they starve. What else are we going to do… kill them?”
Martin didn’t answer. As the truth began to sink in, a third man burst into the shed. He nearly ran to where Martin and Carter were standing.
“Look at this!” he shouted. His hands were trembling as he opened them. With the light slanting through the slates, I saw flashes of red and green. “There are two bags full of this stuff!”
Carter knelt down beside me, grabbed me by the neck and wrenched. “Where did you get these?”
“You can have them,” I said. “Just let us go.”
“Oh, we’ll keep them all right. But there have to be more where these came from.”
I didn’t answer. I wasn’t going to let them find Inhut, nor did I want them anywhere near the Thirteen Principalities. Moregone was a mystery to them, but these men hadn’t quite figured out yet just how far they were from their normal world.
“We are going to find out,” Martin said, his voice calm and measured. “There are twenty-three of you. I don’t think it will take long before one of you gives it up. So why don’t you just save us the time.”
It was Marston who answered. “Even if we tell you, you’ll never enter.”
As soon as he said it, I knew he was right. The Goddess of the Gate was between them and the Thirteen Principalities and she would never let them pass. But that wouldn’t keep them from trying. “Let me think about it. Let me talk it over with my people.”
“You’ll tell us now,” Martin said.
“Let him think on it,” Carter said. “Too late to do anything today anyway. Giving you a chance, Evard. Don’t blow it.”
They left us alone with the guards. No one said anything. Darkness descended and even the flickering light of the campfires faded. Despite the discomfort of the ropes around my wrists and ankles, I fell asleep.
A sharp tug on my leg woke me. Something was crawling toward me. I almost cried out, but the shadow somehow looked familiar.
“Seed?” I whispered.
He opened his mouth in a smile, and his jagged teeth seemed to absorb all the available moonlight. He bent down over my hands and started chewing at the bindings. I realized my legs were already free.
Seed made short work of the ropes. 
“Come with me,” he whispered.
I sat up, looked around for the guards. If they were in the shed, they were sleeping. Everything was quiet. Seed tugged on my hands insistently.
From beside me, Marston whispered, “What about me? What about the rest of us?”
Seed shook his head—I wasn’t sure how I knew this, for it was too dark to make out individual movements. I’d have to trust him, especially since my knife had been taken and if my own trusses were any indication, it would be difficult to untie anyone else quickly.
“I’ll be back,” I said. “Lay low.”
I crawled after Seed, who scrambled on all fours, yet didn’t make a sound. I bumped into a sleeping body, and froze, waiting for whoever it was to wake up. The figure didn’t move. I nudged him again and realized it was one of the guards and he would never move again.
Seed pried one of the planks from the side of the shed and slipped out. I squeezed through after him with a bit more difficulty as he waited impatiently.
We were on the opposite side of the shed. The overgrown crabapple orchards were only a few dozen feet away. As we scurried across the gap, I saw a dark figure lying prone on the ground. I couldn’t tell if he was dead or unconscious, but either way, I knew that we’d pay the price in the morning.
I wondered why I was putting so much faith in Seed. This entire mission had seemed preordained, its members selected by someone other than me, the events guided by some higher power. I’d never put much stock in the Mirror God, who seemed to be mostly absent in the day-to-day lives of the citizens of the Thirteen Principalities. Absent, that is, until the God decided to erase everyone’s memories to start again.
The orchard was dark, and I stumbled several times on fallen branches. Seed finally took my hand, guiding me. By the time we emerged into a clearing, dawn was stirring, bathing everything in a ghostly light.
At the center of the clearing was a small crabapple tree, not much more than a seedling. Its top branches were bent, weighed down by a pair of large crabapples.
Seed stood before the tree reverently. He reached out and plucked one of the two apples. He handed it to me. It felt twice as big as a normal crabapple and was bright green.
“Eat it,” Seed said. “Stem and seed.”
I didn’t hesitate but bit into the fruit.
I expected it to be tart, even sour. But instead the sweet flavor burst upon my tongue, coated my mouth, and as I swallowed, it soothed my throat and filled my belly. I closed my eyes and groaned in pleasure.
The memories came. Not like they had in the Cave of Waterfalls, fuzzy and overwhelming, but fresh and clear. These memories were true, clear-eyed, without any of the intervening rationalizations or mythologizing. Everything I had ever known, in both lifetimes, filled my mind.
But one long-ago memory stood out.
