What Does the Tally Master Tally?

The wealth of Belzetarn is measured in its metals.

How many ingots of bronze, copper, and tin – tin, so rare – lie in its vaults? How many bronze swords? How many shirts of bronze scale?

The technologies required to make superior weapons and tools of iron don’t exist yet, but those for the working of bronze are well developed, and the bronze implements of Belzetarn rarely fail. Were it not for the scarcity of tin, the denizens of the citadel would be well equipped. But tin is incredibly rare, and every grain of it must be well guarded.

Gael, the tally master of Belzetarn, is the one who ensures that none of the tin – or any of the metals – is lost or stolen. The day he discovers that his vaults are one ingot short is grievous!

* * *

In order to write The Tally Master, I needed to know a fair bit about metallurgy, about mining, about smithing, and about the shape and size of ingots through history. I researched all of these elements, and some pertinent bits have made their way into the book’s appendices. Here is a sneak preview of the appendix on ingots.

About Tin, Copper, and Bronze Ingots

The ingots issuing from Belzetarn’s copper mines are massive ’oxhides’ shaped like an animal hide with four ’legs’ that make it possible to carry them. They weigh 80 pounds and measure roughly 70 centimeters (~28 inches) long by 40 centimeters (16 inches) wide by 5 centimeters (~2 inches) thick.

Belzetarn’s tinworks yield ‘pebbles’ created in a rough smelting on site. These pebbles are transported to the citadel’s forges in sacks loaded onto a mule.

Neither the copper oxhides nor the tin pebbles are pure enough for immediate use. Both must be smelted again to remove impurities, and the resulting high-quality metal is poured into molds which create small ingots shaped vaguely like hats.

These ‘hat’ ingots each weigh one pound and measure roughly 9 centimeters (~3.5 inches) per side of the ’hat brim’ – the widest part. The ’crown’ rises 4.2 centimeters (~2 inches) high.

Tin is the least dense of the three relevant metals – tin, bronze, and copper – and the tin hat ingots have a thickness of 2.421 millimeters. Bronze, with more density, yields ingots 2 millimeters thick. And copper, the most dense, possesses ingots of 1.995 millimeters thickness.

The hat ingots are shaped to nest in neat stacks. But because of their different thicknesses, stacks composed of the different metals would wobble a bit, while stacks of all tin, all copper, or all bronze are very stable.

The smiths of the individual forges – sword, armor, and privy – each create their own bronze from the tin and copper hat ingots, because each requires a slightly different ratio of tin to copper. Any leftover bronze is poured into its own hat ingots. The blade smith regularly produces one bronze ingot every day, so precise and standardized are his processes.

The privy smith, who makes tools and household implements for the citadel, is experimenting wildly with different metal mixtures. He rarely has enough leftover bronze to pour an entire ingot, so his leftovers return to storage at the end of the day as a lump which is weighed.

The armor smithy always needs wire (to ‘sew’ the many small platelets of bronze into mail shirts), so any excess bronze is poured into long narrow molds, yielding metal that can be readily hammered into wire.


Seven years ago, reeling from a curse in the wake of battle, Gael sought sanctuary and found it in a most perilous place. But the citadel of a troll warlord—haunt of the desperate and violent—proves a harsh refuge for a civilized mage.

Set in the Bronze Age of J.M. Ney-Grimm’s North-lands, The Tally Master brings mystery and secrets to epic fantasy in a suspenseful tale of betrayal and redemption.

Coming soon!

For more about the world of The Tally Master, see:
Mapping Ancient Rome onto Belzetarn
Gael’s Tally Chamber


Justice in Auberon

Balance ScalesPerilous Chance will soon release in paperback! I’m excited about it and have all-things-perilous-and-chancy on my mind, so I’m going to share a series of blog posts relating to my story. The first is this one about the justice system used in Auberon, where Perilous Chance takes place.

For those of you who haven’t read Perilous Chance, Clary – an 11-year-old girl – is its protagonist, and she encounters the legal system in the course of her adventure.

* * *

Clary’s uncle, Arteme ni Calcinides, serves as Justicar of the Peace for his lething. (A lething is a subdivision of a worthing. A worthing is similar to a county. Auberon possesses eighteen worthing.)

Being Justicar means Arteme presides over his Court Justicarate when issues such as petty theft, disorderly conduct, or trespass arise. And dispenses summary justice, without formality, for smaller offenses: wearing inappropriate bathing costume, grazing your cow on your neighbor’s land, moving a road sign, and the like.

Arteme passes no judgment on more serious crimes. Burglary, arson, and assault and battery all get referred to the next higher court, the Quintary Sessions, held five times a year and presided over by three Lord Justicars.

The worst breaches go higher still.

Murder and kidnapping must be tried at the Courts of Assidere, convened as necessary.

And treason goes all the way to the Morofane’s Bench.

