Saturday, July 31, 2010

Art and Poem: Mystery Writer


Hello, old friend,
did you get my invitation?
Colonel Mustard in the library
with the revolver.
In a locked room,
the pen scrawls one word,
The game is afoot.
Follow me,
read my adventures
if you dare

All writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Friday, July 30, 2010

Writers' Groups: Yes, No, Maybe?

My first experience with a writer's group nearly made me swear off writing altogether. Five of us, all of different styles and temperaments, met in a farmhouse kitchen in Charlottesville, VA, with manuscripts in hand. Two were published writers in Virginia Civil War History, one had hopes of promoting her family memoir, and the last person---me---had little experience in the "real world of publishing." Two hours later, I wanted to give up writing altogether. The various pieces of "sage advice" were enough to drive me to drink, and my short stories hung in rags, torn apart to shreds by non-constructive criticism.

The senior member of the group monopolized the meeting with his long, drawn-out lecture about his ideas on finding a agent. I excused myself and left, and never came back. The traumatic experience spooked me for a long time. It drove my writing "underground": I never introduced myself as a writer and hid all my work.

Now I look back on it as a learning experience. A writer needs support from other writers, both professionally and personally. Yes, this is a good way to network, find out about agents and publishers, and promote yourself and your writing. When you share your rough drafts, an objective (and gently critical) eye helps you improve your content and style. What techniques do others use to get through the slow days? How do they stay motivated? Can they share any anecdote to help you avoid a pothole in the road of publication?

A writers's group can build up or tear down a novice. The make-up of the members is critical. Diversity adds spice to the interaction; if one person dominates the conversation, it defeats the purpose of a writer's group. A writer with his/her own axe to grind cannot help anyone else. There has to be some give and take. How can someone improve their prose? A critical eye is important, but temper it with at least one good thing to say. Any writer's ego can be bloodied and bruised, especially a new one.

I actually did stop writing for a while after that traumatic writer's group. Several months later, I found the courage to take up the pen again. I became more selective with whom to share my work and found others that were willing to be open-minded and offer the support I needed. With today's social media, including Twitter, Facebook, Skype, and MySpace, it is easier to find other writers and keep in touch with them.

Reach out and connect with other writers, but use your good judgment and discretion in doing so. It will be a rewarding experience for you and all involved.

All writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Roadblocks to Writing and How To Bust Through Them

Today, I'm stuck in a bit of a rut where writing's concerns. It's hard to find the motivation to get anything done, especially when my health has gone wonky, the weather's yucky, and the kids are acting nutty. One way to bust through the blocks is the list all the excuses you've got for not writing and counter them.

Here are mine for today:

1) My hands hurt like anything. My muscles ache and I just feel blah.

Okay, five minutes. Just five minutes about anything, even if it's just to complain about how bad you feel. It'll make you feel better.

2) The weather's yucky.

Writing doesn't care if the weather's yucky or sunny.

3) The kids are acting nutty.

Act nutty with them. They might inspire you to write something...when they get to their naps.

4) Laptop's throwing a fit.

Use the upstairs desktop. Or pen and paper.

5) Internet's down. Can't do any research.

Go to the library. Look up notes the old fashioned way. Take notes. That's a form of writing.

6) I feel like doing art.

OK, do art, then come back to the writing. Or even better, combine art and writing.

7) Hubby's complaining that I don't spent enough time with him.

Spend time with him. Then write. (In my case, Hubs' definition of "spending time together" consists of him watching reruns and me just being in the room. In that case, I use that time to write.)

8) I'm too tired.

Take a nap. Or two. Or three.  Then write.

The list varies day by day, but somehow, I try to write despite all the blocks. It's not easy, and sometimes I'm not very successful. The times I am successful are steps toward my writing goal...which seems closer and closer. What are some roadblocks that stand between you and writing?

All writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Monday, July 26, 2010

Art and Poem: Angel of Mercy

Angel of Mercy

The warrior for life looks up at the night sky

and thanks God and whoever else is watching

that lives were saved this day.

The war is not done,

it is far from won,

but every little battle

that ends in triumph is a

victory for humankind.

"Please grant me the  power to save,

the power to heal, to comfort,

and if this be my last day on Earth,

let me rest with the memory

that I did all I could to  ease

another one's suffering in the night

and the memory that I did what

my calling destined me to do."

All writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Does Writing Age Like a Fine Wine?

I've spent the weekend digging through my old writing notebooks, some dating back more than 10 years. I'm amazed at all the writing I've done that I've long forgotten about. At the time, I just dashed off these little poetry/short story snippets without too much thought. Words scribbled between teaching classes, grading papers at the local coffeehouse, and waiting for the city bus at the stop. The years of my student teaching were grueling, with hardly any time to breathe. (the first one was in languages/ESL for undergrad. The second was in a 5th grade classroom, all subjects for masters). Writing was a necessary outlet to preserve my sanity.

As I look back at these pages, I can remember the circumstances of each piece. My health has always been up-and-down, with constant infections and other problems. It wasn't until I was formally diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 2006 that many of the incidents made sense. This poem was written on June 1, 2001:

The pain makes me tremble.
It pierces with dull blades
Sharp when water flows.
It burns my blood.
When my mind is clouded,
my body becomes a rod
attracting all kids of thoughts.
My back feels heavy,
my legs sting.
The hornets hide in every crevice
And poke with awful sting.
My soul stands up against it,
saying, "No, you don't,
Not this time."
But the shell I occupy
turns traitor.
And I crumble with little strength.
I rebel against my fate
And bear the agony alone,
Hiding the ashes within my throat,
Withering slowly within my heart.
---RAD 6/1/01

I'm amazed at how relevant those feelings are to me, nearly ten years later, and how powerful they remind me of that time of my life. Here's another one, written the same year, when I was angry at my husband. We'd been married 5 years at this point:

An idiot
knows he's an idiot.
A smart idiot
bites his tongue
till it bleeds.
But a genius idiot
dies a death
of a cold hell
where he rambles on
to an audience of one:
---RAD 7/16/01

Again, I'm struck at the relevance of this poem at the time and now. This was before we had our children, and two of our three children's diagnosis of moderate/severe autism. It wasn't until much later that I realized my husband had all the signs of Aspberger's Syndrome (high-functioning autism), which includes brilliance in certain areas (in his case, computers), but difficulty in relating to others' thoughts and feelings.

I'll close with one more short poem, about trying to find who you are.

Finding yourself in a mirror,
is such an easy thing to do.
Your image warped
beyond recognition.
Good in place of evil---
Perfect lines blurred.
Yet which one is the right one?
The crisp reflection of everyday life?
Or the shadows hidden within?
---RAD 3/11/00

Writers, when you look at your old manuscripts, what do you see? Can you remember the time and place when you wrote it? Can you remember how you felt at the time? Look back, you'd be surprised.

All writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Original Flash Fiction: A Walk on the Beach

Flash Fiction= less than 100 words

A Walk on the Beach.

The gray skies of dawn, the cool crisp smell of seafoam and brine. The breeze whipped the ocean like cotton candy. I blinked in the cloudy haze and tried to get my bearings. Yes, the bridge is this way. I stepped onto the cool sand, my bare feet sinking into the wetness. My toes shivered, but as I made my way to the shoreline, they stopped trembling.

I pulled the hood of my windbreaker more securely over my head as the goosebumps popped on my flesh.

All writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Friday, July 23, 2010

New Facebook Page: I Gotta Write Community

Now there's a page on Facebook connected with the blog, here: I Gotta Write Community Page. Stop on by and say hi on the Discussion Page! If you are a writer, artist, or all-around creative person (who is all of us!), you're definitely welcome! If you also have a blog, website or Facebook/MySpace page and would like to exchange links, please let me know and I'll add you to the IGW! main page.


All writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Art and Poem: A Toast for You

A Toast for You

Let me raise a glass
To you, to us.
Why, you ask? Well...
For all reasons and
no reason at all.
Because it is a lovely evening,
with lovely company?
Because we celebrate,
just for the sake of doing it?
Do we need a reason,
to raise a toast
To You, to us?

All writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Language, Writing and Art Entwined

Whenever I can, I like to incorporate my various interests in my writing and art. One of my main hobbies is languages. I originally trained as a foreign language/English as a second language teacher in college. I love the sounds, the complexity of grammar, how semantics can change a spoken or written word, and how body language conveys messages on its own.