I’d recently come to Moregone for the first time. I liked its backwardness, the stalwart ignorance of its people. They didn’t know who I was and didn’t care. I stayed for a time, learning to love all the ways that artichokes and crabapples could be served. Even then I was a merchant, looking for ways to make money.
So one day as I wandered through the well organized orchards I saw a clearing where a single apple tree stood apart from the others. It didn’t appear to be anything special; little more than a sapling.
I was leaving the next morning. I came back with a shovel and dug up the sapling with as much of the roots as I could, and loaded it into a burlap bag. When I drove away that afternoon, the tree was in the back of my wagon, unnoticed by any of the inhabitants.
I never thought much of it, frankly. It was a convenient size and appeared healthy. I thought it would make a good beginning to my own orchard.
Seed looked up at me as the truth washed over me, his eyes sad.
 “I’m sorry, Seed,” I gasped. “I didn’t know.”
I had taken the Beginning Tree, from which all the other trees came. Without the Beginning Tree, the orchards had slowly dwindled, become sickly. Each year the harvest had been less, and I had been oblivious to it all. Without it, without the connection to the Mirror God, to the land of its origins, the people of Moregone began to forget.
It had taken years before a new Father Tree sprouted, and by the time it did, none of the Moregoneians noticed or cared.
“Go to your people,” Seed said. “They’ll be waking soon.”
“Who are you?” I asked the boy. “What are you?”
He didn’t answer but reached out and plucked the second of the apples. He brought it to his mouth, then hesitated. He didn’t look like a boy anymore, but a wizened old man, shrunken. How had I not seen that?
He opened his mouth again, which suddenly seemed wider than his face, and swallowed the apple whole. He munched it once, twice, and then it was gone.
“Go, Evard the Just,” he commanded, pointing with a long finger. “Your people need you.”
From beyond the trees I heard shouts, both of anger and fear.
I turned and ran. As I reached the edge of the clearing, I looked back. Seed stood taller than the sapling, and even in that brief glance, he appeared to grow another few inches.
Screams rose from the village and, shaking my head, I plunged into the orchard.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

MOREGONE, a blog story, 22.)

22.) It is a tradition with the force of law in the Thirteen Principalities that one does not bring a weapon when invited to a meal. Nevertheless, I took aside Favory, Tomber, Marston, and Toug and told them to secrete a knife on their persons.
Toug grinned and removed his meat cleaver from his pack mule. “I don’t go anywhere without my tool.”
Tomber took his sword and sheath and shoved it down the leg of his pants. His legs were so long, he only had to limp a little. Farvory wore a long dress and gave me a wink. And Marston, well, he always wore his long knife no matter where he went.
I wore a coat, with my knife tucked into my belt at the back.
Viccare stood behind Favory, so quiet that you wouldn’t know he was there. From somewhere, he’d produced a blue cloak again. He apparently thought he was a Blue Pilgrim once more. I gave him a questioning look.
“I have no need of the weapon. What I possess, I give freely.”
I stared into Viccare’s weather beaten face, so different from the callow young man I’d first met. There was fervor in his eyes that made me uncomfortable.
“They who are weak, shall also be strong,” he added.
Favory rolled her eyes, but put her arm around him protectively. He didn’t shrug her off. Apparently, he’d forgiven her—or she’d forgiven him—I wasn’t sure which was the more likely.
All my people owned weapons of course; knives, staffs, bows, and a few old battered swords handed down through the families. Since whatever bands of brigands we were likely to confront on a expedition were not any better armed, our caravan was left alone. I’d learned the hard way that any party of less than a dozen was vulnerable, under twenty-five might be attack by surprise, but over about thirty armed caravaners and most ill-doers thought better of attacking.
But I saw no way to warn the rest of my people without the secret getting out, so they went to meal dressed in their finest, excited to be in civilization again, even if merely a rude village, and they went as guests, unarmed.
I immediately had second thoughts upon reaching the village center. There were at least twenty of the foreigners, all of them men, and all of them rough looking. They were openingly carrying swords and bows. I caught Marston eyeing the bows, for they were like nothing he’d have ever seen—nothing he’d have ever dreamed of, made of materials he wouldn’t recognize, more powerful than any bow made of natural materials.
But I’d still bet on Marston in an archery contest; especially if my life depended on that bet.
I was angry with myself. We weren’t in the Thirteen Principalities, or rather, Moregone seemed to have forgotten—these strangers neither knew nor cared about our traditions.
A large boar was roasting on a spit at the center of the square and crude tables were set up around it, some just planks of wood set at varying levels of support. Toug immediately broke off from the rest of us and approached the cooks pouring seasonings over the meat. He pulled out his cleaver and the two men backed away; Toug was a menacing sight at the best of times.
