Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

Posts Tagged ‘book excerpt’


Sandmagic

Word spread through the tribes of the Abadapnur that a would-be sandmage was loose in the desert, and all were ready to kill him if he came. But he did not come.

For he knew now how to serve the desert, and how to make the desert serve him. For the desert loved death, and hated grasses and trees and water and the things of life.

So in service of the sand Cer went to the edge of the land of the Nefyrre, east of the desert. There he fouled wells with the bodies of diseased animals. He burned fields when the wind was blowing off the desert, a dry wind that pushed the flames into the cities. He cut down trees. He killed sheep and cattle. And when the Nefyrre patrols chased him he fled onto the desert where they could not follow.

His destruction was annoying, and impoverished many a farmer, but alone it would have done little to hurt the Nefyrre. Except that Cer felt his power over the desert growing. For he was feeding the desert the only thing it hungered for: death and dryness.

He began to speak to the sand again, not kindly, but of land to the east that the sand could cover. And the wind followed his words, whipping the sand, moving the dunes. Where he stood the wind did not touch him, but all around him the dunes moved like waves of the sea.

Moving eastward.

Moving onto the lands of the Nefyrre.

And now the hungry desert could do in a night a hundred times more than Cer could do alone with a torch or a knife. It ate olive groves in an hour. The sand borne on the wind filled houses in a night, buried cities in a week, and in only three months had driven the Nefyrre across the Greebeck and the Nefyr River, where they thought the terrible sandstorms could not follow.

But the storms followed. Cer taught the desert almost to fill the river, so that the water spread out a foot deep and miles wide, flooding some lands that had been dry, but also leaving more water surface for the sun to drink from; and before the river reached the sea it was dry, and the desert swept across into the heart of Nefyryd.

The Nefyrre had always fought with the force of arms, and cruelty was their companion in war. But against the desert they were helpless. They could not fight the sand. If Cer could have known it, he would have gloried in the fact that, untaught, he was the most powerful sandmage who had ever lived. For hate was a greater teacher than any of the books of dark lore, and Cer lived on hate.

And on hate alone, for now he ate and drank nothing, sustaining his body through the power of the wind and the heat of the sun. He was utterly dry, and the blood no longer coursed through his veins. He lived on the energy of the storms he unleashed. And the desert eagerly fed him, because he was feeding the desert.

Orson Scott Card, Sandmagic

Emphasis mine.

Weapons Are Not Everything

The Vulcans’ trading ships were still unarmed, but they did not stay so for long. The chief psi-talents of the planet, great architects and builders, and technicians who had long mastered the subleties of the undermind, went out in the ships and taught the Duthuliv pirates that weapons weren’t everything. Metal came unraveled in ships’ hulls; pilots calmly locked their ships into suicidal courses, unheeding of the screams of the crews….

Diane Duane, Spock’s World, chapter 6

Always a Toll in the Underworld

I entered the underworld, and did so with unease.

I had read books, perhaps too many, and could easily recount the many myths of travellers who ventured into underworld realms. It was said even Orphaeus himself, whose name ran through the very fabric of the world, had made a pilgrimage into darkness. Such journeys were fraught. In not one single myth did the traveller undertake a crossing without paying a toll or making some sacrifice. There was always a price for admission, and another price for exit.

Dan Abnett, Penitent, Chapter 8

A Locus of Strange Energy

For the Japanese, all things have a spiritual essence. And the power and beauty of swords make them a locus of strange energy. Folktales tell of swords that hum to warn their masters of danger, that leap of their own accord to battle. Of swords that can make a warrior great or that can drive the bearer mad.

John Donohue, Tengu, Chapter 7

Transporteer

“…I’m your Transporteer. Do you know what that means?”

“…No. Will you tell me?”

