Brain Fog, Thunderstorms, and Plot Bombs

Posted: April 9th, 2023 under Characters, Life beyond writing, Limits of Power, the writing life.
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Too many days without sunlight and my brain starts daydreaming about sleeping the clock around and waking to a sunny morning.  Kicking it out of bed is necessary, even when it tells me the balance mechanism is sub-par.  We had several days of heavy cloud with occasional thunder “somewhere” and not much actual water from the sky.  Finally however we got an inch over about 18 hours, including in a last 15 minute thunder on the roof at 1 am Saturday morning (it wasn’t the rain but a big BOOM!! overhead that woke me.)

No sun, though.  Easter Eve is a traditional time for Hispanic families in Texas to have big “end of Lent” parties, and our neighbors did.  You can tell when the pinata goes up by the squeals of the younger children and the “thwack-thwack” of whatever stick they’re hitting it with.  [drat this touchpad.  I just deleted the rest of that paragraph, with the incident of soccer ball recovery…grr.)

Skipping ahead.  Plot bomb burst in my head this morning and there’s a little over 2000 words of something new.  You may remember that in Limits of Power, Stammel dies delaying some pirates coming to the village where he’s been living.   After that, when the people return from the caves where they hid, they decide to honor him by naming children in his memory:  Matthis for the boys and Paksen for the girls (they’re not literate and never got Paks’s full name because he talked a little about having trained Paks in Fox Company.  Stammel stayed with Cadlin in that vill, so Cadlin’s next children carry Stammel’s family name as well:  Matthis Stammel and Paksen Stammel.  Everyone else names them as usual with the parent’s name: Matthis Volson, Telson, Rortson, etc and Paksen Voldotir, Rortdotir, Arndotir, etc.  This so Stammel’s name never dies out.

The children grow up knowing why they carry these unusual (for that region) names, and they…get ideas.  To live up to Stammel’s memory, shouldn’t they figure out a way to protect not just their village but the whole island?  Grownups tell them it’s impossible.  But…Matthis and Paksen Stammel are now (where I’m writing) meeting with Meddthal Andressat in the South Marches headquarters…and there’s this younger Lord Marrakai there, too.  They have a Fox Company ring…I know (I looked it up and sure enough) that Dragon took Stammel’s ring up to the Duke’s Stronghold with Stammel’s body.  But nobody would say Dragon couldn’t reproduce a copy for the village, esp. given that Dragon will certainly hear about the decision to name a boy and a girl in each family for Stammel and Paksen.  And the vill does not know Dragon took the ring to give Arcolin, so they don’t wonder when Cadlin finds it on the beam in his workshop where the sack of crossbow bolts hung.

The young folk now have a net of acquaintances between the vills–not just with the next one over but all the way around.  They’ve chosen lookout points to watch for pirates.   Pirates have come back several times, but now more vills empty ahead of invasion.  The adults are beginning to realize something might be done, though none of them have clue of what, or how, or where to find the resources.  Pirates being pirates, they decide to let that island alone for awhile to recover some stuff worth stealing and be less watchful.  Meanwhile Matthis and Paksen Stammel  travel to the mainland in one of the fishing boats to find someone who knows where Fox soldiers are.  Hence they’re in Cha…and meet someone who met Stammel (back in Siniava’s War and later) and someone who knew Paksenarrion when he was a boy in the far north (which these young people have never heard of.   That there is a mainland…but they imagine it as a really big island.)

But certainly word will go quickly to Fox Company that people who knew Stammel on this island have come to Cha…and from there to the north, to Arcolin. The right music for some of the writing is Elgar’s Engima Variations, esp. the Nimrod section.  (Earlier part went fine to Chopin Nocturnes.)

Oh, you want a snippet?   But of course.  Except they may get cluttered up with Word Sekrit Decoder Stuff.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………….(And yes the Enigma Variations “Nimrod” fits this particular passage.  Esp. toward the end where the soldier realizes…this is a story he’s heard before, years ago.

The two stood looking for a long moment, then walked forward.  Without actually looking at them, the two soldiers blocked their way to the door with the crossed staves of their weapons.  “Halt,” said one, and “State your business,” said the other.

“We need to see the Andressat lord,” said Paksen.

“Who are you?  Where from?”

“I’m Paksen Stammel.  From the island out there in the big ocean.”

“Which island?”

