As he finished lunch, Grzhegorzh contemplated how he was going to get food to his friends. He could try to sneak out of the forge, but Ekaterina would probably notice him leave. Maybe he could visit them by night, like she suggested, but then how would he bring them food? He was not a thief, but he may have to turn into one in order to help his friends. He felt that Ekaterina might help him, but he could not be certain. He took a bar of red hot scrap metal over to the crank hammer. As he ran the bar under the hammerhead on the anvil, he dares to ask a burning question. “How should I get food for my friends?” he asks her, not even knowing where the food market was. Ekaterina does not look up from her anvil as she answers. “Finish three more bars, then you’ll receive your first payment. To get to the food market, go out the front door, take a left, pass two shops, then go down the alley on the right and you’ll come to an open air market. You will have to be quick, the scrap and wood haulers will be here in a few hours with the final haul of the day. If you want to follow them back to their barracks, then you will need to be here by then, and you will need to put away the wood and metal before you can follow them. If you mess up the bars, you will need to do them over and you will miss your opportunity.” He nodded and started the crank hammer. Slowly drawing it out and thinning it. Grzhegorzh was diligent, the first one was done within ten minutes. The next one was also simple. As he used the crank hammer, it took shape, a long, flat bar of metal, alloyed from layers of scrap. As he finished flattening the hot metal, he allowed it to cool in the air, rather than dunking it in oil as he saw Ekaterina do. The last piece was harder than the previous two. He slammed the crank hammer into it, but progress was slow. He wound up needing to put the metal back in the heat of the fire to get it warm enough to work again. He worked hard and he worked fast, trying to make good time so he would be able to help his friends. At last he was done, but it was too late. He placed the last bar on the supply bench just as his friends and the so called “commandos” returned with the scrap metal, and another group came with wood. Dutifully, he piled the scrap metal and then the lumber in their correct places. He still worked quickly, but he saw them move before he finished. As soon as he finished, he ran out of the forge, not even bothering to get approval from Ekaterina to follow them. It was a confusing place. The village was massive compared to where he had grown up, and more than once, he lost sight of his friends around a corner. He managed to catch sight of them just as they went out of sight again. Every time, he just barely caught sight of one of the stragglers, until finally he saw them disappear behind a wooded fence. Now he was lost. He searched for his way back to the forge, but did not know how to get back. He took wrong turns, and eventually night seemed fast approaching. He slumped in an alley and sat on the dirt. He felt a hand grip his shoulder and he jumped to his feet, afraid. He turned to face whoever had startled him, only to find, of all people, Konrad. “How are you still alive?” Konrad practically shouted with excitement. “I really don’t know.” Grzhegorzh replied with a laugh. “Well come on, I’m headed to market to sell some leather, why don’t I buy you some food there?” his old friend asked. “Maybe then we can figure out how you got here.” Grzhegorzh nodded and followed him. At the market, Konrad found a food stall and bought them some lunch. They discussed what had happened since he left, and how he wound up here, while they ate. Learning that Grzhegorzh needed to get back to the forge, Konrad agreed to lead him there once they had finished eating. On their way back, Konrad gave him something, a broken arrowhead from one of their hunts “straighten that out for me will you? I’ll pick it up next time I come by.” Grzhegorzh chuckled and accepted the task. When he returned to the forge, Ekaterina handed him his money. “You’ll need to make it back here by sunup, and be ready for a full day of work tomorrow.” She told him, before she went back to her work and left him to his own devices. Grzhegorzh carefully retraced his steps to the market. He bought smoked sausage, bread, cheese, cider, and a bag to store it all in, then he worked his way back to the prison complex by backroads and alleys, hoping that he could trust his feet to carry him back. He managed to find the palisade again, this time by accident, and he watched the guards patrol. This he remembered from hunting in his younger days. Observe your prey, then strike when they are unaware. He waited for the sun to go down, and approached the area by moonlight. It was hard to see, but the guards carried lanterns now, illuminating their positions rather easily against the black of the night. He waited for a patrol to pass and then he ran for the fence. He tried to scale it, but the vertical logs made it hard. Thanks to the callouses on his hands, and another experience in his youth, he was eventually able to haul himself over the spiked wooden fence, though he cut his leg open as he did. Grimacing, he used the arrowhead Konrad had given him earlier to cut the sleeves off of his shirt and tie them into a makeshift bandage around his leg. He limped to the first longhouse he saw, peering in through the open window to see if he could recognize anyone. The moon cast a pale light on the arm of one of the slaves, and revealed a tattoo. It was one of the commandos, they were scrap haulers like the monks. As quietly as he could, Grzhegorzh slid back the latch and opened the door.
