First Strawberries!

There was just one ripe on Tuesday, so we cut it in quarters to allow each of us a taste. It wasn’t as sweet as I was expecting, but the strawberry flavor was just MORE. Wow!

Today, there were seven ready to be picked.

We haven’t yet eaten them. I think we should wait a day or two, because the berries that are just starting to blush may be ready by then, and we could each have more than a mouthful. Will we hold out?

I don’t know if you can really see it in the photos above, but I devised an unusual mulch to keep the berries off the ground. All the videos of strawberry gardening that I’ve watched portray straw under the berries. But I don’t have easy access to straw right now. What did I use instead?

Well, every spring the maples in our back yard shed their seed pods all over. Our back deck fills up with them. Eventually the seed pods go away—I’m not sure where—and all that remains are the stems that once connected the pods to the tree. I usually sweep them off the deck into the the nandina beds below, where the stems enrich the soil.

This time I collected them all and saved them.

Whenever the strawberries grow heavy enough to bend their stems down to the dirt, I go get a handful of maple stems and place them under the berries. So far it’s working. The strawberries are pristine!

I’ll add a note to this post once we eat the strawberries to tell you how long we waited and how they tasted!

For more about our garden, see:
Container Gardening at Casa Ney-Grimm

 

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The Tally Master, Chapter 8 (scene 43)

Standing beside the sea in the cove below her home, with Pater behind her, his hands warm on her shoulders, Keiran had been learning how to herd fishes.

She’d scarcely felt the brisk wind on her face or the cool sea spray against her shins. Scarcely tasted the salt on her lips. All her attention narrowed to focus on the dark and monstrous presence she’d encountered when she followed her energea out across the waves and then plunged deep beneath them.

The ominous swimmer turned and glided, lethal in intent, seeking to do violence with an implacable calm.

She’d caught him with a noose of energea, and now he came to her, surging shoreward with the muscular movements of his colossal body and powerful strokes of his mighty flukes.

On and on, he came, seeking his captor. Seeking her.

Keiran became aware of her pater shouting, his fingers gripping hard on her shoulders. “Release him! Release!” he bellowed.

But she couldn’t. The monster of the deeps that she’d snared had snared her, hooking her energea more strongly than she’d entangled his.

She began to struggle, flailing like a mackerel in a net and with as little effect. The behemoth of the sea reeled her in, reeling himself in, his aspect gaining distinct traits as he neared: sleek black skin, tall dorsal fin, conical teeth made for tearing, white underbelly.

On and on he came, cold hunger in his innards, colder rage in his eye.

Keiran’s pater released his grip on her shoulders to thrust her toward the dunes behind him.

And then she could see her monstrous captive, a gargantuan fish—shining black on his upper surfaces, gleaming white below—streaking between the two headlands of the cove, launching himself inland with his toothy maw opened wide.

Pictwhale. Sword of the sea. Hell-sent and wrathful.

Orca.

Keiran screamed.

And then she pulled—hard—on her energea, blasting it out to batter the fearsome creature as it plowed up the beach.

She felt something within her rip, and her energea flashed gold with black edges.

At that moment, the orca swerved, his belly grinding against the pebbles and broken shells in the surf before he regained the deeper waters of the cove, heading back out to sea.

Keiran fell, her backside thudding into the sand. Pater whirled, horror on his face.

He roared.

“Pater?” faltered Keiran.

“Stay here!” ordered Pater. “Stay right here.”

And then he left, limping, running. Pat, thump, pat, thump, pat, thump.

*     *     *

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The Tally Master, Chapter 8 (scene 42)

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The Tally Master, Chapter 1 (scene 1)

 

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Container Gardening at Casa Ney-Grimm

In the middle of May, I became convinced I should be growing some vegetables. Whether this conviction were truly wise…I remain uncertain. Regardless of the wisdom of the plan, I set about gathering supplies.

The middle of May is certainly leaving it late. And supplies were thin on the ground. Furthermore, finding a suitable spot in our yard was problematic.

Twenty years ago, there was plenty of sun in the front yard. Since then, our cherry blossom tree has grown considerably and the only sunny area is on our front deck.

The back yard has a similar problem. Once sunny, now the maple trees are so tall that it is shady. Even if there were a sunny patch, the herd of deer that regularly roam through would munch any vegetables grown there.

Despite these difficulties, I persevered. We obtained three box planters and set them up on the front deck!

Getting seeds was a challenge as well, and I think I ordered the very last packets that Park Seed had in stock!

But it has all come together and I wanted to show you what I have growing.

Here is my plan for the planter next to my front door.

As is often the case, my plan had to adjust once reality hit. When the bare root strawberries arrived, there were 26, six more than the 20 I’d ordered. There was no way I’d toss the extras. I mean, strawberries! I had to find a place for them. So I popped them into the okra bed.

Also, the spinach never germinated. Zip. Bare soil. So I sowed more lettuce there. (Those small green dots all represent lettuce.) It would be too late for lettuce (which bolts in the heat), if I were growing full heads. But I’m doing cut-and-come-again. So I think I’ll get to harvest some before the heat gets it.

Here’s a photo of the “okra bed.” Isn’t it pretty!

The planter next to the “okra bed” is the “pepper bed.” Originally I thought of it as the “basil bed.” It does have basil in it, but we added a pepper plant when we discovered a local source with curbside pick-up. That pepper plant is so beautiful that it rather overshadows the basil, which is still quite small.

