The Apprentice Returns

I don’t like posting great chunks of an unfinished story because once they’re out there, they tend to be ‘set in stone’, and I like to be able to change things, or even delete them entirely, if I think the story needs it. This time, however, I really need the feedback as I’ve completely re-written the first chapter in which I re-introduce Kaati. The basic intent is more or less the same, but all the nuances have changed, as has Kaati’s character arc. 

Anyway, this is going to be a long post so grab a coffee before you begin. 🙂

cheers

Meeks

Kohoh Mito

The Fourth Day of Kohoh

 

The rains of Kohoh were late, and nothing obscured the Arch of Heaven until a dark shape suddenly appeared in the sky above the Quarter. Powerful wings eclipsed the stars as it spiralled down to the flight ledge.

“It comes!”

On the rocky slope above the entrance to the Quarter, the spotter covered its face with a wing and disappeared into the shadows. In the tunnel below, its partner reached for the weighted net by its side. Once the Apprentice entered the tunnel it would be trapped, caught in a pincer movement with death the only escape.

***

Kaati landed on the soft pads of its feet, as silent as the great hunter for which it had been named. It did not expect to be challenged, but extreme caution had become a habit, and now it stared at the shadows shrouding the entrance as if they concealed the lair of a to’pakh…

“Fool!” it thought, a hint of embarrassment warming the dusty skin of its face; no to’pakh could climb the sheer cliffs leading to the flight ledge. “Starting at shadows like eyriebound.”

Yet despite the assurances of commonsense, it stayed rooted to the spot, ten wingspans from the entrance. It had dreamt of this moment every step of the way from Needlepoint, but now it felt neither triumph nor relief. It was back, but would it be allowed to stay? Traders rarely lied, at least to each other, but the Tellers were masters of subterfuge, and they had already branded it a traitor. Would the Clans listen? Or would they refuse to even let it speak?

As the Apprentice Quartermaster to the Clans, it would have been allowed to speak as a matter of course. But the na-Quartermaster had been disowned in that freezing cave on the Spine. Now it owned nothing but its life and its name. Kaati had become a Trader with less status than the lowliest drudge.

What would it do if the Clans disowned it a second time?

Only the strongest of the strong survived the season of rain. Once Kohoh began in earnest, the rivers would overflow their banks and devour the land. Mountains would turn into islands, and every fingerwidth of high ground would become a battlefield, a place of last resort where the great beasts fought to survive.

During Kohoh, only the swimmers prospered; lone iVokh stood no chance at all…

A hiss, half of anger, half of pain, leaked from Kaati’s cilia as it fought off the sudden despair. It had not survived the Wild for so long only to be defeated with victory in sight! Whatever the Clans decided, it had a purpose more sacred than life. It could not allow the slain to be forgotten. Each Trader who died, or was killed on the journey, had a right to be remembered.

They had done nothing wrong, yet one after the other, they had paid the final price. And for what? For placing loyalty and honour above tradition?

The Clans had strayed from the Trader Way and needed to be reminded-

The whisper of displaced air triggered instincts honed by a ti’makh of vigilance, and Kaati leapt to the side. The weighted net that should have wrapped around its head and upper body tangled only its right arm. It managed to free its arm, but not before the second Teller crashed into it from above.

The two of them fell to the ground and wrestled for dominance until Kaati managed a lucky swipe that drew blood. Keening in pain, its assailant withdrew, but the one who had thrown the net continued to advance, its expression cautious but determined.

“Why?” Kaati gasped as it backed away.

“Being traitor,” the wounded Teller spat.

“But life-debt not-”

“Deepwater,” the other Teller cut in, the loathing in its voice unmistakable.

Stunned, Kaati could only stare at the two Tellers in disbelief. How many more would die because of that one mistake? If it had known its mindspeech could disable every Trader in the caravan, it would have found another way to stop the fight. But it had not known, and the situation had turned deadly…

“Should not hurting Plodder!”

“Another traitor. Good riddance-”

That was more than the Kaati could bear. Launching itself at the Teller, it drove the heavier iVokh to the ground before tangling it in its own net.

“Killing!” the Teller cried as it struggled to free itself.

Blinded by anger, Kaati had not noticed the other Teller sneaking up on it from behind. It only just managed to avoid the rock aimed at its head. Staring at the two Tellers in dismay, it retreated until it could feel the cold air rising from the ravine at its back. It could go no further.

