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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Nellehseran, Chapter Two

By: Michael Akerman

5 comments

(You should read chapter one first)

As the sun reached the midpoint of its daily journey, Kilrik began to feel a little peckish, but ignored his hunger as he normally did at lunch. Only a few moments passed before he heard a low, squelching groan from beside him. He turned to Nell, who had stopped in the road, blushing and glancing away as she grasped her abdomen. She looked sideways at him, smiling sheepishly. “Do you have any food?” she asked, scrunching up her nose and shrugging her shoulders.

Kilrik chuckled, pulling open his belt satchel as he looked around for a convenient place to eat. “Sorry,” he said, “I normally skip lunch. We’re in a nice, empty part of the road, though, so let’s just eat in the grass.” The stretch of road they were walking lay next to a low hillock rising out of the swamp. The land immediately surrounding this small dry patch was even less suitable for farming than most of the region, sinking in a stinking mire of drowning vegetation. As a result, the area lay uncultivated, the nearest farmers reduced by distance to animated dolls wandering about their toy farms. A small ditch separated the hill from the road, tracing an overgrown line of amber grasses that obscured part of the hill.

As soon as Nellehseran stepped over the small ditch to climb the hill, she stopped, arching her eyebrows. Sniffing the air, she clapped her hand to her face as she bent double, coughing and retching while she stumbled back out into the street. Rik ran over to her, gripping her shoulders in concern.

“What happened?” he asked, pulling her back gently until he could see her face.

Starting to regain her composure, Nell pointed toward the ditch. “Over there!” she coughed. “It smelled just… awful!” She coughed a few times more before wiping her eyes off. Breathing deeply, she staggered about in small circles, hands on her hips. Finally, she closed her eyes and, holding her breath for a few seconds, exhaled deeply. “I’m all right now,” she concluded.

Kilrik looked toward the ditch. “I’m going to go check it out,” he stated. Nell watched as he stepped into the ditch. The ground sank unpleasantly beneath his boot, squelching in the fetid marsh water. A pungent scent of rotting flesh rose to meet him from the tall grasses lining the ditch. Steeling himself against the aroma, Rik searched the grasses as he walked along the depression. Shortly, a sharp snap came from underfoot. Rik looked down at the broken arrow beneath his boot and parted the next clump of brush.

Within, in order of appearance, were a pair of leather shoes and a skeletal lower leg attached to a bloated thigh rapped in wool, over which crossed a similar leg in an intact woolen pant leg. These were followed by a swollen and broken torso, the chest marked with an excessive number of long-hafted arrows. A rib cage caved around a gaping, moist wound crawling with maggots, and a pair of skeletal arms with bits of still-hanging flesh splayed wildly across the ground. A skull wearing a leather cap grinned at a nearby quiver whose arrows spilled on the ground, their iridescent green flights caked in mud. No bow was to be seen, but a rusting short sword lay trapped under the quiver, pointing toward an iron kite shield laying face down in the marsh.

Kilrik stepped gingerly over the rotting corpse, frowning. Gripping the shaft of an arrow protruding from the body, he pulled, the flesh giving with a foul sigh. Holding the more malodorous end of the arrow away from him, he turned and picked up the shield before rushing back into the road, gasping for fresh air.

As he came up the slope of the road, he held up the arrow, showing Nellehseran the brown flights and the pattern of a broad stripe nestled between two narrow stripes painted on the shaft. “Some poor fellow is down there. Looks like bandits got him some time ago,” he explained.

“Any idea who he was?” Nell asked, worried. “Shouldn’t we tell someone?”

Rik threw the arrow back into the ditch before turning over the shield. Mud covered the surface, so Rik set to work on cleaning it off with a few splashes of wine from his wineskin and a rough wool cloth from his satchel. Satisfied, he held up the face of the shield to inspect it.

“Argent a dog sejant Gules over a saltire Or,” he mumbled, pondering. Nell frowned, furrowing her brow.

“What?” she asked when Rik failed to explain. He turned the shield toward her. A red dog sat in profile in front of a large golden X that crossed the silver shield.

“I think this is the coat of arms of the Provincial Guard,” Kilrik clarified. “There’s an office in the next town. If we take it there, they should be able to recognize it and send someone.” Gingerly, Kilrik tugged at the straps meant to hold the shield over the shoulder or on the arm. They crumbled beneath his touch. Kilrik rifled through his satchel with one hand, drawing out a pair of leather straps, eight iron nails and a small hammer. Through both ends of each strap he punched two holes which he lined up just next to the original nail holes in the shield. Pounding the nails in, he replaced his tools in his satchel, held the straps and vigorously shook the whole construction. Satisfied, he threw the shield over his shoulder.

Nell stared at him while he worked. Once he had finished, she grinned at him. “Wow. You’re really prepared!” she exclaimed. “Is there anything you don’t have in that little bag?”

“Oh, it was part of my training to carry the essentials,” Kilrik explained, somewhat evasively. “Speaking of which, let’s find a better spot and have a bite to eat!” Removing themselves a short way up the road, the pair finally lunched on the sturdy breads and cheeses Kilrik carried, washing it down with draughts from his wineskin and talking about everything inconsequential, carefully avoiding the subjects of corpses, pasts, large men with staves and scintillating golden spheres.


Sunset found the pair finally entering the Golden Forest, the thick woods that marked the Eastern edge of the Velindran Province. Surrounded by the close-growing multitude of the forest’s oak trees, the ancient trade road grew narrow, twining its way through the woods. Nellehseran stood closer to Kilrik, glancing about nervously at the dark groves of undergrowth littering the forest floor. Long shadows lent a looming cast to the surroundings in the light of the evening sun, dimmed by the thick forest. The rough surface of the dark trees stood as if in outline in the red light while the heavy upper boughs of the forest took on the appearance of flame.

The pair continued for some time, silent under the guarded cover of the oaks, the stillness broken only by their footsteps and the occasional sounds of forest creatures. Finally, Nell grasped Kilrik’s hand, leaning close to him. “I don’t get it,” she whispered, the pervasive quiet of the forest affecting her. “I thought this was the Golden Forest, but everything is dark and wet and dim.”

“Oh, you’ve never been here?” Kilrik responded with a lowered voice. “The name is just because of the trade road. Back when Halreln traded with Genream over land, this road carried tremendous amounts of wealth. It was probably a little bit nicer back then, though. There are tales of merchants who travelled this road in wonderful caravans, carrying fine goods through…”

Nell nodded as he continued, brushing her bangs out of her eyes as she looked around. “Pardon me, but Rik,” she interjected politely after a few moments, “can we stop soon? We’ve been travelling all day, and we really ought to find a nice, safe place to sleep together before nightfall.”

Kilrik blushed at her overt suggestion, turning away. “You mean to camp. Yes, well, there’s a stream coming up. We should be able to camp on the banks.”

True to Kilrik’s word, a small bridge crossed the road after a few minutes of walking. Here, the oppression of the forest’s dim canopy subsided and the slanting rays of the setting sun painted the black trees crimson. The stream’s steady murmur broke through the dead silence of the forest, lending an air of comfort unfelt elsewhere on the long trade road. Kilrik turned off the road, leading Nellehseran along the grassy bank of the little brook, following the water to a small level patch of land secluded by the trees.

