Word by Word Book Review

When I retired from the Army I did so with very little fan fare.  My boss at the time asked me how we could celebrate my departure and if I wanted anything.  In my last few months in the building one of my activities was to rummage through lesser used portions of our office space and clean up the clutter.  One item in the clutter was a 1980’s printing of Webster’s 3rd Unabridged, A Dictionary.

I told my boss that I’d just like to take the dictionary with me and if folks wanted to write nice things on the inside couple of pages, I’d be happy as a clam.  They did, and I have very lovely sentiments on the inside few pages.

20 years in the military.  2 deployments to Iraq.  One deployment to Afghanistan.  Retirement, and I chose the dictionary.

Why?  Because I love words and the process of how they’re created and added to the language.  So, when my favorite language podcast (yes there is such a thing) featured an interview with a lexicographer, I pay attention, add the lexicographer’s book to my Audible wish list, and only just recently got to listening and finishing the book.

Wow!  What a book!

Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper is an excellently narrated look at the way dictionaries are created, the controversies created by the results of their formulaic methodology, and the struggle to adapt a company to the digital age.

Calling it the Secret Life of Dictionaries is just about the most perfect name for it because the author truly exposes the system behind how these words got there!  Kory’s telling (she narrates the audio book herself) carries all the excitement and passion of someone who truly loves words and their creation.  I was doubly thankful that she narrated the book herself because the sections on pronunciation of certain sounds would not be the same had they hired out the talent.  There are some real humdingers in the text!

black and white book business close up

Kory manages to successfully navigate the reader through the subject matter with grace and encourage increased curiosity.  Many books of this subject matter or this size tend to expose the author’s laziness in writing, but Kory overcomes these with style.  Her writing was so successful that now the people I work with (I was only technically retired for three days before I started my next job) consider me even weirder than I was already.  Why?  Because I was so engaged with the book that I wanted to share?  Isn’t that just human nature?

When I shared what I was learning with my coworkers their facial expressions were priceless.  I think I’ve had more than a dozen conversations with coworkers that have gone along the lines of…

Tom, I’m reading a new book on how dictionaries are created and did you know there’s a word for that familiarity you have with a language?  It’s called Sprachgefühl.  It comes from German and it’s pretty neat that we’ve adopted it into.. [interrupted]

Wait a second!  Did you say you’re reading a book about how dictionaries are created? [facepalm]

Yes, and it’s fascinating.  Did you know that irregardless is actually a word that’s been in use since the 1700’s?  Ravel, and unravel mean the same thing!  Who knew, right?

I’m no where near close to losing my job over this, but there has been talk in the office suggesting that something must be wrong with me because I fell in love with a book about dictionaries.  It’s not my fault that when I was interviewed for my current position they never asked me what the last job gave me for a parting gift.  If they had, I would have told them.  We could have gotten this out in the open months ago.

Kory’s book warrants addition to the list of books I’d recommend to my mother, and if I’m going to recommend it to my mom, I think it’s safe to recommend it to the fair readers of this blog.  Although, I will warn my mother that her sensitivities to the less than polite words might be triggered as Kory is more free with her vernacular than my mother may be used to.  Still, I did not find the language overly aggressive or inappropriate.  It does figure that someone who is as familiar with words as a lexicographer is entitled to freely use all the words she’s had to define over the years.

abstract board game bundle business

None of this curiosity would have been possible without something snapping a few years ago when I started noticing there was a world of systems around me that had been virtually invisible.  Exploring those systems has increased my gratitude and my understanding tremendously.  Thank you, Mrs. Stamper, for sharing the system that has lead to a new appreciation for the very words I use to dress my thoughts and their shared meaning that we capture like butterflies and place gently into the dictionary.

The Girl Who Turned Into A Lion IV: The Transformation

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.  It is available as an audiobook, paperback, and kindle.  

image010Before dawn, Alamus woke up Kilewal, who in turn woke up Poplazi.  Kilewal grunted something to the effect of making sure he didn’t get lost while hunting for breakfast, but because it was grunting and it was before he wanted to get up Poplazi didn’t understanding anything other than he was to follow Kilewal.  The two of them wandered off into the woods.  In the camp the nephews and Dashtek were left sleeping while the body of the old knight lay cold on the floor of the forest.

Sir James’ star faded with the others as the sky in the east grew lighter and lighter.  Lady Arable had her bag packed and slung over her shoulder.  She held Alamus’ left hand while in his right he held his wand.  He was moments away from uttering the last spell he would ever cast.  He mumbled a few words and out from his wand extended a fist-sized golden cloud that floated dutifully into the princess’ tent.  Arable saw a bright glow from inside the white canvas that mingled with the first ray of sunlight.

They took their first steps together as the sun was rising.  At a certain spot in the woods Alamus placed his wand in the hollow of an oak tree.  The two continued eastward and were married at the nearest church they found.

 

It’s important to note that there are quite a few stories that end when two people get married.  This isn’t one of them.  Those stories that end with a marriage are simply terrible because they make it seem as though all the adventures in life happen before matrimony.  Any normal person will tell you that just because the stories end when two people get married doesn’t mean the adventures do.  In fact most adventures start when two people get married.  Let’s take this story for instance.  How many of you would be disappointed if this story stopped here?

Almost all of you, right?

