Ribbon of Earth’s Tears

Long he slept. Centuries and millennia of years he slumbered.

The age of creation had demanded hard labor, and he had given freely of himself, cooling the lands made molten by his sister Gaia, collecting the rains of his brother Ouranos, and wielding the gathered waters to shape plains and shores, valleys and deep, deep ravines.

At the end of his work he retreated, claiming a lesser portion of himself.

Let his sister’s son Poseidaon rule the oceans and the seas. Let his half-brothers—a multitude of them—dwell within other streams, other rivers, guarding their clarity and guiding the speed of their flow. He would reserve for himself just this one important ribbon of earth’s tears. Its headwaters sprang from the river traversing the underground realm of his brother Plutonos. Bursting through a cleft in the rock of a high place, the spray fell free, down and down—its drops a crystalline thread in the air until they crashed into the cauldron below, a raging vessel of froth and fury. From there they leapt merrily over boulders and down slopes, a young river at the bottom of a ravine, broadening as it ran, calming, until—where the cliffs sank to form a rich vale—the waters proceeded serenely, limpid and green in the sunlight, grey and opaque under cloud, but always lifegiving, despite their source in the underworld.

This was the river Morvarag—Blackbourn—black for its peaty soil in the valley, black for the dark cliffs along its upper reaches, black for its dark birth among the dead.

Morvarag was its name, and Morvarag became his name, too, as he slept. For in his slumber, he dreamed. And as he dreamed, the people on his banks—his people—dreamed his dreams with him.

They dreamed of the labor he had done, mirages of molten earth shining in crescents and seas of shimmering heat, visions of spraying lava and hell-lit skies. They savored reveries of present fecundity—schools of gleaming fish, rich tillage, violet-scented glades, summer breezes, feasts of roasted meats and sweet mead at the end of the day. They embarked upon trances of future glory, starlight and a long, long journey into mystery.

The people dreamed his dreams by night and named him guardian of the night watches, mediator between them and the powers of darkness. But by day they were busy. They made tools of knapped flint, they hunted deer and aurochs, they built huts of reeds and river mud. Their children splashed in the shallows, while mothers washed stone vessels and hunters speared great river sturgeon in wild boat hunts.

Their toolmakers learned to cast bronze. Their kitchen gardens expanded to become fields of grain. They prospered.

All the while, their god dreamed, keeping them safe through the night.

Their days grew less safe, not because of their neighbors, the tribes who fished and traded along the great flood of the river Danouvios, into which the Morvarag flowed. No, it was a more distant people who posed the threat.

The foreigners were men of pride and spirit, with a desire to possess and rule all the lands to the horizon. With each valley they took, the farther their horizons stretched. On and on they marched, helmets bright under the sun, their lorica segmentata clanking—armor stronger than a gorgon’s bones—and each gladius thirsty for blood.

They torched villages, put women and children to the sword, and defeated the warriors whose fishing spears were nothing to the invaders’ heavy pilums, whose bronze blades were battered ragged against the iron of the invading legions.

The river dwellers cried out to their god, begging that he extend his nighttide protection into day, praying that he rise and confront the trespassers, demanding that he take vengeance for their slain.

But Morvarag slumbered on.

The invaders built a bridge to carry their legions across the river to the richest fields and the most prosperous villages.

Wicker crates shaped like pyramids and filled with stones were lowered into the waters to kiss the riverbed and sink deep.

Morvarag felt them in his sleep—like bruises against his shins.

The crates of stones anchored barges, a whole series of them, floating at careful intervals from bank to bank.

Morvarag felt these, too, each an oppression upon his skin.

From barge to barge, the invaders laid a wooden roadway, its timbers stout to bear the tread of marching men. And Morvarag felt the weight of the dead trees as a suffocation, a thickness to smother fire and dreams. He stirred, but still he did not wake.

The soldiers began to cross, their sandaled feet heavy on the span, their voices loud in answer to their herald’s cry—are you ready?

“We are ready!”—a thundered reply.

“We are ready!”—louder still.

We are ready!”—to break mountains.

Morvarag woke.

The bridge bound him. As an iron band tormenting his ankles, it bound him. As an abrading rope around his knees, it bound him. As manacles on his wrists, it bound him. As braided linen at his elbows, it bound him. A hangman’s noose about his neck, it bound him.

He was bound, but not powerless.

“My brother! Loose your might!” he roared.

He might have done it himself. He’d shaped rock with his waters, cooled fire, flooded seas. The cracking open of a cleft in a cliff must have been nothing, even bound as he lay. But he would be courteous of the rights of others; the underground river was not his.