Whatever Toug said to them seem to placate them.
Carter was at the biggest table and motioned me and my immediate circle over.
As we took our seats, I noticed that none of the Moregonians would look us newcomers in the eye. In fact, only a few were sitting down—most were moving about slowly, occupied in the tasks of preparing and serving the meals.
A loud clatter, followed by an angry shout, came from one of the homes surrounding the square. A woman came flying out of the doorway, landing in the dirt and rolling. One of the Outsiders came out and stood over her yelling, his fist clenched.
It was as if the entire village of Moregoneians tensed at that moment, most of them staring at the ground, picking up the pace of their chores.
They’re slaves. None of the Outsiders are doing anything but standing around or sitting and talking.
Tomber gave me a long look from across the table that told me he was thinking the same thing.
It all added up. The neglect to the village, the downcast demeanor of the Moregoneians, the need for the poppy fields to be harvested.
Four more of Carter’s companions came over and sat at our table. As our meal was served, our talk was stilted at first, and it was clear that both sides were holding back, both feeling out the other. The pork slices began showing up, cut cleanly by Toug’s cleaver, his special ministrations obvious from the taste.
Carter whistled and gave me a look. “Is this the fat guy’s cooking?”
I nodded. “Toug is renowned throughout the principalities.”
Carter gave one of his men across from him a strange look and nodded slightly. Something was decided, and though I wasn’t sure what, it made me nervous. As the meal progressed and wine was consumed, the tension relaxed; though both the Outsiders and the caravaners spoke mostly to their own kind.
I tried to bridge the gap. “How did you find Moregone?”
“Prospecting,” Carter said, “in the most inhospitable place on earth. Could only get to it with lamas, which then died on me. None of my stuff would work, so I stumbled around the deep gorges of the mountains,” he waved vaguely toward the Shield Mountains. “I was on my last legs when I found a narrow crevice and found my way here. The people nursed me back to health. As soon as I recovered, I went back for help. Damned if I could find this place again. It took me years. Finally stumbled on it, but the path seemed completely different. This time I made sure I marked the path.”
I nodded. As the Thirteen Principalities forgot Moregone, a breach was made to the outside world. Moregone was in-between. While decades appeared to have passed since I’d been here, it had been the opposite for the Outsiders—from their perspective, little time had passed. It made me wonder just how much had changed in the world I’d come from since I’d left.
Perhaps, if I returned, it would be as if I was never gone.
“Took me years to bring my people,” Carter continued, “but when I returned, it was as if nothing had happened here. Took me some time to figure out how to make use of the land and labor available, but then I realized that if I couldn’t find this place then neither could the authorities. This land grows the best opium poppies I’ve ever seen. The potency is off the scales.”
It bothered me that he thought so little of my opinion that he told me of these things. I could almost see the challenge in his eyes.
The last of the servings was apple pie, which melted upon the tongue.
“Apple pie again?” one of the Outsiders complained.
“It’s the last of our sugar,” Carter said. “So you’d best enjoy it.”
“It’s too bad we can’t get any machines to work,” an Outsider said to the man next to him. He wasn’t bothering to lower his voice. “Martin got a generator working for about five seconds this morning, so maybe that’s changing.”
“Yeah, I’d feel a lot better with a few guns,” the other mans said. There aren’t enough of us to watch them all the time. If they should ever decide to band together—well, I wouldn’t bet on our chances. Knives against knives, bows against bows—numbers tell. But a nice rifle would even the odds.”
I couldn’t help it—I turned and gave them a look.
Someone slapped me on the back, and I looked over my shoulder in shock. It was the man they called Martin, who I’d judge to be second-in-command.
“Did you see that, Carter? This fella seems to understand what we’re saying.”
“Does he now?” Carter turned in his seat to look me up and down. “What do you know about machines, Evard? Or guns?”
I shrugged as if I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. “Castle Bernan in the Fifth Principality has a clockwork knight who rides a clockwork horse,” I ventured. “I’ve heard it described as a “machine.”
“Bullshit,” Carter said.
For the third time in my life, I heard Marston laugh. The gravel sound was threatening somehow, and all five of the Outsiders at our table glanced at him. I wasn’t even sure if Marston had ever heard the expression, but he sensed it was disrespectful. He pulled out his long knife. “I’ve had enough of your bullying ways. Why are the villagers not sitting with us?”
As one, the rest of us caravaners rose from our table, drawing our weapons.