The structure of Auberon’s judicial courts looks like this:

The Rofanes’ Council
(highest court in Auberon)
The Morofane’s Bench
(royal decrees may be challenged, treason tried)
Court of Appeals
(hears appeals from lower courts)
Courts of Assidere
(hears cases referred by the Quintary Sessions)
Quintary Sessions
(tries felonies and hears civil cases)
Courts Justicarate
(tries misdemeanors and infractions, refers felonies)
(Areteme’s court is a Court Justicarate)

A Chancery Court – apart from the criminal justice establishment –
handles mercantile law, land law, and trusts.

Thus, when Clary and her family arrive at Arteme’s manor house, reporting their witnessing of a violent death, the Rofane must go investigate.

If the events prove to be death by misadventure, the case need go no further. But if murder is suspected, Arteme must refer the case to the Quintary Sessions along with a suspect and all the evidence pointing to that suspect. The Rofane has quite a job cut out for him!

Luckily, he has help.

In the distant past, his help would have consisted of the knights under his rule and their squires. But in these “modern” times, the Royal Judiciary appoints and funds a secretary – to handle records – as well as twenty stave-men – to make arrests – and five warders – to supervise the stave-men and handle especially challenging criminal situations.

However, these twenty-five men on active duty must secure the entire lething. As Arteme departs to investigate the scene of the death, he has only four of them at hand.

* * *

For more about Perilous Chance:
Clary’s Cottage
Not Monday, But Lundy
Notes on Chance
Cover Creation: Perilous Chance


Why Did the Three Goats Cross the River?

When I started writing Crossing the Naiad, I knew that Kimmer’s goats weren’t as healthy as they ought to be. The rural people of Silmaren wouldn’t have access to the vitamin and mineral supplements that modern day herders do or even that wealthier farmers in my North-lands possess.

Curious GoatsI also knew that sometimes the plants growing in pasture aren’t the right ones to ensure the animals grazing there receive all the nutrients they need.

Thus Kimmer would need to take the family goats to better pasturage to improve their health.

Once away from the familiar environs of home, she encounters a perilous remnant from the ancient past and the story unfolds.

So far, so good.

But, while some writers could take the narrative from there, I’m not one of them! I needed to know what the missing nutrient was, what symptoms it might cause, and what plant could remedy the problem.

So I started digging.

And came up with a promising candidate right away: copper.

Craigieburn Valley, Canterbury, New ZealandAnemia, weak bones (particularly in the young), poor wound healing, and frequent infections are all symptoms of copper deficiency. That sounded plenty “dowly” enough – as Kimmer calls it – to me.

There are several circumstances that can cause lack of copper in pasturage.

Peaty and acid soils are deficient in copper, especially moorland soils. If you’ve got heather, wild bilberries, birch, rowan and pine growing on your land, then it is moorland and the soil simply hasn’t got much copper in it. Thus the plants lack it as well.

Silmaren doesn’t have much heather, but all the other plants on that list are common. Bingo!

Interestingly, lime soils also cause copper deficiency, but not because the soil lacks the mineral. Lime soils increase the bio-availabilty of molybdenum several fold. And high levels of molybdenum interfere with the utilization of copper in the body. I doubt this is the issue in Silmaren, however.

Acid rainfall could be the culprit. Silmaren has newly entered the age of steam, and produces steam largely by the burning of coal. The city of Andamn is a major mining center, and Kimmer’s hamlet – while rural – lies close enough to feel the effects of pollution. Acid rain possesses a heavy sulphur content. High sulphur levels in herbage suppress the uptake of copper from the soil. Voila! Copper-poor plants.

Finally, the mix of plants in the pasture may simply be one that doesn’t feature copper. Most wild grasses are poor in copper. And that is what Kimmer and, indeed all of her neighbors, must contend with. They depend largely on the bounty of nature. What grows is what they have.

Cocksfoot, a wild grassRed clover and yarrow are rich in copper, but the meadows of their hamlet lack these plants. Wild grasses and more wild grasses were nature’s gift.

Luckily the wild grass named cocksfoot does have copper. It’s been overgrazed in the pastures close to home, but thrives in more distant grasslands. That is what Kimmer seeks.

Once I’d researched that much I felt confidant enough to proceed with my story.

As is usual for many writers, most of my research never appears directly on the page.

In Crossing the Naiad, all of the above generated:

Mama said the goats were dowly because they needed copper salts. A spell of cropping the cocksfoot in the foothills beyond the river would put them right.

And it seemed she was correct.

web imageIf every three sentences in my stories demanded this kind of research, I’d not be happy. But that’s not the case. The preparations for Naiad required that I know a little bit about goat nutrition and that I devise the the history of the naiad whose will Kimmer crosses. That sufficed for generating the confidence I need for storytelling.

I always do some research. And I always do some pre-planning. After that, the story takes over.

Origin of Canning – Not What You’d Think!

Pioneer boy looks out the back of a covered wagonCalico. Little House on the Prairie. Pioneer women.

