Friday, May 17. 2013
You seek the ten thousand things?
Then start at the edges
with long, even strokes.
The flow will carry you,
from the shoulders of one,
to the arms of another.
See the path where it isn’t.
Follow in straight lines
toward the centre.
And as you journey,
shrink to nothing,
until nothing’s not done.
Tuesday, May 14. 2013
There shall be a judge for every crime,
and whosoever sins shall be found.
Let them be stripped, pieces put on display,
their children taken away.
They shall be paraded before the people,
that all may see this is a sinner.
Then let the healing by hammer begin
the forge will burn their edges away.
Run again and all is well.
Monday, May 6. 2013
And it was the year of the incontinent pig in the Gregorian Calendar. And it was the year of the thirteenth eclipse in the Blind Readers’ calendar. Right here you can see the problems in the Land. No one could agree what time it was, let alone who owned what land. So naturally they went to war over it. One thing everyone agrees is that as wars go it wasn’t great. Nothing like the wars we have these days. Back then people got raided they would pack their belongings and flee down the Ilsaran road. Refugees trod the road, a high dirt track that ran between flooded fields. It was in one such bunch that the joke was told
“So I said, those aren’t my bananas,”
A ripple of laughter ran through the group. The originator of the joke grinned. His name was usually Sweeper but sometimes Gundrea. Rain trickled down his lined face, as it afflicted everyone in the little group of refugees. That included a little girl whose hand Gundrea clasped. In his other hand he carried a broom.
“Ok I’ve got one,” The speaker was a man who’d been fat but recently done a lot of exercise. “Why did the basilisk cross the road?”
“Go on, give it to us,” said a woman with no eyebrows.
“It thought it was a cockatrice,” finished the fat man.
There was a short period of headscratching, to the sound of the refugees’ footfalls.
“Keep at it Lou,” said Gundrea. His eyes were on the girl. What her eyes were on he couldn’t guess.
“Well if you’d read a bestiary, sweeper,”
“Are those horses?” asked a woman with no eyebrows.
All eyes turned to the horizon.
Lou speculated to no one in particular “Deserters?”
The horses closed rapidly, masked riders on their backs.
“Off the road,” urged someone.
They scattered. Man or woman they dived down the embankment, plunging into knee-high floodwaters without a second thought. Gundrea dragged the girl with him
“Stay low,” he said calmly.
The riders slowed to a canter, their armour bore scars of battle. Leisurely they strung bows. People waded away in all directions. No warning was given. The only communication was the twang of a bow An arrow splashed into the waters.
“Go on,” said Gundrea.
He gave the girl a push, she struggled ahead. He turned back.
The reaction was instant. The arrow whistled through the air. Gundrea twirled his broom. A crack echoed across the fields. He picked the broken arrow from the waters.
“Say, is this the road to Ilsaran?”
Another arrow was loosed. Gundrea caught this one. His palm burned from the friction. He waved it at them.
“Sorry, think you dropped this,”
The riders took aim.
Continue reading "Formative Influences"
Sunday, April 28. 2013
Sunday, April 21. 2013
Smoking, Kelv waited for the fire.
He didn’t have to wait too long. Just an eternity. Leaning against his car he stared speculatively at the pines. Dark sentinels, they waited just beyond the lamplight. Kelv patted the boot reassuringly. Something inside thumped. He’d never liked this Skoda, the back wiper didn’t even work. Another car rolled up the trail, oozing between the trees. Kelv gave the driver space to park, admiring the car. The Kia Venga, probably not something you could say in mixed company. His cigarette died and a fresh faced fellow with a brittle smile stepped out. He held a kitchen knife.
“Hey,” replied Kelv.
“You made it,” said the man. He stared at the Skoda.
“You have any trouble, Edgar?” asked Kelv
Edgar looked suspicious “What? Are you messing with me?”
“Just making conversation. How about we inspect the goods?”
“How do you know I’m not a guard?”