But why not stop it here?  If you’ve been reading this thinking it is a fairy tale then you’re probably thinking that this is where it should end.  Yup, time to close the book because two people got married. If that’s what you believe then I hope you sleep well.  Of course there is at least someone out there who understands that this is not a fairy tale and for the sake of that person I will continue.

As I told you at the beginning this story was found by Professor Isaiah Buxley in a library some time ago.  That should be enough to convince you it is not a fairy tale, though I will admit the facts of the story might be a bit more colorful than they were when these things originally happened.

The biggest clue that this isn’t a fairy tale is the fact that it starts on a Tuesday.  I will here remind you of the old saying, “Thirty days has September and any story that can specify that it starts on a Tuesday is not a fairy tale.”  Or “roses are red, violets are blue, any story that starts on a Tuesday has to be true.”

What day of the week did Snow White’s story start?  I thought so.  You don’t know.

How about Rapunzel, Jack and the Giants, Sleeping Beauty, or that one about the cat?  Can’t tell me can you?  That’s because those are fairy tales.  They might as well start with “A Long, Long Time Ago In A Galaxy Far, Far Away.”  Any story beginning like that is an open invitation to laugh at whatever follows because you know its opening is so vague it’s likely to be nothing more than a comedy.

But now that you’ve realized this is NOT the end of the story we must clarify, because this is in fact the point where we have two stories occurring at the same time, and I’m afraid that I only feel like sharing one at the moment.  The other story will have to wait until another time.  If you ask me to specify when we’ll get to it I’ll respond with a “we’ll see” or a “someday” and until someone makes a calendar with “someday” as one of the days of the week I may just never get around to telling it.

I’m going to guess that the story you want me to tell you is about what happened to Princess Jan, Dashtek, and Arable’s nephews.  Good.  ‘Cause that’s the one I like too.  Those nephews are just funny, and I can only imagine what their mother must have thought of the crazy things they did.  Could you imagine having friends who think that playing…

Well, let’s get back to the story.

 

When Dashtek stood up he was surprised at how unusually well he slept.  He remembered it being quite chilly when he went to sleep and expected to have woken up shivering at least once in the night.  As he got up he looked around camp to get his bearings.  He noticed the wizard missing, but didn’t think it unusual that a wizard should hold to his own schedule and begin a day’s journey when he pleased.  Kilewal and Poplazi being absent wasn’t terribly unusual either, nor was Sir James laying on the ground past sunrise anything new.  Nothing he could see seemed out of the ordinary and so he went about doing his ordinary chores.

All three nephews were soon to be awake.  Two of them had risen before the third and between them had a rope tied with one end tied to a saddled horse, and the other had a knot just the right size to slip over the third brother’s feet.  The idea was to slip one end of the rope around the sleeping brother’s feet and give the horse a good swat on the butt then sit back and watch the show.  If the plan worked the sleeping brother would wake up being dragged by the horse.  They thought it was destined turn into another great story likely ending with the usual “and that’s how I got this scar…”

Which is exactly how it would have ended if it weren’t interrupted by the sound of a ROAR coming from the tent.

No one could believe their ears.  A roar?  What animal in that part of the woods roared?  Instead of using the rope and horse, the brothers shook their sleeping sibling awake.  Just as his eyes opened another roar came from the tent, and immediately following the source of the sound, a young angry lioness.

The lioness looked around and spotting the nephews sprang at them tripping the trio with her massive paws.  They each fell on something sharp, one a stick, one a rock, and another a root.  She pinned down and shook the oldest by the shoulders and roared in his face.  Startled by the noise, the horses broke their tethers and bolted away from the strange and fearsome looking animal.  The sounds of their neighing, tethers breaking, and stomping hooves drew the lioness’ attention away from the nephews long enough for the oldest brother to squirm free and for all of them to escape.  Dashtek finding himself near the base of a tree quickly made his way up it.  The boys, who were quite familiar with dangerous games, concluded quickly that “who could be the closest to a roaring lioness” was not a game worth playing and bolted southward toward the farmhouses they remembered passing the day before.

With the boys gone the lioness ran to Sir James’ body and shook him.  She had no idea he had passed away in the night.  When he did not immediately wake she rolled him over with a powerful swipe of her left paw.  Dashtek watching from his perch in the tree could see her claws slightly extended.  The lioness was frustrated at Sir James’ lack of response, the boys running away, and seeing no one else she returned stomping her way back to the tent.

Something was odd.

Had the boys stayed they might have noticed it as well.  It was a very little thing indeed to notice, but the boys at that moment were barely keeping their legs under them.  They did notice and were grateful for all the running games they had played made their legs swift and their lungs strong.  It should come as no surprise that running games which usually involve spears and/or arrows do have a way of quickening one’s step in case one ever wakes up in a campsite next to a lion.  I would advise though, that since so few people have ever woken up in a campsite with a lioness to not play running games with spears and arrows.  Your mothers will worry.  No, the only way you might convince her to play running games with spears and arrows is if you happen to camp one night with a wizard, but still I’d ask a parent first.