These were the things that came to mind when I considered the domestic accomplishment of home canning.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

(It still amazes me how easy it is to be wrong about things. Does that happen to you? Thinking you know, and then finding you don’t?)

So if canning is not a creation of the American West, where did it come from?


Portrait by Jaques-Louis DavidYes, Napoleon Bonaparte of the Napoleonic Wars. And, indeed, war was the inciting factor. The Napoleonic Wars saw the advent of mass conscription. With 800,000 soldiers in the field for 12 years, the French needed a way to feed their armies.

The government offered a hefty prize to the inventor who could devise a way to preserve large amounts of food. Nicolas Appert – a confectioner and chef – rose to the challenge and won the prize.

His method?

Place the food in wide-mouthed glass jar. Force a cork tightly into the jar mouth using a vice. Seal it with sealing wax. Wrap the jar in canvas to protect it. Then dunk it in boiling water and boil it long enough to thoroughly cook the contents.

early tin canThis was long before Pasteur and an understanding of microbes. But it worked.

Appert’s method was adopted by the British armies, but transposed to wrought-iron canisters, which were cheaper to make and less fragile. Unfortunately, the can opener was not invented for another 30 years. The soldiers opened the cans with their bayonets!

Although canned foods spread into civilian households across Europe, they remained more a novelty item than a staple. The process was too industrial and expensive for home use.

That changed in the 1860’s when a tinsmith named John Landis Mason invented the Mason jar. It was a threaded glass jar with a matching threaded ring or band, a flat lid (held in place by the band), and a rubber ring that went under the lid for an air-tight seal.

People all over America and Europe started canning fruit, pickles, relishes, and sauces such as ketchup. These high-sugar or high-acid foods could be safely canned without the pressure canning that we know today.

(Vegetables and meats must be pressure canned to kill the deadly botulinum bacteria which thrives in low-acid, anaerobic conditions.)

Cast-iron stoveWhen the 1880’s ushered in the widespread use of the cast iron stove, home canning reached new heights of popularity. The denizens of small towns were especially well-placed to take advantage of the new technology. They were close to the farms that produced the food, as well as possessing space for home gardens. And they had the cash to afford the jars.

Strawberry preserves, dill pickles, and apple butter abounded.

Home canning was a widespread practice by 1900 and rose to great prominence in America during both World Wars. By planting Victory Gardens and canning the harvest, citizens allowed the industrial machine to be aimed more efficiently at the war effort.

But, as you can see from this short history, canning is a relatively modern development.

So how did people preserve food before before the advent of canning?

And why did I delve into the history of food preservation in the first place?

a book of foods from traditional peoples from around the worldWell, I’ve been interested in one method of food preservation ever since I read the book Nourishing Traditions. The author, Sally Fallon, introduced me to the concept of lacto-fermentation. And it fascinated me.

(You can read about my discovery in the blog post here.)

Even though I’ve eaten yogurt for decades, I’d had no idea that yogurt is technically lacto-fermented milk.

And I certainly didn’t know that you could lacto-ferment other foods besides milk.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ve probably seen me write about this before. 😀

But if you’re new here, you might be asking, “What is lacto-fermentation?”

Lacto-fermentation happens when certain benign micro-organisms convert the glucose, fructose, and sucrose in food into lactic acid.

The micro-organisms are named – fittingly enough – after the substance they produce: they are lactobacilli. And they are present on the surface of most living organisms.

All they need to produce lactic acid is an anaerobic environment (a finger-tight jar) and a moderate “climate” (temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit).

And the process itself is really pretty nifty.

As the lactobacilli produce lactic acid, the acidity of the food rises. As the acidity rises, most other bacteria, including those that cause spoilage or disease, are killed.

The lactic acid curdles milk, to make that nice custardy texture of yogurt.

home-made sauerkrautThe lactic acid combines with the molecules of cabbage (and other vegetables) to form esters, which gives sauerkraut its unique flavor.

The lacto-fermentation process increases the bioavailability of vitamins and other nutrients, making lacto-fermented foods more nutritious than the original raw vegetable.

Plus the live cultures present in lacto-fermented foods help keep the human gut well-populated with beneficial micro-flora.

Bottom line?

Lacto-fermented foods are safe. They store unspoiled for a long time.

Lacto-fermented foods are delicious. Lacto-fermented cabbage is so much tastier than cabbage pickled in vinegar!

And lacto-fermented foods are good for you.

Kay Nielsen art depicting a lassie aback a north-bearWhy did we ever forget about them? I don’t know. But I do know that my new knowledge came in handy while writing stories set in my North-lands!

I wrote Troll-magic before I learned about lacto-fermentation. Since the technology level in Troll-magic is roughly equivalent to our own Steam Age, I assumed home canning was the norm in most households. I didn’t delve into the details of Lorelin’s kitchen, but she did pack up dried meat and dried pears, when she left home. (Drying is a very, very old method of food preservation.)