The arrival of two more Tellers, one armed with a staff, the other with a flensing knife, banished any hope Kaati still harboured. Staves and knives were weapons used to kill, not capture. It could fight and die, or it could jump and die.

Glancing over its shoulder at the ravine below its feet, the young Trader could not suppress a slight shudder. There was one other option…

A soft sigh leaked from its cilia as it rose to its full height and spread its arms wide, the empty sacks of its wings hanging limp in submission.

“Too late, Apprentice,” said the Teller with the staff. Raising its weapon, it lead the charge across the flight ledge.

now or never…

Closing the inner lids that protected its eyes, the young Trader turned towards the ravine and launched itself into the void. The Flyers said the trick to gliding on empty wings was to hold them taut…

Kaati was a strong flyer, but without the bracing effect of lift, the sudden pressure on its wings almost turned them inside out. It managed to keep its legs and outer arms spread properly, but its inner arms had evolved for maneuvering, not strength, and bringing them into a flat plane took every drop of strength it possessed. It succeeded, and its wings finally caught enough air to slow its descent, but the effort drew a wheeze of pain from its cilia. It would not be able to glide for long.

Sending a weak ping in the direction of the ground, Kaati was shocked at how quickly the echoes returned. Throwing back its head, it dropped its legs and cupped its wings. A moment later it hit, bent knees absorbing the initial impact. Instinct made it draw its wings tight before it tumbled end over end, like driftwood spun by the current.

The dry sand of the streambed abraded its skin, and every pebble dented its flesh, but miraculously, nothing broke. When it finally came to rest, every fingerwidth of its body hurt, but it knew it would live.

***

Up on the flight ledge, the Tellers skidded to a halt in a ragged line, all of them staring at the spot where the Apprentice had been.

“Must being dead,” the wounded one said as it peered over the edge.

“Thinking being dead on Spine too,” the one with the staff replied. “Why not waiting until Apprentice entering tunnel?”

“Because taking too long,” said the Teller with the net. “Fearing might escape if not attacking first.”

The Teller with the knife clicked its teeth but did not bother stating the obvious. Attacking the Apprentice outside the tunnel had failed miserably. If they had not arrived when they did, the young traitor would have escaped, again.

“Must finding body this time,” it said with finality.

“Down there?” the wounded Teller squeaked. “But to’pakh-”

“Rather facing hungry to’pakh than anger of Master.”

When no one else seemed inclined to argue, the Teller with the staff asked, “But how? Cannot flying in dark, and cliff being too steep for climbing.”

“Not if using rope from net.”

A sigh of resignation escaped from the owner of the net, but it began unpicking the strands of rope without protest.

“Being enough?” it asked a short time later as it held up the single length of knotted rope.

“Soon finding out.”

Matching action to words, the wielder of the staff grabbed the end of the rope and walked over to the far side of the flight ledge where a gnarled old salt bush grew out of the side of the cliff. The Traders often used it as an anchor to raise packs too heavy to fly up. Looping one end of the rope around the trunk of the salt bush, it braced its feet and nodded for the others to drop the rope over the edge.

When the rope was in place, its partner clamped the knife between its teeth and climbed down, pinging all the way.

“Safe,” it called as the rope went slack.

Motioning for the other Teller to take control of the rope, the wielder of the staff followed its partner down. When it reached the bottom, the two at the top lowered its staff. Fully armed, it joined its partner in the search for the Apprentice’s body.

***

Less than fifty wingspans further down the ravine, Kaati lay curled in a ball, too winded to move. It had survived the fall but had no idea what to do next. It could hide out in one of the many caves that dotted the Spine of the World, but that would provide only a temporary reprieve. Once its food ran out, it would have to hunt like all the other beasts…

The sound of the Tellers calling to each other as they climbing down into the ravine cut through Kaati’s thoughts with a jolt of pure terror. If they found it now, all of its worries for the future would be moot. It had to move! Pushing itself up onto all fours, the young Trader began crawling to the southwest. If it followed the streambed far enough, it would eventually leave the shelter of the ravine and arrive on the open plains…

Being dead before then, it thought as the sound of the Tellers drew ever closer. Think! If the Tellers did not get it, some hungry to’pakh would…

The thought of the powerful beasts that roamed the land cleared some of the fog from Kaati’s mind, and it struggled to its feet. To’pakh hunted at night, and while Fate had been extraordinarily kind so far, it could not expect its luck to hold for much longer. It had to get out of the streambed and find somewhere safe to hide.

