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White Mesa Chronicles Book 1:

Fledgling militia officer Tommy Thaxton is used to scavenge missions in the ruined city. He’s not used to being in charge of his team of young men…but he can handle it. They all can handle it. It’s just a simple scavenge mission.

Until things go horribly wrong, and Tommy’s team finds themselves facing a full-scale gang attack – something their superiors never anticipated.

Now, getting home on schedule is the least of Tommy’s worries. Getting the entire team home alive is much more important.


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Preschool: Over-promise, Under-deliver

Preschool: Over-promise, Under-deliver

NOTE: This post is something of a departure from my usual tone, as it will be more dry and academic than I usually write. This is because it’s a subject I have strong emotions about, and in an attempt to avoid breathing fire on my keyboard, I’ve squeezed a lot of my normal humor out of it.

But it’s still an important piece about a vital subject, so please take the time to read it and form your own opinions. I promise I only froth at the mouth a tiny bit.

What if we’ve been wrong about preschool this whole time?Preschool: Over-promise, Under-deliver — Kimia Wood

Lots of people see “preschool” and they think “good.” We all want our kids to learn, right? We want them to have the best chance to succeed, right? And wouldn’t starting them in an institutional learning system as early as possible be the best way to do this?

No.

There’s also the question of whether this is the best way to honor God with our children. We want them to “achieve their full potential” and get good jobs, etc., but if we don’t make honoring God our chief focus (and make sure our kids know as much as we can teach them about Jesus) then we’re not living our Christian witness to the best of our ability.

But I’ll save that for a different post. For now, I’ll focus on the benefits preschool promises: academics, adult interaction, and affirmative action.

Let’s dive into this topic and try to figure out what we’re hoping to get out of preschool and whether it really delivers (or not)!

Academic Achievement

We all want Little Johnny to learn “reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic”. After all, “whatever you do, do it as though you were working to the Lord.” We want our kids to be able to support themselves, contribute to their communities, and enrich the lives of others…to say nothing of living full lives themselves and using the intellectual gifts God has given them.

It all starts with a “good education,” right?

And preschool is one of the best ways to give kids that, right?

No.

Where child development is concerned, there are very few absolutes…but the evidence is coming in stronger and stronger that preschool – especially an academically-focused preschool – does not give kids an “edge” to learning…and in fact might hurt them.

Academics over Learning

There’s been a lot of emphasis lately on pushing kids to achieve higher standards at earlier ages. The Atlantic tells us how kids who used to be expected to read by the end of first grade are now expected to read by the end of preschool. Maybe I’m doing the math wrong, but isn’t that a two-year advance?

Preschool: Over-promise, Under-deliver — Kimia Wood

How can we help our children thrive? Image from Pixabay

A recent article in the newsletter from the Home School Legal Defense Association cites several researchers and testimonies from parents that children grow and develop at different ages. For instance, “children who had learned to read in kindergarten had no substantial advantage over those who learned to read in the 1st grade.”

Kids have different development rates, and that’s okay. Trying to force them into a one-size-fits-all system is a terrible way to let them flourish.

Parents testify to children as old as seven and eight years old who would not have done well in a traditional, sit-down-shut-up learning environment. Forcing these children to attend a rigorous preschool at four or five years old would not have helped them with “school preparedness”…it would have destroyed them. They needed a kinetic, hands-on learning environment tailored to their particular interests (an environment that their parents did provide for them).

The article also references increased diagnoses of Attention Deficit Hyper-activity Disorder (ADHD), or similar disorders on the spectrum, when kids who aren’t developmentally ready for school are expected to conform to the school environment. Do these kids really have a learning disability? Or are they just being asked to perform above where their brain and body have developed to?

Long-term consequences?

There’s more. According to Psychology Today, an intense focus on academic attainment (learning reading, writing, and math through worksheets and instruction) in preschool almost doubles a child’s chance of a felony record. (Presumably because the early pressure and behavioral expectations led to them acting out more in school, and elsewhere…although it’s impossible to finger causality in cases like this.)

Contrast this with “play-based” preschools where children are encouraged to play, interact with others, and explore on their own…sort of like what they would do in a natural home setting, perhaps in conjunction with play-dates.

EdLibertyWatch.org collects quotes from several different papers, including this study from the National Bureau of Economic Research: “…researchers concluded that preschool has a positive impact on reading and mathematics scores in the short term and a negative effect on behavior.”

Further, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) reports that a 2015 study found that “while children coming from ECE [early childhood education] programs earned higher achievement scores in kindergarten, these students did not test higher than their non-ECE attending peers by first grade, and tested below their peers by the third grade.”

Which is more important?

A slight, temporary rise in test scores in exchange for increased behavior issues, and even more ADHD diagnoses? Wait – should this even be a trade-off at all?

The homeschooling examples prove we can suit our education models to each child’s learning needs. Maybe we shouldn’t throw the “preschool” baby out with the bathwater…but it’s high time we stopped taking it for granted that the earlier we got our kids into preschool, the higher their college entrance scores would be.

The spiritual dimension: anti-Biblical curriculum

Preschool: Over-promise, Under-deliver — Kimia Wood

Image from Unsplash

I know I said I’d leave this for later, but I came across a quote during my research that just stunned me:

What is gender identity? Why should it to be taught to three and four year old children? How [will it] close the achievement gap for poor and minority children?…

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAYEC), whose accreditation results in both more Minnesota state funding for childcare programs and gains a higher rating in the Parent Aware quality rating system, promotes these types of “gender anatomy and gender identity” exercises in its curriculum.

(Education Liberty Watch, quoting from the National Association for the Education of Young Children)

Notice that both state money and professional validation are tied to accepting the NAYEC’s view on this moral issue. And homosexuality is only one example – the culture has a whole hat-full of issues to introduce to your kids.

If you thought preschool was all about “school readiness” and getting a jump-start on learning the alphabet, these secular educators have one up on you. Kids at these ages are sponges, ready to accept whatever the “people in charge” teach them.

And if your child’s preschool is teaching transgender issues with anatomically correct dolls, wouldn’t you want to know about it – and be involved in conversations with your child?

To defuse the part-to-whole objections:

No, I’m not saying every teacher in every school is out to make your preschooler gay. But think about the trend of the culture, the political pressures of “this present age”…and remember who God will hold accountable for the children He entrusted to you.

Adult Interaction

Preschool: Over-promise, Under-deliver — Kimia WoodWe want kids to grow up to be confident, competent, fully-functioning adults. Kids are great at learning by imitating (just wait until they start repeating that one word you wish you hadn’t said).

So the best way for them to learn how to be adults is…by putting them around adults.

More specifically, there’s plenty of research that what children at the preschool ages need is not math worksheets and vocabulary tests, but stable, lasting relationships. They will have plenty of time to grasp the more cerebral concepts if their emotional, psychological, and spiritual health is firmly grounded in relationships with trustworthy adults.

As Morningstar Education Network’s research adviser, Denise Kanter, says: “Young children need to be at home bonding with their mothers and fathers.”

KindredMedia.org collects several reports that speak to this:

“Young children learn best through meaningful interaction with real materials and caring adults and their peers, not through the drilling of isolated skills.”…Kids from play-based programs usually catch up academically, while kids from academic backgrounds may never catch up socially. — Education.com

…the years from birth to age 5 are viewed as a critical period for developing the foundations for thinking, behaving, and emotional well-being. Child development experts indicate it is during these years that children develop linguistic, cognitive, social, emotional, and regulatory skills that predict their later functioning in many domains. — Early Childhood Education: The Long-Term Benefits (PDF)

But won’t my child miss out on socialization if he doesn’t go to preschool?

If you do the necessary socializing and relationship-building that parenthood involves, your child won’t suffer from missing out on preschool. Just because a good preschool is superior to plopping kids in front of the TV and ignoring them, though, doesn’t mean it should be our go-to method of child-rearing. (See below!)

