He had known it. He had not dared to admit it, not even to himself, but he had known all along. Even while he was caught up in the treacherous black of Moag, he could sense the woman, believing she had put some queer curse on him, tweaked with his mind somehow. Half the reason he was determined never to mention it to anyone was because he was afraid of having it confirmed. Well, now it was confirmed.
Noel turned away, hands held out in front of him prepared to plead with the universe, but the irony struck him like a fist in the gut. He had already done his pleading. Going off to Arnhem Land, drinking poisonous potions to commune with the Dreaming— pleading with the universe was precisely what had caused all of this in the first place, he thought, shaking his head at the numb burn in the tips of his fingers, a thousand sensations there in the bundles of nerves, none of which belonged to him. How could he explain this to Phileas and the others, without coming off as a loon at best or an inept dolt at worst—not that he was ever getting out of here to explain, he reminded himself.
“How was your holiday, Noel? Oh, fine, fine. The food was lovely, only, I went and got myself possessed,” he muttered miserably. The look on Phileas’s face would be priceless. There had to be some way to get the woman out of him, once and for all. He couldn’t live like this. He’d go insane. “Master Frank, this banned fahmat—”
But the Mardraim took his arm once more and ushered him quickly across the room. “We will speak no more here, for we must hurry. The rains will end soon, and we must be well away from here before they do,” the elder said, as he pulled a bottle of dirt from the sleeve of his robes, paying no mind to Noel’s confusion or his concerns about actually being possessed and what that might mean for the quality of his life the next hundred years or so. Kneeling by Noel’s things, the old man tugged the stopper from the bottle and poured its contents out into a mound in the middle of Noel’s blanket.
“I sleep there,” Noel protested, but Edward Frank only smiled, “I must summon an earthen one.”
“Yes, yes. I need your essence, there in the dirt, please,” he nodded, pointing to the mess he made.
“My essence?” Noel choked over the word.
“Your essence,” the elder replied, then realizing there was some confusion over the meaning of the word, he spat twice at the floor and waved his hand, indicating Noel should do the same.
Shaking his head, Noel complied, landing a large glob of slobber right on the top of the pile, which hissed and bubbled up quickly into a frothy foam. The Mardraim pulled a slender twig of birch out of thin air and began to chant a strange incantation in a low voice, as he stirred the boiling muck. Every third turn, the substance grew a deeper shade of crimson, and he delivered a new verse, writing in the mixture symbols that looked like some ancient form of the wizened language, though Noel had never studied the tongue. All the dirt incorporated, the substance, now a dark, rubbery brown, the old man stopped his work, and the blob of gloop began to undulate and grow of its own volition.
It grew eyeballs that squirmed to see, looking this way and that but never quite in the same direction, as their perched atop a pile of gray matter, a lung and intestines. It grew a puss-like mass that slowly turned to sickly white flesh, formless and squirming. It grew an arm and then legs, ribs and a mass of curly brown hair. It grew a mouth that gaped open, tongue lolling free between familiar crooked teeth as eyes found their place in holes in the flesh, spinning round on themselves as the torso was complete, arms and legs came to right, and finally the skull took shape as the growth came to its feet.
Noel stood amazed, facing himself, grinning mortified at the dumbfounded look on his naked doppleganger’s face, as Edward Frank handed the thing fresh garments.
“How did you…?” his twin said, sounding as mightily impressed as Noel himself.
There was a lot to be impressed with, exactness of the golem aside, starting with the fact it spoke in almost complete sentences and sounded as idiotic in its lack of knowledge of the ancient Elfin tongue as the real Noel did, which was both a comfort and more than a little disconcerting. “Yes, how did you?” the real Noel whispered to the Mardraim as the creature dressed. He had seen a golem before, but not one so very real, never one so very… Noel.
“This is a confluence, a coming together of Fahmat, like the rains here in the mountain. The earthen one is formed, brought to existence by an ancient work of the Adon. Mm, you call them the Wizened, I believe,” the old man answered.
“Wizards,” both Noels nodded, then eyed one another uncomfortably as they each rubbed an anxious hand through the back of his hair.
A shiver ran down the real Noel’s spine. He turned his back on his twin and hissed, “He believes he is me?”
Edward Frank laughed quietly, “No, no, however I am glad he is convincing. The Itri, or Fae-”
“Fairies,” interrupted the golem.
“—are responsible for the concoction that gave him your properties, thanks to your contribution.” He pointed to Noel’s mouth. “And the Ikath-”
“Gods,” his mirror nudged him.
“I know,” Noel huffed.
“-created the charm for instilling in him quick thinking. Of course, a thinking, feeling, being without a soul can be dangerous. This one we have no need to worry over, as he is not going anywhere, and we shall return him to the dust where he belongs, as soon as we arrive back home.” The fact the golem had no soul was at least a small comfort, Noel thought as the elder flicked his wrist and in his palm blossomed a murky blue haze. “Breathe deep, please,” he added, holding his hand under golem-Noel’s nose.
“We go?” Noel asked as the golem breathed the toxic-looking fumes.
Edward nodded. “If you and I are to find a way of reversing the shift and restoring our paths within Om, I must take you to a place where we may work in secret.”
“I don’t feel so well,” golem-Noel said, his English as perfect as his Elvish was not, as though he’d been raised right alongside the real Noel in his High Wycombe home, though he clutched at his throat as his voice rasped, and he sniffed greatly against a suddenly runny nose. “I think the old bugger’s struck me with a flu.” He placed a hand on his own forehead, as the real Noel wondered that the man of clay was so real he could actually take ill. He had always thought of golems as bumbling monsters, not at all human, but then he had never seen anything as remarkable as the creature presently crawling between the covers, atop which he had so recently been brought into existence. If he was actually human, soulless or not, would returning him to the dirt, as the Mardraim suggested, constitute murder? If Noel took part in doing in his newfound twin, would it be considered some backwards form of suicide or would it be more like cutting a cancer from the world?
