Aging Thoughts: Snippet

Posted: March 17th, 2011 under Contents, Kings of the North, snippet.
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Age and inactivity usually bring reflection–and reflection isn’t always pleasant.

The usual spoiler warnings apply:   Aliam Halveric is an important secondary character, and although I chose this snippet to be as little spoilerish as possible…it will seem so to some.

Where: Halveric Steading, early autumn

Who: Aliam Halveric


Aliam Halveric listened to the rain drumming on the stable roof, breathed in the fragrance of horses, good hay, oiled leather, and a hint of ripening fruit from the trees trained along the inner court wall, and wondered when it was he’d become an old man.  Estil insisted he wasn’t old, and she didn’t seem old–barring the silver strands in her dark hair–but he felt old, joints aching, responsibilities almost too heavy to bear.  His grandchildren sprouted day by day, it seemed, rising up around him like saplings around an old storm-blasted tree.

And now he had to deal with the Count of Andressat, whose envoy had announced the count’s intention to visit on his way to Chaya to see the king.  The king.  Kieri.  Once his servant, his squire, dear to him as a son or brother.  His rival, at times, but always that bond of friendship.  And now king, but king so much later than he should have been, because of Aliam.  That still hurt, hurt enough that he sagged onto a chest, leaning on the wall and staring out at the water streaming on the courtyard stones.  Kieri had forgiven him; he knew Kieri bore no grudge.  But he could not forgive himself.  He had known and he had done nothing.  Oh, he’d had reason enough to do nothing, but no reasons seemed enough now, when Aliam laid out for the thousandth time the consequences of old decisions.

He shivered, as a chill breeze blew damply into the barn, and rubbed hands no longer as callused and hard as the summer before, the summer he had still trained daily with his soldiers.  He could not sit here all day.  He had work to do; Andressat would be here today or tomorrow.

Across the courtyard, where rain now fell more gently, a girl peeked from the main keep door and then, apron flung over her head, dashed to the stables.  “Grandfather!  Grandmother wants you!”  Aliam sighed and pushed himself up.  He remembered the birth of this child’s mother, and now the child of that child ran light-footed to his side, throwing her wet arms around him, grinning up with Estil’s grin.  Pain stabbed him.   He was old, too old, and what would he leave this child?

In the main hall, tables had been laid.  Estil smiled at his expression.  “You said he was proud, Aliam.  And he’s been traveling incognito; his pride will be rubbed raw.  We shall guest him as he feels he deserves, and he will reach Kieri in a better mood.”

Aliam had to smile.  “You always thought a little humility was good for proud men.”

“I did.  I do.  But he’s old, you said.  And he’s a guest.”

“I’m old,” Aliam said.  The weight fell back on his spirit again; he could feel himself sagging.

Estil looked at him, a long considering look.  “Do you miss the summer campaigns?  Does it seem dull here?”

“No, it’s not that.”  The years when he had taken his soldiers south each spring, the raw excitement of campaigning mixed with the drudgery of it, seemed long ago, little bright images from a different person’s memory.  “It’s not dull here,” he went on, forcing a smile.  “Not with the children and their mischief; not with you…”

“It’s not like you to brood, Aliam.  You were never a brooder, but you are not happy now.”

“I’m old.”

“You’re no older than I am,” she said.  “You’ve been…strange…ever since last winter, when the…the paladin came.”  When the Lady of the Ladysforest had come, but they could not speak those words, for the Lady had locked their tongues on that.

“It’s my fault,” Aliam said.  Tears stung his eyes.  “If I had–”

“You couldn’t know,” Estil said, a hand on his arm.  “You couldn’t be sure.  You had reasons…”

“Reasons!” Aliam said.  The bitterness in his voice shocked him, and two of the servants passing through the hall turned to look at him and then hurried on.  “Tammarrion died because of me,” he said more softly.  “I’m the one who tutored Kieri in the courtesy of warriors and taught him how women fighters should be respected; it’s not just the sword, but…if not for me he would surely have drawn it sometime or other.  Their children would be alive, she would be alive, he would be whole–”

“He is whole,” Estil said.  “You are the one who’s not.”  Then her hand flew to her mouth, as if to take the words back and her face paled.