Belatedly, I realized how inadequate my plans had been. While my nearest companions had weapons, none of my other people did. If we fought, the others would suffer.
From out of nearby houses, more Outsiders emerged, swords and bows in hand.  I’d underestimated how many of them there were. There were at least as many as were of my party, twenty-five or more, though this was nowhere near the number of villagers.
The inhabitants of Moregone had never been in a war, not so much as a skirmish as far as I knew. They held to the old democratic ways, voting on changes. Violence was almost unheard of, what little there was sparked by the hard cider they made from their main crop.
I’m not sure what would have happened then—or that I could have stopped the fighting even if I wanted, but at that moment, I heard a loud, quavering voice from behind me. I turned in surprise to see Viccare standing on top of the table, declaiming as if he was in school.
They who are first, shall also be last.
 They who are stern, shall also be kind.
 They who are cursed, shall also be blessed.”
By the third stanza his voice grew strong. Everyone stood frozen. It was clear the Outsiders didn’t know what to make of it.
“They who are mistrusted, shall also be believed.
 They who are foolish, shall also be wise.”
It was clear that the Blue Pilgrim—for that was what he was—planned on reciting all thirteen of the Oaths of the Covenant. I glanced at Carter, who had a frown on his face, but didn’t look like he was planning to do anything yet.
“They who hate, shall also love.
 They who are innocent, shall also see the truth.”
 They who are weak, shall also be strong.”
The villagers stirred at the words, gathering together, staring at the pilgrim as if remembering the Covenant for the first time in a long time. This was why the Mirror God had sent Viccare, I realized. The villagers were being called back, their memories restored.
“They who are low, shall also be high.
 They who are scorned, shall also be honored.
The villagers began to look around them. Some were reaching for the blunt knives on the table, others were fashioning clubs. Viccare’s voice was rising to a triumphant shout.
They who are far, shall also be near!
 They who forget, shall also remember!”
I looked around at the tableau as if I could see the coming fight—the villagers looking suddenly resolute, my own people starting to realize they were in a fight—and no matter how the possibilities played out, I couldn’t see us winning, even with the help of the villagers.
“They who are last, shall also be…”
Viccare voice stopped suddenly. For a few seconds it was eerily quiet. I turned to see a red flower blooming from Viccare’s blue robe, him staring down, his voice trying to find air. A large knife protruded from the center of the red bloom.
Martin’s chair was kicked back, his arm still extended. “Shut your mouth.”
Viccare gasped his last words, which were only audible because of the absolute silence.
“The Covenant is fulfilled.”
His legs went out from under him. He folded, almost neatly, landing lengthwise along the table as if it was his coffin, and stopped moving.
Favory jumped up, threw her body over his. Her movement disguised her drawing of a long sharp knife from under her dress. Tomber also stood, fumbling with his trousers, trying to extract his sword.
But surrounding us were Outsiders, their arrows nocked and bowstrings already drawn.
I put both of my hands up, palms out, to signal to my people. “Lay down your weapons,” I shouted into the shocked vacuum. It was probably the only time I would have have a chance to stop the carnage. Whatever happened from here on, I knew that we could not win this battle.
Even my own people resisted for a moment, then one by one, they threw down their makeshift weapons. Then, shoulders slumping, tears flowing down their faces, the villagers joined them.
I turned to Carter, who only now did I realize had a knife just inches from my throat.
“We surrender.”

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

MOREGONE, a blog story, 21.)

21.) I took the lead this time, alongside Marston. When Favory saw what I was doing, she jostled her way to the front. I had a sense of urgency—not danger so much as time was passing and with it our chances of finding the truth.
As I crossed the natural bridge, Tomber emerged from the waterfall, drenched, his long hair dripping. He looked surprised to see us.
“How did you get here so fast?”
“You’ve been gone for over a day,” I said.
“But I…” he looked back into the cave, as if the answer lay there.
“What did you find?” I asked, as he trailed off.
“There is an exit on the other side. As soon as I saw a crabapple tree, I returned.” Again he looked back into veil of the waterfall as if confused. “I was only inside for a few minutes.”
More memory tricks.
But whether from whatever afflicted Moregone, or from the Mirror God, or the Goddess of the Gate was impossible to tell. No doubt they were all linked. I saw no choice be to go forward if Moregone was near.
The cave behind the waterfall was wide and low, mostly natural though it was clear that tools had shaped parts of it. We had no lanterns, so within a short time, we were in the dark.
