Two knights, one foul – one fair, met in the dust of a forgotten town. This was not the first time.
The war was over. The war is never over.
The Black Knight leaned on his lance. The White Knight tightened her shield-strap.
They had a late lunch. The local inn was nearly empty that day. They talked with the easy familiarity of gravediggers. The innkeep’s bread was stale but the ale was fresh.
A few of the townsfolk made note of them. Enough to tell the tale later, enough to remember the wrong way. None of them remember the toast the Black made. None of them remember the song the White sang. None of them remember that they laughed together.
In the heat of the drowsy afternoon, they rose from their table.
They walked together to the end of the town, walked together behind the ivy-crowned walls of the church, of the graveyard. They paced out the ground together, helped each other with their armor. Then they mounted their chargers. No more words were said.
The Black was a lightning bolt, the White was the mountainside. Again and again they met, ending each pass with more pain, more blood.
It came to chance, as both knew it would. One horse stumbled, one did not. The black lance tore through the white armor. Both knights fell, one rose and leaned on his lance.
The White died soon thereafter. No more words were said.
The Black walked away with his lance.
The townspeople say this: that the Black Knight was a true servant of evil.
That he stabbed his lance into the stones behind the church as a curse, a warning, a blight. That it can cause warts, destroy crops, summon demons when the moons are right. That only a heart as black as night can lift it from where it rests.
But none of them were there. None of them truly know.
The Black Lance waits still, like the stump of a vile tree.
None have been able to lift it. None have ever discovered the fate of the Black Knight, or even so much as his name.
None of them know the secret.
The war is never over.
My life has been defined by desperate acts.
(crack of thunder)
Yes, I sip from this goblet of dark wine and stare out this window at the darkening moors. This is not going as intended, but I have become accustomed to such things.
I’m trying to write my way through something. Writing is just words, just symbols and shapes – pushing them around until they look like what we want to say. Until they look like what we see on the inside, on the other side, on the upside down. I often wish that I could draw or sing or sculpt or dance – something to cut down the latency. I’m feeling this, this is how I feel, hear it in my voice, see it in the clay. Words are the best I have but I’m never sure. Never sure if I understand what I’m saying, if I’m being understood. Then I come back later and read them like a stranger’s riddle. My memory is an ocean, without bound, no maps, few islands. Does Circe remember me? Does it matter that I bled here, bled there — it’s all just salt water.
And then I pull myself up. Make a joke. It’s all about where you stand really. I ring the bell for the butler and daub wine from the tips of my immaculate mustache.
The same images, the same shapes – the ocean, the desert, the tower, the sky. Places without directions, travels without motion. I write with my right hand, erase with my left. My palm across the hot sand brushing away the sigils.
What am I doing? Where am I going? I choke on the questions and blur through the days. I feel like I’m failing, know that I’m falling – but am I? Am I? After a while it’s just air on either side. I wake up and I’m gone and I’m home and I’m alone and I’m in the shower and I’m driving, driving, driving. Is this part of it? Is this wondering part of it?
I like a narrative, it goes well with these drapes. If in a month, in a year, in a decade I — what? Arrive somewhere. Then the wandering was part of it, I was building my backstory, John Wayne in the desert, prophet gone mad in the dunes. But what if there is no arrival? Then it was just empty, callow, hollow, simple, mundane.
But I don’t know where I want to arrive, what will put the end on this beat. I like making, I like being petted on the head, I like not being poor —
Now it’s too simple, its just about failure. Common as brass, sinister as salt. I don’t know where I am or who this is typing, but I don’t want it to be that. I don’t want that to be me.
Because that’s the trap, isn’t it? If it’s about corporeal success, then take Door the First. If it’s about deathless prose than take Door the Second. But that’s not quite it either.
That’s not quite it either. The drum that beats.
Part of me is just ready for the wandering wizard. Just walk out from behind a wave and either point me towards my destiny or let me know this isn’t for me and it’s okay to go home.