Aliam looked at her.  “I know.  I know I’m not.  I can’t live with it, Estil, what I’ve done and not done.  I’m sorry.  I’m sorry for all of it, and that it can’t be changed, and that I…can’t go on.”


He shook his head and moved past her.  Up the stairs, each one harder to climb than the next, and into his study, where a bowl still held a sprig of undying apple-blossom, a gift of the Lady.  The scent should have refreshed him, but now…now it was another wound.  He sat down heavily.

Estil could manage without him; she’d done it summer after summer, all those years.  The steading was more hers than his; she had managed it for him with all the skill and grace a man could ask for.  His sons were all alive, barring Seliam–more tears came when he thought of Seliam, killed in Aarenis.  Cal had heirs of the body; his eldest son was as old now as Aliam had been when he hired his first soldier.  Kieri certainly didn’t need him; he would be only a constant reminder of what could have been, if Aliam had had the courage to say what he knew.  He could trust Kieri to treat his family well, in matters of inheritance; that was all he could ask for.

All he had to do was make it through the Count of Andressat’s visit, play the host as he’d done for so many others, and then…his imagination failed.  Old men died so many ways.  Their eyesight dimmed; they tripped down stairs and stumbled off walls.  Their hearing dimmed; they did not hear stampeding herds, shouted warnings of danger.  They fell off horses and broke their necks; they fell into rivers and drowned.  He had to be sure it was not seen as anyone’s fault; he wanted no more guilt carried by his family than they already bore.


  • Comment by Kerry (aka Trouble) — March 17, 2011 @ 2:26 pm


    He’s focused completely on what he sees as his failure, but if he had done differently and Kieri was still married to Tammarrion and their children were still alive, would the elves have accepted him? I hope he finds a reason to live; that he finds something to do that he will think offsets/negates his earlier inaction.

  • Comment by Adam Baker — March 17, 2011 @ 3:35 pm


    I think part of what the elves found so objectionable was what Kieri did after Tammarion & the children were killed, so if they had survived, they may have more readily accepted him.

    Its sad to see Aliam feel that way. He’s always struck me as one of the cornerstones, immovable, solid, someone you always expect to persevere through any situation.

  • Comment by elizabeth — March 17, 2011 @ 4:52 pm


    Actually, what the elves were looking for was very different from humans would have sought. They were looking for some sign that his elven heritage was alive in him…and they also assumed, wrongly, that when Aliam gave the sword to Kieri to give to Tammarion, that he would hold it by the hilt at least once, and if any of his elven nature remained it would then proclaim him. Since that didn’t happen, they assumed it was completely gone.

  • Comment by Corinne — March 17, 2011 @ 7:00 pm


    Can’t wait ’til next week! I also have been wondering about Aliam: is he the nephew or the younger brother of Sier Halveric?

  • Comment by iphinome — March 17, 2011 @ 7:18 pm


    But but…. what was the pattern on the wallpaper? 🙂 Just kidding.

  • Comment by Rusty — March 17, 2011 @ 9:01 pm


    Having lived through severe depression for many years, Aliam’s thoughts at the end of this snippet sound just a bit familiar. “I’m not going to kill myself, but accidents happen so why bother fighting it?” I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops.

  • Comment by elizabeth — March 17, 2011 @ 10:13 pm


    Corinne: It’s true he’s been described in two different ways…a case of authorial error…but I think he’s *functionally* Sier Halveric’s younger brother whether or not he is biologically, which is why that’s the situation in the new books.

  • Comment by elizabeth — March 17, 2011 @ 10:15 pm


    Yeah…I have some depression experience myself, and have seen its effects on others. However, depression can be caused by more than one factor…Aliam is not prone to endogenous depression. Something Is Going On.

  • Comment by Annabel (Mrs Redboots) — March 18, 2011 @ 5:20 am


    Oh no, Aliam – please don’t be like that! It truly wasn’t your fault….

  • Comment by Linda — March 18, 2011 @ 10:55 am


    Oh crud, I hope whatever is Going On is semi-resolved in this book … I don’t want to have to worry about Aliam for another whole year, or more.

