Friday, November 11, 2005

Friday Random Ten - Or, Yet Another Thing To Do When You're Not Doing What You're Supposed To Be Doing

I like long titles.

The Friday Random Ten is something I first discovered at Pandagon, originated at some other blog whose name and URL I don't remember now (and, frankly, I'm too lazy to do any digging), but, to my mind, perfected by Norbizness at Happy Furry Puppy Story Time with Norbizness. As created by... um, whoever it was, the FRT is exceedingly simple: take your favorite digital media player (stand-alone or on your PC or Mac), load up your entire library of music, put the player on "Shuffle", hit play, and list the first ten songs that come up. Easy, neh?

Norbizness takes it to a new level, making it the Friday Random Eleven Lucky Music Coolness Self-Audit. Same instructions as above, only eleven songs instead of ten (or ten songs and a bonus track that's not included for scoring purposes - Norb's a little inconsistent on this), with the caveat that you must rate the coolness of each song on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being Bell Biv Devoe, 10 being some uber-cool hipster indie band that hasn't even been signed yet, I guess). It can be... "enlightening" is a word for it, but "depressing" is what came to my mind first.

Let me be the first to admit: I'm just not that hip.

Anyway, since I've got me own blog now, I thought I'd post my FRELMCSA here. May whatever magical Sky Fairy you happen to believe in have mercy on me. (You can find Norb's FRELMCSA here)

1. "Transatlanticism", Death Cab for Cutie. Darlings of the indie scene for some time, they've now gone all Major Label with their newest effort, Plans. This, however, is the title track off their last indie effort, a soaring yet simple song about a far-away lover. Really beautiful stuff, and probably one the better songs off a really good album. 8/10.

2. "Nashville", Liz Phair. Way before she made her last-ditch effort at relevance by releasing Avril Levigne-esque songs like "Why Can't I Breathe", Liz was cool, man. Exile in Guyville is without a doubt her best album, but this one (Whip-Smart) ain't half-bad, either. However, this song languishes in a mushy guitar line that Liz can't quite rise above. 6/10.

3. "My Hero", Foo Fighters. Goddammit - Foo Fighters always always always comes up in my Self-Audits. Thought maybe, for my first audit on my very own site, Mr. Grohl and company would be kind enough to not make a showing. I mean, I like the Foos and all - and this just happens to be my favorite song of theirs - but they certainly are not cool. Ah, me. I told you I wasn't hip. However, this gets a 5/10 because it's reportedly about Kurt Cobain. So there.

4. "Not a Job", Elbow. Fairly standard morose English pop-rock from a band noone's heard of. Why, give it a 5/10!

5. "Carrion", Fiona Apple. Dammit. 2/10.

6. "Go On Ahead", Liz Phair. Off whitechocolatespaceegg (one of the weirder and better album titles I've ever seen), typically sparse song about a love gone sour. 6/10.

7. "All Worked Out", Semisonic. Off of Feeling Strangely Fine - the 1998 album which supplied the waaaaaay overplayed "Closing Time". Semisonic isn't really cool. And this song isn't really cool. And I never want to hear "Closing Time" again. 3/10 for you!

8. "I've Been Tired", Pixies. Aaaahhh. There's the cool. I love hearing Black Francis saying "whore with disease", especially at 9 in the morning. 9/10.

9. "Independence Day", Ani DiFranco. More cool. Ani's the poster girl for Do-It-Yourself music, having started her own label at the ripe ol' age of 19 (or was it 20?), and steadfastly resisting signing with a major label, even as her name recognition has steadily increased through the years (thanks mainly to her relentless touring). This is off Little Plastic Castle, her 1998 studio album, and my favorite album of hers - richer and more complex than her earlier efforts, both musically and lyrically, but not before she went off in some weird-ass musical direction with later efforts (Up Up Up Up Up being the weirdest, IMO). And this is my favorite song off the album. 8/10.

