Welcome to the Bearded Wizard’s blog!

Here you will find articles about fantasy creatures, magic, and the writing/creating of fantasy worlds for fiction. The starting point for these articles is the fantasy world created for The Servant and the Scepter; but other interpretations of elves, dwarves, etc. may be discussed as well. Join the discussion and add comments about your own encounters with fantasy literature (or even tabletop gaming). Learn why elves are identified with forests, and why dwarves use hammers and axes in battle. Or have a question about some aspect of fantasy literature? Click the Submit a Question link and let us know!

The Servant and the Scepter is available on Kindle for only $2.99, and accessible to Kindle Prime members for free! Check it out!
Or, if you prefer short stories to novels, Almost to Adulthood features a collection for the young and young at heart, for only a dollar!

On Costumes and Equipment

In fantasy stories, tabletop roleplaying games, and fantasy video games, creators delight in adding great variety to their heroes. Sometimes this can result in some very creative character designs and concepts; but other times it can be just silly. Overlarge (and presumably over-heavy) swords may look cool to some people (although to me they’re just ridiculous) and be fun to look at, but if one is writing a story, the writer should be cognizant of the consequences of swinging such a bulky and unwieldy weapon. Similarly, the double-ax of Dungeons and Dragons may seem like a great offensive weapon at first consideration; but a writer who is serious about equipping their characters might want to pause and consider just how a character is supposed to attack with such a thing, and why such a device has never been employed in historical combat.

The selection of arms and armor for a character can reveal aspects of the story’s larger setting. For example, the samurai warrior of feudal Japan had an iron katana but lacquered armor instead of iron plate armor, and most infantry at that time in Japan used not swords or spears. The reason for this was that quality Japan was scarce in Japan; they simply didn’t have enough to equip all their infantry with swords or all their swordsmen with iron armor. And to take an example from Europe, rapiers did not become common until after the invention of the gun rendered armor nearly useless (as rapiers were themselves useless against plate armor). Giving your character a rapier therefore implies that armor is not in much use; and perhaps your character is more inclined to dueling than to military combat.

So consider the consequences and implications of your choices. In your story, if you have a character without iron armor, while other characters have iron scale or chain mail, you need to answer why that is. (And if you say its because the fighter fights better in light armor, then your story is probably more informed by the rules of Dungeons and Dragons than it is by real-life combat.) If your character wields an ax while most others have swords, you need to answer why that is also. After all, there are reasons why historically, the sword has dominated the ax.

And just why have swords been so common? One of the biggest reasons is their practical superiority over other types of weapons. Compared to the ax, for example, the longsword has greater range, can be used to pierce as well as slash and since its center of weight is closer to the hilt than the end-weighted ax, it can be moved about more swiftly and with quicker changes of direction. A double-edged blade can attack from more angles, and can reach around the shield of an opponent. When held in the half-sword grip it can puncture plate mail. And most importantly, it is much more effective defensively, as it can be used to parry and block more effectively; a swordsmen deprived of his shield still can maintain a defense.

And that just refers to the standard, one-handed longsword. There of course many variations on the sword—but a writer ought not to just select one willy-nilly, or because it looks cool. Each variation has a reason. A curved sword, for example, is easier to hold on to when swinging it through someone while riding past them on your horse. A great two-handed sword is useful for swing in great arcs to remove the spearheads from massed pike formations (bear in mind that two-handed swordsmen need more space to swing their weapons, and are diminished when packed into tight formations). A cruciform sword doubled as a religious piece for Christian knights (your own fantasy story may therefore not have cruciform swords, or have some other type of hilt design that works as a religious focus for your a different faith). A falcion had more weight toward the end, so it could be used as a chopping weapon to destroy chain mail. A flamberge—wait, no: that just might be an historical example of a sword that was made mostly because it looked cool.

But even if you equip your character with a standard sword and shield that doesn’t make him or her a “standard” character. It will be the character’s actions and words that truly differentiate them. Their costumes, meanwhile, will fit them into the rest of the world you have created.

Fightning and Fantasy

To an outsider, fantasy literature may seem strangely bloodthirsty. For whether the story involves an epic war or an adventurous quest or anything in between, a fantasy narrative almost invariably involve hacking things with swords (or blowing them up with magic). While it is in fact quite possible to place a story in a fantasy setting without also invoking warfare/combat (as in several of the short stories in Almost to Adulthood), such stories are few and far between in the genre as a whole. One might naturally ask why this is or has to be the case.