Sending out a series of almost silent pings, it finally detected a fold in the rock wall of the ravine that might be the opening to a cave. It was seven or eight wingspans up, but a cluster of narrow ledges should help.

Kaati was just about to scramble from the bed of the stream when a whiff of its own scent made it stop in consternation. Even without the fear sweat that clung to it like a second skin, the grime of so many days in the Wild would make it ridiculously easy to track. Dropping to its belly, it clenched its teeth as it rolled over and over in the course sand.

The dirt bath reopened many of the small cuts and abrasions it had suffered as a result of the fall. It also hurt, a lot, but when the young Trader shook the sand from its skin, the worse of the filth remained behind, on the ground. A to’pakh would have no trouble tracking that scent, but even it could not track a scent through the air…

Quieting the incipient panic that urged it to run, no matter where, Kaati forced itself to stand still while the tiny sacs in its wings filtered every scrap of lift from the air it breathed. Only when its wings bobbed like over-filled bladders did it give in to the fear that drove it. Turning to face the bank of the streambed, it held its arms rigidly by its sides as it slowly opened the narrow sphincters located on the trailing edge of its wings.

The release of lift shot it straight up into the air, and a cloud of fine sand marked its passage as it rose out of the streambed and jetted towards the first ledge.

It was now in a race against time. If its luck held, it would reach the cave before the lift in its wings ran out. If not, it would become easy prey for the Tellers who were even now hurrying towards the sound of its jets.

***

Had Kaati been rested and not covered in a thousand small wounds, it might have made it all the way to the cave, but it simply did not have the strength. Three wingspans from the entrance, its jets sputtered out, and it had to hug the wall of the cliff to avoid falling all the way to the bottom.

Wings pumping like bellows, it was still trying to climb the rest of the way to the cave when a triumphant voice called out, “There!”

Peering down past the fringe of its cilia, the young Trader could just make out two dark shapes at the bottom of the ravine. One was crouched on the ground, but the other stood staring at the cliff face, one arm pointing straight at Kaati.

“Come down, come down,” it called in a cruel voice. “Being time to play.”

When Kaati refused to move, the second Teller lay its staff on the ground and said, “Race?”

A snort of amusement greeted its words as the other Teller accepted the challenge. Placing its knife next to the staff, it said. “Always enjoying a-”

The rest of its words were swallowed by the to’pakh that exploded out of the darkness. The creature’s massive jaws descended on the Teller’s head and left arm before closing with an audible crunch.

The surviving Teller snatched up its staff and aimed the point at the to’pakh’s eye. The blow did not connect.

Swinging its armoured tail like a battering ram, the to’pakh smashed the staff from the Teller’s hand and slammed it into the ground.

Injured, but not fatally, the Teller scrambled to its feet and took off at a limping run. Perhaps it hoped to reach the rope and climb to safety. Or perhaps it simply ran in a blind panic. Either way, it did not get far. Swallowing the last tasty morsel in its mouth, the to’pakh lumbered after it, six good legs quickly overtaking the Teller’s two. A truncated scream announced the winner of the race.

Still clinging to the cliff like an ipti, Kaati closed its eyes, but the image of the Teller’s head disappearing into the to’pakh’s maw remained imprinted on the backs of its lids. That was the fate that awaited it unless it reached the cave. Yet the thought of falling and giving the to’pakh another easy meal, kept it frozen in place. Not until it heard the great beast return did it find the strength to move once more. Sending out ping after ping, it climbed in desperate haste until the entrance to the cave finally appeared.

It was a very shallow cave and would not hide it from a determined search, but Kaati was too spent to care. If the remaining Tellers were brave enough to challenge a to’pakh, they deserved their victory.

Curling up as best it could in the confined space of the cave, the exhausted Trader closed its eyes and fell asleep.

 

I still don’t have a definitive image of the iVokh, but this is a concept drawing of the to’pakh:

 

 


A naughty weekend in Warrandyte

No! Not that kind of weekend…;) This kind of weekend:

The lighting effects are truly glorious in Elder Scrolls Online, and they inspired me to create classically inspired interiors for my in-game house. That involved finding recipes, gathering ingredients and finally crafting beautiful items like:

…the goblets and knick knacks you can see displayed on that shelving.