Here is my plan for the “pepper bed.”

Reality also forced some changes to this bed. Not only did the pepper replace some of the chard, but the lettuce and parsley never came up. So when I thinned the basil, I moved the seedlings to fill those spaces.

Here’s a photo of the “pepper bed.” That tall plant at the left is the pepper! 😀

At the far end of the deck, past the “pepper bed,” is the “beet bed.” The “beet bed” has remained closest to its plan, but not identical. Here’s the plan.

The radishes all moved to the right side of the middle space, while the left side became home to more lettuce, and the green onions were dotted here and there. Here’s a photo of the lettuce side.

My daughter has been helping me with this mini vegetable garden, and it’s been a lot of fun. Plus it sparked the whole family to renewed fervor for yard work. I’ve enjoyed our time with the four of us all working together. And I really like the beauty emerging from the jungle that our yard had become.

We just harvested our first radish this morning!

As a family project, it’s been a total success.

As a significant addition to our food supplies…not so sure. It’s early days yet, of course. I expect the okra will be the biggest producer, and that will reach harvest much later in the summer. It will be nice to have fresh basil. And the strawberries, fresh from the garden, will be lovely.

But so far, we’ve had enough lettuce for a few salads, and that’s it.

And yet, I don’t regret having put my energy into this. I’m learning new things, which I always love. And the family fun is priceless!

 

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The Tally Master, Chapter 8 (scene 42)

Keir looked around the oxhide vault, relieved to be tallying there instead of in the more cramped ingot vaults on the level above. The oxhide vault possessed two casements, and she’d opened both. Shouts from the artisan yard below arrowed in, along with the strengthening sunlight of the advancing morning, shining on the weighty copper oxhides leaning in stacks against the walls.

Keir sniffed the air. Before her sojourn at Belzetarn she wouldn’t have guessed that metal possessed any scent. Indeed, were she to hold one of Martell’s ladles up to her nose, she would smell nothing. But large stores of metal gathered together generated . . . something close to an aroma. Maybe it was the energea which produced it, but the tin vault and the pebble vault possessed that characteristic flat, dry odor which Keir found oppressive. This oxhide vault featured a much more pleasant, warm, and full flavor on the air.

She opened the flap of her portfolio to get out her tallying supplies of parchment, quill, and ink.

Gael had been apologetic that she must tally the oxhide vault and the pebble vault a full deichtain ahead of when they were due. She’d reassured him, saying, “No, we have to know if there’s another leak in the stream of metals besides in the privy smithy. I’m guessing we have more than one thief.”

Gael had looked down at that. She knew he hated the idea that someone (or more than one) within his acquaintance was stealing from him. She admired his fortitude in not shirking the idea. And she wondered how he felt about Arnoll taking that one ingot. He hadn’t really told her much about exactly what had happened.

She couldn’t forego disliking herself just a little for her own secrets, the obvious one of her sex, and the other one she had buried, not even letting herself think about it.

Gael had replied to her mention of the possibility of multiple thieves prosaically enough. “That’s it, of course. And if we have more than one thief, those thieves may pilfer from different sources. We have to know if we have more metal missing than we’re currently aware of.”

When she’d suggested tallying the bronze vault again, he’d agreed, although he obviously thought it less a priority. And then he’d hurried away without telling her where he was going, what he wanted her to do after she finished her tallies, or anything of his further plans for their day. Which was strange. Gael was ordinarily so punctilious about the work of the tally chamber.

Was he angry? Dismayed? Or just in a rush? It had something to do with her report of the tin ingot stolen from the privy scullion’s carry sack on the stairs, but it reminded her unnervingly of the last time her pater had hastened away from her.

*     *     *

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The Tally Master, Chapter 8 (scene 43)

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The Tally Master, Chapter 8 (scene 41)

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The Tally Master, Chapter 8 (scene 41)

Just a few steps inside the door to the tally room, Gael paused. He’d lifted the door latch softly, and Keir hadn’t realized his master had come in. The boy had opened not only the shutters, but the casements themselves, and bright sun along with cool air poured through the embrasures and across the stone floor. The shelves on each side of Keir’s desk made his working surface into a pocket of dimness, but Gael’s assistant sat very straight, his quill held between slim fingers at the correct angle, his blond head bent only slightly.

Young eyes, thought Gael, his affection for the boy welling from some place within. He could almost imagine his tally room as his old laboratory in Hadorgol and Keir as his apprentice learning magery. Innocent magery. Safe magery. The blue energea that purified water or encouraged a poisoned wound to heal. Not the searing and dangerous orange energea of the truldemagar.

Gael shook his head. This was Belzetarn, not Hadorgol, and his tally chamber had its own compensations.

He inhaled slowly, savoring the warm redolence of the parchment mingled with the dry scent of dust, and moved forward into the welcome quiet, broken only by the scratching of Keir’s quill.

The boy turned at Gael’s footfall and looked up, his jaw-length hair swinging back from his smooth face. “The tallies from yesterday all match,” he said.

“Even that of the privy smithy?” asked Gael, surprised.

“Even Martell’s,” said Keir. “Although, not in any way we would wish,” he added, laying down his quill and corking his ink jar.

Gael sighed and came farther into the room, drawing the chair from his own desk next to Keir’s. “Tell me,” he said.

Keir nodded. “The wastage from the smelteries was less than usual.” He smiled. “I think my pose that the tally room was seeking greater efficiency moved them to extra effort.”