“I’m going to get a fire started,” Kilrik said, setting down his satchel and turning toward the forest to collect wood. “There’s nothing like a hot meal after a long day!” he shouted back to Nellehseran, who was climbing down to the stream. She crouched beside the water, smiling at a startled frog that leapt away from her. Cupping her hands, she lifted the clear water to her coral-pink lips, slipping the liquid into her mouth through the thin channel formed between her palms. A trickle escaped down Nell’s chin. She giggled as it tickled her neck, then she wiped her face and neck and looked down into the stream.

In the pure water, small silver fish darted about, plying the current and chasing small insects. Nellehseran watched them swimming, mouth agape in her delight at the dancing delicate forms. A piece of fallen wood came floating downstream, turning gracefully in the eddying flow. The little fish scattered in panic, flitting to the banks as the log passed, then darted back. Nell stood, smiling, and looked back toward where Kilrik was collecting firewood. He had just returned, and was busily sorting the collected timber into tinder, kindling and fuel.

“Rik!” Nell called back to him. “You simply must come observe these little fish! They’re delightful!” Kilrik arched his eyebrow and walked down to the stream. Crouching beside Nell, he watched the fish. Panfish darted about in the stream, swimming between the rocks of the streambed. Nell grabbed his arm with both hands, her eyes fixed on the water. “Aren’t they pretty?” she whispered, pulling his arm toward her a little.

Kilrik smirked in surprise, caught off guard by Nell's excitement at the simple fish. He looked back at the stream, watching the tiny shapes move about one another, scales flashing red in the late sun. Their tiny bodies whipped back and forth, tails working against the current in a rhythmic monotony. “I’ve never really thought about it, but I guess they are,” Kilrik whispered to Nell, still looking at the water. “You know, I think I’ll catch some."

Nell’s face contorted with distress for a moment. Kilrik looked over at her. Her bright green eyes locked with his as she chewed on her lip.

“What, you don’t want me to?” Kilrik asked her.

“No, it’s fine. I just…” she paused. “Well, I suppose there are a lot of fish regardless. I don’t know, I guess it’s just because I know these fish.” She wrinkled her nose in distaste, looking off into the woods.

“Okay,” Kilrik said, sympathetically. “What if I move down the stream a bit? You won’t know those fish.”

"I guess that's acceptable," Nell replied, smiling thankfully.

Rik walked downstream a few yards and crouched on the bank. Placing his gauntlets aside, he cupped his hand in the water, holding it steady against the stream bed, for all the world like a hollow log trapped in the sand. Inquisitive fish soon grew accustomed to him, swimming carelessly next to his hand. As one of the panfish finally brushed his palm, he slowly closed his hand, slipping the fish from the water. Swiftly wielding a long belt knife, Kilrik pierced the top of the bream's head, killing it instantly. This he repeated until he had collected four fish. He carried the fish back to the camp by the tails, grasping two in each hand. Using a low rock as a table, he quickly cleaned the fish, tossing their entrails into the woods. Standing, he sliced four green sticks off of a nearby oak, spearing the bream from throat to tail. Piling his collected tinder, he jammed a thick piece of kindling into the ground at an angle, jutting the stick over the tinder. He leaned a small handful of kindling against this support, building an elevated lean-to over the tinder. Finally, he struck a flint from his satchel with his belt knife, the sparks catching in the tinder. As the flames slowly enveloped the kindling, he added small fuelwood to the fire and planted the fish on their spears around the little fire pit.

In short order, Kilrik and Nellehseran were sitting close by the fire, munching on the roasted fish and the hardy cheese and diluted wine Kilrik carried with him. They whiled away the minutes, chatting amiably, until Nell, unused to the wine, giggled, pointing at Kilrik's leg. "I just noticed, you have a wing on your leg!"

Kilrik suddenly grew somber. Nell grabbed his arm, apologetically. "What's wrong?" she asked. "I didn't mean to..."

"No, it's fine," Kilrik interrupted. "It's just... a mark from my past. Like this wing on my sword." He indicated the golden wing stretching from the hilt of his sheathed sword. "But that's all behind me, now," he said, wistfully.

They sat silent for a moment. Kilrik finished his fish, throwing the bones over his shoulder. Leaning back onto his elbows and looking out across the stream, he said, "Nell, I've been curious about something."

"Hmm?" she responded, taking a bite of the fish.

"Why are you running?"

It was Nell's turn to grow somber. After a moment, she sighed. "It's my father. He's always been controlling, but he locked me away when my hair and eyes changed colors."

"Changed colors?"

"Yes, when I was about eleven, I think." She paused for a moment. "I stayed until today because I had no one else. Recently, though, I found a book in his collection, and I learned why he had locked me up. He wanted to..." She inhaled deeply, her voice quivering with rage. "He wanted to Subdue me."

She spoke the word as if it was capitalized. "Subdue?" Rik asked. "What do you mean?"

"Well, he wanted to break me, to control me because-"

A rough baritone echoed from the woods as Kilrik and Nellehseran turned in shock at the sudden looming shadow that fell over them. "Because her gift was meant for me!"




By my hand,
~Michael Akerman

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Essence of Humanity

By: Michael Akerman

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The following is concerned with heterosexuals. Consistent readers (both of you) probably know that I tend to consider homosexuality a kind of deviance, a choice that is not harmful, but not a biological imperative. That stance is not something that I will further consider or discuss here. Regardless, I’m inclined to believe the musings below still apply to homosexuals, but I have no experience in the field, so I shan’t guarantee it. Below is how I see the natural state of humanity, as far as I can understand my own beliefs. I may consider the question of homosexuals in relation to these philosophies at some later point, but I currently make no stand.

Humankind is born incomplete. Half-formed, half-sufficient, half-wise, half-filled, we retain our inherent flaws throughout our life. No man can fulfill all he needs without help. So, it is incorrect to say that man is a social animal. Rather, man must be social, because man is a flawed animal. Earth’s strange bipeds spend their lifetimes seeking those that can fill the wound that we arrive with. Our needs are simple at first: our families are the salve to our pain when we’re very young, then we turn to friends, filling in ourselves piecemeal, adding to our pool of allies so that five, six, seven close people aid us and comfort us. It is not rare to see these groups being extraordinarily gender-specific. Boys are the friends of boys and girls the friends of girls, the inherent similarity of sex serving as a point both of connection and comfort.

This gender selection is a product of fear in our young and simple lives. We can survive without being completely fulfilled at that young age, a boon granted by youth to save an overly-complicated time from growing impossible. This is good, because we are naturally terrified of letting ourselves become something unfamiliar. In our time of youth, it is difficult to accept the opposite gender because they are far more likely to complete us, filling the void within us and allowing us to be whole, but changing us as they do so. As we grow, we are confronted by our sexuality and our persistent internal struggle. We begin to seek those who are increasingly unlike us.

The aphorism “opposites attract” reflects in its bi-word simplicity the eternal struggle of mankind: we lack that which we are not. To obfuscate my point, the completion of ourselves cannot negate that which we are, but must fit the bill of that which we are not. It is abysmal to us to think of pairing with a friend or, worse, a love who stands opposed to the ideals we cling to, whether they be moral, religious, ethical or fiscal. However, successful couples are consistently similar, yet surprisingly different: the introvert pairs with the extrovert, the scientist with the artist, the fighter with the lover, the peasant with the princess, but they always hold much in common. To fill the emptiness that resides in us since birth, we seek continually, looking to fill out that gap with people who complement our self without negating the same.

