Batrachomyomachia (The Battle Of Frogs & Mice) translated by Hugh G. Evelyn-White (1914)

The Battle of Frogs and Mice

Translated by Hugh G. Evelyn-White

[1914]


(ll. 1-8) Here I begin: and first I pray the choir of the Muses to come down from Helicon into my heart to aid the lay which I have newly written in tablets upon my knee. Fain would I sound in all men’s ears that awful strife, that clamorous deed of war, and tell how the Mice proved their valour on the Frogs and rivalled the exploits of the Giants, those earth-born men, as the tale was told among mortals. Thus did the war begin.

(ll. 9-12) One day a thirsty Mouse who had escaped the ferret, dangerous foe, set his soft muzzle to the lake’s brink and revelled in the sweet water. There a loud-voiced pond-larker spied him: and uttered such words as these.

(ll. 13-23) `Stranger, who are you? Whence come you to this shore, and who is he who begot you? Tell me all this truly and let me not find you lying. For if I find you worthy to be my friend, I will take you to my house and give you many noble gifts such as men give to their guests. I am the king Puff-jaw, and am honoured in all the pond, being ruler of the Frogs continually. The father that brought me up was Mud-man who mated with Waterlady by the banks of Eridanus. I see, indeed, that you are well-looking and stouter than the ordinary, a sceptred king and a warrior in fight; but, come, make haste and tell me your descent.’

(ll. 24-55) Then Crumb-snatcher answered him and said: `Why do you ask my race, which is well-known amongst all, both men and gods and the birds of heaven? Crumb-snatcher am I called, and I am the son of Bread-nibbler — he was my stout-hearted father — and my mother was Quern-licker, the daughter of Ham-gnawer the king: she bare me in the mouse-hole and nourished me with food, figs and nuts and dainties of all kinds. But how are you to make me your friend, who am altogether different in nature? For you get your living in the water, but I am used to each such foods as men have: I never miss the thrice-kneaded loaf in its neat, round basket, or the thin-wrapped cake full of sesame and cheese, or the slice of ham, or liver vested in white fat, or cheese just curdled from sweet milk, or delicious honey-cake which even the blessed gods long for, or any of all those cates which cooks make for the feasts of mortal men, larding their pots and pans with spices of all kinds. In battle I have never flinched from the cruel onset, but plunged straight into the fray and fought among the foremost. I fear not man though he has a big body, but run along his bed and bite the tip of his toe and nibble at his heel; and the man feels no hurt and his sweet sleep is not broken by my biting. But there are two things I fear above all else the whole world over, the hawk and the ferret — for these bring great grief on me — and the piteous trap wherein is treacherous death.

Most of all I fear the ferret of the keener sort which follows you still even when you dive down your hole. (1) In gnaw no radishes and cabbages and pumpkins, nor feed on green leeks and parsley; for these are food for you who live in the lake.’

(ll. 56-64) Then Puff-jaw answered him with a smile: `Stranger you boast too much of belly-matters: we too have many marvels to be seen both in the lake and on the shore. For the Son of Chronos has given us Frogs the power to lead a double life, dwelling at will in two separate elements; and so we both leap on land and plunge beneath the water. If you would learn of all these things, ’tis easy done: just mount upon my back and hold me tight lest you be lost, and so you shall come rejoicing to my house.’

(ll. 65-81) So said he, and offered his back. And the Mouse mounted at once, putting his paws upon the other’s sleek neck and vaulting nimbly. Now at first, while he still saw the land near by, he was pleased, and was delighted with Puff-jaw’s swimming; but when dark waves began to wash over him, he wept loudly and blamed his unlucky change of mind: he tore his fur and tucked his paws in against his belly, while within him his heart quaked by reason of the strangeness: and he longed to get to land, groaning terribly through the stress of chilling fear. He put out his tail upon the water and worked it like a steering oar, and prayed to heaven that he might get to land. But when the dark waves washed over him he cried aloud and said: `Not in such wise did the bull bear on his back the beloved load, when be brought Europa across the sea to Crete, as this Frog carries me over the water to his house, raising his yellow back in the pale water.’

(ll. 82-92) Then suddenly a water-snake appeared, a horrid sight for both alike, and held his neck upright above the water. And when he saw it, Puff-jaw dived at once, and never thought how helpless a friend he would leave perishing; but down to the bottom of the lake he went, and escaped black death. But the Mouse, so deserted, at once fell on his back, in the water. He wrung his paws and squeaked in agony of death: many times he sank beneath the water and many times he rose up again kicking. But he could not escape his doom, for his wet fur weighed him down heavily. Then at the last, as he was dying, he uttered these words.

(ll. 93-98) `Ah, Puff-jaw, you shall not go unpunished for this treachery! You threw me, a castaway, off your body as from a rock. Vile coward! On land you would not have been the better man, boxing, or wrestling, or running; but now you have tricked me and cast me in the water. Heaven has an avenging eye, and surely the host of Mice will punish you and not let you escape.’

(ll. 99-109) With these words he breathed out his soul upon the water. But Lick-platter as he sat upon the soft bank saw him die and, raising a dreadful cry, ran and told the Mice. And when they heard of his fate, all the Mice were seized with fierce anger, and bade their heralds summon the people to assemble towards dawn at the house of Bread-nibbler, the father of hapless Crumb-snatcher who lay outstretched on the water face up, a lifeless corpse, and no longer near the bank, poor wretch, but floating in the midst of the deep. And when the Mice came in haste at dawn, Bread-nibbler stood up first, enraged at his son’s death, and thus he spoke.

(ll. 110-121) `Friends, even if I alone had suffered great wrong from the Frogs, assuredly this is a first essay at mischief for you all. And now I am pitiable, for I have lost three sons. First the abhorred ferret seized and killed one of them, catching him outside the hole; then ruthless men dragged another to his doom when by unheard-of arts they had contrived a wooden snare, a destroyer of Mice, which they call a trap. There was a third whom I and his dear mother loved well, and him Puff-jaw has carried out into the deep and drowned. Come, then, and let us arm ourselves and go out against them when we have arrayed ourselves in rich-wrought arms.’

(ll. 122-131) With such words he persuaded them all to gird themselves. And Ares who has charge of war equipped them. First they fastened on greaves and covered their shins with green bean- pods broken into two parts which they had gnawed out, standing over them all night. Their breast plates were of skin stretched on reeds, skilfully made from a ferret they had flayed. For shields each had the centre-piece of a lamp, and their spears were long needles all of bronze, the work of Ares, and the helmets upon their temples were pea-nut shells.

(ll. 132-138) So the Mice armed themselves. But when the Frogs were aware of it, they rose up out of the water and coming together to one place gathered a council of grievous war. And while they were asking whence the quarrel arose, and what the cause of this anger, a herald drew near bearing a wand in his paws, Pot-visitor the son of great-hearted Cheese-carver. He brought the grim message of war, speaking thus:

(ll. 139-143) `Frogs, the Mice have sent me with their threats against you, and bid you arm yourselves for war and battle; for they have seen Crumb-snatcher in the water whom your king Puff- jaw slew. Fight, then, as many of you as are warriors among the Frogs.’

(ll. 144-146) With these words he explained the matter. So when this blameless speech came to their ears, the proud Frogs were disturbed in their hearts and began to blame Puff-jaw. But he rose up and said:

(ll. 147-159) `Friends, I killed no Mouse, nor did I see one perishing. Surely he was drowned while playing by the lake and imitating the swimming of the Frogs, and now these wretches blame me who am guiltless. Come then; let us take counsel how we may utterly destroy the wily Mice. Moreover, I will tell you what I think to be the best. Let us all gird on our armour and take our stand on the very brink of the lake, where the ground breaks down sheer: then when they come out and charge upon us, let each seize by the crest the Mouse who attacks him, and cast them with their helmets into the lake; for so we shall drown these dry-hobs (2) in the water, and merrily set up here a trophy of victory over the slaughtered Mice.’

(ll. 160-167) By this speech he persuaded them to arm themselves.

They covered their shins with leaves of mallows, and had breastplates made of fine green beet-leaves, and cabbage-leaves, skilfully fashioned, for shields. Each one was equipped with a long, pointed rush for a spear, and smooth snail-shells to cover their heads. Then they stood in close-locked ranks upon the high bank, waving their spears, and were filled, each of them, with courage.