Dashtek watched the scene from his perch in the tree.  After sometime being up there he realized that his tree wasn’t much protection.  He figured a lion could climb a tree just as easily if not better than he did, but the added height made him feel a bit safer.  It also gave him a perspective the nephews did not have.  A lioness looks much different when you’re under her paws and she is growling in your face than when you’re ten feet high in a tree.  Dashtek repeated the scene in his mind and something about it (despite the obvious part about a lioness being in their campsite) puzzled him.  How is it that a lioness would know how to stomp? Dashtek did another mental replay of the morning events in his head, and the stomp continued to be an enigma.

After a few moments he had a theory and tested it by calling out from his tree, “Princess Jan, is that you?”

It was, and with his words she emerged.  The lioness’ head appeared out of the tent wearing a face of great sadness.  She may not have had many friends, but as a princess she was seldom alone.  The feeling of abandonment had overwhelmed her.  Noticing where the voice came from she looked up at the tree and there saw Dashtek perched on a limb.  It seemed as though the lion had been inside the tent crying and with that expression on her face Dashtek deduced what had happened.  That is to say, he did not come to understand how she became a lion, but he did understand better what happened after she became a lion.

Her running and growling at the boys was because she thought they must have played a trick on her.  It is very likely that her roars at the oldest were questions about how she had been sewn up in a lion suit, but when she went to wake Sir James and her claws extended she realized that she wasn’t simply sewn into a suit in her sleep, but that she had in fact become an actual four-legged lioness.

Dashtek came down from his tree and sat on a rock looking at the whiskered face that once belonged to Princess Jan.  Before the transformation he had studied her face many times in his stolen glances.  Of all the features that had changed, her eyes remained the least unchanged.  For the first time though he saw in them the first small hint of gratitude for certainly she was grateful that she was not alone.

Some time passed as the two pondered their options.  Dashtek did try to start a conversation at one point, but the lioness couldn’t respond with words.  There are many good reasons to be speechless in life.  This was one of them.  How often do you find out that the person you care about has become an animal?  Taking a few moments to figure out what to do next is not only the sensible thing to do, it’s also likely the only think anyone can think of doing under the circumstances.

As one quiet thoughtful moment gave way to the next the two odd companions heard a rustling in the leaves to their north, and after a time Kilewal and Poplazi came out of from behind some bushes with a rabbit they had trapped during their time away.  The hunter threw the rabbit on the ground in front of the lioness.  It landed with a thud.

She growled.

He grunted.

Short as that conversation of growling and grunting was, it proved to be a stalemate.  With it over Kilewal waved Poplazi to come and help him cover the knight.

If Princess Jan had her voice you could very likely guess what she would have said having been tossed a rabbit for breakfast.  “This?!  This is what you give me to eat?  How dare you.”  But instead of those words what emerged was nothing more than a whiny roar.  Kilewal, the great hunter, knew despite the lioness’ sharp teeth and claws she was almost harmless as she was useless on their journey.

Dashtek left her alone with her breakfast and went to help the other two.  It took some time in the woods finding enough rocks to cover the body of Sir James and while the three were searching the princess remained looking at her meal.  When she roared at first it was a roar of disgust, but now as time passed, hunger began to gnaw at her stomach and curiosity at her mind.  The good knight was half way buried when she extended her sharp claw down the front of the rabbit ripping open its skin and exposing the organs inside.  The smell was the next obstacle to overcome, but blessed with some measure of a lion’s instincts, overcome it she did.  By the time Sir James was laid to rest her breakfast was eaten.  No sooner was it finished then trouble started.

From the south the four began to hear the sound of a crowd headed toward the campsite.  Kilewal’s keen eyes spotted the three boys at the head, and for the first time the hunter spoke.

“That’s a hunting party.  It is best if the lioness is leaving NOW!”

—-

About The Illustrator

Liz Erickson has always enjoyed using her talents to create.  Those who know her will not be surprised that she took on the project of drawing the illustrations for this work.  Liz worked with ease to adapt her style and provide the author with the specifically desired drawings for this book adjusting quickly from her experience in fashion and painting. 

It seems safe to predict that this will not be the last time Liz’s name appears as the illustrator of a printed work.  She is just as much a magician with her talents as Alamus with his wand.

 

The Girl Who Turned Into A Lion: III After Bed Time

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.  It is available as an audiobook, paperback, and kindle.  

Dashtek arrived back at the fire just as the boys were finishing their fourth story.  He didn’t catch what it was about because it ended the same way as most of the others.  One of the brothers would point to some part of his body and say “and that’s how I got this scar” and then all of them would laugh so hard they’d nearly forget to breathe.

Alamus told an ancient tale about a master musician who came to live at the edge of a wood.  It was a pleasant story and as Alamus introduced the characters and told of their deeds, the tiny flames that were licking the coals of the fire seemed to create the faces and act out the tale he was narrating.  It was a beautiful story with just enough sadness to help the listener appreciate a happy ending.

Kilewal grunted, twice.

Everyone agreed that the end of that story was a good note to go to sleep on.  The boys, the knight, the hunter, and their guide all bedded down in spots they had picked out earlier.  Dashtek went toward the horses and grabbed a saddle blanket, laid down on the ground, and tried to sleep.  Only the wizard remained next to what was left of the fire.  From across the remaining coals Alamus watched as the late summer night crew considerably cooler.  Dashtek began to shiver.  There are few things a wizard doesn’t notice.  After all, someone who learns to talk to smoke like a cat and clouds as garden hoses.   It didn’t go without notice that Alamus had observed the young man during the evening offer both his coat and blanket to the ungrateful princess.  He also took particular note of the princess’ response.  Now he watched as the reward for Dashtek’s kindness was a cold night under an itchy blanket barely large enough to cover a small ewe.