We made it, yay us, only one more post to go, and I’ll do that tomorrow. It will be a continuation of Grzhegorzh’s story, and it will also be the first to explore the “cloak and dagger” aspect I hinted at earlier. Right now, though, things are looking up. One of my friends got cleared by a medical waiver and is going to be joining the army soon. Currently, I am passing all of my classes, though that could change if something goes egregiously wrong. However, I have found that even in the worst case, things typically do not go egregiously wrong. Right now I am hopeful, the semester is in the final stages and I feel like I can finally relax. Aside from the story about Grzhegorzh, I have a couple stories in the pipeline. One was previewed with December moon and the other is a story based on the first two writing prompts, but with a twist. The mysterious package contains the genie lamp, and the genie lamp is just a tarnished brass oil lamp, there is nothing special about it. Coincidence, however, plays out in a way that leads them to suspect that something supernatural is amiss. I like that kind of story, it seems fun. Anyway, I will miss this class. It kept me on my toes and I did like the stories we read, though I will have to move along with finding a job for this summer for two reasons. Primarily so I don’t go stir-crazy, but secondarily so I can replenish my depleted cash deposit. It is surprising how much money you can blow through when you aren’t paying attention. I also hope to return to in-person classes soon. I miss seeing people face to face and I hope that eventually we can do away with masks as well. It seems a good idea to mention that I will be trying to read more, in addition to writing more. First on my list is cloud atlas, as recommended by my brother. I mention him a lot and that is because, as I have said many times, he is a good friend. Eventually he and I will work together on a story and it will absolutely be a comedy. That’s all I’ve got. Maybe someday I’ll be a famous writer, but right now I think I’ll settle for being a published writer. It may be quite a while before we talk again, but I wish you well. Take care.
As soon as Gzhegorzh was capable, he was put to work in the forge. His jobs consisted entirely of menial labor, but all things considered, it was light. The scrap haulers would bring in upwards of 60lbs of metal scrap per trip, and likewise the woodsmen would bring in around the same weight of wood. As Grzhegorzh worked, he was able to get a view of where he was being kept. It looked like a village, not too different from his own, but much larger. There were buildings of wood and cobblestone, with thatched roofs, again, much like home, but everyone here was different. He knew none of them. He had learned the name of his master, it was Ekaterina. To her, Grzhegorzh was a tool, like the hammer she used to shape metal, or the bellows she used to rouse the fire. He had been bought as one, and when he broke, he would be replaced like one. That’s just the way things were. It didn’t seem right, but she needed to stay in business, lest she fall into the same fate. Every morning, Grzhegorzh woke with the sun. It was an old habit, and one he was always grateful for. He could not eat solid food still, but broth and water were a good place to start if nothing else was available. The monks woke soon after he did, said their morning prayers, and got onto breakfast. They could chew, so they went about dividing their bread into equal parts. He watched as they prepared every morning, appearing gaunt, but not weak. In a place like this, showing weakness was a death sentence. If a tool broke, it was tossed aside if it could not be repaired. People were harder to repair, and there were no shortage of naïve young fools that could be purchased to replace the worn out old ones. When asked to, Grzhegorzh would complete a task. His day usually started at the crack of dawn. Ekaterina would wake him up. “Light the forge and get it nice and hot.” She would demand. With his jaw wired shut so it could heal, he could not talk back. With the threat of being sent off to scavenge metal or chop wood looming over his head, he dared not defy her orders. He cleaned out the ashes from the previous day’s fire out and dumped them on the ash pile. Then he stacked wood high in the empty pit. He lined it with dry grass, bark, and twigs. Just to ensure that it would light on fire, he often poured some fat rendered from the previous day’s meals on the wood. Then he took a piece of flint and a piece of iron. Striking the two together, he created sparks. The sparks would eventually catch. Most of the time it was the fat, the dry grass came in close second. Once the fire had caught, he got more orders “put together some breakfast.” was a common one, with it came specific instructions. Sometimes it was to fry up some sort of meat, others it was to boil oats into oatmeal. After that he had to clean the place up. That didn’t take more than a couple hours, and he would be able to help around the forge afterward. He did look forward to helping around the forge. During breakfast, Ekaterina would always tell him “I’m doing you a favor, you know. I figure that, by the time your jaw heals, I might have enough trust to call you my assistant.” and after he had cleaned and cooked, she would call him over “Take this and put it on that anvil, then turn the crank until the metal stops glowing. Remember to turn it over after every time the block falls.” She would say. It was a way to flatten out and stretch the scrap metal into blades. It was simpler than beating it with a hammer by hand for minutes on end, and produced roughly the same result. It was also the first forge skill that Grzhegorzh learned. He nodded, still unable to speak, and feeling quite tired. Afterwards, it was back to moving scrap metal from the stockpile to the crucible, or wood and charcoal to the forge. His meals were still liquid, and still contained a noticeable amount of alcohol. It sacrificed taste, but he found himself becoming dependent on it. Between Ekaterina keeping him out of the field, and supplying him with the alcoholic food that he subsisted on, he felt that he was growing to see her as a friend. He knew she had bought him, and he understood that she forced other slaves to gather metal for her to work with and wood to keep her forge hot. Slowly, though, he regained some semblance of strength in both his jaw, and indeed his whole body. Days blended into weeks, and then months. Eventually his jaw healed and the wire could come off. He was given a cup of what looked like water and told to drink it. It burned, a lot like what he had drunk from the bottle when his jaw was wired shut so long ago. By now the snow was deep and the days were short, so he was glad for Ekaterina’s offer, and wound up