I want to clarify, since I don’t believe I’m being universally comprehensible. We seek to complete ourselves throughout our lives, but with varying degrees of courage. In our youth, we find those who offer no threat to us, filling out a large roster of comrades who are like us in most ways, not opposed to that which we hold dear. Naturally, with the astounding natural variety of humankind, each of our youthful friends fills some small or large part of our selves out. We avoid the very different by some apparent natural drive: little girls and little boys seldom consort. This is because we fear the change that the very different can present: a confrontation of our hang-ups and ideals, a forced consideration of that to which we hold, a reshaping of our souls in light of these strange encounters with other beings. But these only happen when these others speak to you in a language you understand, when the other is not opposed to you fundamentally.

These individuals, who can potentially change us completely, are what we seek as we reach adulthood. Our courage grows, and, realizing finally that our souls are unavoidably incomplete without these challenging, maddening, heart-breaking few, we seek to confront ourselves through the eyes of others. Those born in the 18th century may despise me for this statement, but this is what love is: finding someone who challenges you without accusing you, who presses your minor beliefs without standing against that which is fundamental to you, who expands your self to include new ideas and attitudes. This is why a lasting relationship is so often one of pedagogues who can teach each other new things, new ways of looking at the world.

And this is why relationships are maddening. Not only do we seek a partner who can teach us and accept us at the same time, but our potential partners seek the same. Additionally, we risk and, to a degree, seek the radical shift of self we feared as children. It is no surprise that we face difficulty: impossible odds stack with a goal bound to cause pain, but that is our lot in life. Even the rarest and strongest of relationships must face difficulty in the adjustment of two souls to each other.

To reinforce my point, consider great art. The celebrated pieces of mankind, especially in literature, force us to confront this tragic flaw of our species, looking in upon the struggle of the characters as they seek to fulfill themselves or revealing more about our own nature through extraordinary literary accomplishment or the pressingly instinctual twinge of a painted masterpiece or musical perfection. Great literature is painful, showing to us that loss is vital if we are to become complete. The great romances are the most obvious, the standoffish Mr. Darcy, for instance, infuriating, offending, distressing and completing the social Elizabeth Bennet, but every great novel, and, I would maintain, every great poem, touches upon this facet of humanity. “The Raven” speaks of a lost love, a woman who completed a man, who shall know that fulfillment nevermore. “Romeo and Juliet” is an obvious, though simplistic, example of the same. “Steppenwolf” tells the story of a man who has given up hope of completion, yet finds a woman who echoes strangely in his soul, forcing him to face something he fears more than anything by the end of the novel. “Bridge to Terabithia”, the first novel that had any serious affect on my life, is the story of a quiet boy and an exuberant girl who build each other through a shared passion for the imagined and the good. “Lolita,” the finest novel in the English language, is the tale of a man who finds himself complete only through the forbidden, the inconsistent, the unsteady and unfaithful Delores Haze.

It is no surprise that we can so easily fear love, retreating into ourselves as if we can be complete alone. The stories that English teachers love engender in us the message that love is terrifying, painful, hopeless, and, finally, wondrously, inescapably beautiful. It is easy to lose the last point, but that is what we must cling to in the face of fear. Past pains and loss cannot be allowed to conquer us when what we seek, what we must seek, are those who are so beautifully like us that the fact that they are extraordinarily unlike us is no hindrance. Therefore, we soldier on, pressing past our worries, the pains of our past, and the fears that tinge the future, because we humans, we flawed, beautiful humans, must do so.

By my hand,
~Michael Akerman

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Distracted Critic: Braid

By: Michael Akerman

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Let's try something that might keep me employed on this blog that doesn't actually pay me anyway, shall we? I'll start with a confession: I like video games. I play them all the time. I also love books, and I'm liking movies more now that I have NetFlix. However, I don't always finish games. I usually eventually finish books, and I can't think of a movie I haven't, but it takes me forever. So, making it straightforward that the things I review probably aren't things I've completed, I've decided to make a feature (minor now, while I try out the fit. I might extend it later). Let's call it

The Distracted Critic

Today's review: Braid.

If you're into the video game scene, you may know Braid from the controversy it has suffered recently. This little puzzler is an XBox Live Arcade game that breaks the bank at $15 to purchase (about $5 more than a standard XBLA game). The game, though, is definitely worth the cost.

Consider, if you will, the extra five dollars you stand to lose. I invite you to skip Starbucks for a day and experience what a small developer with a strong vision can achieve (or at least grab the demo).

Braid's hook, as it were, is time manipulation. The apparent throwback to the modern Prince of Persia re-envisionings takes on new dimensions (ha) as it is wrapped around the puzzles in the worlds. There is a satisfying feeling in the smooth transition from standard time to reversed time, a switch presented with a drain of the color palette and a chunky sound effect that lends a nearly-visceral sense of control. The gimmick is used to tremendous effect to create enjoyable and sometimes mind-bending puzzles, reminiscent of the Wii's puzzler Zack & Wiki. However, the art and music are where this game shines.

The music has a consistent orchestral flare that couples with the colorful sprite-based graphics, combining the colorful look that marked the age of the SNES with a score that could grace a modern Final Fantasy or Legend of Zelda. Like a fine beer, the interplay of these elements is intricate and delicate, each masterfully suited to the other and amplifying the impact of the gameplay.

Braid is well worth the pocket change it asks for. Give this wonderfully polished little download a ride by downloading the trial. Make sure to collect all of the puzzle pieces in the first level: the puzzles to collect these are where the meat of the game lie. Turn the volume up just loud enough for the music to surround you, and let your time in the game wash over you!

Man, that last line was hokey.

By my hand,
~Michael Akerman

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

One of Those Hot Georgia Summers

By: Michael Akerman

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Well, the world is finally heating back up in a way that is of interest to me. With recent years being dominated by Middle Eastern politics and preposterous single-party domestic politics (effectively. Where were the major bills that suffer endless debate these last few years? My high school days were much more dynamic), I've had a difficult time getting motivated to really think about politics. The Middle East, after all, is a ridiculously complex mess where many of the issues are already caused by our own missteps. The best I can hope to say on this blog without enrolling in a couple of years of Middle East history (you'd think Smith would have been more active, speaking of) is "We should probably do that, I guess." And what is politics without interparty conflict? Tedious interparty bickering, is what. So my motivation has been low, and this is even without considering the remarkable... let's call it "rigor" of the chemical engineering curriculum, but I'm done with that for at least a year, so, onward!

The end of my more-difficult undergraduate education is serendipitous, it seems. The world is heating up in much more traditional ways! The Olympic Games are taking place in a country no one really wants to talk about directly, and the great ancestral enemy in the East is stirring in Georgia. While I have serious qualms with the Chinese government and the decision of the Olympic committee to hold the games there, I'd not be saying anything you couldn't read elsewhere. With Russia, though, I get to put on my Hawk Hat against a country that should be used to conflict with ours.