I think that's why I enjoy writing science fiction and fantasy. I can build my own worlds and make up their cultures and languages. Sometimes they are based on Earth peoples and places, other times they sound truly alien. I can draw on my experience as a linguist, teacher and artist to make my stories unique and believable.

Language can be a basis for art too. I'm currently studying Japanese, and brushing up on my Mandarin Chinese. My family history is from Southeast Asia, so it's also a link to my own cultural roots. Here are some examples of how I combine 3 of my loves: foreign language, writing and art.

Marumochi, Japanese rice cakes. The word is written in hiragana and kanji (two of the three writing systems in Japanese.

 Sakura, cherry blossom. The word is written on the right (and vertically) in hiragana.

 These two are Chinese calligraphy, yellow acrylic on a red acrylic background.  The character on the left is Ming, "bright", which consists of the characters for the sun and the moon. Makes sense, in a way, especially once you see the characters side by side to understand the meaning.

   The one on the right is Fu,  "happiness". This one's a bit more abstract. On the right side are the symbols meaning "to fill" (which consist of the symbols for "one", "mouth" and "field"), joined with the symbol for "heaven" on the left. To be filled with bounty from the rice field, sent from heaven equals happiness.

Language, writing and art are interconnected in many ways. I really enjoy incorporating the three in many different ways and in many different mediums. Fiction. prose, poetry, collage and art all tell a different story for different people. What does it tell you?

All writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

More Books on the Reading List

A few more books on the summer reading list:

1) The Curved Planks, Poems: A Bilingual Edition, by Yves Bonnefoy, Translated by Hoyt Rogers A set of poems by French poet Yves Bonnefoy, with the original French alongside the English. Yeah, my French is pretty rusty right now.

2) Working IX to V: Orgy Planners, Funeral Clowns, and other Prized Professions of the Ancient World by Vicki Leon This is by the author of the "Uppity Women Series".  It outlines the more *ahem* interesting jobs in the ancient world, including something called astercorarius, also known as a "manure entrepreneur". Seriously.

3) Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp who would be Human by Elizabeth Hess. Nim was a chimpanzee, who was involved with an experiment by Herbert S. Terrace at Columbia University. Can chimps learn ASL (American Sign Language) and prove that language "isn't just for humans"? (Ironically, his last name is a play on Chomsky, a linguist who believed that language is only found among humans.) But when the experiment ended, what became of Nim?

As my sister once asked, "Don't you read anything for fun?" I do, but my idea of fun's a little different from hers.

All writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

I'm an Animated Artist!

I usually don't put a lot of stock in personality tests, but this is one of the few that is eerily accurate. It has me as an "Animated Artist."

High in: Openness, Femininity and Sponteneity
Low in: Agency, Masculinity, and Authoritarianism

My personalDNA Report

All writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Sunday, July 18, 2010

What Do my Characters Look Like?

When I start a story project, one of my first questions is, What does my protagonist look like? What does my antagonist look like?Words paint a picture for the reader. "The top of her head barely reached his shoulder, even with the three-inch heels." "He tied his long hair back in a ponytail, making sure it was safely out of the way." "I could imagine him twirling the ends of his mustache like some bad Frenchman in an awful dime store romance novel." Show your reader through their movements (twirling the mustache), comparison (much shorter than he is, even with the heels) or action (tying his long hair back in a ponytail).

I am a visual person and sometimes I have a hard time imagining the character in my mind's eye. A fellow author I know bases his characters' likenesses on actors and actresses, past and present. It gives him a base to build his characters, a guide on how they react to other characters, and a general idea on their personalities. My approach is a bit different from his: as a visual artist, I sketch, draw, paint who I see for the character. Use the approach that is most helpful for your writing.

Here are some examples (all artwork copyright 2010 by A. Dameron):

Holly, a character from
my sci-fi story, "First Duty."

Ramon the Scribe from "The Eye of the Falcon"

Magadalena from "Cantadora"

 Isabel and Morena "Cantadora"

All writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Art and Poem: "The Power of Intention"


The Power of Intention:
The wizard sings his spell,
The king proclaims his law.

A chain of them spreads magic
A single one changes lifetimes.

Emotion summons the power:
The strength of "I will."

All writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Decoding Baby Babble--Language in Motion

My younger daughter has been babbling up a storm. It's amazing to hear her, especially since my older two are autistic and non-verbal. I was trained as a languages/linguistics person, so this is something new for me.

"She's loud," my sister commented yesterday, trying to raise her voice over Sarah telling her about her day.

"Yeah," I agreed.

"She sounds like Mom."

"Mom babbles?"

"No. Well, yeah. I mean, she *sounds* like Mom. You know, how she talks. With everything, like her face and her hands."

Mom does talk loudly and fast with the occasional back slap to make her point. It's the Spanish side of the family (Filipino/Spanish/Chinese), the enthusiasm for life. And until Dee pointed it out, I didn't realize that Sarah had inherited that quality. It can be annoying or endearing, depending on whether or not you're in striking range.

A person's mannerisms can be a definite clue to their personality. If you watch someone in a coffee shop, you can pick up clues about their lives. Are they on a cell phone with their boss? Taking their toddler's hand out of the candy jar? Wanting their coffee *yesterday*, hurry up, they're on the clock? Flirting with the barista? Typing away on a laptop, oblivious to the rest of the world? Do they talk with a slow drawl, quickly, with an accent? Watch and listen, and you can learn a lot about character.

Today, I can tell Sarah is going to be just like my mom: loud, chatty and expressive. She'll definitely be quite a character.

All writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I Write Like...

I'm not sure whether or not to laugh or be worried. LOL!

I write like
Stephen King
I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal softwareAnalyze your writing!

I do enjoy reading Stephen King's books, though. :-)

All writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

Monday, July 12, 2010

Story Excerpt: "The Eye of the Falcon Chapter 1"

An excerpt from my fantasy story "The Eye of the Falcon". This excerpt copyright A. Dameron 2010. All rights reserved.

1. Panet
A Song of Life and Death

Alunius Panet’s boots crunched on the gravel path: left, right, left, right. His scarlet cloak unfurled around him as he walked, like a cape of feathers. The morning sun sparkled on the silver-gilded symbols of the harp case slung upon his back. His graceful fingers picked a complicated tune on his lute. Alunius closed his eyes and listened to the beautiful strains of the "Amorata”. The music reached its conclusion, a single high note. That note hung in the air, then faded among the sighs of the wind. The close-cropped gray curls gave the player a cap of steel fuzz. A pair of spectacles perched on a narrow nose.

A red robin alighted on his shoulder and startled him from his thoughts as she stroked his cheek in welcome. He laughed and said, “Well, good morning, little Robin. This is a bit early for you, isn’t it? I thought you took your time with the beginning of your day.”

The robin warbled an indignant note. “No insult meant, my dear. What has you up and about so early?” She bobbed her head and twittered so fast that it made his ears ache. “Slow down, little one. I can’t understand a word you’re saying. Take a deep breath and tell me all about it from the beginning.”

The robin chirped in annoyance, but she stopped with an open beak. Then she began again, slowly and deliberately, as if he was a simpleton. He took no offense; instead, he regarded her with a thoughtful look long after she was finished.

Are you sure, Little One? This isn’t the season for your kind to leave the cities and the countryside. Why are you doing so? Is there a change about which I should know?”

The robin whistled a long mournful note, and pecked at the chain around his neck.“I will tell the others, Little One. Bring back this message to your elders: ‘do what is right for your safety. I hold no judgment against you’.”

The robin chirped agreement, then stroked his cheek with her own. He reached into his pocket for the last tabra seed and held it out in his palm. The robin accepted the gift with the dignity of a queen. He said, “Go on, Little One. Grace of the Gods go with you, my friend.”

The robin disappeared into the gray sky. He watched her go with a sober expression. He drew out his silver medallion, embossed with the shape of a large falcon. A ruby glittered within the falcon’s eye. He passed his thumb over the jewel; it winked back at him.

The Eye of the Falcon is sharp, and sees what others cannot, or will not, see. He reached deep into himself and stared at the ruby with double Vision. He nodded as his Soul agreed, and brought himself Outside. He clasped the falcon medallion in his hand, then released it with a sigh. He picked up his pace, following the path as it sloped upwards.