“Plutonos! To me!”

And the lord of the dead answered, not with breath and voice, but with the thunder of rock shattering. The cliff burst open and the water of the dead king’s river spewed as a maelstrom of jagged wavecrests pocked with rubble, raging down the ravine, scouring the clifftops, a churning fury of destruction against which no legion could stand.

The floating bridge transformed to splinters in an instant, and the soldiers?—on the bank waiting to cross, arrived on the far side and debarking, or marching the fraught span itself?—pulped dead men carried downstream for the river dwellers to witness, and be grateful.

*     *     *

For more flash fiction, see:
Blood Falchion (The Old Armory, Part I)

 

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Am I Daring?

One lone idea sparked my short story, “To Haunt the Daring Place.” I wanted to tell about the founding of a monastery that will feature in the ninth book of my Gael & Keir series.

That was all I had.

There was a monastery. It had an unusual founding. Gael and Keir would visit the place a hundred years (or two) later.

My logical self informed me that this was a slim spot to start from.

My storyteller self felt serenely sanguine. There was a story already present, hiding in my subconscious and ready to be revealed. All I needed to do was trust in its existence and tell it.

I mused upon my protagonist. He was a scholar and a mage, possessed of great world-wonder. He felt curious about everything, but he’d taken a break from the scholarship he loved to rebuild his fortunes, which were decimated by the troll wars. Now he was reclaiming his curiosity.

His name was Coehlin, and he was an especial fan of ancient North-lands philosophers such as Kleomedes the Younger and Aglaia of Seleucis.

I envisioned the story appearing in my collection, Tales of Old Giralliya.

The time period seemed to fit, and I envisioned a sort of fairy tale style for its telling.

But after I wrote the first scene, it was clear that I wasn’t using a fairy tale style at all. It wasn’t right for the story I wanted to tell. Nor would the length be comparable to that of the other stories in Tales of Old Giralliya. They fell in a range between 700 and 4,500 words. “To Haunt the Daring Place” would be at least 6,000 words, maybe more.

My next plan was to submit the story to SFF magazines.

web imageI’d received a nice comment from a magazine editor when I submitted “Crossing the Naiad” to him. Recently I learned what a personal comment like that meant, aside from, ‘It’s good!’ It meant that he’d read the story all the way to its end. And editors don’t do that unless either: 1) they think they might buy the story for their magazine, or 2) they are enjoying the story so much that even though it is not right for their magazine, they can’t bear to stop.

That put my editor’s comment in a new perspective. Getting a story accepted seemed like it might truly be possible!

But as I wrote “To Haunt,” I began to worry that it would be too long for any magazine. Wasn’t 6,000 words the top limit for many? And it was becoming ever more certain that “To Haunt” was going to cross that 6K limit.

In fact, the first draft of “To Haunt” came in at 13,714 words. Yikes!

If 6,000 were the top edge, then my story was more than twice as long. Cutting it down a little to fit wouldn’t be feasible. But I could (and should) check that limit. Maybe my memory was wrong. Maybe, even if I remembered right, there might be a few magazines that would take a novelette. Or, if there weren’t any magazines that would, maybe there would be an anthology call permitting longer lengths.

What I really wanted was to get my story into a magazine with a circulation of thousands or an anthology with an editor possessing an established audience of thousands. The readers who read my work seem to love it. But their numbers are, as yet, few. I want readers who have never heard of me to have a chance at reading my stories.

So…is there a potential venue for “To Haunt the Daring Place”?

Yes!

I checked the word limits for the top magazines, and many of them accept submissions up to 20K. A few specify 15K, and one 10K.

Obviously the 10K rag won’t work for “To Haunt,” but I have lots of options. Yay! I’m pretty thrilled about it.

So…did the monastery get founded?

W-e-l-l…not exactly.

The magical architectural element that leads to the founding of the monastery is indeed created in the events recounted in “To Haunt the Daring Place.” But the monastery itself? No. It’s never even mentioned.

But it will be a fun Easter egg for readers of both “To Haunt the Daring Place” and Book Nine of the Gael & Keir Adventures. I assure you that the architectural element is not something that can be missed!

Wish me luck in getting the story accepted. 😀

For more about Tales of Old Giralliya, see:
Rebirth of Four Fairy Tales
Two Giralliyan Folk Heroes
Caught Between Two Armies
Tales in a New Bundle

 

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Hospital Misadventures

So, what happened to me in the hospital?