Perhaps the “sword and sorcery” and “knights and dragons” concepts of fantasy are so ingrained in our initial association of fantasy that it predominates simply as a matter of custom. But that should not excuse us from wondering why a custom should come to be, or remain so popular. And as to that popularity I do have a theory (which, I shall admit up front, is from a decidedly male perspective; therefore I do wish to specifically invite female readers to share their own perspectives in the comments).

I believe that combat in fantasy resonates with a deep part of our human nature that wishes to see and participate in the triumph in battle of good over evil. Men in particular, as part of their natures, are wired to fight; more specifically, I think it is a part of their spiritual makeup to be watchful, willing, and able to do combat against evil—though alas! fallen/sinful man easily re-interprets this native battle-instinct as a program for fighting not against evil, but against whatever is “Other.” Nevertheless, people, and men particularly, respond favorably to stories in both print and movies that feature the combat triumph of good guys versus bad guys (even while the sophisticates deplore this “simplistic” native worldview).

I believe further that vicarious participation in the triumph of good over evil through fantasy is of particular medicinal value to people in a confused world where good and evil are not so clear. In our modern world, we easily and frequently feel powerless against the complex and often undefined evils that threaten us and our societies; and we feel doubly powerless that even when we can identify a specific instance of evil (such as the bully beating us up on the playground, or, when we are older, the bully beating up our child at school while we must be away at work), we are commanded to do nothing physical about it (the child, for example, is taught at school that fighting is always wrong; and the adult would be in great legal trouble if they stooped to beat up their child’s enemy). So we want to fight evil, but so often, we can’t. We must instead figure out merely how to endure it.

But open up that fantasy story and we can vicariously participate in this important combat. We are elevated from our powerlessness to an incarnation of power (in some stories, this elevation may itself be a major journey, involving much character development—which we can also participate in). We are delivered from our confusion to a vision of clarity. And we are promoted from our victim-hood at the hands of evil to a position of judgment (in both the discerning and executive senses of the word) over it.

Now do all fantasy stories purposely exploit this yearning? Certainly not. Writers are as fallen and imperfect as readers, and I think many times we create things without being much aware of what elements have gone into their creation. Therefore many stories do this accidentally, or imperfectly, or even with some inversion of values on the part of the writer; but I think that among the larger body of humanity, this is a native element in our enjoyment and production of such stories.

Naturally, when I wrote my own novel,The Servant and the Scepter, I made an effort to make good use of this concept. (So if what I’ve written here really makes sense to you, maybe you’d like to check it out!) But I do understand that not everybody is as excited about this concept as I am. In any case, I invite you to share some of your own observations in the comments below.

Learning Magic

An excerpt from The Servant and the Scepter:

The next day Karillus reported to Captain Roehm as usual, but the knight redirected him to the West Tower, where Alberic was serving his duty. With uncertain curiosity Karillus ascended the long spiral staircase leading to the single room at the top of the tower, where the mages kept their vigil. Or whatever they did—none knew, save for perhaps the king. Alberic himself seemed to be merely reclining in a chair when Karillus entered the room, and in such stillness that Karillus could not at first tell whether the mage was resting, asleep, or even dead.

“The prince came to see me the day before yesterday,” creaked Alberic’s voice. He stared levelly across the room at Karillus, twirling the three hairs that hung from the left side of his jaw and which accounted for his beard. “It seems his men could not be relied upon to give him a straight answer to a question he posed them…”
The mage lapsed into silence, staring, twirling. “He came to you,” Karillus prompted.

“I am one man who does not fear his reprisal,” grated the voice of the withered mage.

“He asked you if he had done you any evil,” guessed Karillus.

“No,” Alberic growled. “He knows the answer to that. No, he asked me if he had done any evil to his knights. Seemed to think I would know, as if I see everything. As if I watch everything.”

“You had no answer for him then?”

“I had an answer,” the wizened wizard’s eyes widened. And whitened. “There are many deeds a prince does that are known by all. Or by all, it seems, except for him.”
His eyes again normal, Alberic stared again in silence at the man who had challenged the prince.

“And of the deed done against you,” Karillus attempted to draw out this slow narrator. “Did he ask your forgiveness?”