His moral musings were interrupted by the old man giving instruction to the golem, whose skin grew pastier by the moment. “You should not go out today or receive visitors. We will return as soon as we are able.”
“No visitors,” the golem agreed, sneezed three times in succession, then swore in a voice that sounded much like Noel’s father.
“Dear God, am I this pathetic?” Noel muttered as Edward returned to his side. He added to the old man, “What did you… give me? Him? …It?”
“The illness is necessary, to keep others away. And now—” The Mardraim raised his hands toward Noel’s chest.
“Wait! What?” Noel breathed, taking a hurried step back.
He had not realized until that moment of panic that his arms and legs were stiff with shock and his hands were trembling, but then he had just watched the old man turn a handful of dirt and a bit of Noel’s slobber into a walking, talking, breathing, thinking, illness-catching copy of himself that they were going to kill as soon as they returned from wherever they were going. The golem even possessed Noel’s mannerisms. Noel certainly was not going to let Edward Frank do anything to him without some discussion of the matter.
The elder gave a pensive smile. “I will produce a simple light well, to render you unseen, so we may leave without drawing any attention to ourselves.”
“Light well? What light well?” Noel demanded.
“A bending of the light around you. What do you call this today?” he looked to the golem, but the other Noel was busy whinging and moaning, blanket pulled up around his ears, shiny new teeth chattering.
Edward raised his hands again, but this time Noel jumped backward, holding up fists in defense, though he doubted they would provide much protection, when the fact of the matter was even the magic Noel knew— and to be fair, he knew rather a lot as elves went— was no match for the extraordinary power he had just witnessed. By now he understood the mountain people had exceptional skills, he had been keeping notes of the things he had seen, in case he ever managed to make it out of there, but Edward Frank, with his knowledge of the magic of so many races, was easily the greatest magician he had ever met, greater than both Footes, Bergfalk and Henry Frifogel combined.
“I have no name for light well. I no know bending light,” Noel answered, slightly bothered by the fact the Mardraim had asked the golem.
“But the light well is Llendir Fahmat. Surely you know and this is just an error in communication, Young Noel?” Edward’s thinning white brows drew down over his eyes. “You will see.”
“No Ken knows, Master Frank. No Ken,” Noel answered, shaking his head. The old man was talking about making him invisible. If anyone knew how to do this, the Nobles would have been taught.
All this time, Bergfalk and the elder Foote thought they were preparing their people for a war that was inevitable, the Great War of the races that would continue with the birth of the Last Hope of the Elves and the opening of the gates, as prophesied. The wizards’ fate might have been imprisonment in the ice, all these years, as their punishment for the near destruction of the elfin race, but as far as anyone knew, they had not been subjected to ten millennia of thinning bloodlines and a catastrophic loss of knowledge and ability of their kind. The more Noel saw the work of the mountain people, the feebler the elves seemed in comparison, the more certain he grew that the impending war was one the elves were always destined to lose, that truly the child, their Hope, would be their last hopeless breath in a world where they no longer had a place, like giants and dragons, just as he had secretly feared for so long. With her birth and subsequent death in the ensuing carnage, his brothers would become the stuff fantasy, elfinkind surrendered forevermore to the realm of mythological beings. They would be lost.
Unless, Noel thought…
But that was a ridiculous idea, especially when he had just agreed to help the Mardraim restore whatever destinies he had already broken in coming there. The old man had said Noel was somehow responsible for the changes in their destinies, but that did not mean he would ever have any control over how they changed. No, if the prophecy in the Book of Ages was true, and Noel had not managed to completely destroy it with his trip into the Dreaming and his subsequent jaunt through Moag, it was more important than ever that he find some means of escaping the mountain. He had to learn what he could of the magic of all people while he was there, he had to learn how the people of the mountain blend the various abilities together in these confluences, as the elder called them, to create such spectacular works Bergfalk and Foote had never imagined, and he had to warn the Nobles and the Seat that the elves would be no match for the wizards without significantly more training. They were undermanned and overpowered. They had lost far too much knowledge in the Fall.
The elder’s scowl deepened, as he folded his hands together, making a steeple of his fingers. “Not one of your people knows how to bend light, Noel Loveridge?” he said, his mouth settling into a shameful frown.
Noel gave a small shake of his head and quickly added, “The rains, Master Frank. We go.” He did not want to talk about it. He wanted to get on with this, so he could fix things, turn it right and move on.
“Yes, we go, but I sense in you a great loss, Ohamet,” the old man said, somber eyes watching Noel carefully.
One could hardly lose what one never possessed, Noel thought, clenching his teeth against the painful thumping in his chest. He would learn what he could, and return home, even if he had to make his way back out through Moag to do it. He owed his brothers that much, he thought as he lowered his hands to his sides at last, nodding for the old Master to continue.
Edward stared at him for long minute before at last giving a heavy sigh, taking in a deep breath, and with a swift motion, plucking something from the air a few inches from Noel’s chest. Hands shaking, either with age or in his struggle to keep hold of whatever it was captured between his fingers, he dug brittle, yellowing nails into the tiny sliver of space between his thumb and forefinger and drew out something invisible to the naked eye, pinched between his nails. Tongue poking out from between his teeth, he dug in the nails of his other hand and began to twist back and forth, to pry the imperceptible thing apart. Soon his whole body began to shudder with the effort, his face turning first red, then white, a bead of sweat forming on his crumpled brow.
Noel was about to ask if he could be of assistance, but as he made to speak, a wry smile spread across the old man’s cheeks, and with a sharp crack that made Noel’s ears pop, Edward’s fingers broke free, and he laughed at the look on Noel’s face, as he stood there stunned, finger jabbed deep into his right ear, frozen in mid-wriggle. Noel watched in awe while the old man drew his hands apart, and a slender filament of golden light stretched out before him.