Alamus had seen this type of magic before.  Even those least likely to ever cast a spell in their lifetime knew its name.  With all the words in a magician’s toolbox none was more powerful than the five-letter word we still use today, love.  Alamus sensed that though the cold air on his skin made him shiver, Dashtek was warmed by his affection toward the princess.

For the boys who are listening and grossed out that this book is talking about love, deal with it.  Someday you wont mind so much.  The type of love that Dashtek had for the princess wasn’t the I want to kiss you type of love, but rather the I want to do stuff for you to show you that I love you.  Most movies take every type of love out there and water it down to two people kissing, but life doesn’t really work that way.  People who love each other like moms and dads show it by doing things for one another.  You’ll know you’ve got the love bug when you think less about yourself and more about wanting to do something for someone else.  This is the way Dashtek felt for the princess.  He was warm that night because he felt good inside that he was able to do something for the someone he cared about, not because of a spoken oath, but because of something deeper than any oath.  Something he felt from deep inside of him.

About this time, Lady Arable emerged from the tent carrying her blanket in her arms.  When she spotted the wizard she was startled to find someone still awake and felt she had to explain herself.

“I was going to give him my blanket tonight. After all, I at least have a tent to shield me from the wind.”

“No need for that, my Lady.  I have cast a spell to keep him as warm on the outside as he feels on the inside.  He’ll sleep well tonight.”

She felt the chill of the air as she stood there and imagined he must have felt it as well.  She placed her blanket folded on the log next to the wizard for a moment while she sat down next to him.  Then she continued to talk as she unfolded the blanket over their legs.  She spoke in a very matter-of-factly sort of tone.

“I should have known a wizard would see how he treats her.  I admit there are days I’m only polite because it is my duty.  Otherwise, I feel I would tear her apart like a lion tearing through a flock of sheep.”

She breathed a heavy sigh, and both looked where the fire had been roaring just a few hours ago.  For a few moments they said nothing, hypnotized by the remaining coals.  Then Alamus spoke.

“Where did you hear the tale of the north star?  You realize it’s a legend only wizards know.”

Arable’s first reaction was to blush thinking of the earlier days and her younger self when she had first heard the tale.  Those memories were wrapped with pretty bows inside her mind so untying them was like opening a present.

“Alamus, you’re not the first wizard I’ve met.  A long time ago a young man came to seek my hand, and he would tell the most delightful stories, but that one was my favorite.”  Behind her eyes her mind raced through the past like a delightful storybook and her faced beamed with the light of a youthful woman in love.  Every older woman is just a young woman trapped inside of someone else’s body.  Then in her memories the adventure through her life’s story came to the end of a sad chapter.  She sighed.

“This young man never revealed his occupation to me, nor my father, and because he appeared to be nothing more than a vagabond with no future my father refused to let us marry.  At the time I was heartbroken and felt my life would end.  After the young man left I asked myself many times why he wouldn’t tell us what he did.  It was years later before I concluded he must have been a wizard.”

In her mind she turned the page on her memories and continued.  “As time passed I remembered more of the way I felt from his stories and being near him, and less of the heartbreak from when he left.”

Alamus felt obligated to explain on behalf of all wizardom.

“It was wise of your father to refuse the marriage and wise of the young wizard to not tell you his occupation.  A father has a duty to ensure his daughters will survive in another’s home.  If he allows her to marry someone that cannot provide food or shelter, then he is in error for approving the marriage.  On the other hand a wizard has a responsibility not to reveal his trade and occupation.  If they do, a father will oftentimes think the wizard has placed his daughter under a spell.  Even worse is if the daughter finds out she may believe that once married her cares will be over and she’ll never have to work again because she’ll expect her new husband to wave his wand and grant her every wish.”

“My lady, I have learned the hard way that there is no good scenario for a young wizard who falls in love.  If the wizard choses to marry without the father’s consent he gives up his powers in the process.”

“Alamus, on the subject of love, tell me what can you see of the princess? I have often looked into her eyes to see if she feels anything for him, or for anyone.  At times I think there may be something, but then she’ll open her mouth.  Ugh!  Then I think that I have been imagining it.  With your powers can you see to her heart?”

There was a pause.  He breathed towards the fire reinvigorating the coals.

“She is not past feeling, and yes there is something I can do to help.  But the power to be a better person lies only in the individual and no one else.  Becoming better requires a choice and a choice can only made by an individual.  There is no magic that can change who a person is on the inside if they do not want to change themselves.”

He might have continued but something else caught his attention.  In an excited whisper he said, “look.”

He then pointed Arable’s attention to Sir James, whose breathing had slowed, and then stopped.  The old wizard pointed his wand upward and suddenly a hole appeared through the trees in the west.

“There, do you see that star?  That is the hole from the great King Arthur.  Now, watch just to the right.”

As they gazed up a new star appeared.  “Now Sir James Leavelle rests near Arthur for it was by Arthur’s side he felt his greatest worth.”  The whole scene seemed so natural that even though they had just lost a member of their party and a friend, neither felt sad at his passing because they knew where he had gone.