“I don’t like this,” Marston muttered. “We’re likely to walk right into a crevasse.”
I drew my sword and poked it ahead of me, hoping it would give me at least a small warning. But the path was smooth and straight, as if it had been designed for traveling blind, which was reassuring.
I’m not sure how long we’d been walking, all of us silent. The huffing of the mules, the squeaking of leather harnesses, footsteps upon stone, that all we could hear. At least we’d be able to hear someone coming, or so I thought.
A flash of light seemed to burst behind my eyeslids. It was as if a flashlight had been directed into my eyes.
Flashlight…I knew what that was. I knew it was artificial, what would seem magic in the Thirteen Principalities but was coming from where I came. Another flash of light struck me, and I remembered my childhood home—a huge house, almost like a palace, with gables and balconies and wide windows. I’m young, looking outside, as a carriage approaches—and the carriage isn’t drawn by animals but propels itself.
A loud boom sounded in my ears, the sound of a gunshot, of a backfire, of machine parts. I stopped dead in my tracks. It was clear no one else had heard it.
“What’s wrong?” Marston asked.
“Don’t you feel that?”
“I feel a small breeze coming toward us, which is reassuring,” Marston said, sounding puzzled. I realized that my voice had been tight, alarmed.
Favory said, “I feel homesick. Let’s turn around, Evard. Let Moregone remain lost…who cares?”
“We cannot go back,” Viccare’s voice floated through the air like a ghost. “The Mirror God wills it.”
Memories of two worlds assailed me, equally familiar, equally fresh. It was as if I stepped outside myself—no, as if there were two of me standing side by side. I was paralyzed by the contradictions, not sure which body to animate, but finally I took a step and my legs merged, another step and we were joined at the waist, another step and I was one again.
The memories of both worlds were still there, but not all at once, not in full force. I could access them as I willed.
As we continued on, I thought of both of my pasts—and one thing became clear to me. Despite the miracles and inventions of my first life, I far preferred my life in the Thirteen Principalities. Despite the quarrels between realms, nothing rose to the harshness of that first world, the wholesale slaughter of life; vegetable, animal, and most of all, human. Destruction on a grand scale, such that would horrify even the martial inhabitants of the First Principality, who felt it was their destiny to rule over us all. I understood suddenly why there was a Goddess of the Gates, that such a world should not enter. I understood why the Mirror God wiped our memories clean, so that we could start new, and never become so corrupted that life would have so little meaning.
I was a fool to want to return. I had to save Moregone from such a fate.
I sheathed my sword and strode forward with confident steps. Favory and Marston hurried to catch up.
In the distance was a dim light that grew wider if not brighter as we approached. The exit to the tunnel was blocked by a thick tangle of brush and trees. Marston used his sword to cut away at the branches, opening enough space for me to join him with my own blade.
The gap between the cliff and the undergrowth was just wide enough to use as a path. It wasn’t until we traveled some distance down this gap that I realized that the forest was made up of crabapples trees. The apples looked dried and shriveled. I plucked one and cut it open. A huge worm squirmed into the decayed fruit.
I threw it to the ground in disgust.
The last time I’d seen this orchard it was spacious and ordered and healthy. Now it appeared that no one had pruned the branches or collected the fruit in years.
How long had I been gone? One problem with a long life is that time passes ever faster, so that what seems like months can become years and what seems like years can become decades. It may well have been a number of years since I’d returned, but whatever had happened here must have started not long after the last time I left.
I couldn’t imagine the Moregoneians letting this happen to their prized trees. I began to fear for their well being as well.
I stood aside as the caravan passed, waiting for Toug to emerge. The last mule out of the tunnel carried the crabapple crate. I went over to it, knocked on its side.
The wood fell away and Seed scrambled out. “Are we there?” he asked, eagerly.
“I think so…” I began.
The boy cried out at the sight of the trees and almost leapt away. He stopped himself and solemnly untied the sleeves of the coat I’d given him and handed it back to me. With that, he jumped from the back of the mule to the nearest branch. Then he froze. He looked back at me in alarm, as if he only then noticed how sickly the branches drooped. His head swiveled from me to the trees and back again.
“Go!” I said, giving him permission. He jumped away and disappeared.
We came out of the gap between the cliff and the forest onto a trampled meadow that led down to a creek. I stared at the water for a few moments, trying to make sense of it. There was only one waterway in the south of Moregone: the Soral River. It was hard to believe that this little trickle of water running down the middle of a wide gulley with crumbling banks could be that wide and raucous watercourse. Trees hung dry and broken over the bare sands.