Hefting himself up by his staff, Alberic the Spent rose from his chair and proceeded toward Karillus, coming within a foot of Karillus before answering. “He did not,” croaked the mage. “Priest. Did you really think he would?”

“I had hoped,” Karillus let his shoulders fall. “Something. Something important enough to explain you summoning me here.”

“Hm,” responded the mage, turning away, but not quickly enough to conceal the smile that crept into his eyes and wrinkled face. “Something,” he acknowledged on his way to the staircase that led to the roof.

Karillus followed, coming out onto the flat marble roof and immediately becoming dizzy at the astonishing height. From here he could take in the whole of the great city of Marin, the docks and the bay on one side, and an expanse of farmland on the other. So this is what the birds see, thought Karillus. Amazing.

“The birds,” Alberic could barely be heard in the wind, “are our eyes afar. Awareness is our first protection, you know.” Turning to Karillus, the wizard pointed out a hawk in the distance. “Call to him.”

“Call?”

“Call,” the mage insisted.

“I cannot.”

“Watch,” Alberic approached Karillus. “Listen. Sense. Be aware.” The mage reached up and touched Karillus’s head, then reached into his mind.

“Ah!” started Karillus, losing his balance and falling to one knee. In the distance, the hawk shrieked, and turned toward them.

“Now,” Alberic whispered into Karillus’s ear, “call him.”

Karillus searched his mind for the point Alberic had touched. It was as if the mage had moved a muscle of his that he didn’t even know he had possessed. But he knew now; he could still feel the tingling in his mind. But could he activate the power himself?

Alberic the Spent watched as Karillus extended his arm, and smiled as the hawk perched itself there. “Now,” he whispered again, “sense. Its eyes; your eyes.”
The bird launched back into the air, and streamed toward the Sea of Yuhn. “I’m flying,” Karillus gasped. “Flying.”

“The bird is flying,” Alberic reminded him. “You see through its eyes. But enough.”

“It’s beautiful,” breathed Karillus.

“Enough!” snapped the mage, and Karillus’s vision was dispelled. Suddenly exhausted, he fell upon his hands and gasped for air.

“Quite a labor, no?” iterated the mage. “Even on this tower. But it shall become easier, with practice. Not too much practice, though.”

“Why…” exhaled Karillus as Alberic started toward the staircase. “Why have you shown me this?”

“It is a terrible thing for a powerful man to be an evil one,” asserted the mage. “Or for a powerful people, to be evil. You spoke of this to the captain, did you not? You told him what strength is used for; when a good man is strong, he pits that strength against the evil.

“You are strong, Karillus Urill Vrinn Khan. Stronger than most. And you would oppose evil,” he explained, even as Karillus passed out.

Training with Captain Roehm had been demanding, but Karillus thought it slight exertion compared to training with the mage Alberic. Five minutes spent practicing one of his arts left him as exhausted as five hours of sword exercises. At first, that is.

“You see why swordsmen do not use magic to help them,” said Alberic as Karillus concentrated upon an unlit candle. “At least, men do not,” he continued. “There are some elves who can manage. You see, the art which the elves discovered draws its power from one’s own life force. You spend yourself with each use. Overspend yourself, and you do terrible damage to your life. That is why we limit our practice: just enough to increase your strength, your endurance, but never enough to drain your life.
“This tower,” continued Alberic as the end of the candle wick began burning, “is built to make use of the art less difficult. When you get stronger, we will begin to practice elsewhere.” The candle fire continued to grow, well beyond what the candle should have been able to support. “You’re feeding it too much,” scolded Alberic, placing a glass bowl over the candle. Deprived of air, the flame went out.

“I can’t relight it,” realized Karillus after a few moments trying.

“Of course not,” coughed his instructor. “The Art of the Elves does not violate the laws of nature. Fire requires air to burn. No air, no fire—no matter how much magical energy you spend,” he continued as he hobbled over to the bookcase. Selecting a red-handled scroll from the top shelf, he returned to Karillus and handed it to him. “So long as the scrolls stay in this room, you may read any one of them. Sit for a while, then, and study.”

Karillus hesitated to open the scroll he had been handed. “These contain spells?” he inquired.

