The Wolfglen Legacy: Sathra’s Introduction

I’m posting another piece from the book’s beginning. Please forgive me for the infrequent updates; it’s been a month of many changes in my life.

This is the start of Sathra Wolfglen’s first chapter. She is a princess who recently witnessed her mother’s mysterious death.

As before, this is entirely open to critique and suggestions. Thanks for reading!

File:Andes bolivianos.jpg

Image courtesy of Wikipedia. A lovely view of mountains to set the scene.

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Sathra chased the echoes of broken laughter and screams, her feet pulling her down endless halls of tile and closed doors. The noise gushed from the only open doorway like blood from a wound, and she wheeled inside.

It was a room a thousand miles from home. The bedchamber was bathed in red fabric with splashes of brass. An older woman twisted on the carpeted floor, spewing nonsense while clapping her hands together and clawing at the sleeves of her blue dress trimmed in gold. The balcony door behind her gaped like a jaw into a ferocious blizzard. Its breath placed a bone-frosting chill in the air and sharpened the figure’s ringing cries.

Seeing the mad woman’s head whip about under a flourish of dark hair, Sathra faltered back when she saw the face.

No. Impossible.

“Mother?”

Denial fractured under reality’s weight. Queen Iribeth’s eyes adopted a feral look as she cackled. Making up the lost ground, Sathra reached down to help her up from the floor, willing the nightmare to end. She would see a regal queen stand before her again.

Iribeth’s only reply was to shove away her own daughter with an unnatural strength. The room whirled as Sathra flew back, pain shooting through her head when it pounded against the floor. Her eyes shut from the jolt, and when they opened she saw the queen skittering to the balcony, over the open door’s threshold and onto the ice-encrusted platform. A railing ran at shoulder height along its edge, and her mother came to rest prostrate at the base.

Sathra scrambled back to her feet. “Mother, please. Come inside!” Her own voice was a phantom, a strangely detached blur tripping over a dull tongue.

Fingers flexed like talons as the queen’s incoherent mumblings waxed louder and more forceful, as if she tried instilling them with purpose. Iribeth grabbed the terrace’s balustrade and pulled herself up.

Sathra only watched, like the scene played out for someone else, far removed from her and everything she loved. The queen leaned too far over the railing. She raised herself high, and for one terrible second she looked almost majestic. The wind, swimming with snowflakes, caught the tatters in her dress like ragged flags.

Mother fell quiet. And then she tumbled over the rail and disappeared.

Frozen for one moment more, Sathra finally unleashed a scream which split the cold mountain air. It was too late. Her mother had fallen into the storm.

*          *          *          *          *

Gasping, she opened her eyes.

She was in the same room. The blizzard’s frigid white melted away from the guest quarters where her family was staying. The cold remained, though, seeping through her gauzy nightgown.

Flame danced dimly behind the blue glass of an oil lamp, all the more hypnotic for its cool color. Sathra was in a chair at the writing desk tucked into the room’s corner, hunched over and with her head resting on the polished mahogany. Charcoal sticks and papers with sketches of mountains lay next to her. She straightened up and rubbed away the crick in her neck. Outside, the sun prepared to set. Shapes of furniture, half hidden in the glaring light from lofty windows, surrounded her like a crowd of accusers.

“Princess?” a girl’s voice said, muffled through the guestroom’s door. “I brought you something to eat.”

She cleared her throat. “Just a moment.” Most likely the servant was carrying a tray with both hands, and it would be easier for her if Sathra opened the door. Brushing a lock of brown hair behind her ear, she gripped the chair’s armrests and stood up, pushing some of her exhaustion away. Her feet shuffled across the carpet as she approached the door, past the tumble of crimson pillows and bunched-up blankets on her bed. The beds for her father and sister were empty. Both of the striped red-and-gold canopies were vacant shells, each bed’s blankets pressed and set as if already awaiting more guests. Where is everyone? she thought.

Opening the smooth white door with a carved relief of an oak tree, she saw one of the empress’s attendants. A blonde serving girl of ten or eleven, wearing a dress of green with white lace on the sleeves and shoulders. The girl carried a tray with plates of food on it, and a porcelain pitcher with steam rising from the spiced coffee it held.