I hate this. I hate the feeling, I hate the reeling, hate that everything becomes low, becomes base materials, becomes nothing more than feeding the fish. I don’t want this to be me, I’m glad in an hour I’ll forget.
Writing through the swell of a dark wave, holding onto the keyboard like a rudder. I can’t see anymore, I only have muscle lore to rely on. Where am I going? What do I want? The stars that burn at night are just holes in a sheet.
Pull up. Make a joke. This scone has entirely too much rosemary, have the butler shot.
I know it’s the act of a child to want a parent. Please just sit me down and give it to me straight. Tell me it’s okay to forget. Tell me it’s okay to not sing at midnight. Tell me it’s okay, tell me Lucas can stop playing the lines. The lines are never going to connect and the mask-man is dead or the mask-man is me or the mask-man will never ever stop whispering. Tell me to put my head down and die again. Tell me I can come home and tell me it never mattered.
This is what I’m afraid of. Of the things I can see, of the things I can know, of the things I can make – but that I don’t. I feel old, I feel tired – everything is heavy. That’s the way of the world.So far I’ve been able to leap forward in tiny ergs of desperation, acts of drug-seeking blindness. But now I don’t know, now I don’t believe.
I repeat the same things again and again without resolution. I’m not making a map, I’m keeping a journal. Hoping that one day I’ll read it and know the answers.
Now, what. The very act of typing illuminates and it elides. This moment is already erasing. I can find a nice picture to put at the top and click publish but the moment is already passing, without clarity. I come back again and again and I still don’t know. I still don’t know. Is this part of the plan or just flash in the pan? Where am I doing? What am I going?
Here is the place this thing was said. These shapes I chose, as well I could. Not quite right.
I sit alone in my study and watch the rain begin on the darkened moor.
what am I getting at? what am I getting at?
repetition and iteration
will these save our nation?
can’t doubt, can’t stammer
got to put both hands on the hammer
what we are, we are – for One and Zero
in the rudiment parliament each of us can be the Hero
heat up the forge, I remember the way
coal still burns and metal bends when the words of Power stay
this summertime tune won’t hold up in winter’s tomb
got to reinvent the moment and rewire the golden loom
pull down your iron, the shovels and rakes
melt all the horseshoes, the copper and tin mistakes.
Want to know my mettle can hold an edge
want to be sure that this wizard is more than hedge
the battle is coming and dog-blood has its own stench
I can see the lightning but can I call it down in a trench?
Am I better on the sidelines, distracting with my bylines
pester like a jester, and checking real combatant’s tie-lines?
I can make toys and I can make shelves
and when the wind is right I can make Twelves
Elevens, Sixes, and Nines
Not all that’s gold is glittering but even the rudest ruby shines.
pull off the forge door, melt it down with the iron store
i’m burning up the shapes interlaced verbs to thee implore
sentences are sentinels that march on the beat,
can’t keep them straight enough to out-fox the darkened feat
when its all gone, and melted and gold
bring down the hammer and beat out the shape foretold
we need blades and blades and blades and the hammer
edges of light that won’t chip in the clamor
my words aren’t elf-made, Moria-born none
no gleaming Glamdring when this kid’s work is done.
but i’m hoping that the blood and lies in my cauldron
can make a bane to hold back a few of the Darkest-son.
Can’t even remember when I laid my words like cobblestones
now I rattle and tattle like a ghost moaning through ship-wreck bones.
Regardless and markless and the path grows darker still
no rhymes left but rubble, echo again like whippoorwill
don’t sleep at the forge, even dross can’t be ignored
these syllables will serve and beat every drop of ink into a sword.
Stand in the circle
hold light in
the circle and stand.
made of song, made of ink
made of water overflowing the sink
circle of salt
circle of bone
circle of holly all green and alone
circle of hands
circle of eyes
forget this charm and the last fire dies
we are the circle
and the howl is the wind
singing of moon
singing of End.
not while the circle is we
standing and demanding
our blood be more than the sea
burn like the lightning
sing like the sun
remember remember the charm’s twice done
all of us fall and all of us die
but the Circle still stands
and we give our reply:
as long as we stand
as long as we hold
as long as the circle
burns hot in the cold
riddle of heart
rot in the bone
we stand and dissolve
but our legend is stone.
