Commentary III:65

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Sorry I’m a bit late on commentary this week, had most of this written Sunday with along final editing as is the new process, but got distracted, and wanted to do a final editing pass.

A Road too Far

I wanted to call the chapter Ascension’s Road, to play on path, but decided two “Road” chapters back to back was kludgy, and not much of the chapter is spent on the road.

This first scene happens slightly out of order with the end of the last chapter. I worry, probably unnecessarily this is jarring, that we step back to just before leaving town for a moment.

It’s been on my mind for a while that Wren’s appearance is dubious for crossing Ascension lands. He’d likely have little trouble within the safety of a caravan, but in this small group, such a feminine appearance on a man would invite very much the wrong kind of questions, and attention.

Lets presume Etore has first hand witnessed some small trouble, even with a caravan, and so decides it’s time to take precautions. I did decide however that there may be some readings of Clarion scripture that imply Wren is not at all in the “wrong” in his choices.

Clarion society can be strict, martial, and patriarchal, but they actually are not awash in the more familiar modern ideal of toxic masculinity we would entirely recognize. Indeed their ideation against pleasures and desires, as well as the rigidness of that society actually lead to a somewhat gentlemanly, if not quite chivalrous norm.

Etore had seen some men with their hair long, and tied back in her previous travels, but did not quite piece together the reason, but does recognize the quote when he modifies it.

Clarion thought is full of varied readings of doctrine, in the details. Bland food or spicy, but rarely sweet. The one gloved hand or two. How particular they are about enchanted garments, the covering of a woman’s hair, or face. It’s all up in the air, and though they are all very staunch in their personal beliefs, they have largely managed to live at peace with one another in these variations, and argue “politely” all the time about the finer points. Almost a sport really.

I imagine this an offshoot of the fact that their faith is not founded in a singular perfect doctrine – the word of an infallible god – just a “noble, wise, and venerated man.” In many ways they are a rigid secular society, such that laws and norms are their pious adherence, and they write them as Etore highlights, to offer secular punishment for carnal deviance.

I admit I’m dubious of all the exposition here, but sometimes it’s just too forced to turn it into dialogue, and at least some of it was turned into description. This is mostly in Wren’s close perspective if it isn’t obvious… I hope it is.

I may edit this more heavily again in future some how, but for now my schedule is what it is, and exposition gets it across with a lot less time fussing around to show not tell. This all kind of came together by accident.

The “second genocide” some might recall being mentioned by Wren when he first took up the staff. I had a vague construct of what this meant, but not specifics. He did not even remember saying this, nor does he quite recall the moment that unwound in the wagon back in Corinthia. Whatever higher powers are in play as ‘he’ said, stepped to the back, and took such knowledge with them. Have perhaps been cast off (all but) entirely as of events in Mordove, or so he tries to believe.

Through this scene, as he crosses a boundary where that conflict raged, he gets glimpses of that larger picture. Mixed with history that still happened. Some of the same passage occurred in things he read, such that it was hard to pull apart the memory. It certainly did not turn into a larger conflict, and the dead were far fewer.

Paladins have gained a reputation in fantasy for nobility, and this nobility comes from a culture in which they are righteous warriors of God. Yet righteous wrath can seem quite different from those not ascribed to the same beliefs. Blood begets blood. We may look to some parts of the world and see with horror the acts of modern “holy warriors,” and reconsider the vice of “noble” quests, and crusades.

Sure it’s all fun and games till someone loses an eye, a hand, a life, an entire way of life, or people. Then a few generations down the line it really should be no surprise anyone if there is a little vitriolic irrational hatred for the descendants, and more distant relatives of those who came a conquering in search of a (literally) bloody cup. Particularly since they never really stopped, in one way or another, making a mess of everything.

It’s really quite another thing if the inquisition (no one expects it, Spanish or otherwise,) or witch trials spread into a foreign nation where a religion is not sanctioned, and the “witches” in question are, and these unsanctioned murderers get offed, and the neighboring nation of another faith takes some issue with it. Blood begets blood.

Narrow slit windows for archers are common features of many fortifications, and as I wrote this scene I thought of those formed into crosses by Christian architects. Sun and Moon iconography is often subtle on either side. It does not have quite the prevalence of the cross, but still abounds in little details. The irony though of faith iconized in implements of war is striking. I realized that some images of the Clarion sun I’ve done have 8 points, thought in retrospect maybe it should be 6, decided that this has evolved over time, and plays nicely with some of the numerology established.

