By this third installment, you can see the difference in writing styles my father was able to whip out of his proverbial, uh, hat when writing for the first time ever in his seventy years of life. I know I keep saying that. It keeps being amazing to me. It’s like…okay, let me throw out a maybe-irrelevant allegory, but over the last year, I have been trying to teach myself to paint, having never touched a brush since art lessons in the third grade.
This is my first self-taught lesson.
Flash forward a few months and I felt confident enough to buy a Bob Ross DVD (love that man, rest in peace). This is his painting.
This is mine.
I got better. I’m not Bob-Ross-better, but I’m better. It just takes time and practice. As the great ‘Fro himself has said, “Talent is nothing but a willingness to pursue what excites you.” And I believed it, right up until my father, on his first draft of his first effort to write his first book, sneezed on the keyboard and blew out three different writing voices like it weren’t no thang.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you my father’s writing is flawless. I don’t think it is. I don’t think mine is. I don’t think anyone’s is, with the possible exception of Kipling. Kipling was amazing.
“…Deesa shouted in the mysterious elephant-language, that some mahouts believe came from China at the birth of the world, when elephants and not men were masters. Moti Guj heard and came. Elephants do not gallop. They move from spots at varying rates of speed. If an elephant wished to catch an express train he could not gallop, but he could catch the train.” –from Moti Guj, Mutineer
I mean, damn, right? If you never in your life met an elephant or even saw one, you would still know exactly what that scene was saying. I will never write like that. I’m a fraud and a hack.
Anyway, I’m not sure what my point is, except to say that my father has talent and he found it when he was seventy, and if that is not inspiring as all hell to you, I don’t know what else to say. So without further nattering, here is the first part of the first chapter of my father’s first book, The Children of Omm: The Unmaking of the Worm, by M. Francis Smith.
Chapter 1 – Columns Keep
The castle of Columns Keep stood overlooking Gray Waters Lake from a small hill where its Kings had ruled for time out of memory. When the first of the wandering bands of men explored the shores of the lake and the lone hill that raised its slopes above the fertile river valley below, they looked upon a great square so curiously constructed that individual stones could not be distinguished and where two giant columns of purest white faced off to the rising sun. Here they assembled their pitiful shelters of cob brick and thatch, and over the years gathered broken rock for the building of Columns Keep. Successive centuries saw their crude dwellings of mud and straw give way to a primitive stone keep evolving over time to a magnificent castle with a fair city spread out around the hill running down to the lake on the east and to the Fang ‘n Claw forest on the west.
Beyond the forest where the fabled strongholds of the ancient Dwarf Kingdoms were said to lie hidden, the Mountains soon yielded their riches of gold, silver, copper and tin to Humans’ industry. Barges carrying minerals and metal ores to the smelters and foundries that sprang up along the rivers running among their forested foothills saw these crude materials transformed into ingots destined for the craftsmen and warehouses of the Keep. Rolling hills sheltered crofts where Humans tended herds and grew gardens and fields of grain, thanks to mild winters and seasonal winter and summer rains, while bottomlands kept rich by winter flooding grew whatever seed was planted seemingly without Human effort.
The lake also conspired to provide an embarrassment of riches to the king and people of Columns Keep. Gray Waters Lake supported a goodly fishery and although the inlets ran heavy with silt during the rains of mid-winter, no build-up of the lake bottom had been noted. In fact, those most familiar with the lake claimed that more water flowed out of the lake and down the Gray Flood River than flowed into it, and strange upwellings and currents at various times of the year regularly fed the curiosity and superstition of the fisher folk. But what was undoubtedly true was that soundings taken out on the lake could frequently find no bottom. Equally true, it appeared that the Gray Flood flowing out of Gray Waters Lake exceeded in depth and breadth the sum of all the rivers and streams flowing into it, easily accommodating the deepest draughts of sea going vessels that sailed the two hundred forty miles separating Columns Keep from the Inner Sea and the ports of the world beyond the Sea of Storms.
Whatever the secrets of the lake and her outflow, the granaries, warehouses and shipyards that crowded the quays of Columns Keep were routinely filled to overflowing with an abundance of raw materials and trade goods. Over the centuries, the strong-rooms and treasuries of its nobles and merchants came to be filled beyond the dreams of avarice of all save Dragons and Dwarves.
In the year 1532 of the reigns of the kings, spring came early. In the countryside, flowering trees wore a profusion of pink and white blooms while shy buds of green nestled safe in their sheathes preparing for vibrant summer growth. Tender young grasses nourished the herds and provided abundant milk for the rambunctious foals, calves, lambs, kids and other herbivorous offspring that graced the fields and forests around. The ground had begun to warm and dry out following abundant mid-winter rains, and soon the soil would be ready for plowing and the sowing of early crops. But if all was well in the kingdom of Columns Keep and its castle in general terms, the same could certainly not be said to be true of Alquint, the King’s seneschal.