(ll. 168-173) Now Zeus called the gods to starry heaven and showed them the martial throng and the stout warriors so many and so great, all bearing long spears; for they were as the host of the Centaurs and the Giants. Then he asked with a sly smile; `Who of the deathless gods will help the Frogs and who the Mice?’

And he said to Athena;

(ll. 174-176) `My daughter, will you go aid the Mice? For they all frolic about your temple continually, delighting in the fat of sacrifice and in all kinds of food.’

(ll. 177-196) So then said the son of Cronos. But Athena answered him: `I would never go to help the Mice when they are hard pressed, for they have done me much mischief, spoiling my garlands and my lamps too, to get the oil. And this thing that they have done vexes my heart exceedingly: they have eaten holes in my sacred robe, which I wove painfully spinning a fine woof on a fine warp, and made it full of holes. And now the money-lender is at me and charges me interest which is a bitter thing for immortals. For I borrowed to do my weaving, and have nothing with which to repay. Yet even so I will not help the Frogs; for they also are not considerable: once, when I was returning early from war, I was very tired, and though I wanted to sleep, they would not let me even doze a little for their outcry; and so I lay sleepless with a headache until cock-crow. No, gods, let us refrain from helping these hosts, or one of us may get wounded with a sharp spear; for they fight hand to hand, even if a god comes against them. Let us rather all amuse ourselves watching the fight from heaven.’

(ll. 197-198) So said Athena. And the other gods agreed with her, and all went in a body to one place.

(ll. 199-201) Then gnats with great trumpets sounded the fell note of war, and Zeus the son of Cronos thundered from heaven, a sign of grievous battle.

(ll. 202-223) First Loud-croaker wounded Lickman in the belly, right through the midriff. Down fell he on his face and soiled his soft fur in the dust: he fell with a thud and his armour clashed about him. Next Troglodyte shot at the son of Mudman, and drove the strong spear deep into his breast; so he fell, and black death seized him and his spirit flitted forth from his mouth. Then Beety struck Pot-visitor to the heart and killed him, and Bread-nibbler hit Loud-crier in the belly, so that he fell on his face and his spirit flitted forth from his limbs. Now when Pond-larker saw Loud-crier perishing, he struck in quickly and wounded Troglodyte in his soft neck with a rock like a mill-stone, so that darkness veiled his eyes. Thereat Ocimides was seized with grief, and struck out with his sharp reed and did not draw his spear back to him again, but felled his enemy there and then. And Lickman shot at him with a bright spear and hit him unerringly in the midriff. And as he marked Cabbage-eater running away, he fell on the steep bank, yet even so did not cease fighting but smote that other so that he fell and did not rise again; and the lake was dyed with red blood as he lay outstretched along the shore, pierced through the guts and shining flanks. Also he slew Cheese-eater on the very brink….

((LACUNA))

(ll. 224-251) But Reedy took to flight when he saw Ham-nibbler, and fled, plunging into the lake and throwing away his shield. Then blameless Pot-visitor killed Brewer and Water-larked killed the lord Ham-nibbler, striking him on the head with a pebble, so that his brains flowed out at his nostrils and the earth was bespattered with blood. Faultless Muck-coucher sprang upon Lick- platter and killed him with his spear and brought darkness upon his eyes: and Leeky saw it, and dragged Lick-platter by the foot, though he was dead, and choked him in the lake. But Crumb- snatcher was fighting to avenge his dead comrades, and hit Leeky before he reached the land; and he fell forward at the blow and his soul went down to Hades. And seeing this, the Cabbage- climber took a clod of mud and hurled it at the Mouse, plastering all his forehead and nearly blinding him. Thereat Crumb-snatcher was enraged and caught up in his strong hand a huge stone that lay upon the ground, a heavy burden for the soil: with that he hit Cabbage-climber below the knee and splintered his whole right shin, hurling him on his back in the dust. But Croakperson kept him off, and rushing at the Mouse in turn, hit him in the middle of the belly and drove the whole reed-spear into him, and as he drew the spear back to him with his strong hand, all his foe’s bowels gushed out upon the ground. And when Troglodyte saw the deed, as he was limping away from the fight on the river bank, he shrank back sorely moved, and leaped into a trench to escape sheer death. Then Bread-nibbler hit Puff-jaw on the toes — he came up at the last from the lake and was greatly distressed….

((LACUNA))

(ll. 252-259) And when Leeky saw him fallen forward, but still half alive, he pressed through those who fought in front and hurled a sharp reed at him; but the point of the spear was stayed and did not break his shield. Then noble Rueful, like Ares himself, struck his flawless head-piece made of four pots — he only among the Frogs showed prowess in the throng. But when he saw the other rush at him, he did not stay to meet the stout- hearted hero but dived down to the depths of the lake.

(ll. 260-271) Now there was one among the Mice, Slice-snatcher, who excelled the rest, dear son of Gnawer the son of blameless Bread-stealer. He went to his house and bade his son take part in the war. This warrior threatened to destroy the race of Frogs utterly (3), and splitting a chestnut-husk into two parts along the joint, put the two hollow pieces as armour on his paws: then straightway the Frogs were dismayed and all rushed down to the lake, and he would have made good his boast — for he had great strength — had not the Son of Cronos, the Father of men and gods, been quick to mark the thing and pitied the Frogs as they were perishing. He shook his head, and uttered this word:

(ll. 272-276) `Dear, dear, how fearful a deed do my eyes behold! Slice-snatcher makes no small panic rushing to and fro among the Frogs by the lake. Let us then make all haste and send warlike Pallas or even Ares, for they will stop his fighting, strong though he is.’

(ll. 277-284) So said the Son of Cronos; but Hera answered him: `Son of Cronos, neither the might of Athena nor of Ares can avail to deliver the Frogs from utter destruction. Rather, come and let us all go to help them, or else let loose your weapon, the great and formidable Titan-killer with which you killed Capaneus, that doughty man, and great Enceladus and the wild tribes of Giants; ay, let it loose, for so the most valiant will be slain.’

(ll. 285-293) So said Hera: and the Son of Cronos cast a lurid thunderbolt: first he thundered and made great Olympus shake, and the cast the thunderbolt, the awful weapon of Zeus, tossing it lightly forth. Thus he frightened them all, Frogs and Mice alike, hurling his bolt upon them. Yet even so the army of the Mice did not relax, but hoped still more to destroy the brood of warrior Frogs. Only, the Son of Cronos, on Olympus, pitied the Frogs and then straightway sent them helpers.

(ll. 294-303) So there came suddenly warriors with mailed backs and curving claws, crooked beasts that walked sideways, nut- cracker-jawed, shell-hided: bony they were, flat-backed, with glistening shoulders and bandy legs and stretching arms and eyes that looked behind them. They had also eight legs and two feelers — persistent creatures who are called crabs. These nipped off the tails and paws and feet of the Mice with their jaws, while spears only beat on them. Of these the Mice were all afraid and no longer stood up to them, but turned and fled. Already the sun was set, and so came the end of the one-day war.


ENDNOTES:

(1) Lines 42-52 are intrusive; the list of vegetables which the Mouse cannot eat must follow immediately after the various dishes of which he does eat.
(2) lit. `those unable to swim’.
(3) This may be a parody of Orion’s threat in Hesiod, “Astronomy”, frag. 4.

 

The Lord of Want

§.01

When the heart is charged with want,

And the soul is bright and taunt,

When grounding-chains are fever-rent,

And budding will—to be yet spent,

When shadows lengthen in the eye,

And the dead from living cry,

Exhortations echo—

From the Throne of I’hy.

§.02

When understood—the gyre strains,

And chitin girds against the rain,

When ravenous hunger, cavern-fills,

And muses sing as whippoorwills,

When you—his aphid—string a bow,

And dance in carrion beneath the crow,

Salutations echo—

From the Throne of I’hy.

§.03

When the diadem rests upon the head,

And golden thoughts are outward spread,

When moon and star are cupped in hand,

And suborned is all the quenchless land,

When outer dark is brought to light,

And time and entropy die alike,

Adulations echo—

From the Throne of I’hy.

Apostasy (Part 3)

Previous chapter

Suryn looked on the still-terrified guards who said they had encountered the escaped Demonic servant, Dask. One of them had been killed by a being she knew must be the remains of the first young man who had been burnt at the stake. He had been reduced to a Hate elemental now. She loathed the thought of those foul things and memories rushed back to when she was a retainer in the Divine Army fighting in massed silver ranks as whole howling swarms of the vile things rushed them. She had watched friends die horribly in those battles that had raged across blighted planes that lay upon the celestial fault-lines of Light and Dark.