Etore is playing more authoritative than she probably is. She’s roughly 20 (21?) now, I’d have to check exact dates. She took to the road around 16, so I don’t imagine she’s been through the Ascension more than two, or three times. Particularly since we’ve been with her around a year. Some of what she’s rattling off (to seem useful, and knowledgeable) are things she’s heard, but others are from experience. I feel like this is well in character. The opposite side of how she throws out “polite” ribbing all the time, calls Wren boy when he’s barely younger than her (just less worldly.)

During editing I got confused, and thought Liora should be with the group here, realized later she shouldn’t, and lost track of where Jake was. So a line changed hands from Kiannae to Liora and back again. I think I cleaned it back up correctly, but it was getting late Sunday, so here’s hoping. I imagine she and Jake got through untroubled, or by identifying themselves.

One aspect of Clarion society that has gotten a lot of subtle mention but little clear address is the covering of women. In our modern context this will make many think of a specific faith, but this is disingenuous even in our world. There are traces of the underlying pattern in at least two related faiths. We tend to refer to judo-christian, because the two have almost gotten along, but truthfully this should be judo-christian-muslim, there is too much overlap to ignore. Even if it’s something of a dog-wolf-fox analogue so far as family trees.

There have been many traces of hair covering in Christian society through the centuries, the most enduring are the habits of Nuns, but there are other traces that show up through history. Forgoing the hair, and face, or wrist fates… showing ankle was once nearly scandalous during a period of our western history. Specifics are distractions from what lies underneath. Even quibbling over how Veils became mostly for brides, windows, or perhaps on occasion the disfigured.

I think I mentioned it before, but one of the impetuses in Clarion culture was actually a woman by the name of Helio. She wore a veil because she was scared. She was scared notably by the violence of a man (a younger prince) who felt belittled by her, and exerted his power by destroying her work, and raping her. I’ve not decided if the wounds were inflicted with mage-iron, or she chose not to have the scars fully healed, but she did take to covering her face. History has taken the wrong example from her, and her faith later in life, and men have used her in their doctrine to imply a piety of hiding women, or women hiding themselves. A convenient layer of power for the patriarchy.

This echos in the grave irony that Wren highlighted earlier. So many of the common masculine signals in almost any human culture, are if one takes even a step back, the same we would ascribe to animals. Harrier, more aggressive, territorial, assertive, violent… it goes on. Only one of these is entirely aesthetic, but the aesthetic attaches to the behavior in our bias.

Civilization – if one ascribes to such ideation of what male is – would then, by that perspective, be innately feminine. This leads to an easy and very slippery slope in patriarchal status conscious society. If men need to be superior, then what differentiates them from women needs to be viewed as superior, and that which is less these things, feminine, is inferior. Problem is much of this works against a stable society.

We can see some of this in the ideation of some of the female antagonists, and their view of any former matriarchy in the Shamanistic Age. The warrior cast were the dangerous animals (mostly male) kept on a short leash by the more evolved shamans, who kept each other in line, as well as to an extent, the lower members of the tribe. They have however skewed this perspective further towards a male female dichotomy, where as in truth it had a as much to do with gift as gender, but the two are somewhat tied, and there was a lot of pushing around norms even in those days.

Osir was a highly gifted man, who was shunned by the Shamans, as were many of the mage kings that rose, because the Shamans ignored the new teaching of magic, and ambitious capable men took them on, then subjugated those who had kept them down. Which also wasn’t a hard and fast occurrence, we do have some surviving matriarchies, after all, but many of these (such as Avrale) decayed into a tacit compliance with wider norms. (The King of Avrale sits at the right hand of his queen. Not that I ever established that well in text, I should in some future editing.)

As I said though, Clarions have not completely fallen into this trap. They seek Ascension, and everything else is secondary. There has been a lot of twisting, and bending over backwards to support various power structures though. They have built up patriarchal norms that diminish women, as all history has show men are wont to do.

We imagine at least an innate instinct to dominance, arriving from a selection pressure for the success of dominance. This however is muted into a simple passive misogyny in Clarion society, and they value the mind, over the body, and the spirit over both. They don’t believe men should be violent brutes (only that they have an animal tendency to it,) and there is even some variance on hairy. This has lead to all manner of convenient justification (from scripture or otherwise.) Which of course bares much irony with the greater gifts of women, or some proposed innate traits more conducive to good behavior than men.