10. "Ballad of a Running Man", Catherine Wheel. Oh, I've no idea what to do with this one. The song's okay, with some incongruous harmonica work over the layered guitar work in the middle, but... eh. 4/10.

11. "Derelict", Beck. He may not have the same cachet that he once had, but, you have to admit: Odelay was one of the best albums of the 90s. 7/10.

Which gives me an aggregate score of 5.73/11.

That's about right. Told you I wasn't hip.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Week Two - In Which Your Host Realizes That, Yes, The Self-Editor Is An Annoying Little Snit


So, yesterday marked the beginning of Week Two of the NaNoWriMo 2005 adventure. To reach the 50k wordcount goal, I should ideally have entered Week Two with more than 10,000 words under my belt.

Current word count, as of this morning: 9,629.

I'm already behind, and Week Two is noted for its almost-universal drop in production, as participants realize the utter insanity of the task they've assigned themselves and wistfully long for those carefree days when they could just plop down in front of the TV and veg out to the constant CSI reruns on Spike.

Well... maybe that's just me, but you get the point. There's a reason they call it the Great Slowdown.

I am unimaginably busy this year - working one full-time job, pulling anywhere between 15-30 hours a week on a side contract, one 4 1/2-year-old son whom I've unabashedly gotten addicted to the Lego Star Wars PS2 game, and a wife who occasionally likes to see and talk with her charming husband - so I suppose it's not terribly surprising that I'm behind. But I took three vacation days from my full time job last week for the sole purpose of writing my NaNo Novel, with the outlandish goal of pumping out 10,000 words a day, thereby giving me a nice, comfy cushion going into Week Two.

Needless to say, after the first vacation day, I adjusted my goals downward, as expectation smashed headlong into reality. However, I thought it still realistic - indeed, well within the bounds of possibility - to reach my wordcount total from last year (a little over 12,000 words) by the time Week Two rolled around. Shouldn't be too hard, right? That's about 4,000 words a day for three days, less if I could pump out a couple thousand words on the weekend. Eminently doable.

And that's when my dreaded Self-Editor, the manky little ass, decided to slap me upside the head and put me in my place.

I have always been a slow writer, though my speed has become markedly reduced the older I get. It is because of my Self-Editor, of course - I'm constantly tinkering with what I write, going back and adding some stuff, changing passages, deleting, cringing, wondering what the hell I was thinking when I wrote that...

And so, my progress slows, my thinking becomes muddled as I find myself going backward while still trying to go forward with my story, and I find it increasingly more difficult to find the right words to express what I want to say. Dammit, the story's there in my head, I know where I need to go... but it's the getting there, the actual physical act of translating thought to word, that trips me up.

I know the whole point of this crazy enterprise is quantity, not quality, but I seem constitutionally incapable of ignoring the quality of my prose.

Gah. I'll muddle through, somehow. Or not. But I'll try.

I just wish I could bitch-slap that heinous Self-Editor but good.

It'd probably leave a mark, though.

Friday, November 04, 2005

The Root and the Way - Prologue - Part II

Rafella screamed --

-- and awoke in her own chambers, to darkness and the drumbeat pounding of her heart in her chest and the slow, steady breathing of Poul sleeping under the blankets beside her.

Queen Rafella III of Roon propped herself upon her elbows and took a deep, shaky breath. Her skin was clammy with night sweat, and the bed linens were snaked around her legs like a truss - she must have done quite a bit of thrashing. It was a wonder her nightmare hadn’t woken Poul, as well as her.

Nightmare. That’s all it had been. She was in the here and now, two weeks from her third Binding, just under two years into her reign as Roon’s Queen. She had had a particularly vivid nightmare of her first Binding Day, her own memories twisted and turned, no doubt, by the stress of the rumblings from the Continent and the possibility of open war with Altessa. That was all. Her mother - Sakinael keep and protect her - had never said such things. Had never done such things. “Just a dream,” she whispered, with more than a little relief.

