Monday, April 24, 2017 No comments

The Brass Mechanism, episode 8

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

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Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Chakan led the two men to the barn, leaving Liana with Misiva. He had an uneasy feeling, but thought Liana stronger than this wealthy visitor. As for the men… well, Chakan knew what tools could become weapons and where they were hung.

“The thing was sealed up with pitch on the inside,” he explained as they stepped inside. “We had quite a time of it pulling that lid off. Whoever put it in the ground expected it to survive the ages.”

“Indeed,” one of the men said; later on, Chakan never could remember which one was speaking at any time. “This is the box?”

“Aye.”

“I mean no offense, but you speak like a foreigner.”

“Aye, I take none. I was born a Reacher. The Matriarchy offers louts like me a plot of land, if I agree to be a good husband to my wife. Seems like I got the better end of that bargain.”

Both visitors looked amused, although Chakan meant his words as a pointed warning. Reachers were often considered warlike in this part of the wide world. One of the men reached inside the box, and scratched at a light spot on the bottom in one corner. “Wax,” he said. “They lit a candle before putting the lid on.”

“Why would they do that?” Chakan asked.

“It helps to seal the box. Perhaps the ancients had other reasons, things we forgot in The Madness.”

“That contraption showed a date… year 1812 of the Pearl Throne, if I remember right. The eve of The Madness. The rest of it warned of disaster.”

The men looked at each other. “I don’t suppose you remember the exact date?” one asked.

“Nay, but I sketched the thing as it was when we took it outta the ground.” Chakan took a breath. “Tell me true, folk. Can a machine predict the future if it’s calibrated against the stars?”

Again, they looked at each other before speaking, making Chakan wonder if they had some form of silent communication. “That we know not. Such things we leave to the mistress.”


“Ah,” said Misiva, as Chakan entered the kitchen. “I was telling your wife, I have never seen an artifact from the time of Camac That Was so well preserved in my entire career. I am prepared to offer you twenty-five gold octagons for the mechanism and the instructions, and five more for the notes and transcripts you have made.”

Liana and Chakan stared wide-eyed at each other. That kind of money would make them rich, by Chakan’s reckoning—able to live idly for over a year, perhaps two.

“Ah, ah, we’ll have to think that over,” Liana stammered after a long moment.

“Oh, I hope you won’t think it over too long,” said Misiva. “The sages will simply take it off your hands, and call it property of the realm. “You have put much work into puzzling it out, and I would think you should have somewhat to show for it, no?”

“Aye,” Chakan replied. “We’ll give it our most serious consideration.” That was a sarcastic Northerner idiom, but he doubted this wealthy Westerner knew that. Indeed, he would have to explain it to Liana.

“Good. We shall return, day after tomorrow.” Misiva stood, her menfolk bowed, and they departed.

“Chakan,” said Liana, watching the carriage roll back towards Queensport, “I am leaving this decision to you. Had we turned it over to the sages right away, as we should have done, I would not be so tempted by wealth.”

“They were polite and proper,” Chakan mused, “but that says little about their hearts. Say we took their money right away. Who can assure us they would not find a way to take it back?”

“But if they would do such a thing… perhaps they would try to take the mechanism while we consider the situation?”

“I told those men I was a born Reacher. If they took not the hint…”

“So we should take the mechanism to the sages right way,” Liana suggested.

“That they will expect,” Chakan countered. “They’ll have a trap set for us.”

None fight like a Northerner defending his land,” Liana quoted. “So we let them come to us, when we’re ready for them. When do you think they’ll come?”

“A day or two before market day. That gives us a little time to plan our defense.”

continued

Monday, April 17, 2017 No comments

The Brass Mechanism, episode 7

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

Difference engine
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Brinla was indeed loose of tongue, and she was not the only one. The rain came in as Chakan had expected, but it did little to wash away the stream of folk coming to ask questions of the brass mechanism.

Chakan and Liana grew irritable, although they usually remembered to direct their ire toward the constant interruptions—at meal times, work times, gardening times, even lovemaking times—any time of day, and into the evening, someone would come a-knocking. They tried to put up a sign to limit the visits, but most folk simply ignored it.

At least, Chakan thought, they do not come empty-handed. Visitors brought chickens, slabs of salted beef, bacon, bundles of onions, sacks of potatoes or bread, and even a little money. The list of items they needed at market diminished each day, and that brought Chakan a new worry—that they would not need to go, and then they would be stuck with the cursed mechanism forever.