Look to existent faiths to see all manner of paradoxical and ironic ideation like this, usually in service of some larger social/secular norm or pattern. Even as justification for actions already taken, or why they must continue.

I wrote the basics of this brief scene with Wren and Etore a couple weeks, maybe even months back, around the same time as the scene that follows. Back between the capitol and the bandit camp… It’s been a while. At the first brush the man who lost his ring was implied to be local, and if Wren played along, she might see it gets back to him, “wiser for the cost.” While there were aspects of that I liked, it didn’t make sense, under the very cultural constraints at work for this scene to happen.

When I finally went to put the scene in, Wren was the one to catch for me the context that for all the conservative patterns one may observe in Clarion culture aside, they have far more abstract views of marriage. Very important to the common folk, but not everything. After all though the White Women and Paladins produce children, they do not marry, nor live together.

Etore however counters the very obvious that to the masses marriage is the norm, and does carry a lot of weight, so far as who might comfortably share a room for booking. She also decided to tie everything together rather nicely in a strange sort of way.

She hasn’t forgotten a coin toss was had over her, and true to her form of playing bigger than she may be in things, or at least to the potential in what she sees, she came up with this clever retort. Carelessly placed things are hers for the taking. Perhaps once or twice in the past a coin has been flipped, and she simply snatched it out of the air, settling a mater.

Mercenary A: “Who has first shift?”
Mercenary B: “Flip you for it.”
Etore steps from the shadows to snatch the coin.
“Looks like it’s me.”

I originally had a translation, and methodology of sorts I went through to arrive at this blessing. I did not write it down, and forgot, so anyone is welcome to guess, but sufficed to say from what I do remember, the man might actually think twice saying it, if he knew what all the words meant. Alas it has become tradition abstracted from meaning, even if some of the shamans who most often speak it, might know the full and literal meaning.

This is not entirely an uncommon thing, latin phrases are often repeated by route by those who do not know a lick of the dead language, though may have some understanding they think of what it means. Further as religions take over regions they may adopt, or be subverted by local traditions. This expression has some relation to Estae, and flowers, but honestly even I’m fuzzy what was said, only that I knew at the time.

One thing I cut, because we’ve had too much exposition this chapter:

It was a sign of respect in Clarion clarion thought, to show you had no intention to lay hands upon the other, and trusted the same. It was only a bit different in Lycian tradition, to not become careless as a man, and make a woman uncomfortable. To be invited first. The women tended to do the same, to not offer invitation, until they wished to. Which was oft not long off.

The handshake comes from the practice of presenting the right hand, to show one is unarmed. It is not universal among cultures however. Bows, nods, and other things all find their places, particularly in mixed societies.

I forget if it’s made it into actual published commentary or texts, but you will observe Lycian cloister men to often walk about with their hands behind their back. Something that they were probably chastised to do when they were young, after an inappropriate, uninvited touch or another. This extends also to fighting. Even the Lycians may be very well guilty of the sentiment of “boys will be boys,” they just put a stop to it.

Indeed this custom may have come all the way through the Clarion apostates who joined the order, from older traditions. It has evolved however separately, and where one is a precaution which gained overlays of respect, the other is a sign of respect that may not always be very aware of what lays beneath. It may also be seen somewhat as a pensive, or even vaguely submissive posture. Chest out, at attention, hands behind your back.

This scene is nearly contiguous with the last, and was written around the same time, just not originally connected. I really do have plans, just stumbling through “life” getting there with my characters. I may rethink some things some day, as to what is included or not, but there is a certain root in all of this story. It’s meant to be about “humanity” and “identity” butting up against what it means to be human. These things which define us, and confront us, asking or enticing us to actions.

Jake is a bonus character in some ways, though he was always kind of there in the back of my mind, I had not imagined him being here through so much. He was the failed love interest in Liora’s back story. I always imagined we’d learn something about him when/if I ever got to “Liora’s Lament,” the working title of the story of her rise to paladin from prisoner.