A moment later the lady sighed.  “He took such pride in telling that story of his, it was just a pity he only had one story he felt was worth sharing.”

Alamus smiled in agreement.  His tone changed and he spoke to her with an air of loving familiarity from his younger days.  “My dear, I have a plan for the princess, and feel it will create a series of events worthy of a story many generations may share.”

From this point he proceeded to lay out his plan.  Once he had finished explaining it to the good lady he looked over his shoulder and said, “Kilewal, you can grunt now.  I know you have been listening because I heard you breathing soften as you were trying to hear our conversation.  If you’ve been listening then you’ve heard your part.  I expect you’ll be glad to do it.”

At that point Kilewal grunted.

The Lady Arable, exited about the prospects of tomorrow, began to get up to leave.  “I’m afraid I’m only to get a little sleep as it is, we’ve been talking for quite a while, but somehow the time passed quickly.  If you’ll excuse me I believe I must be off to bed.”

Then in the very next word everything in Lady Arable’s life changed.  “Please,” said Alamus with a pleading in his voice.  “Would you tell me the story of the North Star?”

Something about the way he asked made Arable stop.  The tone in the way he said please was familiar.  The words of the story became clearer in her mind than they had been in years.  She sat next to the old wizard and placed her blanket once again across their legs.

She started at the beginning with a master musician living at the edge of a wood and told it through to the end.  It was one of those stories that finished by pulling the audience equally at sadness and joy.  In those moments of life when one’s emotions are equally opposite it is common for gravity to pull two people together.  And so with the words of the story floating through the air, the wizard leaned toward the lady, and the lady leaned toward the wizard.  The touch was warm in the cold night air and wonderfully recognizable.  Lady Arable realized that she had just told the story to the same person who had told it to her long ago.  Aged though they both were, here was the same couple, once young, reunited after all these years.

“After dawn” explained Alamus “there will be one less wizard in the world.  For it is my intent to marry the friend I have missed these many years.”  Once again he proposed to the woman he loved.

At this Arable put her hand, palm upward, on his knee.  He reached over and filled it with his.  It was her way of saying yes, without having to say anything at all.

“I have learned in all these years that the greatest magic in the world is love—unrestricted selflessness for others.  Few who know its name know its powers.  I have seen love do more things to make people better and want to be better than my wand could ever hope to do.  We were told once by Merlin that mankind would one day live without all other types of magic.  That only this one would remain.  This is the only magic I wish now to study.  It is the same magic I believe will break the spell I will place on the princess at dawn.  Once I choose to give up my powers there will be no other way to turn the spell around.”

Arable whispered in his ear, “I have faith it will work” and followed it with a kiss on Alamus’ bearded cheek.  The old wizard blushed.

Kilewal grunted.  He was still listening.

About The Illustrator

Liz Erickson has always enjoyed using her talents to create.  Those who know her will not be surprised that she took on the project of drawing the illustrations for this work.  Liz worked with ease to adapt her style and provide the author with the specifically desired drawings for this book adjusting quickly from her experience in fashion and painting. 

It seems safe to predict that this will not be the last time Liz’s name appears as the illustrator of a printed work.  She is just as much a magician with her talents as Alamus with his wand.

 

The Girl Who Turned Into A Lion: II Story Time

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.  It is available as an audiobook, paperback, and kindle.  

II – Story Time

Sir James had never questioned why Dashtek wanted to be his squire.  He simply hadn’t thought of it, but it was unusual for a young man of Dashtek’s age and strength to be paired with such a mediocre knight.  In fact, on more than one occasion, Dashtek had been asked to be the squire for knights who actually did something more than sleep.  At one point the famed Sir Cowain had offered to train him.  Under such tutelage Dashtek would have no doubt become a great knight, but instead he refused.  Dashtek explained to each who offered that it would be disloyal to leave Sir James.  “My oath to be Sir James’s squire does not expire because a better opportunity arises.  My honor depends on my living my oath.  Besides, if I do not squire for Sir James, I doubt anyone else will.”

Although he spoke his words truly, in his heart Dashtek remained Sir James’ squire not only out of loyalty for the aged knight, but out of love for the Princess.  You younger readers need to beware at this point.  Love has a way of opening up strange windows into another’s soul.  Although Dashtek was aware of the princess’ general overbearing, selfish, demanding, obnoxious, and generally rude nature, he was also aware that she could be much more and believed that with time she would come to discover the person he knew was inside.  Since both Sir James and the princess rarely left the castle, his employment allowed him plenty of opportunity to steal a glance at his favourite young lady.

image006

The boar cooked, the sun set, and the air began to cool. After each of the party had filled their stomachs with the day’s kill, the party sat around the fire for warmth and to spend the evening telling stories. Usually those who had traveled the most had the best stories to tell.  Poplazi, believing the length of his journeys entitled him to go first began with the tale of a woman who had lost her shoe after an evening of dancing.  He told how it was found by the prince who thought it was such a nice shoe that it had to be returned to its owner at all cost.  Poplazi explained that that the prince had a thing about matching footwear.  He spent twenty minutes explaining how the prince was rumored to have cried whenever a sock would go missing after being washed and break up the pair.  So when he found the fancy shoe he had to find the owner.

You might have heard this story before.  Poplazi’s version of it wasn’t very well told or very interesting because he focused most of the attention on the silly prince with an overactive interest in matching footwear.