The Atlantic article cited above explains that organic, child-driven learning (coached by engaged adults) is more interactive – and more educational – than the traditional “butt-in-seat” classroom model. This is where a teacher (or parent) uses a child’s natural curiosity to let them explore the world and ask questions (yes, millions of questions) and let them learn through the natural give-and-take of human conversation…instead of a list of facts they will be tested on later.

Focus on the Family insists that preschool should enhance the parents’ relationship with their child, not hinder it — nor simply be a way to get a “leg up” on those other kids! After all, trying to “keep up with the Joneses” isn’t very neighborly, is it?

The spiritual dimension

We should be especially concerned about this as Christians. Rod Dreher in his book The Benedict Option – which is all about cultivating a deliberate, passionate Christianity that informs every aspect of our daily lives – talks about how the model of “education” has changed over the past century. Instead of learning about the natural world and human history as a way to understand God better, and as a way to provide context for the divine order of the universe, modern schools are focused on retaining facts and applying them to work skills.

“Every educational model presupposes an anthropology: an idea of what a human being is. In general, the mainstream model is geared toward equipping students to succeed in the workforce, to provide a pleasant, secure life for themselves and their future families…and to fulfill their personal goals—whatever those goals might be.” (pg. 147)

Christian education, in contrast, should focus on “join[ing] ourselves to Christ and striv[ing] to live in harmony with the divine will” – from the time we wake up and have breakfast, to when we’re walking past the weird stranger on the street, to when we say our prayers at night.

As Christians, we need to teach our children that God is an important part of every single facet of our lives…that He is not somehow unrelated to physics, or social studies, or English spelling.

Tend your own personal orchid

Remember how every single child is unique, and develops at his or her own rate? Just because your child is seven years old and can’t spell doesn’t mean he (or you) is a failure. It means he needs someone caring and invested to give him the help he needs to learn in the best way for him (like getting up and moving during spelling tests, instead of glued to a desk with a pencil in his hand).

My mom used to have me write short stories with the words I missed on spelling tests…and now I can spell “snake” and “rabbit” just like any other well-adjusted twenty-something! (And, well, check out my “Books” tab to see what encouraging my story-telling got us!)

Kicking your orchids out of the hot-house make them shrivel…

Going back to that wealth of materials collected by EdLibertyWatch.org, the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD – 2007) say:

The more time a child spent in center-based care the more likely he or she was to be described by sixth grade teachers as one who “gets in many fights,” is “disobedient at school,” and “argues a lot.”

Children need a stable home life to help them develop emotionally and behaviorally – and that maturity will only improve their academic endeavors later on. In fact, to quote the rest of the excerpt on the NICHD study:

…NICHD tracked 1,364 children who had participated in early childhood education. Preschool participants were more likely to score higher on factors of aggression and disobedience as reported by their teachers. This finding was true even for children who attended high quality center-based care.

Remember: who are the two adults children will interact with for the greatest part of their growing-up? Their parents. Even if they go to institutional school and learn from different teachers every single year, they need a strong relationship with their parents to anchor them throughout their childhoods and beyond.

Children are more than a statistic…and when it comes to their lives, we need to be concerned about more than what the “experts” say, “what we’ve always done,” or what supposedly “works” to get the outcome we want.

This isn’t about outcomes. It’s about doing what God says. Right?

Teach a man to fish…

My parents have always affirmed that teaching their children how to study is one of the most important things they could do.

Children who develop emotional, psychological, and cognitive maturity will be self-motivated to study…and if they haven’t had their love of learning “snuffed out” by over-exposure, they will drive their own educational journey through grade school, high school, college, and beyond into adult life. (You knew we don’t stop learning once we get a job and don’t have a designated “teacher,” right?)

Assisting the Disadvantaged

Preschool: Over-promise, Under-deliver — Kimia Wood

I don’t have a picture of an impoverished child, so enjoy this cute dog instead.

A lot of voices in favor of preschool emphasize “closing the gap” between the “disadvantaged,” poor children and those with a better home life. A noble goal, and one in line with God’s own plan for us (check out James 1:27 and Mark 12:29-31).

The orphan (or in some places “fatherless”) is already late to the starting line, before the race even starts. That’s no fault of theirs, and God cares deeply about giving justice to the oppressed and helpless (just read, like, all of the Psalms).

However… While it’s good to feel for children who are growing up with only one parent, who suffer lack of opportunity due to poverty, etc. – none of that explains how the preschool system is superior to the natural, historic, and God-given system of two dedicated parents raising and educating their own biological children themselves.

And our concern for disadvantaged kids should in no way interfere with the raising of those kids who are blessed with a committed mom and dad.

But what about those poor kids who don’t have the same chances other children do?

Maybe they’re living in a single parent home, or their family doesn’t have the financial resources for books, etc. Maybe they really do have ADHD, autism, blindness, or some other physical barrier to learning the way other kids do. Do early childhood education programs help them succeed better – both now and later in life?

The Psychology Today article referenced above shared the results of a study among “sixty eight high-poverty children living in Ypsilanti, Michigan”. This study was largely to examine the effects on these children of a “Direct Instruction” preschool classroom (that focused on academic attainment) versus a “Traditional” preschool (which emphasized play). To quote:

[T]he experiment also included a home visit every two weeks, aimed at instructing parents in how to help their children. …

The initial results of this experiment were similar to those of other such studies. Those in the direct-instruction group showed early academic gains, which soon vanished. This study, however, also included follow-up research when the participants were 15 years old and again when they were 23 years old. At these ages there were no significant differences among the groups in academic achievement, but large, significant differences in social and emotional characteristics.

That’s right. “No significant differences in academic achievement“!

This is the same pattern we saw in the other studies. The writers suggest that the children in the so-called “play-based” preschools learned to “plan their own activities, to play with others, and to negotiate differences” – skills which served them not only in the later grades, but beyond into adulthood. (“Teach a man to fish…”)

The article writers also theorize that the home visits encouraged the children’s parents to reinforce these teaching styles. The Traditional “play-based” preschools encouraged the parents to let their children interact with the world creatively. The Direct Instruction preschools were focused on test scores and other “academic” markers of “personal achievement” – and this focus on “personal achievement” could have encouraged these children in the selfish attitudes that led to their generally more anti-social behavior.

Without being simple pragmatists, let’s look at the fruit.

The Bible tells us we can evaluate teachers by their fruit…or in other words, we can pick up hints about whether to listen to them by watching their actions (Matt. 7:15-20).

What is the outcome of preschool for disadvantaged children?

Obviously in some cases the outcome was…not too good. Early pressure to achieve, plus a focus on personal performance, encouraged anti-social behavior in some of these individuals. We might go even farther, and say that denying them a carefree childhood, and the opportunity to learn at their own pace, hampered their emotional and social growth.

So we see that even for disadvantaged children, the best outcome is the one that mimics a traditional, Biblical upbringing centered in the home of their biological parents.

But, post writer, what about all the terrible parents who will just stick their kids in front of the TV and who have no idea how to parent –

Statistically speaking, children with “bad” parents will have poor outcomes, no matter what school system you devise for them. The students discussed in Psychology Today had professionals visiting them at home to advise their parents how to support the teaching curriculum of their preschool – and the results still weren’t stellar.

The point is not that we should “give up” on these disadvantaged kids, but that we need to have our eyes firmly fixed on JESUS and to make sure we’re 1) trying to accomplish what He wants, and 2) going to Him for direction in how to do that.

Systemic Dysfunction

Preschools that drill facts and figures into little kids doesn’t help them. In fact, in the worst cases, it hurts their chances because they missed out on that crucial period of character development by worrying about head knowledge.

Children at these young ages should be sending down their roots and finding out what can be depended on…not raising their branches to test high on impersonal markers of “achievement.”

The preschools that did seem to succeed were the ones that allowed children to flourish at their own pace and ask questions naturally…in fact, the care centers that mimicked a nurturing home environment.

Further, as Christians, we understand that there are more important markers to success than grades or salaries. Give me ten children who respect their parents, treat those around them with kindness, and love their Creator over one “child” who makes six figures with his graduate degree and can’t keep his marriage together.

Institutional education is the cultural norm.

