Happy Holiday & Teaser

Alas, after a long family dinner, I am deeply engrossed in finishing the last few pages of Warbound: The Shield Maiden, third book in the Domains of the Chosen Series.

Instead of a regular blog post, here is a teaser from the new book. (raw and unedited — details will change)

 

“Your sword must be hungry, my dear,” said Azure.

“Starving, although your halberd hasn’t had much of a meal, either, Azure,” Vintia shot back.

“Oh Vintia, I doubt you could ever be much more than an appetizer,” said Azure.

Stung by Azure’s retort, Vintia mustered a less than solid defence against the spell that followed her opponent’s words. She staggered, just managing to get her shield in front of a slash of the halberd, a swift second attack glanced off her hip-plate. She registered a trickle of blood running down her side, as she levelled backhanded slash to force Azure back. Instead of retreating though, Azure slid forward, putting the haft of her weapon between her body and the sword, while delivering a brutal right cross. The crowd roared as Vintia’s mouth filled with blood and broken teeth. However, Vintia stepped closer, bringing the edge of her shield up under Azure’s chin, hard.

 

This scene comes from the beginning of the book. Warbound is not about the arena or Gladiators, but rather follows some of the characters from the Domains series in their lives after the arena. I felt it was natural to start with an arena battle to help the reader make that transition along with the characters.

The Shadow Wolf Sagas: Blade Breaker 1.11

Why am I using 1.11 instead of just 11? I don’t know, but that is how I roll when writing raw (cool eyebrow thing)! As always Thursdays are the day I take a break from writing my books and write a serial, albeit unpolished and unedited, for practice. Feel free to comment!

The beginning of the series.

Last Week’s Blade Breaker.

“I want justice for my son,” Harald Magnison’s words were sour in my ears. How could one possibly get justice for a young man who was gelded and tortured to death in front of his lover? There is no weregild for that crime, except, in some minds, the same kind of cruelty. I did not want to be a participant in that act. The assassin deserved death, after seeing what he’d done I could not disagree, but it was the same kind of death one should reserve for a rabid animal: swift and sure, the removal of a threat.

“I will deliver proof of his death to you, Sea Wolf,” I said, meeting his eye. “In return you will do as you promised and use your influence to help remedy my status.”

Harald’s companions turned red at this affront. No doubt they had visions of performing a blood eagle, the baiting of the worms, or some other ritualistic viciousness still favoured by some of my people. Harald however, said nothing. After meeting my gaze for several moments, his eyes as merciless and cold as a storm-tossed sea, Harald nodded and raised his hand. We had a deal.

“It will have to do,” said Harald.

We clasped hands. In the North, where reputation is everything, this is often enough to seal any contract. Only the blackest of hearts reneged on a deal made in this fashion among my people. In Myrrhn I often fell like I would have to sign a contract, in triplicate, to even get most people to shake my hand. Still I didn’t trust Harald’s sudden bout of sense; my people are not know for our even tempers and forgiving natures.

Harald and his kin left the way they came, a wall of muscle and hair. I sat peaceably sipping, wondering if I could brave the dark streets with some junior assassin having nicked me once already today. Obviously someone had put out a minor contract on my head, but why?

I had a few enemies in the city, but assassination seemed drastic. Perhaps it was a distraction. Keeping me looking over my shoulder would certainly make it harder to concentrate on the task at hand. Then again, perhaps I had offended someone in passing. There were plenty of people with money to waste in a city like Myrrhn.

I could stay at the Wench all night if I was so inclined. The rooms were reasonably priced and exceptionally safe. The girls would miss me if I did not return, but they are well aware of my habits. I enjoy the night more than most.

I out a finger to my beard at that thought. The assassin outside of Gits knew attacked me during the daylight hours. That made me wonder if they knew about my skills. My clan, the Shadow Wolves, are known as the best night fighters among the Nordan. I confess that I am somewhat less dangerous without the aid of darkness. Then again, perhaps it was not study and observation, but rumour that was driving my opponents beliefs. Maybe they were less afraid of well-hone night-fighting skills and more afraid of the big bad wolf. I grinned at that thought.