Once Poplazi’s story ended anticlimactically, Kilewal offered his tale.  That is to say, Kilewal grunted.

There was silence for a while which wasn’t a problem until it started to feel awkward.  To break that silence Sir James began to tell the tale of the battle of Mabonigon.  Everyone who had heard it before (many, many, times before) hoped that Sir James would breathe new life into the story.  Instead he told the tale using precisely the same words and inflection as he had many, many times before.  Mid-sentence princess Jan interrupted.

“We’ve all heard that story before.  You were there.  The clashing of sounds made a great cacophony.  The enemy was fierce and you were standing next to Arthur when he blew his horn to rally the knights and win the day.  End of story!”

The rudeness of Princess Jan’s interruption was enough to draw everyone’s attention—everyone except for Alamus whose attention remained on the fire. And because no one was looking at him no one noticed his lips moving or made out the words he whispered as he stared at the smoke rising from the flames.  It was a spell not unlike talking to a cat.  Cats are incredibly smart, but fiercely independent and only accommodate people when they choose to.  A few kind words goes a long way to getting a cat to do what you want it to do.  And so it is with smoke.  With the right words amazing things can happen.  Slowly the smoke from the fire started to drift toward the princess.

“Now that I’ve finished your story for you Sir James you can go back to sleep and someone (cough) with a story that isn’t sold old (cough) can have a (cough) turn.”

The smoke had made her eyes water and her throat sore.  She tried moving twice to different sides of the fire to no avail.  The smoke continued to follow her.  It was only after taking a few paces back from the fire that she was able to regain her breath, far enough away that she was not able to easily interrupt the evening, nor could she feel the fire’s warmth.

Kilewal grunted.

Lady Arable began to recite one of the many poems from the Hallbrook.  She began with a story of a lovely stream that began in the mountains where the snow would melt.  In this poem it was said that the snow melting was nature’s way of crying at winter’s passing and that these tears would feed the stream that would water the valley’s flowers in springtime.  It was a reminder that each season of the year has its beauty and when lost, worth a tear in its time, but that sadness usually passes into joy.

The princess’ voice came from the darkness behind them.  “Well it feels like it’s winter time here.  I’m cold.”  One might think of the nights of summer being warm, but the nights of late summer, after weeks of someone gets used to the hot weather are particularly hard to bear.

At the princess’ word Dashtek got up without drawing too much attention to himself.  He removed his jacket and put it around the princess who had her back to the group.  She pulled it tighter onto her shoulders.  He didn’t wait for a thank you, and she didn’t offer one.

Lady Arable saw that the princess was temporarily warmed and began reciting another poem.  She had believed that her example of decorum and civility would eventually be recognized and emulated by the princess.  Thus far such an educational strategy had been unsuccessful.  Still she considered poetry among the noble expressions of humanity and enjoyed reciting it as often as opportunity permits.  This one was about the stars being holes into heaven—that as each person dies and leaves this world, they create a hole in the curtain of blackness as they fly toward heaven.  As she recited those who listened began to look upwards.  As their eyes adjusted away from the firelight and through the trees they could make out the billions of stars glowing above them.  When the poem concluded she pointed to the North Star and said, “There is a legend more ancient than the Hallbrook about that star, but I’m afraid I must prepare the princess for bed.  We have some miles ahead of us tomorrow.”

The good Lady took her leave and walked toward the Princess kindly putting her arm around her.  The princess rejected the gesture and made her own way back to the tent with her characteristic pouting-stomp.  When they got into the tent Princess Jan laid down on what was to be her bed for the night again began a new round protest.

This?!  This is the bed I have to sleep on?  Your nephews must have put this tent over the top of every rock and root in the forest.”

The princess’ protest continued.

The nephews sitting warm by the fire snickered and taking advantage of the empty stage started telling tales of their various games and adventures.  They started by retelling the time they invented a game called “stick head” in order to decide who would swing first on a vine they discovered near a river back home.  The game wasn’t very inventive.  The rules were simply this: whoever could break the biggest stick by smashing it on their forehead would go first.

The adults around the fire listened with limited interest—enough interest though, that no one noticed as Dashtek left his spot near the fire and moved toward the horses.  There he grabbed his blanket.  The squire then went to a leafy spot in the woods and laid his blanket on the ground and piled as many leaves as he could upon it.  Folding the corners in he carried it toward the white tent.  From outside he could still hear the princess fussing.  He announced his presence with a polite cough outside the door and was welcomed in by the Lady Arable.  Once inside he moved to where the princess’ blankets had been spread, laid them neatly aside, and began removing as many rocks as he could.  He then spread the leaves and laid his blanket on top, using the rocks on the edges to keep the leaves from escaping.  Finally, he laid her blankets back out on top of his as neatly as he had found them, and left.

He didn’t wait for a thank you, and she didn’t offer one.

The Girl Who Turned Into A Lion: I-The Camp

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.  It is available as an audiobook, paperback, and kindle.  

I – The Camp

This story starts on a Tuesday.  At least the way it’s told it began image001.pngon a Tuesday.  Alan used to tell it to his kids when they were little, having read it in a book by Isaiah Buxley.  Isaiah Buxley found it on an obscure shelf in a library one day, in a book with a plain brown cover.  But the adventures of Isaiah Buxley are a subject for another time.  You can tell because Isaiah’s story started on a Friday and as I have already told you, this story starts on a Tuesday.