My surgeon has admitting privileges at the Augusta Medical Center, so that is where he sent me. He called ahead to warn them I was en route, but the first thing they had to do was assess me.

After all, no medical person had seen me for many hours. I could be in any condition, for all they knew, when I walked in through the ER doors.

Blood pressure, heart rate, and blood oxygen are simple enough to obtain. But answers to questions? Oh, my!

With my tongue the size of the Goodyear blimp, my answers were utterly unintelligible.

Luckily my husband could tell the whole sad story perfectly well: the surgery and its complications, the extreme swelling in the aftermath.

And, interestingly, my husband could often understand my blurred utterances, when the question pertained to something current, rather than something in the past. He could translate for me.

The intake was fast, and I waited only 5 minutes before they took me back.

Soon I was hooked up to an IV, receiving fluids, antibiotics, and a steroid (to get the swelling down). Then came the first stumble. They wanted to give me something for pain, and I was all for it, since my pain levels were high.

But they wanted to give me Toradol, which is an NSAID.

I’ve been avoiding NSAIDs for the last 25 years. The last time I ever took one—ibuprofen—the pill landing in in my stomach felt like someone had lit a match there. It HURT!

This is where being scared, weak, in pain, and not able to talk is a huge disadvantage in a hospital. I let them give it to me. They argued that everyone experiences some stomach upset with NSAIDs and that since the drug would not be going through the stomach, it would have a minimal effect there.

I didn’t feel strong enough and confident enough to just say no.

Well, it didn’t feel like a lit match, thank goodness. But within 45 minutes, my stomach hurt. It really hurt. And I strongly regretted that unsaid no. Next time—assuming there is one—I’ll say no.

In the meantime, there I was, tongue still swollen, pain less in my mouth, but still present, and enough pain in my stomach to offset any relief from lowered mouth pain. My one comfort was that if the swelling were to increase enough to cut off my airways, I was in the right place. Presumably they would be able to save me.

We’d arrived at the ER around 4 in the afternoon. Sometime around 7 pm I received a hospital room. And then it was time for my husband to go home. Our kids are 16, old enough to be fine on their own for considerable lengths of time. But still, it was time for a parent to return to the nest and do all the parent things.

All of the rooms at Augusta Health are single, and they are very nice. Mine had a gorgeous view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

So I hung out in the bed, gazing out at the golden evening and just resting. I felt very tired.

My surgeon arrived and assessed me. He arranged for a suction device, so that I could remove the spit from my mouth without having to try to swallow it. That was huge relief. And as the hours ticked away, my tongue began to subside.

I still remember trying a sip of iced water at around midnight. Just the one. And I was able to swallow it! I cannot tell you how good that felt.

By morning my tongue was perhaps half its previous size and swallowing water was very feasible. Oh, how I loved that water!

Jello—served for breakfast—was still beyond me. And I knew the “chicken broth” was probably a chemical sea of MSG and soy, which would just upset my poor stomach still more. Because—yes—my stomach was still suffering. It felt like someone had taken sandpaper to it.

By early afternoon, I could talk intelligibly! Yay!

Prep began for me to return home.

And then came the next major stumble. I was given liquid oxycontin. Uh, oh!

Guess what? Liquid oxycontin has alcohol in its formulation. And that alcohol burned the surgical wound in my mouth. I’m not really much of a crier these days. This is not a virtue. There are many times when the catharsis of a good cry would ready me to proceed ahead with full energy, but—dash it!—I can’t manage to cry.

Well, let me tell you! My burned surgical wound hurt so badly—and grew worse after the initial burn—that I simply had to cry. Pain level 9 out 10.

Within half an hour, my tongue was the size of the Goodyear blimp once again.

But still they were going to send me home.

This seemed like a bad idea to me. I couldn’t swallow my own spit anymore. I couldn’t swallow any water. I couldn’t swallow any medications. This was why I’d been admitted to the hospital in the first place. But they were going to send me home anyway?

Their reasoning was twofold.

1) All the steroids in me would keep working and my tongue would start to go down in size soon.

2) I’d been admitted to the hospital for observation. If I stayed for more than 24 hours, the basis for my admission would have to be changed and the whole thing would became much more expensive, and the insurance coverage assessed on a different basis.

Well, I can’t pretend that the second reason didn’t weigh with me.

My husband’s position was eliminated in July, and he is currently unemployed. We have medical insurance through the end of the year. We have the money to buy food, pay our mortgage, and pay this hospital bill. But…our financial situation is not good, not good at all.