I also splurged and bought a very expensive recipe for a glass goblet and some ‘food’. In this last screenshot, you can see my wedge of cheese, the bread platter, and some kebabs. Dinner chez moi. 🙂

I loved the player housing in Final Fantasy XIV, but the housing and control in ESO are an order of magnitude better. Harder to master, but I think the effects speak for themselves. And yes, I did spend a lot of time playing this weekend. But I also spent a lot of time, and most of my energy mowing. I literally did not have enough oomph left over to write. Today, though, I will make up for lost time.

cheers

Meeks

 

 


Vokhtan calendar – complete

This is the final version of the Vokhtan calendar. It shows the interactions between the two suns and the planet with respect to seasons [roughly] and the day/night cycle [also roughly].

For the days, I made an executive decision and decreed that the Vokhtan day would comprise 24 ‘turns’. I chose the number 24 because I needed to dissect a circle into ‘wedges’ of time. Now, a circle has 365 degrees and a ‘wedge’ of 15.2 degrees goes into 365 almost exactly 24 times. This is something Corel Draw does very easily:

Now, when I place these wedges of time over the visuals of the planet, I get a kind of clock that tells me how many turns of bright light, red light, orange light and dark there are in the day at different times of the year:

Bright light = yellow sun Takh alone in the sky.

Red light = red dwarf, Takhti, alone in the sky.

Orange light = both suns in the sky at the same time.

Dark = truedark, i.e. when neither sun is in the sky.

This is a representation of a day in the middle of Piihoh. The red dwarf is completely eclipsed, so Vokhtah has just a simple, day/night cycle:

This next graphic is from the middle of Tohoh:

The day begins with almost 2 turns of Takh [yellow star] alone in the sky [because the planet rotates to the east]. Then Takhti rises and creates an orangey kind of light. When Takh sets, Takhti is alone in the sky for a couple of turns and it’s like a red twilight. When Takhti finally sets, truedark begins.

This next graphic is what the Vokh see in the middle of Kohoh – half red twilight, half bright yellow day, no truedark:

And finally, the graphic from the middle of Tuhoh. This is a mirror image of the same time during Tohoh but…this time, it’s the red dwarf that ‘rises’ first [because the planet rotates to the east]. It’s alone in the sky for a couple of turns and the inhabitants experience a red, gloomy morning. Then Takh [yellow sun] rises to brighten the gloom. At the end of the day, Takh shines alone. When Takh sets, truedark begins:

So there you have it. Time on Vokhtah has been tamed. Most days start with firstlight, progress to secondlight, peak at midlight, dim with firstdark and end with truedark. Middark is the halfway point of any dark cycle, while deepdark is the ‘dead of night’ and corresponds to the time between middark and firstlight.

Was all this work worth it, given that it was all based on guesswork?

Yes, for me, because I’ve never been good at ‘fudging’ things, and I desperately needed to know what Takh and Takhti might feel like, to a creature living on the planet.

Why didn’t I just get an astronomer to help me?

Because I don’t know any, and none of the websites I visited had what I was looking for. So I made my own. 🙂

As this post is more for my benefit than yours, I’ve turned comments off. 🙂

cheers

Meeks


The Shame Of Our Nation … — Filosofa’s Word

“The Trump administration says it would require extraordinary effort to reunite what may be thousands of migrant children who have been separated from their parents and, even if it could, the children would likely be emotionally harmed.” – Associated Press, 02 February 2019 Say WHAT??? The first thing that comes to mind is … let’s […]

via The Shame Of Our Nation … — Filosofa’s Word


As I Walk Through the Valley of the Shadows of Hungry Ghosts

We all have addictions, or have people close to us who do. Some addictions are small, some are totally debilitating. And we’re not helping ourselves.