Wind up the charm
thrice bound against harm.
When Geranium was younger she wore her hair long. A careful waterfall of black that never, ever hid her face. She wove guitar string through it, silver and sure- encircled her brow like the ring of a tree marking time. She did not know yet that she would be a Bard of Gate City, though she had an inkling. She had not yet bent knee in service of the guitar, Lady Moon-Death. She had not even yet found her cobalt coat, the one that all the posters and action figures showed in later days. She was not yet the one that other bards would curse and envy as the Eruption.
But she was already Geranium. Already knew the Five Unlikely Songs, already could play the guitar like rain in the summer and sing like moonlight in the spring. Already could look in a young man’s eye, hum three notes and evaporate his rib cage. Already had been thrown from the rolls of the best conservatory, a third-rate orchestra, and a passable jazz trio. She was wandering and entirely too talented and entirely incomplete and just beginning to gnaw on the bones of useless defeat when she met the Lute.
He was sitting in the Razor Square in Gorah. He was old, at least to her eyes. Years later Geranium thought he might’ve only been in his late fifties, but to her fifteen he might as well have been crypt ash. He wore only a brown blanket, carefully wrapped and seemed only to own the clay bowl he sat behind in the square and the dusty brown lute that he played. Crowds walked by and he played. Never sang only played. A few coins fell and he played. Played until sundown.
Geranium only saw him by chance. Only listened for a heartbeat too long, then stared at his hands move on the strings and could not look away. She watched all day. And the next. Then on the third she sat down at his side.
“Will you teach me?” She pressed her long fingers hard onto the emerald green guitar case she carried.
The Lute continued to play.
Geranium opened her mouth to speak again. Then stopped. The two sat alone, the crowd was only shadows. She stared at his hands again and felt overpowered by two rare and unfamiliar emotions. Envy. Need. She realized that her face was inches from his strings and her hands were twitching, as if she could pluck his skill from the air.
I want what this old beggar has. She smiled after a time. The only thing that I’ve ever wanted.
She snapped open the silver clasps and pulled free her own darkwood guitar. The Lute smiled at last, the barest tug at his lips.
Geranium played. The Lute played. They played like lamps in autumn. They played like winter’s heart. The crowd passed and coins fell from time to time.
Geranium played. And the Lute played. For three years. Her hair grew ever longer and it often fell forward into her face. Guitar wire and lute string and the stone square and coins in the bowl. Three years playing until sundown. Three years until at last she did pluck his skill from the air.
Geranium laughed bright and free and kissed the Lute hard on his dusty mouth. He offered only an amused grunt then went back to playing. She stood and walked from the square without looking back.
The Lute played and Geranium walked on towards the legend she had promised herself.
sometimes but not
would crow at the moon and steal sunlight from the garter of day.
geranium stole songs
‘songs are no ones to claim’ ear pressed to a new breast, unspooling their riddle
geranium wore a crown of melody
tore a bite out of the throat of night
geranium howled louder than
and shamed the lunatic gods
who dared a crockery-challenge.
just once or twice
three times in a leering moon
geranium would play
Not his song, not a stolen song, not a madcap march or a sideways sonata.
Never on stage, never on the page, never never never
where it could be caught,
polished like a unicorn stone
in the laser beam heart of the eruption.
A song, a spell, a secret
a story never told,
alone in the bower,
alone in the quiet dark,
the song that broke.
The song that called,
the song that lied,
the song that kept the green ribbon tied.
Then to now and now to then
any wonder such a thing is forbidden?
quiet the eruption
waiting for a ship
that never comes home
the song is rare
but played all the same
for only one ear
who hears not the refrain
sea salt and marrow
white gold and arrow
up and down I dream in your —
Here are the winning entries!