“I reckon I could take you,” Kelv grinned with all his teeth. He pulled his keys and lifted the boot. Inside lay Delilah. She squirmed uselessly against the tape about her limbs. Kelv got an aggrieved look as if he'd slightly inconvenienced her. She mouthed something through the gag.
“Whoah,” Edgar took the bait. “She’s cute,”
He reached out, only to nearly lose his hand when the boot slammed shut.
“She was a bitch to get,” said Kelv.
“You didn’t hurt her did you?”
Kelv threw his arms wide, strolling towards Edgar's car “Pure and unspoiled. Just don’t ask if she’s virgin,”
Edgar fiddled with his key. “Yeah, women have no self-respect these days. Makes me ashamed to be a feminist,”
Kelv let him work. A shudder ran through him and scrabbled for a cigarette. Not yet. “Mind if I smoke?”
“Sure, go ahead,” Edgar heaved his boot open. Inside slept an angel. She had blonde hair and pale skin, even the exposed black bra couldn’t detract from her innocence. Edgar hastily adjusted her blouse.
“How much did you drug her?” asked Kelv. The cig barely kept his hand from shaking.
“Only half a pill like. She barely weighs anything,”
“Well, dead girls don’t say no,” Kelv took a drag.
“So… we doing the trade or what? I've got places to be, people to do,”
“Yeah, yeah. Just give me a minute,”
The Summer air was cool. Kelv could smell the pines through smoke. Hand stuck in his back pocket he gazed upwards. This was it then. One last fling and he was off to better climes. He’d made all the arrangements. Edgar was making smart comments about his treasure in the boot. Kelv entertained just for a moment making the trade.
“One thing before we do this,”
“Yeah?” Edgar looked up.
The knuckledusters caught him on the chin. It was enough to knock him back. He took another blow to the face before he got his knife out. There was a brief struggle but Kelv was used to surprising people in the dark. Soon enough the knife travelled Edgar's throat. Blood spurted like hot rain. Kelv hit him a few more times. Until the iron tang gripped his senses. That hot body writhed between his legs and Kelv did what he always did. He gave in.
He could still smell the pines. They judged him, they all did. He gave them the finger. He remembered he was trying not to be American, so he gave them two instead. His shirt was slick and he couldn’t resist licking at the spillage. Slowly he clambered upright. The angel still slept in the open boot. Eighteen? Hopefully not. Kelv waved the knife at her and chuckled. He wished his dad was here right now. He’d give the old sod a hug and tell him he was sorry. That nurse on Capel Street. He could have bought her chocolate. He licked the knife clean. She was his woman, clad in sweat and steel. All of a sudden his stomach lurched. He retched a vile, bloody mess into his hands.
When it was over Kelv scavenged his cig from the grass. That went in the Skoda. He lit another as he glanced between the cars. For the moment he owned two and a pair of fine wives to go with them. If only. He popped the boot on the Skoda. Delilah glared up at him. He wiped the look off her face with the knife between her lips. Carefully he sliced her gag off.
“Oh god,” she cried.
Kelv bit back a witty retort. He slit the tape around her wrists and then stood back. He’d expected her to bolt. Instead she huddled there, clutching at herself.
When she arose it was slowly, as a bird creeping out of the nest. Her knuckles clenched white. Kelv could smell her sweat, mixed with faded lilac.
“The fuck are you playing at!”
Kelv held up a hand. “I’m not going to hurt you,”
He let her take in the scene. He still wore the bloody shirt. Edgar lay on the ground, pale and unmoving. The Kia’s boot lay open, exposing its sleeping contents.
“It doesn’t look like it!”
“Relax. I saved you,”
“You kidnapped me!”
“Yeah but…” Kelv fumbled now “It was to trick him into coming out here. He was a bad guy,”
Delilah looked agog. She edged around the pool of light towards the Kia. Kelv chucked her the keys.
“Nearest Garda station’s a few miles. Take a left when you come onto the main road,” Kelv licked his fingers again, disregarding his audience.
“That’s it? You bring me out here and then just let me go?”