“Folly again,” grumped Alberic. “Was it a ‘spell’ that called the bird? A ‘spell’ that ignited the candle? There are no such things in the Natural Art. It is an Art of Wonder. You learn by instruction, and exercise—like Roehm’s pupils learn from him.”

“Then what—”

“What you hold in your hands is a treatise on fire,” divulged the learned mage. “Useful knowledge for one who wants to command fire. In there you would learn what I declared to you, that fire requires air to burn, and you will learn many other things besides. Read it.”

Karillus looked down at the scroll, then back up at Alberic to ask him another question, but the mage’s still posture and stern eyes were answer enough. Sighing, Karillus sat down upon the stone floor and opened the scroll. Then he looked up at Alberic again, but the old man stood leaning upon his staff in the same rigid posture, only his stern gaze had followed Karillus to the floor.

Turning his eyes back to the scroll, Karillus began reading about fire.

5 Obstacles to Technological Development in Fantasy Worlds

What is it—in terms of an in-world explanation, as opposed to a constraints-of-the-medium explanation—that prevents the people in fantasy worlds from developing a sophisticated level of technology?

The out-of-world explanation is simple: the moment you introduce an industrial or technological world, you end up telling a different kind of story than you would in a pre-industrial setting. But if you only have an artificial reason for limiting your world’s technological progress, then you are not only stunting your fictional world’s growth, but your own growth as a writer. A good fictional world has compelling reasons for its history, beyond our mere fiat. As I writer, I do not want to simply fiat that a thousand generations of elves have been unable to progress beyond the forging of steel swords to the building of steel bridges, railways and automobiles. But where do I start?

Actually, a simple look at real-world history reveals a number of reasons that our own technological development didn’t start earlier than it did; so all I really need to do is borrow from that, and then adapt it to my fictional setting. (Note: the statements below are all admittedly simplified, in order to accommodate a blog entry; the full case of history involves many other factors and complications as well.)

1. View of Nature. Many ancient peoples viewed the world around them as inhabited by spirits, or controlled by agents (in same cases gods, in other cases some agency within the things themselves). One of the consequences of this belief system was that the world was largely beyond our ability to understand and predict. In order for systematic investigation of the natural world to be even considered as profitable, it required an alternative belief system. One example of such a system is the natural philosophy developed by the Greeks; another example is the Judeo-Christian worldview that a single God created everything with an order that would be understandable to the rational human minds He also created.

Now since a fantasy setting can be inhabited by many gods, spirits, or other agents which direct or interfere with the activities of nature, it is entirely conceivable that science is much more difficult and less reliable—these other agents may perpetually get in the way. In such a world, understanding nature may be more like anthropology and civics than about chemistry and physics.

2. Slave Labor. Throughout most of earth’s history, the presence of slave labor has been the norm—despite the fact that free labor is more productive economically. And in addition to the moral evils of slavery, it has a deleterious impact upon technological growth and industrial innovation: for so long as slave labor is apparently less costly than innovation, innovation will not be pursued. This is one of the reasons why the Greeks, despite their philosophy, did not advance as far as they might have in terms of technological development: machines were more like expensive toys than labor-saving devices.

Now a fantasy setting may or may not have slavery (a good example of one that does, and that considers such negative effects, is Joel Rosenberg’s Guardians of the Flame series); but most of them have magic, and this could have a similar impact upon the cost of technological innovation. If magic is common enough—that is, if its economic cost is low—it may very well out-compete technology. In fact, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books suggest this very point: most wizards are baffled by muggle technology; for after all, who needs to develop an internal combustion engine when you can teleport or fly? Who needs to develop medical and dental knowledge when you can just cast a spell or drink a potion to restore your health? So long as a magic solution is readily available, or even known to exist, then character in that world will be more likely to pursue that solution than to divine an alternative one through technological invention and innovation.

3. Custom and values system. In some cultures, doing things in a traditional way is more valued than doing things in a novel way; in some cultures, it is more valuable to be equally as capable as your peers than it is to be better than them. Technological innovation puts a person (or group of people) at an advantage over others, and in some value systems, that is itself a kind of evil to be avoided. This, and other cultural reasons may account for slowness in technological development. In China, for example, the dominance of Confucian philosophy in the government bureaucracy and among the elite seems to be one of the reasons why the industrial revolution did not spring from the far east, despite the advantages that China had over Europe in the Middle Ages. For another example of culture, in Japanese leaders purposely turned their back on some technological advances (such as gunpowder weapons) in order to maintain their existing cultural system for another hundred years or so.