My grandparents have finally stopped asking when I’m going to get a college diploma (although they’re still not satisfied with my Associate’s Degree). The culture around us expects us to send our kids off on the bus as soon as they can walk, and our young adults off to college as soon as they’re old enough to join the army vote.

But is that the best way? Is that really how we’re going to accomplish our goals? Even if it was, the ends do not justify the means. (Otherwise, as my brother loves to shout, there is no justice, only means.)

Preschool: Over-promise, Under-deliver — Kimia Wood

Which is the “straight and narrow” way? Photo by Oliver Roos on Unsplash

God calls us to justice and righteousness. How can we strive for that in our everyday lives, and with our children?

Maybe in some other post, we’ll examine what God calls us to in our daily lives, and what that means for raising our kids. Until then, take a good, hard look at your own decisions.

I firmly believe the system of institutional education is broken – and that goes all the way down to preschool. Whether you agree with me, or think my mom dropped me on my head as a young’un, your kids are worth more than the default.

We need to get out of the rut of thinking “preschool” always equals “good.” Can it help? Sure – under certain circumstances and in certain situations.

But don’t do it because “everyone else is doing it.” Don’t do it because it’s expected of you, or because the grandparents want you to.

These are your kids we’re talking about – the kids God gave to you. Look at all the evidence, and decide if preschool will really help your kids to send down their roots, and thrive in God.


Preschool: Over-promise, Under-deliver — Kimia WoodKimia Wood was raised by an aspiring author, so spinning words and weaving plots is in her blood.

She currently lives somewhere in the American midwest, bracing for the collapse of society by knitting, baking, gaming, writing, hobby-farming, and reading as much Twitter as possible before the web goes dark.

Subscribe to the mailing list for a FREE e-copy of her post-apocalyptic adventure novella Soldier! You’ll also receive periodic updates on her latest reading and writing projects.

Dear Diary…friends at the library

Been on the road for several months now.

Nori sleeps on the roof when we find an inn, or outside the walls when we come to a town. People seem to be nervous of her…which is understandable, given her appearance.

Raven does push-ups every chance he has. Ezekiel has been scribbling notes on his manuscript again – his magnum opus about the God of Gods.

Ran into a party of nine goblins. I was very excited to try out the tricks my Ranger Master taught me (about goblins’ weak points, of course) but I guess I was a little too eager because it was hard to land a hit on them.

Back in the day, a party like that would have wiped us out. Now, we triumphed with just a few scratches.

Being older and wiser and stronger sure pays off.

****

The tiny village today offered the blacksmith’s stable as an inn/tavern, so we hung out in the straw with the locals and listened to their stories.

An old man started playing a tune, and we slowly recognized it as that song the gypsy sang. Raven whistled along, while Mikael and I tried to remember the words…y’know, the song the gypsy made about our adventure in Orlane.

So glad to have that behind us. The mud-pit and Explictika, I mean. The people in Orlane were kinda nice (when they weren’t mind-controlled).

A little boy said his favorite part was when the lightening bolt killed the snake. He said he wished he could have seen that. Ezekiel said he wished so, too.

It was indeed something to see, though I was a little distracted. Always treat your magic users well…

****

Funny thing happened in the inn tonight.

As we entered the common room, a Ranger was telling a story about how he “told that evil snake that he was not impressed by her, and he was going to end her reign then and there” – and then he took his great big sword and chopped her head off.

(The barmaid tried to look impressed, but I think she’d heard this story before.)

I turned to Ezekiel to say what a coincidence that this guy had fought an evil snake lady, too!

Raven walked up to the Ranger and asked him about his story. The Ranger (I heard his name was Avalon) said that, yes, he was a mighty Ranger to have defeated such an Evil snake lady, and that we had probably heard of him.

Raven asked to arm-wrestle with him, and Avalon said it would be an honor for Raven to arm-wrestle with such a mighty hero as himself.

The crowd cleared a table for them, and Raven and Avalon squared up across from each other.

(Ezekiel sat at a table off to the side and ordered dinner.)

Raven measured his forearm against Avalon’s, adjusted his grip on Avalon’s palm, and then slammed Avalon’s hand down against the table.

(I did warn him Raven had been doing push-ups.)

The barmaid seemed very impressed, and after Avalon went home she went to talk to Raven. Apparently they’ve all heard the gypsy song, and Avalon says he’s the one in the song.

I asked Ezekiel what the odds were that there were two evil snake ladies around (in between making snide remarks about Raven’s new girlfriend).

Ezekiel didn’t seem worried about it, and we didn’t really talk about it the rest of the night.

As we were bedding down, someone pointed out that it would be too bad if these people think they have a legendary warrior in Avalon, and then something actually dangerous shows up. Ezekiel didn’t seem to think it was worth throwing a fuss over (he’s hunched over with a candle, working on his theological treatise), so we’ll probably just move on in the morning.

Avalon reminds me of a brother of mine. Personally, fame is too much trouble for me to want to steal it…and maybe getting owned by Raven will make Avalon reconsider his life choices.

****

25th of Harvester, arrived at Veluna City.

Found very cheap quarters at the Scholar’s Rest – which is right across from the big library, conveniently enough.

We engaged rooms (be careful that you get ones with beds, since not all of them have them) and stashed our stuff before heading for the library.

I’m hanging on to my magic sword, though…I’m paranoid.

**

Ezekiel asked the attendant about the Book of All Gods, while the rest of us stood there not really knowing what to do.

Tomlin would’ve loved to look around this place. Come to think of it, maybe he’s gone on for advanced studies by now. Alpheus and Mother, of course, used to go to the great library back home.

The attendant brought back the book, but neither of them could read it – apparently it was in “Illusionist,” so they’d need the help of “Prettypebbles.”

(Sounds like a gnome name if ever I heard one…)

He found him illusioned to look like a tall man (at least that’s what Mikael told me was going on), talking to a…young lady who might have made Nori look cuddly. I’ll say no more.

When Prettypebbles was in his gnome appearance, I thought I recognized his clothes as being the Starkmounds fashion – and sure enough, he introduced himself as “Neeblebluer Prettypebbles.”

So there’s another mystery solved! (He said Orlane was boring. Maybe that’s why he left. At least he wasn’t eaten by Explictika.)

Ezekiel asked about any references to the “god of gods,” and Prettypebbles flipped through until he found the page he wanted (see, when he recites/casts the words on the page, little images appear above the pages. It’s super cool).

He had trouble with that page, though, because of some “interference” from the “former rector.” They explained that the rector had spent a little too much time with the scrying orb in the basement, and now he was…troublesome.

Prettypebbles mentioned off-hand going down to “turn” him, and Ezekiel perked up at once. With his usual effervescence, he offered to go “deal” with the rector so they could continue.

Well, when they let us into the basement, we discovered a large black sphere on a black iron stand…surrounded by six figures I could only assume were ghouls.

Little hope of examining them to be sure, of course, because Ezekiel promptly dusted them with his sheep toy magic symbol. The orb seemed to brighten up after that – not enough to illuminate the space, but at least it looked happier.

After poking our noses behind a few more doors to make sure there were no surprises hiding, we returned upstairs.

Then Mr. Prettypebbles was able to read the page properly, and an image appeared of all the gods (every single one, so there were quite a lot) kneeling on a plain, and in the middle was a bright spot – so shiny we couldn’t see anything in it.

“Well, that was worth waking up for,” said Prettypebbles.

While we had his attention, we asked him about the attack our own village…about Ertuli, which seems so far away and so long ago, now.

Well, Prettypebbles got an atlas and started waving his hands and chanting his words, and a figure started to appear over the map – but then a voice said, “No!” and the image vanished.

He said we had to try with the scrying orb (so it’s just as well we cleared out the ghouls earlier) – and this time, when he tried his spell, he seemed to see much more.

It still didn’t make sense to me, but he tells us the “Black One” – the “Mage of the Valley” – was putting pressure on the bugbears (we saw this big bugbear chief in the orb) and that this chief made the goblins do what they wouldn’t normally do (attack a village during the day).