The technology of her culture undoubtedly could have supported home canning. And she lives in a time of peace following an extended time of warfare and mass conscription. (The wars in which the Giralliyan Empire gobbled many of it’s smaller neighbors.)

But, now that I do know about lacto-fermentation, I like to think that the people of the North-lands never abandoned it. I feel sure that Lorelin’s mother had shelves of lacto-fermented cabbage and turnips and greens and onions in her pantry. Yum!

Mixed garden greensLuckily, I had discovered lacto-fermentation before I wrote Sarvet’s Wanderyar. Because I was very clear that the Hammarleeding culture did not have the technological sophistication to support home canning. They would have had to get by with drying food, freezing it (during the winter months), salting it, curing it with smoke, and eating cooked dishes quickly, before they could spoil.

I was very happy to know they had another option! And we see that option pretty promptly when Sarvet teases her friend Amara with a platter of gundru – lacto-fermented greens.

So why did I read up on the history of canning?

I was mulling over my writing good luck a few weeks ago, and I got curious. Given that lacto-fermentation is so handy and yummy, how did the canning process get started?

I did some investigating. And you know the rest: I had to share! I hope you found the journey interesting. 😀

For more about lacto-fermentation, see:
Amazing Lactobacilli
Lacto-fermented Corn

For more about Lorelin, see:
Character Interview: Lorelin

For more about Lorelin’s world, see:
North-land Magic
A Great Birthing

And for more about the history of canning, see these external links:
A Brief History of Home Canning
Commercial Canning
Nicolas Appert
John Landis Mason


North-lands Timeline

Timeline Intermediae

So far, many of my published stories take place in my North-lands. But some clearly transpire in the earliest history of the world, while others are more “modern.”

Several weeks ago, a reader asked me in what order the events narrated took place.

Great question! Here is my answer.😀


Skies of Navarys – 3000 years before Troll-magic


Tally the Betrayals – 1 year before Resonant Bronze

Resonant Bronze – 2000 years before Troll-magic


Hunting Wild – 800 years before Troll-magic


Rainbow’s Lodestone – about 100 years before Troll-magic

Star-drake – immediately after Rainbow’s Lodestone


Sarvet’s Wanderyar – 52 years before Troll-magic

Crossing the Naiad – concurrent with Sarvet’s Wanderyar

Livli’s Gift – 38 years after Sarvet’s Wanderyar
(14 years before Troll-magic)

Troll-magic – the now of this timeline

The Troll’s Belt – contemporaneous with Troll-magic

Perilous Chance – contemporaneous with Troll-magic

Winter Glory – 3 years after Troll-magic

For more about the North-lands, see:
North-land Magic
A Great Birthing
Character Interview: Lorelin


Character Interview: Lorelin

photo of Italian hill townAcross a sennight, Lorelin Ingesdotter welcomed three interviewers to the stucco rowhouse that is her home in the capital city of the Empire of Giralliya.

A crier for the Bazinthiad Bulletin – writing a piece on the new clinics jointly funded by the Ministries of Incantors and Antiphoners – wanted to know all about Lorelin’s role in the research on troll-disease.

The imperial scribe proclaimed a similar interest, but in service to scholarship rather than news. “Emperador Zaiger exhorts me to record the details scrupulously,” he explained. “Our times present a cusp of history. Great events hinge upon the discoveries in the Old Armory under Gabris and Panos.”

The third questioner was the only one interested in Lorelin herself. She preferred his predecessors: her research under Gabris fascinates her, and she would happily describe it to a dozen inquirers. But she received the secretary to the Famille de la Royaume civilly, warming to his curiosity once she perceived his interest to be genuine.

His position as historian for the deposed ruling family of Pavelle obliged him to seek out and write down the fate of Prince Kellor. His passion for the history of the annexed principality was all his own. And he wanted more than the surface story. Who was Lorelin deep down? How had her essential nature brought her to chose an abdicated royal as her life companion?

Sipping ginger punch, while seated on a cushioned divan in Lorelin’s parlor, he conversed with her.

Secretary: What was your first reaction upon meeting Kellor Gide de la Royaume?

Lorelin: Goodness! I expected one of the Eransdotter sisters with a kettle of soup. When I opened our front door, I thought I was gripped by a fever dream, of course.

Secretary (puzzled, then his face clears): Ah! Milady, you mistake. I meant your introduction to the crown prince in your childhood, rather than the renewal of your acquaintance with him when you were both grown.

Lorelin (laughing): Of course. He was living in cognito then; I’d no notion of his rank and proper station. And he was the first friend to share my love of nature so thoroughly. We used to get so grubby, searching through the woods for fox spoor and gryphon prints. (renewed laughter) But Motter never complained when I returned home covered in mud. (thoughtful pause) Gide and I gazed out at the world together, and sometimes it seemed he saw through my eyes, so alike were our thoughts and feelings. (reminiscent smile) We grew close.