“You’re having nightmares again.”

Rafella twitched at the unexpected voice, and she involuntarily let out a little yelp. “Poul!” she hissed. “Don’t do that! I thought you were asleep.”

“I was,” Poul cer Livan DarClamant, Prince Consort to the Queen of Roon, answered, without rolling from the side on which he’d been sleeping. “Until, that is, you screamed bloody murder. Something about your mother, I believe.”

“I didn’t mean to wake you,” Rafella apologized. “You should go back to sleep.”

Poul ignored her. He had a habit of doing that. “It’s been nearly a year,” he said, turning over onto his back. In the gloom, her dark-adjusted eyes could just discern the outline of his features; by the way his strong nose and chin were pointing, he still wasn’t looking at her. “Is it the same one as before?”

“Poul,” she said, in a tone that made it clear she didn’t want to continue in this vein. “It’s of no concern. Go to sleep.”

Her husband was silent for a long while, though she could tell by the nature of the silence that he had not fallen back into slumber. “It is almost complete, Rae,” he said finally. He shifted so that he was on his side now, facing her, and gently traced the curve of her shoulder through the thin fabric of her night clothes. “I know I’m new to this, but, as I understand it, the Third Binding is the toughest, and it’s almost over. If that’s what’s worrying you.”

Rafella snorted and let her body fall back to the mattress, turning so the she faced him, as well. She reached out and unerringly took his face in her hands, and have him a quick, tender kiss. “I love you, Poul,” she said, with a small grin. “I love you until the ends of the world and back again. But you’ve much yet to learn about me.”

“Ah,” he said, and she could hear the self-deprecating smile in his voice. “Then the Third Binding is not, I take it, what’s worrying you.”

“I’ve been training for the Bindings nearly my entire life, Poul,” she answered. “Honestly, it will be a relief when this Third is over.” She paused, then smiled. “Besides, it’s the First Binding’s that’s toughest.”

He stroked her hair gently, brushing errant locks from her forehead. “Only you DarClamant women would be crazy enough to go through this three times,” he said softly.

Poul’s voice was so heavily laced with sarcastic gravity that Rafella actually laughed aloud, her nightmare all but forgotten.

“Careful, my Queen,” he went on, now chuckling himself. “You’ll wake the dread babe Graecanna.”

“She sleeps through anything now,” she replied, matter-of-fact, her laughter winding down. “We could take her to Dorn in the height of winter and she’d only wake up if she was hungry.”

“She gets that from your side,” Poul teased. “Dead to the world when you’re asleep, the lot of you. And why in the world would we want to take her to Dorn in winter?”

“If I’d known you talked this much in the middle of the night, I never would have married you, Poul cer Livan.”

“Of course you’d have married me,” he retorted. “I’m a charming rogue. None can resist the charming rogue.”

Rafella laughed again, helplessly. “You’re right, of course,” she said, and kissed him again. “I’m powerless against your many charms.”

“That’s what I’ve been saying these last three years.”

“I’m going to check on Gracie,” Rafella said, bracing a hand against his chest to lift herself to a sitting position. He gave a little grunt of mock pain, for which she gave him a playful tap of admonition. “Do you think it’s grown cold in here? The brazier seems to be out.”

“I thought it seemed too dark in here. Didn’t Manse replenish the coals before we retired for the night?”

Rafella frowned as she stood and found her robe by touch, hanging from the head-post on her side of the bed. “I guess he didn’t,” she said, shrugging on the light satin garment, tying the belt loosely around her waist. “Though I could have sworn that he did.”

Poul propped himself up on his elbows. “Do you want me to see if I can re-stoke it?” he asked.