Let's discuss Russia's tack over the last few years then, shall we? With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Cold War was over in the minds of the people of the US, at least for all but those fantastic fellows who claimed the Russians were coming any day now. And it was true: the weakening of Russia through the seventies and eighties due to their increasingly untenable economic position and the furnace of internal conflict brewing in the Soviet states has neutralized Russia as any more than a hypothetical threat to the United States. However, as is clear from the current leader of Russia, the Cold War did not end in the minds of everybody. While the victors were happy to go off and "focus on domestic affairs" (that is to say, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iraq again, and possibly Iran), the brewing mind of the crazy bear who stands now atop the ruins of the Soviet empire seems to have gotten stuck. When the country should have given up its anti-Western inclinations and joined in trade with Europe in the US to share in our prosperity (see the Theory of Comparative Advantage), Mr. Putin has retained his dedication to nibbling at the heels of the West. This is clear from the recent events involving Georgia!

Let me provide you with a quick summary to prove my point: The 2008 NATO Summit in Bucharest hints that Georgia may soon be able to join the pseudo-alliance of the West in December, after a review of their application. Russia, invited as a guest to the meeting, opposes Georgia's membership bid. This happens in April. In August, Georgia, claiming that separatists in the Georgian territory of South Ossetia shelled Georgian territory (violating a cease-fire), respond with a military offensive. The necessity of this action is not important here. At this point, at any rate, a military situation that is completely a Georgian internal affair is set off.

Russia, claiming that South Ossetia is dependent on their neighbor to the north, moves military forces into South Ossetia and begins airstrikes against Georgian territory. The rest is fairly boilerplate war, which, though interesting, is not important here. Additional detail can, of course, be found on the Wikipedia.

What, then, does this have to do with the West? The key lies in the NATO Summit and Georgia's membership bid. Russia had no reason to "assist" South Ossetia in this territorial conflict except to send a message, and send one they did. With stereotypical Russian obvious-evasiveness, several Russian officials have made it a point to criticize Georgia and claim that it is unfit for NATO membership. Yuri Popov, a Russian envoy, stated that NATO could not trust Georgia, saying "Georgia's step is absolutely incomprehensible and shows the Georgian leadership has zero credit of trust." He went on to call Georgia treacherous. (Reuters)

These statements and Russia's opposition at the Bucharest Summit make it clear that the true motivation for the war is as an example: should the states in Russia's former sphere of control seek to ally with the West, the Russian government cannot be held responsible for its actions. Which leads to the only obvious conclusion: the Russian government must be held responsible for its actions.

This is the difficult part, though. There was a time when the US military would intervene, setting up shop in Asia to fight the Russians through a proxy war (see Vietnam, Korea, etc.), and certainly, that is a possibility now. However, our military is stretched thin, based in Iraq and Afghanistan, of course, but also in Japan, Germany, South Korea, Spain, Ecuador, Guam, Cuba, the Philippines and other former hotspots (see this site) where we, for some reason, see it as fitting to shore up the local economy by leaving soldiers hanging around there. I've complained about this before. Getting into a "shooting war" with Russia would not be the wisest move unless we committed to redeploying our bored soldiers overseas (which ain't going to happen).

But then, if we must do something, which we must if we want to protect freedom of action for Eastern European governments and prevent a second Cold War (or a continuation of the first, I suppose), what can we do? The answer lies, like so many things, in the history of the Middle East (sorry).

Between 1948 and the 1970s, Israel became locked repeatedly in military conflict with its Arab neighbors. The country was in a remarkable position: a tiny strip of land attacking and defending against much larger neighbors, all of which were swift to ally with each other. The most striking example of this was the "Six-Day War" in which Israel, in the course of, oh, about six days, swept through the forces of Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Egypt to take the Sinai Peninsula and much of the western Middle East. This was possible due to years of military support from the West. This support was not in the form of our own forces, but in aid supplied in the form of weaponry and vehicles from Western countries including Great Britain and the US (Wikipedia for more info). While that war has been the spark for much of the further Arab-Israeli antipathy, it is obvious that non-combat support in the form of arms can be a powerful force indeed.

So, the path for the United States seems obvious: to suppress Russia's anti-Western aspirations, the massive US defense budget should be temporarily bent toward helping Georgia's forces compete with the forces of Russia. If Georgia can repulse, or even simply inflict heavy losses upon, Russia, the Great Bear will once again back down, especially when it becomes obvious that the US will not stand for a return to Russian aggression.

Remember, the conquest and conversion of Eastern Europe to form the Soviet Union strengthened Russia enough to touch off the long-running conflict between the two world superpowers, with all the fear and stupidity that came along with it (flash!). I would rather not have to travel that road like my father's generation.

By my hand,
~Michael Akerman

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Nellehseran, Chapter 1

By: Michael Akerman

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Chapter one of the renamed and gently edited Nellehseran (formerly Shannelleran) is below. Enjoy!




As the first dim light of dawn filled the cobblestone square, Kilrik peered around the corner of the small peasant house. He seemed to be the first one awake and about in the little village, which was not unusual: he had always been an early riser, and his years of travel had made him still more accustomed to living with a lack of sleep. “Just as well,” he muttered. “I always have to explain myself when people catch me sleeping in the open.” Satisfied that the square was empty, Kilrik stepped out from the shadows.

He felt very conspicuous in the middle of that dismal little burgh. The town of Darl’s Folly fell like a set of discarded model buildings on the shore of once-charming Lake Velindra. The waters lay still and silent, with no river current to mix the dark pond. It was something of a geological oddity: rain or some dead stream had filled a small, awkward depression in the distant past. A large population of fish had once dwelled in the lake when the water was still crystal blue, supported by a pleasant climate and a complete lack of natural predators in the isolated pond. The city of Darlhaven sprang up around Lake Velindra, developing swiftly through a robust fishing industry and an enviable trade position.

The city soon grew too large for the little lake, the fish population stuttering to a genealogical halt as Darlhaven grasped for food and profit. The pleasant trade road running through the area was forsaken when the Kingdom of Genream to the east finally conquered the long-hostile Sintreln, south of Darlhaven. With the steady and swift waterways of the Sintreln open to the Kingdom, trade with the western Grand Empire of Halreln doubled as the easy but slow overland route was forsaken.

The city fell into decline, the imposing balustrades and statuary of the famed Darlhaven Exchange collapsing in disrepair and ruin. Blooms of algae choked the lake, turning the peaceful pond into the brown bog that now lay alongside the village. The people struggled to farm, eking out a living by raking through the muck of the moist land. The population of Darlhaven fell, with the council steadily relenting to changes of moniker: from the Trade City of Darlhaven, to the City of Darlhaven, the Town of Darlhaven, Darlhaven Village and finally Darl’s Folly, the blame for the great city’s failure placed unfairly on the shoulders of its founder.

So, it would seem odd and, for some, cruel for a knight in full armor to stand amidst the ruins of the once-great metropolis. Kilrik always found it difficult to convince townsfolk that it was not pride or mockery that made him constantly outfit himself in his finery. Rather, he had no mule, no squire or page, so it was only practical to wear his armor while he travelled. Still, Kilrik couldn’t help but anxiously rub the hilt of his whitesteel longsword like a talisman to ward off conflict.

He stood for a moment, letting his body and eyes adjust to the morning. Shaking his breastplate to find a comfortable fit, Kilrik was turning to leave Darl’s Folly when a desperate scream echoed across the expansive court. Drawing his longsword out, he spun to search the square. In a darkened corner, the bulky mass of a man in a brown fur cloak was raising a tremendous staff above his head. As he tensed himself to bring the weapon to bear upon his hidden target, a feminine voice broke plaintively, begging “No, please!”

