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Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Writer's World

I was doing a lot of shopping for myself, since it was black friday and lots of deals and what not. I came across several things that I think are lacking in the writing world, so I decided that for this week I would put up a list of things that make the writing world week. Sort of a strange and hard to describe list, but hopefully it makes sense.

Reasons Why the Writer's World Needs Help
(in no particular order)

1) Lack of Selection: Stores such as Walmart, Kmart, and Target almost always have a very limited book supply with Target being the most on track. They aren't supposed to have a lot of things, obviously, but there's almost never any Scifi or fantasy for either adults or for children--and if there are some for children they are limited to the major series (Chronicles of Narnia, A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Inheritance Trilogy, and Harry Potter). Target is the only one of the three stores mentioned that actually has a large YA section with lots of fantasy, but like all the others it rarely has anything for adults or any scifi at all.
2) Lack of Reference Books For YA, SF, or F: There hasn't been a good book released that really gives you a writer's perspective on writing for those three genres. There are some, but always books aimed towards straight fiction or literary fiction control the market. With series like Harry Potter dominating the entire fiction market there needs to be some good reference books for people who want to write YA. As for SF and F, while there are some reference books out there (and some good how to's by people like Orson Scott Card), there's just not enough coming out. You're lucky to get one or two in a year that are worth forking out fifteen bucks for.
3) Lack of Internet Resources: The Internet, of all places, should have some really fascinating resources for people who are writing in the more speculative fiction genres. Unfortunately, unless you want the same information, and overly complex scifi based things, crammed down your throat you're out of luck. There are great places such as Fantasy Worldbuilding by Patricia C. Wrede, a complex list of questions to answer when creating your own world, or Robert J. Sawyer's Website, which gives you all sorts of fantastic info on both writing and query letters.
4) Lack of College Coursework: Somewhere along the line creative writing in all its forms (fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and drama) took an amazing turn and secured itself a position in the academic community as a legitimate and powerful educational ideal. The problem? Where's the curriculum for people who don't write literary fiction? There are exceptions, most particularly where Orson Scott Card may teach a class or where there are colleges where writers either in the field or intimately engaged in works within that field are present. However, the majority of colleges don't even have literature classes aimed towards lovers of scifi/fantasy, and even if they do they don't count towards general ed requirements, leaving people little choice but to revert to 'classics' in British or World literature. This is absurd. There are plenty of scifi/fantasy works that date back to well before we started even calling them that. H.G. Wells, Jules Verne anyone? Heck, even Mark Twain wrote a story that could be seen as a somewhat modern fantasy which involved the son of the devil and the bringing to life of clay figurines. So, why don't we have curriculum for those of us that love scifi/fantasy? Why aren't there fiction classes geared towards that, or perhaps geared towards certain aspects of it. We have short story classes, novel classes, etc. Why not world building or development of a scifi/fantasy novel?
5) Lack of Representation: There's lots of real easy ways to find out all the new buzz about upcoming fiction or horror. There's a best sellers list, plenty of reviews in all your favorite mass appeal magazines, posters, etc. Unless you are gifted and have a cool book store there won't be any easy access to all these goodies for speculative fiction. There's bound to be websites somewhere, but why can't you get something that offers loads of reviews of upcoming work from more than just your overdone writers like Terry Brooks and Robert Jordan? Is there a magic magazine you can get that keeps you updated on all this? I've found that I had to do a lot of searching on the Internet to find much of anything that was useful, and even places like Borders weren't all that much help because Borders advocates very specialized books rather than your typical things.

So, I think that does it for my silly list. I know, annoying, but hey what can I say. I'm disappointed in the writing world right now and I'd like to see some more public admiration for people who do write in the speculative fiction field.
So have a good day!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Chapter Five: Triska and Things

(Note:  This is not official version and may be removed in the near future.  This do not reflect what is read in the podcast version, nor any other version you may encounter.  I have preserved the rough form for posterity -- or something like that.  This novel has since been rewritten.)

Inside the Healers’ shop James had the sudden feeling of calm. Something about the way the bookshelves were laid along the walls and the warm red and brown drapes that hung from the ceiling seemed to pull all the anxiety out of him. It reminded him of home, only it clearly was alien to him. Yet that thought above all the thoughts running through his mind soothed him.
He followed Pea through a wall of drapes into a room covered in pillows and lit candles. The aroma of ginger replaced the cinnamon and cocoa that had overwhelmed him upon entrance. Pea motioned him to take a seat, and he did, finding a small cushioned chair nearby. Pea did the same.
“Pantifilus,” a soft female said from behind a wall of brown curtains, “is that you?”
“How did you know?” Pea said.