No, Alquint was not happy. He scurried nearsightedly toward the King’s private apartments, shaking his great head back and forth on its scrawny neck and shriveled body, chittering to himself in his high, squeaky voice like some frantic rodent on a furious mission of great mousey importance. Alquint was not happy because, surely, the King would not be happy. How could the King be happy?
It’s all well and good, he thought with some asperity, Vermis Dei sending an embassy of questionable importance to Columns Keep. Some potentate or another is always sending envoys on some sort of business or other, but.... His thought trailed off. It didn’t really bear thinking about. The audience was done for the day, and that was that. Surely the King would see it that way, for so convention demanded. King Kevin’s noble sires had obeyed the dictates of protocol, for the most part, but the present scion of the House of Columns Keep kept a more casual court than was to be strictly desired—to Alquint’s unremitting distress.
Vermis Dei had never sent to Columns Keep for anything, ever: Alquint had checked the archives to be sure. Yet apparently the strange ship arriving in port earlier had in fact come from Vermis Dei despite that. “Nobody has heard a word from there, wherever there is, for as long as the archives have records,” he muttered out loud to no one in particular, “and suddenly we have an envoy and entourage clamoring that they must see the King on some errand of vital importance, and the day’s audience done and dinner about to begin. Pray Kirel the King sees reason.”
He fidgeted nervously with a gold button on his vest and pulled himself to his full height (which was that of a lad of twelve years and no more) and stopped before the guards stationed outside the great brass-bound door to the King’s private apartments. Carefully he arranged the tails of his coat, tugged at each sleeve and cleared his throat before knocking with three slow knocks—his own special knock, he pridefully reminded himself: no one else in the castle was permitted to use it.
“Come in, Quint,” a muffled voice called through the door. Aden, High Priest of Kirel, ushered the diminutive seneschal into a large room where King Kevin of Columns Keep sat in an overstuffed leather chair. Corwin, friend and first counselor for external affairs for the kingdom, and Bronte, friend and second counselor for its internal affairs, kept him company. Fine distinctions as to who exactly did what were ever only loosely held to, especially in the King’s private chambers.
“Sire,” Alquint squeaked in his thin, reedy voice, bowing slightly. ”We have received an embassy from Vermis Dei. Their envoy, his Eminence Lord Sapristi, Archbishop of the Worm, most urgently requests a special hearing.”
“That’s all right, Quint.” The King indicated with a wave of his hand that his seneschal should join them. “We’ve just been discussing his Eminence, the Archbishop.”
Crestfallen that he had after all brought only old news, the seneschal took a couple of steps into the room, closed the door and stood waiting.
“What can the Worm of Vermis Dei want here in Columns Keep?” Bronte wondered aloud. ”They haven’t wandered out of their swamp in, oh, forever.”
“And it’s better that way, to my thinking,” Corwin added. ”We’ve certainly got no use for them that I can imagine. But it must be important to them to stir so far beyond their own borders. ” He scowled into the fire flickering comfortably before them.
“Whatever it may be,” Aden said, his forehead furrowed in concern, “it bodes no good for Columns Keep, you may be certain of it.” White knuckles gripped the staff of office he always carried with him, betraying his tension. “What is certain is that they speak in half-truths and carefully worded lies. We cannot take anything they say at face value. Remember, the Worm they worship is the creation of the Rebel God.”
“How did you get wind of their coming, Aden? You beat Quint here by several minutes, and he’s usually right there with news.” Corwin studied the High Priest’s face intently. “I could almost suspect that you know more of this affair than you have said. What do you know, or suspect, that you haven’t told us?”
Hale and alive in spite of the toll of years that marked his body, Aden nevertheless crossed slowly to the fire and sat down heavily on a stool facing them. The sun had disappeared from the line of the horizon, and, with the fire behind him, his face was in shadow. His voice dropped in pitch, its sound issuing hollow and distant as though from the mouth of an empty crypt. “I received last night a visitor, a messenger from Omm—a Sent One on behalf of Kirel.”
At the name of his Deity, Aden’s tone assumed a dreamy, reverent quality and he paused. When he spoke again, it was grimly. “He announced the coming of a ship from the Hierophant of the Worm, Baaloth, sole remaining minion of Sargon, bringing presents and urging a trade agreement of supposed benefit to both sides, or so he claims. Yet with them they carry a hidden and secret doom: a shadow to fall first upon Columns Keep and from thence to darken the whole world.” His voice sank into a quiet, chilling monotone. “A word of counsel he left. He said: ‘Receive them not. Accept no present. Enter no treaty. Fire the ship where it lies: send all aboard to the Ferryman. Let not pity stay your hand. Then mayhap the curse of this age may be averted or delayed.’ He bade me repeat the message and then departed from my sight. I have passed the message to you as it was given me. Kirel forefend the messenger spoke true.”
To be Continued….