here, now: the one ring

The One Ring

Edda of Greenfield’s companions all fell mysteriously ill, leaving her unable to return Greenfield’s trade wagon to the village. In a gesture of goodwill, King Bard commissioned one of his newly-made kingsmen, Barra the Bardling, to accompany her from Dale and keep the goods safe. This Barra and her companions did, though there was some distrust between Edda and members of that company.

As they approached Greenfield, Edda knew something was amiss when she saw the crowd of villagers inside the town gates. A farmer claimed that he had been threatened by a giant while out “looking for lost goats.” The company of adventurers volunteered to investigate the farmer’s claim and Edda went with them as the village’s representative. They found the giant, clarified the terms of his demand for tribute, and returned with grave news for the villagers. The giant could not be swayed: they either had to pay tribute, or fight the giant. The villagers chose to take refuge in the town’s keep, leaving the adventurers, Edda, and one constable to defend the village from the angry giant. Some of the company had misgivings about preparing to fight the giant. He had been rather reasonable and he hadn’t actually harmed anyone — yet. But the decision had been made: they must fight the giant or, as cowards, leave their friends to fight him alone.

It was a long and arduous battle. Three of the company took up positions on the village wall with their bows and arrows; the others waited for the giant outside the walls. Eventually it was the constable’s arrow that finally brought down that fell giant. The company caught their breath and, seeing how Edda had not fled with the rest of the village but had fought bravely, was welcomed as a comrade.

While the villagers rejoiced in their rescue, Edda traded glances with her new comrade-at-arms Hild. The giant had said that his family was following behind him. What will they do when the giants find their kinsman slain?

Photo: The One Ring, a role-playing game set in Middle Earth.

April 2014

Oops, I’m a day late.

Books read in April:

  1. Sum: Forty tales from the Afterlives. David Eagleman.
  2. Seraphina. Rachel Hartman.
  3. Tropic of Serpents: A Memoir by Lady Trent. Marie Brennan.
  4. The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two. Catherynne M. Valente.
  5. Blood of Tyrants. Naomi Novik.
  6. Tooth and Claw. Jo Walton.
  7. Dragon Keeper. Robin Hobb. (50%)

This month’s theme of choice was dragons. All but the first book on the list feature dragons in some form or fashion, ranging from a half-dragon, half-library ‘wyverary’ in The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland, to having the entire cast of characters be dragons in Tooth and Claw. I’ve always loved dragons and I enjoyed exploring new books and discovering new authors. Some were duds (like Dragon Keeper, I just couldn’t stand the prose), and others were simply fantastic. Seraphina was my favourite by far, followed by Tooth and Claw and Dragon Slippers (which was finished today, so will be included in May’s list).

Of course, now I have to decide what I’m going to read over the weekend and then what to bring with me when traveling. Some massive tome that will last a few weeks? Or several smaller books? Books I want to read but don’t mind leaving behind in an airport or hotel? (Though, that might prove difficult, for I am very like a dragon when it comes to my hoard.) Decisions, decisions…

Summer holiday: Zagreb

Yes, another instalment in my Summer Holiday posts! I’m almost finished documenting Joanna’s and my whirlwind trip from Italy to Croatia to Turkey. This post is about our final day in Croatia, when we went to Zagreb, the capital.

The city of Zagreb’s coat of arms in flowers.

The hostel we checked into gave us a map that had marked out a walking tour of the Upper and Lower towns of Old Zagreb. The map had helpful miniature illustrations of the major sites, but unfortunately did not say what they were! So it was an adventure walking around the Old City.

First we went to Zagreb Cathedral, which is currently undergoing restoration (and has been for some time). The inside was beautiful and quiet.

At the back of the cathedral was an incredible sculpture of the crucifixion. It took up the entire wall, and above it was what I presume to be a passage from the Bible written in ancient Croatian. Beside it was a shrine to the Virgin.