After downing a shot of Thraxian fire whiskey, the one thing those imperial bastards made that was worthwhile, I made my way to the door. I made sure to do so conspicuously, just in case. I stopped to retrieve my arms, and then stepped out into the night.

Myrrhn is a very different city at night. There are pools of dazzling light, filled with revelers and music, often around the more beautiful landmarks. Fountain Grove was the closest of these. I could see people heading there, moving in large groups for company, and the illusion of safety. There are safe areas, places that are off limits to the Guilds. Bridges, for one, are all off limits by ancient agreement. Not that it makes much difference to a good killer — they pretty much have you dead to rights if you take refuge on a bridge. Fountain Grove was not one of these. However, while Myrrhn is dangerous, it is not so violent as to discourage people from enjoying the vibrant nightlife.

I could not see any assassins. I smiled at the thought.

Lamplight cast deeper shadows in the alleys that I passed. A man walking alone at night in the city is either a target, or someone to be feared. As I cloaked myself in menace, taking the long way home, avoiding the revels and the light, I wondered which of these that I would be seen as.

I was beginning to feel to think the night would turn out to be less eventful than the day when I heard a scream from an alley as I passed.

Why I think Captain America: Winter Soldier is the best Marvel Superhero movie thus far (spoilers)

Watch this Movie

Watch this Movie

This post contains spoilers. The specific spoilers begin after the red text.

As a Canadian, I have never been a huge fan of cap. I don’t hate the character especially, but if I am honest the idea of a nationalistic superhero bothers me, no matter what the nation may be. Marvel manages to skirt around the issue quite well, especially post ultimates with cap acting as the man out of time, that ultimate allied soldier who is more of a representative of the distilled ideals of a generation than a particular country — you know those people who survived WWII and fought against the Nazis.

The First Captain America movie was entertaining, and much better than I expected it would be, but not on par with the Avengers or the first Iron Man. I went into the theatre for Captain America: Winter Soldier knowing very little about the plot and no spoilers. I came out of the theatre more pleased with the movie that I watched than I have been in a very long time.

In general the movie was good. The action scenes were crisp and varied. The banter was a nice mix of humorous and dramatic, with a surprising dose of heavy subject matter (more on that later). The effects were excellent. The acting was also very, very good, much better than I would ever expect from a comic book movie, even in the age of Robert Downey’s Iron Man. I would heartily recommend this movie to anyone at all, perhaps even those who do not like comic book movies.

Very specific spoilers begin here.

Here are five reasons why I think that Winter Soldier is not only worth watching, but actually kind of brilliant.

1) Black Widow: The marvel movies, despite bringing in Joss Whedon and some a-list talent to play female characters are not the best when it comes to female empowerment. I don’t blame comics for this, I blame the marketing department at the movie studios. I was happily that Scarlett Johanson’s Natasha Romanov got a lot of screen time with some serious action scenes, decent banter, and an integral part of the plot. I ma not the best judge of these things, but I did not find Black Widow to be overly ‘sexed up’. She wasn’t even involved in any romantic sub-plots. Which leads me to my next point.

2) No romantic sub-plots: There is a very tender scene in the middle of the movie where Cap visits the aging/dying Peggy Carter to talk about the past. It brought a tear to my eye, reminding me of recent visits with my grandparents who are part of the same generation as agent Carter, and suffering through the same, slow, brutal dance with age. That is the extent of the romance in the movie, and it is there to serve as a reminder of who Captain America is and what he values, not to titillate or tick off another item on the movies feature list. Cap does not date anyone and his only kiss in the movie leads Black Widow to make fun of him, with only a slight bit of sexual tension, if any. It is damned refreshing to have a movie this long with so little  attention paid to Romance. But then again, Winter Soldier is a damned serious movie.

3) The plot was predictable, but I didn’t care: Winter Soldier doesn’t really try to throw any curveballs. This is one thing I respect in most of the marvel movies. The writers know that the audience knows the source material well and aren’t watching for great new stories so much as to see their favourite characters and favorite stories retold on the big screen. The Winter Solider story, from Fury’s (fake) death, to the Winter Soldier being Bucky, to the various betrayals was not mean to surprise, but rather to emphasize the experience. The story, in the end, gives way to a discussion about philosophy, generational values, and the whole issue of security that is currently the western world, from drones to Edward Snowden.