Tirian nodded gravely. “Of course, zan Vrenn. My duty is to keep you safe while you are aboard any vehicle. If you travel by particle transporter, I will set the controls, that you may be properly reassembled. It may also become my duty to inform you of desirable or undesirable actions while in transit; as my master, you must decide how to act upon this information. Is this explanation sufficient?”

…It was more than sufficient. A Captain lent his life to the one he trusted as transporter operator, each time he used the machine: the one chosen must be of special quality. It was reasonable that an Admiral should have a special officer for the purpose—and a kuve one, who could have no ambition.

John M. Ford, The Final Reflection, chapter 2

A Rough, Stark World

…The country [of tenth century Castile] is high and bare, though it may have been more thickly wooded in the early Middle Ages than it is today….

…Large tracts of land were still untamed, roamed by wild pigs and cattle, wolves and probably bears…. They were roamed also by voluntary or involuntary drop-outs from human society such as hermits or outlaws….

It was a rough, stark world where status mattered, justice was uncomplicated, and war never far away.

Richard Fletcher, The Quest for El Cid, chapter 5

This sounds like a great setting for a fantasy roleplaying game.

A Melding of Esthetics and Functionality

The daisho, the two swords of the old samurai, are emblematic in many ways of the art Yamashita follows. They are a melding of esthetics and functionality, highly refined products of master artisans whose ultimate purpose is savage beyond description. I’ve seen their use firsthand, and wondered how such danger can be contained—or justified. Once I had asked my teacher this question. His eyes narrowed and the answer was brief. “Discipline,” Yamashita told me. “And wisdom.”

It’s a hard path to walk.

John Donohue, Tengu, Chapter 7

A Wildly Unstable Environment

…[The] soldier’s view [on a battlefield] will also be much more complicated than the commander’s. The latter fights his battle in a comparatively stable environment—that of his headquarters, peopled by staff officers who will, because for efficiency’s sake they must, retain a rational calm; and he visualizes the events of and parties to the battle, again because for efficiency’s sake he must, in fairly abstract terms…. The soldier is vouchsafed no such well-ordered and clear-cut vision. Battle, for him, takes place in a wildly unstable physical and emotional environment; he may spend much of his time in combat as a mildly apprehensive spectator, granted, by some freak of events, a comparatively danger-free grandstand view of others fighting; then he may suddenly be able to see nothing but the clods on which he has flung himself for safety, there to crouch—he cannot anticipate—for minutes or for hours; he may feel in turn boredom, exultation, panic, anger, sorrow, bewilderment, even that sublime emotion we call courage….

John Keegan, The Face of Battle, p. 47

Emphasis mine.

Dwarves of Belegost

Last of all the eastern force to stand firm were the Dwarves of Belegost, and thus they won renown. For the Naugrim withstood fire more hardily than either Elves or Men, and it was their custom moreover to wear great masks in battle hideous to look upon; and those stood them in good stead against the dragons. And but for them Glaurung and his brood would have withered all that was left of the Noldor. But the Naugrim made a circle about him when he assailed them, and even his mighty armour was not full proof against the blows of their great axes; and when in his rage Glaurung turned and struck down Azaghâl, Lord of Belegost, and crawled over him, with his last stroke Azaghâl drove a knife into his belly, and so wounded him that he fled the field, and the beasts of Angband in dismay followed after him. Then the Dwarves raised up the body of Azaghâl and bore it away; and with slow steps they walked behind singing a dirge in deep voices, as it were a funeral pomp in their country, and gave no heed more to their foes; and none dared to stay them….

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion, Chapter 20

From the account of the Nírnaeth Arnoediad, also known as the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, in the First Age of Middle-earth.

Ancient War Was More Civilized

In one respect at least, ancient war was more civilized than our own. The aim of ancient war was generally to kill or capture the opposing chief and display him in a cage. Because of the primitive state of technology, the only way to get to the opposing leader and his inner circle was to cut through the mass of his people and army, necessitating bloody battles and great cruelty. But since the Enlightenment, Western leaders have exempted themselves from retribution and have sought to punish each other indirectly: by destroying each other’s armies and—since Grant and Sherman—by making the civilian populations suffer as well. But is it really more honorable to kill thousands by high-altitude bombing than by the sword and ax?