“I’m perfectly able of stoking some coals, my brave Prince Consort,” she said playfully, though with the slightest note of irritation riding under that playfulness. Poul still slipped back into what Rafella privately referred to as “Continental thinking” without realizing it, which she had found annoying to the point of anger in the first months of their marriage. Though she had learned to deal with the annoyance – Poul couldn’t help his upbringing, after all, and it wasn’t his fault that the so-called enlightened Altessans on the Continent treated women like the most fragile of crystal, to be put out only for display and never to be touched lest they break – and though Poul was getting better about checking the instinctual chauvinist reactions instilled by more than twenty years immersed in the upper echelons of Altessan society, it only made the times when he did let his “Continental thinking” get the better of him stick in her craw that much more.

Of course, if she was honest with herself, it certainly didn’t help that she had inherited her father’s famous short temper. The rows she and Poul had had during the first year of their marriage had become the stuff of legend to the Keep’s servants, if Manse was to be believed. She was getting better about that, though there were still times when she wanted to take Poul’s overprotective attitudes and stuff them down his throat.

Not that she’d ever admit that aloud.

“I’m up, anyway,” she went on, the hint of irritation now gone from her voice. “No sense in you getting up, too.”

“You have the right of it, as always, my Queen,” Poul said, affecting the pronounced accent favored in the Altessan Court in Cinten. He sat up fully in the bed and somehow managed to execute the sweeping bow also favored in Cinten, his hand spinning thrice as it came down from above his head in an exaggerated arc before tucking neatly into his midsection as he folded over. From this position, and in the same affected accent as before, he continued, his voice muffled by the blankets, “And might I be the first to say that you possess a keen intellect and a sparkling wit!”

Rafella laughed in spite of herself. He may still be a chauvinist boar, she thought with a smile. But at least he’s a self-deprecating chauvinist boar.

Aloud, she said, in mock exasperation, “How you can manage to be so amusing in the middle of the night is beyond me. I guess I’ll have to keep you around a while longer.”

“And mercy, too!” Poul exclaimed, still using the ridiculous accent, still bent over at the waist in faux obeisance. “Surely, you are the perfect specimen of woman!”

Now she giggled, unable to stop herself, hating the way it made her sound like an 8-year-old girl. “Shush,” she said, still giggling. “You really will wake Gracie if you keep carrying on like that.”

She made her way slowly around the bed, bare feet padding silently on the cold stone floor, finding the big brass brazier in the center of their large sleeping quarters by the instinctual direction of one who has become accustomed to waking in the dead of night. True, Graecanna had been sleeping through the night for the better part of two months now – ever since she’d passed her first birthday, in fact – but Rafella had eschewed a wet nurse after her daughter’s birth (unusual, but not unheard of in the history of DarClamant women on the throne of Roon), and so had grown used to the feedings in the middle of the night. A part of her, larger than she was willing to admit, missed those intimate moments in the dark with Gracie, just the two of them in the ancient oaken rocking chair that had been in her family for as long as anyone could remember. Sharing a closeness that could not be adequately explained by words alone, Gracie suckling at her breast quietly, half-asleep, one small, perfect hand curled into Rafella’s auburn hair, the warm weight of her in Rafella’s lap more comfort than burden. This part of Rafella quietly despaired at the disconnection of that bond; even though Gracie would not be fully weaned for months yet, she felt that the secret closeness of their midnight times was gone, that her daughter was now somehow further from her than before. She’d not been prepared for the power of this bond, nor the shallow emptiness that the separation of that bond had left in her. She supposed her own mother had gone through something like this when Rafella had been Gracie’s age, but this was intellectual knowledge. The part of her that so keenly felt that separation was convinced she was the only woman in the world who knew this loss.

She’s growing so fast, Rafella thought, and the logical part of her winced at the naked anguish in the tone. She’s growing so fast, before I know it she won’t even need me anymore.

Rafella shook her head, silently chiding herself for her selfishness as she reached the brazier and reached down a hand to hover just above the brass. Sure enough, barely any heat radiated from the metal – its surface would be lukewarm at best, cool enough to touch. Manse must not have refreshed the coals before they retired, after all.