4) The Winter Soldier has something to say, and it is fairly deep: I often feel that the politicians and thinkers who current dominate the Western world suffer from a James Bond complex. Security had become such a concern for some that it threatens the privacy, freedom, and quality of life for many. In the movie when Nick Fury and Cap argue about “neutralizing enemies before they become a threat”, I am immediately minded of the rhetoric that surrounds drone based missile strikes in countries like Yemen, where we redefine the dead as potential enemy combatants to avoid the sticky moral issues of killing people “who might be dangerous, but we aren’t really sure, and you don’t need to know about it anyways”. The movie wants you to draw this parallel, with huge carriers with automated weapon systems that can lock on to distant targets and eliminated them thousands at a time from on high, reducing the decision to destroy down to an algorithm and a moral view. In particular I found the use of Hydra to be quite good, as the people who take that ideal one step beyond where it is in reality and show us the naked possibilities of the slippery slope of the current security apparatus.

5) Generational Values: When Cap and Fury argue early on, Fury brings up the view that “The Greatest Generation”, which Cap belongs to is not necessarily as good as people seem to think. From then on, the interplay of generational values becomes a deep and resonant thread in the movie, tying in very neatly with the theme of security and freedom. Falcon and Black Widow are explicitly called out as millennials, making it interesting that Natasha has the final word on Shield while Fury sort of retires. It is something that I have been thinking about quite a bit lately as we slowly lose the Greatest Generation, and the millennial generations make themselves felt. Currently the world is dominated by the interests of the Boomers —  that whole James Bond complex is part of their zeitgeist in many ways, having its roots in the Cold War. It is certainly a deeper discussion and a deeper point than I ever expected from a comic book movie and it may lead the curious into those discussions, which I think need to be had. It is a complicated and difficult and messy issue, and it is amazing to see a pop culture movie actually did into it in a meaningful fashion.

In a way, the movie speaks to me. These are things that I think about a lot. I am deeply worried about the people who take our freedom in the name of protecting us. Who spy on us for our own good and kill people in far off countries in our name with remote controlled death toys. I see the roots of this conflict in the zeitgeist of past generations. I am worried about what will happen when it all boils over. It is nice to see  movie that isn’t afraid to go there, explicitly.

Pretty good for a silly movie about dudes in spandex.

PS: also kind of cool that they are willing to drop Shield. That has real ramifications.

The Shadow Wolf Sagas: Blade Breaker 1.10

The Shadow Wolf Sagas are an ongoing serial, written raw (first pass, draft style) so I can improve certain aspect of my style

The First Chapter

Last Weeks Installment

The Inn of the Willing Wench always seems to be the perfect temperature. Perhaps it is simply my love of the place. After my visit to the Pink Pearl and a series of violent encounters with some suspicious street thugs and a pair of novice assassins while investigating the origins of a peculiar poison, I was looking forward to lubricating my mind with the best bitters in the city. Brunor’s brews are rightfully famous even among the Nordan, traditional recipes passed down through the centuries. Tis one of the many reasons that the Wench is my favourite tavern in Myrrhn.

I was hungry for meat, a response to getting stuck by the would-be assassin I have no doubt. Whether the response was brought on by an actual physical need or a spiritual one, I cannot say. I devoured a delectable chunk of rare beef seasoned with cracked peppers, and then settled in to a pair of mutton shanks, a house specialty, finished with a succulent apple glaze. Normally, I prefer my meat plain and rare, but I made an exception for the Wench’s wondrous fare.

After wolfing down the second shank and my third tankard, I sat back and let out an appreciative belch. The place was busy, but not so packed that the staff was harried or the tables were over-crowded. Merchants rubbed elbows with mercenaries, and I would swear an oath in blood that at least one of the tables held a group of would-be adventurers planning their next ‘quest’; perhaps a search of the undercity caves for the lost treasures of the pirate lords who founded the city ages ago. One can make a fair bit of money swindling the gullible with ‘maps’ and ‘clues’ to these treasures I’m told. Myself, I have been on my fair share of strange expeditions, both here and in the North, and I have great respect for the adventurers of the world. I would hate to live in a world without them.