Robert D. Kaplan, Warrior Politics, pp. 122-23

True Masters Are Both Brutal and Refined

In the martial arts, the really good teachers cultivate in their students an acute sensitivity to various stimuli. Your nerve endings are teased and jolted, your reflex actions made more subtle, and, for some of us, the result is a change in the ways we see the world and exist within it. The true masters are both brutal and refined, compassionate torturers, and guides who lead you to places where you will stand alone, confronting age-old fears that snarl in the abyss.

Once you’ve gone into that void and come through to the other side, it changes you. You glimpse it sometimes in people who’ve had a similar experience. I see it in my teacher’s face in his rare unguarded moments. And I see it in the mirror. It doesn’t make us better than other people, just different.

John Donohue, Tengu, chapter 2

Shone Like a River of Steel in the Sun

“…[And the war host of] the Noldor of Gondolin were strong and their ranks shone like a river of steel in the sun, for the sword and harness of the least of the warriors of Turgon was worth more than the ransom of any king among Men.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Children of Húrin

The Weapon That Could Not Miss

T’Thelaih woke up cold and alone. “Mahak?” she said, confused, and sat up on the couch, looking around for him. There was something wrong at the other end of their bond: he was upset—then she froze.

Sitting at the end of the couch was the Lady Suvin. She looked at T’Thelaih, and the look was cold and terribly pleased. “You are a foolish child,” Suvin said, “but it does not matter. I have what I want of you.”

“Madam,” T’Thelaih said, holding on to her manners, “what do you mean?”

“The child,” said Suvin. “This will be your home now: you need fear no interference from your own house, poor thing though it be. I much regret that Mahak may not join you again until your confinement is done. But you will be given every care … so long as you take proper care of the child.”

T’Thelaih felt her head beginning to pound. “What good can our child do you?” she said.

Suvin leaned closer, looking even more pleased. “Fool. You have the killing gift. Imperfect, at best: you did not kill my grandson, for some reason. I suspect it is the usual problem, that one must feel her life to somehow be threatened. But did you not know? His great-grandmother had it as well. When two with the gift in their blood, so close in degree, engender a child, it will have the gift as well.”

TThelaih shook her head, numbed. “A weapon,” she said at last.

“Such a weapon as none will be able to defend against,” said Suvin. “Trained with the Last Thought technique, raised under my hand, obedient to me—those who resist me will simply die, and no one will know the cause. How much simpler life will become. I have much to thank you for.”

She saw T’Thelaih’s glance at the table. “Forget your little bodkin,” she said. “You’ll not lay hands on yourself: if you try, Mahak will suffer for it. I shall see to that. Resign yourself to your confinement. It need not be uncomfortable.”

“Bring me my husband,” T’Thelaih said. “Now.”

Suvin’s eyes glittered. “Do not presume to order me, my girl. You are too valuable to kill out of hand, but there are ways to punish you that will not harm the child.”

The pounding was getting worse. “My husband,” T’Thelaih said.

“Folly,” said Suvin, and got up to go. “I will talk to you when you are in your right mind.”

And from the courtyard below came the sound of swords, and the scream.

“T’Thelaih!!”

And nothing else…except, in T’Thelaih’s mind, the feeling of the bond, the connection, as it snapped, and the other end went empty and cold.

“My husband,” she said. Suvin turned in shock, realizing what had happened. An unfortunate accident—

She realized too late.

T’Thelaih was getting up from the bed. The pounding in her head she had felt before, at her first binding, and remotely, in the heat of plak tow, at the second. Now she knew it for what it was, and she encouraged it. Yes. Oh, my husband, yes

“Old woman,” she said to Suvin, getting out of the bed and advancing slowly on her, “beg me for your life.” Suvin backed up, slowly, a step at a time, coming against the wall by the door. “Beg me,” T’Thelaih said, stepping slowly closer. “Bow yourself double, old lematya, let me see the back of your neck.” Her teeth gleamed. Suvin trembled, and slowly, slowly, began to bow.