As for Liana, she soon became dismayed at the banality of the questions the folk brought:

Should my son marry this woman or that woman?

If I bet on the dice tomorrow, will I win?

Is my husband seeing a woman in Queensport?

After one of these left the house one day, Liana threw up her hands. “Love, I will never ignore your advice again. First thing in the morning, we’re putting that thing on the wagon and taking it to the sages.”

Chakan took her in his arms. “Soft, soft, my heart. It’s not been all bad. We can wait until market day, it’s almost here. But I tell ya true: I’ll be glad to see that hunk of gearworks gone.”

Liana pulled the bar across the door, then turned and gave Chakan a look she knew made his stomach lurch and his desire rise. “Come to our bed, love. Let us thank the Creator for giving us each other.”


Thankfully, the knocking did not resume for a while. When it began anew, more insistent than usual, they rolled out of bed and threw some clothes on, grumbling about more intrusions.

To their surprise, there were two men and a woman at the door. They were unfamiliar, and their manner of dress suggested they were city dwellers. Out at the road stood a carriage with two donkeys. It seemed plain, but something about it nagged at Chakan.

“Yar?” Liana asked, having no better greeting at the moment.

“Your pardon, notables,” the woman replied as the men gave a half nod-half bow. “We were told you have unearthed an ancient treasure?”

“If you are of the Crown, please present your forms,” said Chakan. One of the lessons he had learned in this new place was emissaries of the Crown always carry their papers. They had shown him copies of papers, so at least he knew what they should look like. He likely would be unable to tell forgery from genuine item, but it made more work for those with bad intent.

“Oh, we are not with the government,” the woman assured him. “I am Misiva sam Tiefi, a private investor in antiquities and the like. Have I indeed been directed to the correct house?”

Chakan held his tongue, but he was sorely tempted to say we left the contraption with the sages this morning. Instead, he hoped his wife would say it, with more conviction than he would be able to muster. His father used to tell him, you make a poor liar, Chakan, but the only shame in that is to try lying anyway.

“Yar, we still have it,” Liana said after a brief pause, dashing Chakan’s hopes. Something about this situation made him nervous.

“Oh, excellent. Could I perhaps see it? I am willing to compensate you for your trouble.” Misiva produced a small bag, and took from it a gold octagon.

Liana and Chakan stared at the coin. While their farm would garner the equivalent of that bag over a year, assuming it was filled with octagons, neither of them had seen that much money all at once. A single octagon would buy enough food for three weeks or more.

“Ah, indeed, we can let you have a look,” Liana stammered, taking the coin. “Do enter, in all peace and harmony.”

“Tea?” Chakan asked as Misiva and her two men—bodyguards?—followed them inside. “We have Queensport Black and Two Rivers Red. I can have the pot warmed in short order.”

“You are indeed hospitable,” Misiva replied, “but we should not be long. This is… it is marvelous! It looks as though it might be functional.”

“It is,” said Liana. “We have used it according to the instructions.”

“Truly?” Misiva looked astonished. “A book survived that long buried in the ground?”

“‘Twas in a stone box,” Chakan blurted. “Sealed up tight for the ages. We had a time of it getting it open without breaking it, let me tell ya.”

“I suppose the box has become paving stones,” one of the men said.

“Nay. We kept it intact. Thought we might come up with a use for it later on.”

“May we see it?” the second man asked Chakan.

“Oh, aye. It’s in the barn. Liana?”

“Yar, let them see it.”

continued…

Friday, April 14, 2017 5 comments

Charlie, Fast-Forward

Charlie’s first beach sunset
While Charlie's development has been slow, due to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, I haven’t given up hope for him to catch up. Daughter Dearest was a preemie, and spent her first six months mostly passive (although she would laugh and play with her parents). All that changed the day we put in her a walker, and she figured out she could kick to crash into The Boy's push-trike. From then on, it was fast-forward for DD—that mobility boost was all it took.

Charlie has been—with the therapist and us helping—working on crawling for a while now. Up until last week, he would almost do it. Then, while on vacation… he got it. And immediately wanted to get on the floor and go everywhere. The cottages we stayed at have less-cluttered floors than our own, although there were some gouges in the cottage’s hardwood floors, so we kept an eye on him but otherwise let him roam until he got into something he shouldn’t. At home, he just wants to get on the floor so he can free-range around the living room. He crawls to the edge of his mat, pulls up a border piece, and starts chewing on it. (With Rosie the Boston Terrible shedding so much hair, I’m surprised she’s not bald. We’re using the vacuum and Clorox wipes a lot.) Or he’ll find his little toy-bucket and tip it over to find some goodies.

