30.9.11 | By: Megan Langham

Looking For Trouble

If you don't look for trouble,
how can you know it's there?
--Muggles, The Gammage Cup

Last night, having misplaced the delightful book I am currently meant to be reading, I picked up my copy of The Gammage Cup to speed me to sleep. I could write an entire post about how thoroughly I love this charming, clever little book; it is a true treasure, no doubt of that. Beneath the author's simple style lies wisdom in abundance, proverbs to ponder and questions to mull over. And last night one of these questions in particular caught me by surprise. 

I'm a worrier by nature--always have been. It's the backwards blade of creativity, I suppose--being so keen on thinking out trouble for my made-up persons, I naturally tend to do the same for myself. It is a curse of a sort. For as long as I can remember my mother has tried to counter it with the time-tried admonition: "Don't go looking for trouble. It'll come to you on its own soon enough without your trying to find it." Generally I acknowledged the truth of this and stifled the rising urge to panic, but at other times I found myself questioning its practicality. If trouble is going to come, I wondered, wouldn't be in wiser to prepare all one's defenses in readiness to meet it? Why wait, unarmed, for the enemy to strike you first?

My mother's response to this would most likely have been that such an idea is all very well in theory, but in practice it would never work, because there's no possible way we can prepare ourselves for a future we can't see. And that's that.

But is it? 

Then there's another side to this idea, one of even greater import. Suppose that, recognising your inability to fight trouble on an even field, you decide to try another proven tactic. You decide to retreat. To retreat to your fortified tower, protected by your unbreachable walls, safe from grief and fear and pain and all that threatens to destroy you...and there, in your stronghold of safety, you find yourself protected from life itself.

This raises a question I've pondered for years without coming to a satisfactory conclusion: how far is it allowed for a follower of Christ to consciously protect himself? Or, rather than "allowed", how far is it advisable? The idea of this life appears to be as much striking balances as embracing extremes--what is the proper balance between "closing up your heart in a casket" (as Lewis says) and tossing it out into the street to be trampled on?

I suppose the answer has to do with the way one views pain: whether as a kindness, or a cruelty, or both. Again, I'm not sure where the balance lies. I haven't suffered enough to be sure. Neither, I suppose, has Muggles: but if she could not answer the questions in her heart, at least she had the sense to ask them.

Perhaps one day we both will know the answer to these questions and to many, many more. I have a feeling that the answers themselves will only come through pain; but whether pain is a curse or a blessing or a mixture of both, it is undeniably a fact of life, and like everything in life it is there for a purpose. A purpose beyond our understanding, no doubt, but a purpose all the same.

In the meantime, I will take my trouble as it comes, and I will do my best to be ready for it. The pragmatic and distrustful side of me would much prefer to know where and when the trouble plans to strike... but on a deeper level, not knowing is so much more of a thrill. And we all know what life would be without thrills of any kind.

Death, of course.
24.9.11 | By: Megan Langham

Beautiful People - Rhys ap Tuder

Hurrah, it's time for Beautiful People again!

In the interests of continuing with Volunteer Mission's more minor characters, I present to you Rhys ap Tuder: Selwin's brother and Evan's (sort of) friend. I had some difficulty choosing between him and Lord Iorweth; perhaps in a few days I'll give this another go with the latter. If nothing else, I think I would enjoy the process of comparing two characters who are so extremely opposite in everything that matters.

1. Does he have any habits, annoying or otherwise? When he is deep in thought he tends to tap out tunes with his fingers or pinch little bits of his collar. During conversation he has a disconcerting way of guessing what the other person is thinking and saying it right out--made even more disconcerting by the fact that his guesses are generally correct.

2. What is his backstory and how does it affect him now? His childhood was ordinary and relatively happy until his eleventh year, when his beloved father died. Shortly after his mother was married again to a man far less gentle and affectionate, and seven hard years later Wales went to war with England. Rhys fought for two years, watched three of his friends die, and when it was over prayed that he would never have to fight again. Now that he is once more caught up in war, all he wants is for the fighting to be over.

3. How does he show love? Most of his friends, if asked this question, would be hard put to think of an answer. That is because Rhys's love is deep, loyal, and profoundly understated: displayed through quiet acts of affection rather than flamboyant gestures of friendship. He is ready to listen, eager to help, able to reassure (when that is the kindest thing) and to rebuke (when reassurance would be cruel). Perhaps more than anything he is an uncomplaining sounding-board for his friends whenever and wherever they need him to be.

4. How competitive is he? On the surface, not at all. Most people would take him for a self-effacing, peace-loving sort of person, and to an extent he is that, but a deeper look at him will reveal a slightly different side. He is rather proud of his ability to help and counsel others, though he would never admit it; if his standing as a confidant were ever challenged I think he would fight for it rather than risk feeling useless and hollow.