Two more of the guards had grotesquely swollen faces dominated with dark shadows of bruise, one with a shattered jaw, the other who’d had the bony bridge of his nose all but flattened. The servant, Dask, was just a freshly made lesser imp, but he was already too powerful for most mortal men to handle.

She had been awakened from her sleep the night Dask escaped as she felt something intrude within the keep even though she had warded the whole place. She had immediately sent the guards down to Dask’s cell only to discover he was somehow missing. This Demon’s ability to get past her defenses unsettled her; the wards should have worked even against powerful foes. Could it mean there was some weakness in herself?

Meanwhile, the hunt had gone on. Since the first heretic had been burnt, there had been others, this time with no interventions as they wriggled and screamed within the blaze. She would deny the Demon access to power no matter what it took and find and break the sources that let him lurk here. She had never taken on a Demon by herself but she had hunted down many lesser creatures. If she could take down Demons, then the ascent to the angelic orders might one day be bestowed on her. She would be more than human. She would never again feel the base needs of the flesh. Every time she had touched herself, she had been filled with self-loathing afterwards over her weakness. The advance of years did very little to her anymore, but that only gave her more time to contemplate the frailties of her imperfect frame. As much as she hated Hate, she despised herself and longed for that final, blindingly alabaster death in perfection, for her limbs, no longer soft, to be sculpted as if in divine marble. It had been nearly a week now since she had slept and her sad body yearned for repose. She thought again of the Demon and forged on with her Work.

*

“There is nothing left of him now but his fury,” explained the Dark Man. “He was unwilling to pledge himself until his higher mind was stripped away by trauma and only the lower functions were left to decide. His natural meekness buried the seed deep and she unearthed it.”

“So the guy he was really is dead?”

“That final flash of rage against the whole world is all that’s left. He is just a simple hate elemental now.”

“Just? I watched him beat a whole squad of armed men!”

“He has strength and instinct but nothing of intellect or restraint. He is useless without guidance. You gave him that.”

Dask felt a pang of sadness for the young man who had been transformed into the grotesque horror that now accompanied him.

“I wish he’d done it sooner.”

“I reached out to him. But only the flames could burn away his inborn tenderness.”

Dask looked to the burnt man and the creature tilted its head in response to being given attention.

The Demon was barely able to sit up. He only just managed to position his back against the rock wall.  Beneath his robe, a soft light still sometimes shone through. Dask told him everything that had happened and the master listened, motionless.

“I know my old self is dead now.” concluded Dask

“You turned away from the Light and have just begun to understand what that means.  You now have plenty of time for that.” the Demon replied.

“What do you mean?”

“Get the chisel.”

Dask grabbed the chilly, glassy sharp object from the pile of blankets he had awakened in and brought it to the Demon.

“Why have you not been using this?”

“I didn’t think about it.”

“That’s a physical form taken by the power of your pact. Keep it with you.”

“Why?”

“Go and find out.”

He went back to his chamber, sat on his bedroll and began to turn over the chisel in his hand.  It was like a jagged shard of obsidian yet with the dim vision he had in complete darkness he could see no light reflect from it. It was a slice of abyss, impenetrable even to his supernatural senses. It was always cold but tingled somehow when he grasped it more tightly. Out of curiosity, he tried scratching the wall with it. The tip did seem to leave a mark. He started slashing and left gashes in the stone no normal weapon would easily cause. He thrust and a chunk of stone chipped off the wall. Impressive, thought Dask, but nothing to compare with the night he had escaped from his cell. What more was there to know? He wandered through the catacombs until he was under the city and impulsively stabbed a cockroach. To his astonishment, there was a wriggling sensation that worked its way up his wrist and into his arm, then his shoulder. It was a strange feeling that sickened him and it didn’t go away. He writhed, squirmed, and scratched, but the feeling was just under his skin. He even pricked himself with the tip of the chisel but it did nothing to him. The same object that had scored a stone wall didn’t even break his skin. Whatever this was he wanted it out of him! He clenched himself and willed for the bothersome feeling to go away. To his surprise, there was a feeling kind of like a popping pimple or a loose baby tooth on the back of his shoulder. A long thin black spike barely thicker than a thread thrust through his skin and tumbled from his shirt sleeve to the floor. The straight spike became fluid and started squirming like a jet black tapeworm. After a short while it stopped and grew rigid in its final, twisted pose and evaporated into a mist of shadow. Dask just stared at the spot for the longest time his gut roiling with disgust. It took him hours to get the courage to stab a rat and this time he immediately wanted to vomit as a scurrying and scratching feeling bounced all around inside of him. He only just managed to keep from panicking as the feeling skittered down his backbone. He finally focused enough on expelling it from him. He heaved as if to vomit but small black spikes erupted along his spine. Soon they fell out onto the ground and also evaporated into that unholy material. Dask could not help but be fascinated with this discovery no matter how unpleasant it felt. He thought of how he had been through much worse before he had finally turned his back on the Light. He was thinking about what he should try next when he heard a shuffling. He looked up and saw the Burnt Man. It tilted its head back toward the direction of their lair. Dask followed.

*

“Go through the Doorway when I make it,” instructed the Demon. “There is someone in need of consultation.”

With visible exertion, the weakened Demon reached out, a pale hand emerging from its sleeve, and a whirling vortex of grey and pale green light opened in the middle of the floor. Dask looked to the Burnt Man, but it, of course, had nothing to say. He somehow overcame his fear now that he had nothing to lose and dropped into the yawning hole. His gut wrenched as he expected to fall into a whirlwind but instead he immediately found himself standing in a luxurious bedchamber. There was no one in bed, though someone had clearly used the bedsheets. Then he looked to the starlit balcony and saw a female figure there. She was crouched in despair, clutching a silvery knife. Her robe was open and she shook as she stared at the blade.

“Don’t.” rasped Dask.

She immediately fell over in surprise and fumbled to conceal her weapon underneath her.

He walked from the darkness of the suite toward the balcony.  “It’s ok. Where am I?”

She didn’t say anything as she looked up in terror at his approaching shadow. Dask strode out onto the balcony and he was looking out on a walled garden. It was the Duke’s palace!

“Please, don’t hurt yourself.”

She continued to tremble on the ground, the knife concealed underneath her.

Dask cleared his throat. “I’ve been sent to talk to you tonight. He wouldn’t have sent me unless you were having doubts.”

“My children.” she whispered.

“What do you mean, um, Ma’am?” Despite the urgent duress he had begun to notice her open nightrobe, her dark flowing hair and eyes that were luminous by the light of the stars.

“He took them from me.”

“Who?”

“Him! He sent them away and now I’m bearing one of his!”

“The Duke!” Dask blurted out.

She collapsed to the ground trembling.

“There’s another way,” he said.

“I wanted to kill him. Tonight. He was here.”

“Then why did you want to kill yourself?!”

“I enjoyed it so much.”

“Don’t do it. Pledge yourself. That’s the other way out. Not repentance. Apostasy.”

There was a feeling of rushing energies in the air and Dask turned around and saw the swirling doorway. He turned away.

*

Suryn finally descended into sleep but it was into a realm of nightmare. She woke up and felt the breach opening as she had during Dask’s escape. She rushed down flights of steps but there was an eerie wailing as small hands and arms reached up through the stairs and grabbed at her ankles. They almost brought her to a stop on the floor beneath her room but she broke free, made her way to the dungeon and opened the cell door. There was a yawning chasm into Darkness looking straight into her soul. She turned around and a marble statue of an angel she remembered from church as a child was flying at her, drifting through the air without a sound, its form simple, its facial features a nondescript pitiless mask. She took a step back and began to tumble backwards into the void.

She awoke on the cold floor of her chamber, trembling within a tangle of blankets. At first, all she felt was terror and relief. Then she thought back on friends who had fallen in battle. She squeezed a blanket, feeling a hand’s last clasp on hers before it fell slack in repose. Slowly the sense of purpose redawned in her and she donned her robe to begin a new day in pursuit, still hours before dawn. Then she realized why she had awakened. There was something wrong again. She grabbed her sword from her bedside and did not even bother to alert the guards this time. She flew down the staircase outside her room with her divine blade out of its sheath. She continued to fly down the stairwell towards the source of the disturbance. She stormed into a wing of the palace she’d never been to before, sprinted down a wide hallway with doors on either side and then felt the source to her left side. She was a woman of ordinary stature yet she effortlessly kicked in the heavy wooden door with a bare foot. She saw the Demonic portal closing just as she ran through. Too late. There was a woman on the balcony shrieking at the sudden incursion into her chamber. Suryn lowered her sword and went to her. The woman looked up and her face was pale and streaked with tears. “What happened?” Suryn looked into the woman and saw the taint of darkness battling, not with the Light exactly, something else. Then she looked at her. She had unmistakably beguiling features, large dark eyes, flowing dark hair, and long elegant legs revealed by an opening in her nightrobe. In spite of herself, Suryn felt a visceral dislike rising up in her.