As he crested the hill, he looked down over the valley. At its floor lay the capital city of Narthu. It resembled the petals of a flower, dirty gray on the edges, fading to cream. Two tall towers jutted out of the center of the flower. Sunlight sparkled on the magnificent stain-glass window set into the side of the Western Tower. The royal purple and blue hues surrounded the Sign of Warding, a bright pentacle of gold and orange. Alunius likened it to "Paradise, in the middle of Hell on Earth, for we must go through Hell to get to Heaven." The description of the trip through the city was, unfortunately, accurate.

A cloud of ravens floated over the Cathedral spires, and as he watched, it swirled into the dawn sky. He shook his head and thought, Even the birds of doom are leaving as quickly as they can. Suddenly, he felt the urge to join them, to turn around and flee over the hills, far away from Narthu. The temptation was so strong that his body trembled in its wake. Then practicality took over: where would he go? His sense of honor overcame his moment of weakness. He continued down the path until he couldn't see the city anymore.

It dipped close to the top of the rushing water, and the cables creaked as he made his way across, hand over hand. Alunius swung along with the flow until he stepped lightly on the other bank. This was the East Road, the back way into Narthu. He joined the swell of foot traffic over the wooden bridge spanning the Baccuret. Traders and nobles, travelers and vagrants alike shuffled towards the entrance gates. A large portcullis hovered over Narthu's eastern entrance, a set of teeth in the mouth of a hungry wolf, ready to devour the souls of the innocent.

Heyla, stand in line, you’re no better than the rest of us,” an old man at the gate told Alunius. The man was stooped with the weight of his merchandise on his back, all of dubious quality.

Quite right, friend,” he replied. The trader returned it, proudly displaying missing front teeth.
The line moved swiftly, and Alunius found himself before a pair of guards. They patted the front and back of Alunius’s clothes; every touch betrayed nervous efficiency. They’re more careful today than usual, he thought. I wonder why.

The older guard gave him a brass coin with a number on it. "Don't lose your coin; you'd be thrown into the jail. 'Course-" he waggled his eyebrows at Alunius, "if you've silver or gold, Milord, 'tis a different story."

"I'll keep it in mind, good sir," Alunius replied. He made an elaborate show of producing a silver piece out of his beltpouch. The man’s eyes gleamed as he snatched it with trembling fingers. He traded the brass chit for a silver one.

"Thank ye for your donation, Milord. The Duke will remember your generosity."

Alunius’s mouth tightened as if he'd eaten rotten qualfruit. "There's another hour in the Confessional for me,” he sighed as he crossed another bridge and into the poorest part of the city.

Wooden tenements stretched towards the sky, five or six levels in some places. Laundry lines wove between the buildings. Street peddlers cried out their wares at every street corner. Women shouted to each other from their windows. The streets twisted and turned into corners and blind alleyways. Tucked into those niches were the unfortunate, the unhappy, the unloved. The walls provided some basic shelter from the elements, but it was not nearly enough.

Buskers set up their instruments and their coin boxes. They eyed Alunius with suspicion as he went past, but he only smiled at them and waggled his nose in good-natured humor. Then he sent a warm wave of reassurance between himself and the buskers, and the envious faces melted into ones of rueful understanding.

I’ll not steal their livelihood, he thought. I used to be in their place, once upon a time, and competition meant less money for bread.

He gracefully sidestepped a crowd of shrieking children, but they linked hands and danced around them, surrounding them with laughter. The Bard laughed with them, one hand on his lute and the other on his beltpouch.

Sing us a song, sing us a song!” they chanted. “Sing us a song.”

Alunius strummed his lute with a flourish. “Very well, then. One song. What would you like to hear?”

The Jester and the Fool,” they chorused.

Your wish is my command.” He strummed the first chords, then broke out into the song. The street urchins swung themselves around in a mock round dance. Other children clapped their hands in time to the music. Passers-by spared a quick glance at the merrymaking, then hurried to their business. Their eyes shifted from side to side with the usual suspicion, but he read a new emotion within them.


Fear for more than their lives, but their very souls. These people were hardened by their desperation and poverty. It took more than intimidation to frighten them. So what had happened in the two weeks he had been away from Narthu?