“Because whenever you walk into this house it suddenly smells like ginger.”
Pea snickered. A short, pudgy woman appeared through the curtains and eyed the both of them warmly. The top of her head barely met with James’ chin. She wore a thick brown dress that fell all the way to her feet and her face beamed bright and wide.
“Pantifilus, you old fool. What brings you back here? Those pixies didn’t hit you with another spell did they?”
“No midnight wanderings for me this time Triska. I was fortunate and unfortunate to not find any.”
Triska nodded. “And who is your guest?”
“I’m James.” He stepped forward to shake the woman’s hand. She took his hand graciously, bowed her head, and shook gently. He nodded back, remembering Pea’s recitation of etiquette early that day.
“I found him not too far off from the Old Oak.”
Triska looked between them. “He’s why you’ve come then?”
“Yes. I think he’s either lost his mind or never had it to begin with. You should hear his story. It’s quite charming.” Pea grinned a wide, sarcastic grin at James. James frowned back and then looked at Triska, who now eyed him with further enthusiasm.
James looked away a moment as Triska peered at him. Then he told her what he had told Pea—plain and simple. She only looked at him, for that he was thankful. Pea had simply laughed uncontrollably. At least in this instance he sensed that someone at least considered his story, if only for a brief moment.
“That’s an interesting story.”
“It’s the truth.”
Pea broke in and said, “Well, do you think you can fix it?”
“No problem at all. I’ve treated worse insanities.”
“What happens if what I’m telling is the truth?” He said that with a hint of bitterness. I’m not insane.
Triska smirked. “Then the tables turn and I get a full dose of reality. Healers can only fix, not mess things up. But there hasn’t been a person here from another world in as long as my ancestors could remember. Shall we begin?”
James nodded.
“Good, now sit down and relax.”
As he did, Triska slipped out of the room and produced a small cup of a steaming liquid. A familiar scent lifted his spirits—jasmine.
Triska handed him the cup. “Drink this. It will help you relax. Just a mild concoction of my own. Herbs and the like.”
He took a sip, swished the liquid in his mouth, and nearby choked at the sudden rush of flavor that sent every taste bud yearning for more. Then he gulped the rest down, ignoring the slight burning sensation that followed. Warmth filled every inch of his body, powerful and intoxicating warmth.
“Good. Relax and close your eyes.”
James felt two warm hands slide to the sides of his head. They were comforting, worn hands. Then a burst of light filled his vision, despite his eyes being closed. More lights came and he had the feeling that something lurked in the back of his mind, wandering aimlessly along the imaginary paths that connected everything there. Images of his childhood came and went, then of his parents and Woodton. It seemed as if his entire life were passing by at the speed of light, so fast he hadn’t the time to dwell on any one thing.
Then a burst of red flashed into his vision, followed by a roar—the same roar that had come from the satin bag. The sound ripped through his mind and attacked the entity that had brought about all the images. Darkness covered his vision. Then the darkness lit up with the presence of the same inhuman eye.
A bellowing scream forced James to open his eyes. He couldn’t take the sounds any longer. The rush back to reality, or to James that was how it seemed, gave him a long bout of dizziness. When it settled he noticed Triska laying a few feet away panting loudly with Pea by her side in a vein attempt to comfort her. Both looked at him in fear. Droplets of sweat fell from Triska’s forehead.
“What is it?” Pea said.
“The eye! He’s been marked by the eye!”
Pea broke away from Triska and raised his hand violently. A burst of energy hit James in the chest and he found himself suspended in the air with legs and arms drawn in four opposing directions. He struggled to break free.
“You’re a spy from Angtholand!”
“Don’t lie to me. Triska is no fool. You’ve been marked!”
“I only saw it through the satin bag. The eye took my friend!”
Pea started to speak but was abruptly cut off by Triska.
“He’s not lying Pea. He’s not lying. Everything he’s said is the truth.”
“What? How is that possible?”
“He came through a satin bag. Very strong magic. The last of its kind. They were supposed to have been destroyed two thousand years ago. He’s really not from this world.”
The two of them stared at James as if he were some zoo animal. He looked back; his heart raced. Then the energy gently placed him back in the seat.
“Luthien has your friend,” Triska said. “And he has you marked.”
He gave them a questioning look.
Pea said, “Luthien is the ruler of Angtholand. The eye is his eye. He has only one.”
“He sacrificed his ability to see in his left eye for the ability to see the future in the right.”
“And now he controls all of Angtholand and much of what used to be part of the Farthland.”
Then Pea and Triska told him about Luthien. They told him about how Luthien had raised an army and overthrown the previous ruler of Angtholand over two hundred years ago. His eye could tell the future, and with it he could make decisions entirely on what would happen—he could change his own future. Three kingdoms had fallen to Luthien and his army, and two others had failed miserably to thwart the incredible power he held. Only the Farthland remained strong enough to repel him.
“What would he want with me and Laura?” James said.