Kneeling, she reached out and found the latch to the brazier’s door by touch and opened it. Inside, the nearly-spent coals lay in a desultory heap, only barely glowing, casting a faint, pale orange-pink glow on her face. She clucked to herself in disapproval, reaching under the brazier’s main compartment to the hopper that contained small logs and kindling, vowing to have a quiet word with Manse in the morning – spring may have come, but spring was still a cold time on Roon, especially here in the North, and she did not want her daughter to catch a fever at this late date.

Distracted, she nearly fell into the open brazier when Graecanna let out a sudden, terrified shriek.


That single word, torn so clearly from her child’s throat, sent a spasm of fear down Rafella’s spine. She was up on her feet and moving before she could even consciously think about it, quickly crossing the remaining distance to Gracie’s cradle in the blackness with sure steps.

Gracie was just learning her words, could speak only a handful, and those only fitfully; more often than not she would babble gibberish incoherent to all save herself. “Mama” was one of the words she knew, but Rafella could count on one hand the number of times she had actually uttered the word before this night, and never had her daughter said it so distinctly, without the mushiness of a young mouth still learning to form itself around the strange sounds of speech. If Gracie hadn’t sounded so utterly frightened, Rafella’s heart might have swelled with love to hear it.

As it was, her heart had constricted with an unexplained, icy dread.

“Was that Gracie?” Poul asked, his voice concerned. She was only distantly aware that he spoke, and couldn’t be bother with a reply.

“Mama’s here, Gracie,” she said, and marveled at how calm and soothing her voice sounded to her ears when she felt anything but calm and soothed. She reached into the simple wooden crib – again, another article that had been in her family seemingly since time began, the wood rubbed smooth by the restless searchings of countless little hands – and laid her hands on her baby, whose single cry of fear had descended into wordless whimpering. Gracie was thrashing about in her swaddling clothes, the soft linens crumpled and twisted up in her small legs. “Shhh, Mama’s here, baby, everything’s all right.”

“Mama…” the child whined softly. “Mamamamamama … NO!

This last as loud as her first cry, and as distinct. Graecanna was clearly scared, but she also appeared not to have woken up. Just a nightmare, then.

So why was she not reassured? Why was her stomach clenched with her own fear?

“Shhh, baby, shhh,” she crooned, stroking her forehead. Her fingers came away clammy with night sweat. “Shhh, it’s just a bad dream, Gracie, just a bad dream…”

She felt a hand suddenly drop on her shoulder and had to stifle a scream. She whipped around –

– to find Poul standing there, a half-seen outline in the gloom, the hand he had placed on her shoulder still raised in the air, as if he’d touched something hot.

She had not heard him approach.

“Poul,” she said, a little breathlessly. “Frightened me.”

She saw him give a little shake of his head – think nothing of it – though couldn’t see his face to read his expression. “Is she all right?” he asked, coming up beside her. He rested his hands on the crib rail and looked down at their daughter, still restless in the throes of her nightmare. “I think she’s still asleep.”

Rafella nodded and continued to stroke her daughter’s forehead. “She’s having a nightmare.”

“Some nightmare,” he said quietly, reaching his own hand down and caressing Graecanna’s downy strawberry hair. “Did you hear her say – ?”

“Yes,” Rafella said simply. “Scared me half to death.” She laughed weakly, without much humor. “And here I’ve been trying to get her to call me ‘Mama’ more often, instead of ‘Baba’.”

Poul put his arm around her shoulders protectively – and, this time, she was glad of his protectiveness. She still felt oddly uneasy, and his loose embrace was reassuring, began to calm her jittery nerves.

Which only made what came next harder on Rafella.

“Hair!” Graecanna said in a high, clear voice, and then, amazingly, she sat straight up in the cradle, the movement so sudden that it caused both of her parents to take an involuntary step back. The infant – almost a toddler, really – whipped her head around from side to side; Rafella could see the large white orbs of her eyes as they danced back and forth, seeming almost to float of their own volition in the darkness. “Mama! Hair! No! Hair!