Scorecard: 6 chances
Spell AND Sword +2
Judge’s Comments: Unexpected to receive a drawing, but very pleased to do so. The barbarity, the virility of the linework, that dashing mustache! Also the sensible messenger bag really sets of the ensemble. This piece is ready to be airbrushed on the side of a van.
Scorecard: 9 chances
Judge’s Comments: Just look in those eyes. The intensity, the focus. Those are the eyes of a killer. A killer of hearts. Emotional damage 10d6+5, roll vs. swoon. DC Impossible.
Thomas J. Arnold
Bad Cosplay +6
Judge’s Comments: There’s a lot to unpack here. Does he know that bird is there? Is the bird whispering forlorn secrets of regret and torment into his beard? What an adorably tiny blade! Has this piratical gentleman absconded with a fairy’s rapier? Excellent framing as well, as you can see the white abyss of nothingness that wait sto devour us all.
Spell AND Sword +2
Mystery Multiplier (Holy Shit Effect) x 4
Judge’s Comment: Wow! I don’t know if that is the proper grip one uses on a katana while casting an ice spell with your off-hand wand, but still damn. Definitely my personal favorite.
ALL of you win a free download of Spell/Sword from Audible.com. I’ll be contacting you all via email with your download codes shortly. Now I will announce the winner of The GRAY PRIZE, a 50.00 gift certificate to the local bookstore of your choice.
52 chances in the pool. The selection was totally random, based on the number of chances each of you had. I just figured out the probability and rolled some dice.
The winner of the GRAY PRIZE is: Thomas J. Arnold!
Thank you all so much for participating! And I hope that you enjoy the audiobook of Spell/Sword.
But wait ! Some of you are probably wondering what happened to the other 6 downloads? I offered to give away 10 downloads,right?! Yes, you are right, person who follows my blog and social media presence very closely but still didn’t bother to enter. I only had four entries, so they all get the download and I still have six remaining. But what am I going to do with them? Tell you what, the contest is over, but I’ll put a bounty on those remaining six downloads – all it takes is a picture as awesome as the four that I’ve shared above. Send to me any way you like, @gderekadams on Twitter is the easiest. I’ll honor this until I decide not to – or the six downloads are claimed, either way I’ll come back and update this post to prevent confusion.
UPDATE [2/1 – 2:24 EST]
1 Bounty Claimed
Judge’s Comments: Puns are never acceptable. I hate and love this.
2 Bounty Claimed
Judge’s Comments: RAWR
Time for another giveaway! I’ve been sitting on these download codes for the Spell/Sword audiobook for long enough. My birthday is at the end of the month and to celebrate I want to GIVE 10 people a free download of the book from Audible.com. Admittedly I’m GIVING you these with the idea that you will GIVE me an honest review and GIVE me your undying support and perhaps GIVE me a sandwich if I am hungry at some undisclosed date in the future. All of this giving, it warms the heart.
10 people will win the free download, and one person will win the The Gray Prize.
The Gray Prize
- $50.00 gift certificate to local book store of your choice OR I take you to lunch and tell you what nice person you are (location/travel permitting)
- Unique, one of a kind Gray Witch mug, hand-made by the author with a Sharpie.
- Your choice of one (1) of my completed Gundam models
- One Question That I Must Answer Truthfully*
- So, how do you enter?
Send me a picture of yourself with a SPELL or a SWORD. [counts twice if your picture has BOTH]. You can email to me directly spellswordcontact AT gmail DAWT com OR tweet to me @gderekadams. If you tweet it, because of the native social media boosting properties, I will add a x3 multiplier to your entry.
1 chance – Picture of you with a SWORD
1 chance – Picture of you with a SPELL
2 chances – Picture of you with a SPELL AND A SWORD
Tweet your entry – x3 Chance Multiplier
Other bonus attacks for pictures:
+2 chance – cosplay
+4 chance – Spell/Sword cosplay
+6 chance – bad cosplay
+10 chance – bad Spell/Sword cosplay
+5 chance – somebody famous
+5 chance – impressive location
+5 chance – unsettling composition/spooky
+50 chance – Lev Grossman
x4 Mystery Multiplier – ????