“What me to do something else?”
He’d meant it as a joke but the response was glare of pure poison. He said nothing else, simply watching her close the boot. When the Kia’s engine revved he was sure she’d run him over. She just sped away. Alone at last he enjoyed his cigarette. It took the edge off. As a distraction from his groaning stomach he pulled a bundle from his car. Fresh clothes felt good and the weight of the jerry can reassured him. He heaved Edgar into the driver’s seat and doused him in petrol. A match flared.
“You’re a shit car and your back wiper never worked,”
Sunday, April 14. 2013
Once a witch lived at Domhaincoill. Secrets she knew of life, of death. Many visited her hut, from where hot fires roared and cloying smoke poured. They came away with cures, paying in geese and gander.
The witch she took a lover. A fine husband gave her daughter and three sons. For a while they were a family. Till the husband died in dark woods. Then the daughter left for darker dreams. A child must make their own mistakes.
So the witch alone brooded and married off her boys. They went as good sons, all except the last. The youngest like his sister rejected mother’s plans. He stayed with her to tend the fires and keep the smoke pouring.
He kept those fires well. Some said they spoke to him and taught him secrets their own. Taught him to steel axe and plough. So as his mother salved the sick, he cured their tools. Time passed and the witch grew grey.
And so it came to pass that a noble came to Domhaincoill. A rival struck down her child with poison. The witch knew both the venom and the boy’s fate. Yet she fought it still. The fires roared and none slept that night.
In the morn the witch went to the noble and spoke no word. Two women grieved in silence. That would have been the end of it but for the witch's son. He approached as the noble departed.
“Sorry I am for your loss,” said he “All I can offer is justice,”
“There is no justice” said the noble bitter.
He offered her a package, wrapped in skin of doe.
The witch called back her son. So opened the skin did the noble to find a bloody axe.
And that was the beginning of the axe, Justice.
Tuesday, April 9. 2013
“Hear that?” Taka leapt from her perch. She flew as spirits do, through the echoes of the forest. Her paws brought her to where a brook ran beneath an oak tree. Beneath stooping branches nestled a basket. It drew her questing nose. A pink hand greeted her, grasping weakly. She drew back in surprise “Baby!”
The brook took up her exclamation “Baby, baby, baby,” it babbled. The wind too picked up the word, shaking stooping branches awake.
“What now?” complained a voice of rustling leaves.
“Hi!” said Taka “Did you lose a baby?”
From the right angle the knots formed a face. Wrinkly bark eyes peered down at Taka.
“Away trickster, Old Man Willow does not play games,”
Taka danced around the basket “But you're Old Man Oak!”
The old tree groaned, acorns dropped into the brook, startling slumbering trout. Frothy bubbles chased them away.
“I said no games,”
Taka gnawed on oaken root “Did you lose this baby?”
“I have lost many babies. Madame Brook carries them off,”
“Away, away, over the land,” sang the brook.
“But what about this one?” Taka nudged the basket. There was a gurgle from its depths.
The tree continued unabated “That is the way of things. I love my children so my love takes them away that they might grow greater than my shadow,”
Taka tested the brook, the waters splashed her playfully “Do big babies float? I think it's human,”
“Human?” The tree rustled and quivered “Send it back down from where it came. No good comes of humans,”
A face formed amidst the waters. Taka peered at it curiously. The face became that of a woman's kneeling before the tree. Rivers ran from her eyes as she laid the basket down.
Taka slashed a paw through the image. The brook laughed “Someone lost this baby. I'll find them,”
The oak sighed, loosing more acorns from its leafy eaves “Take my children with you. They may help,”
Taka gathered them in her mouth “Fank you,”
In a clearing not far away two hunters hunted. Now they were not the best of hunters but they could feed their families usually. Today was not a usual day though. The rabbits fled their snares and the deer dodged their arrows. Yet they persisted, for they were honest, fearful men.
“I told you this was a bad idea,” said the shorter one.
“Hush, Harald,” said the older one.