apprenticing under her through the winter months. On one morning he saw three of the monks passing by the forge along with a new group of slaves. These men were different. They looked rough, like anyone else that could survive here, but their hair was cut close, they were tall and muscular, and they had strange tattoos, depicting warlike emblems. He stopped one of the monks to talk. “What happened, where are the others?” He asked, since it was cold and food was scarce, the response should not have shocked him as much as it did. “They died. All of them. We prayed to God and heard no answer as the life left them. Now there are new workers to take their place. They call themselves “commandos”, though I have not met any travelers from their tribe before.” Grzhegorzh wanted to know more, but the guards hustled the monks along. The monks, he cursed himself for not looking in on them sooner. It should have been obvious that they would need more help than he did. He worked silently and methodically the rest of the day, carefully forging scrap metal into flat bars and rough shapes. Ekaterina still finished, sharpened, and hardened the pieces, but as she said “It helps to have an extra set of hands doing the grunt work.” That afternoon at lunch he felt compelled to ask her about his friends. “Why spare me?” He asked, still confused at her apparent mercy towards him despite seeming so nonchalant about the abject misery that everyone else he was brought in with had suffered through. “That raider, the one who brought you in, thinks he is important. He is strong and a very capable fighter, but he is not well liked. Everybody does what they can to screw him over in little ways. I could see plainly that he did not like you, that he held some sort of grudge, so I knew I needed to keep you alive at all costs.” Grzhegozh was stunned, but still curious. “I still don’t understand, though, why not spare the others, too?” Ekaterina shook her head and swallowed a bite of potato stew. “Too conspicuous. If I took them all, he would have known for certain that something was up. Why do you ask?” She replied, now suspicious of her apprentice. “Well, they saved my life, it feels wrong that I should abandon them.” He stated, confused as to what he should do. “If you get caught giving them anything, there is a high likelihood that you will be killed. So go to the market and buy some bread jerky, watch where they go when they are brought in for the night, and above all else, don’t get caught. You still owe me for what I spent on you.” She said casually. It almost felt disingenuous coming from her, but he did owe her for saving his life, and them as well. He would help as best he could.
Well now, looks like we’re coming up on finals. Last week I had an abnormally heavy amount of long term projects which had come due, so they took priority over everything else. I managed to finish everything on time, but at a decent cost. I missed going to my dad’s last weekend, I missed kickboxing and a large amount of exercise last week, and I did not post on the blog, putting me behind again. So what lies ahead? Good question, I had hoped to take the story of our intrepid hero Grzhegorzh off of the blog and put it into a much larger story. It looks like you won’t see how this one ends, unless you decide to buy the book once it is published. I had not planned on finishing the story on here, but I was happy to get a start on this story. I also managed to make myself happier by simply writing on this blog semi-regularly. I never liked journals because I felt like I could never get everything down that I wanted to, and focusing solely on a story for me always wound up burning me out. Perhaps I was so used to school that I had gotten used to writing quickly, rather than writing something that I wanted. In any event, I actually do not have much to say for this post. I know it is not the best thing to come up short, especially after missing a week of posting, but I do not want to make my writing forced. That is one lesson I will always take with me, forced writing is bad writing. Anyway, that’s all I’ve got for now, hopefully, I’ll upload again soon.
Grzhegorzh and the monks were kept in captivity for many days while the raiders took them to their camp. At first the monks tried to talk among themselves. They would say prayers and sing hymns, but that did not last long. A few minutes after they started talking, one would be pulled off of the cart and beaten. It took three times for the message to get across. Not that Grzhegorzh could speak anyway, his jaw was severely fractured. The raiders mentioned selling them while sitting around their fires at night, meanwhile the captives were kept in the cart. It was the worst when it rained. Their captors had some form of shelter that they used when they made camp. This kept them dry, warm, and off the ground, meanwhile the captives were tied to a cart and left under the sky. They huddled together in silence as they awaited their fate. During the journey, they were only given one brick of hardtack and one canteen of brackish, muddy water per day, so it was no wonder that they eventually left two of the weaker and older monks in unmarked graves on the side of the road. Yet another injustice that Grzhegorzh would want vengeance for. He could not eat for the same reason he could not talk, and that left him a lot weaker than the others. By the time they reached their destination five days later, Grzhegorzh was weak with delirium and hunger. He was half-dragged, half-carried out of the cart by the other monks, but once on the ground he fell on all fours and could not find his feet. Worried, the monks pulled him to his feet again and led him where they were led. One by one they were sold off, except for a pair of twin brothers, who were sold together. Grzhegorzh was taken by a group of metalworkers to act as a scrap hauler. He still did not know what was happening even as he was dragged off to another cart. He was given more bread and water, but again, he could not eat due to the fracture in his jaw. It was during this time that he dreamed again, but not of a feast or a warm bed, this time, he was flying. He was among the clouds, the cold wind whipping his face as he watched the ground rush past beneath him. It was beautiful from up here, the forests and rivers blended together in a mural of green and blue. He looked up, there was the sun, clearer than ever before, and despite the cold wind in his face, he let it warm his back as he flew closer and closer. It kept warming him and he heard the rush of wind in his ears. It was now warmer than the wind, too warm. The wind rushing past him was deafening now, and the heat was so intense he felt as though the form that allowed him flight was melting away like wax. “I SAID WAKE UP!” Came a shout from his left. It wasn’t the