“I don’t know,” Triska said. “Whatever the reason, it can’t be good for those of us in the Farthland. Everything that man does leads to destruction.”
“Point is,” Pea shook his head slowly, “you’ve been marked. Luthien wants you and will be looking for you. He’ll send spies into the Farthland.”
“Shiftkind most likely. Shapeshifters.”
He thought about this. I’m marked, he thought. Whatever Luthien wants with Laura, he wants with me. With a deep breath he buried his face in his hands. All of it was too much—the world he had landed in, Luthien, Laura, the troubles at home. It all seemed to bear down on him like a giant stone falling from the sky. He wanted to scream out and dispel all the tension rising inside him.
The smell of ginger disappeared, replaced by an overwhelming scent of dark chocolate. Pea helped Triska up from the ground and into one of the soft pillow seats in the center of the room before taking a seat himself.
“What am I going to do Pea?” He stopped his emotions, feeling the Fearl quivering slightly on his arm, and looked up at the two of them.
“I’ve made a promise to you. I will help you find your friend. Erdluitle law says I must keep that promise even to the death. We have to go to Angtholand. Into the heart of Teirlin’pur, the home city of Luthien, to save her. But I have to insist that you reconsider. At least in the Farthland you can be kept somewhat safe.”
Then Triska sighed deeply. “And you can’t just waltz into Angtholand. It’s covered in Underkind and Daemonkind. Do you even know how to use that Fearl on your arm?”
He shook his head. “I know that it reacts to my emotions.”
“He can use magic, he just doesn’t realize how.”
“Take him to Darl.”
Pea turned to Triska sharply. “The crazy old man on Market Street?”
She nodded. “He may be crazy, but I think if anyone can teach James quickly it would be him.”
Pea seemed to take offense to this, turning his whole body swiftly, standing, and glaring at her. “I can teach him magic. I taught your daughters after all.”
She giggled. “He’s a humankind. Can you teach him to use a sword?”
Pea grunted. “Then we’ll go to Darl in the morning. The old fool is probably sleeping in a pile of corn husks by now. Besides, I think it is about time we have some supper. Can’t go about talking to crazy old men without a full stomach now can we?”
Triska smiled, and James too. The little man rubbed his belly cheerfully. Then Triska guided them into another room—this one not covered in drapes, but bear except for a small wooden table and a black iron stove—then James and Pea sat while Triska began producing various food items from a small cabinet.
Before long three plates were placed on the table. Most of the food James recognized: cheese, bread, and some berries that looked similar to blackberries. Only the meat made him second guess and he had to ask before putting it in his mouth.
“Fidget Fowl,” Pea and Triska said together. “Tastes just like chicken.”
James took a small bite and marveled at how similar it smelled to the fowl he had had at home. And it did taste remarkably like chicken, so much so that had he not looked at the stringy brown meet beforehand he wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference.
Before long, conversation struck up again. Pea made sure that James knew where they were going in the morning, while Triska exclaimed that she would have to go to the High Council—the governing body of Arlin City and most of the Farthland—in the morning to tell them of James. He didn’t see much point in it. If Luthien truly was after him, having his story spread across the Farthland would only hinder his ability to save Laura. But she assured him that it was necessary. Only the High Council could give him the proper aid that he needed. He couldn’t be sure what that meant, but he took it in gratefully.
Then the meal ended. Triska took away the plates and guided both he and Pea to yet another room, this one similar to the one where Triska had healed him. There, in the center of the room, as if someone regal and noble would have lived there, were two plump beds covered in the finest fabric he had ever seen. It resembled silk, only shinier, smoother, and altogether more inviting. Pea jumped excitedly into one of the bed, tossing his cap aside and performing a spell of magic that turned his clothes into a set of white pajamas with green polka dots. Triska guided James to the other bed.
“I’m sorry. I never had any sons so the need for male bedtime clothing never came.”
He smiled in thanks and climbed in. The bed seemed to welcome him like two warm hands, gently rolling around the frame of his body. He pulled the covers over himself and suddenly felt completely relaxed, almost as if he were at home. The thought of home only remained a moment before sleep swelled into his mind.
“We’ll start off on the right foot in the morning. Do forgive Pea for his lack of faith.”
“I don’t blame him,” he said quietly.
“As well you shouldn’t!” Pea said. “We littlekind aren’t always right, just more right than you humans. Most of the time.”
“He’s just a silly old Erdluitle.” Triska poked fun. Then she turned to leave.
Slowly, as she left the room to find her own bed, James’ eyes became heavy and he fell asleep.
* * *
James woke softly, softer than he had ever awakened from sleep. Never before had he woken to silence. He recalled at home all the times when a bang or the sound of dishes being fumbled with had woken him from a deep slumber. Here in Triska’s home and business, there was no chaos or noise. Everything was silent and calm. He imagined that she had placed some magic on the place to keep it that way.