He reached out with his senses, using his song as a carrier. The music spread from him in waves and touched every soul within reach. That was Panet’s ability, to calm and to soothe. As he opened his Inner Vision, he saw dark shadows hovering over the streets, faceless and nameless, not attacking or harming, but watching as the people went about their lives.
Watching, and waiting.

For what? The shadows ignored his scrutiny, as if he didn’t exist to them. Perhaps he didn’t; they seemed intent on the other men and women of the city. Watching. And the people couldn’t see the watchers, but could feel their gaze. Little wonder they skulked around like guilty thieves in the night.

By the Gods, what are these beings? Alunius thought. He wanted to study them further, and to find out from where they came. He took a step towards the nearest spot of darkness...

Wild applause jerked him out of his trance. Alunius bowed to his impromptu audience, and gave each child a copper coin. They ran off as soon as the metal touched their hands. As soon as the last urchin disappeared, he headed in the opposite direction, towards the towers of the Narthu Cathedral.

He turned the corner and nearly ran into a solid line of people. “What in the name of the Gods—?”

A washerwoman glanced over her shoulder at his hushed exclamation. “Haven’t you heard of the entertainment today, Milord?”

He shook his head, gave her a slight smile and slipped into a courtly formal tone. “I have not, Milady. I have just arrived from abroad ; will you please enlighten me?”

The washerwoman dimpled at his calling her “Milady” and swung her basket to her opposite hip with all the grace of a princess smoothing down her skirts. “The Duke clears the scum from the jails and offers them what they deserve, here at Raven Square. If you’d like a better view, Milord, there’s room over there, at the other side.”

Aye, I shall take your advice. My thanks, Milady.”

She dipped into a curtsey with a giggle. “You are quite welcome, Milord.”

He returned an elegant bow, then slipped into the crowd. Although his voice was pleasant as he exchanged greetings, he wanted to escape from here as fast as he could. A crowd had gathered around three sides of Raven Square with the enthusiasm of a Festival. The smooth black granite flowed like a pool of shiny tar, and at its middle stood a scaffold of sturdy oak.
Alunius saw a well-muscled form high above the crowd. A giant of a man stood at relaxed attention, a few steps from the chopping block. His arms bulged under the peasant shirt as he shifted his axe in his hands. The black breeches and boots were of dark cotton, plain but comfortable. A hood covered the executioner's head and hid his features from public view, all but his eyes and mouth.

Those marvelous eyes, he thought. Gray-green, the color of a stormy sea, hiding emotion deep within, for none to see. Alunius made a mental reminder to include it in his next ballad. The two men stared at each other in silence.

A strident voice shattered the connection. "You there, Bard! Play something else for us while we wait!"

A deeper silence fell as the crowd turned towards the speaker. Instead of rough homespun, this man wore black velvet, with scarlet piping at sleeves and hem. A circlet of silver held back a fall of dark curls. His dark eyes flashed a challenge to Alunius.

Alunius immediately dropped to one knee and schooled his face into eager attention. "And what would his Grace wish to hear? Say, and I will play.”

Duke Horan de Borchaux-Dumas smiled, perfect lips showing perfect teeth. The Monarch’s favored advisor pretended to ponder the question, then he asked, "How about “The Dark Angel's Lament”, to set the tone for this sobering event?" Horan gestured with a careless air. "The lesson in that story applies to us all, does it not?"

"Certainly, Your Grace." Alunius unslung his harp from his back and tuned it to a minor mode. "Obedience or death, quite a lesson, indeed."

As Alunius began the introduction on his harp, he matched his thoughts with the cadence of the song. Only he could hear the unspoken words: You don't see me, you will not remember he hummed the tune under his breath.

The executioner gave him a slight nod, as if in complete understanding and approval. Alunius could feel the eyes of the Watchers and fear coiled around his spine. An icy skin settled over him and chilled his soul, but he took a deep breath and sang the first verse of “The Dark Angel’s Lament.”

A black wagon rumbled through the streets, its wheels creaking on their final journey. It groaned as it bounced on the cobblestones. Tendrils of fog wrapped themselves around the cart and soaked the velvet lining. Drops of water fell from the rickety bed and streamed behind it. They fell like muddy puddles of blood.

Alunius saw the wagon and cut short the musical interlude. Instead, he sang the final chorus:

Sing ye now, on your way to the bottom,
Where the sirens sing and dine
Upon your bones and on your heart
Your soul's no longer thine.