The caravan filled the meadow with no room to spare, certainly not enough room to spread out our camp. I decided to keep going, anxious to see my old friends. When I looked back toward the cliff I recognized the tall pillar of rock standing away from the mountain: Dragontooth.
Which meant the village of Carsan was less than a mile away.
We continued on down the eroded banks of the Soral River. Within a few hundred yards a ditch was dug across our path, drawing what little water remained in the river channel. A crude bridge was built across the breach, little more than planks laid upon the two banks. It was strong enough to hold one mule and one person at a time, so it took us much of the afternoon before we all got across.
Lights began to flicker on the horizon.
“Should I check it out?” Tomber asked.
As he spoke, a figure broke away from the trees to our right, running away from us. It looked like a child, barefoot despite the chill. For a moment I thought it was Seed, but he wasn’t brown enough and other than his feet, he was fully clothed.
“We should keep going,” Marston said. “Don’t let them get the chance to organize.”
“These are peaceful people,” I said. “They have no weapons, except to hunt.”
Marston gave me a skeptical look. “Maybe they aren’t the same. Maybe they’ve forgotten.”
“Either way, there is no benefit to waiting,” I said. “Keep moving but stay on guard.

*  *  *

It was the same village…and it was different. There were the same two main streets, with houses on one side, businesses on the other, the same farmhouses dotting the outer perimeter. But everything looked old and rundown, unlike the vibrant sturdy village I remembered.
The few people who were on the streets hurried inside at our approach.
Closest to us, at a bend in the now dry river, was a large building with a caved in roof and broken walls.
My vacation home—looking as if it had been abandoned a hundred years ago.
I walked up the broken path to the door, which was ajar on its hinges. The inside looked filled with leaves and dirt. There was a pile of rocks to one side, where once had stood a tall birch tree. A carved sign lay on the ground next to it and I realized that the jumble had once been a cairn of some kind.
“Home of the Eternal Wanderer,” the sign read.
“They know who you are?” Favory said, beside me. “Or maybe I should say—they knew who you were, because whatever esteem they once had for you seems to have fallen on hard times.”
I turned to her in surprise. “How did you know…?”
She smiled. “That you are the Eternal Wanderer? It wasn’t hard to figure out. You appear eternal and you certainly wander enough.”
“Who else knows?”
“Just about everyone, I’d say. Of course, anyone who would be impressed by such a thing has only to meet you to realize you’re just like anyone else.”
Marston had moved up on my other side. “You’d think someone as old as you are, Evard the Just, would be a little smarter and savvier than the rest of us, but…”
 “…you’re just as foolish and short-sighted as any,” Tomber finished the thought.
I was stunned. Here I’d thought I was being clever, moving around so much that no one would ever discover my identity.
“Don’t listen to them.” The thin high voice of Toug made me jump. “We follow you, Evard the Just, because you are a constant surprise and yet forever reliable. We count on you to be fair, but also to lead us places none of us would think to go.”
Viccare looked dumbstruck. “Are you a creature of the Abyss?”
I laughed. “I’m as human as you are.” Unlike most of the mythical creatures of the Thirteen Principalities, for instance the Toad King, I had not emerged from the bottomless pit at the edge of the Thirteenth Principalites.
The young pilgrim didn’t look convinced.
I looked around, spreading my arms. “I’m not at all sure where…or rather when…I’ve led you to this time. This is Moregone, but older somehow…drained of life.”
“Forgotten by time,” Favory mused.
I thought she was probably right. I’d always wondered if time ran the same in the Thirteen Principalities as it did in the outside world. Moregone was apparently outside this time stream, and it had fallen on hard times.
“What’s that?” Tomber said.
We turned in the direction he was staring. Far in the distance, probably visible more to Tomber than the rest of us, was a field of wavering red. It took a few seconds for my eyes to distinguish the individual flowers.
The irrigation ditch led toward the field of flowers, which unlike the pastures, the trees, or the village itself, looked healthy and vibrant.
“Those look like poppies,” Toug said. “Not common in the Thirteen Principalities. The seeds are a delicacy.”
A few hours before and the name of the flower wouldn’t have meant anything, but now the knowledge I possessed of my former life came to the fore. It sent a chill down my spine, because I knew that poppies weren’t just grown for their seeds.
The Flower of Forgetfulness, I’d heard it called.
“Someone approaches,” Tomber said.
From the nearest house an old man hobbled our way. He appeared to be reluctant, as if others had sent him. He stopped well short of our party.