He got up from the bed as quietly as he could and maneuvered his way through the rooms while admiring the decorations. He hadn’t noticed before the many Celtic designs running alone the walls and the sheets. They were hard to see. The ones in the red drapes were made in an off-red color, in the brown an off-brown color. They were long, never-ending designs that seemed to wind in and out of every inch of the drapes. It had never occurred to him to wonder why such designs held such sway in this world. Did the people of this world have contact with the ancient Celts? Or the other way around?
He found his way to the door and looked out of one of the windows. The sun cast long foggy rays over the buildings. He couldn’t see it, but knew from the rising light that it was well into morning.
Sleep had come so smoothly the night before. Maybe it had to do with that drink last night. He contemplated it and figured that the combination of elements in Triska’s eternally warm house had contributed to his soundless sleep. A safe place for once.
James let himself out. Clean, cold, and crisp air filled his lungs and he closed his eyes. From the street he could see the sun rising up between two tall mountains in the distance. Light fog slithered across the fields, and off, just within range of sight, were gray rain clouds slowly moving through the sky. The snow on the mountain tops glistened. He could see for the first time several rivers and a lake running beyond Arlin City. The city covered a tall hillside in one giant circle, leaving many parts of the city at higher elevations than the massive wall. The two connected towers, however, stood so tall that they cast long shadows across the entire city. He imagined that one could tell time from the shadows.
His view was abruptly interrupted by the sound of rustling wings. As quiet as the beast could, the gryphon from the night before landed, galloped a few steps, and stopped delicately nearby. It leapt up and took a perch on a bench in the center of the court, looking at him in such a way that he couldn’t help but feel that the creature hated him. He didn’t look back, remembering Pea’s warning. He simply watched from the corner of his eye.
The gryphon watched him like a bird looks at its prey. James wanted to cower away. He could only remember his last encounter with this creature.
Then the gryphon broke the silence and grunted.
“You boy, young humankind. You may look at me.”
James turned cautiously.
“Do not fear me. I will not attack you now unless you turn out to be a spy of Angtholand, or you greatly insult me again.” The gryphon’s voice bellowed, airy.
He looked at it bewildered.
“Where is this place that you come from? What do they call it?”
His mouth dropped.
“Yes, I know of your story.”
“I come from a,” he stopped, trying to think of the right words to say, “world called Earth in the town of Woodton.”
“What is this Earth like?” The gryphon leaned back and then lay down.
“It used to be like this place, this world whatever you call it. But much of the natural land is gone. We have great cities with cars and airplanes. Many people too. But only humans. Dragons and elves are myth, not reality. We don’t have magic either. Just technology.”
“You speak of strange things. I fear there is no time for you to explain, but perhaps one day. Tell me, how do you intend to save your friend?”
“I’ll go to Angtholand and somehow…”
The gryphon chuckled. The deep sound resonated and James’ heart jumped suddenly. “There is no easy way into Teirlin'pur. But there are ways into every city. Remember that and you might save your friend.” Then it stood and leapt from the bench and took flight. “Beware the eye. Look to the western sunrise.”
Then the gryphon was gone, flying out beyond the towers and off into the clouds. He watched it as it became a speck in the sky.
Pea appeared from Triska’s home and came to his side. James didn’t say anything, and only half realized that the little man was there. The gryphon had said ‘look to the western sunrise’, and that seemed to stick with James more than anything else it had said. But the sun rises in the east. It sets in the west. That doesn’t make any sense.
Finally he turned and looked at Pea who still had his pajamas on. The little man looked remarkably like a child, only with a beard and stubble. Then Pea looked up at him and smiled.
“I’ll have you know James that although Arlin City is the safest city in all of the Farthland, you can still be robbed, maimed, or ultimately beaten until disabled in the waking hours of the day. You are going to be somewhat of a celebrity in the eyes of the High Council. I think it best you keep out of trouble.”
James agreed, and then said, “Pea, where does the sun rise?”
Pea scoffed. “In the east of course. What sort of ridiculous question is that? That’s an example of a question that will make people think you’re completely insane. You realize that don’t you?” The little man pointed vehemently. “We’ll have to get you through the basics before we see Darl. Heaven knows what that madman will think of you if you start spouting such nonsense.”
“I’m sorry.”
“It’s quite alright. I think we can easily assume that whatever natural laws that exist on your world are present here. Now, we should eat before wandering off to find that crazy old man, and before Triska goes off and makes you a spectacle before the High Council.”
James beamed at that and followed Pea back into Triska’s home. Again the scent of cinnamon and cocoa filled his nose, then it became dark chocolate, and finally a strong ginger.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Top Ten Books I Want to Read That Just Came Out and College