“What on earth…?” he stammered, reaching out his waxy finger.
“Be still, Ohamet. Do not move,” Edward whispered, almost noiselessly, the fluctuation of his breath on the air exciting the filament, causing it to dance and shine wildly, as the old man’s eyes widened.
Noel held his breath, as much out of amazement as to keep from ruining the incredible work he was witnessing.
After a moment, the fragile strand of gossamer light settled into a gentle oscillation, and Edward carefully raised it above Noel’s head, bringing the tips of his fingers together to form a graceful ring. A snap of static and the faint hint of newly welded metal on the air indicated the ends had fused, and the elder let go, allowing the light to swim above Noel’s head like a halo, as he stretched and flexed his fingers in preparation for the next part. He took the ring by the sides and gently inched it larger, making it three times as broad around as Noel at the shoulders. The light danced chaotically in response, at one point coming dangerously close to Noel’s hair, before the magician touched it softly, here and there, lifting it tenderly back into place, until it was almost still. Satisfied, he pinched the filament between his fingernails again, and with much less effort than before, he forced the light to expand once more, this time drawing it down, so that the thin ring became a shining, luminous cylinder surrounding Noel with a pristine glow of energy. He pulled the base down so it hovered just above the ground, where it gave a small sizzle, then, with a childlike grin that caused his blue eyes to twinkle, Edward set the tube of light to spinning, and like a potter at work at his wheel, he urged the sides ever so delicately up and up, until the column of light extended all the way from the floor to slightly more than a foot above Noel’s head, where he drew the top together, and with a warm buzz and a zap, it sealed itself shut.
“That will do,” Edward smiled, breathing a pleasurable sigh at his work that caused the dome of light to shiver and ripple with energetic colors before becoming still and crystal clear.
It had almost completely disappeared, except in Noel’s periphery, where he could just make out the shroud of electric current surrounding him. “Is safe to move?” he hissed.
“Yes,” the old man chuckled, “and you can speak normally. You are on the interior of the light well. It will flow naturally around you as you move.”
Noel reached his hand out to touch the veil and watched the surrounding bubble shimmer as it extended out before him, always remaining several inches away from his flesh. “I see me?” he questioned.
Edward smiled. “Rest assured you are completely unseen to the rest of the world. There is a barely perceptible arc of reflective distortion, a shine that can only be seen by one directly observing the light source as you pass between it and the viewer, which is a highly unlikely event, considering our light source is outside of the mountain. Aside from being slightly warmer on the interior, you should not be able to tell any difference to the world around you, though you will catch periodic glimpses of the light well as it moves with you. You should not worry, as this is not visible on the outside of the well. And now, we must go, Young Noel. It is a long walk, and you must memorize the way, as I will not be able to lead you there again.”
Edward reminded the golem that he was not to leave the hut or see anyone while they were away, then he and Noel set off, Noel’s anxious feet barely touching the earth as they started up the path toward the garden gate, where Emanuel waited. The rain fell slightly harder the nearer they came to the young man, and it was not until the elder began to speak in a constrained voice that Noel realized he was using the rain to conceal their conversation.
Noel could not understand what the old man said to the boy, but from the look on Emanuel’s face as he glanced back at the hut with wide eyes, he imagined it likely involved something about golem-Noel’s illness along with instructions to keep watch over the hut the rest of the day, to warn away anyone who might come to visit. While he waited, Noel stretched his arms out wide and then way over head. Neither Emanuel nor Edward glanced in Noel’s direction. To be certain, he went to stand right next to the boy, stuck out his tongue, crossed his eyes and pulled on his ears. Still, he received no response. Clearly the light well did its job.
The conversation finished, the elder led on in silence, Noel falling in step behind, wondering just how much knowledge his people had lost through the years. In their silence, Noel growing ever soggier as the rains slowed to a drizzle, then to a sprinkle, and finally to a stop. The two had traveled a long distance, well clear of the villages and fields where the mountain people toiled, when Edward finally spoke again.
“Why do the Llendir no longer understand Fahmat of light, Ohamet?”
Noel gave a coarse grunt.
He should be guarded, he knew. The old man twice presented him with pacts, first asking for help to get information about Moag from the Felimi, now claiming his own prophecies had been rendered null like Noel’s, hoping Noel would help him restore the path of Om, but kind as Edward Frank was, Noel had no reason to believe the elder was telling the truth, or that he had not just asked for help the first time in an attempt to get Noel to be more forthcoming with information at Fkat in the face of a Felimi, who had decided to hold him captive, and that this new agreement was not more of the same good-cop/bad-cop game that was being played by the people of the mountain all along. He was the Mardraim, after all—his loyalty was to his own people.
Though Noel had determined he had a responsibility to ask the elder about the prophecies of Phileas and Wells, just to find out how much he may have affected the prophecies of others, he knew he would not tell anyone in the mountain about how he wound up in the Dreaming, and he was reluctant to share too much about his own people, out of fear there could be repercussions for them. Still, he was here, and if he wanted to keep things friendly, so that he could remain a guest of the Mardraim, learn what he could and have some chance of escaping eventually, instead of becoming a true prisoner at the hands of the Felimi, who he knew would never let him go, he had to be willing to give.
“Long time past, there was … terrible… fight- a Great War of all people. All Ken died, save two, Aewin and Euriel. All Llendir come from these two. All known Fahmat come from these two. Fahmat of light was…” He paused, searching for the appropriate word.
“Forgotten?” the elder asked.
“Yes… No,” Noel answered with a wonky nod, his light well shimmering with the motion. “Not known… since the Fall.”