Gael snorted. “Hardly needed.”

“No,” agreed Keir. “But those opteons pride themselves on wringing every last drop of ore from the oxhides and pebbles.”

Gael was well aware of it, but he said nothing. Keir would communicate his full report without prompting.

“The lodge tallies and those of the grinding, annealing, and hilt smithies all match exactly,” the boy continued. “The wastage from the armor smithy is normal.”

“But the blade smithy?” asked Gael, surprised again. The blade smithy never possessed anomalies.

“No discrepancies,” Keir assured him quickly, “but one of the blade pours failed.”

“Hells,” Gael swore softly. “Then how was the smith so calm when I saw him in the afternoon?”

Keir grinned. “He expected it to fail. He’s bringing one of his decanens along, and this was the fellow’s first blade.”

“Ah.” Gael looked skeptically at his assistant.

Keir’s grin faded. “But look at this.” He drew a parchment from the stack he’d been working on.

Gael leaned forward to get his face further out of the direct sun.

Keir tapped the first three items listed on the sheet. “Here are the ingots we issued the privy smithy yesterday morning: eighteen ingots of copper, four ingots of tin, and one ingot of bronze. That’s twenty-three pounds of metal.”

Gael nodded. Now they were getting down to it.

Keir continued. “And you’ll see that the items listed for the day’s work also add up to twenty-three pounds.” He tapped the bottom of the sheet. “But it makes no sense. And we both know why.”

“The privy notary is fudging the weights,” said Gael.

“We knew he was, Secretarius,” said Keir quietly, “but I had no idea how bad it was until I saw him myself this morning. Martell would have grabbed the ingots before his notary got anything at all tallied, and I’m sure he does the same in the evening. I thought there was some estimation going on, but it’s all estimation. You can see it right here!” Keir tapped the parchment again. “Look! We issued four tin, right?”

Gael nodded.

“And here are the tin-lined sauce pans that Martell used half an ingot on.”

“Yes,” agreed Gael.

“The rest of the list was all poured in the one-nineteen bronze that Martell thought should have been one-twelve bronze.”

Gael could see the problem. Martell thought he’d used one-and-a-half ingots of tin to make his bronze, but the bronze itself had shown that he’d used only one ingot of tin, maybe less. Since the privy smithy had received four ingots of tin, and Martell had used only one-and-a-half ingots of tin, where were the other two-and-a-half ingots?

Well, Gael knew where one of them had gone. Arnoll had taken it. And it had not been tin, but merely copper disguised to look like tin. But that still left one-and-a-half ingots utterly unaccounted for.

Keir had more to say. “Since Martell’s bronze for the day was made from eighteen ingots of copper, one ingot of bronze, and one or less ingots of tin, the most his output could have weighed would have been twenty pounds. Hells!” Keir never swore, but he was swearing now. “There would have to be some wastage. And, yet, here his notary claims twenty-three pounds of bowls, platters, and so on.” Keir poked the parchment savagely.

“That’s where our tin thief is getting his ingots then,” said Gael.

“But we’re no further ahead than we were before,” grated Keir. “We knew it had to be the privy smithy supplying the thief.”

This was a new side to Keir, displaying a touch of heat rather than his customary cool.

Gael straightened, squinting as the sun caught his eyes. “No, we suspected the privy smithy served as our thief’s source. We did not know it.”

Keir puffed a breath out. “Do we even know it now? We’re giving the other smiths the benefit of any doubt, based only on our assessments of their natures. We could be wrong. Should we observe them the way I’ve observed Martell?”

Gael suppressed a smile. Keir was nothing if not logical, and he did have a point. But the boy forgot that Gael had worked with these trolls for much longer than the two years Keir had known them.

“We’ll follow this lead for now. If it peters out, we’ll consider other possibilities, such as investigating the other smithies. But our lead is going somewhere, wouldn’t you agree?” said Gael.

Keir’s sudden spurt of energy abruptly congealed.

“What is it?” Gael asked quietly.

Keir bit his lip. “It mayn’t be anything.” The boy swallowed. “I hope it’s nothing.”

Gael frowned. “Yes?”

“Ravin, one of the tin smeltery scullions, saw Arnoll take an ingot of tin from the privy smithy yesterday morning,” blurted Keir. “He thought Arnoll was correcting a mistake, and I thought so, too, when he told me. But”—Keir shook his head—“Arnoll hasn’t told you or turned the tin ingot in, so it can’t be that, can it? Arnoll was stealing. Arnoll.” A slight flush colored Keir’s cheeks.

Gael relaxed. He’d been wondering how to keep Arnoll’s secret, while yet explaining the returned copper ingot. Keir’s disclosure meant Arnoll’s secret was already out—part of it—which meant Gael need not choose his words quite so painstakingly.

“Arnoll was following the directive of a higher authority when he took the ingot,” said Gael.

Relief chased across Keir’s features. “You knew?”

“He told me himself,” said Gael.

“But who? And why?” asked Keir.

That was something Gael still needed to conceal.

Keir’s brows drew down as he cogitated. “The regenen?” he guessed.

Gael had to stop that line of reasoning. Keir would unravel far too much if permitted to continue.

“I’m not free to speak,” Gael stated.

Keir’s eyebrows flew upward. “The regenen,” he said.

“Keir, Arnoll returned the ingot to me, because it was not tin. It merely looked like tin.”

Keir’s face went white.