Well, with Chapter Four done finally, and the week closing now, it's time for a little blog about things that have gone on this week. Plus, it's a non-post-a-chapter-week, so yeah.

First things first is what I did this Saturday. It was awesome. I drove a good three hours to San Francisco at 5:30 AM to go to an open house I was invited to for the University of San Francisco, a Jesuit Catholic private school. No, I'm not Catholic, nor do I intend to be. You don't have to be Catholic to go there thankfully.
The college is gorgeous. St. Ignacius Church is amazingly beautiful. The campus is really nice looking despite being from around the 40's, 50's, and 60's. It actually burned down in that big fire in San Fran long ago, so it's a rebuilt campus, which is interesting.
The actual environment is extremely positive too. Everyone was glad to help and answer questions. The teachers were helpful and informative and the amazing part is they actually want you to succeed. Classroom sizes are smaller than at state colleges, another plus. Essentially it is the top school on my list that I am applying to. Hopefully I get in and can afford to go there!

Now for other things. I'm getting ansy right now because I don't have the ability to read full novels due to being in college. It's hard to keep my attention when I've got text books to read, but at the same time I'm can't take not being able to read something fantastic and interesting.

So, now for a top list of some form. Today is top ten books I want to read that just came out. These are in no particular order. Here goes!

1) The Children's Hospital by Chris Adrian: Something about this book caught my eye. It is a post apocalyptic religious novel of sorts. It deals with a massive flood across the world, sort of like with Noah, and these people in a hospital for children. There is a lot of supernatural stuff, such as angels and magic abilities, that take place too.

2) Old Man's War by John Scalzi: This is a new take on interstellar wars, sort of in the same style as Starship Troopers by Heinlein. It sounds really interesting nonetheless.

3) The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly: Another interesting book about going to alternate worlds through portals and the like. This one has a great title too.

4) World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks: Need I say anything more about this title?

5) Off Armageddon Reef by David Weber: Imagine a society of humans so afraid of contact with alien races that the government actually uses religion to keep the entire world in medieval times, until something happens to upset that balance.

6) Shadowfall by James Clemens: A once great man who has fallen into the life of a beggar witnesses the murder of a goddess and finds himself on the road to finding the real killer, while everyone else thinks he's the one that did it. Sounds quite awesome to me.

7) Galaxy in Flames by Ben Counter: I've never really read any military scifi, but the cover to this one really grabbed me. It looks fantastic and the idea behind it sounds epic.

8) To Outlive Eternity and Other Stories by Poul Anderson: Who can resist Poul Anderson? I can't. A collection of shorts by this great writer sounds like heaven!

9) Empire by Orson Scott Card: This book takes on the idea of a civil war erupting between blue and red politics, literally. Another civil war, only in the now. Imagine!

10) Rollback by Robert J. Sawyer: A woman receives the first alien message, decodes it, and waits. Years later, in her eighties, she receives another. In order for her to decipher it for the world she has to have an experimental procedure to 'rollback' her physical age. Neat no?

So there you go. Enjoy!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Chapter Four: A Not So Far Away Place

(Note:  This is not official version and may be removed in the near future.  This do not reflect what is read in the podcast version, nor any other version you may encounter.  I have preserved the rough form for posterity -- or something like that.  This novel has since been rewritten.)

James found shade under a massive tree—a thick, walnut shaped thing with branches running like vines in and out of themselves. He sat there in awe. Angtholand, wide and magnificent, stretched for miles in every direction, seemingly untouched by human hands except where he had seen a city.
Pure, he thought. He could just imagine what the people back home would do to a place of such beauty. Destroy it.
A short spurt of nausea dropped into the pit of his stomach. Traveling through the portal, tunnel, or whatever it was had left his insides feeling out of place, as if they had been turned upside down, rolled around, and then flipped suddenly to their original position. He likened it to the feeling he sometimes got on the ocean bobbing up and down in the never-ending waves.