    I’ve been thinking about Stammel off and on for the last year as I help my Mother with her increasing problems with her sight (and depression and old age). Your characters are so real that I feel more as if I’m reading history than fiction.

  • Comment by Jim DeWitt — March 18, 2011 @ 12:20 pm


    I am slightly relieved that something is Going On because I have difficulty imagining the sensible, solid Aliam slipping into this kind of self-accusation and depression.

    But as I recall, Paks was taught there are worse Evil Gods than the Webmistress and Liart. Just because we haven’t encountered them yet doesn’t mean they aren’t around.

  • Comment by elizabeth — March 18, 2011 @ 2:45 pm


    Anyone can suffer a bout of depression…from any of several causes.

    And yes, there are worse nasties around than Achrya and Liart.

  • Comment by Daniel Glover — March 18, 2011 @ 8:04 pm


    And Achrya has already visited the steading! Oh, my!

  • Comment by arthur — March 19, 2011 @ 2:58 pm


    This Arthur. I know, Elizabeth, that you asked me not to speculate, but this is just the facts. Yeah, either Achrya’s servant or Achrya herself was last seen at Aliam’s manor. We have seen neither hide nor hair of her since. And the Pargunese mentioned that “Achrya” hates the magelords…

  • Comment by elizabeth — March 19, 2011 @ 5:07 pm


    Arthur, keep in mind that in story chronology, it’s been less than a year since Achrya’s attack at Aliam Halveric’s steading. In three separate attacks–two in the north and at Halveric’s–in a relatively short span of time, she lost valuable allies/servants/avatars. Her plans went awry; she would have to spend time making new plans to fit the new circumstances, and gather her forces.

  • Comment by Ann — March 20, 2011 @ 5:09 pm


    This was chilling. I’m nearing sixty, and for the past couple of years, have been dealing with depression (a new experience for me) and you nailed it. I don’t think any young person could have written it. I look forward very much to seeing where this goes.

  • Comment by elizabeth — March 20, 2011 @ 6:07 pm


    I hope you find the right modality for dealing with it. I’ve had episodes for some decades now, and mine, at least, is manageable if I don’t resist doing what’s needed. But on the downslide into another episode, the depression itself affects my eagerness to do what it needs. However…I’m still here and non-depressed more often than not, which for a 66 year old with decades at this game, is pretty darn good. Definitely being older helped me with that scene.

  • Comment by Ann — March 21, 2011 @ 6:32 pm


    “Downslide” captures it. Are you familiar with the doodlebug, or ant lion? The larval form digs a cone shaped hole in the sand, and waits for ants to slip over the edge. If the ant looks like it is about to manage to scrabble out, the doodlebug flips sand at it to knock it down the slope.

    Water aerobics, light therapy, and St John’s Wort seem to be keeping me away from the edge. I hadn’t had episodes when I was younger which is why Aliam’s story resonated. I am looking forward to the book, and plan to go to a Borders that’s still open to get my copy. Thanks!

  • Comment by elizabeth — March 21, 2011 @ 9:33 pm


    Oh, yes, we have lots of “doodlebugs” and I’ve even seen the adult form (though more often the “ant lion” form. As kids we used to tickle the edge of the hold so grains of dirt would slide down, just to watch the doodlebug flip it back up.

    Aerobic exercise and more light definitely a good idea, and whatever else an individual needs…differs from person to person. I found cognitive therapy a big help, but still need more occasionally.

  • Comment by Ann — March 22, 2011 @ 6:44 pm


    Cognitive therapy would be good, but finding a therapist is expensive, and I’ve not had great luck. Doing it yourself is like trying to part the hair on the back of your head — even with a mirror, you know it’s skewed.

    Totally of the subject. Did you see this? Judge rejects Google’s Deal to Digitize Books.

  • Comment by elizabeth — March 22, 2011 @ 8:06 pm


    Ann, I found David Burns’ book _Feeling Good_, which is self-guided cognitive therapy, very helpful indeed. There’s a workbook too, but you can do many of the exercises just from the book. (Hate the title of that book, by the way, but the contents were much better.)

  • Comment by Ann — March 23, 2011 @ 5:13 am


    Thanks! Will look for a copy. I’m basically a cheerful person, which camouflaged it and blind-sided me.

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