“Who came through that doorway?”

“I don’t know.” cried the woman.

After some time of sobbing that further aroused the Paladin’s ire and then a labored description in between sobs she realized that Dask had been the visitor.

“What did he say to you?”

“He, he wanted to take me away. I was trying to stop him!”

The woman revealed a knife that lay underneath her.

“I’ve dealt with their kind enough, I know that’s not why he was really here. You put yourself in peril.”

The woman threw herself at Suryn’s feet and begged for mercy protesting that she had told the dark servant to go away. But the Paladin could see the taint struggling to grasp hold of her clearly enough. It was not surprising this woman had attracted the attention of the Dark Powers. Her or someone like her had allowed the Demon into the palace to release the servant, Dask, right from under her watch. This grim thought gave her very little sympathy for this harlot who had already tried to lie and manipulate.

“I will have you detained until you reconsider your story.”

“Noo! I’ve done nothing wrong!”

“Then you have nothing to fear.”

The Duke rushed into the chamber. Suryn turned toward him in astonishment. She had somehow thought him incapable of being flustered. “Alarya!” he cried. He reached out, startled by the knife in her hands. “Where did you get that?”

“I had it just in case, my lord. It saved my life tonight!”

The Duke frowned, but the woman abruptly dropped the knife and ran into the Duke’s arms where she buried her head in his chest and sobbed. As the Duke’s hand ran tenderly through Alarya’s lustrous hair, Suryn felt a wave of acid heat and physical anguish rise up through her heart and into her head as never before. Then, doors further down the hallway began to open up and there were several female voices. A group of young women rushed in and flocked to the Duke. They too were clad in luxurious nightrobes and every one of them was conspicuously alluring.

“Everything is alright ladies! He is gone. The Paladin is here.” The Duke looked at Suryn and saw at once she was dumbstruck. His eyes met hers for a moment and his gaze was hard and appraising, gauging her reaction. His eyes flicked deftly away. “Ladies, all is well now.”

Suryn had never seen the Duke with another woman, had never asked, had never wanted to know. Now she had been driven at last beyond the realm of feeling. Past the threshold of rage, something again had quietly snapped and now she felt nothing at all. All emotion had been as noise and now there was silence in her. She lay to sleep through the night without concern.  She woke in the morning calmly. Held a morning meeting with officials, with the Duke present, but she did not even look at him. She headed out to do her duty in the name of Heaven. She tried to figure out what might motivate Dask next. He wasn’t the first young imp she had dealt with. Her own irrational pain that she had buried told her how she would find him.

*

“You cannot go back to that life. You almost died trying it.” the Demon admonished.

“She had been taken from someone else so she could pleasure the Duke! Where are my wife and my son?!” demanded Dask

“Yours!? You are no more. You must learn who you are now.”

“Fuck you! I’m going back.”

“Don’t try it.”  The Demon’s tone was strangely resigned. This made Dask hesitate more than any infernal rage. The Demon was sitting up more strongly now but still weak; the glowing of its wound seemed to be gone.

“We all must let go,” he sighed.

“Come with me,” Dask commanded the Burnt Man. It eagerly followed him from the cave, beginning to bay in solemn tones as it already began to scent the Hatefulness of mankind.

Dask charged with the Burnt Man through the underground passageways, smelling out heresy and the hunters of heretics alike, just barely dodging their surprise maneuvers, even in the smallest hours of the night. He asked their stories and, finally, one man said the name “Slandriv.”

“Judge Slandriv?” hissed Dask.

“Yes, he’s the one. Does whatever the Duke wants.”

Dask felt a vein throbbing in his temple as he thought back on the note on his door, the guards, the brief hearing in a court room. Judge Slandriv! “I will help you with this!” he snarled through clenched teeth.

That very night, he began murdering the judge’s private guards with the Burnt Man at his side and burst into the mansion without the slightest ceremony.  In his night clothes, the judge cowered on the ground before them.  “I have only enacted the law! If you strike me you get nothing and just make it worse for yourself!”

Then, Dask heard a female sigh from the judge’s bed. There was the contour of a sleeping human beneath golden, silken bedsheets. Without a word, Dask approached the sheets and abruptly pulled them back. He nearly collapsed as he saw his wife there, curled up blissfully. In a blood-rage, Dask thrust his hand through the judge’s chest, lifted his body in the air, and crushed his heart. A gout of blood spurted from the man’s gasping mouth and then his head lolled forward limply. Dask contemptuously tossed the corpse aside. He then approached the woman who had betrayed him. “Kamilya, why did you do this?” he rasped. She came awake, recognized his voice and looked up at him in utter terror.

“Where is our son!?” he rasped insistently. She backed away from his silhouette in what to her was near-darkness and shook her head emphatically. “Where is heee!” Dask shrieked now, and, as he closed in, the Burnt Man was content to watch, sensing somehow he was unneeded.

*

When Dask and the Burnt Man stumbled blood-spattered from the mansion, they were blinded for a moment at the blaze of torches that surrounded them. Before them, hundreds of guards stood in a great ring.  “Masterrr!” cried Dask.

“He can’t help you now.” said a steely voice. Suryn strode from the crowd of guards, smaller than any of them yet anyone could feel a power and strength radiating from her, belied by her plain, angular features.

Dask nearly fell to his knees as he recalled his tortures in the keep. The Burnt Man, though, did not hesitate to attack. “Nooo!” cried Dask. Suryn waited motionless and at the last moment, with a single swipe of her sword, almost casually sliced the charging hate elemental in half. Its two halves tried to continue the assault, but she buried her sword in each of them for a few moments until they smoldered into lifeless ash.

Dask collapsed in weary despair as the guards closed in on him. This time, they seized him without a struggle and swiftly clapped his limbs into thick, heavy manacles that seemed more suited to an ox than a man. Then in a covered wagon with a sack over his head, he was hauled ignominiously back to the palace dungeon he had given everything to escape from.

Next chapter

Apostasy (Part 1)

“Someone has been uttering heresies in the marketplace,” a grim guard informed Suryn, Paladin of the Light.

“You can tell the Duke I will find the blasphemer at once.” Clad in a simple white robe with a hood, she motioned to her servants who rushed to bring her armor. Short-haired, with a defined and resolute jaw, she stood dignified and still with her arms outstretched like wings as her shining silvery breastplate was strapped on and her great sword belt fastened around her. Within minutes, she was marching to a gate of the keep in full armor. She flung the heavy door open, emerging resplendent into the sunlight. All around were colorful merchant stalls and bustling crowds. Everyone quickly parted for Suryn, whom they regarded with a mix of wonderment and dread. She reached out with her senses and sure enough, she could feel the forbidden words still hanging in the air at the very spot they had been uttered. There seemed to her almost a foul vapor floating there before her, still slowly dissipating. Now she focused and began to track the Hate back to its source. The crowd looked on in silent suspense as she followed the trail. After some time of this tension she held still for a while, then abruptly pointed and said, “You!”

The crowd melted away in fright from the area she had indicated. They were rushing to leave the area now while city guards streamed in with a rhythmic clanking. Only the person Suryn had indicated remained there, a man stooped over in a dark cloak, his features not clearly visible.

“Who are you? Show yourself!” For what seemed a long pause the man just stood there.  The guards tautened bowstrings, drew their swords, and began to close in on him. Suddenly, the dark man sprang into action, black cloak swirling about him. Hissing black spikes issued forth from his hands, lodging in the throats of some guards who immediately collapsed, clutching at their hopelessly spurting arteries, their boots jerking spasmodically. The archers let loose a volley of arrows but the dark figure simply shifted away from where he had been standing as if he had simply re-materialized.