Gael started to reach for the boy, but stayed the impulse. What ailed the lad? Gael hadn’t yet revealed the most troubling fact about that disguised ingot—that it had been disguised through the manipulation of energea. Something strange here, just as little strangenesses had emerged all through Gael’s initial probing into his two mysteries.

“Keir?”

Keir swallowed. “How—how could it look like tin, but not be tin?” he choked out.

“I think you already know what I was going to say,” answered Gael.

“Someone broke the regenen’s ban?” asked Keir.

“It was a copper ingot energetically disguised as tin,” confirmed Gael.

Keir swallowed again. “That’s—that’s bad,” he whispered.

Gael nodded. “Our thief is likely powerful, willing to defy Carbraes, and a practicing magus.”

Keir straightened his hunched shoulders. “So the copper ingot you left on my desk—”

“—was the ‘tin’ ingot Arnoll removed from the privy smithy,” said Gael.

Keir’s chin lifted. “But the bronze ingots! Where did those come from? And we were missing only one, not two.”

Gael cleared his throat. “I suspect that if you were to tally the bronze vault at this moment, you would discover that the return of the two ingots brings us to exactly the right number.”

Keir’s eyes widened and his lips parted. He seemed to be looking a long ways away.

Gael took the opportunity to recount his and Arnoll’s chase after a fugitive in the Cliff Stair and the finding of the bronze ingots in the bucket niche of the latrine.

Keir’s attention came back from whatever distant place his thoughts had carried him. He narrowed his eyes. “So Arnoll had one ‘tin’ ingot, but he’s not the troll we’re looking for. Someone else took two bronze ingots and hid them in the latrine. And someone else took one-and-a-half tin ingots—” the boy tilted his head “—how do you steal half an ingot anyway? But we don’t know where they are. And none of this hangs together.”

“It doesn’t,” agreed Gael.

Keir’s hand reached out to grip Gael’s wrist. “Secretarius, there’s one thing more.”

“Only one?” joked Gael. He felt immune to startlement at this point.

“I don’t know why I didn’t tell you it first.”

“I suspect the matter of Arnoll and the fudged privy smithy tallies distracted you.”

“They shouldn’t have,” said Keir. The boy seemed to be regaining his balance. “One of the porters or scullions on the Regenen Stair stole an ingot of tin this morning right out of the carry sack of the privy scullion.”

“Surely not,” said Gael.

“I tallied every last thing that went into his sack from the vaults,” declared Keir. “And I watched the privy notary tally each thing as it came out in the smithy. One ingot of tin was gone.”

A feeling of cold crept into Gael’s stomach, dousing the nibblings of hunger arising there. He usually broke his fast properly in the morning, eating much more than the snack he’d cadged from Barris on his way to the yard. “But you did not see the theft as it occurred?” he questioned Keir.

“I did not.”

Gael really did not like where this might be leading. In his mind’s eye, he could see Barris’ hand moving underneath that tray of smoked fish. Wasn’t it enough that one friend had betrayed him? Was a second to prove equally . . . fallible? Or had Barris merely been steadying that tray?

Keir was looking down at his lap. “But what would a mere scullion do with an ingot of tin anyway?” he asked.

Gael gripped his feeling of incipient loss—hard—and stuffed it down.

“A scullion might steal at the behest of another, and that is what I think has happened,” answered Gael. “I learned from the mine teamsters that the magus has been poking around both the copper mine and the tinworks where he has no business. And . . .” Was it wise to disclose this to Keir? Gael firmed his lips. Yes. Keir needed to know to be on his guard. “. . . the castellanum has always disliked me, as you know. Last night I discovered that he felt you should have come to him as notary rather than to me. And his resentment is the stronger thereby.”

Keir’s face went blank, and then he chuckled. “You think the castellanum might have bribed a kitchen scullion to steal tin, just because he hates you?”

“I did not say that Theron hated me,” chided Gael.

“He does, though,” said Keir.

“No doubt. But you should be wary of him, Keir,” said Gael.

Keir’s lips quirked.

Gael abruptly remembered other words spoken at the high table. Words spoken by Nathiar. “I’m serious, Keir.”

“Yes, Secretarius.”

“Be even more wary of the magus,” Gael added.

Keir’s chuckles evaporated. It seemed he took the magus at least more seriously.

*     *     *

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The Tally Master, Chapter 8 (scene 42)

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The Tally Master, Chapter 8 (scene 40)

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New Blurb for Sovereign Night

I’ve never been quite satisfied with the copy that appears on the back cover of the paperback of Sovereign Night and on the webpages at various e-tailers.

I went so far as to obtain an analysis of what I had from an expert in marketing copy from Hidden Gems.

Wow! She delivered. In spades.

It was overwhelming, so overwhelming that I wasn’t sure where to start. I could see what my analyzer was driving at, but I couldn’t see how to arrive there by myself. I almost wished that I’d purchased the blurb-writing service rather than the blurb analysis. But I’d wanted to learn—teach me to fish, rather than simply giving me a fish.

Now I’m glad I didn’t just get the blurb-writing service, because I’ve got a glimmer of how to twist my mind when writing sales copy. That twist seems to be alien to my natural way of being in the world, but the glimmer gives me hope that I can learn it. It’s going to be a steep climb. The fact that I can’t really put words to what I’m perceiving tells me that. If I understood it fully, I’d be able to explain it—and I can’t.