“Time after the Great War was much death… for all races. All beings… even beasts, were lost like Fahmat.” Noel did not possess enough knowledge of his people’s language to properly explain the cataclysm that followed the war or the intervention of fate and the punishment of the world, all races, each for their part in the destruction of the peace, once held in precarious balance by the stones of power. The Book of Ages could explain far better than he ever could, but the book told far too much of Eurial’s descendants, of Fendhaim and the Seat. “The foretelling I bring… It is of the Fall,” he added somberly.
“Mm, I see,” the old man answered, and the two fell back into their silence once more, as the path they took cut into a more deeply wooded area, Noel wondering what his people had done so wrong, to deserve the harsh punishment they suffered the past ten thousand years.
They were not the murderers. They were not the rapists or the thieves. The Father of the Elves had done everything within his power to uphold the peace.
Noel swallowed against the lump of far too human truth that rose in his throat. No one could ever know just what Eilian did or did not do in the lead up to the Fall. All they had to go on were stories passed down through Aewin and Eurial over ten thousand plus years. Their historians would hardly have been the first to gloss over uglier facts in order to paint their heroes in a more favorable light.
After a while, the trees parted, and Noel put thoughts of the Fall from his mind, as the horizon stretched out before them in breathtaking views from the precipice of the mountain looking out over a clear azure sky, and for a moment, he thought they had come to be outside by some magical means, while he was lost in thought. The view was truly exquisite, except for a slender mar of black that cut a deep and inexplicable gouge into the pristine blue, which Edward led them to now. As the old man stepped into the crevasse, Noel paused, running his hand across the cold, rough heavens, somehow projected onto the mountain wall.
“We must go,” Edward said, waiting for Noel to follow him into the tunnel.
But as he stood at the entrance, Noel took in a stuttering breath. “Moag?” he said, the word barely escaping his lips.
“I feel it,” he whispered, glad the old man could not see the fear that welled up inside him as he stood staring into the darkness. They were easily ten miles or more from the cloister, but Moag was definitely present here, though it felt nothing at all like the ominous void he knew waited for him, hidden at the home of the Felimi.
“Beyond this point, only two pathways are clear, to those who know the way—two paths of hundreds of paths, Noel Loveridge.” The Mardraim bowed his head, looking serious as he gestured into the deepening black. “The way we take today, a single misstep could lead you back into Moag. I cannot feel Moag myself, but I will show you this path as made known to me by the Mardraim before me. You must be vigilant in doing exactly as I say, following exactly as I go. Do you understand?”
“I do not wish upon you the torture that has struck such fear in the depths of your soul,” the old man added, reaching through the light well, resting a gentle hand on Noel’s shoulder.
He had forgotten all about the old man’s empathy. “Thank you,” Noel answered quietly, slightly ashamed of himself that the fear came to him so easily, when he had not suffered nearly as greatly as Isabella Asan. Recalling the misery of her voice as she called out to him through the depths of Moag, he was struck by a terrible thought. “Isabella?” he whispered, pressing his fingertips into his palm, as though this might protect her, though he knew it would not.
“You are beginning to understand the full weight of our predicament, I think. Your heart grows heavy as mine, Ohamet,” Edward smiled. “Emanuel tells me you have been searching for a means of escape, in your time with us. Escape you must, I am afraid. When time comes for you to leave our home, the second path beyond is the way you must go. I will not lead you along this way, however if you follow the path clear of Moag, you will find yourself at the top of the mountain, at the cave where you first entered our home.”
“You not show me?” Noel’s voice shook.
“No. You must learn to feel the way, by strengthening your sense of Moag,” the elder answered.
“Today, I take you on the path to the vault of the Mardraim, where the two of us shall work, to see if we can right the wrongs done to Om’s way. You will carefully watch each step I take, paying close attention to Moag. Though it frightens you, that you feel it means you can protect yourself. The steps are important, as a mistake will be dire, to you and to Young Isabella. You will come here alone from now on, each evening, even when I cannot meet you here. This practice will hone your skill, so you will be ready when you need it.”
“I will be seen. Emanuel? Harvey?”
“I will keep you enveloped in my protection always, so no one will sense you. As for the rest, I will teach you what you need to know,” the old man answered quietly, then reaching up he whisked away Noel’s shroud of light with the swift flourish of his wrist, turning it into a ball that glowed tangerine in the palm of his hand. “You shall know the Llendir ways. Follow close, Wanderer.”
My husband woke me up early Sunday morning to show me an article about, of all things, clouds. An ordinary girl would be annoyed, being awoken in the wee hours by a man waving a blindingly bright phone in her face, insisting a bit too loudly, “Wake up! You have to read this!” Not me. Believe it or not I am perfectly content squinting though the darkness, trying to make sense of the colorful blurs before my mind has completely stopped dreaming (some of my best eureka moments happen in this state, after all). Of course, my husband usually figures out I can’t exactly see what he’s trying to show me and takes pity, reading the intended passage aloud, before I fall quickly back to sleep, happy–legitimately happy, not just because I get to go back to sleep, although that is nice too, but because the man just gets me.
This is actually a fairly common occurrence in our house, and it isn’t just a middle-of-the-night attempt by my husband to make me suffer his insomnia with him. He often calls during the day just to tell me about some amazing fact he happened across or hurries home after work to show me a picture of some place he thinks will be a great setting for a battle because he totally supports my need to include as much reality in my fantasy as there is fiction in my fantasy. I am grateful for all of the ideas my husband has come up with through the years, even the ideas I won’t ever use, and for the fact that my oftentimes begrudging nature as a writer never seems to get in the way of his enthusiasm, which I have to admit makes him my favorite person in the entire world. I love that he gets just as excited as I do about the prospect of inspiring wonder in people by showing them the magic that exists right here in the real world, no fiction required.