Secretary: Why did you bring your sister with you to the underground palace inhabited by Prince Kellor while he suffered under the curse?

Lorelin: I didn’t. Irisa invited herself, and I tried to talk her out of it. (pause for reflection) I’m glad she was stubborn.

Secretary: What were your dreams for yourself before you committed to lifting Prince Kellor’s curse? And how did they change as a result of your sojourn in the cavern palace?

The flute magicianLorelin (lightly): Oh, I wanted to play flute in a quartet of musicians in Ringestad. (capital of Silmaren, Lorelin’s homeland) But I hadn’t the faintest notion of how to go about it. I learned so much in Kellor’s Lainkath. If things had gone differently, if I’d managed to stay the full year and a day, I’d have gained the confidence to try for that quartet. But I didn’t. And I learned that adding Kellor’s dreams to my own made life so much richer. I never dreamed I’d be here in Bazinthiad, and it’s fabulous.

Secretary: You are happy in your marriage?

Lorelin: (blushing, nods)

Secretary: How might you have felt if living with the Dowager Princess Mandine were required?

Lorelin (softly): I never met Mandine, only her sad remnant, eroded by years of illness.

Secretary: Were the principality of Pavelle to regain its independence, with its sovereign rule restored, would you urge Prince Kellor to resume his throne?

Lorelin (shocked): That’s treason you’re speaking. And Kellor no longer bears that title. (stern glance) But no. (firmly) Neither of us likes governance and politics. Ugh!

Secretary: Beg pardon, milady.

Lorelin (inclining her head): Very well. (pausing) I wish you wouldn’t call me that!

Secretary: It is your ladyship’s proper title.

Lorelin: But I’m used to Froiken Ingesdotter.

Secretary: Even in Silamren, you would be Dame Ingesdotter now.

Lorelin (acquiesing): True.

Secretary (uneasily): I have another difficult question, milady.

Lorelin: A treasonous question?

Secretary: No. Personal.

Lorelin (smile peeping): I don’t promise to answer.

photo of a 4-posterSecretary: Were you . . . known (turning beet red) . . . by the prince before your marriage?

Lorelin: Oh! No wonder you worried about asking that one. I wouldn’t answer, except that the answer is no. Kellor was entirely a gentleman, despite slumbering in my bed.

Secretary: There were rumors that the curse required . . .

Lorelin (crisply): It didn’t. Although I gather Kellor worried about that when he was most muddled.

Secretary: No offense intended, milady.

Lorelin: None taken.

Secretary: In your own words, would you relate the whole story?

Lorelin: It will take some time. (she’d been expecting this)

Secretary: My time is yours to command.

Lorelin (smiling): Very well.

(Extended portion of dialog omitted. Grin! Surely you didn’t want me to inflict paragraphs of spoilers on you, when you haven’t yet read the book? Although I do apologize for skating perilously close to the secrets in Troll-magic with my transcription of this interview. And if you have read it . . . well, you know!)

fragment of book cover illustration for East of the Sun and West of the MoonSecretary: What is the one piece of advice you’d bestow on readers of this history?

Lorelin (thoughtfully): Dream big, and then do the next right thing, even if it’s very small. Sometimes the narrowest of openings is all that’s required for a gift of life to pass through. And even if you don’t arrive where you’ve aimed, your destiny may be even more marvelous. (eyes shining) Mine is.

For more about Troll-Magic, see:
Behind Troll-magic
North-land Magic
Bazinthiad’s Fashions


A Great Birthing

Mere glimpses of the spiritual beliefs held by the peoples of the North-lands appear in Troll-magic. Lorelin attends a dance in the chapel in her village. So we know the Silmarish have chapels. Kellor mentions Thiyaude when he curses! And Helaina prays to Teyo in her moment of extremity.

You might think that I cobbled together these references as I wrote my story. That’s a strategy that works for many writers. Called just-in-time creation, it even works for me – some of the time! More often, I do my world building first, creating the foundations and important details before I embark on storytelling. I thought you might enjoy reading my notes on North-lander myths, legends, and religion. We’ll start with their creation story.

golden yang of flower petals, blue yin of vine-strewn ocean

Consciousness Awakes and Elaborates
It was dark. She could touch nothing around her, see nothing, hear nothing. For a moment she felt fear. Then she felt her strength. And rested her consciousness anchored within her strength. As she meditated on her strength and the nothingness in which she existed, she realized that she herself was not empty. She was strong and full of life and richness and love and beauty. She contemplated her bounty joyfully. And then she contemplated the nothingness joyfully. How beautifully paired were her fecundity and the emptiness of the nothingness. She meditated more on this trinity: herself, her bounty, and the emptiness. And as she contemplated her great birthing ahead, she knew it would take all of her strength and skill to accomplish. And maybe more. The first of her birthings must be a helper.

But there need be no hurry. Joy and wonder inspired her devotion. She would engage bliss.