I didn’t think my surgeon was right about how quickly my tongue would de-swell. In fact, I was scared about that. But I figured that at least I was no longer dehydrated. I’d been getting IV fluids all this time. I could surely last until the next day. And maybe, by then, I would be able to swallow again.

So I went home.

On the way home, I did some thinking. What could I do to ensure that I didn’t just land in the hospital again tomorrow?

I found myself remembering The Sharing Knife: Legacy by Lois McMaster Bujold.

A major facet of the story treats with the fate of ten unconscious people, who Dag and Fawn (and company) are determined to save. Dag puts the grandmothers in the group on the case. He figures that people who have the most experience keeping completely helpless people alive will have the best chance with these unconscious patients.

Somehow that scene gave me hope. If those fictional grandmothers could succeed, maybe I could, too.

It wasn’t until 10 at night that my own solution came to me.

I was remembering when my children were babies, and how we used plastic syringes to get medicine into them when they were ill.

I’d been given exactly that kind of plastic syringe to get my own medicines into me. I had liquid steroids and liquid antibiotics. And I’d been told to crush the oxycodone pills, mix them with water, and syringe those into me as well.

The first dose worked! The trick was to push the plunger down very s-l-o-w-l-y. I couldn’t swallow even a sip. But I could swallow one drop at a time.

And that is when I realized that I could get water into me via syringe. Drop by drop.

I even tried a syringe full of consommé. And I knew I would be okay. Medicine? Check. Fluids? Check. I really would be okay.

But…my stomach hurt soooo much! All those medicines on an empty stomach were doing a number on me.

I carried on. Medicine. Water. Consommé. Medicine. Water. Consommé.

By 3 the next afternoon (24 hours after my discharge), my tongue was once again down in size, enough so that I could swallow. And talk, with a strange sort of lisp. I’d turned the corner.

That was the weekend of August 10-11. My surgeon winced when he saw me that Monday, because the swelling was still so bad.

But how am I now?

A lot better.

I’ve been guzzling down beet kvass, homemade chicken broth, kombucha, and eating over-easy fried eggs. My stomach is not yet fully recovered from the harsh medicines, but it just hurts a little, not a lot.

This Monday—August 19—my surgeon was really happy with the state of my mouth. He said it was looking good! (I think it was the beet kvass. Really!)

I am still in a fair amount of pain. Part of that is that my primary pain medicine is now acetaminophen. You can’t just continue with the opioids indefinitely. The other part is that my surgery was pretty extensive. There was a lot of bone removed, ground down, and smoothed. It is just going to take time for my body to get it all healed.

I’m grateful that I’m alive. I’m grateful that I didn’t have to suffer intubation. I’m grateful I can swallow! I’m grateful that I am healing. And I am so, so eager to be well!

Send me healing vibes, if you feel so inclined!

For more about my surgery, see:
Surgical Complications Slow Me

 

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Surgical Complications Slow Me

hospital room

Yes, I have been in the hospital.

It really was not supposed to go that way.

What happened?

I needed oral surgery. It was an outpatient procedure, unpleasant, with the risk of complications that all surgery carries, but likely to go smoothly. I’d even been through Part One in May with a minimum of fuss. Part Two would be similar, right?

Well, it wasn’t.

The surgery I needed was the reduction of a torus mandibularis.

“What the hay is a torus mandibularis?” you ask.

It is a bony growth in the lower jawbone along the surface nearest to the tongue.

bony growth on the lower jawboneMine was much larger and more poorly positioned than the one in the photo at right. That lucky person would clearly have been able to floss his or her teeth just fine.

My toroid was located near to the top of the gum line and it had a bump upward on top of that. Which meant that when I flossed those teeth, I could not physically get the floss fully down into the bottom of the cranny between tooth and gum. This was causing gum disease to develop.

Toroids usually come in pairs, and mine did. I had the right one ground down in May. It was unpleasant, but bearable.

Part Two—the left one—was August 8. It was a nightmare.

When my surgeon finished the toroid grinding (there’s a special machine for this), he discovered that the inner edge of the jawbone at the back of my mouth (beyond where the toroid had lain) was razor sharp. If he simply reattached my gum tissue (detached and pushed aside for the surgery), the bone would cut the gum tissue. He had to smooth and round that sharp edge.

So he did.

But the edge went back…and back…and BACK!

So he excavated back and back and back, rounding all the way. Finally he got to the end of it and could start stitching my gum tissue back down.

That was unpleasant enough, because it increased the length of the surgery. But I made it through. I was under twilight sedation, so I was semi-aware. Not nice, but bearable.