Sunday morning the wonder was fallstreak hole clouds, which apparently received some media attention after residents of Wonthaggi, Australia captured images of the rare occurrence last week. I’m not certain my husband realized that I actually have a fairly extensive file on atmospheric conditions already, which includes what I believed was every description of cloud known to man, until Sunday when my darling Official First Reader woke me up excitedly explaining that elves could in fact make these hole punch clouds when they fly–he had even thought of the fuzzy science to back it up (which made me laugh, in a good way, as I went back to sleep). I don’t know that I will ever write about a fallstreak hole in the way he envisioned them, however he will be happy to know that I have added it to the large list of anomalies witnessed in the Veils of Fate, and while I don’t know exactly what this veil will mean yet, I do know that it will be featured as part of a prophecy seen by Elijah.
The truth is eureka moments, sudden sparks of genius, don’t happen often. Most people don’t have phone-wielding insomniac muses hanging around to be the light bulb that shines over their head on a regular basis, even in their sleep, so they have to work for inspiration. Not that I don’t work for inspiration as well–last week’s post on research hinted at just how much effort goes into finding the small hints of insight that fit within the puzzle I’m building by cutting out random shapes from reality and cobbling them together to make a picture that isn’t completely clear, even to me because my personal journey is about learning.
For the most part, great ideas are born out of this slow building of understanding. It is this slow building that allowed the image of a young Kazakh sayatshy girl to stick with me for months, until one day she became just a small facet of a character who makes her debut in book two of the series. This is how Stavanger, a city in Norway I’ve only visited through the miracle of the internet, became the place where years ago someone important to my characters died, though this man will only ever be mentioned as a ghost that walks through a conversation. Sometimes the slow building lasts for years, as in is the case with the history of fairies in New Zealand. In book two, I incorporate some of the traditional Maori tales into my own. And occasionally the fragile threads of a dozen other ideas come together as an actual spark of genius, to answer questions I’ve had for a very long time and been unable to find the answer just by searching, as is the case with Namcha Barwa, a mountain in Tibet also known as the Breast of Vajrayogini.
A lot of truly great stories, both real and imaginary, have inspired my work. I hope that one day people look back on the stories I write and find inspiration as well.
Before I get too far into this week’s post, I wanted to take the opportunity to thank Indie Reader for recognizing The Eleventh Age in their October 15, 2014 “Alike But Indie” column “If You Liked The Magician’s Land, You’ll Love…” It can be difficult being an author in a time when the industry is experiencing so much change. One doesn’t always know the right steps to take to get the work noticed, so it means even more when it comes unexpectedly, as this did. Thank you so much, Indie Reader! You seriously made my week!
Speaking of last week, I forgot to update the Character Tidbits page in all my excitement. To make up for my absentmindedness, this week I’ve posted two new pages–Phileas Foote and Ash (Aisling O’Toole), who is one of my favorite characters and happens to be the subject of this week’s Drawing Lesson, which I’m considering making a regular category, but we’ll see. So, without further adieu…
Never Draw a Changeling… Just Never.
In The Eleventh Age Elli’s best friend is the quick-witted, sharp-tongued, and beautiful Aisling O’Toole, who happens to be a halfling–half nymph and half goddess–which makes her a metamorph or shapeshifter. As I mentioned in a previous Drawing Lesson, Ash’s character sketch has given me enormous problems, so much so that I had to quit trying and come back to her with fresh eyes more than once. Since I finally managed to get her right, in honor of Ash’s metamorphic ways, I thought I would share her remarkable transformation.
When I’m drawing a character, I try to find people who look similar to the people I see in my head and work from there, changing them as I see fit. For the most part this is easy enough, and usually I can get a character down within the first three sketches. The girl I originally selected as the basis for Ash was gorgeous. I knew she wasn’t a perfect Ash when I selected her, no one was going to be, but I liked the shape of her features, especially her eyes, which were big but still pixyish and looked very much like the real Ash’s amber eyes. If I had known how difficult she would be, I would have chosen someone else from the start, though that probably wouldn’t have helped me much in the end. You’ll see why.
For the record, this was my third attempt with the original model with the perfect eyes. Even though the drawing is awful (by this point you can see my frustration coming out in the graphite), I am glad I didn’t throw it away like the previous two attempts because it’s nice looking back, to see just how much I’ve improved as an artist. (There’s a lesson in here about practicing, I’m sure, but who needs practical drawing lessons? If you’ve come to me for that, you’re in big trouble, but I digress.)
With every attempt at drawing this girl, I only seemed to get worse, and my younger daughter kept coming along, looking at my work, telling me her chin was too short or her nose was misaligned or her face didn’t fall in the right point on her head. She was a very patient critic, my Bird, even though I became more convinced that I was just a terrible artist with each sketch of not-Ash I drew. Bird is a teenager, so she might have just laughed at my struggles, rolled her eyes and gone about her business. Instead she kept repeating in her very best voice of reason, “It’s better than I could do, Mom. You’ll get it. Keep trying,” which I did, until about a month ago, when I decided I just couldn’t draw a person in profile and I turned to the great and powerful internet for help.
After watching some how-to videos on drawing, I came back to the original model recharged, drawing her several more times, altering hair and even the shape of her eyes, which was one of the things that I liked most about model 1 in the first place, but still I couldn’t get her right. I thought that if I just kept changing things, eventually she would look like the girl I saw in my head, and I wasn’t willing to give up… that is, until I was about half way through this drawing–the last drawing of model 1 ever made.
It is far better than the other drawing, as you can see, however even before I started her ridiculous hair (which I drew several ways before quitting, though the evidence didn’t come out in the picture), I had already figured out it wasn’t really that I couldn’t draw Ash, or even that some small thing about the model needed to be altered and if I could just find whatever it was and fix it, she would be the perfect Ash. The trouble was that the girl I was drawing repeatedly and requiring still more brief art lessons/therapy sessions with my fourteen year old for, was just not Ash, not at all, and I was too stubborn to recognize it. I don’t know who model 1 was, but she wasn’t who I thought she was.