The decor of the inn is old wood and stone. This is what attracted me to the Wench in the first place. In Nordan Lands, timbre is plentiful of of exceptional quality, and thus most buildings are made with wood. Thus the inn felt closer to home for me in the early days of my exile.

The staff and clientele of Brunors ancient inn are a varied lot. Some have roots in the city as deep and wide as the ancient forests of the Verdant Court, but many are new to the city, looking for a welcoming place to work or to rest. It used to be that many of the women (and some of the men) who worked at the Inn of the Willing Wench were also whores on the side, but times change and while madam Glorianna’s girls are free to work their trade in the Wench, the staff is strictly off limits. It is a wise policy in my mind. It keeps the tavern out of guild politics, for one.

I was contemplating history, and perhaps signaling Sigi for another shank and a tankard to keep it company when my line of vision was eclipsed by three very large men.

“Greetings brothers,” I said, looking up at them. “Have you come to share Ragnar’s table?”

The largest and oldest of them, a mountain of a  man with a shock of red hair, like Furis himself, snorted at me while the others glowered. They were all Nordan, probably sea wolves, and naturally enough all of them were giant-blooded. I guessed that these were relatives of Sapphires deceased lover.

“Pfffft, I would not willingly share an exiles table,” he said. “I am here about my son.”

“And what makes you think that Ragnar Grimfang knows anything about your son?” I asked, meeting his gaze.

“I am Harald Magnison, called Ironmast,” said the red haired giant. “My son Bjorn was found dead this day.”

The table creaked as Harald’s gripped the edge. After a moment he continued. “I know that you are seeking his killer exile. Do not play games with me Shadow Wolf. We seek justice for Bjorn’s death. We will not be denied!”

“Where do I fit into this?” I asked, as mildly as possible.

“You will find his killer and bring him to us,” said Harald. His companions, a brother and a nephew or another son, nodded vigorously.

“And what If I don’t?” I asked, less mildly.

Harald looked at me as if I had just handed him Magni’s hammer. “Exile–”

I cut him off. “If  you want my help Harald Magnison, then you will cease to refer to me as exile. I have tasted death before Sea Wolf, and I am not afraid of any arms that you and yours can bring to bear against me. Save your threats. Now tell me, why should I help you?”

For a moment I thought Harald would swing. His companions certainly looked ready for a fight. Then he seemed to crumple, just a little, growing a little less fierce and a whole lot older as he did so.

“I have some influence in my Clan,” said Harald. “I would not expect you to hear of my deeds… Ragnar, for they came after your time in the North. However, my name carries weight, even here. See for yourself. If you help me, I will speak on your behalf and recommend you to my clansmen. I will also offer you payment as needed. I want justice for my son.”

Classic Characters: Caesar as an inspiration for Fantasy works.

Caesar

Caesar

Gaius Julius Caesar is an obvious favourite for any young lad who is excited by Roman history. Love him or hate him, he is certainly a figure that has inspired a vast body of literature. This is  partially because Caesar is a far more complex character than his own (professed) hero, Alexander the Great, which allows an author to portray him in a variety of ways and partly because one can come to know Caesar in his own voice, since he wrote several works that survive to this day, and many more that are discussed in surviving sources. What I wouldn’t give to read some of his lost poetry or his Anticato (a sort of written insult to a senatorial nemesis, Cato).

Caesar was famed for his skill as a commander in the field and in maneuvering the corridors of power during the era of civil strife that marked the end of the Republic. His early life rarely gets mentioned but is fascinating and engaging. Here are a few examples.