“I've heard stories about this place, Frank,” said Harald.
“You listen too much to old wives,” said Frank. He stared at an empty snare as if a rabbit might appear in it.
Something cried out. It was strangled and strange, almost a sobbing.
“Was that a wolf?” whispered Harald.
Frank shook his head “I think that was a fox,”
Harald gripped the hilt of his knife “I never trust foxes,”
“Well Harald, don't play cards with them,” Frank poked at the undergrowth with a stick.
A small, shiny acorn rolled out. Harald snatched it up “An acorn tree?”
“An oak tree,” corrected Frank. He cast his gaze about the clearing “There's none here though,”
Harald stuck his hand into the bush and drew forth another. He trampled it and went among the trees “There's a whole trail of them, back here!”
Frank stepped lightly after. There was indeed a trail of acorns. They were wet as if from rain.
“What do you reckon?” asked Harald.
Frank drew a knife.
In the shadow of an oak tree sat a brook. Its waters ran deep and clear. Beneath the tree’s leafy bowers sat a basket. Harald went to it immediately. Frank hung back, scanning the brush. The trail ended here.
Harald grunted in surprise as his beard was grabbed “Hey Frank, I think it's a girl,”
Frank stared at it, finally and with much begrudgery he said “Well we found one of your stories,”
Thursday, March 21. 2013
Rule One: Nothing is true, everything is permitted.
Rule Two: In MS-SQL the Execution Plan is your friend... sometimes. The actual Execution plan isn’t necessarily any more accurate than the estimated.
Rule Three: Remember the definitions. I never do so I’m writing them here.
Sunday, March 17. 2013
The worst thing about Shogun 2 is the lack of Ezo on the map. What’s the point of taking over japan if I can’t have my favourite island? Only slightly smaller than Ireland and with a fairly cool climate it’s a home away from home. Anyway, yes I’ve been playing Shogun 2. It's my first foray into the Total War series.
Shogun 2 is set in the sengoku period. The shogunate has grown weak. The daimyos have grown ambitious and the farmers are getting uppity. Into this mess you come as a clan of Japan’s finest, your eyes set on Kyoto and the shogun’s hat. Shogun 2 has two fields of battle. The first, and most obvious, is the real time pitched battles conducted by armies of samurai and peasant ashigaru. The second, and more interesting to my mind, is the turn based map where you direct the flow or armies, agents and economies. You live or die by the sword but without the coin from trade and taxes there’ll be only sword for dinner. So how was it?
Continue reading "Shogunsama"
Monday, March 4. 2013
Orange flames melted into a red sky. The campfire called cheerfully, its crackling drawing travellers from the road. A wagon sat nearby laden with barrels. Its owner tapped them, knowing coin to be lighter than mead. Wanderers joined a circle, raising mugs and voices. All were welcome in the circle and as the sun set they shared their tales.
Tatula stared out across the rocky foothills. The wind whipped her dress, carrying with it warm scents.
“Come on, be human for once,” Hel said.
If she heard she gave no sign. Hel stood there awhile to see if she took notice. Eventually he was called away by Chiffre and joined the laughter by the fire.
She remembered Hel, standing there speaking. He had used that same tone when speaking to a woman. She scanned the rocks, gaze drifting towards the sky. He had used that tone since the second time they met. Some of the clouds reminded her of graffiti on the ring-barrow at Menth. There had been an argument over femininity. It seemed a curious now, though Hel was still incorrect. Someone slipped behind a broken wall, fumbling with his crotch. She examined the argument in more depth. Of course the assertion was the central point. However the disassociation was also a factor worth considering. Something moved, out beyond the camp. She had disassociated herself forcibly at the fall. This made it a statement of intent. Such works were to be erased. It was a fox. A philosophy of self-destruction was no philosophy at all. Red coat, tongue lolling out, she remembered it well. Billowing smoke streamed overhead.