Not satisfied with just crawling, he got hold of the rim of his Pack&Play and stood up. He still needs to work on his stamina, because it wears him out to do it more than once or twice. I expect he’ll be walking soon… and we’ll never need to look for him, because Mason will be complaining about Charlie being in his space.

One thing he needs to work on is to pick up his knees. Right now, he drags them forward, which scuffs him up on carpet. This evening, I put him on the floor next to me at the desk. He shredded some paper, banged on the spare keyboard, then started crawling away. He got down to the bathroom before he sat down and contemplated the situation until I came and picked him back up. You would think he’d be sleeping better, but his newfound mobility seems to have him so excited he can’t wind down at night. Not that he minds, being the charter member of the Sleep Fight Club (first rule of Sleep Fight Club: you don’t fall asleep in Sleep Fight Club).

Monday, April 10, 2017 2 comments

The Brass Mechanism, episode 6

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

Difference engine
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
“Eh, that kettle heats up fast,” said Chakan. “Should be ready.” He fetched the kettle, scooped a healthy pinch of tea leaves into the cups, then brought it all to the table on a tray. “Our honored guest,” he said, pouring Brinla’s tea.

Brinla nodded, then took another cup and poured for Liana. “My gracious host.”

Finally, Liana poured a cup for Chakan. “The love of my heart, and the father of our child.”

“Love and friendship,” said Brinla, raising her cup. “A toast always worth drinking to.”

After Liana first, and having a farm of their own second, Chakan thought the tea ceremony might be his favorite thing about life in the Matriarchy. Woman or man, everyone poured each other’s tea. Liana had once told him that if he, a common and foreign-born man, were to take tea with the Queen, even she would pour his tea after he poured hers. All serve in the Matriarchy, the consul had told him, back before he left the Reach, and two years of living here had not shown him different.

“So,” said Brinla, “this thing you dug up. It is truly from Camac That Was?”

“So Chakan believes,” Liana replied.

“Aye. See these numbers?” Chakan pointed to the bottom display. “That’s today’s date, according to the old calendar. When we dug it up, it was showing a date from twenty-four hundred years ago. It was in a stone box, coated with pitch and sealed up. I can’t imagine it could have survived so well otherwise.”

“May I ask a question of it?”

“Of course,” Liana chirped, before Chakan could utter a word.

“Love, I should start spreading that fertilizer before it gets too dark,” Chakan said quickly.

“Go and do. I’ll join you soon.”

Brinla waited until Chakan was outside before speaking. “He seemed nervous.”

“Not a word,” Liana replied. “But I think he’s a little superstitious. He thinks the date the mechanism showed, when we dug it up, was the eve of The Madness.”

“That would be enough to frighten anyone,” said Brinla. “Perhaps the owner buried it before fleeing, thinking she could recover it once she returned? In any case, I suppose fertilizing the field is a chore that needs doing.”

“Yar. But your question? I’ll turn the crank. You twist these knobs while you ask it.”

Brinla took her place at the machine, gripping the knobs. “Will our flock prosper this year?” she asked, as Liana turned the crank.

“Zero three eight, nine two four, five four seven,” Liana read the display. “Now we consult the list.”

The wolf prowls without
Vigilance is no error
Beware the weak house.

Liana looked at her neighbor. “What does that tell you?”

“It tells me I need to get my lout of a husband to shore up that gods-forsaken chicken coop,” Brinli replied. “I’ve been after him about that for a while now.” She stood. “You have a good man, Liana. Even if he is a foreigner. May he continue to bless you.”


“And maybe if Brinla treated him like a partner, instead of a servant, he wouldn’t find ways to vex her so often,” Liana concluded. “Truly, do we spread this so thin?”

“Aye,” said Chakan, sprinkling fertilizer on the rows. “Too much, and it’ll kill the seedlings. Indeed, if we don’t get rain in two days, we’ll have to irrigate to help our crop along.”

“The mechanism said we wouldn’t have drought.”

“Aye, but a few days without rain doesn’t make a drought. A few dry days right now can be a bad thing, though.”

“I see.” Liana scattered compost on the adjacent row. “Husband… after we finish this, could you go to Brinla’s and help Mirthan strengthen their chicken pen?”

“I suppose.” Chakan clucked at the ox to move the cart up. “Is this about that… thing we dug up?”