James felt horribly alone, and rightly so. He had nobody to turn to on Angtholand, no friends or family, and no allies. It had been far too long since someone had passed through the satin bag for there to be allies. He needed them the most, that he knew; friends he could deal with later.
He looked towards the city again. It was obvious now that people lived there as he could see small plumes of smoke rising up the face of the connected towers, and if he squinted there were people walking along the stone bridge between the towers and the tops of the walls that encased the city. He guessed that the city sat only a mile or two away, which he found fortunate. Every other identifying feature that he could see—the mountains, lakes, and rivers—were many miles distant from where he had landed. Only one river came close to the city, but that added distance to the journey he would have to make. A city also meant the greatest chance of him finding out where Laura had been taken.
James found his bag, swung it over his shoulder, and started to walk through the pasture, taking care to stay in the shorter grasses. He didn’t know what sort of creatures lived there, nor if they were dangerous.
The terrain was easy, the ground smooth with few rocks to hinder his movement. Tall grasses and little green flowers that stuck up like sore thumbs among the tans and golden browns filled his vision. Hidden deeper in the grass were little blue plants tinged with purple lines. A few birds fluttered away from him, flapping their golden and crimson colored wings hurriedly.
A perfectly pristine landscape in his eyes. No place in Woodton could match the beauty before him. Yet he missed home and the comfort of a familiar terrain.
Something scurried around in the grass nearby and drew his attention with a giggle—childish and bubbly. When he turned towards it, another giggle rang behind him, and then a moment later as he turned again, at his side.
James felt no fear, only a sense of curiosity that pushed deep and hard at his instincts. He took a few more steps and heard the giggle sound again, this time in front, followed by a sudden burst of movement in a tall batch of grass as if a faint wind touched them.
To his surprise a tiny leg appeared through the brush, covered in an emerald fabric. On the foot was a large black shoe. Another leg appeared and the creature scurried out enough to show its behind. James marveled at the size of the two legs. They were less than a foot tall, as thin as two pencils lying side-by-side, and completely clothed in the tiniest pair of pants that he had ever seen.
Then the creature came out completely from the brush, dragging behind it a suitcase proportional to its size. James looked down at the barely two foot tall man-like being that stood before him. The beard gave James the only identifying marker that it was male. The little man seemed to ignore him as he unraveled his red cloak and allowed it to fall over his emerald pants and shoes. Then he brushed himself off and looked James straight in the eye.
“Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to stare at people?” the man said. His voice had a strange accent that James had never heard before—almost as if it were European or British.
“I-I.” James tried to speak but couldn’t think of anything good to say. He’d heard of dwarves, even seen them on television, but never had he heard of such a tiny person in his life.
The man stood there a moment, staring up at James. His little green eyes, scruffy brown beard that traveled up the sides of his face in long sideburns that collided with two pointed and furry ears, bushy eyebrows, and light tan skin were so foreign to James. Even the little hat on top of his head seemed out of place.
“Well,” the man said, breaking the silence angrily, “should I say hello first and introduce myself or were you planning on showing me the courtesy of interest?”
James stuttered again, before saying timidly, “I’m James.”
The little man smiled warmly and gently bowed, pulling his hat off and swinging it to the side delicately. “I am Pantifilus the Great. You may also call me Pantifilus the Wise, or for conversational purposes you can simply call me Pea.”
“Yes. P-E-A. Stands for Pantifilus the Extraordinarily Abnormal.” Pea stood straight. “I might have you know that when a man bows to you it is quite rude not to bow back.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.” James bowed quickly to Pea.
“Where are you from that you would not know that custom?” Pea put his had back on his head.
James thought about that for a moment. What should I say to him? I’m not even from this world. He wouldn’t believe me.
“Well, speak up boy.”
Pea eyed him questioningly as he stumbled over what he would say in his mind. The words just wouldn’t come. People from other worlds could not have been common enough in Angtholand that it would be believable.
“Alright then, if you can’t say then I will not pry. I would appreciate it if you would stop looking at me in that way though.”
James gulped and realized he had been staring at Pea the same way ever since the tiny man had appeared from the bushes. “Don’t take offense. It’s just that I have never seen someone like you before.”
“Someone like me?”
“Yes, I mean, what exactly are you? I know you’re not human. Not like me anyway.”
Pea gave him that same questioning look again, only with a larger curled brow and a vacant look in his eyes. “Heavens no boy. I’m not human, thankfully. I’m an Erdluitle, one of the Littlekind. Are there no Littlekind where you are from?”
“Only little humans.”
“Then you are from a very sad and ill fortuned place. Now,” Pea pulled his suitcase over and opened it to display an arrangement of clothes and strange little items that grabbed James’ interest immediately. “You are obviously in need of a guide. For a small fee I will be by your side to aid you in whatever cultural misunderstandings might so happen to fall into your lap. And, if you desire, I can sing.”
“I haven’t any money.” James let his eyes drop away from Pea who stared aghast.
“What terrible place could you have come from where there are no Littlekind and the concept of money doesn’t exist?” Pea put his hands on his hips.
“I was in a hurry.”
“A lot of good that will do you out here in the Farthland.”
James blinked.
Pea threw his arms up in the air. “Were you born with eggs in your skull? You act like this is a whole other world to you.”
“It is.”
“Anything and everything you can see from the top of that mountain,” he pointed to the tallest mountain in the ridge behind James, “to the Firing Rim in the North is part of the Farthland.” He grinned and James smiled back. “That’s quite a lot of land, which begs the question of where you come from. There are Littlekind in every place within the Farthland, and it would surely take any normal traveler months to cross the furthest lengths outside this valley. And,” he indicated the cloth on James’ arm, “you have a crimson Fearl. Very much the handy work of a Farthland spellbinder. So, my dear boy, where do you come from?”
James averted his eyes from Pea’s gaze. He couldn’t look into them. The little green embers were asking too much.