Please watch the 50 odd minute video in this post. It is really important:

 

via As I Walk Through the Valley of the Shadows of Hungry Ghosts


Pictures not words

The Aral Sea, before and after:

The cause? River in-flow to the inland sea diverted by the Soviets for irrigation.

https://youtu.be/FzvEW1FHc60

The US Dust Bowl

The cause? Drought + inappropriate farming practices. Ploughing destroyed the prairie grasses needed to hold the top soil down. One Black Blizzard [pictured above], blew all the way east and covered the Statue of Liberty.

https://www.history.com/topics/great-depression/dust-bowl#section_2&gid=ci0230e63270252549&pid=a-dust-storm-roars-across-a-drought-stricken-field-2

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

One of five areas in the Earth’s oceans where plastic rubbish collects due to the action of ocean currents.

The cause? Our rubbish, flowing into rivers and from there into the ocean. Our fishing nets, lost or dumped overboard.

Chernobyl

Radiation causes mutation in plants, animals and humans. Wild animals around Chernobyl are still radioactive because they eat radioactive plants.

The cause? Our nuclear power plant[s]. Other notable nuclear accidents include Three Mile Island [US] and Fukushima [Japan].

France – The Red Zone

The Red Zone is a no-go zone that was created by ordnance and chemicals left behind by 2 world wars.

The cause? A war that happened more than 100 years ago.

https://www.messynessychic.com/2015/05/26/the-real-no-go-zone-of-france-a-forbidden-no-mans-land-poisoned-by-war/

Maralinga in South Australia

A few words for this one:

‘The plutonium contamination at Maralinga was caused by these minor trials, two of which involved burning plutonium and detonating fissile material using conventional high explosives.

As a result just over 22 kilograms of plutonium-239 was dispersed around the site.

Plutonium-239 has a radioactive half-life of more than 24,000 years. This dangerous carcinogen is hazardous to humans if inhaled, ingested or absorbed through breaks in the skin.’

Two clean-ups were necessary.

‘Between 1996 and 2000, all but around 120 square kilometres of around 3200 square kilometres of Maralinga country had been cleaned to a standard considered safe for unrestricted access.’

‘In the worst-contaminated areas, 350,000 cubic metres of soil and debris were removed from an area of more than 2 square kilometres, and buried in trenches. Eleven debris pits were also treated with in-situ vitrification*. Most of the site (approximately 3,200 square kilometres) is now safe for unrestricted access and approximately 120 square kilometres is considered safe for access but not permanent occupancy.’

*In-situ vitrification is a process that melts things, including soil, into something similar to glass. Apparently it’s good for radioactive waste.

The cause? British testing of atomic weapons on Australian soil.

https://www.nma.gov.au/defining-moments/resources/maralinga

These are not the only examples of man-made damage, but they are the ones that resonate with me. I’m sure people can think of, or find, many other examples.

We may not have been capable of changing the planet 300 years ago, but we are now. In fact, if you include nuclear weapons, we have the capacity to destroy all life on the planet, many times over.

Meeks

p.s. And as a small aside to Aussies only – let’s not forget the Cane Toad, the foxes, the rabbits, goats, pigs, horses, waterbuffalo and camels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Binary star systems

Since starting to write the Suns of Vokhtah series again, I’ve tripped up on some unexpected hurdles, one of which is the effect the binary star system has on the day/night and seasonal changes as experienced on the planet.

I thought I’d worked it all out over five years ago, and I do have graphics to prove it, but as I looked at those graphics I realised that I couldn’t remember the thinking behind them:

Was it actually right? I no longer knew. And it niggled so much I knew I had to go back and reinvent the wheel. So these are the earliest of the new graphics:

Creating the day/night cycle in Corel Draw 8 stage 1:

As you can see, the planet obits the G2 [yellow] star in an elliptical orbit which makes EVERYTHING so much harder. The lines connecting the centre of the star to the centre of the planet are always at right angles to simulate the orientation of the planet to its star. Assuming the star and planet exist on a flat plane, I think that’s right, from the point of view of geometry. Seems logical, but I know very little about actual astronomy.

Anyway, the big yellow star is Takh and the small red one is its binary companion, Takhti.

Next step in Corel was to group the positions of the planet, and flip a copy of them horizontally. A bit of realignment was necessary to get it looking like this:

And finally, I filled in the gaps at the top and bottom:

I haven’t modelled the effect of the dwarf red star yet, so it’s hard to see the significance of the example at the very bottom, but mid-Piihoh is the time in the planetary cycle when the dwarf red sun is completely eclipsed by the G2 star.