In the meantime, here’s my newest version of copy for Sovereign Night. I’m still wrestling with it. It may change again. But I think this version is better than the one I’ve been using.

Note: I did make a few more tweaks. You can see the adjusted version here.

*     *     *

Something is very wrong in the river city of Hantida—a vile knot of villainy that poses special risks to Gael and Keir.

Gael, a defrocked mage, travels with his friend Keir, a gifted healer with a penchant for helping anyone sick or injured who crosses her path. Gael loves her loyalty to her calling—and to him—but fears she will never be more than a friend.

Together they seek a cure for an accursed affliction that not only erodes their bodies and minds, but keeps them apart. The rare magical artifact that holds their salvation lies hidden in riverine Hantida.

But when they enter its gates, the dark mystery lairing there catches them in its claws.

Reavers comb the city’s streets and squares by night, crashing their gauntleted fists on a residence gate or a workshop door, and taking a child, a grandmother, or some sleeping fool who thought himself safe.

Always the reavers emerge from the imperial citadel at the city’s heart and return to it before daybreak with their victim—just one—who is never seen again.

When the bronze-mailed warriors set their sights on a little girl with serious burns, Gael and Keir come face to face with the threat.

But more than mere violence lurks behind the abductions—a rotten core of secrets, intrigue, and conspiracy that Gael and Keir must penetrate while hanging on to their lives and holding true to their quest.

A tale of adventure in a vivid world of magic, shadows, and exotic peril.

*     *     *

For more about Sovereign Night, see:
Timekeeping in Hantida
The Baths of the Glorious Citadel
A Townhouse in Hantida
Hantidan Garb
Quarters in the Glorious Citadel
A Library in the Glorious Citadel
Dragon-gods of Hantida
Following Gael & Keir: a Photo Tour

For more about sales copy, see:
Eyes Glaze Over? Never!
Cover Copy Primer
How I Wrote and RE-WROTE Cover Copy for My Novel
Cover Copy for Troll-magic…One. More. Time!
Revising Light’s Blurb

 

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The Tally Master, Chapter 8 (scene 40)

After locking all three oxhide ingots in their vault, Gael trudged back down to the artisans’ yard. The morning sun had risen higher in the sky while the copper teamsters prepared to depart. The copper mines were close and they’d arrive there by midafternoon. The tin works lay more than a full day’s travel to the northeast, and the tin teamster had to camp in the forest en route.

The copper teamsters finished tidying their mules’ straps and moved off. Passing them, a single mule loaded with two capacious sacks emerged from the gatehouse between the bailey and the lower yard—troll companion striding lazily alongside, but with a slight limp. He wore a tunic of ragged shearling, fleeces outward. His grizzled hair, wild and woolly, fell to his shoulders.

“Fintan!” Gael called, waving a hand on high. He’d been expecting the new chap, not this old regular.

The tin teamster waved back, a cursory swipe at the air. He paused to say something to the gatehouse guard and then led his mule along the lodges lining the lower yard, following the gradual slope up to where the lower yard merged with the upper, and only then turning toward Gael.

A kitchen scullion scampered up the steep stairs between the two levels while Gael waited, but most of the traffic in the yard had ebbed away to a lodge mess or one of the great halls in the tower, there to break the night’s fast.

“Gael!” said Fintan, grinning as he approached nearer. He quickened his stride. His limp grew more pronounced.

Gael stepped to meet him, clasping both of the teamster’s forearms, feeling Fintan’s returning grip on his own.

“How is this?” Gael asked. “Surely the leg needed another deichtain of healing.”

“Nah. I’d coddled it too long, although Lannarc thinks like you.”

That was the troll who’d been accompanying the tin pebbles for the last two moons. Gael raised an eyebrow.

“He wants my job permanent,” Fintan explained, “But he’s not getting it, even if he does prefer walking through the forest over raking the gangue for missed nuggets of pure. The forest’s mine.” Fintan gave a short laugh. “Never mind that. Help me get these sacks off Hoopoh here.”

Gael patted the mule’s neck and then set to work on the straps securing the sack on one flank, while Fintan tackled the other. Both leather receptacles bore intact wax seals over their top folds. Gael braced himself to take the weight as he loosened the last buckle, letting the forty-pound sack slide to the ground.

A scrap of suede, dragged from its spot behind one of the straps, fell beside the full sack. Gael bent to pick it up. As he straightened, Fintan dragged his sack around to sit next to Gael’s.

“What’s that you’ve got there?” the teamster asked.

Gael turned it over in his hands; not a scrap, but a small drawstring pouch, ornamented with rivets resembling rose blooms. He frowned. There was something peculiar about the purse, but he couldn’t place it. “Isn’t it yours?” he replied.

“Nah. Never seen it before,” said Fintan.

Gael compressed his lips, shook his head. He still could not place . . . whatever it was. He whistled a yard scullion over.

“Fetch two tower porters and then water this mule,” he ordered.

“Yes, Secretarius!” The boy bobbed his head and dashed away.

Fintan protested, “One porter would be enough. I can carry my sack.”

Gael held back a smile. “No doubt you could, but I doubt your physician would say you should. How did you break the bone anyway?”

Fintan gave his short laugh. “Fell into a gangue trench like a boot. The medicus cursed me for a fool for climbing right back out again, but the damage was already done. He’d have made me lie abed for a deichtain anyway.”

“He kept you abed that long?” Gael couldn’t see it. Fintan was an active sort who stayed outdoors from the moment he awoke until fatigue sent him to sleep at night.