People groups in a fantasy world might have their own cultural rules or value systems than prohibit or slow technological development. Perhaps they view machines as dehumanizing (de-elfanizing?); perhaps they believe that technology is injurious to the community (as the real-life Amish do); perhaps they simply have different ambitions. My elves, for example, use their long lives to learn everything there is to learn about everything that interests them, and so they almost never specialize in any one particular field.

4. Lack of trade. Throughout history, isolated communities have developed much more slowly than trading communities. Trade gives access not only to ideas, but also to resources, and both are needed for technological development. Historically, Europe had both an international system of colleges that promoted the trade of ideas, and a thriving network of trading that included international banking (banking, by the way, goes a long way toward making investment in new enterprises possible).

In a fictional world, there are a great many economic and trade obstacles a writer can include in his world. Constant warfare, lack of safety traveling between cities/states, lack of agreeable exchange currencies, increased suspicion of foreigners (which, remember, may really be of a different race), cultural isolationism, constant environmental upheaval, or a lack of free markets and the rule of law may all make trade much less common. (I must emphasize the importance of the Rule of Law here: the Rule of Law, as opposed to the Rule of Rulers, is one of the single biggest reasons that the United States prospered so much more than the many other New World states that never committed to the Rule of Law. The Rule of Law makes futures speculation and investment possible in ways that are impossible under the diktats of arbitrary governing officials.)

5. Lack of free markets. I am not going to elaborate on this obstacle to technological growth, since you came here to read about writing fantasy, and not about free market economics. Entire blogs are devoted to discussing free markets and their various effects. But for the purpose at hand (creating a fantasy world, and ensuring that is remains in a pre-industrial state despite thousands of years of history), I suggest tyrannical rulers help you quite a bit. Not many people invest where the fruits of their work will certainly be stolen by the government (as in Zimbabwe). Of course, this approach will have other impacts upon your fictional world—you may not want your world to be so bleak, or perhaps you at least don’t want your elves or dwarves to be so bleak; but this approach can be combined with number 4: maybe not all governments are tyrannical kleptocracies, but enough are that it provides a significant disincentive to trade…

Anyway, this is just a starter list of options—probably already too long for a single blog post. But if you’ve read this far, maybe you have some ideas of your own. Share them in the comments below!

Why Medieval Europe?

Theoretically, fantasy tales could be written in any time and place setting; so why are so many pitched in a Medieval European-style setting?

I suppose there are several reasons for this. First, since it was Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings which did so much to re-establish fantasy as a serious literary genre, and subsequently inspire new generations of writers after him, it is only natural that a lot of writers use a similar setting as their starting point. But secondly, even Tolkien himself has reasons for his choice, and I think one of them is English familiarity: for in English history, they had a very rich literary tradition from the Middle Ages (and I am including Anglo-Saxon mythology in this literary well), and no great period of ancient empire before that. Maybe, if Tolkien (and subsequent fantasy writers) had been Italian, it would have been more natural to look to a Roman-style setting; and if our writers were Greek, maybe a Homeric era setting; but for the English, the Middle Ages were their imaginative past.

In a similar vein, since one of the common elements of fantasy stories is a heroic character on a heroic quest, the feudal era era gives a writer a lot more room to work with than an imperial era. Now a good writer can still do such a story in an imperial environment; but it might involve a much more sophisticated plot, and likely involving politics, or deal with different scales of characters and social environments. Might not be as attractive to writers or readers. What cultural elements would be brought to bear in such an environment? Meanwhile the Middle Ages environment immediately brings with it a background concept of chivalry, the knight errant, and the heroic ideal, and these can be for many more attractive to work with. Also, dragons! To my knowledge (which is admittedly limited), dragons are much more commonly found in the English and Outer European (that is, outside of the civilization of Rome) literature than they are within Roman, Greek, or Persian literature. (On the other hand, we get a host of good monsters from these other sources, including hydra and cyclopes and sirens and more.)

A feudal era also has the advantage over an imperial one in that many writers and readers specifically want to be taken out of the city. The open, untamed land is quite attractive for many, and the specific refuge sought against the modern mechanized world. I might say “industrialized,” but we are far beyond the Industrial Revolution; but our progress towards even greater levels of integration and societal sophistication may further drive our escapist desire for a wild, untamed land.