“Yar. Brinla asked if her flock would prosper. It warned of wolves and weak houses.”

“Aye. I’ll bring a jug of ale and we can make the wind after we finish with the pen. You know, Brinla’s got a bit of a loose tongue. We’ll soon have all the folk around here coming to ask questions of the mechanism. When are we taking it to the sages?”

Liana sighed. “We’ll have to go to market in a week. We can take it then. Maybe you’re right, Chakan. Brinla said you’re a good man, and she speaks true. Your instincts are talking, and I need to stop ignoring that. So when we go to market, we’ll be shut of this.”

“That thing does worry at me, love. But we’ll ask the sages to tell us what becomes of it, aye?”

continued…

Monday, April 03, 2017 1 comment

The Brass Mechanism, episode 5

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Difference engine
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
“Will our child be healthy?” Liana asked, twisting the knobs atop the mechanism. Chakan turned the crank, wishing they had just given the thing over to the sages. Following the instructions to advance the mechanism’s calendar one day, they started planting corn yesterday afternoon, then spent today finishing the work. Now it was evening once again, and tomorrow would be a day of rest. Not that either one planned to get much rest, but…

Chakan refused to watch the numbers spinning, but heard the click as each one fell into place, sealing the fate of their child for good or ill.

“It’s done,” Liana told him.

“Oh. Ah.” Chakan had been turning the crank without realizing it was spinning freely.

“Three two one, six six three, zero three nine,” Liana read the display. “Let’s look it up.”

“All right.” Chakan tried to keep his voice light as he consulted the book.

Duty rewarded
There is no error in rest
Beware violence.

“What do you make of it?”

Liana looked over the numbers, checking her husband’s work, then sat lost in thought for a long time. “It sounds like I should pay close attention to the Healer,” she said. “And to not pick fights or wrestle lids off stone boxes.” She grinned at Chakan. “Rest when I can. That should not be too hard for a while.”

“Aye. Seed’s in the ground, now. When we see signs of rain, we’ll spread the fertilizer. Other than that? Until the corn’s sprouting, we care for the oxen, forage, and tend the kitchen garden.” Chakan found the latter a wonder—a garden that could be picked year-round. True, the winter offerings were roots and sour greens; but a dollop of fat gave the greens some flavor and local herbalists claimed they were good for the constitution. A brief walk would take them to unclaimed land, where they could forage. Northerners like Chakan found the southern coastal lands almost obscenely abundant with edible plants and small game.

“Then it’s settled,” said Liana, taking his hand. “I should rest. You can see that I sleep all night.”


A few days went by before they saw rain coming, but they were never truly idle. Between foraging, seeing to their garden and animals, and frequent romps in bed, they kept busy.

When Chakan saw the clouds building, he went out to the barn and turned the compost heap before pitching the bottom layers into a field wagon. Compost was something he had learned of in his roustabout days, and had brought the knowledge with him to Queensport. Local farmers, finding their waste could easily become free fertilizer, quickly took up the practice as well.

The heap was odorous, especially in summer, but not so much on cool spring mornings like this one. “Rain will come, tonight or on the morrow,” he told the oxen, munching hay in their stalls. “We’ll spread this mess on the field before it gets here.”

But when he went into the house to get Liana, he found their neighbor Brinla sitting at the table. “Peace and harmony,” he said automatically, putting the heel of his hand to his forehead and giving her a nod.

“All peace unto you, Chakan,” Brinla replied, hand over heart. “I had a surplus of eggs this week, and eggs are good for a woman with child, so I thought I would bring Liana a few and catch up on news.”

“Thank’ee for the eggs, and you’re welcome here as always. Would you like some tea? We have Queensport Black, and I believe Two Rivers Red.”

“Red would be good.”

Chakan looked at his wife, who nodded. “Red it is, then.” He stoked up the fireplace—it was yet cool enough to want at least some heat in the house—and hung the pot over the flames.

“So Liana tells me the two of you dug up this fascinating piece of machinery,” Brinla told Chakan as he returned to the kitchen to check on their tea supply. “And it tells the future?”

“I know not if it truly tells the future,” Chakan replied, satisfied that they had enough red tea. “But it does seem to give useful advice about matters when queried. We should be turning it over to the sages soon. Let them puzzle out the truth of it.”

“How does it work?”

“You turn these knobs while you ask your question,” Liana explained. “Someone turns the crank for you. Then you match the numbers against a list to see the answer.”

continued…

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