This weeks-long endeavor at redrawing the same girl fifty different ways is how my hidden character inspiration board on Pinterest became full of dozens of potential Ash Wannabes, all of them beautiful, but most of them not at all Ash-like. Here are the other girls I drew in my search for the real Ash:
None of them were good enough, which is why it probably wouldn’t have done me any good to start with a different model, because I was just bound to go through this process, but at least I made some serious strides in my ability to draw a person the right way in one attempt, which is exactly how many times it took me to draw the fifth model, who turned out to be the one.
I’m not certain why I had such a difficult time finding her to begin with, in fact, when I started drawing model 5, I thought she would likely end up in the Not-Ash pile as well. But now that she is finished, with her coy eyes and her lips that hint of a thousand secrets and her wild hair that gives away just enough of who she really is at heart to satisfy that she does not take herself too seriously, I’ve decided that maybe the reason this has been such a difficult journey has something to do with the nature of Ash’s character as a shapeshifter.
Needless to say, if you are going to start drawing people, whether for your work or as a hobby, I highly recommend you steer clear of all changelings, because they have a nasty habit of changing on you when you least expect it. Beyond that, remember that just because a person might be a changeling doesn’t mean they want to be changed by you. I suppose you could say that I have learned not to keep sketching the same person, hoping somehow she would magically turn into someone she was not for my sake.
Yup, that’s a metaphor. Happy Drawing!
Yesterday I published Blackeney’s character page, which honestly gave me a bit more difficulty than any other character so far, though this really didn’t surprise me, because Black’s tale is darker, so he’s harder to summarize. The Eleventh Age is an epic fantasy, and all of my characters fit fantasy archetypes at the surface–after all what is a fantasy without its trusty tropes? Black is no different from any of the others in that respect, however when I first started writing several years ago, my original goal was simply to produce an action-packed, young adult fantasy that had a female hero, because I thought the world could use more stories about girls, who weren’t quite as transparent as their glass slippers, but as I began building my world, in which young Elli Foote, like many a hero before her, discovers her extraordinary purpose and embarks on her harrowing journey with her band of trusty tropes at her side, I developed a few ulterior motives. I wanted to write a story with a moral at the end. I wanted to write a story that crossed cultural boundaries. I wanted to write a story in which my characters spoke to real-world issues, suffering the sort of troubles ordinary people suffer, like loss, abandonment, poverty, hunger, abuse–all of these are things Black has experienced firsthand, just to name a few, which is what made writing his summary so difficult. My trouble was in remaining true to his character without giving too much away, which I think I’ve managed.
I’ve alluded to this desire to keep my characters real before. Not only do all of them have to have flaws and hidden agendas, weaknesses and passions, but all of them must have perfectly rational reasons for their otherwise odd behaviors. Black, for instance, is a warrior who does not fight, and his reasons are rational and uniquely his own. The thing is, Black knows as well a I do that what is rational is not always logical, and our rationalizations can sometimes (read: almost always) be built upon false beliefs. We humans are actually quite adept at dealing in false beliefs, which brings me to the topic of the day:
Monkeys, Babies, and the Moral of the Story
If you are reading this, chances are 1. you are human and 2. you possess fairly well-developed theory of mind, which is, very basically, the ability to understand that you have a mind, which holds knowledge, beliefs, and intentions unique to you, and that others have minds of their own, in which they hold separate knowledge, beliefs and intentions that are different from yours and everyone else, for that matter. This probably seems fairly straightforward, especially since you’ve possessed the beginnings of this theory of mind since you were as young as seven months old, however even though it seems obvious, this theory can only ever be a theory because there is no way for me to prove that you have a mind or for you to prove that I have one, because we are each only capable of experiencing the world from our singular perspectives, and anything else is, well, just theory. What this theory of mind allows you to do is to make assumptions, based on your own understandings, in order to predict or explain other people’s actions, and it comes in quite handy in just about every interaction we have with one another (and anything else we perceive as having a mind, it turns out).
Scientists have been working for decades to determine if humans are the only animals that possess theory of mind, to determine if this is in fact what distinguishes us as humans, which is a rather difficult task, because animals and humans don’t speak the same language, though we can understand certain animal behaviors as similar to our own. There is plenty of documented evidence supporting the idea that animals have emotions. We know elephants and gorillas cry over the loss of family and friends, even across species. We know dogs will visit the graves of deceased companions. But while we’re perfectly aware that other animals have minds, after all our theory of mind allows us to assume this by their behaviors, whether or not those animals possess a theory of mind and are aware that we have minds as well is open for debate.
If you’ve ever played fetch with a dog, you know that animals are capable of viewing your behavior and predicting what will happen next. We had a Belgian Malinois years ago that I loved to try and fool when playing fetch. I could see that she would watch my eyes and the angle of my arm and take off milliseconds before the ball ever left my hand, and very rarely did I ever fool her. The dogs we have now are not quite so intuitive–one of them just looks at the ball, dimly, like he’s still not certain what it is, while the other will go after the ball and keep running past it forever, but now I’ve gotten sidetracked. It is clear from my own experience that dogs are definitely aware of what people are looking at and capable of making predictions about their actions. For a while, some researchers had the idea that this sort of awareness of visual access might be evidence of full-blown theory of mind in other animals.
O’livia, the Belgian, even displayed some cross-species compassion once, a few years before she died. Though she never had puppies of her own, she attempted to nurse an opossum that had been abandoned and wandered into our yard, weak and blind and squealing for its momma.