sun, but a roaring fire of hot coals. Grzhegorzh tried to respond, but he could only groan, his body felt weak and numb. He managed to drag himself to his feet by leaning against a wall. “Name” his captor demanded. Grzhegorzh shook his head and pointed to the bruised spot on the side of his face where the hammer had left it’s mark. “Right, you’re mute.” the captor said to himself. Grzhegorzh nodded and slumped over, falling into a squat, before sitting against the wall once he could no longer stand. “Oh no, I paid a good amount for you, so you aren’t dying until I get my money’s worth.” The man said. Was it a man or a woman? Grzhegorzh could not tell. His vision was blurry from a week without any food, a concussion, and the searing pain of a broken jaw on the verge of infection. Whoever it was pulled Grzhegorzh to his feet and just about carried him to a tent. He was placed on a cot and held down. Someone pressed a bottle to his lips and commanded “drink”. He did, taking a gulp and gagging on the taste of the liquid. It burned, but the more he drank the less he felt, until at last he just passed out again. When he woke up, something was holding his mouth shut, and someone was sitting next to the cot where he was placed. They offered him a bottle that looked like it was made out of clay. He shook his head, but his visitor seemed to have other ideas. “You look like you haven’t eaten in a while, so take it on faith that this is what you need. This is basically liquid bread, with a decent amount of alcohol. Not as much as the stuff you chugged before they reset your jaw, but enough to make you forget how hard your day was. Trust me when I say that will be a welcome comfort, and one of the few you will receive here.” Grzhegorzh understood and took the bottle then. He parted his lips, despite his teeth not being able to separate, and took a gulp. This time he spit it out. “Takes some getting used to. My name is Victor.” He said, with a laugh. Grzhegorzh nodded and took another gulp. This time he managed to hold it down. It felt like a punch in the gut, but he figured that was just his stomach getting used to having something to digest in it again. Three long weeks he was kept there while he recovered, then, as soon as he could walk, he was dragged back to the forge. There a woman, with the same voice as the person who had berated him on his arrival. She was giving orders to several people. “You there, mute, get over here.” She demanded. Grzhegorzh couldn’t think of anything better to do, so he did as he was told. “There is a place nearby where we collect scrap metal. You and these guys will be sent there to collect scrap so I can forge armor and weapons for our soldiers, understand?” Grzhegorzh nodded and lined up with the others. There were five or six men in scrap armor carrying weapons that seemed sharp enough to cut a stone, and only ten prisoners including himself. There weren’t enough of them to overpower the guards, even if they were all in peak health. Grzhegorzh simply followed the others. He missed his knife, and his cloak even more so. It had cooled significantly since he had set out. His limbs were a bit numb still, and he was dragging his feet. One of the guards smacked him in the head for dawdling, and he just collapsed. He clutched his ears and shut his eyes, the concussion he still had was playing merry havoc with his senses now that he had taken another whack to the skull. The woman cautioned the guard to back off and dragged Grzhegorzh back into the forge. “I don’t know why the fuck they sent you out to work, you aren’t right in the head and your mouth is still healing. Until you can actually do what they bought you to do, I’m gonna have you doing some work here in order for you to recover.” Grzhegorzh still had his eyes shut, and he was rubbing his temples as his head throbbed. “Come on” she said “Let’s get you to work”.
Well, it’s been wild. I had major tests two days in a row this week, which was simply not fun. That was compounded by the three quizzes and two written assignments I had last week and left me generally unhappy. That was temporary, though, as I found a way to increase dopamine production in a healthy way. Granted, this also increases lactic acid production, and generally feels unpleasant while it is happening, but afterwards, I am usually quite happy with what I have done. For those of you who have not yet figured it out, I started exercising more. Turns out four classes a week of MMA practice wasn’t doing it for me anymore, so I added running three days a week and bodyweight exercise six days a week with an eye on increasing that in the future. I may also look into the noteworthy few recipes that hold the distinction of being both delicious and nutritious. It seems that this is a hard combination to come by unless you program yourself to enjoy foods with lower amounts of sugar and fat. Those two things are typically strewn about our food like sand at a beach. They are also the reason why a bacon cheeseburger and a mint chocolate milkshake taste so damn good. Throughout history, fat and sugar were some of the biggest energy storage mechanisms that humans had, or could readily consume. So evolution steps in and says “Hey, you know that stuff that is really efficient at keeping you moving, yeah, we’re gonna make that taste amazing for you.” Which was pretty neat, until everyone stopped walking everywhere and didn’t do primarily hard labor as a job, so now we’re stuck with high energy density food that tastes great, but without removing any of that fuel. Wow, that was a tangent and a half and I’m not even done yet. Anyway, generic words about increasingly sedentary lifestyles and energy dense foods leading to an increase in health problems and you have the gist of the point I was trying to convey. All that to say, I’ve had to moderate my intake of carbs and fat because ice cream tastes good, but it really won’t help me build back up after 160 burpees. Lean meat, whole grains, vegetables, nuts, and lots of water are slowly taking the place of prepackaged meals and sodas. Granted, the latter tastes better, but the former is healthier, so I need to find a way to make the former taste better so the only barrier is effort. Aside from that, my grandfather had to go back to the hospital because he was bleeding internally. Thankfully, it was minor and he is home again, but for a few days, I was genuinely more worried than I have been in a very long time. I hope to visit him again soon, but for now he needs his rest. Transitioning directly from that somber note to another high-gear set of ramblings, I found a new thing to occupy my time that isn’t social media. I know, I know, I said I wasn’t on social media and for the most part, that was true. I just don’t really know how else to classify it. Anyway, I started watching the