   

As we continued on our walking tour, we also took a little detour. While chatting over steaming mugs of Turkish coffee, the hostel receptionist asked us if we were religious and then told us about a shrine in the Old Town Gate. Inside the gate is a shrine to the Virgin and to St Anthony. The painting of the Virgin is said to be holy because it was the only thing to have survived a large fire that destroyed most of the area, even though it is made of wood. People pray there, lighting candles, and the walls are covered with plaques of thanksgiving for answered prayer. (Hvala is ‘thank you’ in Croatian.) It was beautiful.

   

What struck me most were the plaques: not only did people come here to pray, but they came back to give their thanks. The walls were covered with the testimonies of answered prayer. I, too, lit a candle in that special place.

Outside the city gate was a statue of St George and the Dragon. Several countries claim St George as their patron saint (England included). I’m particularly fond of depictions of St George and the dragon, though ever since I used the painting by ___ as my writing totem for The Faerie King, I’ve felt sorry for the dragon. I was glad to see that this statue showed St George and his horse looking particularly sorrowful.

We finally did go to a couple of museums — the Croatian Naive Art Museum and the Museum of Broken Relationships — but not without first passing St Mark’s Church. This church probably has the most colourful roof I have ever seen on a church:

Neither Joanna nor I knew anything about Croatian Naive Art, so we went to the museum to find out. From what we could gather from the leaflet and the labels of the paintings, Croatian Naive Art is a type of modern art. A couple of my favourites were Zima s velikim nebom (Winter with a Big Sky) by Mio Kovačić and Velika Jesen (Big Autumn) by Ivan Lacković.

As for the Museum of Broken Relationships — that is one of the weirdest museums I have been to. The concept behind the museum is that society has events and ways to mark the beginnings of relationships, but not for the endings of them, even though the ending of relationships can be just as emotional. The museum’s collection consists of items that people from across the world have donated to the museum, often with a little anecdote, which is put on display next to the item. The galleries are arranged by theme. The first gallery was funny, with humourous anecdotes and really quirky items, but it quickly became depressing, making the visitor take part in some sort of odd voyeurism. Joanna and I left the museum somewhat downhearted, and, vowing never to receive gifts, especially of the plush toy kind, went to get ice cream.

Having had our spirits lifted by ice cream, we continued our tour. We went by the Croatian National Theatre:


‘Alas, poor Seamus! I knew him, Joanna.’ *

Outside of which was yet another statue of St George and the Dragon. This one is by K.K. Kunst-Erzgiesserei and it’s of George fighting a rather vicious looking dragon.

The horse looks particularly terrified. I don’t blame him!

With the light quickly fading, we ate dinner and went back to the hostel to pack and prepare to leave Croatia. The next day we would be flying home, taking a rather circuitous journey…

* Who is Seamus? Only Seamus the Traveling Duck, of course.

Dragons & hot air balloons

Last week I went to Poland.

To be honest, I don’t know very much about Poland as a country. I still don’t, though I do know a little bit more now having visited there. I went to Poland to visit one of my longest-ever-best friends, Lola, who is there on a Fulbright grant.

 

She met me in Krakow, where we spent the first couple of days. We walked around the Rynek, or big plaza, and the Cloth hall market. We visited the Wawel (pronounced Vavel) Cathedral in Wawel Castle, and I hugged the Wawel Dragon (he even breathes fire!). We ate lunch at the Restauracja Gessler, drank Israeli coffee at the Cheder café in the old Jewish quarter of Krakow, and ate dinner at a sushi restaurant in the same area of town. The Jewish quarter is now the trendy part of Krakow, and apparently sushi restaurants = Western/modern!

We even rode in a hot air balloon.

Yes, we did this all in one day. I realised shortly after I arrived in Poland that this was the first country in which the language was truly unintelligible to me. I have enough Spanish background, with a smidgen of Latin and French, to navigate around most Romance-speaking countries. Even Cyprus wasn’t entirely foreign: not only was English widely spoken, but I recognised enough Greek letters to read place names and identify cognates. Polish on the other hand… I have no clue. Different sounds are assigned to letters I thought I knew. I entered the country only knowing how to say ‘wróżka’, or ‘fairy’ in Polish. By the end of five days I could say ‘dziękuję’ (thank you) and ‘tak’ (yes). Fortunately I had Laura as my translator and guide!