Initially I believed that my wonderful, bright dog had chosen to display the tenderness of motherhood, and trust me when I say that Livy was anything but tender under normal circumstances. It definitely seemed to me that she understood the baby opossum was lost and alone and hungry, and that she knew just what to do and actually wanted to help. Then I found the first baby opossum to make it into the yard, very much dead, and the second, dead as well, and I began to wonder if perhaps this third opossum, whom she was being kind to, nursing even though she had no milk, was really lost and alone and hungry, and having found a warm, furry body, it had climbed up and attached to Livy by mistake, while dear ol’ Livy was busy murdering its siblings (much more Livy-like behavior). I began to suspect that when the opossum attached and began to suckle, it triggered her mothering instinct, probably through a release of hormones, and that overrode her hyperactive prey drive. I will never know if Liv actually possessed a theory of mind capable of commiseration with and showing compassion towards a baby opossum, but I do know from my experience that I am just great at anthropomorphizing all manner of animals and creating false beliefs within my own little theory of mind. I’m officially human. Yay!
Recently, developmental psychologists and comparative cognition researchers have managed to conduct several false-belief task tests on human babies and various primates. This sort of testing was necessary because one of the most important steps in development of theory of mind is establishing the ability to distinguish what another person can or can’t know based on their observations. The comparative cognition researchers were beginning to suspect that all primates had a solid theory of mind based on other tests that definitively showed primates (and other animals) have a visual awareness that extends to others, like with my dog, Liv. For instance, a monkey is more likely to steal a piece of food it knows has not been seen by its owner, and they even retain this knowledge in the future, but without non-verbal tests for false-belief tasks, they couldn’t draw a firm corollary between visual-behavioral awareness and behavioral-mental awareness. (You can and should read about some of these false-belief tests and their results here, I just wanted to give a basic idea moving forward.) In each of the false-belief tests, what is being examined is whether or not the subject (baby or monkey) understands what a second subject can know based on its experience. For instance, the baby or monkey watches the second subject place an object in a specific spot, and while the second subject isn’t paying attention, the object moves somewhere else. Will the baby or monkey know that the second subject must believe that the object is in its original spot (i.e. does the baby or monkey have an understanding of what the second subject knows based on its world view)? It turns out that 15 month old human babies consistently exhibit that they understand and are not surprised by true-belief based actions committed by the second subject (when the subject returns to where the baby last saw the second subject place the object), and they consistently exhibit that they understand and are surprised by false-belief based actions committed by the second subject (when the subject returns to look where the object actually is, where they could not have seen the object go). Human babies, surprise, surprise, have a developed theory of mind. Much to the dismay of the comparative cognition researchers, monkeys don’t care, either way. Once visual access is lost, the monkeys no longer expect the second subject to look in either spot, whether during the true-belief test or the false-belief test, because as far as a monkey’s concerned, the subject can’t know where the object is. This does not necessarily mean that monkeys don’t have a theory of mind, by the way, it may just mean that their theory of mind relies on continuous observation, because they are continually observant, and their theory of mind is based on being a monkey, which you have to admit makes a little more sense than their theory of mind being the same as us humans. If their theory of mind were just like ours, they would probably be out there conducting tests on pigmy goats to determine whether or not pigmy goats too think like apes and humans, but they aren’t.
I have no vested interest in whether or not this proves that humans are massively unique, so you might be asking yourself why is this important to me? Because other animals dance and sing during mating season, and we people find it fascinating and devote whole studies to it, and frankly, it’s that sort of stuff that I find fascinating. Humans dance and sing all the time, just for fun, and we’ve got people who study that too. Unless we’re depressed or otherwise inhibited, we seem to always be spit-polishing our feathers, because we are very much concerned with what others think about us–other people and other animals as well, it seems. We lie for attention and affection. We cheat on tests in order to give ourselves a false sense of security and to instill in others a false belief of our abilities. We don’t just watch life, observing the real, we all play mentalists, examining other people for signs they are bored, hungry, angry, tired, lying, and a plethora of other interesting little things we believe they might feel or do at any given moment, based on that theory of mind we’re so keen at using, and we habitually make up stories to answer that profoundest of questions: why?
We read whole books about how other people go through their lives, and we invest ourselves deeply in their worlds, purely for entertainment purposes. We even write whole books for the entertainment of others, which is stranger still than reading, because it requires that we not only consider that other people have minds, but that we have an understanding of how to manipulate and influence those minds, by creating still more minds, all worrying very humanly over the contents of still other minds, just to elicit specific thoughts and emotions, not in ourselves, but so that the moral of the story is understood by someone else in the end. The depth of our theory of mind means that we don’t just cry when we lose our own loved-ones and friends, we cry when people we know lose loved-ones and friends, we cry when we hear about people we don’t know losing loved-ones and friends, we cry when elephants cry because they have lost loved-ones and friends, we even cry when we read about fictional creatures from other universes crying over elephants crying over losing loved-ones and friends. Okay, I made that up. But we do read about conferences where other people talk about studies still others have conducted to determine if other primates understand false belief, and we ask ourselves questions like, “Even if they did understand false belief, would they be capable of understanding it to the depths that we do?” which gives rise to still more questions and potential things to study, which leads me to believe that perhaps the ability to ponder and theorize and postulate and query even though we have a fully developed theory of mind that is capable of understanding not just that some other person or animal can only know what he has experienced, but that sometimes people will surprise us, and we enjoy being amazed like that, might just be what makes us human.
Last night we watched The Pirate Movie, a 1982 adaptation of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance, which (Spoiler Alert!) ends with Mabel demanding and receiving her happy ending, both in her dream and when she wakes up washed up on the beach to her fantasy Frederic-without-a-K kissing her, for no apparent reason. Cue Happily Ever After Song and Dance:
Oh, silly Mabel, also without a K.