  • By the time Caesar reached adulthood, the Republic had already experienced a fair share of Civil strife. His aunt was married to Gaius Marius who contested against another favourite Roman of mine, Lucius Cornelius Sulla in a civil war. At one point Marius and his faction even nominated a young Caesar (sixteen?) for Priest of Jupiter. Naturally when Sulla defeated Marius for good, the young Caesar was on his list of people to purge, but influential relatives managed to save Caesar and he quickly made himself scarce in Rome. Given Caesar’s talent for politics it is quite likely that this stint outside of the heart of the empire was good for him in many ways, as is the fact that Sulla confiscated much of his inheritance, forcing him to work all the harder to achieve his ambitions (conjecture on my part, Caesar was very clever to begin with, but I have always felt that circumstances prevented him from resting on his laurels like many of his peers).
  • After Sulla died, Caesar returned to Rome, living in a poor suburb and making his living as a Lawyer. He became renowned for his oratory. Interestingly he gained favour for exposing the corruption of others.
  • Caesar was captured by Pirates as a young man, impressing them all with his demeanor. When his captors wanted to ransom Caesar famously pointed out to them that the ransom was too low, an action that provides many insights into his character and situation. He also told the pirates that if he survived he would one day return and have them crucified, which they took as a joke. Sadly for them, it wasn’t.
  • As a young Roman without a lot of wealth and bad connections Caesar was forced to move on from easy posts and take military assignments all over the empire. Although he complained about these, famously weeping (supposedly) when he saw a Statue of Alexander the great who had risen to rule the known world at an age when Caesar was just a minor officer, the body of experience he accumulated in his endeavors served him very well in later life.

Young Caesar make an ideal model for a classical character. Because he is such  a complex character, open to interpretation,  his life can serve as inspiration for pastoral styles or even grimdark. Many of us are familiar with the events of his middle years, the constant struggles with politics, debt, and his military triumphs, ending in a consulship and then the Governership of Gaul (all of it) where he gained his greatest fame (to modern audiences) as a military commander, and eventually becoming Dictator before he was assassinated. Along the way he meets Cleopatra, shows magnanimity to his enemies (a mistake? perhaps, given that they were attempting to conserve a system that he was a threat to), and crosses both the Rhine and the English Channel. However Caesar was a man of surprising talents, and did quite a few things which are often forgotten. Here are a few.

  • Caesar was entitled to a Triumph, one of the grand processions that were accorded to Rome’s great generals, for his victories in Spain. He wanted to run for the Consulship however, and the Triumph would have delayed that. He asked for an exception of sorts, the vagaries of Roman politics are very interesting at this time, but Cato blocked him. Caesar was forced to choose between Triumph and running for the Consulship — he chose the Consulship, looking to the future instead of resting on a sure thing.
  • Caesar was rumoured to have had an affair with a king of an allied province early in his career. He vehemently denied this, but it is interesting and adds more meat to the story. Mark Antony also said that Octavian used sex to gain Caesar’s favour, although this is often called out as slander.
  • Caesar was directly involved in class warfare. He supported Pompey’s land reforms (forcefully). Ronald Syne has an excellent book about the Roman Revolution, showing it as a case of class warfare of sorts. The love that the poor, and the military class bore Caesar may have rubbed off on Octavian, giving him the base of support needed to become the first emperor.
  • Caesar introduced the Julian Calender in 46 BC. The calendar was 365.25 days long with twelve regular months and an extra day every four years. We use a corrected variation of this calender, reformed later. Interestingly the calender was reformed partly because political meddling was throwing off the years. As a result of this reform the year 46 BC was 455 days long in Rome to bring it back into proper alignment with the equinoxes, which raised a few eyebrows. The adoption of this calendar and subsequent reforms and confusions outlasted the man himself by quite some time… Caesar’s most important contribution was seeing the problem and imposing a solution where others would have just been content to continue taking advantage.
  • Caesar essentially made Rome into a province to counter the view that those who were born and lived outside of Rome could not really be considered for high office. This reform was completed by Augustus, and was considered essential to transforming the Empire into a cohesive whole instead of a network of linked semi-states ruled by Rome. It also alleviated the complaints of many outside Rome who wanted to be seen as true citizens. I would guess that this reform really pissed certain people off — some people always resist change, however fair.

Caesar, with all his greatness and his flaws, is an exemplar of classical civilization, and his life could serve as inspiration for many different types of fantasy characters. Caesar appears in several guises in my works, as inspiration for Gavin and Marius, and even Sadira.