Borne on the tide of her rapture, she flowed through her experience, tasting being and gathering readiness. And then she was ready.

She touched her strength and heaved. Let this be. Let this become. Let this come. Ah!

One small portion of her bounty had parted from her and become Other, wholly itself, beaming and lovely. Thee art wanderer, sweet child, the mother whispered. Named Falnon or Faran or Fallon.

The scent of petals that would become roses kissed the mother.

Happy laughter bloomed. I shall travel far and far, but first I shall attend you.

The daughter bent her own strength toward her mother’s advancing labor. Together they danced within the awe of being, and when the moment was ripe, they strove. Ah!

Another portion of the mother’s fullness reached autonomy and became the hand-maiden Nissa. Thee art grace and litheness and ease, my daughter. Welcome.

Movement, rather than sound, heralded Nissa’s entrance: the play of a fountain, the flow of a river, the surge of a sea. Wherever there is doing, there shall I be. Creation and intercourse and exertion be mine. How is it, Mother, that I came not first?

Each of thee is first with me. ‘Tis the mystery of mysteries. Be thee content.

And they were.

Strength and integrity came next, amidst sensations of pleasure. I am Bree, she announced herself.

Five more coalesced, each in her own characteristic way: a sense of buoyancy; a vast bounty, great as the mother’s own; generosity; the gavotte of intellect; and quiet wisdom.

Last of all came light, so brilliant it might have blinded, and yet they could see one another: fair sisters, each blessed with unique beauty.

Now, my children, now. The greater labor summons me. Let us begin.

And so the vast reaches of space and time came forth to be populated by firmness and fluidity and living creatures, each as separate and amazing as the hand-maidens. With intricacy and forethought, the world was born. With abandon and ecstasy, it emerged. With gratitude, it was celebrated.

All is well, Sias proclaimed.Small white chapel at the water's edge


Belief and Practice in Silmaren
The story above is the mythos of Silmaren. As recounted, Sias awakens and births her nine hand-maidens. They, in turn, support her as she creates the universe with all its wonders and wondrous denizens.

In Silmaren, worship focuses on helping one another the way the hand-maidens helped Sias, the great mother. Each month, for nine months, the rituals of a different handmaiden come to the forefront. Sermons emphasize her attributes. The three months of summer are sacred to Sias herself.

Regular services are held in small chapels. They consist of spoken prayer, sung prayer, songs of celebration, the ritual consumption of food, and rituals of light, fire, and water. There is a regular rest day each week.

In addition to the chapels, small shrines abound, each dedicated to a specific hand-maiden. Religious orders focus primarily on healing and scholarly knowledge.


Small stone kirk on a hill

The beliefs of Silmaren adhere most closely to those of the original primitive tribes of the North-lands. Other cultures feature elaborations of this basic creation myth. The Fiorin people believe Sias birthed her daughter Ionan, the muse of wisdom, first. And that Ionan alone supported the mother in her great labor. Sias loves this daughter so much that she gave Ionan the universe to preside over and care for.

In Fiorish, small stone kirks house services to Ionan, and the lay sisters of Ionan are healers.


Church by night

In Erice, it is Theon and Ionog, brother-sister twins, who are born first. They support Sias, preside over her creation, and care for it.

Temples or fanes are dedicated to twin worship. Trade guilds include a religious dimension and are regarded as religious bodies as much as institutions of production and commerce.


Cathedral of Auberon

In Auberon, Teyo the son, devoted to logic and language, arrives to mediate absolutely between the mother (origin) and her offspring (other). The matriarchal beliefs were transformed completely into patriarchal ways of understanding the world.

Two hundred years ago (in the timeline of Troll-magic), the saint and martyr Jaen Rougepied was born. Her witness re-introduced the importance of intuition and receptiveness to the population. Her life saw great upheaval and turmoil, and wrought great change.

In “modern” Auberon, Jaen Rougepied is regarded as Teyo’s vicar on earth. She was sent by Teyo to return the people of Auberon from the legalism into which they had strayed back toward a religion of relationship. They believe that Jaen sits at Teyo’s right hand, actively relating mortal to deity and deity to mortal.

Monasteries, hospitals, and churches proclaim the glory of Teyo and his hand-maiden Jaen Rougepied. Big cities feature cathedrals.


Cathedral of Pavelle

Teyo goes by the name Thiyaude in Pavelle. The Pavanese never fell into the legalism that beset the Auberese, and though they revere Jaen Rougepied, they do not worship her. Their religious rituals feature much grandeur, including rich feasts, expensive perfumes, and elaborate chants.

Pavelle’s religious institutions include chapels, churches, guilds, and cathedrals.



shuttered window in a hill town


In the Empire of Giralliya, they say the narratives beloved by the cultures of their neighbors are metaphorically correct, but that the most enlightened belivers prefer a less personified account.