The example at the very top is mid-Kohoh. This is when the planet experiences virtually no dark – i.e. night time. Again, this will become more obvious once I complete the red dwarf overlays. Of course, working /that/ out requires some hefty mental shifts on my part because the planet rotates in an easterly direction around its own axis, but revolves around the G2 sun in an anti-clockwise direction…

Nevermind, I sort of know what I’m doing, but it still gives me brain-ache.

cheers

Meeks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Melbourne Airport – 46 C at 2:26 pm

I don’t think it got anywhere near 46 C at Warrandyte, but it was bloody hot nonetheless. Coldstream hit 43.8 C and I think Warrandyte would have been similar.

Feels almost blase saying we only reached 43.8. This is a temperature graph from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology:

I grew up in that middle bit where there are a couple of hot spikes but mostly cool to cold troughs. I remember what summers were like back then. We lived in a solid brick, Federation Edwardian house that stayed cool most of the time. We didn’t even own a fan. Back then, the priority was staying warm in winter.

Now…43.8 C, air-conditioning and multiple fans and the inside temperature of the house stayed at 30 C all day. Bearable, but only because we were lucky and only lost power for about 10 minutes.

Is this ‘proof’ of Climate Change? Or is it just weather? When I look at that graph I can’t help thinking we’re experiencing the predicted, climate change extremes already, and that scares me. If this one day was so bad, how will we cope with even worse days?

And yes, there are still those who believe that all of climate change is just some kind of global conspiracy. I’ve been arguing with a few on Twitter today. But you can’t really have a ‘meeting of minds’ when the other person attempts to use personal put downs to win the argument.

Logic doesn’t work with people like that. Facts don’t either. Yelling and name calling might, but I was brought up to believe that emotive arguments are shameful and weak. That people who use them are shameful and weak.

So I walked away with my integrity intact but a truly bad taste in my mouth. Not because I didn’t ‘win’, but because I couldn’t change things for the better.

When did facts and logic become such blunt tools?

You’d think I’d know better. My Mum was an emotive arguer and it used to drive me crazy. I guess the truth is I never found a way to discuss anything with her, not without it becoming a huge screaming match. Apparently, I still don’t know how to do it. The only difference is that I’m 66 instead of 16, and I don’t yell and scream any more…

Apologies for the rant. I’m hot, tired and angry. 😦

Meeks

 


Kaati – a new beginning

I began the second book of Vokhtah back in 2013, but then Innerscape captured my imagination and ‘Kaati’ disappeared into a digital drawer for five years. I finally restarted the project today by writing an 800 word Prologue. In it, I refresh my memory a little and set the stage for the story of Kaati, the young Trader who helped The Blue survive the crossing of the Spine of the World.

The words aren’t set in stone, but this part of the plot is. I hope you like it. 🙂

***

It was close to deep-dark when the Master was ushered into the Quartermaster’s presence, yet the leader of the Traders was neither asleep, nor alone. Five young Traders, all from the Runner clan, sat or sprawled drunkenly around a table littered with spilled pippa juice and half-empty bowls of dreamweed.

“Sit, sit!” the Quartermaster cried as it waved the Master to a vacant cushion. “Juice?”

The cushion was sticky, as was the goblet offered by one of the younglings, but the Master kept the distaste from its face as it sat and folded its wings to either side.

“May Takhti being gentle!” the Quartermaster said, raising its goblet in a toast.

“And Pah Hakh being short,” the Master replied as it raised its own goblet. Unlike the Quartermaster, however, it swallowed very little of the fermented pippa juice.

“S’so,” the Quartermaster said once the demands of hospitality had been met. “What bringing Master Teller here so late?”

That was not a question the Master wished to answer in front of so many witnesses, drunk or not.

“Just a few details concerning trade with Five Rocks. Nothing serious.”

“Details, details. Always details,” the Quartermaster sighed. Despite its long suffering tone, however, its eyes were sharp as it sent its guests off to bed. They went, but not without a good deal of grumbling so it was some time before the two older Traders were finally alone.

“Now,” the Quartermaster began. What-”

“Psst!”

Rising from its cushion, the Master tiptoed to the wooden door that separated the Quartermaster’s area from the rest of the clans, and threw it open. The light spilling from the cavern confirmed that all the revelers were gone, and the passage was empty. Nothing moved except for the same, slack-jawed drudge it had seen sweeping on the way in.