She didn’t finish the gesture: she came up with the knife, poised, threw it. T’Thelaih sidestepped it neatly and replied with the weapon that could not miss: slid into the hateful mind, cold as stone, reached down all its pathways and set them on fire, reached down through every nerve and ran agony down it, reached down into the laboring heart and squeezed it until it burst itself, reached down into the throat and froze it so there should not even be the relief of a scream. From Suvin she turned, and her mind rode her gift down into the courtyard, and wrought death there, death—left minds screaming as a weight of rage like the whole universe collapsed onto them, in burning heat, pain, blood, the end of everything. Her mind fled through the house, finding life, ending it, without thought, everywhere.

Finally the rage left her, and she picked up the little knife that Suvin had taken, thought about it … then changed her mind. “No,” she said aloud, very softly: “no, he is down there.”

She went to the window. “Child,” she said, “I am sorry.”

The fall was too swift for there to be time to start an argument, even with a ghost.

Diane Duane, Spock’s World, pp. 176-78

Japanese Clans as Primary Social Unit

In structure, each [Japanese] clan consisted of a central, dominating house or family, which gave the clan its name, and various affiliated units known as tomo or be. Other categories of subjects also appear, confusedly, in the records, between those two classes of clansmen and the serfs or slaves known as jakko at the very bottom of the ladder (who bore no family name). All were subject to the power of a headman (uji-no-osa), who was the absolute and undisputed leader and master of the clan….

The clan, as a primary social unit, had achieved self-sufficiency through the cultivation of its own rice paddies and the production of its own artifacts, textiles, agricultural instruments, and, naturally, weapons. From the very beginning, the history of these clans was not one of peaceful coexistence. The archaic weapons found in the mounds and dolmens of the period from 250 [B.C.E.] to 560 [C.E.] indicate that, as was true during every other national age of formation, warfare was the predominant condition….

Oscar Ratti and Adele Westbrook, Secrets of the Samurai, pp. 39-40

Guarding the Balance

“…I am the chosen of Barong. I’m the White Tiger, a force for good, and I guard the balance. When a black magician does something like create a jenglot or unleash a tuyul, it creates an imbalance and I correct it. It would be the same if I tried to use my power for something unnatural, like stave off a normal illness in my relative. I could save them for a time, but a chosen of Rangda, the Demon Queen, would appear and undo what I had done. The balance must be maintained. Right now there is no champion of Rangda in the community. He went to live with his daughter in Orlando, because he is elderly and she is worried about his health. And if there was a new one, he or she would come and talk to me. It would be my business to know about them and their business to know about me.”

“You would talk?” Jim asked.

I nodded. “We would both be guardians of balance. Do you remember that Russian, the one who is the priest of the God of All Evil?”

“Roman?” Jim asked. “Yes. Nice guy.”

I spread my arms. “It’s like that. I could have a nice, civil meal with the chosen of Rangda. Not that we would like each other and some of them do go nuts and become aggressive in her name, but it’s about balance….”

Ilona Andrews, Magic Steals

Kings Glorify State Gods by Conquering

The Assyrian king, like other Mesopotamian kings, was expected to glorify the god of the Assyrians—Ashur—by conquering for him as much territory as he could and by bringing back to his temple (and his kingdom) as much loot as he could. In the 300 years of the ninth, eighth, and seventh centuries [B.C.E.], the Assyrian kings could pride themselves on how much they had pleased Ashur—they were the supreme power of the Near East.