Some writers satisfy this with a more ancient setting than the Middle Ages. The Conan stories, for example, are set in a mythic age that existed prior to our world’s historical empires. The danger in going too far back is that you lose all your swords. First you lose sophisticated armor, then long swords, then iron weapons, and then swords altogether. Although many writers don’t bother about all this, and commit wild anachronism. And suppose a writer knows how to get a bronze-age battle right; it takes a whole other level of skill to sell that to an audience which is unfamiliar. It can be done, of course; but you’ll probably end up with a smaller audience.

Anyway, alternatives to a Medieval-style setting are out there; but the bulk of material, from novels to short stories to Dungeons and Dragons, will naturally be written within a boundary of familiarity for both readers and writers alike. But there really is no official limitation; and a variety of ways exist to implement alternatives, or to try combinations of different elements. The Dragonriders of Pern series, for example, by featuring a colony on another world, establishes a society that is largely pre-industrial in make-up, although they retain some of the advanced technology they brought with them to the planet (although I think that usually gets classed as science fiction instead of fantasy).

But the role of technology brings up another issue, which I touched upon in my last post about dwarves; and I’ll get more into that on the next post.

On Dwarven Engineering

One aspect of writing fantasy dwarves that I find a little difficult is placing their level of technological development. If I’m not careful, I can actually disrupt the setting of the rest of my fantasy world. Here’s why:

The standard (that is, the most familiar) setting for a high fantasy story is in a European Middle Ages type of environment. Now of course a writer can choose to throw it much further back in time–maybe a Roman-era level of sophistication, or maybe a Homeric era setting of independent city-states, or maybe even remove it in place by having a Mesopotamian setting–but all of these have in common a setting prior to the industrial revolution; that is, part of the basic “feel” of a typical fantasy setting is that it has to be pre-technological, pre-modern. Bringing in technology creates altogether different kinds of worlds (some of which remain fantasy, as in steampunk settings), which themselves promote different colors of story.

Meanwhile dwarves, a mainstay of the typical fantasy world, are almost always depicted with a highly sophisticated level of engineering skill. To begin with, they craft excellent weapons and armor; and this suggests steel-smelting know-how, instead of working with simple iron (often they work with mithril, which may or may not involve more sophisticated methods). Next, they dwell in caves, which involve a great level of architectural expertise: they must be excellent in creating arches, buttresses, vaulting, etc. Often the interiors of these caves are huge–do they carve them all out by hand, or use machines to cut and/or remove the earth? Do they have their own secret blend of concrete to shore up walls and ceiling? Have they installed a rail system for carting out material and/or general transportation within their warrens? Have they not, or necessity, developed magnificent systems for circulating the air and venting the smoke from the fires that illuminate the interior?

Furthermore, any cave metropolis requires a developed system of pumps for removing the water that continuously seeps in from the earth (this actually furnishes a plot point in The Servant and the Scepter). Well historically, the challenges faced when developing pumps for English and Scottish mines led to technological innovations that directly led to the Industrial Revolution. So would not dwarves, who have dealt with such challenges for hundreds of years, and who demonstrate considerable skill and precedent in engineering, invention and innovation, also create such things as we have created? Once I imagine that dwarves have lived in underground cities for generations, I find it very easy to believe they have already invented steam-powered engines, and railroads, and steam cannons, and many other things.

See the problem? If we allow our fictional creatures to too much, we lose our fantasy setting. The dwarves all by themselves could launch the modern world; and certainly the humans with whom they trade would be inclined to spread those inventions as far and wide as historical humans have done. But if, on the other hand, we limit their inventive capability, just how do we explain their magnificent underground cities? Is it all magic? Or do they continue to dwell in much more primitive conditions?

My own solution is to imagine that the dwarves, presciently aware of their own doom should humankind ever make such discoveries as the dwarves have made, guard their discoveries with utmost secrecy. Only a special school of master engineers learn some of their arts; and among these, they will even refuse to implement some discoveries, if doing so could not be kept secret from the world outside. Perhaps some warrens even conceal technologies at the lower levels which are unknown even to the other dwarves who live in the levels above. The recipes for their steel and concrete, and the designs for their pumps, their elevators, their steam engines, rail systems, manufacturing machines and refrigeration units–all these are the special “magic” of the dwarves, hidden deep in the bowels of the earth; and one terrible day these secrets will be either captured or discovered independently by men, and that will mark the end of the age of dwarves, the beginning of their last days upon the globe.