The hairs on the back of Rafella’s neck stood on end, as her nightmare came rushing back into her mind, the thing with no face that her mother had become, cruelly grabbing a handful of her hair and yanking

“By the God,” she heard Poul breath from beside her. “What kind of dream is she having?”

“I don’t know.” Rafella’s voice came out barely above a whisper.

“We should wake her,” her husband said with authority. Then, more hesitantly: “Should we wake her? Is this like sleepwalking? My Nan used to tell me you could kill someone if you woke them while they were walking in their sleep.”

Hair,” Gracie moaned, and, to their horror, grabbed two handfuls of her own hair in her perfect little hands and began to pull.

“By the God!” Poul exclaimed again.

“Gracie!” Rafella yelped, and reached forward.

Poul shot out his arm in front of her. “Don’t – “

“I don’t care what your stupid Nan said!” Rafella was nearly screaming now, a hard, fast panic bubbling inside her like water about to come to boil. In the cradle, Graecanna was still sitting up, still trying to pull out her own hair, her moaning growing louder, almost a howl, now. “We’ve got to stop her! She’s hurting herself, Poul!”

She roughly pushed his arm away and, almost a continuation of the same movement, stepped forward and scooped her daughter up into her arms. Gracie didn’t appear to notice – she kept right on keening and tugging at her hair, tossing her head from side to side, her eyes staring sightlessly. Rafella began to rock back and forth, muttering wordless hushes and trying with one hand to untangle Gracie’s hands from her night-mussed hair, with little success.

Poul,” she hissed, in between quiet coos. “Help me!”

Hair!” Gracie shrieked, as if in answer.

Poul, who had been staring dumbly, unbelieving, at the scene for a handful of heartbeats, blinked at his daughter’s harsh cry. It seemed to wake him from a trance, for he shook his head (as if to clear it) and stepped forward, his hands reaching out to grab Gracie’s –

– and that was when the door to their sleeping quarters flew open, the large, carved oaken slab nearly ripped from its hinges, slamming into the wall with a jarring crash.

(To be continued...)

The Root and the Way copyright © 2005 by JP Brassard. You may use any part of this text freely, so long as you do not use it in a commercial enterprise, and do not intend to rip me off.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The One Where He Slaps His Head And Goes, "Duh!"

Yeah, so, I might have forgotten to mention that the novel I'm writing for NaNoWriMo is an epic fantasy - nay, a masterwork of epic fantasy! - entitled The Root and the Way. This is a story that's been percolating in my head since 2000, but is actually set in a world that I created waaaaaay back when in 1988, when I was all of 13 years old. Uh huh: I'm that much of a genius.

And, yes, smart-ass: I have been a geek for most of my life. Point?

Um... anyway, this masterwork of epic fantasy is fairly standard, as masterworks go. There's a prophecy, an evil empire, an innocent child who is destined for Great Things, mysterious mages who may or may not have their own agendas, and, of course, The Little Island Nation That Could. There are dueling magic systems, warrior-priests, a mysterious plague, portents of doom, war, and dark magical beings bent on their own personal whatevers. And, in case you were wondering: yup, there's a bit of a quest in there, as well. Just what the quest entails and who participates are things I'm still working out, but that, friend, is the magic and wonder of writing.

So, there it is. Probably should have explained that before I started posting excerpts from the thing, huh?


My son wanted to write something on the internets. Here's your big chance, boyo!

(Drumroll, please...)



He's gonna take after his old man, just you wait.

The Root and the Way - Prologue - Part I

Rafella was a child again.

It was her eighth birthday, the day of her first Binding, the sun spring-bright through the windows of the Hall of Monir, dust motes lazily playing in the golden shafts of light. Monir was the smallest of the Audience Halls - though it could still easily hold seventy-five or more - but it was the way the sunlight fell through the tall windows in the long, narrow room that had caused Rafella to choose this place for her first Binding Day celebration. She had always loved the sun, and Monir was the brightest room in the Keep, especially on spring afternoons when the promise of summer could be felt in the air and the gloom rains of winter were starting to become a memory. Mother had given her the choice, and Monir it was.