5. What does he think about when nothing else is going on? Many things, seldom if ever in logical succession. Odd, it hasn't rained in three weeks. It will probably rain tomorrow. What did I do with my knife? I hope nothing's wrong with Dafydd--he hardly said a word at supper. Why do we always persist in hiding our pain? I miss Glynnis. Perhaps I'll have a pleasant dream tonight. What is the true purpose of war? I wish Malcolm would keep his things in his half of the tent. 

6. Does he have an accent? Only a typical southern Welsh accent. Unlike Selwin's, it is very much in evidence when he speaks English.

7. What is his station in life? He comes from a decently well-off farming family, somewhere on the scale between minor noble and peasant. At the time of this story he is a lesser officer in the Welsh army, one rank above an ordinary foot soldier.

8. What do others expect from him? Where his family is concerned, very little is expected of him; as the second son, he must make his own way in the world both untrammeled and unaided. In his day-to-day interactions with others, however, his unspoken obligations are higher. Because he is so empathetic and compassionate his friends expect him to help them, or at the very least to listen, no matter what else is happening at the time.

9. Where was he is born, and when? Rhys was born on the 5th of December, 1258 in Gwynedd, Wales.

10. How does he feel about people in general? This is a difficult question because Rhys doesn't see people as a general group. Each person, to him, is fully individual and almost free from stereotype. He can't ignore flaws in the people he loves--but neither can he overlook virtues in the people he hates.

     “I have had doom spoken to me so often,” murmured Evan, “every night and every day, and I am sick with it. Why do these dreams come to me? What is their purpose?”
     “I cannot tell you what the purpose of these dreams may be,” said Rhys, “but I can tell you that they will not last forever. I do not—Evan, there is so much I wish to say to you and I have no words, no way to speak what needs to be said. I am not gifted like Selwin...oh, I wish he were with us now.
     No, Evan thought helplessly. You can’t. You are the strong one, the stable one. Don’t crumble to pieces beneath me...
17.9.11 | By: Megan Langham

Autumn, Muses, and Cafe Lattes

When I woke up this morning it was autumn.

Since the end of August I’d been waiting impatiently for summer to end. It’s not that I’m against summer, certainly not. Summer is beautiful. How could I fail to appreciate the charms of blue skies, delicate breezes, cool water on my sun-warmed skin? But if ever a season stirred my senses and delighted my soul, autumn is that season. I was not autumn-born, though I feel as if I ought to have been (something like how I should have been born Ginger And All--I’ve even got the skin for it). There’s something in the wind, the leaves, the misty rain, the smell of smoke and cider and cinnamon, that sets my heart singing.

...my heart singing, and my fingers itching. I think it must be my muse that is autumn-born. Among other reasons, it despises the summer. (Somewhat related: is it a breach of authorial etiquette to refer to muses as “it”? Weren’t they technically women? These sorts of questions keep me up at night.) I’d promised myself I would finish Volunteer Mission before the summer was out, and ... that hasn’t exactly happened. For one thing, I hit a bump back around the middle of March. It is an insurmountable bump. I am going to surmount it before November comes. I swear that on the gravestone of my muse. (Not really related at all: my muse must take her Greek mythology heritage quite seriously--dying in spring to rise again in autumn? That’s just like Persephone, only somewhat backwards.)

As for November, I’m becoming increasingly more excited about my coming opus (though it’s a good thing all I can do is plan now, as I would feel horribly torn if it threatened to take me away from Volunteer Mission, and what is it, really, with all these parentheses?). It is perhaps the closest I’ve come to writing a romance novel--but that description’s rubbish, because I generally loathe romance novels, and unless something dreadful happens this is going to be nothing like one. It is Celtic, misty, shades of green and grey like primeval Ireland--but not, because despite the Irish names it takes place in Northumbria (there’s historical basis for that, take too long to explain) in the late 700s, which may be ancient but is certainly not primeval. The setting and storyline and general aura are in tune with the deepest part of me yet frighteningly alien, somehow. All in all, it promises to be a thrilling experience.

Also the collective conscious of every Pumpkin Spice Latte everywhere is calling to me. I found a recipe  so I can make my own without having to resort to Starbucks' foamed milk monstrosities (I'm off dairy and a thousand other things at the moment--otherwise I would have no problem with resorting to Starbucks) and as soon as I get myself some canned pumpkin, spiced delight will commence.