expanse, and I was struck by just how realistic it was for a science fiction show. I thought that was nice, in comparison to some other science fiction titles. Starting with video games, the two main ones would be mass effect and halo. Now, they’re fine as games, but lack some necessary elements that would otherwise allow them to be classed as fiction rather than fantasy. Prepare yourself dear reader, I’m about to start complaining again. I usually discern fiction from fantasy by how well it can explain its fictional elements. For example, in halo, the player typically fights as a “Spartan” super soldier, these are humans that have been heavily augmented which leads them to have near superhuman capabilities. While not possible now, it is explained in such detail that the casual observer could believe that similar procedures would be possible in the not so distant future. However, I feel it strays into the realm of fantasy thanks to things like energy shielding and faster than light travel. The former being a complex problem that many seasoned science fiction writers struggle with, and the latter being deemed by physicists as impossible. Mass effect is more egregious with things like biotics and reapers, the former being a term used to describe what I have come to label as part of the umbrella term “space wizards” and the latter being an ancient race of super intelligent machines that wipe out all advanced life in the milky way galaxy every 50,000 years. That’s not to say I don’t find these games entertaining, quite the opposite, I like them a lot, I just don’t get to play them that much. Moving on, I also have some thoughts on movies and TV shows that I feel should fall into the category of science fantasy. I’m gonna steer clear of the Warhammer 40K universe, because it is fairly well established that that is science fantasy. Instead, I am going to go into star wars. They have their own brand of “space wizards” in force users. It also has some fairly incredible materials and technology that seems to need more explanation to fall into the realm of possibility. This to me brings it into the realm of science fantasy. So what would I consider science fiction? Well, Joss Whedon gave it a very good crack with firefly. Some of the technology seemed far fetched, and don’t get me started on the reavers, but all told, it seems far more realistic than some other titles. However, I’m also not an expert, nor an experienced critic, so this has just been another segment of me giving out my opinions for free. It has a sort of catharsis to it, and it does provide a good time dump while I figure out what I should write next for the story of Grzegorzh.
Grzegorzh got shakily to his feet and stumbled out of the room he was allotted by the bishop, Jan. He was hyperventilating now, and leaning against the door frame. His eyes were wide with terror as the nightmare faded from his memory. “What happened to me!?” He shouted to nobody in particular. Jan heard him and rushed over, asking “What do you mean?” Grzegorzh stumbled back as Jan confronted him, “Who cleaned the mud off of me? I was on the road for half a week, who took the clothes off of my body and cleaned me while I was asleep?” He demanded. It was a creepy experience for someone like him. Jan looked perplexed, and a little ashamed as well. “We thought you were dead, as I said, so we were preparing you for a funeral. We had issued you last rites, and cleaned your body. We have a graveyard prepared for unknown travelers.” This calmed Grzegorzh substantially. If they treated the dead with such respect, then perhaps there was some truth behind that “Good Samaritan” story that he had been told by Jan as a justification for his actions. “I, I am sorry I did not trust you.” He stammered out. Jan nodded faintly to acknowledge him. “It is understandable, you have no experience with this sort of thing, and you are scared. Breakfast will be happening soon, if you wish to, you may go back to your room and rest.” Grzegorzh shook his head “I’d like to help if I can.” Jan gave him a pat on the arm. “If you would like, you can help us slice the bread.” He offered. Grzegorzh smiled softly. He was happy to have a job now, even if it was just for a short little while. They got to the kitchen and Jan handed him a bread knife. There were several large loaves of bread still hot out of the oven, they would be served with breakfast. Jan explained that he was to cut them into eight pieces each, and place them in a basket with a cloth in it. He nodded and set to work. It was easy enough to do, but it took Grzegorzh a little bit longer than Jan normally took. He was weak after the long voyage, but he was happy to be doing some sort of work. When he was done, he brought it to Jan. Jan was at the head of a table, where several other men were gathered. They wore simple clothes and had shaved heads. Jan informed Grzegorzh that they were monks. He was told to sit at the empty seat at a table. While it was not the feast he had in his dreams, he could not argue with the fact that he was being given free food by a complete stranger. He was still in rough shape, but he was eating a meal for the second time recently. He remembered Jan’s advice and ate slowly. There was water, bread, and fish. He was used to such meals, and did not complain. Before he ate, Jan said a blessing over the food and the monks bowed their heads. Then it was time to eat. The fresh baked bread was the most delicious he had ever eaten, and the smoked fish was cooked perfectly, though that may have just been a side effect of his hungry mind. He kept quiet as the monks spoke, and felt himself relax. There was a knock at the door, and one of the monks stood to answer. Once the latch was opened, the door was kicked in, and several burly men rushed into the room. Among them was a man with a limp and a cut on his face. Seeing the prominent bruises on Grzegorzh’s cheek and under his eye, he extended a hand, a single finger pointed at him. “That’s the one I’m after. Do what you will with the rest, he’s mine.” The man said with a menacing scowl. There was some grey in his beard, and as the poor monk who went to answer the door stood up to intercede, he was struck with a club and fell unconscious on the floor. At this the others stood. They were pacifists, and instructed not to fight unless absolutely necessary. This meant they were no match for the bandits who raided the church that day. Jan was furious that someone would disturb the sanctity of such a place, however, where the monk had received the working end of a club, he took the bit of an axe, and fell, never again to stand. Grzegorzh drew his knife again, but the brute that had attacked him only two days ago hit his arm with a hammer. Before he even had a chance to shout in pain, another hammer blow caught him in the jaw and his world