Anyway, this got me thinking about how liberally the sappy ending is applied for entertainment purposes, even in those works that aren’t intended to be farcical, and wondering why the general public prefers stories that leave a saccharine numbness on the brain to those that tell the truth in all her glorious despair, forcing us to accept life as difficult as it is, and acknowledge that all heroes die, most lovers grow bored and tired and some turn into miserable drunks, the money runs out far too quickly after a windfall leaving only destitution, the guy who survives the shark attack inevitably gets hit by a bus on his way home from the hospital… You get the picture.
I’m hardly the first person to question why we prefer our candy-coatings and rosy spectacles, and Google turns up an expert for just about every explanation, so I’ll spare you my musings where that’s concerned, except to say that the geek in me did find fascinating the idea that commiseration with fictional characters may cause a similar release of neurochemicals in the audience, as if when watching a film or reading a book, we are actually experiencing the lives of our favorite protagonists and antagonists as people we know and have legitimate feelings for. Oh, and I would be remiss not to mention it is a well-known, scientifically proven fact that giddy pirate song and dance numbers assure the survival of the species, ranking right up there with water, food and shelter as necessary to our very existence, but I’m no expert, so don’t quote me. (Okay, so it’s not a fact, but some of those experts should definitely do a study.)
While I, too, enjoy prancing pirates on occasion, I won’t deny that I’m truly a cynic at heart, one who enjoys harsher tales that force us to examine ourselves. When I watch stories like The Pirate Movie, I can’t help but see the catastrophe beyond the Happily Ever After, which to me is really just another happy beginning right before the next tragedy strikes and must be overcome. Silly Mabel, also without a K, will surely discover, soon after the credits roll, that her darling Frederic-without-a-K sees she is one who falls in love far too quickly, that she is a girl who will give him whatever he wants in the interest of continuing in this thing she believes is love, however she will not see it for what it is until Frederic has thoroughly taken advantage of her, leaving her broken and used up, probably singing on a beach somewhere, desperate for her next romance, because that is the way life works. I’m certain I’m not the only one who feels this way, I mean, look how Frozen ended. And even my sixteen year old daughter (who only a few hours before watching the movie read to me an open letter from another teenager to adults who read articles about teenagers, basically requesting that they stop treating teens like some strange beings to be stereotyped and categorized, quantified and explained away) couldn’t help pointing out that Mabel and Frederic’s relationship was “just like every relationship” at her high school, and we all know that the vast majority of those end in tears and bloodshed, usually not too long after the young lovers have professed their eternally dripping, syrupy-sweet, twoo wub to one another and refused for an hour and a half to be the first to hang up the phone.
As an author and a cynic, I’ve set out to tell hard truths in my writing. Though the story is set in present day and wrapped up in the real world, which will become more apparent in future works, The Eleventh Age is largely mythopoeic, and as such there is always the temptation (and plenty of opportunity) to take the easy way out, to fall back to some deus ex machina, or miracle event, to save my favorite characters from their fate, or resort to unrealistic devices to explain away inconsistencies, simply because the world is magical, like Mabel simply deciding that it was her dream, so she could have her happy ending, and Viola! Happy Ending. But in The Eleventh Age, Fate itself is a living, breathing character within the tale, a character very much at odds with our heroine at times, and let me tell you, Fate will not stand for too much divine intervention from the lowly writer, not even if it involves dancing pirates. Meanwhile I’m fairly certain the cynic in me would baby-vomit if I cheated and rescued someone I’ve known must die from the very beginning or had someone unreasonably fall in love just to play to a chemical reaction my audience expects to receive. I get great pleasure from forcing myself to think logically from so many perspectives at once, keeping in mind what all the major players and most of the minor players are doing and all of the whys and hows going on in the background, while Elli walks on the surface of the story and we see in the reading only what she sees, and the things that unfold are only seen as she unfolds them–oftentimes mistakenly and clumsily, because the fact of the matter is she is just a teenage girl. To me, writing is an extraordinary puzzle of human interactions, every character should be deep, and if they aren’t deep from the beginning, then it should only be because their depth has yet to be uncovered. Of course, I’m not going to pretend that I have some superior moral incite that justifies my work, I don’t, or that I am the most exceptional author, I’m not, but I do like for stories to be realistic, even my fantasies. And I love a large dose of bitter to cut through the sweet.
Needless to say, this means happily ever after might always be just happy enough for the time being, where Elli Foote’s concerned, but the poor girl can’t help it that her author’s jaded and a little cruel at heart.
Hi! I’m Luthien Kennedy; Lu for short and Lulu to my siblings, which I guess that would be for long-short. I’m the author of The Eleventh Age, which is what this blog is all about.
I’ve been very busy lately, when I’m not writing book two of the series, curating content and building my web presence, which is pretty scary for me, because I’m officially NOT John Green or even his brother–I’m a total introvert. You will never find a video of me explaining all of history like some mad genius with entirely too much time on his hands, and if you happen to like my work enough to make me famous, I will probably take to wearing fancy silk masks in public, à la Michael Jackson, or better yet the the long hijab-like veil the diva Plavalaguna wore in The Fifth Element (one of my top ten favorite movies, by the way).
My plan for this site, aside from blogging about what I’m doing (or in the case of writer’s block, what I’m not doing), is to provide a place for readers to find extra information about my work from character sketches to back-stories, scene mockups, links to further information, and the like. I intend to update the blog at least once a week and to regularly post new content, so visit often, like me on Facebook, and make sure to follow me while I get REALLY uncomfortable here in black and white, all for your entertainment!
To start, I thought I’d tell you what I’m currently reading. For pleasure I like to read fantasy and some sci-fi, but I tend to find myself soaking in a wide range of subjects for research (because I’m a little strange and love to learn). Right now I’m reading The Power of Myth, which is a book based on the documentary series Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth with Bill Moyers. For more information see this link. But absolutely do not go out and buy this book. If you need something to read, you want to read The Eleventh Age, by yours truly.
Hope to see you often!