The next morning we had a delicious breakfast at a charming café called Camelot.

After breakfast at Camelot, we went to the Wieliczka salt mines, but that is worth a post of its own. Krakow is a beautiful city to walk around, and a day and a bit isn’t really enough to give it justice.

Tune in tomorrow for the Wieliczka salt mines!

The beginning of it all

Yesterday one of the cornerstones of modern science-fiction passed away. Anne McCaffrey died in her home in Ireland following a stroke at the age of 85. There is not a fan of science fiction or fantasy that I know who did not fall in love with the dragons of Pern or explore the bounds of telepathy with the Rowan or the Ship Who Sang.

Although I loved dragons and science fiction long before I read anything by Anne McCaffrey, it was she who first revealed to me that these things that I loved could be found in books. I remember receiving Dragonsong for Christmas when I was twelve, sitting in the upstairs bedroom (‘my’ room) in the Old House, reading it late into the night. It was one of the few books that as soon as I finished it, I read it again. She awoke my thirst for reading science fiction and fantasy, and also, for writing it. My very first ‘novel’ (that shall never see the light of day) shamelessly borrowed from Pern (and Xena and the NBC miniseries Merlin, but let’s not go there). Although I can point to Peter S. Beagle for my deep love of the high medieval period and the Pooka, to Piers Anthony for my weird way of mixing Greek myths with fairy tales, and to Robin McKinley and Mercedes Lackey for examples of strong, amazing princesses, it was Anne McCaffrey who started it all.

Thank you, Anne. May you rest in peace.

For Writing Wednesday I feel I ought to post an excerpt that has dragons in it, but unfortunately, Uncle Urian the dragon was left behind in Chapter Two. Instead, meet my newest protagonist:

With a start, the swan flapped its wings and was gone into the trees. The Pooka reared in surprise as Lukas drew his sword. “Swan!” he cried. The Pooka turned, leaving the road to chase after the swan. Ahead of them they could see the flash of white hopping and flapping its wings through the underbrush, half-running, half-flying. Suddenly the swan was lost in a flurry of white wings and necks. The Pooka slid to a halt in front a flock of swans, all silently swarming around one swan, rubbing their heads and necks together.

“Swan?” asked Lukas, dismounting.

Out of nowhere a branch swung at his head. Lukas ducked. The Pooka sidled out of the way. When he looked up the branch was swinging back at him, so he stepped aside and grabbed it. The branch struggled against his grip, and it was then that he saw that it was held by a maiden, a young lady dressed in the fine clothes of minor nobility.

“Who are you? Why are you attacking me?” asked Lukas.

The woman, whose skin was nearly as fair as the swans and her hair pale besides, scowled at him. The color was high in her cheeks. Her eyes were pale blue — the same color as the swan’s eyes, he noticed. Without speaking, she pointed angrily at him, at his sword, and then at the flock of swans. Lukas followed each point until he was staring at the swans, unable to make out which one had been his travel companion for the past several months. The swans had settled enough for Lukas to count them. There were six swans.

“What?” asked the knight.

The Pooka whuffed through its nostrils. “Perhaps she thought you were hunting the swan,” it said.

The maiden’s eyes grew wide and round at the Pooka, but still she said nothing. She nodded once.

Fantastic Friends

Just a bit of silliness: a moment with me and my desk pals. They normally like to live on the piles of books on my desk, keeping an eye on my work.

The Vague Activist Fairy, Quizzy the Quizzical Unicorn, and the Wonky Dragon.

*

In other news, Mondays are hard to get back into the swing of things. But I’ve prepared for a meeting with my supervisor tomorrow. And I read an article that makes me wonder if the English Melusine is radically different from the French Melusine after all. If it is, then this is very good.