New Excerpt

 

 

Here’s another sample of the stories in Almost to Adulthood, now available on Kindle for only $0.99!

This is a collection of short stories for young boys, parents of young boys, and adults who enjoy the kind of “children’s” literature which was never childish, set in the fantastical past (fantastic enough to feature an occasional dragon or the rumor of faerie, but not so fantastical that we leave earth). Full of both charm and danger, these stories invite readers into adventures that go beyond mere escapism, so that readers can bring something back with them to the real world.

 

Once upon a time when cartographers knew less and philosophers knew more, there lived a boy who was impatient for battle.  His name was William, and he would be king, after his father.  He lived in a small kingdom somewhere on the edge of the map, where rumors of unknown lands beyond the mountains were a little more than rumor even if a little less than true.

Meanwhile the known lands nearby were threatening war.

William’s father was himself a peaceful king, but his neighbor did not share the same partiality for peace and fraternity.  Therefore William’s father prepared himself for the inevitable contest, spending the wealth of his treasury upon armor and weapons and roads and walls, when he might otherwise have invested in churches and orphanages and roads and markets.  At least he still got to build the roads.

But the people of the country groaned under the king’s taxes, and complained about the conscription of their sons for men-at-arms.  But what was the king to do with so warlike and covetous a neighbor?  He must fight, or concede his title and lands, and hand his people over to another ruler (and even greater taxes).

For his own part, William looked forward to the fight.  The threat on his father’s border made him angry: who was this grasping sovereign who sought another sovereign’s lands?  William thought him to be no prince who was himself unprincipled, but rather an armed robber needing his comeuppance; and William would have brought low the brigand if such a thing had been in his princely power.  Yes, William was keen to fight; he was ready to withstand the unrighteous king, and break the man’s crown.

And why not?  Was he not already at the age of fifteen a mighty warrior, strong and courageous?  Had he not himself brought to bay the Great Red Boar?  Had he not, unaided, expelled the wretched Hill Ogre from the pasturelands?  Had he not, alone and of his own accord, ventured into the Spider Forest to discover its secrets?  And had he not, unsupported, endured all eight hours of Counselor Doric’s lecture on Proper Etiquette and Manners Toward Visiting Princesses, including Polite Conversation Rules and Topics? Yes, he had accomplished all of these feats, and for these exploits had become known for his valor far and wide, and had gained also for his father renown far and wide.  Certainly he was ready for war.

Yet William’s father was not so certain, for he did not himself esteem his son’s exploits as highly as did William’s admirers.  For in truth, the Great Red Boar had been brought to bay by the king’s hounds, with William merely delivering the stroke of the spear; and the seven-foot-tall Wretch of the Hills had been no ogre hungry for human flesh, but only a deformed outcast who had taken to stealing stray sheep and eating them uncooked; and the secret of the Spider Forest was only that it had no giant spiders (people only thought that it did, on account of the prodigious cotton covering that blanketed the trees when they were in bloom); and as for enduring Counselor Doric’s instruction, well, the king thought any man ought to be able to do that.

Nevertheless, while William’s father did not praise him as did the people, he yet appraised him highly, knowing his son to be in possession of valor.  Yes, he knew Prince William could and would fight; but he knew also that a prince must be more than a fighter in battle.

William’s father the king declared to him his role.  “It is my command to you, my son, to venture beyond the mountains to the unknown lands to make contact with those living there, and obtain for us allies from among them to help us in the coming war.”

William wondered at his father’s command.  “Father,” he asked, “why me?”

“You know the way through the SpiderForest,” answered the king.  “You are like to discover the way through the mountains.  You are fit to represent me to the people who dwell beyond.”

“But what people dwell beyond?” inquired the prince.  “What do we know of those lands but rumors?  I have heard tales of men there who take on the aspect of wild and fell beasts.”

“We know naught but the rumors,” answered his father the king.  “But we know the tales are old, and that they are told in many places.  And such men would be formidable on the battlefield.”

“Do you think they will help us, father?”

“That is what I would have you discover.”