Alfred S. Bradford, With Arrow, Sword, and Spear, p. 41

Kings Depended Upon Their Queens

The [ancient Egyptian] kings had to take their army out every year to punish those who had rebelled and to intimidate those who had not. They trained their heirs to shoot the bow and work the chariot, to become the foremost warrior of Egypt, to command the army, and the professional officer corps. During campaigning season the kings were absent from Egypt and they depended upon their queens (who had the authority to rule but who could not supplant the king) to supervise the vizier and break him if he appeared to be a threat to the king. This system worked as long as the king was strong enough to check the power of vizier, queen, and priest.

Alfred S. Bradford, With Arrow, Sword, and Spear, p. 23

Willing to Act as a Guide

The martial arts sensei is very much like a Zen master; he has not sought out the student, nor does he prevent him from leaving. If the student wants guidance in climbing the steep path to expertise, the instructor is willing to act as guide—on the condition that the student be prepared to take care of himself along the way. The instructor’s function is to delegate to the student exactly those tasks which he is capable of mastering, and then to leave him as much as possible to himself and his inner abilities. The student may follow in the footsteps of his guide or choose an alternate path—the choice was his.

The instructor first teaching technique (waza) without discussing its significance; he simply waits for the student to discover this for himself. If the student has the necessary dedication, and the teacher provides the proper spiritual inspiration, then the meaning and essence of the martial arts will finally reveal themselves to him.

Joe Hyams, Zen in the Martial Arts, p. 5

About European Shields

Probably the most important item of defensive armor was the shield. You could be in real trouble if you were caught without one. But a shield is also a nuisance to carry, so a lot of people were caught without one. It is obvious from the sagas that the thickness varied a great deal. You can read of thin shields and some that are described as thick and strong.

Vikings shields were generally round, and varied in width from 20 to 42 inches. They were made of boards glued together on the ends. The center of the shield was cut out for the hand, and the hand was then covered by a bowl shaped piece of metal called a boss. Often the rim of the shield would be covered by a strip of rawhide that was laced, or even glued to the edges.

This was good protection, and also helped hold the boards together. On rare occasions the rim of the shield might be reinforced with iron. The shield was gripped in the center where there was a grip, usually of iron. There may, or may not, depending on personal preference, be a strap to secure the left forearm to the shield. While primarily a defensive tool, it could be used offensively, too. A punch to the side of the head with a ten-pound shield can easily break someone’s neck. The shield can also be used to drive an opponent’s shield in a direction that will open him up for a sword cut.

Although round predominated, it was not the only shape. You can have oval ones, and square ones, and later you will have the typical kite shaped shield that is referred to as “Norman.” There is very strong evidence that suggests that the kite shaped shield originated in the Near East, and was brought back to Europe by returning members of the Varangian Guard in Byzantium. Nevertheless, there was a lot of individual preference….

The kite shield began to dominate Europe by the 11th century [C.E]. It was ideal on horseback, as it protected most of your left side, and on foot it gave good protection to the left leg. True, it wasn’t quite as effective a weapon as a good round shield, but it could be used that way. As coverage of the body in armor increased, the shield became somewhat smaller, soon ending up in the classic flatiron shape so beloved by all. After all, it is a great way to display your arms, and looks really cool hanging in back of your high seat.

The kite shield was fairly thick, being close to an average of one-half inch in thickness. These were generally covered in leather and decorated in gesso, with a weight of ten to twelve pounds. They were very sturdy, and their primary purpose was to divert the lance of the opponent. Foot soldiers at this time carried all types of shields, but as armor improved and became more accessible, it was more important that they carry a weapon that could defeat the armor, a two-hand weapon, and so the shield began to lose favor. It never fully went out of use but its popularity did dwindle considerably starting about 1400.

Hank Reinhardt, The Book of Swords, pp. 97-99

To Argue With Your King

…There was desperation in the man’s face. Terror. And something else Sargon had had no hope of, which drove a common man to put a shoulder between his king and a door and argue with him….

C. J. Cherryh, Legions of Hell, Chapter 11