“What do you want?” His voice was high and quavering. “Who are you?”
I started to answer, looked into his eyes and fell silent. I recognized him…though that seemed impossible. I took in the angle of his chin, the widow’s peak, the hunched shoulders. It was the almost purple color of his eyes that gave him away.
The last time I’d seen Hiemhol, he’d been but a boy, the son of the mayor.
He must have recognized me at the same moment, because he staggered, as if he’d been pushed, almost losing his footing.
“Evard?” he said in a faint voice.
“What’s happened here Hiemhol?”
He straightened up. His eyes had been clouded, fearful, but now they cleared. “Eternal Wanderer. You must leave. Before…”
As we were talking, a man had emerged from the same house that Hiemhol had come from. This man was tall and strong—almost as tall as Tomber, but thicker. His clothing probably seemed strange to my companions, but I recognized jeans and a button down machine-made shirt. He wore a cowboy hat.
“Do you know these people, Hiemhol?”
“No, sir,” the old man stammered. “I was just telling them they weren’t welcome.”
“Now is that any way to be?” The man turned toward me and stuck out his hand. “I’m Carter. We’re a little low on the victuals, but we have enough for one meal. Then in the morning you can be on your way.” He motioned to the open area outside the village’s border. The ground was churned up and I realized that this was where the artichoke fields had been. “You can camp out here.”
“Thank you,” I said. “We were just on our way to the Twelfth Principality.”
It was a test--and Carter failed it. He couldn’t hide his confusion. Wherever he was from, it wasn’t from the Thirteen Principalities. Then he smiled his false smile, as if he suddenly remembered something someone had told him.
“Come on down to the village square at dark…we’ll have some tables set up,” Carter said.
Hiemhol gave me a last beseeching look, then John put his arm around the old man and led him away.
I turned to my companions.
It was clear from the look in their eyes that I didn’t need to warn them of our danger.

Monday, April 16, 2018

MOREGONE, a blog story, 20.)

20.) As soon as the entire caravan was safely past the scree slope of the cliff, I called a halt and gathered my leadership crew around me.
“Where are we?” Marston asked. “Is this Moregone?”
We were on a mountain meadow, surrounded by large trees, with very little underbrush. Below us were low foothills and beyond a narrow valley with a river meandering through it. I didn’t recognize anything.
“I’m not sure,” I said. “I don’t think so.”
“Then what is this place?” Tomber asked. “I don’t remember any of this being on the maps.”
I grunted. “Maps near the Shield Mountains are useless. The terrain appears to shift every time I visit.”
“How is that possible?” Favory said. “How can mountains and rivers change?”
“When you lived as long as I have, everything changes, even the land itself. But I don’t know if that is what’s happening. Maybe its location hasn’t changed but our memory of where it is has.”
“That would seem even more worrisome somehow,” Tomber muttered.
“I would have said the same thing before we set out on this journey, but we are discovering is what is real and what is imagined; what is firm in our memories and what are illusions. It has probably always been this way, but we simply notice it this time because our objective.”
To my surprise, Toug spoke up. I was always surprised how high pitched his voice was; but that didn’t affect the gravity of his words. “My memory doesn’t change just because the Mirror God wills it. I know what I know.”
I turned to him, ready to explain how unreliable our recollections were, especially here at the edge of the forgotten land, but the look in his face was stubborn.
He continued, “I have been here before. This is part of the Tenth Principality. That is the River Mortall. By the authority of Prince Selonos, no one is allowed to live here. It is to be kept pristine in perpetuity. In the summer his royal court comes here to camp.”
I didn’t think Toug had that many words in him. I didn’t ask him how he knew—Toug’s services were in demand throughout the principalities. There wasn’t a prince who wouldn’t hire him; he could live where and how he wished, and often explored in pursuit of new dishes, new plants and animals. Such curiosity was why I was able to secure his services in the first place.
“Which direction is Moregone?” Marston asked.
“I never inquired,” Toug said.
Marston waved the answer off irritably. “Then where is the Tenth Principality?”
Toug pointed downriver.
As one, we turned in the opposite direction. The top of a high plateau was barely visible on the horizon, with a thick mist covering the lower reaches. There were still several hours of daylight and I was anxious to be underway, but my crew was already sprawled about the meadow, prostrate from nervous exhaustion. Besides, we weren’t going anywhere until we found and buried our companions.
Instead I gave the orders to set camp. I pulled Tomber aside. “Scout ahead. Follow the river.”
He nodded. “I’ll be back by morning.”