The condemned man sat next to the driver, back straight and eyes unflinching. Months of dark imprisonment had shriveled the once-portly frame and leached all color from his hair. The knuckles of his clenched fingers glowed against pasty skin. Cold sweat soaked through his velvet shirt.

Alunius allowed the final dark chords to hang in the air, then disappear into nothingness. The crowd remained silent as the wagon approached. There were no shouts, no tears, no screams of panic, only an air of expectation. Crimes were punished; that was the end of it. Alunius shivered at that hostile calm; he would have welcomed a tear or two for the condemned.

Horan laced his fingers together in his lap and leaned forward in anticipation with a gleam of delight in his handsome face. Alunius felt the inhuman pleasure at another person’s suffering and it turned his stomach. How can he sleep at night with such a black soul? Even as he asked the question, he knew the answer: He enjoys the Darkness; it is his strength.

Alunius started to slip away among the onlookers when a quiet voice stopped him. "He enjoys these things, overly so. I wonder when the hunter will become the hunted." The executioner bowed his head in acknowledgment, then spoke again. "Good morning, Friar Alunius."

Interesting. How does he know me? Alunius wondered. He made his tone pleasant as he replied, "Blessed Sunrise to you as well, my son."

The headsman did not smile, but dry humor resonated through his voice. "Seems to be a busy day today, Friar."

"Indeed. The Gods have made their judgments. We are only instruments for their justice."
The scaffold creaked as the headsman shifted his weight. The bloody beams of sunrise gleamed on the polished steel of the axe. "Justice." The word sounded as sweet as a lover's name. Alunius turned at the unexpected sound and gazed up again at that hidden face.

"Is that an honorable word among your people as well?" He wondered just from where the headsman came.

"Yes," the big man rumbled, but he did not elaborate. He knelt in front of Alunius. "I ask your blessing and forgiveness, Friar."

Alunius hid his surprise at the unexpected request. A headsman with a conscience? He took a vial of water from his Bard’s robes. He hummed his cloaking song as he sprinkled some of the water on the headsman, the axe, and the chopping block itself.

"May the Gods we both serve bless you, my son, and wash your hands clean of the necessary evil you must do. The Gods know our hearts; they forgive."

"I thank you," the headsman murmured. He smoothly rose to his feet and assumed his guard stance. He hesitated for the first time, then he made a decision. "If we never see each other again, Friar, may I leave you a remembrance?"

Alunius shook his head at the strange request. "I need no token to remember you," he protested.

"Please, I insist. A remembrance if you will." Then the headsman stared directly at him. They looked at each other for a long moment, challenge in his eyes, questions in Alunius's.

If only I can see whose face lies under the hood! Alunius thought. Aloud, he replied, "Very well, but if it is to be a remembrance, I must know the giver's name."

A ghost of a smile appeared on the headman's lips. ""You cannot pronounce it in your language, but 'Justice' is acceptable, Friar. As you noted, it is appropriate."

"Indeed it is. Clever of you."

Justice pressed something smooth into his palm. "Keep me in your prayers, Friar, and I will keep you in mine."

Then Justice bent and half-whispered, half-sang a verse in his native language. Alunius's mouth dropped open; it sounded as if he had taken a random assortment of guttural consonants, and somehow sweetened it with flowing vowels. A message formed in his mind: If harm threatens you, Friar, remember me, and I will come. Alunius was too stunned to react.

Justice only smiled like a benevolent father to his only child. "Go with the Gods, Friar Alunius," he said.

The crowd rumbled as the black wagon ground to a halt in front of the scaffold. Ever the showman, Alunius bowed to the audience, and then to Horan. The duke only gave him a distracted nod, for all of the attention was focused on the condemned. Alunius went back to his "You don't see me" hum as he fled towards the Cathedral. A hum of metal, a heavy thunk of flesh hitting wood, and Alunius knew Justice was already hard at work.

Then he looked into his open palm. A silver charm shone under the bright morning light. The image of a stringed instrument had been carved into it with exquisite detail. Along the edge of it were strange symbols.

Funny that the taker of lives should bless mine, he thought. A genuine grin stretched the corners of his cracked lips. "The same to you, Justice," he whispered. whispered.