Kilrik rushed across the square, swearing under his breath. He was swift of foot, but the distance was great, and the staff had already begun to fall. As he closed the distance, he grew certain that he stood no chance of parrying the crushing blow in time. Kilrik shouted in a final effort to distract the attacker, but even as the large man drew back slightly at the noise, the momentum of the staff carried it through its dreadful arc.

Just before striking its prey, however, the staff came to a shuddering halt. A high, short tone, like the striking of a silver bell, shot across the square, while a glow of silvered-blue gauze filled the corner, silhouetting the cloaked man and the halted weapon. Silence filled the breadth of a second, as the stave shuddered in the shocked man’s grasp. Then, with the echo of a deep gong, a sphere of scintillating gold swept outward from the corner, tossing shards of the shattered staff about and lifting the large man from his feet. Kilrik gasped and fell backwards, knocked down like a child’s doll by the rushing sphere. Then, as swiftly as the sphere had formed, it dissipated harmlessly against the walls of the village huts, leaving only a dying echo of the initial clamor.

Groaning, Kilrik stared at the cloudless morning sky above. He lay prone, his longsword wedged at an angle under his back and above his arm. Trying to stand, he rocked about fruitlessly, unable to find purchase with the sword pinning him as it did. Finally, leaning to his left, he pressed his arm up from under the sword hilt, leveraging himself into a quick spin that sent him flat on his face. Clamoring to his feet, he ran with his longsword ready to the corner of the square.

There, amidst the rubble that had tumbled down following the onslaught of the golden wave, a young girl lay curled. Her form was perfectly still, a grey pallor cast upon her face. Fearing her dead, Kilrik sheathed his sword and crouched down. Her chest lay still, but her face was locked in a grimace of pain, her brow knit and furrowed. With a sudden sharp inhalation, her expression relaxed and her breathing resumed with a steady, but dangerously weak, pattern.

Looking for wounds on the frail form, Kilrik reached into his belt satchel and groped for his meager bandages and the few herbs he carried with him. Her feet were bare and dirty, the delicate appendages traced with small cuts, but not seriously harmed. Long, pale legs overlapped one another, bending at the knee and tracing up to the hem of a thin cotton nightgown, falling nearly a hand below her hips. These flared out from her thighs and waist, the nightgown following the sinuous curve from her leg and plunging down her right hip to her waist, before climbing back up her torso.

Her arms were splayed in front of her chest, dingy with grime but undamaged. Her long shapely fingers clenched tightly, her close-bitten nails digging into the flesh of her palm. She was certainly a comely girl, the nightgown draped loosely over her trim abdomen and drawing tight over the twin swells of her breasts. While her body was somewhat more attractive than average, her face was astounding.

Hungrily, Kilrik traced the pale, pure line of her neck to her young face, his eyes widening as they swallowed the low hillock of her chin and swept along the fragile jaw line to the labyrinthine seashell of her ear. The girl’s full, coral pink lips were parted, their creases glistening slightly. Fine lashes swept from her closed eyes, standing out from the white of her skin. Her forehead was traced with the bangs of her hair, where sandy brown and saffron yellow strands mingled and swept to her shoulders, cut ragged by a blade evidently wielded by the girl herself, judging by the uneven work.

Even during this overly elaborate investigation of the girl’s features, Kilrik noticed only one moderate wound. A long gash had torn the neckline of her gown, leaving a trail of blood slowly staining her chest. Tearing his gaze away from her face, Kilrik rubbed a poultice of herbs on a strip of gauze. Pulling the torn cloth away from the wound, he pressed the strip to her chest.

As he rubbed the bandage in place, the girl gasped suddenly, her eyes snapping open. Her mouth hung agape as she stared at Kilrik, who raised his hands in an apologetic gesture. As he started to explain, she sat up, throwing her left arm protectively across her chest. Kilrik fell backwards, rocking off his feet and splaying prone on the ground, while she shuttled herself backwards with a scuttling movement and sat with her back against the wall and her knees against her chest.

She glared at him icily as he tried to right himself. “Pervert!” she barked, “Stay away from me!” Kilrik lifted himself to a sitting position.

“I didn’t mean…” he started, frowning. “I wasn’t trying to…. It’s just that you were wounded, and I…” he blushed, glancing away and pretending to be distracted by the crumpled form of the large attacker, who still lay on the cobblestones of the square.

The girl stared at him for a moment, watching him as his deep brown eyes considered the intricacies of the ground. His visorless helm betrayed a clutch of light brown hair draping to the nape of his neck, outlining his strong jaw. His face was young, but lightly creased and worn. He was adorned in full plate mail, mostly constructed from a motley assortment of mismatched pieces. These were made of dingy, cheap iron, save for his greaves, which gleamed with the indefatigable shine of whitesteel. His longsword was sheathed at the belt, but the visible sheath and hilt were well-wrought in a matching motif: gold filigree traced the outlines of countless small wings along the length of the sheath, meeting the gold guard, which stretched out in paired quillons. The walnut grip tapered toward a decorative wing, crafted of gold, which graced the pommel of the sword.

Slowly, she smiled. “Okay, I believe you.”

“What?” Kilrik looked up, surprised.

“Let’s go!” she exclaimed, standing gracefully and clapping her hands together, pleased. Her voice rang in dulcet tones through the square.

“Go? What do you mean?”

“Elsewhere! Away from here! Let’s leave this general area and travel to a different general area. You and I shall escape, scurry, scramble away! We shall sojourn, we’ll ambulate in a specific direction!”

“No, I’m familiar with the concept! But why am I going with you? Who are you? And most of all, why should you trust me to go with you?”

She frowned. “That last question is backwards from what I expected. Well, you’re a knight in partly-shining armor and I’m a damsel in distress, so you’ll be protecting me. As for the last part, the knight is always a good person in the storybooks!”

Kilrik rose to his feet. The girl faced him, her head level with his shoulder. He looked down at her, his eyebrow arched cockily. “First, I’m not a knight, at least not now. Second, the fellow with the staff seems to have been knocked out or killed, and besides, his weapon is broken, so you’re hardly in distress.”

“All the more reason for you to come! You shall have to explain how that happened. I’m afraid I fainted for a bit.”

He blinked at her. She smiled back. Kilrik incredulously gaped, “You mean you didn’t-“

“Besides,” she interrupted, a note of weariness and wariness beginning to tinge her voice, “the townspeople have been staring, and my unconscious father is going to wake up soon, which are two good reasons for both of us to get out of here.”

“Your father?” Kilrik asked, looking in surprise at the massive, beastly man, who was, in fact, stirring next to the hut with which he had collided. As Kilrik glanced around, he noticed the dozens of shocked eyes which stared out of filthy windows and partly-opened doors. “Yes,” he nodded slowly. “I think it’s a good idea to leave.”

The pair crossed the village square, heading east. Kilrik felt the girl edge closer to him, pressing her sinuous form against his side as she grasped his arm. Staring ahead, she looked sidelong at the suspicious and lascivious eyes following them, while Kilrik blushed, cursing his armor for blocking his sense of touch.