That at least gives us some answers, although it doesn’t help us much. I guess defeating the bugbear chief would relieve the pressure on the goblins…and as hard as that sounds, it sounds more doable than dealing with this Black Mage or whatever he is. Prettypebbles says he’s protected himself from scrying, and anyone who goes into his valley doesn’t come out.

We thanked Mr. Prettypebbles, and he said he would let us know if he thought of a quest for us to thank him with.

He did ask “Beanpole” to reach a book for “Lydia” – the girl we’d seen earlier. Mikael got it down for her – Basic Thaumaturgy.

Ezekiel said that was a very interesting book to be reading, and somehow or other she realized who we were and suddenly asked, “You’re not them, are you? From the song?”

She knew all our names, and what we had done in the lair of Explictika, and was very impressed.

“I’ve only been in two dungeons,” she said. “And they were really more like cellars.”

I guess you could call the cellars of the Temple and the Golden Grain “dungeons,” but they were nothing compared to the Mud Pit of Instant Death (which we barely survived and one of us not even that).

Ezekiel explained that we’d been engaged to investigate possible disturbances in the town of Homlett (everyone around here knows that’s where the Cult of Elemental Evil showed up however-long ago), and Lydia jumped on it and asked to come.

She said learning through application is so much more effective than just theory (she’s sure right there) and said she wanted to adventure alongside seasoned heroes like us.

Well…with an offer like that, how could we turn her down? Especially when she mentioned she can “only” cast up to level 2 spells (as good as Mikael is, it would be nice to have more than one spell-caster).

We got used to Nori’s looks…we’ll get used to Lydia’s, too.

So we start out the day after tomorrow. The others have some shopping they want to do – Mikael especially wants to get a collar for Nori, so maybe people won’t be so worried about her.

If luck is with us, we should reach Homlett in another month. Just in time for winter to set in. And then, who knows what will be waiting for us…


This is a continuation of the adventure begun in “How Did It All Start?” To get to know the characters better, click here.

To read where we left off last time, click here.

Subscribe to Kimia Wood’s mailing list for book updates!

“Song of Shadows” by Sylvia Mercedes

 I would never have touched this book if Suzannah Rowntree hadn’t given it a rave review. After all, the description talks about “secret feelings” and “the passion threatening to ignite between them” (which always make me feel stabby).

BUT…I tried it out, and here are my thoughts:

The World: Dark, Cruel, and Brooding

We’re thrown into a dark world where malevolent “shades” seek to take over the bodies of humans, losing your soul to the abyss is easy (and frequent), and the dark forces of the enemy seem insurmountable.

The main group battling these invading spirits (and the humans who join with them) are called Venators and Venatrices, and they trap shades inside themselves to get magic powers – risking eternal damnation if the soul-separation (at their death) isn’t done properly. Continue reading

Dear Diary…nothing is ever simple

Alert: May contain spoilers for the AD&D Module: “Born-Again Ogres of the Blinding Light”

Lunch break.  So far things have gone well. Haraldus is going on about how we must forgive our enemies – because the dwarves really don’t know any better (just like the hobgoblins didn’t use to know any better) and so we should pity them not hate them. Ezekiel is really getting into it.

Impressive that he convinced hobgoblins to change their nature like this. Pity it doesn’t work on everybody…

****

Close to supper-time, someone appeared on the road in front of us, approaching. Imagine our surprise when Durglower Rockvein (fully healed, and with three friends) stepped forward with a big sack.

While I was busy counting them and planning order of attack, Ezekiel greeted them.

“We’re awful sorry about, well, last night,” said the dwarf (in his little dwarvish accent). “So we hoped we could share a meal with ye before you leave our territory tomorro’.”

Well…Ezekiel asked us what we thought. I reminded him that I am always paranoid, but Ezekiel was inclined to give them a chance (and so was Haraldus since, y’know, he was just telling us about forgiving our enemies).

So the dwarves pulled roots and herbs out of their sack, the hobgoblins got a fire and stew going, and dinner was served.

Raven said he wasn’t feeling well, so he didn’t have any stew. Ezekiel, Mikael, Haraldus, and the hobgoblins seemed to enjoy the stew, and the dwarves ate their fill (although they didn’t seem to enjoy it).

I decided some of us needed to be paranoid, so I had bread and cheese leftover from lunch.

After the meal, the dwarves packed up and left. Night was close enough that we settled down to camp.

Haraldus soon rolled into his cloak and fell asleep. So did Ezekiel.

In fact he isn’t moving when I prod him with my foot.

Mikael seems to be fine…so I guess no matter what’s happening, I’ll take my watch and get ready for trouble.

After all, trouble happens to us every week.

****

Sure enough, I hadn’t even roused my replacement for the watch when the dwarves were back.

In fact, Durglower must have found some more somewhere, because he had six friends again – same as last night.

Since Ezekiel was still sacked out (and since Ezie had given me that special-looking short sword) I uncovered my shield with Perpetual Light engaged the dwarf leader and one of his men.

Durglower was a little over-eager, because one of his first thrusts drove his sword right through my shield – where it got stuck.

The dwarves in my peripheral vision lit up with Mikael’s faery fire. I heard the screams and gurgles as Nori bit into her master’s enemies…the high, wailing thing Raven does when he does his monk attacks…the harsh hobgoblin voices singing “O Blinding Light” (not as tunefully as last night)…the clang of dwarves attacking the acolytes…the soft snoring of Ezekiel at our feet.

Durglower made a lunge for his sword, and stomped on Ezekiel’s head. Even Ezie was wakened by that, and he scrambled to his feet.

I’m glad I paid so much attention to my Ranger Master. The two dwarves hammering on me did get in a blow or two, but for the most part they didn’t do much damage.

Ezekiel cried, “Friend Hobgoblins, bandage the monk!”

So apparently Raven’s luck wasn’t so strong.

“Only see spider, not monkey,” the hobgoblins answered, and lost the tune for “O Blinding Light.”

“Help the man on the ground,” yelled Ezekiel — then dashed off muttering to himself. Apparently one of them tried to rouse Haraldus.

Haraldus was really out, to sleep through all the dim we were making.

Nori pounced onto Durglower’s head, trying to get a bite in. He’s quite the tough one, that’s for sure, since I’d been whacking at him the entire time, and he still wasn’t down.

Durglower finally managed to yank his sword out of my shield, but just then Mikael ran up, and shot some kind of flame from his hand (it’s so fun watching him do new things) – and knocked D backward a pace.

As I finished off the dwarf chief, I realized a hobgoblin was beating on Nori. They weren’t singing anymore…they were shouting, “Blood and bludgeon, brothers!”

Mikael (still swinging around that hand-held flame of his) ran toward the couple remaining dwarves, who were still single-mindedly attacking the hobgoblins.

Raven did some kind of flippy kick (but missed) and as I was coming forward, too, (slowed down because a hobgoblin hit me) Mikael took down one of the dwarves.

There was still one up and kicking, though – and he stabbed the last hobgoblin before we could get to him (the hobgoblin that was trying to attack me for some reason).

Then he turned and ran. Ezekiel yelled to us to kill the dwarf, and bent over a fallen hobgoblin acolyte.

I dropped my weapons and whipped out my bow. My first arrow winged him so badly that he fell to the ground.

Well, I must have gotten over-excited, because my next shot totally fumbled – but it let Raven catch up with the dwarf, and then he delayed him enough for me to get the final shot off.

When we turned back to the camp, Haraldus was awake and sitting up, and cradling an acolyte in his arms. He was mumbling something that sounded like a Cure Light Wounds spell, but his voice kept breaking.

“They couldn’t let us stay in the light,” grunted the hobgoblin. “Kill or be killed. They wouldn’t let us stay in the light…”

Ezekiel went around closing their eyes, imploring Ao for mercy on their souls.

Nori was also in a bad way, quietly twitching a couple of her legs as Mikael stroked her.

When Ezekiel knew all the hobgoblins were dead, he pulled out a scroll and began to read over Nori. In a few minutes, she twitched again, rolled her feet underneath her, and climbed a nearby tree.