“Only by hiding my crutches,” explained the teamster.

Gael chuckled.

Fintan’s lips twisted. “I’d have come along with Hoopoh here”—he patted the mule’s rump—“if the magus hadn’t put forward his porter from the tower.”

Gael frowned again. Fintan meant Lannarc, the troll who’d taken Fintan’s place while his injury healed. Gael had forgotten Lannarc was tower, not mines. A porter . . . who had run a lot of Nathiar’s errands. But what had Nathiar been doing at the tin works?

“The magus was at the tin works when you broke the leg?” he probed.

“Oh, aye. Said he might as well check the tributary streams for tin while the regenen had him out of the tower surveying for metals. He’d just been at the copper mines. Said he didn’t care to make two trips. Best get it all settled all in one go.”

Gael nodded. It made sense, but he doubted it. Nathiar was up to something.

“Keep an eye on Lannarc for me, will you?” he said abruptly.

Fintan cocked his head. “Spy for the magus?” he asked.

“Maybe. Maybe not. Just . . . notice what he does. What he says. Who he talks to.”

“Will do,” Fintan agreed.

Gael looked again at the small suede pouch he held in one hand. He turned it inside out. Glints of tin dust sparkled in the leather’s nap. Tin. He turned it rightside out again and studied the decorative rivets, shaped like opened rose blossoms.

Hells!

The pouch belonged to Nathiar.

*     *     *

Next scene:
The Tally Master, Chapter 8 (scene 41)

Previous scene:
The Tally Master, Chapter 8 (scene 39)

Need the beginning?
The Tally Master, Chapter 1 (scene 1)

 

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Blueberry Crumble (Grain-free)

My daughter and I have been baking a lot lately. I need to avoid wheat and other grains, so our baking is grain-free when possible. Just last week, we found ourselves with too many blueberries in the fridge, so we went looking for a recipe to help us use them up.

Our first batch of blueberry crumble was good, but we saw room for improvement.

We wanted a thinner crust, and we thought adding lemon juice to the filling would add punch to its flavor. Plus we wanted more filling.

The recipe below includes our adjustments. When the adjusted crumble came out of our oven, we thought it was just about perfect!

INGREDIENTS

Shortbread Crust

1 cup coconut flour
3/4 cup arrowroot powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup butter

Blueberry Filling

2-3/4 cups fresh blueberries
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon arrowroot powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon lemon juice

Crumble Topping

1/3 of the shortbread mixture from the crust above
1/4 cup walnuts, minced

DIRECTIONS

1 • Pre-heat oven to 350°F. (Know your oven! Ours runs cold, so 350°F in a recipe equals 365°F on our dial.)

2 • Grease a 7” x 12” glass baking dish with butter, line with baking parchment, and set aside.

3 • In a medium mixing bowl, combine the ingredients for the crust and cut them together with a pastry cutter until a dough is formed. Reserve 1/3 of the mixture for the crumb topping. Press the other 2/3 of the mixture into the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Bake for 9 minutes, until golden.

4 • While the crust is baking, create the filling. Place all the filling ingredients into a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, gently pressing the berries to break them down. Cook for 7 to 9 minutes until the syrup is thick and no large berries remain. Take off the heat and set aside.

5 • Once the crust is baked, let it cool 10 minutes. While it cools, add the minced walnuts to the crumble dough.

6 • Spread the filling over the crust.

7 • Sprinkle the crumble mixture by hand over the filling as evenly as possible. Press it gently in place.

8 • Bake for 20 minutes.

9 • Let cool for 10 minutes. Then cut into bars and serve. The bars will be delicate, but delicious.

For more recipes, see:
Coconut Chocolates
Apples á la Ney-Grimm
Chocolate Chip Cookies

 

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The Tally Master, Chapter 8 (scene 39)

The copper teamsters were waiting for him in the upper yard, two of them wrestling a weighty oxhide ingot off the first pair of mules. Another, their opteon, stood some distance away, surveying the second and third pairs of mules, all four still burdened with their ingots, but dipping their heads to crop the lush green grass.

The sun had cleared the wall enclosing the yard, and morning light cast long shadows from the various artisan lodges. Scullions dodged in and out of their doorways, a few fetching water from the well, others carrying bundles of wood. One boy approached with a full bucket to water the mules.

Gael ambled down the ramp from the annex, shading his squinting eyes against the brightness.

The teamsters’ opteon, Emon, moved jerkily to meet Gael at the bottom of the ramp.

Emon was a small, wiry troll with a quick, anxious manner. His wizened face showed a mass of wrinkles, darting eyes, and was very tan. He wore the undyed suede tunic and trews of Belzetarn’s miners. Gael could smell the rock dust caught in the nap of the leather. The teamster greeted Gael—typically—with his latest worry.

“Ah’m not sure ’bout that new seam, Secretarius. It’s narrowin’ fast. Ah think it’ll play out soon. Ah think th’ magus was a wrong ’un ’bout his seam.”

Carbraes had sent Nathiar to the copper mine two moons ago at Gael’s recommendation. The old seam of ore-laden rock they’d been following since before Gael arrived at Belzetarn had been plunging ever deeper into the earth. Deep enough that the poor air supply was killing as many miners as the exploding rock—produced when they directed a stream of cold water on the fire-heated working face. Mining was dangerous, no question. They had to have the ore-rich rubble for shoveling into the furnace. Thus the heat, the sudden chill, and the resultant explosion were necessary. But poor air . . . would eventually extinguish the fire, as well as the miners.