As they passed the general store, which also served as the village tavern and inn, the road narrowed, funneling the oddly-attired couple between close-set huts. Soon, however, fewer eyes stared, the earlier discord having faded before reaching the outskirts of the town. Kilrik relaxed his gait while the girl’s hand fell absentmindedly to hold his gauntleted palm. They walked on in silence until the village had faded to sparse and unprofitable farmland.

“So, you never explained how you stopped my father,” the girl stated, breaking the silence. As Kilrik glanced over, she smiled at him, her teeth flashing into view.

“And you never told me your name,” teased Kilrik, grinning back.

“Nor have you told me yours. My name is Nellehseran.”

“Nellehseran? That’s something of an odd name for this area.”

“You can call me Nell,” she smiled at him. Suddenly, she seemed to realize that she was still holding his hand. She dropped her arm, her ears turning scarlet as she looked away.

Kilrik smiled softly. “You have a beautiful name, Nell,” he complimented. “I am Kilrik Taynerone, of the Halward Taynerones.” He drew himself up, the pride he held in his heritage evident. “My family is-“

“I’ll call you Rik!” she interjected. His shoulders fell as he looked over at Nell, who beamed at the road ahead. Kilrik sighed in resignation, changing the subject.

“Do you have a surname, Nell?” he asked.

“Of course!” she responded.

Kilrik waited for a few moments. “Well, what is it?” he finally asked.

“Not important,” Nell stated flatly. Her jaw was set, her rose lips pressed into thin lines. Kilrik frowned in concern.

“You’re right, it’s not,” he said, before they once more fell into silence. The pair continued past farms where rural hands were just setting to work. Nell set a brisk pace. It was not long before she noticed bleary-eyed young farmhands staring at her as they passed. She sighed.

“Haven’t they ever seen a girl before?” she challenged accusingly, her face contorting in a disgusted grimace.

“Well, you are still in a nightgown,” Kilrik said, his vocal timbre flexing in defense of his gender.

Nellehseran stopped in the road. Holding her palms open and out with her elbows bent at her side, she looked down at her white garment, bending over slightly to see her legs past her chest. “My goodness, I’d completely forgotten!” she laughed, brightly. “Well, I guess I’ll have to find clothes somewhere.”

Kilrik nodded, not noticing that Nell had already turned toward a nearby farmhouse. Looking over her shoulder, she sighed in exasperation. “Rik, come on!” she hissed. He stopped, peering at her quizzically. “The whole family is already in the field,” she clarified, pointing. As she continued to the farmhouse, Kilrik stood for a moment, mouth agape, before hurrying after her.

He caught up with Nell as she crouched on the doorstep, her ear pressed to the door. She grinned and winked at Kilrik as he crouched beside her, but he was too busy being flabbergasted to be flattered. Pulling herself up by the doorknob, Nell peered through the keyhole and, satisfied that the house was empty, slowly let herself into the house. Kilrik stood to follow, the seams of his armor clicking. Nellehseran glowered at him. “Watch it, Sir Clanks-a-lot!” she hissed.

Nell and Rik snuck through the single-room house cautiously, on cat’s feet and bull’s hooves, respectively. With each clamping step, Rik grew more nervous, sweating the medieval-fantasy equivalent of bullets under his armor. The farmhouse family stood all too close to the back window of the house. Kilrik passed, staring adamantly ahead to prevent an exterior glance from tempting fate. Finally, the pair reached the bureau near the sleeping quarters of the house.

Nell slid open the top drawer, rifling through the clothes within. “No,” she said, “this is all men’s clothing.” She moved on to the next drawer. Digging in, she squealed in delight! Kilrik started, casting a fearful glance at the back door of the house.

“What is it?” he asked.

Nell lifted a small bundle out of the drawer, unfolding a tiny dress sized for a five or six year old girl. ”Isn’t this just too cute?” Nell asked, pointing to a line of daisies painstakingly embroidered along the hem of the skirt.

“I suppose, but it’s much too small for you,” Rik responded. Nell frowned at him, rolling her eyes as she replaced the dress.

Moving down to the third drawer, Nellehseran retrieved two dresses of widely different sizes. One dress was long enough to cover Kilrik and still drag the ground, with the top billowing out to accommodate an ample torso. The other dress was much shorter, tailored for a far more petite frame. Nell held up one, then the other.

“I don’t like the colors, but I guess the smaller one will have to do,” she said regretfully. “At least it was worn by someone close to my age. The larger dress must be the mother’s.”

Kilrik peered out the window. The family was set to work in the field, the father standing next to his son as they pushed a plow. Three young girls were planting vegetables, while two taller women picked a nearby harvest. The shorter one stooped awkwardly at her work, her midsection swollen with child. The taller one harvested with gusto, her youthful face beaming as her muscular arms tore crops easily from their stems. Kilrik frowned.

“Actually,” he said, “I think you have the mother’s dress.”

Nellehseran laughed a short silvery sound that she cut off with her palm, and Kilrik grinned. He backed away from the window and turned just as Nell shed her nightgown. The morning sun gave a fiery cast to her nude form, highlighting the pleasant curves of her body as she thrust her breasts up in concert with the movements of her arms and gown. Kilrik gasped sharply, spinning about and crossing his arms, his face hot with embarrassment.

“You could have told me you were changing!” he said, his voice a mixture of anger and penitence.

Nell cocked her eyebrow before pulling on the peasant’s dress. “What? I don’t understand. What’s the matter?” she asked, confused.

Kilrik closed his eyes, holding the image in his mind. “I saw you without clothes!” he responded. “Not intentionally, I mean. You didn’t tell me you were changing.”

“Is that a problem?” Nell asked, pulling her hair from the tall collar of the dress. “It’s just a body. How does this look?”

Rik brought his breathing under control. Confused, but relieved that Nell was not angry, he decided to let the incident pass. He looked at Nellehseran in the newly-acquired dress. By some miracle of fate, the dress was the perfect length for the girl and fit fairly well.

“The tailoring is not quite appropriate for me, I’m afraid,” Nell said, apologetically.

Kilrik smiled at Nell. “I think it looks wonderful,” he beamed.

“Wonderful!” Nell exclaimed, clapping her hands together and twisting them until she held them in front of the waist in true peasant fashion. “Let’s go!” she commanded.

Kilrik and the newly-attired Nellehseran snuck cautiously through the house once again, escaping through the front door. Safely outside, they continued their previous eastward path, passing several minutes in silence as they moved away from the farmhouse. Suddenly, Kilrik broke his stride, looking back in the direction they had come.

“You know, I really wish we had thought to pay them back for that dress,” he lamented.

“You did pay them!” Nellehseran comforted him, gleefully. Rik opened his mouth, paused, and closed it again.

“Huh?” he queried in his deeply philosophical way.

“I grabbed some of the money from your satchel,” she explained. “I hope you don’t mind.” Nellehseran smiled sweetly at Rik, batting her eyes for good measure.

Kilrik turned back eastward, shaking his head and grinning. Together, the pair continued onward, following the road to the concealing marshy forests that surrounded Darl’s Folly. Kilrik glanced at Nell as they walked, smiling in spite of himself.




By my hand,
~Michael Akerman

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Shannelleran, Day 8

By: Michael Akerman

0 comments

The Most Recent Previous Piece.