went black. He woke seeing double and spitting teeth. He was laying on his side in some sort of cart, but from where he was, he could see a column of smoke rising in the sky, and the path behind them branching off in several places. The one that these bandits followed led into some woods. He felt something tugging at his wrists as he went to rub his aching head. Looking down, he saw that his wrists were tied together. He also saw several others, some sitting, some kneeling, all wearing those same robes as the monks had. His vision was still double and unfocussed, plus his memory was scrambled, an his head ached. He tried to sit up, but one of the monks cautioned him to stay laying down. He wanted to fight, but looking down, there was the limper, the cut on his cheek still plainly visible, despite his impaired vision. Grzegorzh saw his knife tucked into the bandit’s belt, and he groaned. He tried to form words, but his mouth would not move properly. “Hahahahaha, looks like I broke that bastard’s jaw” he laughed with one of the other bandits. Both of them were carrying a weapon and a bag. It looked to Grzegorzh like they hadn’t just gone to kidnap him and repay what he had done to one of their own. He felt tears well up in his eyes. Had he not brought that knife to the gathering, then he would not have wound up on that road on that dark and stormy night. He couldn’t help but think that the fate of these monks was now on his shoulders, and he vowed to right what he had done wrong. He would help them be free once again, and get them back their church. He had never felt so sure of anything in his life, but he also knew that he would not be able to do this in a normal fight like he had done with the boys in his village. He would need to be sneaky about this, and he would need to get his knife back somehow.
It has been roughly two weeks since I last posted on here, and recent events have been quite trying. My grandfather recently got out of the hospital for open heart surgery. For privacy reasons, that’s all I feel comfortable saying about that. However, that is not all I want to say about him. He is a wonderful man and has led a very eventful and interesting life. He not only taught in the school district where I wound up spending my K-12 education, but he was also one of the trifecta of teachers who founded the gifted program at the middle school where I went as well. He taught several of my teachers and they wound up having good things to say about him when they taught me, often asking me to say hello next time I saw him. He taught science in the 1960s while his brother, my great uncle, was in the army. His job, combined with the fact that he was married, exempt him from the draft. His brother worked in signal intercepts along the border between what was then East and West Germany. He can’t tell me exactly what he did, but that is no surprise, as he described several times where he met CIA field officers. I digress, my grandfather has been almost a second father after my parents were divorced. He taught me a lot of useful skills, both academic and just general hard work. He was a teacher, so it really is no surprise that he was able to help me learn. For now he is recovering, and I hope his recovery continues to go well. This past weekend was also my father’s birthday. While he is to blame for my parents’ divorce, I have long since forgiven him for it. Staying angry just is not worthwhile, especially at someone who never stopped loving his children. He also led an interesting life. He was a military kid, and he moved around more than a few times in his youth, though from what I gathered, he spent most of his childhood either in Texas or Alaska. He joined the Army after high school and wound up becoming a paratrooper. He was relatively lucky not to have been deployed, as he was in for four years during the 1980s. In the 1980s, the United States military in general, and the 82nd airborne among other units specifically, were involved in the invasions of Grenada and Panama. He was lucky enough to serve his four years between those two invasions and never see combat. That said, he was almost blown up by a grenade during training. He still laughs when he tells that story and I always credit him with, among other things, my rough sense of humor. His brother had an interesting military career as well, but they do not get along. I find that unfortunate because my brother and I get along very well. Now on to my brother. He has had a rough go at it, but he is slowly but surely pulling himself up. He used to swim competitively and actually held a record for our high school’s swim team for a few years, though that has since been broken. It is worth noting that he graduated high school at 17 thanks to starting school a year early. He initially went to the University of Delaware after high school for engineering. He swam well, but he did not study well and wound up dropping out. He then tried to enter the US coast guard as a rescue swimmer, but that also didn’t pan out due to medical issues. From there he seemed to feel stagnant. He was depressed, and felt trapped. He took some courses at a community college, and some of his years there coincided with mine. He now works two jobs, has discovered a talent and passion for writing, and seems to be interested in attempting to get a degree in engineering again. I hope he succeeds. Back to the top, there is my grandmother. Some may call her eccentric, I call her brave. She is still a registered nurse, even though she does not practice anymore. I think she will try to maintain her status as a registered nurse until she is 80. She worked in both the public school system and the prison system as a nurse. Among her stories was that of one prisoner who had a particularly foul mouth. “Oh he’d go on shouting ‘mother****’ this and ‘son of a *****’ that, but at the end he’d always shout ‘Sorry Nurse!'” Is one that always elicits a laugh. My grandfather taught her to drive. He also taught my mother, my uncle, my brother, and myself how to drive. She has always taken good care of us, and for that I am always grateful. My mother and her brother are both insanely intelligent. I do not say that to brag, but as a simple statement of fact. My uncle is an aerospace engineer working for NASA, and my mother as the director for biostatistics at Merc. In her study for her master’s degree, she met my father when he signed up for her research study. She pushed me and my brother hard to succeed. At first I did not appreciate how hard she was pushing me, but I now realize that she was only doing that to make sure I wound up having a good work ethic. I feel blessed to have been raised and shaped by such wonderful people. Either later today or tomorrow I will continue telling the story of Grzegorzh. Right now, though, I will finish out this post.