Thank goodness. Say what you will about her looks, she has the highest kill count of our entire party. We would’ve been dead without her.

Haraldus sat by the fire, mourning his acolytes. Ezekiel asked him how far this Chapel of Hope was…but it was at least eight days away, and we’d never get their bodies there in time for a resurrection.

So the best we can do is bury them here, and trust the Good gods to be gracious on some poor, lost hobgoblins.

I wonder how that even works…

****

I searched the dwarves before we buried them.

  • 60 gold pieces (in the bag of holding to be shared)
  • fine leather boots (Mikael determined they’re magical, so we let Raven try them out; even though they came off a dwarf, they seem to fit whoever wears them)
  • blood ruby broach
  • chainmail (also magical, but still dwarf-sized)
  • silver-buckled belt
  • platinum necklace with rose crystal setting in a horn shape (not magical)
  • potion (Ezekiel thinks it might be for animal control? He’s carrying it – after all, he spent his Potion of Heal on Raven during the fight, so he has a slot available on his belt)

On top of all that, Haraldus still paid us the fifty gold apiece that he promised – even though we kind of failed to get his charges safely to their destination.

Ezekiel didn’t want to accept it, since he said we had the chance to kill Durglower Rockvein on that first night, but we didn’t…and left him able to cause more trouble.

Haraldus said that he supported Ezekiel’s decision at the time, so it wasn’t really his/our fault…and after all, he promised us the money, so wouldn’t feel right not paying us.

We offered to escort him back home (rather ironic request, given the turn of events) but he said he didn’t think he’d be molested from now on…

I think I saw Ezekiel with tears in his eyes as he said good-bye to Haraldus. Regrets about his chosen deity? Heh…the way they were talking, sounds like Ao and Pholtus of the Blinding Light might be friends.

Well. We continue on richer, but are we wiser?

I wonder if a hobgoblin will ever learn to serve a Good deity.

Note to self: never trust anyone. Especially anyone offering food. Ever.


This is a continuation of the adventure begun in “How Did It All Start?” To get to know the characters better, click here.

To read where we left off last time, click here.

Subscribe to Kimia Wood’s mailing list for book updates!

Dear Diary…a reversal of stereotypes

Been a month since anything really interesting happened. It’s now the 7th of Goodmonth, and we arrived not long ago in the village of Harrington (which, to call it a village is kinda stretching the term. There’s an inn and a big manor house, plus a few scattered cottages).

We approached the inn first, but it’s been a rough month. I think we had maybe three copper pieces between us. If only we hadn’t bought the –

Well, anyway, Ezekiel chatted up the proprietor, but the proprietor couldn’t help us (too pricy and not interested in a labor exchange) and suggested we try up at the manor house. Apparently there’s a cleric of Pholtus the Blinding Light up there.

Ezekiel (naturally) was very excited, and we trotted on up there. The place had definitely seen better days, but didn’t have “that look” if you know what I mean…the look that I should be watching my back for undead.

Mikael told Nori to hang out on the roof so as not to disturb the residents.

The man of the house is named Haraldus, and once Ezekiel explained our situation he was more than happy to exchange some supplies and lodging for some service.

As he explained, he had five acolytes he wanted to take to a chapel of Pholtus the Blinding Light (the “Chapel of Light”), so they could further study the “true faith,” and he wanted some mercenary protection for them on the road. In fact, he offered us fifty gold apiece if we helped him out!

Well, we figured we could handle that, so we agreed, and Haraldus sat us down to enjoy stew with his five acolytes (wearing grey/white cloaks with hoods that hid their faces).

Haraldus gave a long prayer over the food – even longer than Ezekiel might give. When he was finally done, the acolytes threw back their hoods and started eating.

……They were hobgoblins.

Not the stew, I mean. The acolytes.

The four of us kinda looked at each other, then Ezekiel slapped on an exaggerated smile and started eating stew.

Gotta say. It was excellent stew.

At our questions, Haraldus explained that some time ago, he had been captured by the hobgoblins of these acolytes’ tribe – with the whole rest of his party being slaughtered.

(Sounds familiar.)

However, Haraldus insisted on preaching the One True Path to the hobgoblins, and these five were persuaded to leave their barbaric ways and follow the pure Pholtus (of the Blinding Light). The hobgoblins confirmed his story eagerly in between guzzling stew.

My brother Tomlin always said, “If you don’t ask, you won’t know.” (Tomlin was a hopeless nerd, by the way.)

So we asked: “Why would a group of goblins, hobgoblins, and bugbears attack a small village for no reason?”

The acolytes said, “Oh, hobgoblins very mean, very violent. Us hates that way now.”

So…Sorry, Ertulli – goblins are just mean and violent.

Well, the dishes are cleared, and we leave early in the morning (so as not to disturb the villagers). Ezekiel is currently talking to Haraldus about Nori, explaining that she’s really quite nice, actually, just kinda scary when people first see her (especially unexpectedly).

****

Mikael cast Predict Weather this morning (eager to try out his new spells), and said the weather would be “good.”

We introduced the hobgoblins to Nori, and they took her in stride. Duh, they’re hobgoblins. They probably have pet spiders and snakes all the time or something (I have not asked about that yet).

Which is good, because she took down a deer and came trotting into our camp at lunchtime, dragging the partially-munched carcass. Good thing we don’t have a floor for her to mess up.

Made good time, and set up camp in a little wood.

I get to sleep a little before my watch.

****

Nothing is ever simple, is it.

I was on watch when I noticed footsteps surrounding us. While I roused Raven, I realized it sounded like dwarvish feet (they’re small but heavy, and they usually go rattle-clack somehow).

I got Ezekiel and Haraldus up, and while Mikael was calling Nori to stand by, a dwarf came close enough that we could see him and hailed us.

“Who comes?” asked Ezekiel.

“Durglower,” answered the dwarf, which I thought was the name of his tribe – or maybe swearing – but is actually just his name.

Then he (the dwarf) demanded that we hand over the hobgoblins to be executed because their tribe had killed some dwarves.

Haraldus refused, explaining that these hobgoblins were good, now, and had reformed.

Ezekiel also pontificated about how the acolytes were under our protection, and we couldn’t just look the other way on them getting killed.

Well, obviously this made the Dwarf mad.

Ezekiel tore the cover off his shield of Perpetual Light, and the woods lit up with harsh white light and extreme shadows. Then he went for Durglower, and battle was joined.

Haraldus led the hobgoblins in singing “O Blinding Light,” which might have been just as effective a weapon as anything.

The dwarves focused their attacks on the acolytes for the most part, which I think was good for us.

I spotted a dwarf through the trees and started filling him with arrows…but dwarves are unexpectedly tough. I got in four hits, and only then did he start trying to run away.

Meanwhile, Mikael and Nori were somewhere in the dark, trying to bash dwarves. Mikael finally cast Faery Fire, and Nori, of course, knows her business well.

Suddenly, the chief dwarf was yelling, “Fall back!” and the dwarves scattered into the woods.

All except the chief, because Raven charged him, and Ezekiel forced him to surrender.

Haraldus and Mikael went around casting Cure Light Wounds on the acolytes (Haraldus asked “Brother Ezekiel” if he had any healing spells prepared? Yeah, that’ll have to be explained one day…).

One of the acolytes was down, but the others were still singing “O Blinding Light” through their wounds.

Now that’s what I call a radical conversion.

Ezekiel did his pomp-talk to the dwarven chief (Durglower Rockvein), all about how they attacked us in the dead of night without warning, but he didn’t hold ill will against them, and would let them bury their own dead if they wanted.

I counted up three dead dwarves (two of them covered in Nori’s teeth marks, one of them full of stab wounds from Raven), while we’d also lost an acolyte. We dragged the dead out of the woods and lined them up on the edge of the campsite, then Ezekiel and Raven decided to dig a grave then and there (I guess because they were all wound up. I convinced Ezie to leave the rest of the discussion until morning, and the acolytes, Mikael, and I curled up to sleep the rest of the night as much as possible).

****

Morning. Ezekiel announced that he wanted to let Durglower go, but that he was keeping his sword (which incidentally had been glowing last night) as “discouragement” from any further banditry.