It takes place in a time when there were still kings and queens, princesses, and castles.  It was so long ago that everyone who was in the story has been gone for some time, so we can’t ask them which parts of the story are true and which parts have, shall we say, colorful facts.  No doubt that some of the rules of nature remained the same as they are today.  Children still had parents and each person who was born into the world would eventually die.  Other rules were more or less fuzzy than these.

On this particular Tuesday the wizard Alamus had been traveling all day along a dirt road.   When the sun grew lower in the west he began to look around for a place to camp for the night.  At the edge of a nearby wood he noticed another group of travelers setting up for the evening.  As he drew closer the smell of a freshly lit campfire wafted through his nostrels.  To the side of the fire pit was a man wearing a red hat mounting a newly killed wild boar on a spit.

Alamus looked around the site and saw several others putting up a white tent with red trim.  On the door of the tent was a red dragon and golden sword, the emblem of the house of Odenwald.  The white tent was symbolic of the king’s youngest daughter, Jan.  Jan wasn’t her full name. You see each of the king and queen’s children were named after the months in which they were born.  Princess Jan was born in January.  Princess June was born in June.  Prince Octavio, was born in October.  It is quite a stroke of luck that none of his five children were ever born in the same month.  Princess Jan was the youngest of King Hans van Odenwald’s five children.

A young man in his late teens or early twenties greeted Alamus as he moved closer into the camp. The two strangers introduced themselves.  Alamus as a traveling wizard, and the young man as Dashtek which literally means small desert.  Dashtek welcomed Alamus into the camp.  It is always a good idea to welcome a traveling wizard into your camp, especially if it’s the time of year when rainclouds visit.  No one likes getting rained on while they are sleeping.  Most of us will put up a tent to keep the rain off, but traveling wizards have a different way of staying dry.  Usually they will put a spell over wherever they sleep so that it does not rain while they are resting.  The exact words of the spell are something similar to a pinching a garden hose.  The cloud will rain, pinch itself over the wizard, and unpinch itself after it passes.  This means that when the cloud starts raining again it’s got to dump the rain it held in while it was pinched.  So you can see it is much better to have a traveling wizard place a spell in your camp instead of next to it.

Dashtek began to introduce Alamus to the rest of the party.  The hunter Kilewal (which means villager) was the man placing the boar on a spit. Alamus lifted his hand with a friendly wave.  In response the good hunter only grunted and went back to work.  If you were there you might have assumed Kilewal’s reply was rude and because of some personal animosity towards Alamus.  This was far from the truth. Kilewal was rude this way to everyone.  He even grunted at his mother.  Dashtek didn’t know is that Alamus and Kilewal had met before, but that is another story.

The Lady Arable was the princess’ escort for the journey, and noticed the wizard as she was moving in and out of the tent.  She paused to offer a quick and polite curtsy to the visiting wizard before turning to enter the tent again.  This was not rude in the least sense.  If a lady is busy then she is busy for a reason and usually need not explain herself.  Had she bothered to slow down she might have noticed that she too had met Alamus before.  It’s a bit redundant to say but traveling wizards are known for traveling, and in traveling they meet lots of different people so it’s not too odd that the wizard find someone he had met before.

The guide for the party was a man named Poplazi, and despite the fact that both of them had traveled Alamus had never met him before.  He was chosen as the guide for two reasons.  The first was that he was once introduced to the King Odenwald as a distant relative of Marco Polo the greatest traveler in the world!  The king believed that the relative of such a great traveler also be one of the best travelers in the world.  The truth was that he was Marco Polo’s barber’s cousin.  Barber and brother are two words that do sound similar, but have quite different meanings and it wasn’t the king who misheard, or Poplazi who misspoke when he was introduced.  It was the announcer who misunderstood and did not take the time to verify exactly who Poplazi was.  Even today it remains pretty standard that people who are loud are not always correct.

The second reason he was chosen was that he had traveled further than anyone else and therefore the king surmised that Poplazi must know more about traveling than anyone else in his kingdom.  King Hans van Odenwald was a good king, but it seems for this story the few choices that affect this tale make him sound a bit silly.  One of the important parts of being a parent is knowing when it’s OK to be silly.  Oh, and rest assured, King Hans had a lifetime of making thousands of good decisions, but those are another story altogether.

image003.jpg

Three other servants accompanied the party.  These were the Lady Arable’s nephews.  Their mother desperately needed a break from the trio who were quick to perform their tasks and just as quick to abandon them for some random and often dangerous game.  Having just completed setting up the tent the three of them had decided to play “duck the arrow.”  Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of it before.  Until they had finished the tent they hadn’t heard of it either.  The game worked something like this.  There were three positions: a Shooter, a Ducker, and a Caller.  The Ducker would stand in front of a nearby tree while the Shooter would notch an arrow on his bow and point it at the Ducker.  The third brother acted as the Caller standing on the side and saying “ready, set, GO!”  At the word GO the arrow flew toward the Ducker in front of the tree who would have to drop to the ground as fast as he could to avoid getting skewered.  The adrenaline rush from almost dying was exhilarating and the boys would laugh as they met in the middle to share their version of the iteration and trade places.  The Shooter would become the Ducker.  The Ducker would become the Caller.  The Caller would become the Shooter.