She had no idea how to tell him.  The island was just ‘the island’ or ‘our island’ to the islanders.   “It’s where we live; I don’t know what other people call it.”

The soldiers looked at each other.  The one to her heart side tapped the haft of his weapon on the stone step three times.  “Wait,” he said.  “Someone will come.  Not the lord, someone who will know what to do with you.  Do you have a letter or a word from someone Andressat might know?”

“We have his-someone’s ring.”

“You will need to show it.”

Matthis pulled it out of his shirt on its thong, just as another man in a long robe of yellow edged with white came to the door.  “What’s going on?” he asked the soldiers.

“These two.  Fisherfolk, I suspect, from an island.  Say they want to see the Andressat lord and that one’s got a ring.”

“An island…plenty of islands…name?”

Paksen shook her head.  “We don’t know what other people call it,” she said again.  “It’s just our island to us.  Matthis and me aren’t fisherfolk; we live up the mountain.”

“Name?” the man asked.

“Paksen Stammel,” she said.

He blinked.  “Stammel. That’s not an island name…your father?”

“No, Blind Stammel,” Matthis said.  “He lived on our island a short time and saved us—well, the olders, we hadn’t been born yet—from pirates.  He said he was a soldier somewhere else.”

“Sergeant,” the man in the robe said to one of the soldiers.  “Could that be–?”

“Let me see that ring, young man,” the soldier said.  “And your name?”

“Matthis Stammel.”  He took the thong off over his head and handed the ring to the soldier, who looked, and took in a sudden breath.

“By the Dragon, it is!  Fox Company ring.  Must be three hands of years at least since he was blinded, more like four.  I was up in Valdaire when I’d heard the rumor and then saw him riding past with the Duke.” The soldier looked hard at Matthis.  “And you’re named for him?  But not his body-son?”

“No.  Cadlin’s my father.  Blind Stammel lived in our house on the island.  That’s why my sister and I have his last name.”



  • Comment by Bill Ruppert — April 9, 2023 @ 9:02 pm


    This is great. Stammel was a great character.

  • Comment by Mary Hargrove — April 10, 2023 @ 12:11 am


    I love that Stammel is living on! So glad you’re writing. Would love a snippet about your horses when you get a chance.

  • Comment by Jonathan Schor — April 10, 2023 @ 6:44 am


    Wow – what a nice remembrance. I was never that happy that Stammel died but this more than makes up for it. Even if does not make it to a story it does ease things a little. For more than 30 years your rabid fans have become really invested in Paks et al. I do enjoy your other series and stand alone novels. Stay safe and stay sane.

  • Comment by elizabeth — April 10, 2023 @ 9:28 am


    I wasn’t that happy when Stammel put on the red shirt either. By the time the pirates showed up, he’d put it on repeatedly (how a blind man picked a red shirt out of the pile…it’s a mystery.) But I gave him the kind of end he wanted, at least, and what’s come of it is downright spooky. This morning I found out what the “kids” have come up with and what resources they offer, in addition to themselves. Those pirates had better turn their minds to earning *honest* livings in future!

  • Comment by elizabeth — April 10, 2023 @ 9:31 am


    The village is determined that his name will, and those of his name are determined that his actions will go forward as well.

  • Comment by elizabeth — April 10, 2023 @ 9:34 am


    Stammel’s one of my favorite characters. I had intended for him to retire, ultimately, and live out some happy years up north with the Company and in Kolya’s apple orchard, but…characters develop their own arcs.

  • Comment by Pence — April 10, 2023 @ 2:37 pm


    This snippet is a delight. I’m so glad that Stammel’s memory is a living legacy.

  • Comment by Richard Simpkin — April 11, 2023 @ 2:21 am


    Stammel’s death and funeral did make an outstanding chapter.

  • Comment by Kathleen — April 11, 2023 @ 10:08 am


    Lovely snippet. Stammel was a great man. If the snippet doesn’t make it into the Horngard series, I look forward to a short story in an anthology!

  • Comment by Annabel Smyth — April 11, 2023 @ 1:28 pm


    Yes, I’m sure I’m not the only one of your readers who wept when Stammel died – and wept again when Kolya was so ill and not really sure she wanted to live in a world without him…. I hope she learns, somehow, how the village he gave his life for remembered him!

  • Comment by Caryn — April 11, 2023 @ 8:40 pm


    Oooo. Yes.