Satisfied they would not be overheard, the Master closed the door and returned to the table.

“What being wrong?” the Quartermaster asked, its tone more annoyed than concerned.

“Hoping nothing,” the Master said as it chose a clean cushion and sat down, “but receiving disturbing report from Five Rocks gather.”

“Caravan still being there?”

“S’so. Departing at first light, but-”

“Hoping not being more deaths!”

The hint of righteous indignation in the Quartermaster’s tone caused the Master’s cilia to flare with anger. The Quartermaster might not have ordered the deaths of the two young Flyers on the Spine, but it had certainly benefited from them!

yet perhaps still failing

That thought cooled the Master’s rage, and its voice betrayed no emotion as it said, “Ki, no more deaths, but…perhaps being a…ghost.”

“Ghost?” the Quartermaster said with a laugh. “Ghosts being tales to frighten iVokhti!”

“S’so. But if true, this one could causing great trouble.”

“Explaining.”

“Teller overhearing Traders talking about na-Quartermaster. About seeing na-Quartermaster at gather.”

“Impossible!”

Pippa juice sloshed from the Quartermaster’s goblet as he banged it on the table. “na-Quartermaster being dead! Messenger witnessing.”

The Master wiped juice from its chest before saying, “but no one seeing na-Quartermaster’s body so how being sure truly dead?”

“Ridiculous. Messengers not lying, especially to protect Traders!”

“S’so. But what if Messenger being tricked-”

“Tricked? How?”

“Not knowing, but Messenger being ignorant of Wild. Perhaps not seeing to’pakh at all. Perhaps only hearing to’pakh, then hearing screams-”

“Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps! Or perhaps na-Quartermaster truly being dead, and Traders only seeing what wanting to see!”

That thought had occurred to the Master as well, but it could see no reason for the Traders of the caravan to start a rumour about the na-Quartermaster if it really was dead. What would they gain? No, the one explanation that made sense was that the young Trader was still alive and getting ready to challenge for the leadership of the clans.

The Runners would support the Quartermaster because it was one of their own, but the Flyers and Plodders were still angry over the deaths on The Spine. If the na-Quartermaster were allowed to return, they would greet it as a hero, the only Trader to ever survive the Wild on its own.

“If being wrong and na-Quartermaster still being alive, clans could tearing Quarter apart.”

“Not being wrong.”

Taken aback by the Quartermaster’s self-assurance, the Master decided to take a more conciliatory tack.

“Perhaps being right, but what harm being in posting guards at entrance?”

“And looking like fool? Or coward? Ki. Not posting guards.”

Faced with the Quartermaster’s stubborn refusal to take precautions, the Master could do little but concede defeat.

“Hearing and obeying.”

Then it walked from the cavern, steps heavy with disappointment. Once out in the passage, however, its step lightened considerably. Just because the Quartermaster refused to post guards at the entrance did not mean the Tellers could not. They would have to stay out of sight, of course, but that was probably a good thing anyway. If the na-Quartermaster did try to return, they could catch it and dispose of it without the clans being any the wiser. Sometimes opportunity really did spring from adversity.

***

Right, time to go watch The Drum and cook dinner.

cheers

Meeks


Apricot cake & triple-choc-biscuits

I remembered to take some photos this time so here are our latest baking creations [recipes follow for those so inclined]:

First up, the apricot cake:

All the apricots in the cake came from our own harvest, which was quite spectacular. These are photos of what we picked five days ago:

and these:

The total haul has probably been twice that much, all of it with a sweetness you have to taste to believe. We literally have apricots coming out of our ears. This is a pic of the compote we preserved:

The instrument of torture in the foreground is for removing boiling hot bottles from the sterilizing water. Worth every penny!

And finally the biscuits [cookies to my US friends]:

The odd lumps in the middle are whole pieces of chocolate [some dark some dairy milk] that bake with the biscuits. Like my chocolate mousse cake, this is something we don’t make often because it, too, is death-by-chocolate. If you scroll down to the recipe you’ll see why. I may have to go on a starvation diet once the last of the indulgences are eaten. 🙂

RECIPES!