So this is the second in the upkeep portion and boy oh boy did I not think I would get through three chapters without mentioning blacksmithing once. Oh well, take things as they come I guess. While I do like to try and expose as much as I can through dialogue, I am finding it a bit harder than I first thought. Let’s go through some examples. I could mention in a conversation between two people “Wow, it’s quite warm out today” Mary said to the her sister Katherine. “Yeah, I don’t think it has been this hot since ten years ago at least, humid, too. God, I wish it would rain.” So from the outset we have established quite a few things. First, it passes the Bechtel test. I mostly put that in there because I felt like it. Also, the brief dialogue shows a couple interesting details. The pair involved are sisters, likely in the middle of either late spring or summer. The humidity is also shown to be high, this can give us an approximate setting, though nothing definite. If we go with assumptions, then it is likely that they are in a tropical or subtropical climate, though really anywhere but a desert could be relatively humid. In fact, the only place we can say for certain they are not is Antarctica, on account of it being hot, humid, and close to raining. While Antarctica is a frigid desert, it can be relatively warm and humid compared to previous scientific measurements. The breaking point is rain. While it can snow, it is too cold to rain. I digress. It is most likely that they are sitting on a porch somewhere in the southern united states during a summer heat wave, sipping sweet iced tea, lemonade, or perhaps a combination of the two. Maybe Coca-Cola if the author wants to include product placement. Let’s try another scenario. A chill ran down his spine as he breathed in the cold night air. Nearly opposite to the first scenario. Instead of two female characters, it is a singular male. Instead of warm and humid, it is cold. While it is left up to the reader to assume the time in the dialogue, it is more than likely that one would be led to believe that it is in fact day, due to the simple fact that Mary says “Today” to Katherine in the context of their current setting. This is contrasted with the outright statement of it being night in the narration during the second snip. So it is established that it is cold, it is night, and our single protagonist is male. Well, we assume that he is the protagonist, since that is typically the person who’s perspective is told in the story. It is also fairly safe to assume that he is on high alert. After all, cold is not what sends a chill down your spine, though it may put one in your bones. This is more likely to be farther from the equator, because of the cold. Generally, the tropics are quite warm, even in winter. Simply put, the closer you are to the equator, the warmer you will be. However, it is probably mid autumn or early spring in a more temperate climate, otherwise, imagery of frosty breath upon an exhale would have been evoked. Now back to the regularly scheduled griping about my own writing. There is a lot I would like to include in the story, but even if I had the discipline to write a chapter a day, I feel like I would not be able to put in writing everything that I want to. Hopefully, once I graduate college and have a steady job, I can revisit this story and maybe even finish writing it. That said, let’s examine the setting so far. It is mid summer, yet in some places it is still described as quite cool. There is rain, so humidity can also be factored in. Now let’s take a look at some of the symbols presented. First, let’s go with the reason the story kicks off. A strange ritual leaves a boy, just barely a man, pushed out of everything that he is familiar with in an era when time is judged by seasons, rather than calendar days, so it is assumed that this is done in a barbarian tribe before the invention or at least widespread use of the calendar. This gives a few areas, perhaps it is someplace that the Roman empire did not reach in it’s massive conquests. Maybe north of Hadrian’s wall in Scotland. The climate is pretty close to what you would expect for that area. However we also meet a Christian, probably catholic, bishop later on in the story, so we know that this has to take place after the rise of, and likely after the fall of, the Roman empire. This puts us in a confusing sort of area, though it is not impossible. Perhaps it is the dark ages in eastern Europe. Places like Poland, Belarus, or Ukraine would be a good fit, especially with Slavic sounding names like Grzegorz, Konrad, Vanya, and Jan. The next symbol is a bit more subtle, but still present. The knife that Grzegorz carries and the coat that his friend gave him. Here we have, quite literally, a cloak and dagger. This will set the mood for pretty much the rest of the story, however there will be a large, chaotic, battle at the end. Finally, the bandit on the road juxtaposed against the bishop and his church was one thing I liked writing quite a bit. While we have seen the last of neither, it was fun to have Grzegorz, who we know as our intrepid hero so far, go from falling into the hands of a robber, to being rescued by a man who literally tells him the biblical story of the good Samaritan to explain his actions.