She sat now on the steps leading up to the dais at the north end of Monir, watching as Granil and Stepan pretended at swords. The tables and chairs had been cleared out of the hall after the meal, and her two younger brothers raced up and down the room on the elegant Baramundi rug, waving their wooden blades at one another, occasionally stopping long enough to exchange a few glancing strokes. Father and Mother sat, uncharacteristically, on the steps just above her, Father’s arm casually draped around Mother’s shoulders in a show of affection never witnessed by the rest of the world. At the far end of the steps, below and to the right of Rafella, sat the wet nurse with baby Reice. There was no one else. The other members of the Court had been dismissed after the meal and the initial presentation of gifts. It was considered … unusual, and there were sure to be whispers about it among the noble wives for weeks to come, but Mother had allowed it without hesitation.

For that, Rafella was grateful. This was, truly, as she’d wanted it. It was her first Binding Day, the first of three. She was to be Queen one day.

She turned now to her parents. “This has been a perfect day,” she said to them, her smile radiant, a band of sunlight falling across her auburn hair and seemingly setting it aflame. “Thank you.”

“It has been perfect, or near enough as to make no difference,” her father said in his smooth, even baritone. His gray eyes were bright with contentment as he leaned over and gently kissed the top of his wife’s head. “We DarClamants know how to throw a party, don’t we, love?”

“That we do, my dear,” her mother said, reaching up without looking to idly scratch at Father’s slightly-unkempt beard. The beard was starting to get more gray in it, Rafella noticed.

[Odd. She didn’t remember noticing that.]

“Have you enjoyed your first Binding Day, Rafella?” Mother asked her now, and she realized she’d been staring at her father’s beard distractedly. She looked to her mother, but she couldn’t see her face because of the way the sunlight was falling through the window in the east wall. Her mother was backlit, the sun streaming all round her head, and the auburn hair from whence Rafella’s own locks came were haloed by a corona of light. So much so that Mother’s face was cast entirely in shadow.

“Yes, Mother,” she answered, squinting, trying to see past the glare. “Thank you for letting me do this. I wanted there to be some time for just the family.”

“Of course, dear. A Princess should be allowed to celebrate her Day in some semblance of privacy.

“Though you won’t be Queen for long, I fear.”

Rafella nearly stopped breathing. Had she just heard Mother correctly?

[No. Mother never said that.]

“Mother,” Rafella said slowly, climbing up a step. “I can’t see you. Could you come out of the light?”

“Out of the light!” Granil called from halfway down the Hall, in between parrying blows from Stepan’s wooden sword. “No light here, sister!”

“No light here, sister!” Stepan parroted, as he was wont to do.

Rafella spun on her heel. “Shut it, Granil!”

“Language, Rafella,” her father cautioned from behind her. “A Queen does not use such words, even in private.”

“Even in the dark,” her mother chimed in.

A cold dread was forming in Rafella’s belly, and she suddenly wanted nothing more than to leave Monir and go back to her rooms. Things had gotten strange suddenly, and she didn’t know why. She did know that she didn’t like it.

[She also knew that it didn’t happen this way.]

“Look at me, Rafella.” Mother, from behind her still.

It was the last thing she wanted to do now, and she had no idea why. “I’m watching the boys.”

“The boys can wait. Look at me.”

Rafella shook her head.

“Do not make me say it again, Rafella. I am you Mother, and your Queen.”

There was an ominous tone creeping into Mother’s voice, a distance that she’d never heard before and was beginning to truly frighten her. “I want to go to my rooms now,” she said, hating the petulant sound of her own voice and powerless to stop it. She was afraid, she didn’t want to be here anymore, and she most certainly did not want to look at her mother.