“So the priest said to the hunter, that’s not a pig, that’s my husband,”
Laughter broke again. The drunker ones slapped their knees, turning to each other and smashing mugs. The noise drowned out a quiet voice, far on the periphery. The storyteller sat back, patting his belly. He looked upon his audience satisfied until he noticed the girl on the edge of light. He stared at her as his neighbour asked
“So who’s next?”
The chatter faltered.
“I remember a fox,” said Tatula.
People craned to see the speaker. Tatula approached, hands clasped demurely. Chiffre sat straight with interest, watching Hel invite her in. So Tatula told her tale.
Eyes glimmered in the dusk. The fox crept between the rocks and turned to face her.
“Mari,” said a stern voice.
The girl started at her name. The animal was lost to shadows. She searched in vain until she was grabbed by the ear.
“Lugh’s teeth! Get back here, girl,”
“I was having a vision, Caoimhe!” complained Mari.
“And whisht your tongue!” Her cousin was both older and stronger. Mari gave in for the sake of her ear. She was dragged back towards the longhouse. Smoke billowed from its roof and doors. Covered by a boar’s hide, light and noise echoed from within. Clustered before it was a gaggle of girls, most older than Mari. They whispered in hushed tones, passing rumours of witches. Mari ignored them, left to boredom again. When her cousin’s eye turned away she peered through a crack in the wattle. There were dancing flames and a pair of smoky eyes staring at her. She stumbled back, right into Caoimhe. The elder girl treated her to a silent derision. Mari was still working on a biting remark when the skins were brushed aside. A woman stood there, ancient to Mari’s eyes. Soot lined her wrinkles and blue paint peeled from her face.
“Come, meet your ancestors,”
Cormac started from his haze. Cattle bellowed, far off. Fires too, they flickered in the night, reminding him he was not alone. Cormac reached automatically for his pouch. The mush stung on his fingers and even more in his eyes but the sleep-death faded and he came awake. He shook off the night’s chill, eyes roving the darkness. There were no lights, no signs of raid. He dropped to the ground the rattle of his spear giving him away. He cursed, securing it before patrolling about his vigil tree. He knew the ground blindfolded and finished quickly. Nothing. The cattle bawled again in the distance. His brothers would tend to them. Cormac relaxed, rubbing his watering eyes. Whatever disturbed them was not his problem. He stared up at the dark form of his tree. Its branches reached toward him like black fingers. Then he heard the crack.
Someone approached the tree. They did not know the land for their feet trod awkward upon its soil. Twigs cracked, loam groaned and a voice that sang. Cormac held his spear close, straining to hear the words. Hidden behind the tree there was no way that she could see him. He knew it a she by the voice, soft and sweet and dangerous. Innocent women did not travel at night without a light. Cormac clutched at his spear until the wood bit his hand. She grew closer and a thumping grew audible. A low, heady beat accompanied her words. It was not till Cormac slapped his chest that he realised it was his heart. The singing stopped. She was right there. A thousand fears welled up; bean an sidhe, taibhse, cruach. He pushed them away.
Cormac stepped from the tree; his spear flew through the air. Before it was gone he had his club out. He bit back the battle cry, charging the dark shape. It backed away, holding up placating hands. Cormac slowed, stopped. She was young this witch, no more than his own age. She cowered before his raised club. He shook it threateningly and her song began again. Then he made his mistake.
“Back! Back the way you came!”
Cormac felt embarrassed and fell back on rite “These grounds belong to my mothers,”
“And who are your mothers?” she asked, growing closer.
The blood rushed to Cormac’s face.
“I am- who are you?”
“I am the Woodbine, who are you?” said she.
Cormac’s eyes narrowed “I do not speak to plants,”
She laughed and Cormac felt betrayed. “Who are you really?”
She gestured to the sentinel behind him. “I am the tree,”
Cormac shook the club. “One more time before I call my brothers, who are you?”