Suryn drew her sword with a resonant toll of steel and charged at the dark man. Suddenly a shadowy force jolted into her and she stumbled backwards. A blow that would have killed an ordinary guard just slowed her down but it bought the dark man the time he needed. He stretched out and lifted his arms and several archer guards floated into the air, wriggling helplessly as blood started flowing from their necks in streams to the strange being they had encircled. Suryn tried to charge again, but was actually thrown backward this time. Now, drained of life, the guards were dropped to the ground and the survivors began to flee in terror. The Dark Man and the Paladin of the Light were alone now.

Suryn launched a white-hot blast of purity to incinerate her opponent but he responded with an assault of his own that intercepted it. The two blasts canceled out. A shower of incandescent white sparks flew on towards her opponent but caused him no discernible harm.

She tried attacking him a few times more but was rewarded with the same result.  Now he lowered his arms and stood there calmly.

“I am glad you came to me so quickly.” He said in a pleasant tenor.

“What do you want?!” Suryn challenged him grimly. She continued to circle him, watching for an opening to close the distance between them and take his head off with her silver blade.

“This realm has lacked any serious opposition for a long age now.  I would just like to inform you all; the days of ease are over.”

“Why are you here, Demon?”

“Because you are here. I am mystified as to why a full Paladin was sent here. I am the price they pay for asking your aid.”

At that moment, she sprang at him, flying swiftly through the air as her armor burned bright with her fury. The dark man’s form wavered for a moment and then seemed to fold backwards into itself in a swirl of shadow. He was gone. Furious, Suryn drove her blade into the ground and it slid through the earth smoothly. As she jerked it back out, bright drops of molten sand went flying through the air.

Despite her exhaustion, Suryn felt uplifted that night as she entered the chambers of the Duke. He welcomed her with a friendly smile, his dark and intelligent eyes gleamed in the light of lamps and candles.

“I hear you saved us today from the dark powers. I see that I was right to request your presence here after all.”

“He will come back.” she admitted with dread and disappointment in the pit of her stomach.

“But imagine if you had not been here!” he insisted.  “If he’s a Demon, this is the sort of threat we have not seen for generations.” For a moment, even the Duke seemed worried. At least, a shadow passed over his open face and was gone. He took a step toward her.

“I just wanted to personally thank you for your valor today on behalf of the realm.” He looked into her eyes earnestly. In spite of herself, Suryn again found her heart racing in his presence.

“You have my full support to keep seeking out the heretics of speech and thought and deny this new adversary the power he might gain from them. As always, if there’s anything you need, you need only ask.” Suryn found herself only able to nod in affirmation. The Duke stood nearly a head taller than her and as she looked up, her legs felt weak. To her utter shock, he took her hand in his and squeezed it comfortingly.

“I trust you are unhurt from the encounter, at least in body. I wish you rest as well as you may tonight.” He let go of her hand and began to turn away toward his desk.

“Good night, brave guardian.”

Suryn’s hand seemed to burn as she returned to her own sparse chambers. Unbidden she remembered Kristyan, the young man in her childhood village.  She had smiled at him every day and run her hand through her hair as she passed by until one day, she saw him with the wandering tinker’s daughter in his arms.  She watched the pretty giggling fool fall into his arms as if from nowhere and then soon after her belly began to swell with new life.

She had always been the best student of scripture in the village; the elderly priests doted on her as a child and even as she grew into a young woman. She could cast blessings on the fields and help the sick. She won the gratitude of all, but the love of none. Then one day, she saw Kristyan and his wife gazing adoringly at their baby boy. That dark night, lying awake, she felt something tiny yet momentous silently snap inside her. Carrying almost nothing, she simply walked aimlessly into the hills, knowing even at that moment, she would never return.

One day, thirsty and nearly starved, she saw a white cathedral shining miles away. No matter how she marched towards it, it always seemed just as far off. She sensed somehow that her life was about to be decided and, with complete determination, she ignored the pains of her body however it might punish her and as she did, the cathedral started to grow nearer and brighter. Just as the last of her strength began to fail, she found herself somehow on its front steps. Then she had hauled herself up those final shimmering marble stairs and into the portal beyond.

Now Suryn realized she was curled up in bed with tears streaking down her face. Her palm still seared by the pain of the Duke’s warm hand. She had vowed to leave all thought of such things behind and if she was not careful, it would weaken her in her fight with the powers of Hate. She repeated calming mantras she had been taught as an initiate until she slid into the dreamless sleep of exhaustion.

The next day, Suryn marched down every street accompanied by guards, keen for the slightest scent of heresy. All the commoners she passed gazed upon her shining silver armor in awe and apprehension. She could sense their private fears though she could not know precisely what they were. They all felt to her like the mundane sorts of transgressions, not worth singling out. Then, down a tight row of houses she felt a disturbance that gave her a sickening feeling in her gut. Her guards immediately tensed up as they saw she was reacting to something.

“There.” Suryn gestured and they all rushed down the row to one narrow wooden house that looked little different from any of the others it was crammed together with. They immediately burst through the door to find a simple abode, dimly lit through a single window. Other than jugs of cheap wine, empty ones strewn across the floor, and workman’s clothing, nothing was there to tell more of the resident. No one was home; the guards started to look around, perplexed and awkward. To them, it was a simple room with nothing of interest. Suryn, however, was staring intently at the plain wall.

“I found it.” she said. She could see something like a swirling darkness on the wall, a portal of sorts that had allowed dark powers to enter. On the floor she could see from the dark marks lingering there, someone had knelt in supplication and sworn allegiance to the powers of Hate. She reached out her hand and closed the dark doorway with a flash of light that startled the guards. Then they stormed out of the house, questioning everyone in the area about the resident. They soon found him at his job working at a barrel shop. The guards seized him immediately and brought him to the Paladin.

The young man seemed surly and defiant. Suryn noticed he had piercing blue eyes that reminded her disturbingly of Kristyan.

“Why have you done this?” she asked him in a grim, level tone.

“What are you talking about?” he replied with something almost like contempt. Suryn felt anger flare in her. No one ever addressed her like that. Her suspects had always been frightened or just eager to be let free.

She pointed at him with a silver-gauntleted hand. “Dask, you have pledged yourself to the powers of Hate and let them into this city. I can tell that filth came from you. You are now under divine tribunal.”

Back in the keep, Suryn had Dask brought before her and told the guards to leave. Instead of cowering, the young man glared at her.

“I haven’t done anything. I just work my job to get by and pay the rent for a hole to live in. Doesn’t a Paladin of Heaven have more important things to do?”

“My work is to track down people like you. I could see in your house that you spoke to the Dark Powers there. Why?”

“I never mention the Darkness and I haven’t said anything heretical. Everyone knows better than that.”

“Your words or actions opened a Doorway.  You invited a Demon into this safe and peaceful city. People have already died because of you. Your only chance now is to tell me everything you know.”

Dask was chastened this time and shuddered at the thought of the brutally murdered guards everyone had been talking about.

“The doorway was by the back wall of your house. You were kneeling at that spot when it was created.”

Fear and recognition passed over Dask’s face. “The Dark Powers? In my house?” he said with fearful wonder.

“What happened? Look here and tell me.”

He hesitated for a long while as emotions flickered across his face and he weighed his words carefully.

“I moved into that small room after the Duke’s judges gave my wife the house. The master cooper pays me well but that damn judge took away almost everything I had.”

“What did you do to her?” asked Suryn, her voice sinking into derision. “Are you a criminal against women?”

“No! One day she simply went to a magistrate and told them I had abused her. They never even talked to me about it. When I got home from work, I was shut out of my own house.”

“So far you have denied responsibility in any way you can. You have a lot to answer for now.”

“It’s not my fault!” he snapped “I don’t know how a Demon got in. I never even got to ask her why. They wouldn’t let me see her or our son!”

“Take care how you speak to me. Your soul hangs by a thread.”

“God damn my soul and yours too! I don’t care anymore.”

Suryn had had enough. Her face went pale with rage and she ordered the guards back in.

“Whip him.” Her tone was flat but her voice was tight. She watched intently as his shirt was stripped off his back and he was forced to his knees. His body was well-toned from honest work and he glared at her with his blue eyes. It satisfied her now to see this abuser prostrated on the ground. A guard tested a cane for its snappiness and found it to his liking. Then the whipping began. Before long, Dask was screaming in pain.

“Stop.” she commanded. She laid her hands on his lacerated back and soon there were ribbons of silvery smoke curling upward like a cauterizing incense. At first he screamed again and then began to sigh deeply. When she lifted her hands, his back was pale and unblemished again. The guards stood dumbstruck by what seemed to them a miracle.