“Rafella Doann, do as your mother says,” Father intoned. His voice had dropped half an octave, the tone that which he used when attempting to strike the fear of the God into a subject. “The Voice of Doom”, he called it.

He rarely used it on her.

“I can’t, Papa,” she said, and to her horror realized she was starting to cry. “I’m scared.”

“We’re all scared, my daughter,” her mother answered, and Rafella heard her stand and come down the steps until she was standing right beside her. “It is natural, to be afraid of the dark. Look at me.”

“Please don’t make me,” she said in a tiny voice. She suddenly felt cold, and noticed that all the sunlight had somehow been leeched from the room. Rafella squeezed her eyes shut in a vain attempt to deny the fear that was gripping her. “Please, Mama. Please don’t make me. It’s not supposed to be this way, it doesn’t happen this way, please, Mama. It doesn’t happen this way.”

“Of course it does, Rafella,” she heard her mother say, her voice gone steely and hard, not the soft, rich contralto that Rafella knew. Roughly, she felt her mother grip her chin and physically turn Rafella’s head to face her. Then, against her will, she felt her eyelids begin to part.

“Mama, please, don’t!” Rafella screamed, fighting and failing to keep her eyes closed. “It doesn’t happen this way!

It was no use. Her eyes were open. And the dread she’d felt in the pit of her belly was nothing compared to the utter terror seizing her now.

Her mother’s face was gone. Where there should have been deep, green, almond-shaped eyes and aquiline features and smile that made Rafella feel as if she were the only girl in all the world, now was nothing. Black emptiness, perfectly, obscenely framed by her mother’s auburn tresses. And from within this void came her mother’s voice again. Rafella thought she could hear a cold, dead smile in that voice.

“Of course it happens this way, my daughter,” the thing that was her mother said. “This is what happens in the dark.”

Without warning, the thing that was her mother and was not her mother grabbed a handful of Rafella’s hair in its free hand and yanked. Sickeningly, she heard the locks rip free from her scalp, but this was immediately drowned out by the howling pain in her head. Rafella let out an involuntary, wordless cry, and began to sink to her knees, only to find herself propped up by the hand of her mother/not-mother under her chin.

Mother…” Rafella croaked.

This is what happens in the dark,” her mother/not-mother repeated coldly, and with sudden, demon strength, the thing lifted Rafella off the ground by her chin and brought her close to the gaping maw was its face. A deep, terrible cold washed over Rafella in waves.

“And the dark is what happens to us all, my dear.”

Rafella screamed --

(To be continued...)

The Root and the Way copyright © 2005 by JP Brassard. You may use any part of this text freely, so long as you do not use it in a commercial enterprise, and do not intend to rip me off.

Fair Winds and Fine Sailing

So, my long-neglected blog - which, I'm fairly certain, absolutely no one but me has ever even glanced at - has gotten the overdue revamp. Not that I'm going to use it for my mundane thoughts, though those'll pop up from time to time. I'm not a big fan of spilling my guts, to anyone, really, but especially not on the internets. But there'll be times, I'm sure, where I'll want to get a rant or a screed or a tract or whatever bile happens to be stuck in my throat off my mind, and what better way to do that than by sharing said rant/screed/tract/bile with a bunch of strangers I'll never see, let alone meet? Seems like the thing to do, really. It is what all the Kool Kidz are doing.

No, the reason the blog got the touch-up was because I'm doing NaNoWriMo for the second year in a row, and thought that maybe - just maybe, mind you - that posting excerpts of the novel-in-progress and periodic progress reports to my blog might make this whole insane endeavor more concrete, somehow. Make me take it a little more seriously. See? It's in print! PRINT, damn you! You can't take it back now!

(Conveniently forcing myself to forget about the "Delete Post" button.)

Anyway... them's the reasons for the re-launch of "Notes from Limboland". Hope all two of you enjoy it.


The obligatory test post

This is only a test. Adjust expectations accordingly.

That is all.