The First Principle, that of Change, is always a triad composed of Fullness, Emptiness, and Creator or Doer. The Second Principle, that of Stability, is a quadrine composed of Fullness, Emptiness, Creator, and Perceiver.

Giralliyans remark that there are undoubtably religious peoples somewhere in the world who personify Emptiness, although the believers of the North-lands avoid this.

Antiphoners, trained in both religion and magic, live and practice in retreat centers. The local populace regularly visits these centers for meditation instruction, personal support, and practice of the posture sequences that are part of Giralliyan worship and pursuit of health.

For more about North-lander lore, see:
Silmarish Magic
North-lands Magic
Blood Falchion


Cover Creation: Perilous Chance

Clary is the great grand-daughter of a rofane of Auberon, and her papa is a renowned sculptor. The family could live more ostentatiously than they do, but their values are bohemian rather than those of status. Their cottage is merely roomy and comfortable. In my mind’s eye, I envision it looking a little like the photo below.

photo of thatched cottage


I found images that reminded me a little of Clary and her sister Elspeth, and I initially envisioned creating a cover featuring the girls and their home. (If the girl in the garden were Clary, her hair would need to be worn loose, and she’d soften her still “posing for a portrait” stance. But Elspeth’s double is very like her.)

vintage photo of flower girl

vintage postcard of little girl

Intuition counseled me to try a different tack. The magnificent and dangerous creature that is the heart of Perilous Chance summoned my focus, and I searched for images of fierce, winged, fantastical beasts.


The Dreamstime web site of stock photography features some amazing art (drawings and photos) available for very reasonable prices. I’ve used them to supply works for many of my covers, and they came through again this time.

Bas relief gryphon with background

I’d love to know the location where “Griffon 01” by Henner Damke was photographed. Is it beside the formidable gate to a medieval castle? Or gracing the edge of a Renaissance fresco? Damke does not say, and I can only guess. It’s described as a “reconstructed relief” and listed under the category of arts & architecture.


For my cover, I clipped the gryphon out from its plain backdrop.


Then I thought about suitable backgrounds. Roiling water? Stormy sky? Hmmm. What about a flower-strewn tapestry? The people of Auberon in my North-lands use tapestries The hunt of the unicorn, tapestry #6extensively in the interiors of their homes. Something resembling the real world Hunt of the Unicorn would be perfect. I found something very nice, although I cannot place here the exact image I selected, because I did not (in the end) buy it and use it. Instead I’ll feature the Hunt of the Unicorn, which is similar.


As I hoped, the bas relief gryphon looked very nice against the dark tapestry. I flipped the image to follow the natural path of the human eye from left to right. After experimenting with title placement, I extended the gryphon’s top wing feather. And I turned the beast gold. Looking good!


I placed translucent shadows at the very top and bottom of the art to spotlight the gryphon and serve as a dark ground for the cover text elements. Then I typed in my title, the title tag line (something wondrous this way comes), my byline, and the author tag line. I liked it. But, but, but. Something wasn’t quite right. The cover was beautiful and evoked the right feeling, but it implied that the story was historical fiction, not fantasy. Perilous Chance is fantasy, and I needed a cover that read as fantasy.


Maybe white water would be more suitable. Or . . . no! My winged beast is a creature of the sky. The middle part of my brainstorming had generated the right choice. photo of orange cloudsTime to go sky-hunting! A lightning bolt slicing orange clouds caught my attention, and I tried it. (Again, I can’t show you the cover with that precise image, but I can depict something very similar.)


Chance_cover_lrg_webBut – yet again! – but, but, but!

That still was not right. Back to the search for the right image. This time I found it: lightning sizzling through a cobalt sky. Perfect! Especially since the cobalt-white streak of electrical energy mirrors the magical powers wielded by my fabulous creature. I hope you agree!

For readers whose interest was piqued by this sneak preview of Clary, Elspeth, and the magnificent creature they confront, Perilous Chance is available in electronic bookstores.

Amazon I B&N I Diesel I iTunes
Kobo I Smashwords

More posts about book covers:
Cover Copy Primer
Building Star-drake’s Cover
Choosing a Tagline Font

More about Perilous Chance:
Justice in Auberon
Clary’s Cottage
Notes on Chance
Not Monday, But Lundy


The Suppressed Verses

Selection from Kay Nielsen illustrationMandine de la Royaume has pulled off an almost impossible feat: suppressing the utterance of part of a curse. Curses require the channeling of a substantial torrent of power, more than the safe magic of the North-lands — patterning — permits. A curse is incantatio, and its casting causes the curser to become a troll.

Mandine had been a troll for decades before her troll-disease stole her sanity, and her skill as an incantatrice has only grown. Her curse is potent, but even potent curses have loopholes. Hers is no exception. Nornally these loopholes must be specified in the doggerel poetry that comprises the waste (in addition to searing orange light) accompanying incantatio. The latter half of Mandine’s curse was swallowed by her will and her strength. Her cursee, Prince Kellor, must seek his freedom by guess, since he has heard no more than a snippet of the conditions for his release.