The pair crossed the village square, heading east. Kilrick felt the girl edge closer to him, pressing her sinuous form against his side as she grasped his arm. Staring ahead, she looked sidelong at the suspicious and lascivious eyes following them, while Kilrick blushed, cursing his armor.

As they passed the general store, which also served as the village tavern and inn, the road narrowed, funneling the oddly-attired couple between close-set huts. Soon, however, fewer eyes stared, the earlier discord having faded before reaching the outskirts of the town. Kilrick relaxed his gait while the girl’s hand fell absentmindedly to hold his gauntleted palm. They walked on in silence until the village had faded to sparse and unprofitable farmland.

“So, you never explained how you stopped my father,” the girl stated, breaking the silence. As Kilrick glanced over, she smiled at him, her teeth flashing into view.

“And you never told me your name,” teased Kilrick, grinning back.

“Nor have you told me yours. My name is Shannelleran.”

“Shannelleran? That’s something of an odd name for this area.”

“You can call me Nell,” she smiled at him. Suddenly, she seemed to realize that she was still holding his hand. She dropped her arm, her ears turning scarlet as she looked away.

Kilrick smiled softly. “You have a beautiful name, Nell,” he complimented. “I am Kilrick Taynerone, of the Halward Taynerones.” He drew himself up, the pride he held in his heritage evident. “My family is-“

“I’ll call you Rick!” she interjected. His shoulders fell as he looked over at Nell, who beamed at the road ahead. Kilrick sighed in resignation, changing the subject.

“Do you have a surname, Nell?” he asked.

“Of course!” she responded.

Kilrick waited for a few moments. “Well, what is it?” he finally asked.

“Not important,” Nell stated flatly. Her jaw was set, her rose lips pressed into thin lines. Kilrick frowned in concern.

“You’re right, it’s not,” he said, before they once more fell into silence. The pair continued past farms where rural hands were just setting to work. Nell set a brisk pace. It was not long before she noticed bleary-eyed young farmhands staring at her as they passed. She sighed.

“Haven’t they ever seen a girl before?” she challenged accusingly, her face contorting in a disgusted grimace.

“Well, you are still in a nightgown,” Kilrick said, his timbre bending in defense of his gender.

Shannelleran stopped in the road. Holding her palms open and out with her elbows bent at her side, she looked down at her white garment, bending over slightly to see her legs past her chest. “My goodness, I’d completely forgotten!” she laughed, brightly. “Well, I guess I’ll have to find clothes somewhere.”

Kilrick nodded, not noticing that Nell had already turned toward a nearby farmhouse. Looking over her shoulder, she sighed in exasperation. “Rick, come on!” she hissed. He stopped, peering at her quizzically. “The whole family is already in the field,” she clarified, pointing. As she continued to the farmhouse, Kilrick stood for a moment, mouth agape, before hurrying after her.

--

~Michael Akerman

Monday, June 16, 2008

Shannelleran, Day 5

By: Michael Akerman

0 comments

Yesterday's.

She glared at him icily as he tried to right himself. “Pervert!” she barked, “Stay away from me!” Kilrick lifted himself to a sitting position.

“I didn’t mean…” he started, frowning. “I wasn’t trying to…. It’s just that you were wounded, and I…” he blushed, glancing over at the crumpled form of the large attacker, who lay still on the floor.

The girl stared at him for a moment, watching him as his deep brown eyes considered the cobblestones. His visorless helm betrayed a clutch of light brown hair draping to the nape of his neck, outlining his strong jaw. His face was young, but lightly creased and worn. He was adorned in full plate mail, his mostly constructed from a motley assortment of mismatched pieces. These were made of a dingy, cheap iron, save for his greaves, which gleamed with the indefatigable shine of whitesteel. His longsword was sheathed at the belt, but the visible sheath and hilt were well-wrought in a matching motif: gold filigree traced the outlines of countless small wings along the length of the sheath, meeting the gold guard, which stretched out in paired quillons. The walnut grip tapered toward a decorative wing, crafted of gold, which graced the pommel of the sword.

Slowly, she smiled. “Okay, I believe you.”

“What?” Kilrick looked up, surprised.

“Let’s go!” she exclaimed, standing gracefully and clapping her hands together, pleased. Her voice rang in dulcet tones through the square.

“Go? What do you mean?”

“Elsewhere! Away from here! Let’s leave the general area and travel to a different general area. You and I shall escape, scurry, scramble away! We shall sojourn, we’ll ambulate in a specific direction!”

“No, I’m familiar with the idea of going! But why am I going with you? Who are you? And most of all, why should you trust me to go with you?”

She frowned. “That last question is backwards from what I expected. Well, you’re a knight in partly-shining armor and I’m a damsel in distress, so you’ll be protecting me. As for the last part, the knight is always a good person in the storybooks!”

Kilrick rose to his feet. The girl faced him, her head level with his shoulder. He looked down at her, his eyebrow arched cockily. “First, I’m not a knight, at least not now. Second, the fellow with the staff seems to have been knocked out or killed, and besides, his weapon is broken.”

“All the more reason for you to come! You shall have to explain how that happened. I’m afraid I fainted for a bit.”

He blinked at her. She smiled back. Kilrick incredulously gaped, “You mean you didn’t-“

“Besides,” she interrupted, a note of weariness and wariness beginning to tinge her voice, “the townspeople have been staring, and my unconscious father is going to wake up soon, which are two good reasons for both of us to get out of here.”

“Your father?” Kilrick asked, looking in surprise at the massive, beastly man, who was beginning to stir next to the hut with which he had collided. As Kilrick glanced around, he noticed the dozens of shocked eyes which stared out of filthy windows and partly-opened doors. “Yes,” he nodded slowly. “I think it’s a good idea to leave.”

--

~Michael Akerman

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Shannelleran, Day 4

By: Michael Akerman

0 comments

The Previous Installment

Groaning, Kilrick stared at the cloudless morning sky above. He lay prone, his longsword wedged at angle under his back and above his arm. Trying to stand, he rocked about fruitlessly, unable to find purchase with the sword pinning him as it did. Finally, leaning to his left, he pressed his left arm up from under the sword hilt, leveraging himself into a quick spin that sent him flat on his face. Clamoring to his feet, he ran with his longsword ready to the corner of the square.

There, amidst the rubble that had tumbled down following the onslaught of the golden wave, a young girl lay curled. Her form was perfectly still, a grey pallor cast upon her face. Fearing her dead, Kilrick sheathed his sword and crouched down. Her chest lay still, but her face was locked in a grimace of pain, her brow knit and furrowed. With a sudden sharp inhalation, her expression relaxed and her breathing resumed with a steady, but dangerously weak, pattern.

Looking for wounds on the frail form, Kilrick reached into his belt satchel and groped for his meager bandages and the few herbs he carried with him. Her feet were bare and dirty, the delicate appendages traced with small cuts, but not seriously harmed. Long, pale legs overlapped one another, bending at the knee and tracing up to the hem of a thin cotton nightgown, falling nearly a hand below her hips. These flared out from her thighs and waist, the nightgown following the sinuous curve from her leg and plunging down her right hip to her waist, before climbing back up her torso.

Her arms were splayed in front of her chest, dingy with grime but undamaged. Her long shapely fingers clenched tightly, her close-bitten nails digging into the flesh of her left palm. She was certainly a comely girl, the nightgown draped loosely over her trim abdomen and drawing tight over the twin swells of her breasts. While her body was somewhat more attractive than average, her face was astounding.