All the best of autumn and everything to my fellow writers! Out of comradely curiosity, how many of you are going to attempt NaNoWriMo this year? Let me know so I can add you when the time for Updating Of Profiles is at hand!
1.9.11 | By: Megan Langham

Adrift


I oughtn't to be writing anything for Secret of the Sunrise. It's only supposed to be in the worldbuilding stage, because I haven't got time for one more serious project at the moment. But earlier today, during a sudden surge of rebellion, I scribbled this down. It would probably fit somewhere around the second chapter, after Ishmil (who occupies a sort of minor government position in Versantia) has fallen through into modern-day Kent and practically onto the doorstep of Christopher, a young psychology student. I'd love to regale you with backstory to make this snippet slightly less confusingbut I won't. Instead I will be quiet and let you read.


“Look,” said Ishmil hotly, “I’ve not stumbled into your world merely for the purpose of satisfying your curiosity. You have said already that you do not believe me to be mad, and I am perfectly content to leave it at that, even if you are not. Now please, just let me alone.”

He was not used to speaking in such a high-handed way; during the last few words his voice had faltered, but perhaps the man Christopher would put that down to shock and exhaustion. Certainly he had encountered enough of that in the past day to weaken more than his voice.

Christopher stood up. The lamp from the low end-table threw his face into shadow, defining and sharpening his already angular features. To Ishmil’s weary eyes he resembled an eagle, removed and forbidding as a crag on an ice-capped mountain. Even his blond hair shone like snow in the uncertain lamplight.

“Fair enough,” he said. “You’re not mad—I should make a poor student of psychology indeed if I thought you were—and so far as I can tell you’re not lying about why you approached me, but that’s no reason to trust you. I’ll give you a meal tonight and a place to sleep, nothing more. You can take your story to the professors in my department tomorrow, if you like. They may not believe you either, but at least they’ll listen.”

Ishmil nodded dumbly. All the fire had gone out of him, leaving nothing behind but a grey dull indifference. His head had begun to ache.

Christopher eyed him curiously; when he could see that no reply was forthcoming, he shrugged his shoulders and turned away.

Ishmil leaned back against the sofa with a low sigh—whether of relief or of weariness, he could not tell which. Perhaps both. It had been that sort of day.

His mind returned to Elianna, to her pretty, petulant face as it had looked on the evening before this, on the evening that had promised to be so ordinary. He would have been back with her now, reveling in pleasures both new and familiar, if his mission had gone as planned.

Oh, curse the Fates. His mission.

Why, why had he ever stopped at the tavern? If he hadn’t crawled out as late as he had and gone down the wrong path, befuddled with drink, then none of this would have happened. Or at any rate he would have been possessed of his senses when the warning signs began…

“I said, pretty lad!”

Ishmil started, catching sight of Christopher’s amused amber eyes.

“There was no need to shout,” he muttered, annoyed.

“How was I to know that? I said your name twice in an ordinary tone of voice and both times you didn’t answer—I had to get your attention somehow.”

“By calling me 'pretty lad'."

Christopher allowed himself a wry smile. “Don’t pretend you haven’t been called that before now. I know a ladies’ man when I see him. Ah, and that reminds me. When my sister comes—”

“You have a sister?” Only after the words were out of Ishmil’s mouth did he realize how indiscreetly eager he must have seemed. Christopher glared at him and went on: “When my sister comes with our supper, I want you to behave as though you’re someone I met at uni.”

“But how will I do that when I don’t know—”

“I don’t want you to playact, I just want you to be quiet. Don’t tell her a word of your story—leave that bit to me.”

“Very well,” said Ishmil, taken slightly aback. After a short pause he asked, “Your sister… does she live here? I mean—” hastily, at the sight of Christopher’s suspicious glance— “I was only wondering, because it seems a bit odd that she should bring you supper if she lived elsewhere. But after all, what is one more oddity in this day?”

Christopher drew his pen across the paper in a long line before he answered. “No, Lauren doesn’t live with me. My flatmate’s away for the week, which is the only reason I can let you stay here for the night. Lauren is bringing us supper because there isn’t a thing in the flat to eat; I had planned to go out shopping when I came across you and—well, you know how busy I’ve been since.”

“Does she mind, then, carrying supper to her brother?”

Another wry smile from Christopher. “If she minded, she would not do it. There’s not one person who could persuade Lauren to do good against her will, and so far nobody has ever had to.”

Ishmil tried to ponder this, but he soon gave it up. His thoughts had been all of a jumble ever since that fateful drink; it was all he could do to keep himself afloat in this alien archipelago, this ocean of strangeness and shame. No, he wouldn’t try to think. He would settle himself more comfortably among these warm blankets, closing his eyes to the unfamiliarity around him, and imagine himself back at home, alone or with Elianna, either state would be welcome enough…