  • Comment by Leslie — April 11, 2023 @ 9:14 pm


    Wonderful, just wonderful, thank you for sharing a new plot bomb.

  • Comment by Linda — April 12, 2023 @ 6:00 am


    Reminds me of Stammel as a teacher and inspirer of youth … a resurrection story.

  • Comment by elizabeth — April 12, 2023 @ 9:16 am


    I thought originally it would settle as a short story but when it hit 2400 words and it felt like it was just starting….well, now I don’t know. And it certainly could end up in No. 3 or 4 of the short collections if it doesn’t blow up into a book.

  • Comment by elizabeth — April 12, 2023 @ 9:18 am


    This one jumped out so far ahead of “current time” in the Horngard stuff that I need to do a timeline for characters to know if Kolya’s still alive 20 years after Stammel died. The off-stage characters do age….eeep!!

  • Comment by elizabeth — April 12, 2023 @ 9:29 am


    Yes. Though I don’t think, even if the pirates had not come for a couple of years, that Stammel would have done what these young people will accomplish. A great man, indeed, but he’d passed that point when he might have taken it on.

  • Comment by elizabeth — April 12, 2023 @ 9:33 am


    Glad you liked it. It’ll be the background project for awhile; I need to go fix the errors in Horngard I first.

  • Comment by elizabeth — April 12, 2023 @ 9:50 am


    The problem right now with this is that the full story covers years…and short stories really need a tighter temporal unity…the people decide shortly after the wizard tells them about Stammel dying to save the village that they’ll start naming a child in each family for him, but then it takes awhile for the children to be old enough to understand their names and longer for them to come up with their own plans. Their parents had thought only of carrying on the name…not of bringing the whole island together in an effort to defend itself. They remember Stammel saying they shouldn’t try to fight. From the point where the children think about it–and use their network of friends, realizing that very vill’s children have friends in all the nearby vills, and those have friends still farther away–it takes years to connect the whole island, then to come up with something more to do (first is the lookout linkage, locating the best place, having people take turns in each one, etc.), then years to convince the older adults that it’s worth going to hide when the alarm’s given, even if it’s on the other side of the island, etc. So for a compact story, something to fit in a collection or an anthology, that’s a bit strung out.

    I started thinking about civil defense when I was about ten…I think I was eleven or twelve when I tried to design a community bomb shelter (was it any good? Of course not. I was a kid. But a kid whose mother was an engineer and I had been in houses she designed, and had looked at plans, heard her talk with contractors, visited building sites. So I had *some*….that “little” knowledge that’s “a dangerous thing” if you think it’s enough, esp. in engineering. So these kids will have seen adults building simple shelters, and the older ones in this village will have seen the evacuation to the cave…they’ll have some practical knowledge of that. The boys Stammel recruited to help him find a defensive position to slow the pirates will have *that* knowledge, too, and will be thinking “Could we do that? Could we do more with more people?” These people are illiterate but by no means stupid.

  • Comment by Richard Simpkin — April 13, 2023 @ 3:00 am


    I can help with the timeline. The one time Stammel passed through Valdaire blind (going north with Arcolin) was 25 years after Kolya’s first campaign season with the Company. Assuming Kieri’s and Tammarion’s little girl who was killed, had been born within a year of their wedding (though there is some wriggle room there given how long before that it was when Kieri got the land).

    How I calculated that: one year back for when Paks, a new and still-covert paladin, talked with Kolya in Duke’s East. Fifteen years before then (according to Kieri himself) when the family was killed. Kolya said the girl was maybe eight.

  • Comment by Nadine Bowlus — April 13, 2023 @ 11:00 pm


    I love that Stammel has a legacy in the village he saved. Stammel is one of my favorite “secondary” characters, second only to Arvid and Arcolin.

  • Comment by Leslie — April 15, 2023 @ 8:29 am


    This is raising so many questions, I hope the story keeps going that you keep writing to find out. I read somewhere that Tolkien kept notes that his son inherited. There was a random scrap of paper that said “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit,” off to the side he had written, “What is a hobbit? must find out”.
    Waiting for you to find out how the island children develop a way to deal with pirates. Are the pirates organized as they seemed to be under the leadership of Allured? After the necklace strangled Allured (loved that by they way, “you want to control us, we kill you!”) does his successor become a decent leader of the land or does he become a problem too? I’m one of your fans that is invested and want more, more, more. Hope this is a lovely weekend for you.

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