The Shadow Wolf Sagas: Blade Breaker 1.9

A little serial, based on my old RPG, written raw for practice.

Blade Breaker 1.1 (start here)

Blade Breaker 1.8 (in case you missed last week’s)

I was cautious leaving Gregor the Grey’s grim fortress of a shop: in the North it is often said that bad things often come in three, and I figure the saying goes for attempts on one’s life in Myrrhn, if it goes at all.

I saw no sign of watchful eyes, rooftop shadows, or deeper darkness in the alleys as I stepped outside. Superstition will only take you so far, even as Nordan.

I was interested that Gregor was one of the ascended, that smaller personhood into which I was born a second time. The case at hand, however, was far more pressing, so I committed that information to memory, for later use. So far I knew that Sapphire and her Nordan lover had been killed by as assassin of no small skill, but one who had crossed the line from professionalism into passion in doing the deed. The poison, the rape, the slow torture, and the mutilation of the bodies indicated that the killer knew Sapphire and felt some claim to her.

I considered returning the the Pink Pearl and asking around. I discarded this idea almost immediately. No matter how much the other women liked Sapphire, it seemed unlikely that any of them would risk the wrath of the Guild to help catch her killer. Prostitutes in Myrrhn, even the most pampered, had well honed survival instincts. It would take someone with stones like Madam Glorianna to risk butting heads with the Nightblades.

Aside from the knowledge that I was looking for an assassin who was in love with Sapphire, I now knew that he purchased his specialty poison from Gregor the Grey, making a rush order and paying the princely sum of a gold trade bar. The rush order confirmed to me that the assassin was not acting rationally: the act was planned, but impulsive, almost feverish. The gold trade bar meant I was dealing with someone well paid — in assassin terms that meant a prolific journeyman at the very least. That ruled out the pair who attacked me outside of Git’s, who despite drawing blood, were likely just out of training at best.

I considered this as I walked past dreamy eyed addicts and made my way to the nearest bridge. The larger islands that make up the various districts of the city are tall and jagged rocks and it is much easier to take the suspension bridges than to take the boardwalk or water taxi. The later were very popular for other reasons, mostly involving smuggling and other illicit activities.

I reached the bridge just as the twilight rush began.

There is a certain beauty to the sudden chaos of rush times. Tens of thousands of people spill onto the streets in a matter of seconds, a tidal wave of people. Everyone on the streets is swept up by the influx, which moves of its own accord, like blood pumping through the veins of some great stone beast. Orcs run shoulder with dwarves, students with merchant princes, and thieves with watchmen, all moving as one great mass. There is a certain logic, a pattern to the madness, that makes these times peaceful and profound rather than riven by disharmony. I believe it is simply the expression of an overwhelming mass consciousness, the will of the city made manifest in a brief, glorious storm of people that is as powerful and sustaining as the rain that accompanies Magni’s own thunder.

Another description of the rush that I am fond of, is that it is like marching with an army, only an army with a peaceful purpose and no particular organization.

The twilight rush is a combination od the movements of the shop-keepers and bankers leaving work, combined with the dockworkers, sailors, and day labourers moving towards their favourite taverns and whorehouses for the evening.

This bridge was a great span made of black stone, supported by steel cables and massive pillars sunk deep into waters below. It was decorated with ugly gargoyles, some possibly even real, and gave the impression of endless solidity.

I decided to head back to the Inn of the Willing Wench rather than risk a trip to the Black Tower before dark. It is best to deal with the Guild in broad daylight, even if you are a Shadow Wolf. A leg of lamb and a pint of Brunors Bitters would certainly help clear my mind and replenish all of the blood that I had lost. I was not retiring for the day, merely changing my investigation strategies. Anyone who had additional information for me would look for me at the Wench first, I reasoned.

Besides, if I was still being followed by a pair of neophyte killers, I figured it would be better to take them on in a stretch of ground that I was more familiar with.

Plus I really wanted a drink…

 

IOU

I had a great blog post about Caesar planned for today, alas I spent the entire day moving and now need to write like a maniac to reach my word-goal for the month. So… uh… IOU.