The true nightmare began about 6 hours later.

My pain levels sky rocketed. I needed extra pain relief, which was a little delayed in arriving. My mouth swelled. Even worse, my tongue started to swell.

By the next morning, my tongue was so swollen—felt like the Goodyear blimp crammed into my mouth—that I could no longer swallow. At all.

photo of blimp in sky

I could still breath, which was essential, of course. But any swallowing was a complete no go.

I could not swallow my own spit. I could not swallow any water. I could not swallow any medicine.

My surgeon prescribed liquid steroids, which could be eye-droppered into me, one drop at a time. And I managed to swallow them. They helped, but not enough, especially since I was now very dehydrated and dry heaving. I needed IV fluids and IV medications. So, hospital.

They kept me for only 23 hours and sent me home.

There were some setbacks—which I will not go into now. I’m wearing out in the storytelling, I’m afraid. Maybe in another blog post. 😉

So how am I? Will I be okay?

Yes.

I can swallow. The swelling is down (although not completely absent). The pain is controlled reasonably well. (Every now and then it breaks through, and then—yikes!)

But J.M. Ney-Grimm is definitely in slow mode. I sleep. I read. I rest. I drink broth. And then I sleep again. (The ole brain is truly off line.)

I had imagined myself writing a short story for the sheer fun of it during these convalescing weeks. Nope.

Because my surgery was more extensive than planned (getting that close to the base of the tongue is a bad thing), the recovery will take longer, probably a good month. For now, my top priority must be healing. Sigh. I’d rather be writing!

For more about the aftermath of my surgery, see:
Hospital Misadventures

 

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Interesting Times

The waters here at Casa Ney-Grimm have been much choppier than those at Burt Lake in the photo above.

I went to the ER with a kidney infection. Then I had oral surgery. Then I fought through two infections. Urgh! Then came the most crushing blow: the department in which my husband works was targeted for a reorganization, with the result that my husband’s position was eliminated. Effective July 19. Double or triple urgh!

Through it all, I’ve continued my revision of The Sovereign’s Labyrinth (sequel to The Tally Master), but progress has been slow. But now—now!—I think I’m within striking distance of finishing. All of the truly tricky stuff is complete, and I’m excited about the changes I’ve made. This book is going to be good (she says with a modest grin). I’ve got another 8,000 words of the manuscript to review, and then I’ll send it off to my first reader. (Again. She wants to see what I’ve done with her feedback, brave woman.)

So what about Burt Lake?

A dear friend has a cottage there, and she invited me and my husband and children to spend a week with her. It was glorious. Sunny. Warm, but not hot. The lake seventy-five feet from the screened porch. And the best of company.

We swam nearly every day. We lounged in deck chairs by the water. We cooked and ate sumptuous meals. My daughter tried paddle boarding. We forgot all our troubles for a while.

Now we’re back home, and the troubles are crowding close. A job and medical insurance must be found. But the writing is keeping me sane, and I am clinging fast to the maxim: “One day at a time.”

If you’re the praying sort, I’d love your prayers. If you’re not, kind thoughts would be great!
 
 
(Photos by Amy Vandenburg. Copyright © 2019 Amy Vandenburg. Used with her permission.)

 

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Mists from the Deeps

     In the night, in the darkness, in the loneliest watch
           heart freezes
           soul cries out
           being shudders

     No answers on offer

     And yet . . . from despair, if I answer yes
           to loss
           to fear
           to death
     Yield assent without limit
     Assent, because all other answers lie barren

     Like earliest dawn, which seeps into the night sky so subtly
           my heart lightens
           a sense of possibility mists from the deeps
           some answer, unspoken, arrives

     Fragile and delicate, surrender to it, do not reach
           this succor may be accepted
           never taken
           new life in the bud

This poem and the accompanying photo appear in my new upcoming release, Journey into Grief.

For more excerpts from the book, see:
Cold Rage
Blessed Radiance
Futile Seeking
Risen

 

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Daylight Shines

           The sky is so blue and friendly
           almost as though it is her smile
           or maybe her laugh
           or both

           I have no sense of its infinite possibility
           ceding to the blackness of outer space
           going on and on past the moon
           past Mars

           No, this sky is immediate, personal
           happy like a baby blanket
           comforting like Mother
           and mine

           I am shielded, illuminated, protected
           under its canopy of brightness
           so long as daylight shines
           safe

This poem and the accompanying photo appear in my new upcoming release, Journey into Grief.

For more excerpts from the book, see:
Missing Her
No Beauty
Exiled
Despair

 

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