Apricot Cake 

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 170 C [165 C if using fan forced] or 360 F.
  2. Lightly grease a 10″ [ 25 cm] diameter ringform cake tin and line the bottom with grease proof baking paper.
  3. Separate four large eggs. Place the yolks into a small bowl and the whites into a mixing bowl.
  4. Add 75 gm of caster sugar to the egg whites, plus a tiny pinch of salt, and beat on high until shiny and very stiff. Set aside in a cool place but not the fridge. You do not need to wash the beaters.
  5. In a second mixing bowl, place 200 gm of room temperature, unsalted butter and another 75 gm of caster sugar.
  6. Cream the butter and sugar until it’s pale and creamy.
  7. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating well between each addition.
  8. Gently fold the stiff egg whites into the creamed butter. Do not over mix.
  9. Sift 200 gm of self raising flour and fold into the butter/egg mix. The cake mix will be quite firm. Only fold until it’s just combined.
  10. Pour the cake mix into the prepared tin and gently press to the edges.
  11. Lightly press fresh apricot halves all over the top of the cake mix. [I used about 3/4 of a kilo of fruit. If you want to use less, reduce the baking time a little to compensate].
  12. Place the cake in the middle of a preheated oven and bake for approx. 45 – 50 minutes. Do not open the oven for the first 20 minutes of baking.
  13. As the cake cooks it will rise up around the fruit. The cake is cooked when it shrinks slightly from the sides of the baking dish and/or a skewer pressed into the middle comes out clean [i.e. not sticky-gooey].
  14. Take the cake out of the over and allow to stand, in the baking dish, for about 5 minutes.
  15. Remove the outer ringform and place the cake [still on the bottom of the pan] onto a wire rack.
  16. Using the baking paper, gentle ease the cake off the bottom of the pan and onto the rack.
  17. When the cake is a bit cooler, and firmer, you can finally ease it off the baking paper as well. I wait until the cake is cool and then ease it straight onto the serving platter I intend to use.
  18. Dust the top of the cake with a little icing sugar [optional] and serve on its own or with cream. Bon appetit!

Triple Choc Biscuits

The main ingredient of this recipe is chocolate. I kid you not, a total of 500 gms of chocolate! 😀

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 C [375 F] or about 175 C if using fan forced.
  2. Prepare the baking trays you will use to bake the biscuits. We used an Avanti biscuit press to make the smaller biscuits and discovered it does NOT work on baking paper; the biscuit dough has to be pressed directly onto the baking tray. We also made large, manual ‘balls’ of dough. These we placed on baking paper.
  3. Chop approx. 450 gm of dark cooking chocolate or a mix of dark and milk chocolate. We used 1/2 and 1/2 of Plaistowe Dark and Dairy Milk Chocolate. Reserve approx. 50 gm for the choc chip ‘dots’.
  4. Gently melt the 450 gms of chocolate with 125 gms of unsalted butter. [In the past, I’ve also use Slightly Salted Butter and simply omitted the salt later on]. You can use a microwave or simply use a bowl placed over a pot of gently simmering water on the stove.
  5. Remove the melted chocolate from the heat and stir in 1/2 a cup of caster sugar. It will look quite granular.
  6. Next, stir in 3 large, whole eggs, one at a time.
  7. Finally, sift 1 1/4 cups of plain flour with 2 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa, 1 teaspoon of baking powder and a good pinch of salt. [If using slightly salted butter, omit the pinch of salt].
  8. Add the flour mix to the chocolate mix and stir until just combined.
  9. Cover the dough with cling wrap and place in the fridge for up to 1 hour [minimum of 10 minutes].
  10. Remove the dough from the the fridge and use a biscuit press to mould the biscuits.
  11. If you don’t have a biscuit press, scoop out a spoonful of dough with a spoon, very lightly roll into a ball and place the ball on the baking paper covered tray.
  12. Leave enough room on the tray for the biscuits to expand as they bake.
  13. When all the biscuits have been formed, gently press a small knob of chocolate into the middle of each biscuit and bake.
  14. For the Avanti biscuits, baking time should be no more that 6 minutes.
  15. For the hand-rolled balls, baking time should be around 10 minutes.
  16. The biscuits will still be a little soft when you take them out of the oven. Leave them on the baking tray until they firm up.
  17. Place biscuits on wire racks to finish cooling. Store in an air-tight container for up to 3 days [if they last that long]. 🙂

Oh, and…enjoy!

Meeks

 

 


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