“Again.” she ordered them. Hesitantly, they obeyed not daring even to spare any force in their blows. Then they obeyed again. By the fourth time what had seemed miraculous sickened them. The room was thick with that odd burnt odor of healing flesh.

“You can take him to his cell now.” she told them. Dask had fallen from consciousness from the pain, though his pale skin had not been left with a single scratch. When he was recovered she was confident that he would speak to her with proper reverence. Servants of the Divine were not to be trifled with.

Dask lay trembling in fevered sleep as the sensations of pain on top of pain troubled his dreams. In that maze of apparitions it came to him. He saw himself in a drunken rage on the night he had lost his wife, his child, and his house forever bellowing and throwing sloppy punches at the cheap plaster walls. Little paint chips had been embedded in his fists for a couple weeks after that, paining him every day at his job as he hammered iron hoops into place around oaken staves. He’d had to spend extra on some special ointment and bandages to heal properly at all. It came to him again. He had held his bloody fists to his chest and full of rage, had sworn himself against all this cursed land. As this vision of revealed memory faded, he thought he perceived a man in dark robes hovering over him.

“There, there.” The figure said. “You will be alright in just a bit more time. She saw to that much. Listen carefully, unless of course you want to stay trapped here answering her interrogations. When you come to, look for a jagged rock in the corner. If you want out bad enough you will chisel at that corner. Do not stop, not to eat, drink, sleep, or relieve yourself. That chisel stone won’t break, trust me. But it will exact a price of you. How much are you willing to pay for your freedom?”

Dask sank back into his trackless haze of pain and unknown hours passed as he slowly became aware of his surroundings, his muscles taut as wire, his jaw and teeth aching horribly from clenching, grinding, and screaming. More time passed before he dared to inspect his body for wounds and broken bones. He could only sob in incoherent amazement as he felt himself over and felt only his smooth skin. It was as though he had awakened from a nightmare and all the beatings had only been imagined. He heaved in relief and rolled in fetal position for a while trying to internalize his odd situation. Dask reflected in anguish on how his whole life had fallen apart in such a short time. His wife and child gone. Even his meager rented room and bottles of booze to ease the pain were gone now.

He heaved back and forth in his pitch-black cell, the memories of overlapped anguish still overwhelming him. Somehow he found himself crawling for the corner of his black cell and sure enough his groping hand found something smooth and glassy to the touch. The chisel. His heart jumped. It was cold and sharp around the edges by which he held it. He hesitated but then he remembered his rage and despair. Then blindly in the dark he began lashing out at the wall, heedless at how his own implement sliced fiercely into his hand.

Even as his hot blood poured forth against the frigid shard of rock he only renewed his efforts. Somehow in his gut he knew this was some kind of test on which his life depended. At length he heard footsteps coming down the hallway and instead of falling quiet he redoubled his efforts, scraping at the wall like a madman, now with hot sheets of his own blood running down his forearms. There was shouting outside his cell door but he ignored it. He kept hammering and slashing, single-mindedly now, channeling the last of his will into the knife. Just as the door began to creak open, he blindly lurched forward, expecting to smash his head against solid stone. Instead, he tumbled forward into an incomprehensible emptiness and fell.

Next chapter

The Last Jedi: How General Hux Saved The Order, A Writer’s Review

[review will contain spoilers and will assume the reader has, at minimum, some ancillary knowledge of the film]


Star Wars: The Last Jedi has proved to be the most divisive Star Wars film to date; it’s 39 point split between critics (92% fresh) and laymen (53%) on Rotten Tomatoes (as of this writing) well attests to this (it is similarly contested on a variety of other movie review aggregation sites as well). The point of this review, as with all my reviews, is to lay out some solid do’s and don’t’s for prospective or active-but-inexperienced writers as pertains to things such as world-building, character-building, narrative fluidity, in-story believability and so forth, thus I will cover this split between audience and critic in as brief a way as possible. Put most starkly and shortly: Critics are far more left-leaning and ideologically and politically self-aware than your average, vape-sucking, porg-collecting, Cowboy-Bebop-apparel-wearing, Joe-bag-of-doughnuts and the film is very, very heavy-handed with it’s progressive political messaging. More on that later – first, the plot.

Refersher on the plot.

The plot of The Last Jedi takes off directly after the events of the previous installment (The Force Awakens, 2015) and begins with our bland Mary Sue of a protagonist, Rey, confronting a defeated and cynical Luke Skywalker, demanding he come assist the Rebel Alliance. Later she asks his guidance for training. Skywalker refuses both, struggling with the weight of his past mistakes; namely, training Kylo Ren who had slaughtered or corrupted all of his other Jedi-students. At the same time, the First Order starfleet, led by General Hux catches up to the disordered remnants of the Rebel Alliance but they flee through hyperspace. Hux conceives of a way to track them through hyperspace whereupon he and Supreme Leader Snoke (undisputed emperor of the First Order) and the rest of their forces engage Poe, Princess Leia and the various other members of the horribly out-gunned, out-manned and out-witted remnants of the Alliance. All the while the conflicted Kylo Ren attempts to lure Rey to the Dark Side of the Force.

Problems.

Extremely narrow world-building wherein plot-advancement overtakes characterization or explanation of events.

The first and foremost problem of this film is the Rebels – oh, sorry, I mean, #TheResistance. In the previous film, The Force Awakens, the New Republic which The Resistance had erected upon the ruins of the Galactic Empire was obliterated by General Hux through the utilization of the Starkiller Base (death star 2.0) whereupon The Resistance were basically transformed from soldiers of various different planets into a rag-tag collective of vengeful jihadists. Never is it mentioned whether of not there were any defectors from the New Republic or it’s attendant satellites to the First Order, nor is there ever any mention from any individual pertaining to their opinions upon the New Republic or it’s vanguard, The Resistance nor the First Order nor any other vying faction (there doesn’t appear to be any third contender in the struggle). It is as if the whole of the universe is compressed to nothing more than The Resistance and the First Order. Everyone is either in the war effort or they are completely unconcerned. There are only two exceptions, the first being the charming but underhanded rogue, DJ (Benecio Del Torro) and the second being a unnamed child who has less than a minute total of screen time. The child is sympathetic to The Resistance not because he had animus against the First Order but simply because he lives a horrible life and their message gives him hope, DJ, in contrast, is a completely neutral opportunist who doesn’t take sides (he has a little pin on his cap which actually reads “Don’t Join” – playing off his initials – which was rather on the nose for me) because he believes that good and evil are wholly subjective and that it’s wisest to go with the winning team because they tend to pay better. Other than these two one get’s absolutely no sense of what the broader universe thinks about the whole conflict which is rather unfortunate as it would have given a great deal of moral weight to the story as a whole and contributed markedly to potential story-lines in the future.

Rey is still a Mary-Sue.

As per The Force Awakens, one of the central problems is Rey. She is still covered in a suit of impenetrable plot armor only now it has gotten even stronger. Her plot armor has gotten so strong that it no longer intervenes for the sake of plot advancement and tends to manifest at random for no other reason than to allow her to showoff. For example, she is able to easily defeat Luke Skywalker in single combat before she has even completed her Jedi training. Thus far in the series she has not suffered one true personal defeat (she always turns it around, a la Kylo mind-probe scene), either physically or mentally with the possible exception of her manipulation at the hands of Snoke (though that hideously backfires on him so I don’t really count that as a loss).

The Canto Bight Arc.

Easily the worst section (narrative-wise) of the whole film is the journey to Canto Bight, a kind of futurist Las Vegas where the galaxies monied interests, primarily arms manufacturers, gather to frolic and relax. There are four problems with the section:

  • The justification for Token Black Dude and Diversity Quota Girl to go to Canto Bight (to find a hacker to break Hux’s shields) are completely superfluous given the fact that the purple-haired Vice Admiral Holdo (a better name for her might have been Captain Queer-theory) already had a plan to escape from Hux’s starfleet. She withholds this plan, however, and it is never revealed as to why. This is especially odd since all of the Resistance fighters who remain ignorant of her plan think they’re living on borrowed time. Made no sense at all.
  • The endless and heavy handed hammering of PETAesquery was nauseating and misplaced.
  • Due to the amount of time needed to set up Canto Bight, explain it, have Token and Quota Girl find DJ and then rescue a bunch of enslaved children and animals the scene drags on for FAR longer than needed.
  • Additionally, all the while the Resistance fighters are saving kids and fluffy animals they never seem in the slightest concerned for their comrades. The idea was Rose’s (Asian Diversity Quota Girl) so I kept expecting Finn (Token Black) to be more mission oriented and raise at least one concern, such as, “Every second we waste saving these animals is a second closer Hux comes to annihilating the Resistance!” But he never said anything other than, “-was it worth it?” To which, Rose, after removing a saddle from one of the weird kangaroo monsters they saved says, “Now it’s worth it.” A triumvirate of stupid, lazy and incredibly cheezy writing.