After sleeping for several hours, Grzegorz awoke on a stone slab, it was still cold, but at least it was dry. His head ached mightily, but a numb chill ran through the rest of his body. He was injured and alone in a cold dark room, needless to say he was scared. He managed to croak a tentative “Hello?” out of his dry throat. He was ready to give up at this point. He was starved, cold, and physically exhausted, when he saw a man with a lantern approach him. He could not discern much “Wh-where am I?” He asked. The man looked at Grzegorz with a concerned expression “You are at a village, a village with a church, I am the bishop. I must apologize, I thought you were dead.” He said, sitting down next to Grzegorz. “When was the last time you ate?” He asked, looking Grzegorz up and down “You look starved, sick, and beaten. If I had to guess, you would not have survived much longer out on the road.” Grzegorz nodded and leaned his head up to get a better view of the person who sat near him. “what is your name?” He asked the Bishop, very concerned that this man may have been a bandit or slave taker. “I am Jan, like I said, I am the Bishop in this village, if you are hungry, I can get you some food.” This offer set Grzegorz on edge. Almost nobody would offer food if they did not want something in return. He had known this since birth, and he only ever trusted people from his village when it came to food. “What’s your price?” He asked, resting his head back down on the stone slab while waiting for a reply. The Bishop shook his head “none, I want nothing in return.” Grzegorz let out a hoarse laugh “I don’t believe that. I have only just met you, I do not know your intent, and I don’t trust you. For all I know you want to sell me into slavery.” The Bishop was patient, and gave him a gentle pat on the arm. “I will return with food, once you have eaten, we can talk.” He said, leaving Grzegorz alone in this dark, cold room on an equally cold and uninviting stone slab. Alone with his thoughts, Grzegorz pondered his fate. He still had his knife, but without his strength, he doubted that he could overpower the Bishop. He pulled his cloak tighter around himself, though it was still damp, it comforted him. It was one of his last reminders of home. He began to fade again into unconsciousness, the numbness being replaced by a strange warmth in his limbs, and the emptiness in his belly began to fade, as he watched a dream form in front of his eyes. He was home again, and it was a celebration. They had been cooking for hours, and the smells that filled the air were enough to make his mouth water. Freshly baked bread, fried dumplings, and cider, this time from apples, and not that rancid pear juice Konrad had given him. It seemed everyone had brought something. Fish stew, sausages, and even honey cake, a rare treat, were all spread out on the table, just waiting to be eaten. A fire popped and crackled in the hearth, as his family sat around. He no longer wore the tattered old traveling clothes that he remembered, but instead, his clothes were intact, and, more surprisingly, they seemed sturdy compared to anything he had worn before. He was warm, he was safe, and he was happy. He reached down and speared a fried dumpling on his knife, bringing it up to his mouth, he could still smell the frying oil on it and, while it was supposed to be a mystery, he knew this one was filled with potatoes and onions, one of his favorites. As he was about to take his first bite, he was brought back to the present by the bishop coaxing him out of his dream. “Ahh, how long was I asleep?” he asked. “About five minutes.” Jan said, with a patient tone. “I dreamed I was home, there was a feast, and I was wearing new clothes, there was a fire going and…well do you suppose it means anything?” He asked. Jan nodded “Yes, it means you are hungry, tired, cold, and lonely. Come, eat. Once you have some food in you I will bring you upstairs and we can see what good a fire does you.” Grzegorz nodded and slowly sat up. His whole body ached, his face especially, and he felt lightheaded. The numbing chill was gone, but in its place, was a stinging pain in his fingers and toes. Jan handed him a simple wooden bowl of stew and a chunk of bread. He dipped the bread in the stew and took a bite, wolfing it down, he nearly gagged as his three days starved stomach was introduced again to food. “Slow down, the food isn’t going anywhere, and you will get sick if you eat too quickly.” His eyes watered as he swallowed hard to make sure he kept the food down and this time he simply sipped at the broth. Grzegorz came to the conclusion that whether or not he trusted him, Jan meant him no harm just yet. He ate slowly, as recommended, and eventually finished the stew and bread. He got to his feet and Jan came up to support him. “Here, I will take you to someplace more comfortable.” Grzegorz tried to move on his own, but he stumbled and had to steady himself against a wall. Begrudgingly, he accepted Jan’s help. Seeing nothing else to do, he asked “So, what is a bishop?” Jan smiled “A bishop is a holy man, he is typically entrusted with great responsibility in the Christian church.” Grzegorz was out of his depth here, he had lived in an isolated village for his whole life, and never learned how to read. Concepts like Christianity, Bishops, and even written language seemed foreign to him. “Why are you helping me?” He asked next, to which Jan replied “In my faith, we learned the lesson of the good Samaritan, a stranger with no reason to help, and with no expectation of compensation, helps a stranger who, just like you, appears to be on death’s door. He does it for no other reason than it is the right thing to do.” Jan replied. He helped Grzegorz to a room with a simple bed. “We will be holding a communal meal at sunrise tomorrow, I will wake you for the meal, but I will ask one question before I leave you to rest, what is your name?” Jan asks. “Grzegorz” he replied calmly, however Jan misheard it as “Gregor”. With that settled, Jan left him to rest. Grzegorz fell back asleep, and his mind was plagued my nightmares this time. Now that his needs for survival were met, his mind drifted to what may come. He was in the wild again, he was running from something, he was at a dead sprint at this point. Cold rain and bitter wind lashed at his face, his feet sank into the mud at first up to the ankle, but eventually up to the knee, as he sprinted. Whatever it was that he ran from had him terrified, but he didn’t know why he was running. He tripped and landed hard in the mud, his face landing in a puddle. He woke up gasping for air, the roof was leaking and the drips were landing on his face. It was hard for him to tell what time it was, because the room he was in had no external view, but he decided to stay awake instead. His body still ached, but the numbness was gone because he was not sleeping in the wild. However something else had him concerned now that he had time to think about it. He was much cleaner than he should have been. The mud of several days in the wilderness had been washed off of him and his clothing.