Raven and I weren’t sure that was such a good idea, since – as Raven pointed out – it was likely a family heirloom (the kind of thing people are very attached to) and – as I tried to point out – the kind of thing people might commit murder to try to recover (and would bear a grudge for having stolen).

But then I had a flashback to my Ranger Master, talking about the law of the woods. It’s different out here than it might be in a town, and the victorious combatant deserves the spoils.

We were already being pretty generous in not looting the dead dwarves.

And…it was a very impressive looking short sword.

So that’s that. We buried Mook the hobgoblin, Haraldus gave a long and passionate burial service (complete with singing), and we prepared to go after breakfast.

Durglower was not excited to share stew with us, and took off as soon as we let him.

Hope we won’t have trouble there later.

Mikael says the weather prediction is “good.”


This is a continuation of the adventure begun in “How Did It All Start?” To get to know the characters better, click here.

To read where we left off last time, click here.

Subscribe to Kimia Wood’s mailing list for book updates!

5 Love Languages—Translating Our Affection

The “five love languages” is a concept invented by Pastor Gary Chapman (see the official site here), and it theorizes that different people show and experience affection in different ways.

Some feel loved by “Physical Touch.” Others value “Giving Gifts.” “Acts of Service” or “Quality Time” are how some people feel most affirmed or loved, while “Words of Affirmation” complete some people’s world.

Do You Speak My Language?

5 Love Languages—Translating Our Affection — Kimia Wood

Sibling love!

Most of us don’t go around wanting to hurt people, or offend them, or do things that make them uncomfortable.

But what if someone told you how much they admired you and enjoyed being your friend…in Tagalog? Chances are you wouldn’t have any idea what they meant, and wouldn’t be built up by it.

We’re full of friendly feelings, kind thoughts, and compassionate impulses. We want to make everyone around us feel special, and show the love of Jesus.

How can we do it in a way that they understand? Sure, they might know we mean well, and appreciate what we’re doing…but can we do it in a way that speaks to their heart?

Refocusing the questions

I once went through a quiz to discover my love language, and the questions went something like this:

“I feel affirmed when you _[pick one]_.”

“When you _[pick one]_, I really feel loved.”

There’s nothing exactly wrong with this…except my responses would vary depending on who I was thinking about (Mom, Dad, brother, coworker, best friend).

Mom is always doing things for us. So when she buys me a gift, it means that much more – because she went out of her way to do that.

My brother’s big on hugs. When he does the dishes without being asked? That’s huge.

So…I’m not unique in this revelation, but if we really want to identify our own (and others’) “love language,” let’s start with how we prefer to give affection!

Step 1: Subject in a Controlled Environment

Take a look at yourself! You can know yourself better and more easily than you can know anyone else. So…

A coworker is going through a hard time. You:

  • Take a meal to their house.
  • Sit with them at lunch and try to just “be there.”
  • Write them an encouraging note.

It’s your mom’s birthday! You want to show her how much she means! You:

  • Buy her something big and expensive.
  • Go to her house to give her a big hug in person.
  • Call her on the phone (you’ve composed a poem in her honor to read to her).
  • Take her to a movie/concert/dinner/something she enjoys

You want to affirm your best friend. You:

  • Write down all the things you appreciate about them, and give them the note.
  • Mow their lawn, fix their sink, or babysit their kids.
  • Buy them a little something, just because.
  • Ask to spend a day with them, doing whatever they want.

When you want to reach out to someone, what’s your default method?

Obviously, you probably don’t go around hugging strangers (that would be weird)…but do you make sure to kiss your family members before bed every night? Do you like giving high-fives, fist-bumps, and side-hugs? You might be a “Physical Touch” person.

Now that you’ve done this step, you have a better idea what to look for. And we can actually apply this knowledge to translating your care for someone into their language!

Step 2: Observations in the Wild

5 Love Languages—Translating Our Affection — Kimia WoodPick another person. Any person. Coworker, cousin, church sibling, parent, child, neighbor…any person you interact with! We’ll arbitrarily name them “Taylor” for simplicity’s sake.

Now for the hard questions. When Taylor sees a coworker feeling down, he/she:

  • Bakes a cake for them.
  • Slips a note into their locker.
  • Hugs them (not caring that it’s weird!)
  • Sits and listens to them…no matter how long it takes.

Taylor’s grandma isn’t feeling well. He/she:

  • Volunteers to drive Grandma to all the doctor’s visits.
  • Calls Grandma every day, just to check in.
  • Does the laundry and dishes for her.
  • Assembles all the kids to go see Grandma in person.

When Taylor wants to let you know he/she’s happy to see you, he/she:

  • Hugs you.
  • Tells you how important you are in his/her life.
  • Offers to do a chore for you.
  • Asks to go out sometime, to a movie/concert/dinner/shopping/ministry opportunity.
  • Gives you something (even if it’s just the cupcake in his/her hand!).

Starting to make sense? What is Taylor’s default method for telling someone, “You are special” or “I like being your friend”?

With this data, you can move to the next step…

Step 3: Speak Their Language!

I’ve been (re)reading this awesome book about sharing the Good News of Jesus in a way your listeners can understand. It’s not just about avoiding “propitiation” and “double predestination”…it’s about finding the piece of the amazing good news about Jesus that specifically speaks to their hearts, that the Holy Spirit wants to use to bring them to God.

This applies to showing affection, too! God calls us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. But if your grandma doesn’t adore heavy metal rock as much as you do, that CD you gave her won’t seem loving to her (except that she’s your grandma and knows you mean well).

How can we show love, concern, affection, and self-sacrificial humility to those around us? How can we “speak” in a way that their hearts instinctively understand that we want to build them up?

When my dad gives me a present, I know he loves me…but when he vacuums, or fixes the house, I see him stepping out of his “default” to show how he cares for us!

Now step out there and speak in someone else’s language. Even if they knew you cared before, this might make them say, “Hey…I guess they really mean it!”


5 Love Languages—Translating Our Affection — Kimia WoodKimia Wood is into gifts…so (ahem) check out that Books tab (cough)!

She currently lives somewhere in the American Midwest, bracing for the collapse of society by knitting, baking, writing, hobby-farming, and reading as much Twitter as possible before the web goes dark.

Subscribe to the mailing list for a FREE e-copy of her post-apocalyptic adventure novella Soldier! You’ll also receive periodic updates on her latest reading and writing adventures.

Dear Diary…strangers on the road

Two and a half weeks never went by so quickly. My head feels crammed with new ways to track things in woods, new ways to kill goblins, new ways to move quietly over leaves…

The others have been busy, too, of course. Raven has been at one of the temples in Hochoch, while Mikael disappeared to some secret Druid place in the forest.

Ezekiel is babbling on about some parchment he found in an obscure library that mentioned the “God of gods.” He wants to find out more as soon as he can.

The Richfest in Hochoch was exciting; big towns do it differently than we did in Ertuli. Of course no celebration will be like your memories of how they did it in your childhood…

Tomorrow we start for Homlet. It’s quite a hike, but hopefully the journey will go smoothly.

****

5th day of Reaping, Waterday

When we stopped for lunch, I noticed some strange tracks on the ground by the road – unlike any creature I’d ever heard about. Not comforting.

Not long afterward, we spotted a boy in a bright red shirt making his way toward us. He seemed to be trying to hide from something, but Mikael hailed him, and then he came up to us.

We exchanged the usual about where we were heading, and Mikael asked if the strange tracks were “his people.”

The boy said yes, and laughed. (He did a lot of laughing.)

Mikael smiled, too, and said they were the Wandering Folk, the Tzigane – and that all Druids have at least heard about them.

The boy wandered over to Raven and tried to swipe one of his daggers…but Raven caught his hand.

That made the boy laugh. (I’m not keen on all this laughing.)

Raven smiled and held one of the daggers out to the boy.

The boy laughed again and took it. “You’re strange Gorgio,” he said.

“Aren’t all Gorgio strange?” I asked.