If you have not read Troll-magic, read no further in this blog post! Spoilers follow. But do come back after you finish the novel. How Kellor seeks his solution is fully explored in his tale, but the suppressed verses themselves do not appear. Kellor’s courage and ingenuity are much more relevant to the story than the arcane magic that creates his challenge. Thus the appearance of the swallowed stanzas here in my blog: a treat for the loremasters and aficionados of appendices among us!

A bear no more, speak the last words that are thine.
Bid thy maiden farewell, she has cause to repine.
When an hour is done, search the sky for my sign:
My chariot arrives, thy will now is mine.

The maiden has failed, thy will’s bound to my need.
Can the curse be unraveled, the prisoners freed?
Seek the ways out of bondage, take heart and take heed:
My throat strangles freedom, swallows all in greed.
Yet a path lies open, awaits song and deed.

Excavate and reveal the corpse without breath,
Merely wood carved in likeness of chilly death.
Bring the children before their mother’s gagged wrath.
They call, “Mama!” She speaks and leaves the Lainkath.
Her escape heals her mate, pacing his split path.
Sundered soul and flesh rejoin in this aftermath.

East of sun shall maiden seek, and west of moon,
Cair Seila, lost palace, the site of my tomb.
To Cymbre she shall give three gifts, ask three boons:
Gold apple, awareness, heart of choice in life’s loom;
Gold carding comb, sorting — order prevents ruin;
Gold spindle for spinning, shaping her life’s doom.
For each gift: one visit, dawn to stroke of noon,
Chances to preserve thee from thy fate as groom.

Wedding pomp and splendor fling chapel doors wide:
The maid plays music, thee walks toward Cymbre’s side.
Tears drown the player’s cheeks, loss and sorrow’s tide.
She cedes all claim on thee, weeping beyond pride.
Hears thee speak thy vows to take Cymbre as bride,
To love the troll-daughter, as her husband to bide.

Cymbre speaks her vows: no words thee looked to hear,
No promise of love, no oath to hold thee dear.
Unforeseen reprieve! She breaks the bonds of fear,
Not spouse, not betrothed, mere brother free and clear.
Saved by her gift along with all thee name peer.
No prisoners remain: Mandine’s curse barren, sere!

For the spoken verses, see Mandine’s Curse.


Mandine’s Curse

Kay Nielsen illustration from East of the Sun and West of the MoonMagic is perilous in the North-lands. Draw too much power through your radices, and you have left the safe byways of energea. You are using incantatio and have embarked on the road to troll-disease. It’s a fine line to walk, especially if performed under stress!

Mandine, the troll-witch in my novel Troll-magic, has crossed that line. And she has lost her sanity. As her cruel plans come adrift, she resorts to a curse to achieve her victory. A curse is the most extreme form of incantatio, requiring tremendous power. As in most incantatic magic, the better part is wasted, vented as acrid light and doggerel poetry. The greater flow of energy results in a greater flow of waste as well: thus the lengthier verse below.

The stanzas of Mandine’s curse appear in Troll-magic as fragments. I present them here in their entirety. If you haven’t yet read Troll-magic (what are you waiting for? go read it!) you may wish to skip this blog post. (Grin!) It reveals few details, but it does outline the extent of the hero’s challenge.

I curse thee now: take the beast’s shape!
Wild fur so white;
Ebon eyes, keen sight;
Razor claws, such might;
Fanged jaws, iron bite.
North-bear by day, yet a man by night.
Labyrinthine thrall, just one veiled escape.

Not ’til a maiden shall freely chose
To share thy bed with never a ruse,
One year and a day. No time to lose,
Thee must wake each morn to rise and woo.

Spiral out the curse to light and hold
Thy friends, my foes, who thwarted me of old.

Lock motherly healer in Lainkath deep,
Silently serving on quiet feet,
Voicelessly present, the halls to keep,
Hidden from sight, mere breezes to greet.

Graveside be false flesh, corpse unbreathing,
Simulacrum pure, truth concealing,
Buried in state, her children weeping.

Split fatherly patterner, flesh from soul,
To wander pale, ghostly garbed, unwhole;
His flesh to pace Mandine’s north atoll,
His soul to walk his own homely hall.

Yet if the maiden who shares thy days
Should leave the task but done partway,
Or if she who bides thy sheets by night
Should see thy man form in some strange light,
Then thy doom be surely sealed; thy fate:
A bear no more, but Cymbre’s mate.

Curses are comprehensive in nature and include any loopholes or escape routes in their descriptions. This is inconvenient, to say the least, for the curser, but handy for the accursed. Mandine’s curse is no different. However, she managed to achieve something unusual through sheer determination: silencing the utterance of the verses describing the loopholes in her curse. Kellor (her cursee) has never heard them. Next week, you may read the suppressed verses here!