The girl shrugged. “I am Mari, daughter of Iris,”
She began to sing and Cormac realised he’d lowered the club. “Come again in day, Iris,”
She flanked him and he turned to follow, watching as she stroked the tree. He was sure she meant no good but he could not bring himself to light his grandmother’s flare. The cattle bayed in the valley. Cormac listened for with them someone sang. His head sang too and felt woozy. He knew the girl was there but forgot why he feared her. Then she called his name.
The first stars of night glimmered in the sky. The group by the campfire listened to Tatula's tale attentively, withholding comment. Chiffre sat with arms folded, brooding until he could take no more. He shot upright.
“I will not be regaled with tales of witchcraft!”
The assembly looked upon him, insulted by his interference. He stabbed one finger towards the stock still Tatula. “I know where this story goes and by Dia's grace will not allow it!”
The others turned this way and that, their comments turning ugly.
“Sit down!” yelled one, aggrieved beneath his helmet.
The fire faded from Chiffre's words and he turned obsequious “Pray, forgive my interruption. I wish only to rest the lady's tongue,”
Tatula appeared not to object. Indeed she appeared not to notice. So Chiffre took up the tale almost where she left off.
The air was ripe with the stench of cattle. She smelled them beneath it. The herd stamped and bellowed, unsettled. She heard them amidst the din. She was almost upon them. Almost. Light burst from the hills. One cry amongst the rest, a war cry. She moved fast, Cormac following at her heels. One turned, illuminating her. Cormac charged and brought him down. She grabbed the stick, letting them tussle.
Cattle milled about, blinking at her with stupid eyes. She held the gourd to her lips, coughed the liquid down, and took a deep breath.
The herd scattered. She howled again, relishing the sound that near burst her eardrums. Cattle ran this way and that, terrified by the sound. The men gave chase with yells and screams.
The warrior stood, axe in hand. Mari's eyes glowed with fallen torchlight. She gave a toothy grin. With a motion she called Cormac, still lying on the ground. He did not stir. Something dripped from the warrior's axe. The warrior strode toward her.
Chiffre's voice died away. The patrons shook their heads and frowned. The fire burned fiercely.
“That can't be the end,” one finally protested.
Chiffre's head turned, snakelike. His gaze was furious
“Justice is the only fitting end,” he said.
“So the warrior killed her?”
Chiffre rolled his eyes.
“No,” Hel rose to his feet.
His eyes met Chiffre's full of fire and challenge. They duelled for a moment before Chiffre bowed.
Hel raised his eyes to heaven and began to speak.
The sun squatted in the sky. Teeth chattered. Smoke blew. An old woman drew patterns in the sand. After a while another joined her. Indistinguishable were they, faces worn the same. Only their markings gave them away. One fringed with orange whorls, the other seashells blue. They drew with sticks, of stick men who chased stick bulls. They met briefly in the centre then continued, drawing now over each other's work. The wind changed and the smoke blew back toward them.
“So,” said the orange witch.
“So,” said the blue.
“Seven, and the boy,”
The blue witch nodded in sympathy. Good heifers were hard to come by.
“My men ask for blood,” The orange witch drew weapons now.
The blue witch sniffed “A man with a mind,”
“Is just a dangerous animal,” finished the orange witch with a smile “I miss your sharp tongue, Iris,”
Iris scratched her nose, blue paint flaking “Not what you said last time, Bríol,”
“And the young lose all respect,”
Bríol's face darkened. “So you caught her,”
Bríol scraped out a tree shape silently.
Iris gave in “Yes, I caught her. Fool girl thought herself a hero,”
“It was a cattle raid, just like the days of old. Days of blood and thunder,”
“No, sister. I did not mean it,”
“She did,” said Bríol.
“And she will be punished,” Iris paused before continuing “You may have her,”
Bríol abandoned her stick, turning to look at Iris with curiousity “Just like that?”
“I will not keep a fox among chickens,” said Iris.
The old women nodded and the pact was sealed.
The campfire banked low. There were shuffles among the crowd. Someone coughed and they realised Hel was finished.
“What happened then?” asked the girl beside him.
As one they turned to Tatula. She swayed slightly in the wind.
“They killed me,”
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