Alamus watched as the boys were each taking their second turn in the game.  The youngest was now the Shooter and the oldest the Ducker.  The youngest was a terrific shot when everything was quiet, but a noise from the tent distracted him.  He let the arrow go before the Caller had finished saying “ready.”  The arrow hit a rock in front of his brother and skipped at a deathly speed toward his oldest sibling’s chest.  Quickly Alamus pulled out his wand.  A flash emerged and the sound of crackling thunder rang through the air.  The arrow turned into a flower that hit the boy’s sternum with such gentle speed that he caught it before it hit the ground.

At the sound of the crackling the entire camp turned its attention toward the area where the boys were playing.

Sir James scrambled to his feet at the sound and with sword in hand had fumbled a few paces in random directions because his eyes were still foggy from his nap.  He changed course before hitting a tree and his eyes cleared completely just inches before running into Alamus.  The knight stopped when he noticed a wizard in front of him.  He took a step back to establish a fighting distance between him and Alamus then pointed his sword at the bearded sorcerer in front of him.  Alamus didn’t move.  He perceived Sir James’ actions were designed to help the old knight save face.

“SIR!”  He challenged Alamus.  “What business have you in our camp?  Are you a friend or foe?”

“Good knight, the crest on the tent is the mark of King Hans van Odenwald to whom and his house I have always been a friend for I was there when Arthur made him a king.”

Sir James immediately sheathed his sword and offered out a hand of friendship.

Sir James Leavelle was known to have fought with Arthur at the battle of Mabonigon.  It wasn’t a great claim to fame.  Nearly every knight at the time fought in the battle making it a rather normal thing.  It was one of those things where if you weren’t there it was because you weren’t born yet.  It was the only story Sir James ever told.  Really it was the only story he told.  You could imagine that the first year it was the story everyone told.  After five years people began to expect knights to have done at least one more deed worth talking about.  Not so for Sir James.  After ten years the story of the battle of Mabonigon should have been just one among any number of stories knights could tell.  Not so for Sir James.

It had been well over ten years since the famous battle.  Sadly Sir James had done so little since that time he had no other stories to tell.  You see in order to have a story people will want to listen to you must actually do something worth talking about.

A number of years ago he realized people were tired of hearing him tell about the battle of Mabonigon and so in the company of others he would just keep quiet.  Keeping quiet got pretty boring and eventually he got in the habit of sleeping through just about anything.  Anything that is, but the crack of thunder which had emerged from Alamus’ wand.

The Lady Arable also emerged from the tent assessed the situation and rendered a disappointed glance at her nephews and their dangerous game.  Shortly after the Lady appeared came the initial cause of the near deathly distraction, Princess Jan, who exited with a great protest.

“This tent isn’t going to keep me any safer if we’re being attacked!  I have just as much a right to see what’s going on as you do!”

Once she too realized it was just the boys she shifted her complaint from the perceived impending attack to her thoughts about “those boys!”  I wont write them here because you wont want to read what happens next.  Just rest assured that her words were the opposite of kind.

Yes, those boys.  Having grown up so the only girl in their life was their mom had made their behavior around the opposite gender awkward at best.  To a princess with over active sensitivities to being offended, their unintentional mistakes were regarded by the princess as violating her honor.  At each of these occasions the princess was so free with her speech that one might have wondered if she ever left any of her thoughts unexpressed or expressed without a complaining tone.

The princess kept complaining to Lady Arable shifting subjects from the boys to her dislike about the plain dress she had to start wearing for tomorrow’s journey.

In the meantime Sir James escorted Alamus back towards the fire.  Totally missing Dashtek’s earlier introductions, Sir James began to tell them all about how they were on an important mission to escort princess Jan to a nearby kingdom for some, shall we say, additional schooling.  Sir James explained that her math and reading were both quite excellent, but that her manners were terribly deficient.  Once again he was retelling facts that everyone already knew, but just like his story about the battle of Mabonigon this was what he did best.

“So that is what brings us on this journey.  Kilewal here is our hunter.”

Kilewal looked up and grunted.

“Poplazi is our guide, and that young man you were standing next to earlier is my squire.”

 

 

A Heritage to Follow

Screenshot_20181012_225445The Lucius Clark book is up on Amazon.
It’s been really neat to find lessons in there that apply no matter what age the reader is.  I’ve enjoyed these stories as a teenager, and now as a parent.  My parents are finding parallels with his mission to theirs.  There seems to be something here for everyone.
Here’s the description from the book cover:
The Clark children didn’t have beds, but slept on straw filled ticks on the floor. When company came for dinner, it was the custom to have the children wait until the adults were through eating, or stand at the table to eat, because of the lack of chairs.Friendly Indians frequently rode about the area on their ponies. The braves would shoot squirrels with bow and arrows, and roast them over a fire on sticks. The Clark boys were invited to share this delicacy with the Indians. It sounds like the beginning of a great adventurous life, and through those experiences Lucius gained insight that allowed him to leave behind a great legacy. That legacy was passed on to his children during his lifetime, and is now passed on past that generation through this book.This is a selection of the writings of Lucius Clark and those who knew him. The book includes his autobiography, transcripts of interviews, and his funeral proceedings.