Still, Jake, particularly given he’s been separated from Markus, needed to leave for now. He’s been a sixth… seventh… eighth… it’s complicated… wheel on an already unwieldily group, and served his purpose well, or sometimes too well. This scene was written well before his former accusations, and took a more subtle poke at them.

We also get a little clarity on their history, which has been danced around.

Guess we aren’t through with dream sequences after all, nor will I again promise we have reached the end.

I thought I’d try something a little different, and highlight the split of Kiannae being aware at the outset of something mismatched. We are much closer than we ever have been to the begging of the struggle, but still only seeing a move in the game.

There is something of the evil queen of Snow White in Estae here, and yet the innocent is no less enamored with her own beauty. Here we see some of the mirror gazing that Rhaea was known for, and getting lost in her own reflection. A court of adored lovers, and companions, oft ignored for her own continence. They try, and some with more success than others pull her away, and capture a moment of her time.

This is something of an aforementioned ‘glamor’ that Wren has, but many, many, orders more powerful. Her attention, her face, her kiss takes even her most adored lover to her knees.

It was tempting to try and describe better the placement of the Sun Court (I’ll call it for now.) It is a vast garden scape of marble and living things, hundreds of feet above a jungle canopy. The entire “Sun Civilization” was built on the backs of Boor labor, cutting, and laying hundreds of miles of conjoined stone structure, to build pathways through a jungle over centuries. Though perhaps over “Suns” (iterations) the world gave way to mortal will, and these paths were more easily built.

I have long had an abstract, and intentionally so, conflation of Suns as they were sometimes historically used meaning “years”, and Suns as in iterations of the time line as the gods toyed with it. Such it was that it becomes almost irrelevant how long in mortal perspective a god has lived, they are young and old by their awareness of this higher nature of time.

Much like the ever grove the lands of Spring were all but impenetrable jungle. Growing food was not the problem, it would grow on the bare stone if you let it, and so the deep catacombs where the Boors lived had no windows, no sun, for even the things growing between the stones needed to be diligently fought off, lest it consume the roads, and abodes they had built. I wouldn’t be surprised if a passage about “pale sows” might have been a residual reference to what became of these “cave dwellers” though much of it was well above ground.

“Moon-child,” is however a term for a albinism in some historical references, but this is obscure at best, and pale people such as those from Napir would qualify in the minds of some. One of Osir’s allies in his rise to power was a woman of the Maji marked by the condition. Very striking in an Osyraen.

The Sun Court here is high above the jungle near the base of Thaea, a bit farther up the ‘throne’ of the all father is a tall tower observatory, that peers out from beneath the boughs of the mother tree, in deep shadow.

As Estae perishes she is looking farther back, towards the beginning. Not simply in any given iteration, but in a perspective above them all. While before we saw where innocence died, here we have the move that lead to it, and perhaps her first dubious act in a war we do not yet know the entire shape of, but might see the outline.

It’s been alluded to before, but Estae was the second born of Vael, by Thae, who may have been a descendant of Laeune (by some sources,) as the child of Abass. His “brother” from another land, his dark reflection according to many interpretations. It’s all very abstract, but one can both read in or out many confounding classical oddities of gods and their somewhat dubious pairings.

She was Rhaea’s half sister one way or another, who was jealous in many ways. Not the least of which was her Sister all but turned her back on her, to revel with her court in the sun, leaving her to the hard work of running the underbelly of how everything really got done. Much as their father had abandoned them to turned his eyes up, she had turned inward. Estae however, unlike some of Rhaea’s court, could not turn her sister’s eyes from her own reflection, and so she stoped visiting. As referenced here.

Yet for all her flaws, Rhaea was an innocent, sheltered, and who’s chosen subjects were sheltered in turn from the harshest truths of the world. Estae had seen the truths hidden in all things, and though we do not know all her motivations here, chose to disrupt the order of the world.

In the closing of the dream we catch a small glimpse of a later iteration, and later still, which we may have seen before. Then it all falls apart, and the illusion of the dream shatters.

It all could be said more plainly, but I think the abstract struggle of piecing together the imagery is more true to what Kiannae is experiencing. She’s not having something explained to her, she is trying to incorporate “reality” as it is, into a mind not built to process it. These frail glimpses of individual lives are tiny slivers of something all but uninterpretable in vast scale, but they are cores around which the world has grown. Heartwood perhaps.