“They won’t let you into Arlin City with silence.”
He thought about that. It hadn’t occurred to him what he would even say to the people of the city—Arlin City as Pea called it. And he couldn’t simply make something up; he knew nothing of Angtholand—its cities, people, creatures, terrain, or countries—none of it. Now, more than ever, he regretted being so rash to plunge into this world unprepared. The council, it occurred to him, might have had something stowed away he could have used. At some point, he remembered his mother saying the people of Woodton were on good terms with the people of Angtholand, whatever that meant. So, as James stood there thinking all this over he came to a decision.
“Pea, if I tell you where I am from you have to promise me something.”
“Yes. You have to promise not to laugh and not to think I’m a lunatic.”
“Well it’s a little too late on the latter part. But I promise.”
He took a deep breath. “I’m not from the Farthland. I’m not even from Angtholand.”
“I surely hope you’re not from that dreadful place.”
“I come from another world.”
Pea looked at him and began to turn red in the face. James thought he could pop at any moment and took a step back. Then Pea burst into raucous laughter, keeling over onto the ground and rolling about like a dog. James glared and at the same time felt his Fearl quiver, reacting to both his emotion and to the crippling laughter of the Erdluitle.
“Stop. You promised.”
“I-I-I,” and Pea burst into laughter again, drenching his clothing in dirt and bits of gold grass.
James stood there for a time and contemplated walking away from the scene and continuing on to the city. This is what I get for being honest. He wondered if he would get the same treatment from other humans, or even other non-humans like Pea. That would only complicate matters more than they already were; he knew that. I can’t do this on my own. I need help.
Pea’s laughter became a violent wheeze as the little man desperately gasped for air. James didn’t quite understand why his predicament, at least the bit that he had told Pea, was so funny. He hadn’t laughed when Pea appeared from the brush, though such a being as Pea would have sparked worldwide interest on a variety of daytime talk shows.
The laughter started to get to him and he could sense the anger welling up. The Fearl throbbed too, sending a little tingly feeling down his arm. He imagined lifting Pea by his little feet and shaking him until he stopped. Pea would stop then.
And then, as if on queue, the Fearl lit up and an invisible force lifted a surprised Pea up from his feet and began shaking him gently up and down. Pea cried out as his top hat fell to the earth and struggled at the energy that grasped his ankles. His robe slid up over his face and James snickered.
“Let me go!”
“I don’t know how. I don’t even know how this is happening.”
“Put me down now!”
James tried imagining again. An image of Pea slipping out of his shoes and landing hard on the ground came into his head, and, just as the energy had abided by his thought before, it dropped Pea flat on his back, shoes suspended a few feet from the ground. Something orange and pink flew into to view, and just as quickly disappeared.
James looked down and in the same instant welled up and laughed uncontrollably. Rather than normal looking feet Pea had two scaly goosefeet. He couldn’t help but laugh.
Pea, however, did not find it funny, getting up from the ground angrily, snatching his shoes from the air and putting them on. Then he glared at James who now began to buckle over as if a violent spasm attacked his innards.
“You had no right!”
“I-I-I,” James said, mimicking Pea.
“It’s improper etiquette to use magic on a friend, especially when a disfigurement is involved.”
James tried to stifle the laughter so he could speak, but couldn’t. Then something slapped James in the mouth and before he could cry out his lips closed tight. He clawed them, frantic. Nothing; they wouldn’t budge, as if they were glued together.
“There, that should keep you quiet for a moment. Listen boy,” Pea’s voice rose angrily, “you can’t just use magic like that. It’s not right. I don’t know where you came from, but that’s one lesson you’ll have to learn out here in the Farthland.”
James mumbled something, realized he couldn’t talk, and dropped his shoulders angrily. Pea only looked at him, then brushed himself off before locating his hat and putting it on his head.
“There’s a law among my people. It says that should anyone see the feet of an Erdluitle, everything within that persons’ power should be done to keep it a secret. You, boy, have seen this and I now have to convince you not to spread such things about my people among your own kind. What say you?”
The bonds released from his lips and he coughed a moment before looking at Pea with a hint of anger, measured by the slight curl in his brow.
“I came here to find my friend. Help me find her and your secret is safe.”
Pea looked down for a brief moment and said, “I think I can manage that.”
“You can also believe me when I say I am from another world.”
“Well that I think would require the talents of a Healer. Arlin City has some of the best healers in all of the Farthland.”
“And if they told you I was not from this world you would believe them?”
Pea nodded. “Or they’d confirm that you are insane.”
“Then you will be my guide.”
“Then, onward to Arlin City dear boy. You’ll be so kind as to carry my things won’t you?” Pea leapt up, turned, and began to stride like a nobleman—long, dramatically stiff steps with his hands clasped behind his back.
James followed, murmured to himself as he closed and lifted Pea’s suitcase, swung his own bag over his shoulder, and set off, taking smaller steps so as not to step on Pea or get too far ahead. Arlin City was only a mile away and already he could see many more figures—human and otherwise—walking on the walls, through the massive gates, in the city itself, and on the walkways surrounding the two great towers. The city seemed golden, though James figured it had something to do with the way the sun reflected off of the grass or off of something within the city.
Then he thought about Pea. He would make a good ally. Even a friend. I need that more than anything here. He knows the land and its people.
At Pea’s pace, the remaining walk to Arlin City didn’t take much time. James hardly noticed until they had walked far enough where the tall stonewalls began to hinder the falling sun. The mountains behind Arlin City also dimmed the last bits of light that the sun had to offer; night was only a few hours away.