Hungrily, Kilrick traced the pale, pure line of her neck to her young face, his eyes widening as they traced the low hillock of her chin and swept along the fragile jaw line to the labyrinthine seashell of her ear. The girl’s full, coral pink lips were parted, their creases glistening slightly. Fine lashes swept from her closed eyes, standing out from the white of her skin. Her forehead was traced with the bangs of her hair, where sandy brown and saffron yellow strands mingled and swept to her shoulders, cut ragged by a blade evidently wielded by the girl herself, judging by the uneven work.

Even during this overly elaborate investigation of the girl’s features, Kilrick noticed only one moderate wound. A long gash had torn the neckline of her gown, leaving a trail of blood slowly staining her chest. Tearing his gaze away from her face, Kilrick rubbed a poultice of herbs on a strip of gauze. Pulling the torn cloth away from the wound, he pressed the strip to her chest.

As he rubbed the bandage in place, the girl gasped suddenly as her eyes snapped open! Her mouth hung agape as she stared at Kilrick, who raised his hands in an apologetic gesture. As he started to explain, she sat up, throwing her left arm protectively across her chest. Kilrick fell backwards, rocking off his feet and splaying prone on the ground, while she pushed herself backwards and sat with her back against the wall and her knees against her chest.

~Michael Akerman

Friday, June 13, 2008

Shannelleran, Day 2

By: Michael Akerman

0 comments

(Yesterday's installment)

He stood for a moment, letting his body and eyes adjust to the morning. Shaking his breastplate to find a comfortable fit, Kilrick was turning to leave Darl’s Folly when a desperate scream echoed across the expansive court. Drawing his longsword out, he spun to search the square. In a darkened corner, the bulky mass of a man in a brown fur cloak was raising a massive staff above his head. As he tensed himself to bring the weapon to bear upon his hidden target, a feminine voice broke plaintively, “No, please!”

Kilrick rushed across the square, swearing under his breath. He was swift of foot, but the distance was great, and the staff had already begun to fall. As he closed the distance, he grew swiftly certain that he stood no chance of parrying the crushing blow in time. Kilrick shouted in a final effort to distract the attacker, but even as the large man drew back slightly at the noise, the momentum of the staff carried it through its dreadful arc.

Just before striking its prey, however, the staff came to a shuddering halt. A high, short tone, like the striking of a silver bell, shot across the square, while a glow of silvered-blue gauze filled the corner, silhouetting the cloaked man and the halted weapon. Silence filled the breadth of a second, as the stave shuddered in the shocked man’s grasp. Then, with the echo of a deep gong, a sphere of scintillating gold swept outward from the corner, tossing shards of the shattered staff about and lifting the large man from his feet. Kilrick gasped and fell backwards, knocked from his feet like a child’s doll by the rushing sphere. Then, as swiftly as the sphere had formed, it dissipated harmlessly against the walls of the village huts, leaving only a dying echo of the initial clamor.

~Michael Akerman

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Shannelleran, Day 1

By: Michael Akerman

0 comments

Let's see how much discipline I have.

So, here's the plan: I have a story I've been wanting to write. I'm going to try to do 30 minutes or more of writing a day for a while. We'll see how long it lasts. When I'm done with a chapter, I'll post the chapter. Or maybe when I finish the short story, depending on how this goes. I'll post the day's work on IVIC and a notification on CoK. The chapters or whatever they end up being will be on both.




Shennelleran, Day 1

As the first dim light of dawn filled the cobblestone square, Kilrick peered around the corner of the small peasant house. He seemed to be the first one awake and about in the little village, which was not unusual: he had always been an early riser, and his years of travel had made him still more accustomed to living with a lack of sleep. “Just as well,” he muttered. “I always have to explain myself when people catch me sleeping in the open.” Satisfied that the square was empty, Kilrick stepped out from the shadows.

He felt very conspicuous in the middle of that dismal little burgh, even though it was empty. The town of Darl’s Folly lay like discarded buildings on the shore of once-charming Lake Velindra. The waters swam still and silent, with no river current to mix the dark pond. It was something of a geological oddity: rain or some dead stream had filled a small, awkward depression at some point in the distant past. A large population of fish had once dwelled in the lake when the water was still crystal blue, supported by a pleasant climate and a complete lack of natural predators in the isolated pond. The city of Darlhaven sprang up around Lake Velindra and was swiftly made profitable through the fishing industry and an enviable trade position.

The city soon grew too large for the little lake, the fish population stuttering to a genealogical halt as Darlhaven grasped for food and profit. The pleasant trade road running through the area was forsaken when the Kingdom of Genream to the east finally conquered the long-hostile Sintreln, south of Darlhaven. With the steady and swift waterways of the Sintreln open to the Kingdom, trade with the western Grand Empire of Halreln doubled as the easy but slow overland route was forsaken.

The city soon fell into decline, the imposing balustrades and statuary of the famed Darlhaven Exchange collapsing in disrepair and ruin. Blooms of algae choked the lake, turning the peaceful pond into the brown bog that now lay alongside the village. The people struggled to farm, eking out a living by raking through the muck of the moist land. The population of Darlhaven fell, with the council steadily relenting to changes of moniker: from the Trade City of Darlhaven, to the City of Darlhaven, the Town of Darlhaven, Darlhaven Village and finally Darl’s Folly, the blame for the great city’s failure placed unfairly on the shoulders of its founder.

So, it would seem odd and, for some, cruel for a knight in full armor to stand amidst the ruins of the once-great metropolis. Kilrick always found it difficult to convince townsfolk that it was not pride or mockery that made him constantly outfit himself in his finery. Rather, he had no mule, no squire or page, so it was only practical to wear his armor while he travelled. Still, Kilrick couldn’t help but anxiously rub the hilt of his whitesteel longsword as if he thought it a talisman to ward off conflict.


By my hand,
~Michael Akerman

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Lost Traveller

By: Michael Akerman

0 comments

On the cobblestone street
That I tread on my way
The weary old traveler
Lies sleeping each day.

His clothes were once rich,
But now lay in rags.
His possessions are meager,
In just two small bags.

A battered old lute
Rests with nary a string
With no cover, no draping
To prevent weather's sting.

Curious one day,
I glanced in his eye.
There the fire of genius
Lay waiting to die.

He closed his eyes, dreaming,
As if lost in the past
When his cards had been dealt
And his die had been cast.

"Excuse me," I stated,
"But I can't help but wonder
How you came to this streetside
And the weight you live under."

He smiled up thinly
To acknowledge my sight
And nodded to tell me
My inference was right.

"Life is fickle, my friend,
But more so is fame.
While luck may come quickly
It leaves as it came.

It's true I was famous,
My name knew renown,
But my muse, she soon fled me
And my pen was set down.

My patrons forgot me,
My music ceased playing.
Those who said that they loved me
Could not bother with staying.

While glory may seem fine,
Those you find there aren't true.
They don't stay beside you
When you're feeling blue.

True friends are faithful
And in hardship, steadfast:
You'll find them in those
Who care naught for your past."

I sat with him a while
And thanked him for his time,
And walked away thinking
That his words were sublime.

For he had seen truth
When he fell to his distress,
And I hoped, through my work,
That his words would live, endless.