“Oh, Princess, you didn’t need to do that,” the girl said, looking apologetic. Even guilty. “I would have put down the tray and opened it.”

“I insist. I suppose it’s time I ate.” Hardly a morsel had passed her lips in the seven days since she watched her mother fall. Nineteen was no age for a child to say goodbye to a parent. But Mother would want her to be strong. She always said so.

“Do you know where my sister and father are?”

“Your sister went to the bathing floor about an hour ago. The empress came to meet with your father around the same time. I guess she wanted you to have some rest, so they let you sleep.”

Sathra kept her breath measured and her face calm, despite her burning cheeks. “I see.” They let her face another nightmare rather than wake her up from drifting to sleep on a hard desk. She had tried drawing to hold back another wave of grief, but Sathra must have fallen asleep, exhausted from trying so hard to keep so much sadness away. She would not sleep after eating, being sure the dream would repeat if her head touched a pillow.

“I hope I didn’t wake you,” the serving girl mumbled as she placed the tray on a low-lying dresser. “The empress ordered the food for you, and it was getting cold.”

Most of the food was simple, easy to digest to accustom her to eating again. A plate held plain toast and a wedge of mild white cheese. In the corner a silver bowl held alternated slices of cucumber and yellow squash. There was an empty space on the tray where a side of rare golden raisins normally would have been. Kilfira Lundill, head of the Fwanglind Empire, was careful to always have them included with meals, a gesture of generosity to her guests. They had been a staple in Sathra’s limited diet for the last week.

“Thank you. And don’t trouble yourself about the raisins,” she said. “I have had enough of them for now.”

The girl’s cheeks flushed. “Oh, right. Yes, I must have forgotten to put them on.” She picked a tiny wooden box out of a pocket in her skirt and handed it to Sathra. The girl was careful to avoid eye contact. Sathra noticed it right away.

“No, you didn’t forget.” She whispered it, gently.

It may as well have been a proclamation of guilt. “Attendants have to keep taking these meals back and forth,” she babbled, “and we’re not supposed to eat anything on the trays, even leftovers. Princess, I am so sorry.” Tears welled up in her eyes. “Like you said, you wouldn’t have eaten them, and I never get to eat them. I know it was wrong, but — ”

Opening the girl’s shaking hand, Sathra gave the raisins back to her. “They’re yours, then.”

Shock and relief fought on the girl’s face, until she gave a low and awkward bow. “I can’t thank you enough, Princess,” she said.

Sathra knew she was not referring to the raisins. The girl made a quick exit and closed the door, leaving Sathra with her meal.

She knew she could have had the girl arrested for stealing. But Sathra didn’t want her to suffer for such a minor theft. Her home country was already full of nobles and preceptors who had remade hasty punishment into an art form, and the royal family would not help matters if they started adopting the same habit.

In any event, she herself had much better reasons to feel the cold grip of guilt around her heart. She had been telling her family and the empress that Mother’s death was an accident, the tragic outcome of leaning just a bit too forward over the railing to enjoy the view of the Doheston Mountains. How could she explain Iribeth climbing with purpose to throw herself off the balcony? How could Mother have displayed madness when she had never been tainted with it before?

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Neil Armstrong, 1930-2012

“That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

War veteran, engineer, pilot, and the first human being to walk on our moon, Neil Armstrong was an inspiration and a hero to us all. And now, another one of our heroes has taken the greatest leap of all. He has ventured off to a better place.

Neil, may you see wonders greater than the moon, and witness the highest beauties in creation. You will be missed. You have done well, and you will not be forgotten.

A Need for Nature

Image courtesy of Wyldraven on deviantart.com

Caught in the throes of the information age, with smartphones galore and the distractions of the digital revolution, it can be easy for someone to forget the intimate connection all of humanity recently shared with nature. Even in the West, where industry and technology found their deepest roots, there was a great deal of interaction and familiarity man had toward animals and plants, enough humility to kneel before landscapes and weather. And it was not limited to pets or what a man could see in his backyard. Children still had to go outside and play, since Halo and Skyrim were not around to entertain us.