In the shattering we also at last get canonized something that has given me some relief. It’s one thing if you read the world backwards, and see a conflation of the kinds of love. Sisterly blurring with carnal, but what if you read the direction the other way. Lovers in one life, becoming siblings in another. It is a very different thing from the bootstrap paradox of being one’s own father/mother, if one bears the clone of their lover. A child is, after all, a half clone of each parent. It is undoubtably awkward if that child were born remembering a variety of things, but still a very different, thing.

There is also the complexity of jealousy for attention. Estae was jealous of Rhaea’s attention, and that attention was lost to carnal pursuits. One can read that the wrong way, and one can even read that the wrong way if they are the jealous party. People get jealous all the time of their friends significant others, other siblings (Book I, Kia is jealous of Katrisha’s love for Wren,) or simply other friends.

So yes, this all does play back into the dynamic between the twins. Katrisha is a lover of women, but this is entirely separate from her love for her sister, even though she is an innately physical being regarding affection. Even before Katrisha’s proclivities became what they were, she sometimes made Kia uncomfortable with how clingy she could be. We also harken back to the awkward nature of their mother’s relationship with Sasha in other lives, and some lingering shadow of this on Kiannae.

“Only the guilty can see guilt.” (It takes one to know one.)
“Do not mistake your sins for mine.” (Projection.)

It feels apt to me to scene break on waking from a dream, even if it is largely contiguous. Not a lot to say in this brief section, but there is a remaining suspicion of Taloe, even if Kiannae has embraced she loves him, there is doubt in her, that he really isn’t the spirit. As much doubt perhaps, that she isn’t herself some divine force of nature that will consume all in it’s path.

I think there is a mirror in her behavior and Wren’s. A fear of the self, of what they are capable. Her’s however is more as Katrisha, a fear that she will consume all that she loves, a fear of the power of desire, and a love too absolute to be safe. Yet Taloe, she is “free,” because whatever comes, he’s already part of her, their fates are bound. So she lets the parts of herself she fears free, rather than be afraid of him.

Katrisha on the other side has only started to grapple with this aspect after Adria. She is only just learning what it is to be a giant in a world of ants, not that she feels like a giant. More it seems the world is made of glass, and easily broken perhaps.

Not a lot to say about the scene in the morning, either mostly establishing, and moving forward. The one thing I lost track of in editing was thinking that Liora had already been riding with them as she is here at the end, which was the confusion up at the gate that I had to backtrack on. Oops.

What ever became of Dorian…

Still alive it seems, and with the most capable shaper (who Tock would not have trusted) out of the picture, he gambles on making a bargain with what ever Dorian has become. Another half woken god it seems, which shouldn’t be too much of a surprise at this point, or with where he was left. We already saw some of the consequences of Estae’s parting “gift” to her two fathers. We now know there was a lingering impact.

I’m not entirely sure it comes off clear enough, but Dorian as the perspective character of this scene, and in his somewhat confused state is the one thinking of the healers attending him as “Saou”, and I do not capitalize it because he is looking down on them. It is a mixture of perception from the shadow of a god that thinks of itself as something else, and a man, who is not pleased with them opening his shutters. Odd convention, but it is what it is. Head hopping is one thing in omniscient third person, but when heads get crowded… I worry about the nuances of choices.

The rest of this winds up the clashing of two minds, and ideas of self. Dorian is now somewhere between the man he was, and some shadow of Vael. Both of whom had children tell them stories of talking foxes. One however made them, the other just claimed one was her friend.

A small ambiguity that was tempting to address, but I let slide, which was slightly covered before. Rhaea gave the Torta the gift of speech, and their collective knowledge, but they lost some of this in the cataclysm, when only a scarce few survived in mortal lands. It might even be that actually none survived, and that a breed of dire fox simply “picked up” the traces in the world spell. This might even best explain some of their confusion on things. That they are themselves, shadows, even as a race of beings.

I actually do not mean to guarantee that things will go very wrong here, but rather, that, all experience has shown it will. Perhaps it would have behoved Wren to gift more power to “guide their own course,” to shape themselves, to the Bonabin, but then again, they were basically newborns. Further Wren did not really know what he was doing.

The Torta, for all they are not, are at least many centuries established as their own thing, and what Dorian has to offer, is likely not as volatile. That said… who knows what could go wrong. Even I’m still figuring that out, and it’s likely a long ways out.

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