Supreme Leader Snoke’s mystique is a Red Herring.

In The Force Awakens Snoke was built up and up and up, but nothing was explained about him other than that he, 1. wasn’t human, 2. could use the force, 3. led the First Order, 4. was cartoonishly evil. Outside of that nothing was known. If you assumed they would flesh him out in The Last Jedi you’d be sorry mistaken. He’s dispatched pretty quickly actually and leaves the film as mysteriously as he entered it – nothing more than a red herring for Kylo’s ascension to the throne. Lots of wasted potential there.

Phasma is under utilized.

Captain Phasma, trainer and leader of Hux’s Stormtroopers, is perhaps the only product of “Diversity” in the film that is at all mildly interesting (i.e. Phasma was originally intended to be male but was changed to a female due to backlash for lack of gender diversity). The shimmering Stormtrooper is under-utilized and then discarded even more briskly than Snoke. The only thing you find out about Phasma is that her armor is impervious to blaster-fire and that she’s a good close-range fighter. That’s about it. A waste; though her send off was quite good, especially her last line to Finn, “You were always scum.” Quite true, he is, after all, a traitor AND a terrorist.

Standouts

General Armitage Hux.

Though the film’s official title is The Last Jedi, a equally accurate name might have been, Hux, Hero of the First Order. The reason why this would be accurate is that, throughout both The Force Awakens and Last Jedi, Hux has been the real, driving force behind nearly all of The Resistance’s defeats. Every major victory which was won for The First Order was won, not by Kylo Ren or Snoke, but by the perennially under-appreciated General Hux.

682823

Consider the fact that General Hux:

  • Is responsible for the creation of the First Order Stormtrooper units which are far more powerful than those utilized by the Galactic Empire.
  • Annihilates the New Republic in The Force Awakens.
  • Devises a method for tracking the rebel fleet through hyperspace which had previously been considered impossible.
  • Deploys the TIE fighter squadron which kills Admirable Ackbar.
  • Re-organizing the First Order after the death of Supreme Leader Snoke (as Kylo, due his mental instability, is clearly a incompetent, reckless leader).
  • Destroys nearly all Resistance star-fleet escapees in orbit and surrounds the last base-planet of the terrorist alliance & obliterates them, effectively stamping out the rebellion entirely (save for the main protagonists who, because they need to make more of these, escape).

Given that all of Hux’s plans were his own and were not contingent upon Kylo Ren or Snoke, he really should be considered the main antagonist of the series since he is the one who does all of the “heavy-lifting” as it were as well as the most competent given that Ren is off his gourd and Snoke largely just sits about and shouts at people and is also quite easily force-duped by his own apprentice. Given the fact that the First Order seems to be bringing more good (order, stability, production, direction and purpose) to the galaxy than the rebels, it is difficult to view them negatively, especially after the cartoonish, Snoke, is dethroned. For instance, in The Last Jedi the most “villainous” thing they do is kill members of the Resistance who are terrorists. Indeed, a perceptive viewer, sympathetic to the politically stabilizing effects of The First Order might well view General Hux as a hero rather than a villain. He fought for his people, honorably, never betrayed them and, indeed, succeeded. Honestly…

#huxdidnothingwrong

Flag_of_the_First_Order

Tomb of the Father: Chapter One, Traveler On The Moor

The sky was dark as the carapace of the beetles which scurried hither and thither beneath the flinty, scattered boughs of the gnarled and dying trees as the man moved over the khaki hillocks of the endless moor, the traveling lamp unshuttered the world in its eastward descent unto oblivion as if following the lonely soul in his argent passage. Wind-chaffed and weary, that solitary figure trudged over a low slope and descended liken to the effulgent sphere above him as a scattering of sheep ran zig-zag about him, fleeing off down the incline to congregate about the fires of some aged vaquero. The cowherd bivouacked in a stony vale, buttressed all about by a high semi-circle of tors that girded he and his odd-baying wards from the buffets of the world. To the left of a fire-pit which had been hastily constructed and ringed about with the scarce, ashen sediment of the moor stood a diminutive palfrey, outfitted with naught but a loosely strapped saddle-cloth and whisp’d reigns of hair.

The stranger looked on a while and then adjusted his leather belt and heavy pack, his shoulder o’er thrown and looked to the storm-wall building up in the far-flung distance and then back again and made haste to the camp seeking harbourage from the ravishment encroaching.

Small flickering tongues of flame hacked away the shade from the rocky outcropping and illuminated the face of the beasts and men alike and for a brief spheres-turning all was silent save for crackling stutter of burning wood and the muted shuffling of the graze-beasts upon the heath.

The vaquero looked the stranger up and down and then bade him to the warmth of his shelter, the invitation, readily accepted.

“What queer business brings such as thee to this long-forsaken vale?”

The stranger set himself down beside the fire and warmed his aching bones and then turned to his benefactor with a countenance both dire and faraway, as if he were intensely enveloped in the contemplation of something from a time long past or yet still to come.

“No business but chance. I make pilgrimage to Caer Tor, but upon my way my horse didst fall; eaten by ague. So, with a heavy heart, I put sword to spine and ended the sorry beast’s suffering and continued on my way afoot; this barren waste the last obstacle o’er which I must leap to reach my kinsmen’s warm embrace, they unprimed of my arrival.”

The cowherd nodded as if sense had been made of the thing and some semblance of trust both established and reciprocated.

“Thou mayst call me, Ealdwine.”

As the stranger took the old man’s hand and shook it firmly he spoke with something liken to shame frittering about his dulcet tones.

“Gunvald Wegferend.”

“Curious name that, such that it sounds not of this thede, nor any other.”

“That alone is a story in the retelling.”

“The isolation of the moor doth unfix the tongue from its rightful wagging – but worry not, I shan’t pry. Thy business is thy own and thine own to keep.”

“I mind not, old man, but would thank thee for the comfort of thy wild-twinkling foyer, the effulgence of the firmament, for all its dazzling brightness did little to gird me from frost’s fell grasp. Hark! Hear ye that sound?”

The old man half turned upon the old log on which he sat, cocking an ear in the direction of the wide, outer dark. Then he shook his hoary head and returned his attention to the wayfarer.

“Nay, I hear nothing.”

Ealdwine leaned closer to the stranger, his grizzled visage demon-like in the interplay of dark and flame.

“There are always noises upon the heath. Sounding with great regularity, not all tricks of a frightened mind at that. There are skinks, efts, wild dogs and shrews and grouse and geese, adders and crickets aplenty. Oftimes the big-horned rams from the far mountains loose themselves from that stony prison and, wayward, wander in quizzical vexation about this lonely place. Wild hearts beating with the echoing confusion the land sings aplenty. Upon such happenings, I see them stray into the marsh which stretches like a great and black-blooded gash across the earth at the far southern end of the moor, like a wound from some titian’s own brand. If so they stray, they will invariably fall prey to the silent monster with maw eternal-arced and hunger endless and strain against the bog-hold, crying out, strangely human, into the fire-pitted welkin where nary an ear but mine can hear tell of their sorry plight. At last their rangy heads and heaving flanks will vanish beneath the sinkhole and with that disappearance so to do their cries subside and all is at once, silent and severe.”

Gunvald, sensing the old herder sought his fear, crossed his thick and iron banded arms about his cuirassed chest and raised a brow.

“Canst thou not aid the poorly beasts?”

“Fools errand that twould be, none but a scion of God could navigate that blasted place with sureness of foot. The first false step means death, to man or beast. For there is naught living that can escape that fetid pit when once it has thee in its soggy grip.”

“Tis a fine thing then that I am no horny ram.”

“You should not make light of such turnings, for there is a ordering to things beyond our comprehension and a truth it seems to me that those who scoff at the plight of that whom The Creator hath deigned to snatch away laugh also at Him, for is not such cessation but part and parcel of his plan? What greater sacrilege could there but to scoff at the very pathing of the world. So take heed, traveler, thy laugh at thy own peril for thy laugh unto the very face of God.”