For one example among many, look at how we view the consumption of meat. Decades ago, killing animals for their meat was a matter of survival. When your meat is prepackaged and available by the truckload at Safeway, on the other hand, there’s no reminder of what it is to take an animal’s life: grim, but useful and often necessary. So, the death of any animal, even to provide food or medicine or clothing, seems cruel and unfair to someone who has never had to kill something. And that is how some people begin to see slaughterhouses as concentration camps, and react with moral outrage when they are reminded of where their meat comes from. However, except for rare cases of cruelty to animals before their death, such a reaction is unwarranted. Hunters and farmers have a greater exposure to nature and know better than that. They kill animals quickly and humanely, and know that a butcher is not always a cruel figure. I doubt most vegans would last a week in an Inuit camp, where almost every scrap of food is some sort of meat or fat.

Another way we have been deprived of nature is the staggering number of children who have been raised away from it. Most kids have grown up with video games and sports for pastimes. Particularly in urban areas, only camping trips and the meager offerings of the local park are there to sate their appetite for any world aside from the artificial one, the one carefully sculpted to please human sensibilities and comfort zones. If you want anything more exotic, you’ll need to rent Planet Earth DVDs or watch National Geographic specials. Good luck convincing an overprotective parent that their children are impoverished by being kept indoors all day.

But the forgotten world of animals, foliage, caves, and mountains should always be available to them. Nature will always be with us, and has taken root in the very core of human nature. We cannot afford to neglect it. Its benefits and beauty and complexity are forgotten and unheeded when we reduce it to a few weeks in summer camp, or neatly manicured lawns and houses where any species not under our direct control is labeled a “pest” and rapidly exterminated.

My parents gave me a unique gift by moving out into a rural area of Colorado, and letting me go outside. Zoos and natural history museums (and when we were still in California, the Monterrey Bay Aquarium) were our family outings. Fossils and rocks were pretty much the only things I thought were worth collecting. (Well, them and old dinosaur movies, but that’s for another post) I got to harvest tadpoles from the neighbors’ pond, and regularly caught toads and garter snakes and horned lizards and tiger salamanders around our house. God only knows how many ant farms and fish I’ve kept over the years. Our household has been home not only to the requisite dogs and cats, but to brine shrimp and goats alongside iguanas and corn snakes, rats and gerbils, geckos and grasshoppers. If Noah needed to stock another ark, we could have done it for him.

That appreciation for nature is not as strong in my current life as I want it to be, but it’s still there. The springtime song of a western meadowlark still relaxes me like no other sound can. I smile every time I see a red-tailed hawk perched on a telephone pole and looking for prey. When a monarch butterfly or tiger swallowtail flaps by me, the world goes quiet, and I am at peace watching its color-splashed wings carry it onward. I relish the chance to see a thunderstorm raging above me, and don’t mind the rain at all.

Of course, when daily contact with nature is lost, one other thing you leave behind is a healthy respect of nature’s power, the raw fact that it follows its own rules. Nature will be taken seriously whether you like it or not. No, tsunamis and volcanoes and animal stampedes are no one’s idea of happy coexistence with the world. But we should face it: the world is not a tame place. Yellowstone tourists can get killed if they approach a bear or bison with anything less than an urgent reverence for the animal’s strength and unpredictability. Surfers can be crushed under the slam of a powerful wave. Hikers and hunters are more familiar with the dangers, and even they can sometimes find nature a lethal element to be in.

But there is still beauty there, indispensable and not meant to be forgotten. The kind of beauty that lends fire to poetry and emotion to paintings is always there, even in the most perilous corners of the natural world. And it will reward you if you’re willing to be brave and search it out.

I haven’t yet gone hunting, and my idea of hiking is pretty much restricted to a stroll around the local park. But what I have seen is truly beautiful, works of art more nuanced and captivating than anything a human imagination could conjure. Turtles floating serenely on the glassy surface of a lake while fish glide underneath; blasts of lightning throwing their glory over the plains in the depths of starless night; deer picking their way through fields with silent hooves; comet Hale-Bopp streaking its way across the heavens, bright as an angel’s wing, never to come back in our lifetimes. Those are the things I cherish, the things worth holding on to when nature and I embrace each other, like comrades, like lovers, like old friends.