He laughed (again) and said yes, and then he said that he liked Raven.

Reminds me of a brother of mine…

About that time, a little girl appeared, calling for “Nicolai.” She came up and asked the boy what he was doing.

“I’ve been working, Marta,” he said, tossing the dagger casually.

“If you were working, you wouldn’t be showing me,” she said. And she told him to come along.

He invited us to come with, so we headed off along the road. Mikael (and I) realized Nicolai probably hadn’t seen Nori, so he told her to stay in the trees out of sight. A giant, hairy spider can be a little off-putting at first.

After a ways, we split off from the road – but were still going with the trail of strange markings. (Whatever animal that is, I’m not sure I want to meet it.)

Finally, we reached a clearing with several bright-colored carriages or wagons, several horses, and men and women in clothes of all kinds of colors. (Those tracks aren’t anything like horse-hooves or wagon wheels…)

The boy introduced us as his friends, and introduced us to his uncle (also Nicolai). (The leader is a dark-haired man…doesn’t seem to like us. Not like I blame him, but keep your wits on…)

Uncle Nicolai seems like a decent fellow. He casually told us that the horses would be less nervous if our spider kept her distance…which is much calmer than that inn in Hochoch who told Mikael “no pets.”

The uncle is also a musician, and an impressive one. He asked for our story, so Ezekiel unloaded the whole saga of him (Ezie) getting killed.

As he listened, the minstrel kept thrumming his instrument (a lyre or mandolin, I think) and when it was done he sang the story back to us. So, setting poetry on the fly – that’s pretty impressive!

When he was done, he said he usually got paid for his songs…but it was our story he was singing, so how could we be expected to pay for that?

(Glad he saw it that way, since it’s a long way to Homlet, and we might need what little cash we have.)

Raven went off to talk to one of the horses (yeah, apparently Monks can do that, now. He’s really excited about it) until the ladies called us all to the campfire for dinner.

These Tzigane people are very friendly. One blond-haired girl even tried to sit up against Ezekiel, but he smiled at her and scooted closer to Raven, so she stayed next to her brother or cousin or something.

A dog came through, and seemed to be having a deep conversation with Raven. Beside me, Mikael was watching them closely. I can see it doesn’t seem fair that a Monk can do something that a Druid can’t.

As we ate our stew, one of the women offered to read Ezekiel’s fortune if he “crossed her palm with silver” – so he gave her a gold piece (which is not silver) and she looked at his palm.

(I would make a lousy salesman. “Can I interest you in this fine leather jacket?” “Sure. Oh, you want me to pay for it? But you’re the one who brought it up!” Better stick with Rangering.)

She told him many things—

  • remember the God of Gods’ rules
  • he’ll go on a long journey, and face a demon (oik!)
  • he’ll face ill health before reaching town (what a surprise!)
  • a rich merchant at the full moon will help him

We sat around the fire all evening, until one by one we dropped off to sleep. I told Mikael I’d take first watch (setting a watch? OF COURSE. Who am I again?). Feels a lot like a party, what with sleeping in the open air and being guests “of honor,” but…well…you never know.

The firelight and the starlight are beautiful, though.

****

I must have dozed off because suddenly the dog was licking my face, and the fire had died down.

I sat up and thanked the dog, who went over to lay down by Raven (I’ll say this for Raven, he makes a splash with whoever he talks to).

About midnight, I woke Mikael up and lay down – and in the morning we were all alive and had all our belongings as far as I know.

The Tzigane started packing up, and Mikael hurried over to talk to the horse (apparently he prayed for Speak to Animals this morning, to show he wasn’t outclassed by the Monk). Raven also went over to the horses and helped with their care – maybe being able to talk to the horses helps you take care of them.

Ezekiel gave a string of pompous, flowery speeches about unexpected friendship and what-not. (Why don’t you just say “we think you’re all crooks, and are unexpectedly pleased to still have the clothes on our backs”? If that’s what you’re really thinking? Ezekiel…)

Little Nicolai gave Raven a hug good-bye, immediately after which Raven told me he’s missing another dagger.

Reminds me of a brother of mine…

Ezekiel gave the chief a gold piece…and after the chief decided to not be offended (I thought it was a toss-up for a moment there) he called for Little Nicolai. The boy appeared, steered by his mother, and they made him give Raven his dagger back.

Well, whatever else, it seems we’ve made a splash. I hope they enjoy talking about these “weird Gorgio” for a while.

(Oh, one of them told me about the tracks. Apparently it’s something they do to the ground so they can find each other in the woods, and recognize their own trails. Clever. I’ll have to remember that trick.)

We were just about to leave when one of the ladies put a “blessing” on us. Ezekiel thanked her (at length – makes me think of a brother of mine) and we parted, finding our way back to the main road.

Looks like a fine day for marching.

****

Not too far down the road, I smelled something familiar. Oh, I’m getting really accustomed (and tired) of that particular scent!

Goblins. Five goblins.

Ezekiel took one down with his mace. Nori sprang into action and bit the neck of another one.

I was excited to try out what Master was just teaching me about Giant-Class Humanoids…and sure enough, my arrows flew true and hit my targets in the vulnerable places, killing them!

It sure feels good to be effective at something for once.

Mikael helped me search their pockets, where we found a decent amount of silver – and a parchment with weird writing on it. The letters seem to swirl and pulse in a way that gives me a headache.

Ezekiel is carrying it for now, since he’s the closest thing to a scholar we have right now.

(I asked Mikael what happened to his Magic Horn of Bubbles. He said, well, there was this guy bothering his sister, so he left it behind to try to make him leave her alone.)

If the rest of the journey is as quiet as this, I will be happy. No injuries so far, no “Ezekiel sitting on a snake” incidents, none of that.

We’ll have excitement enough if we really have to fight a demon.


This is a continuation of the adventure begun in “How Did It All Start?” To get to know the characters better, click here.

To read where we left off last time (the conclusion of the last adventure) click here.

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“The Lonely Detective Solves ‘Murder at Snow White'” by Charles Schwarz

"The Lonely Detective Solves 'Murder at Snow White'" by Charles Schwarz — Kimia Wood Lord Peter Wimsey, in one of Dorothy Sayers’ novels, calls detective fiction the “highest form of literature we have.” The essence of detective fiction is the conflict of good and evil…the idea that a crime (a murder) breaks the world, and the core of a hero is in solving it (bringing the evildoer to justice).

Thus it’s hardly surprising that Ms. Sayers is one of, if not the, best mystery writers of all time. Her novels are entertaining yet educational, tricky yet profound – grounded on a firm grasp of human nature, and grappling with how the very universe groans for the blood of the innocent to be repaid.

I’m not here to talk about her work. I’m here to talk about the short stories of Charles Schwarz – stories billed as “hilarious” and sarcastic murder mysteries…that probably ended up being more educational than entertaining for me.

(Incidentally, what first caught my eye was the cover. Something about it just looks sarcastic – and who doesn’t love that?)

Alert: SPOILERS Possible Continue reading

“Dracula” by Bram Stoker

"Dracula" by Bram Stoker — Kimia Wood “Dracula” is known as the original vampire, and the word evokes a cornucopia of images and lore.

But what is the original actually like?

Published in 1897, this Victorian classic delivers a compelling story of horror and love, featuring one of the most spine-chilling monsters of all time.

The Style

As Red from “Trope Talk” will tell you, part of the magic of the story is the style. It opens with the diary of Jonathan Harker, a newly minted lawyer traveling to Transylvania for business with a mysterious count.

This first act is admirably effective, as Jonathan progresses from describing the lovely scenery, to relating the curious superstitions of the townspeople, to his nerve-wracking first meeting with the count on a midnight mountain road.

The first-person immediacy of the narrative lets us feel Jonathan’s plight even more strongly as he realizes his imprisonment in the count’s vast but empty castle – and the diary form allows a mix of “this happened in the past” and “this is what I’m going through now or hope to accomplish” that forces the reader to engage with his harrowing experience on a moment-to-moment basis.