The contest ends at midnight on January 31st, 2016.
No purchase necessary – all entries will be entered into the drawing for the download codes and The Gray Prize. I’ll do the drawing on February 1st and announce here the winners and contact you via email to get you your filthy winnings.
NOTE: I’m going to want to share these pictures with the Internet, obviously – if you are NOT OKAY with that, you can still enter. Just let me know in the email that the images are not for sharing. I’m planning on sharing the 10 winners – along with any other pictures I get that are super hilarious or poignant.
Any questions? Drop them in the comments below – let’s go! I’m very excited to see what you folks come up with.
*What is truth? I am a secretive writer, and much of the Grand Plot of Spell/Sword still lies in shadow. This is your chance to ask me one question about the books that I have to answer truthfully and fully to the best of my ability. Or I guess you could waste it asking me about my political views or something? It’s your nickel.
King Tamar sat alone. It drove her mad to be blind while her city, her people, were in peril. They were imperiled by the blazing red-white circle that, by her guard’s faltering description, filled half the night sky now. She had given them all tasks, duties to prepare the castle defenses, to prepare the city for the long night that could still fall. My vision will return. There will be much to do come dawn, either way.
She had decided the best place for her to be was the Alabaster Throne, where at least she could be a symbol of resolve and comfort to her people. Her heirs were safely on their way, bound for the far city of Caleron. They had fought her decision, but they had bowed to her Sight.
The king raised her head. Someone was there, standing a few feet from the throne, silent and unannounced. She craned her ears, trying to decide if she should rebuke this careless guard, but she could not hear the jingle of chain mail, or the creak of leather straps, or the slight tap of a blade against armor. As best she could tell, the someone was standing in the blue rectangle, recently vacated by the knight’s tribunal.
Someone walked closer.
“Could I stay with you a moment?”
King Tamar felt as though she was stepping across a dark pit and wished that she had not left her glaive in the sitting room floors below. “I am sorry, but I do not know you.”
A strong hand took hers. “You know me.”
“Though we have never met.” The king returned the grip, the way she might handle a viper.
“I was curious about something. You had them break bread together. Simple magic, old magic, from the very bones of the city. Only the hunter noticed. You wanted to bind together your little band of heroes. But why did you not tell them all that you saw?”
Tamar the Thrice Cursed smiled, all teeth. “I am a king. I owe answers to no one.”
“She will pay with the coin most dear. That is what you saw. Why did you not say it?”
Tamar reached up and methodically pulled the blood-soaked cloth from around her eyes. Blind eyes, dry-rimmed with red, but she wanted her questioner to see the iron. “There is always a Cost. I have paid it many times. My city, my children, the stones I bought with steel and death. If they were Heroes they would pay it gladly, but they are villains all, so I will spend their lives for them. I know what Tomorrow holds for them, all but the goblin. The boy’s future is a brown cloak, the girl’s is an empty cup. The monster will wither in a teardrop of stone. Is that what you ask? Is that what you want to know from a king?”
A gentle hand ran down the king’s face, and she slapped it away.
“I know a king’s burden.” The hand released her and was gone, but as Someone walked away the voice lingered, coiling around her like a green vine.
Tamar sat alone and thought of the falling sky she could not see and her father who was gone and the battles she had fought, young and bright, scattering memories like flower gems on a broken necklace—falling to break on the floor of her throne room. Then she thought of promises. Promises kept and promises yet to be fulfilled. This is the last curse. To see with eyes unclouded how utterly empty the Game. Block this cut, stamp out this blaze, rip out the beast’s heart again and again, but still it comes. Only Once—only one chance to stand, to move, to protect, to find the right path. Stone cracks, wind falters, sun fades, even Time erodes. I walk down a tunnel of wind with a fistful of sand. What does it matter if the asteroid falls? Everything ends—everything falls apart.
“The button falls off the coat,” the old woman said, but not even Someone was listening.
Excerpt from Asteroid Made of Dragons.