The gates were even more magnificent for James could now make out the details in the wood. Around the edges were two serpents—scaly and detailed in every inch—that began with their tails curved in such a way that if the gates were completely closed they would have wound into each other and met at the tips. Their bodies curved around the left and right side, curling in winding circles to the top where two spiked heads touched the edges of the gates giving James the image of two dragons locked in a reptilian kiss, pointed teeth visible just beneath their lips. In the center, lined up in the shape of a ‘+’, were five symbols. James recognized St. Brendan’s Cross immediately in the center—the same symbol on his Fearl. The detail carved into the wood gave the design a perfectly three-d look, as it seemed to literally hover along the edge of the gates. The other designs—a triquetra, a solar cross, an elaborate, intertwining shield knot, and an image he recognized as the world tree, a series of vines and flowers that grew out of two horn shaped objects—surrounded the center design perfectly. He marveled at their size. He could imagine that it had taken months to carve the gates, if not more. They would have had to be carved upright to prevent any damage when lifting the giant slabs of wood into the gateway. The scaffolding needed reminded him of how Michelangelo had painted the Sistine Chapel.
Two guards occupied a space on both sides of the open gate. They wore bright silver suits of armor marked with St. Brendan’s Cross on their breastplates, long golden capes attached to the inside of their pauldrons, and helmets adorned with the design of a set of closed dragons wings sliding back into points on the top and reptilian, clawed feet that nestled against their jaws. They were armed with long white wood spears.
Pea turned back towards him. “Just follow my lead and there won’t be any trouble.”
He nodded and followed.
Pea raised his arms up in greeting. “Good evening gentlemen.”
One of the guards perked up and said, “Pantifilus, it’s been a while.” The other guard remained stiff and uninterested.
“Indeed it has. Several months now I think. I was wandering the northern plains looking for pixies.”
“Not that old yarn again.”
“It brings in good money when you can find them. How is Helena?”
“Quite well thanks. She’ll be due any day now.”
“Ah, excellent. Please tell me when so I can be there to congratulate you. I’ll bring some of the wine of my people.”
The guard laughed, deep and powerful. “I’ll be sure to do that. What is your business here this evening?”
“Supplies mostly. And my friend James here is in need of a Healer. Seems he hit his head quite hard. Found him out in the bush some ways out. He has some silly delusions.”
“Where is he from?”
Pea shrugged. “I’m not entirely sure at the moment. He can’t remember. Hence why we need a Healer.”
“Okay. I’ll let it go this time Pea only because you’re a dear friend. I trust your judgment and if you say he is no danger, then I will believe you.”
“He’s no danger.”
The guard nodded, but the other guard suddenly caught on to the conversation and made to protest before being silenced by a loud, “Shh.”
“Thank you.”
With that, Pea led James through the gates. James looked up at the guards as he passed them; the guard that had talked with Pea smiled at him and nodded, but the other only glared and shook his head.
The inside of Arlin City looked even more surprising than it had from the outside. Once through the gates, he found that he stood in a massive courtyard full of stone benches, a fountain of winding twisting dragons and men spitting water, and a cobblestone walkway that created a simplistic Celtic weave that he could barely make out because of its massive size. Three roads—one to the left, one straight down the center, and one to the right—met with the cobblestone walkway leading to what looked like a residential area, a series of shops and street carts, and another residential area, respectively.
The city was bustling with people of all shapes and sizes. There were humans, other Littlekind like Pea, and dozens of other creatures he had only heard of in stories—elves, goblins, and the like.
As Pea guided him down the center, James noticed a feathered creature perched on a stone slab overlooking all the people running about. It had two massive golden-feathered wings, a body and swishing tail like a cat, and four impressive clawed paws. He expected there to be a catlike face too, but there, with round and yellow eyes, was a big black and orange streaked beak. Two pointy, feathered ears ran smoothly along its head. A gryphon, he thought. James stopped following Pea. He couldn’t help it. He had to see it up close.
He walked closer to the gryphon; it looked back at him. The eyes demanded respect. He wanted to touch it, feel the feathers running between his fingers and the soft lions fur against his skin. A few steps farther and he stood ten feet away, he looking at it and it looking at him. They watched each other like two curious creatures.
Then the gryphon screeched and reared back, crying something awful at James. James stumbled a few steps. The gryphon came closer. It jumped up and down and slashed its claws in the air. Fear crept into James for the first time since he had dropped into this world.
Pea suddenly appeared in front of him and the gryphon took a step back and eyed the little man. Pea bowed his head.
“Please, sir, he meant no harm. He’s insane. He meant no disrespect.”
The gryphon seemed to contemplate that for a moment as its gaze went from Pea to James and back again.
Then the gryphon spoke in a deep, roaring voice. “Next time I will gladly tear out his throat.” And with that the gryphon leapt back onto the stone slab.
Pea turned to James and shooed him back before saying, “boy, I have no doubt now that you have completely lost all common sense. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever,” as Pea repeated this he shook his head and waved his hands, “ever, ever, ever look a gryphon in the eye and challenge him to a staring contest. That is the easiest way to get killed. There are only two occasions when you can look a gryphon in the eye. One is when a gryphon has taken you as a friend and it is publicly announced, and two if you are its mother. I recommend avoiding them altogether. It doesn’t involve having your innards strewn across the landscape. Now come on.” Pea slapped him in the arm and started walking again.
James followed Pea through the center street. All manner of shops littered the left and right side—magic shops, trinket and candy shops, inns and pubs, blacksmiths, restaurants, and even a post office, or at least that was the best thing James could call it. In the road, set up on blankets or little two wheeled wooden carts were people attempting to sell anything and everything they could, yelling out deals here and there; most of the items were shiny, but only one such dealer caught his attention. In a corner, slightly covered in shadow, sat a tiny, wrinkly old man with stark white hair protruding from practically every part of his face. Something about the man interested him.
Before long Pea had led him out of the long road of shops and on into a small courtyard similar to the one at the entrance. The Celtic weave here only wound in on itself three times creating a three-pointed wave of lines—a triskele. The road diverted into two different directions from the main path, but Pea took neither.
“This way my boy,” Pea said, happier now than before.
Pea guided him to a small cottage, one of the many that ran along the edge of the courtyard, and opened the door. James read the sign that hung over the door: Triska, Healer Extraordinaire. Then he too stepped into the cottage and sniffed the gentle aroma of cinnamon and cocoa.