Fade to Black, Scene Transition…

We leave Jonathan’s diary on a cliff-hanger to read the letters between his fiancé Mina and her best friend Lucy. Mina, of course, is looking forward to her marriage to Jonathan (and concerned that his trip to the continent is taking longer than anticipated), while Lucy is flattered (yet also embarrassed) to have been proposed to by three charming young men in one afternoon (Number Three being her own heartthrob…and, once she accepts his offer, her fiancé).

Seem like a tone shift? It is in many ways, but the shift from Dark Gothic to Sweet Romance makes the transition back again that much more heart-wrenching. The girls’ perfect happiness (and their idyllic vacation at the seaside) cannot last…and when Count Dracula makes his grand entrance in England, the creeping sense of foreboding is that much more acute because of the shift in narrator and perspective.

Self Awareness

This sense of hearing the story from the eyewitnesses, with newspaper clippings and telegrams and hastily jotted notes written in trains and carriages, actually enters the story when the party is assembling the data they have on Count Dracula (the better to fight him) and uses the diaries and notes of their company to assemble a dossier of evidence.

I think this is a cute acknowledgement of the writing style…and after all, how would I be reading the private journal of a vampire-eyewitness unless someone compiled it for the benefit of posterity?

Patriarchal Romance

One of the things I adore about this book is that every single person is an adult. Maybe not all of them are super bright – after all, they fall for the stupidity of not sharing everything they know because “it’s too terrible for you to know, dear!” allowing Dracula to victimize one of them.

But I love how the romance is tasteful, self-sacrificial, and mature. Lucy’s three suitors all donate blood to her during her “mysterious” sickness where she abruptly loses most of her body’s blood during the night (when the window is left open…ahem). The two unlucky suitors hold no ill will toward the favored Number Three (and future Mr. Lucy), but rather do all in their power to assure her – and his – happiness.

Jonathan and Mina are pathetically in love with each other – to the point that they practice the old “withholding information for the other’s good” trope. On the other hand, the plot forces them back to full disclosure and honesty with each other, at which point they tell each other everything (with plenty of tears and declarations of love).

“I’ll never tell you about Transylvania unless I have to – it would be too horrible for you, dear!”

“I’ll never ask you about Transylvania unless I have to – I never want you to relive that horror, darling!”

Guess what becomes necessary?

Guy Power

What do I mean by “patriarchal” romance?

I mean the boys all rally for the protection of their women-folk and get their evil-fighting heroics on for the sake of those in need! This is not about “getting some,” since both girls are already committed to relationships – the two unlucky suitors, and Dr. van Helsing (see below), and the girls’ chosen protectors all band together to defeat the monster because monsters done need defeatin’, and they want to spare their beloved ladies as much pain (mental, emotional, and physical) as possible.

This is called “sacrificing your own needs for the needs of others” and it’s what Real Manhood is all about and I love it.

Girl Power

The counterpart of this is that it high-lights the specific strengths of our female protagonists.

Mina, for instance, has been studying shorthand (the better to assist her husband in his lawyering) and so she keeps a journal of all her experiences on vacation with Lucy. This comes in very handy when they need to piece together what exactly is going on – which she does along with Dr. van Helsing (see below).

Maybe she can’t race about the country on steamships and horses, and maybe she can’t physically counter Count Dracula herself, but her organization skills, logical deduction, and cool-headed smarts are a vital addition to the team. This highlights the particular strengths of women – without trying to cram the gals into black leather and force them to compete on the men’s playing field (which wasn’t really a thing in the 19th century, thank goodness).

Celebrating Female Innocence

Lucy’s strength of character is her sweetness and charm. Sure, she’s got three men (and counting) in love with her – but it’s her innocence and purity, not just her physical beauty, that attract them. In fact, far from wanting her as an object or plaything, they all desire her well-fare even more than they desire their own happiness.

Contrast this with the female vampires, who use their sex appeal and “voluptuousness” as a snare to lure their victims in. When Jonathan is almost caught by them, it’s unclear how much of his fascination is animal attraction and how much is out-right vampiric mind control!

As opposed to Lucy, whose modesty, kindness, and friendship make beauty a facet of her personality, the vampire female uses her womanly attributes as a weapon to get the blood she thirsts for…revealing her to be no different than the monstrous Dracula.

Dr. van Helsing

The most awesome character is Dr. van Helsing, a Dutch psychologist and physician with an adorable German accent who is called in when Lucy starts exhibiting her “mysterious” anemic illness.

While the doctor is sweet, gentle, conciliatory, and good-natured, he’s also the only person who realizes what’s happening – and promptly starts strewing garlic flowers everywhere and blanketing the place with gold crucifixes.

While even he is hampered by the trope of “don’t tell her mother what’s really going on lest we shock her into cardiac arrest,” let me just say I adore it when sweet old guys are the ones who know everything.

Maybe he can’t rush around on horseback armed to the teeth like the youngsters can, but he can Barney-Collier with some holy wafer like nobody’s business…and he’s got the spiritual and legend-savvy expertise the team needs to vanquish this embodiment of evil.

The Villain

Speaking of the villain, the book does an excellent job keeping him shadowy and menacing…with just enough hints to remind us of his evilness without overdoing it.

I was surprised that we didn’t get an explanation for how he became this way, or why he chose to be a cursed undead horror…but then again, maybe he didn’t choose it, but was cursed by a bite just as he cursed those he bit.

The powers of the vampires in this incarnation are clearly evil, from hypnotism and mind control to regaining youth and vitality from the blood of their victims (especially children – they love to eat small children).

While Dracula can control rats, flies, wolves, and bats – and transform himself into various forms – he is also constrained by specific rules that keep him from being omnipotent…and make him defeatable (for example, he can only cross water at the tides, can only transform at dawn, noon, and dusk, and must return to a box of holy earth to recover his abilities).

Spiritual Themes

An important theme in the book is that these undead are cut off from God. When their friend is raised as a vampire, the team must kill the creature not only for the sake of the other victims – but for the sake of its own soul.

Yes – the horror of being sucked on by a vampire goes beyond merely losing your blood…goes beyond being locked to your vampire-dad in a disgusting pact of mind-linking…even goes beyond rising after your death to restlessly roam the earth and inflict this curse on others, including your own loved ones.

The horror of the vampire even extends to being cut off from the God who made you, and banished from the presence of the Christ who died for you. (Yes, the book explicitly states the basics of the gospel, which is pretty cool.)

While the theology of this skirts dangerously close to the Muslim belief that something someone else does (even after your death) can affect your salvation, the way the characters repeatedly throw themselves on the providence of God (explicitly and specifically) and trust God to bring them through this harrowing experience is inspiring and thrilling. It brings the whole story to a deeper level.

And it also makes the catharsis that much sweeter for the vampires that are staked, beheaded, and stuffed with holy wafers. The hunters describe expressions of peace and release on the cursed ones’ faces before they crumble into dust…the dust their bodies should have been long ago, but for this horrible curse.

As truly repulsive as Bram Stoker makes his vampires – eating small children and gorging themselves with blood – he also makes killing them a mercy…and inspires pity for these wretched, darkened creatures who are cut off from the source of Life and the purpose of their existence: their own Creator.

And after all, your neighbors might not be ravenous, undead monsters…but they’re probably lost and cut off from God, and we should pity them and seek to set them free. Not with a stake and kukri knife, but with the Gospel of Jesus and the Sword of the Spirit (which is the Word of God).

Whoo! Now I’m getting chills.

Classic for a Reason

Yes, there are parts of the book that are obviously products of its Victorian time period…but at the same time, the slower-paced parts and the lighter tone help to contrast and intensify the skin-crawling horror of the darkness and mystery (there are parts that get a chuckle-out-loud!).

Enough with the sexy vampires! Let’s go back to the source, and experience the explicit themes of light versus darkness, good versus evil, kindness versus cruelty, sacrifice versus selfishness, that made this book something that deserves to endure.


July 2 – July 23

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is available as a FREE ebook from Project Gutenberg, or from Amazon (paperback or Kindle), Barnes&Noble, Kobo (ebook or audiobook), and the Book Depository (free worldwide shipping).

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