“The magus traced the new seam precisely,” said Gael. “The map in my tally chamber shows it narrowing at the current location of the working face, but it will widen again once we get to the waxing moon.”

Emon shook his head. “It don’t have th’ look of a meander,” he insisted. “It’s thinnin’ down fast, like it’ll go to a trickle, then a thread, then nuthin’. We’ll have to go back to th’ old seam.”

“The magus won’t have been mistaken, Emon. But if this seam plays out, Carbraes will send the magus again to find another seam altogether. I’m not willing to sustain the casualties that the old seam produced.”

Emon nodded, reassured. “Wull, that’s good hearin’, Secretarius. But th’ new seam’s weaker than th’ old seam. And if th’ magus’ next seam’s weaker still, you’ll be gettin’ one oxhide ev’ry other day ’stead o’ three.”

Emon was definitely a worrier. His face was creased with it as he finished his pessimistic forecast.

“The magus did mention that this narrow neck in the seam was less rich than the wider areas before and after it,” Gael reminded him.

“But it isn’t. It’s narrow, but the rock is just as rich as rich. We should be gettin’ four ingots, not three!” he burst out.

“Surely not,” said Gael.

“The magus took a long look at our furnace,” said Emon. “Spent all day at it. But it’s workin’ worse than ever.”

“When?” asked Gael, surprised.

Emon frowned. “When what?”

“When did Nathiar examine your furnace?”

“Last waxin’ moon.” Emon was calming, even as Gael grew . . . concerned.

“A deichtain ago?” Gael probed.

“Aye. But it weren’t nuthin’. Just a clogged tap, and th’ magus worked out a plunger to keep it clear. Just after th’ slag rises to float on the molten copper, th’ furnace troll opens the slag tap to draw it off, then works th’ magus’ plunger—one, two, three—and then opens the oxhide tap.”

“I didn’t know the magus had visited the mines last waxing moon,” probed Gael.

“Oh, aye. We sent word for ’im when th’ tap clogged. And he fixed it good.” Having discharged his anxiety, Emon was wholly relaxed.

Gael was not. Nathiar’s second trip to the copper mine—unauthorized by Gael—would bear looking into.

The two teamsters wrestling the first oxhide ingot had finished rubbing down the pair of mules that had borne it. They hoisted the heavy metal to their shoulders, one fore and one aft, and started up the ramp to the annex. Gael followed in their wake, pondering the surest way of detaining Nathiar.

He was tempted to bump the interview of the magus ahead of the one he planned for the castellanum.

*     *     *

Next scene:
The Tally Master, Chapter 8 (scene 40)

Previous scene:
The Tally Master, Chapter 8 (scene 38)

Need the beginning?
The Tally Master, Chapter 1 (scene 1)

 

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Lawrence Block on Success

I’ve blogged about Lawrence Block and his book Write for Your Life before. I have immense respect for him, both as a person and as a writer, and I’ve continued to do the exercises he presents in Write for Your Life.

Most of the exercises are one-and-done. I’ve completed those and found them valuable. But I am still at work on a cycle of affirmations designed especially for writers.

As a writer himself, Block has been observing writers and the writing life for decades. He’s seen writers with only moderate talent build successful writing careers, while more brilliant writers fail to do so. And vice versa, of course. But talent does not seem to correlate with success.

He’s seen writers who work only moderately hard find success, while some writers who work ridiculously hard fail. And vice versa. But beyond a certain threshold, hard work doesn’t seem to correlate with success either.

What does correlate with success? Block says that what a writer believes in her heart of hearts about herself is the key. And one way to change that belief—if it is negative—is to work with affirmations.

Several of the exercises in Write for Your Life are designed to help you unearth the central negative belief you hold about yourself, so that you can challenge it and change it. But Block has observed that most writers also hold other beliefs in common.

So he created a constellation of 30 affirmations to challenge those beliefs. Try it for a month, he recommends, focusing on a different affirmation each day.

That’s what I’m in the middle of doing.

Block says that for writers, writing is particularly effective, so the exercise is to write each affirmation 20 times.

Here is today’s affirmation:

I CAN ALWAYS AFFORD TO TAKE CHANCES. It’s safe for you to risk rejection. Taking chances makes you certain of success. The more you take chances, the more you know you’re safe.

Now, I have not been using Block’s affirmations verbatim. I adjust them as needed to speak to my inmost heart. This one became:

I can always afford to take artistic chances.

And my thoughts about it are a little different as well.

It’s by taking artistic chances that I will be most authentic. And it is my authenticity that appeals to readers. By appealing to readers, my readership will grow.

I’ve made one other change. Block suggests that one simply write out the affirmation 20 times. I find it hard to keep my mind focused for that many identical repetitions, so I write the first 5 in first person, the second 5 in second person, the third 5 in third person, and the last 5 in first person again.

Block himself suggests this format for another exercise in Write for Your Life. I thought that was very clever, so I borrowed it for this exercise.

I can always afford to take artistic chances.
I can always afford to take artistic chances.
I can always afford to take artistic chances.
I can always afford to take artistic chances.
I can always afford to take artistic chances.

     Jessica, you can always afford to take artistic chances.
     Jessica, you can always afford to take artistic chances.
     Jessica, you can always afford to take artistic chances.
     Jessica, you can always afford to take artistic chances.
     Jessica, you can always afford to take artistic chances.