Gunvald furrowed his brows and then adjusted his belted scabbard such to bend better towards the heat and there a moment refreshed himself and then straightened and addressed the old man.

“Thy words well become a man of your occupation. Tis rightful that men of the earth should, with their deeds as with their tongue, extol it.”

“Yes. But ye yet say naught pertaining to the truth of it.”

“It is not for men of my station to interpret such eldritch things. I’ve not the brain for it and, lacking the intelligence, lack also the words. My voice is in my sword for redder conversations than this.”

“A soldier then?”

“Aye. Hark. Again I hear it.”

Before the old man could speak three vast shadows subsumed the rocky outcropping and footed there, three men, feral eyed and brigandined. There was between them several swords and daggers, all of which reflected like ghostly fires neath the cool sheen of the shrouded, waning moon.

The cowherd and his compatriot rose with suddenness, Gunvald’s hand flying instinctively to the leather-bound pommel of his gilded blade, gifted him by his father, late. He drew the blade in the same instant and stepped forth with a fencer’s feline grace, eyes steady as poise, emotion cold as the brand which glinted orange with the low-crackling fire.

“Who goes?”

“Put that away afore ye hurt yeself,” a pudgy member of that ratty trio mouthed with a wide, sinister grin.

Another, the shortest and ugliest member of that threesome, a hunchback, swiped the air with his weapon, a cudgel as loathsome as the visage of its wielder, which caused the sheep to bah-bah and retreat civilly to the very edges of the high, stone cliffs.

“Looks as if we’ve a froggy one! I’ll take him myself and to our master bring his head!”

“Silent and still be the both of you,” Thundered the tallest member of that sordid corp, a man some thirty years of age, angular of face and form, he wielding a grain scythe in his leather-strapped hands.

Gunvald knew not the providence of such beings but their intention was plainly writ; the Narrow War had made many such fell creations, the ungainly trio being but lesser manifestations of the insurrections twisted deviance. Their movements furtive. Eyes more beast than man.

“You must excuse my friends, tisn’t oft we chance upon such ill-girded company.”

Gunvald smiled fractionally.

“So you think.”

“So I know.”

“Try me then, brigand, and may Marta bless the better man.”

Malefactorous, the night-stalker advanced hesitantly across the muddy ground, well-slicked with welkin-mourn, farm scythe held awkwardly before him, as if it were some mighty polearm. All the while the thief drew forth Gunvald moved nary an inch, his eyes and bones and blade fractions of a singular whole, still as the stone surrounding. At the last, as the dread-scythe arced through the air with a furious humming, the soldier tore himself from his rooted shade and feinted the blow with the mid-side of his great-brand and delivered a sunderous riposte that severed the brigand’s arm from its socket.

A faint mist of red fluttered through the air like tiny moths from some otherworld of dreams and portents and landed upon the ground as the gory limb flopped down beside them like a huge and malformed fish. A startling howl tore from the rouges’ throat, as if it were his soul that had been rent from the body rather than a mere arm, the sound resounding throughout the high towering outcroppings and fading up into the night as if suffering were drawn unto the dark.

The flock bah-bah-ed nervously and stomped their hooves as their Shepard starred on, wide-eyed but resolved.

Gunvald turned to the remaining cretins who paused a moment, looking to the triumphal warrior, clad in moon-glint mail, then to the leaking appendage that still clutched the scythe and then to the man to which the arm used to belong, some seven feet away, flat on his back, writhing like a punctured horseshoe crab, his agony so great that nothing now but muted moans escaped his wide spaced maw, lips flexing like roiling bait-worms fresh off some fisherman’s hook.

With a startled cry the felonious duo turned tail and fled off into the night, their lanky shadows odd-angling under the skies auspicious glow, shortly thereafter wholly swallowed up into the hazy outer null. Gunvald made to swiftly follow but was held aback by the vaqueros cry, “No! They fly to the marshlands. Heed my words: Let them fly, no man can traverse such cursed terrain under the pall of night!”

Gunvald nodded and watched them fade off into the wide sea of black and then exhaled heavily, as the old man looked mournfully towards the dying thief.

Then all was sheep-call and bird-caw and fire-hiss and the hideous bleating of a lost and dying soul.

At length, Gunvald turned to his fallen foe who instantly began, once more, to shriek unto the vaulted sphere of night. His eyes bugging into enormous disks, strange-lit by the dancing flames of the softly crackling fire. Just as swiftly the man’s howling was silenced by the point of Gunvald’s blade piecing his armor and heart, there pinning him to the ground as he wriggled like some great and misshapen insect. Then his eyes rolled up in his head and a final gasp of breath escaped his mouth, issuing high up into the moist and roiling air. Then nothing but the clacking of hooves and the whistling of clay-scented wind, raving out over the great and scoured ambit of the rain-washed plane.

At length Gunvald, put his boot to the silent brigand’s chest and pulled free his bloody brand and then bent to the dead man and from his head cut a thick and charcoal lock of hair. He moved from the site of execution to the firepit and knelt before the red, closing his eyes and uttering a strange mantra unto the dancing embers, as if they’d ears to hear it.

What has gone, is what is come.

And from my hands, I give to yours.

That which is rightfully owed.

His life to your light, now and forever unending.

Give us both your pardon.

Let him keep his rest.

May your light engulf the world and every other.

When the soldier had finished his prayer and tossed the lock of hair into the fire and watched it burn with keen intensity, as if revelations would speak in shocking tongues from beneath those puffs of thin, gray smoke. When they did not he rose from the ground and set himself down upon one of the flat stones which the vaquero had hauled to the pit to keep himself well clear of the ground as he warmed his old bones. The vaquero looked to the knight a moment, then the fire, then the knight and spoke, his voice uneven, afeared.

“The hunchback mentioned they’re master.”

Gunvald nodded vaguely and gestured towards the old man for something to drink for which he was rewarded with a flask of sour, salty rice-wine. The soldier grimaced but downed it all the same, feeling a hot sensation in the pit of his stomach. He leaned over the flames, cradling the flask between his heaved gloved hands and addressed the cattle-herder with deadpan seriousness.

“Likely to me it seems that such those that fled were but part of some larger band. Raiders. From the hillands. Long have they warred with Tor. The nature of the conflict lost to the annals of history and the sands of time. T’would be unwise of thee to tarry.”

“Aye, they were at that. Though lonesome it may appear to thee, across the bogland there is green grass than this. It is there I’d graze my woolly friends were there space to do it. Alas, the land is owned and off I’d be run in not half a minute. Greedy land owners to the south and bloody thirsty raiders to the north, such is my plight, traveler, so much as it might behoove me to pack up and flee, I’ve no where to go.”

The vaquero fell silent a good long while, his eyes cast to the flames, as Gunvald took the information in solemnly and stroked his burgeoning beard as if in meditation. When at last the old man raised his face from the fire there was great sadness in his eyes.

“Ye didn’t have to kill him.”

Gunvald paused a moment and then met his elder’s gaze with dark amusement shinning in his steely eyes.

“So even thee questions the order of the world. Thee, thyself said it twas paramount to a question of the very nature of God. Is this your project, vaquero?”

The old man, shocked by his own hypocrisy, fell silent and did not respond. The soldier continued on, heedless.

“Of course it is, what else could it be. It is the project of any and all sane and questioning men. It was this very project that led me to reject The Eternal Being, for such a presence, he who is eternal, all powerful and everywhere at all times and places is said to lack in nothing – a fatal error, he lacks in one thing and one thing alone, limitation. As such there is none to bear witness to He, none to say that He is this and they are that. A being beyond witnessing is thus a being beyond our ken.”

“A warrior-poet. How singular. Yet you keep to Lady Marta?”

“The Prayer of the Dead you mean? Something my mother taught me – an old habit. Nothing more. Nothing more.”

With that silence fell once more over the stony outcropping as a chill wind swept in from the norther mountains, bringing in its wake a dreadful downpour that washed the blood from the body of the arm-less brigand and carried it out and down the trough of the encampment to puddle in the sodden moor. In that fetid broths reflection were the wings of a dozen crows who cawed madly and scrapped the sky with their metallic talons and torn off in wide wheeling circulations through the closing storm-wall as thunder and lightening fell upon the plain and redressed the world in the garments of the mad.

Their cries were like lamentations.

For the dead. The dying.

And all those still to die.


Sample from my forthcoming novel, Tomb of the Father, provided for the purposes of critique and commentary.