I camped at the base of a large tree. It was of a kind I’d never seen before, with needles a foot long and tiny cones. The bark had an almost bluish tinge. The branches started far up the trunk, and were thick and wide, giving a roundish appearance to the evergreen. Lying near the campfire to drive away the last of the mountain chill, I closed my eyes.
It was dark when my eyes popped open, a small snap still echoing from out of my sleep. Two eyes stared down at me from the trunk of the tree. When Seed saw that I was awake, he scurried the rest of the way down and came to my side.
“What is it?” I whispered.
“Moregone is hidden from me,” he said, shivering. I took my extra coat out of my pack and draped it over his shoulders. He stood and tied the sleeves around his neck, like a cloak. The hem reached the ground. He sat down next to me again.
I put out my arm and pulled him close in a hug. Again a paternal feeling overcame me. There was something…just at the edge of memory, like I’d seen the boy before. But as I tried to capture the thought, it slid away and I was suddenly just as certain that Seed and I had never met. He seemed too young for me to have forgotten him in any case.
“As it is to all of us,” I answered. “Sometimes when I first awaken I can’t remember why I’m on the road at all.”
“But I never forgot my home. Not until the Goddess…” He spoke her name with a hiss.
“The Goddess?”
“She visited me. She took me in her arms and--it was as if everything I ever understood faded away.”
I reached into my pockets where I’d secreted some of Seed’s crabapples—just in case. I proffered him one.
He took it and started munching absently, as if it had no effect. “Her magic is strong.”
I tried to hide my alarm at that. I patted him on the head. “I will remember for both of us, Seed. Our journey is nearly at an end. We wouldn’t have gotten here without you.”
He finished eating the apple and lay down at my side. Even though I wanted to sleep on the comfort of my blankets, I didn’t dare to disturb the boy. I fell asleep, his head on my chest.
When I awoke, Seed was gone. I looked up into the tree hoping to catch a glimpse of him. Our conversation of the night before seemed like a dream.
I fully expected Tomber to be waiting by my fireside. The early hours passed and I gave orders to break camp.
As I rolled up my sleeping blankets, Favory walked over. I looked at up her, amazed as always how refreshed and clean she looked. She left her red stallion behind at Inhut, but still managed to snagged the comeliest mule in the caravan, whose name was Handsome.
“Going in the direction your scout disappeared seems a bad idea,” she said.
“What choice do we have?”
“Send Marston,” she said. “Or wait longer.”
She was right, of course, but whatever lay ahead we were going to have to face sometime, no matter what Tomber or any other scout reported.
She shook her head even though I hadn’t said anything aloud. “The Tenth Principality is downriver. Let’s return home. What does it matter if we find Moregone? The Goddess’s gems have made this a profitable expedition.”
Again, I couldn’t argue. I was curious about Moregone, but even if we found it, we couldn’t very well load it up and bring it back. The land would be forgotten just as quickly with or without us finding it, or so the Goddess had implied. There might be a shortage of crabapples and artichokes in the Thirteen—or Twelve—Principalities for a time, but that didn’t seem like much of a tragedy.
I hesitated at the thought—which seemed to speak to my comfort not my ambitions. I could almost feel the Goddess’s touch.
“And what about Tomber?” I asked.
Favory started, and I realized that she hadn’t even considered it.
“We came to find Moregone and Moregone we will find,” I said.
Favory looked as though she wanted to argue, saw the look on my face, and walked away. I’d left the two mules with the Goddess’s gems in the custody of one of the carpenters, Samle, who’d proven to be trustworthy in the past. I looked around for him, caught him loading the mules, straining under the weight.
I’d keep an eye on Favory, but I thought that as avaricious as she was, her curiosity was even greater.
The trail along the river was easy enough to follow. As we approached the base of the plateau, the mists didn’t dissipate no matter how hot the morning sun. Instead, we were soaked in a humidity that was as damp as a thick fog. The roar of the waterfall could be heard for miles before we reached the base.
The cliffs under the falling water wrapped in a horseshoe around us. There was no way forward and the only way back was by the way we’d come.
There was a lake at the base of the falls, and by habit, the muleteers led their charges to the banks to drink.
“Here!” someone shouted. “Tracks!”
The footsteps were deep and impossibly long. They could only belong to Tomber. They led around the muddy banks to the base of the cliff, and then…under the waterfall. Upon closer examination there was rocky shelf that appeared to have been shaped flat by hand.
There was no doubt where Tomber had gone…but why hadn’t he returned?