Jessica can always afford to take artistic chances.
Jessica can always afford to take artistic chances.
Jessica can always afford to take artistic chances.
Jessica can always afford to take artistic chances.
Jessica can always afford to take artistic chances.

     I can always afford to take artistic chances.
     I can always afford to take artistic chances.
     I can always afford to take artistic chances.
     I can always afford to take artistic chances.
     I can always afford to take artistic chances.

Care to join me? 😀 C’mon! Let’s try it together!

I can always afford to take artistic chances.
I can always afford to take artistic chances.
I can always afford to take artistic chances.
I can always afford to take artistic chances.
I can always afford to take artistic chances.

Fill in your name now!

     ____________, you can always afford to take artistic chances.
     ____________, you can always afford to take artistic chances.
     ____________, you can always afford to take artistic chances.
     ____________, you can always afford to take artistic chances.
     ____________, you can always afford to take artistic chances.

____________ can always afford to take artistic chances.
____________ can always afford to take artistic chances.
____________ can always afford to take artistic chances.
____________ can always afford to take artistic chances.
____________ can always afford to take artistic chances.

     I can always afford to take artistic chances.
     I can always afford to take artistic chances.
     I can always afford to take artistic chances.
     I can always afford to take artistic chances.
     I can always afford to take artistic chances.

How do you feel?

Lighter? More positive? With more energy? Stronger?

I do, but this is an affirmation that dovetails with my inner beliefs. I already believe that taking artistic chances is the best way to go. So repeating this affirmation brings my own optimism to the fore, and I feel good.

At least two of Block’s cycle of 30 affirmations drew up my pessimism instead. On them, I chose to use yet another tool that Block presented: writing out the inner protest called up by the affirmation.

The idea is that writing that protest gets it out of your subconscious and into the light of your conscious self, where you can challenge it. I think it works like the broken-record technique one sometimes uses when trying to sort out a conflict with a loved one.

Instead of escalating the conflict by making an extreme response to an extreme provocation, one simply repeats oneself.

Like this:

The more I’m seen and noticed, the more life nourishes me.
     Not sure that’s right.

The more I’m seen and noticed, the more life nourishes me.
     Is it safe?

The more I’m seen and noticed, the more life nourishes me.
     Won’t someone hurt me?

The more I’m seen and noticed, the more life nourishes me.
     I want to be nourished.

The more I’m seen and noticed, the more life nourishes me.
     I wish.

     Jessica, the more you’re seen and noticed, the more life nourishes you.
          I doubt it.

     Jessica, the more you’re seen and noticed, the more life nourishes you.
          Why then have I been so impoverished?

     Jessica, the more you’re seen and noticed, the more life nourishes you.
          I’ve been nourished emotionally and spiritually,
          but I’d like to see some financial nourishment!

     Jessica, the more you’re seen and noticed, the more life nourishes you.
          B.S.

     Jessica, the more you’re seen and noticed, the more life nourishes you.
          Feh!

The more Jessica is seen and noticed, the more life nourishes her.
     Yeah, well, she could use some nourishing now.

The more Jessica is seen and noticed, the more life nourishes her.
     I was struck today by how God has cared for us over the last year.

The more Jessica is seen and noticed, the more life nourishes her.
     I feel trust right this moment.

The more Jessica is seen and noticed, the more life nourishes her.
     But I’m still scared of other people.

The more Jessica is seen and noticed, the more life nourishes her.
     Yet people can be God’s hands in the world.

This affirmation-and-response pattern closes with just a repetition of the affirmation.

     The more I’m seen and noticed, the more life nourishes me.
     The more I’m seen and noticed, the more life nourishes me.
     The more I’m seen and noticed, the more life nourishes me.
     The more I’m seen and noticed, the more life nourishes me.
     The more I’m seen and noticed, the more life nourishes me.

If you found yourself fighting today’s affirmation—I can always afford to take artistic chances—try it again with a response. The response can be anything. Blurt out the first thing you think of, and carry on.

I can always afford to take artistic chances
__________________________________

I can always afford to take artistic chances
__________________________________

I can always afford to take artistic chances
__________________________________

I can always afford to take artistic chances
__________________________________

I can always afford to take artistic chances
__________________________________

     ____________, you can always afford to take artistic chances.
     __________________________________________________

     ____________, you can always afford to take artistic chances.
     __________________________________________________

     ____________, you can always afford to take artistic chances.
     __________________________________________________

     ____________, you can always afford to take artistic chances.
     __________________________________________________

     ____________, you can always afford to take artistic chances.
     __________________________________________________

____________ can always afford to take artistic chances.
______________________________________________

____________ can always afford to take artistic chances.
______________________________________________

____________ can always afford to take artistic chances.
______________________________________________

____________ can always afford to take artistic chances.
______________________________________________

     I can always afford to take artistic chances.
     I can always afford to take artistic chances.
     I can always afford to take artistic chances.
     I can always afford to take artistic chances.
     I can always afford to take artistic chances.

Better?

I hope so. But if not, maybe this affirmation challenges one of your core beliefs. In which case, you might try working with it for several days. You might be amazed at the freedom you gain.

May you be happy. May you be well. May you be peaceful. May you be free.

😀

For more about Lawrence Block and Write for Your Life, see:
Lawrence Block and Unforgettable Characters—Take 1
Lawrence Block and Unforgettable Characters—Take 2

 

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