Wednesday, 21 October 2009

No gig but a poster at the least.

I think looking at contempory illustration and graphics books is influencing me a bit. Which is weird because this up there is an old style of Graphic design. The kind you see all the London hipsters doing when they're not dicking about with the smokers or talking on their phones in librarys. Goddamn.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Cymru - Chapter 23

Since there's nothing for Madog to do just yet, I thought I'd use him as a contrivance to explain some smaller aspects of the world they live in via a Shiny New Character. I was tempted to just go "Fuck it, let's make it teh pr0nz, lol!!!!" but then remembered my sister reads these, so explicit material was removed.

Anyone wanting the graphically written scene in question, mind, should email me privately. If desired, I will even include the word 'mancream'. My money is on Jom asking.


Archipelagan taverns, Madog had decided years ago, were Something Else. It was something to do with the way the Cities were built, all piled up on top of themselves and with nowhere for the people to go outwards. They were claustrophobic and strange, and bred people who were hard workers but never felt the rain or sun, who only got their food through passing sailors and trading, who never got the chance to truly leave. The downshot was the slightly restless edge that permanently affected the people. The upshot was the taverns. Archipelagans liked to party.

This one was no exception. A small group of three or four bards seemed to have decided to pool their talents for the night and were playing a fast and complex hornpipe in the corner on two crwths, a pibgorn and a bodhran that had more than a few people dancing in any free space they could find, including the odd tabletop. Tankards were being enthusiastically waved, causing the sweet smells of mead and whiskey to mingle with the dried heather in the rafters, sweat from the patrons and wood smoke from the somewhat extraneous fire opposite the bar. And the people were the most mixed bunch Madog had ever seen in a tavern; since traders were so vital to Tregwylan life they were joyfully welcomed, leading to a beautiful tableaux of all the different colours humans were available in. Two or three tall blond men sat at one table, moustaches and beards long and plaited in the style that sat up and screamed ‘Viking!’ to anyone who looked; a group of Celtiberians sat behind them, happily throwing some bone dice about on the tabletop between the feet of a pair of possible Greeks who twirled obliviously to the music; at the bar beside Madog a tiny woman with honey-coloured skin and black hair waited to be served, her clothes suggesting she was from the Indo-Greek empire; and Phoenicians were everywhere, their tall, elegant frames made startlingly obvious by their rich black skin, their eyes almost gold. Celts of all kinds wove among them all, Cymric and Erinnish and Alban and Gallic. The combined noise of at least ten different languages merrily competing with the music made a protective barrier around Madog, blocking him out from the world. It was fine by him. He was Thinking.

The rest of the Wing were wisely and accordingly leaving him alone. Dylan had cashed in his IOU for a beer from Menna, who was now dancing somewhat meanly in front of the Vikings with Glesni and Bronwen and commanding a rapt audience as they went. The others looked to have started a card game with some Egyptians and a handful of locals, commanding a different sort of audience. If he’d wanted, he could have joined them. He didn’t.

Everything felt… surreal. Having your world view changed did that to you, he supposed glumly. Well, having it changed for the worse, anyway. Probably having it changed for the better made you somewhat jolly. Probably. It would have been nice to know for definite.

He looked thirty, or so Madog was told, but that was merely the effect of the Gwales Ritual. He was actually around forty somewhere, although he wasn’t sure where precisely; Riders didn’t bother to keep count of that sort of thing. But even so, forty years give-or-take-one was a long time to have done a job – to have done a job you believed you’d mastered – and to have actually been doing it wrong. The gods only knew how they’d have survived all this time without Dylan, but despite what Dylan said it was Madog who should have been paying attention. Being told that you performed a still-vital but basically inferior role was little consolation when you were meant to be the Alpha bloody Wingleader.

There was movement beside him as the tiny Indo-Greek woman left, and a Phoenician stepped into the gap. Madog paid no attention, watching the mead swirl in the splitting wooden tankard in his hands. He wished he could get drunk faster. The letter from Gwenda kept swimming past his vision, tempting him to give it to Dylan to open, and that very temptation was distressing him. It felt… wrong. It would be wrong. But should he anyway? Was that what he was supposed to do? Was that what Dylan would do in his place? Was it what Awen would do? And why was inebriation eluding him so badly just when he wanted some sort of release?

Well; the Gwales Ritual was why. But knowing the answer was hardly conducive to developing a sunny disposition.

“Traditionally,” a velvety-rich voice said conversationally beside him, “you have to drink it before you get drunk, my friend.”

Madog glanced sideways. The Phoenician was leaning one elbow casually on the bar, smiling at him with a hint of amusement. Madog snorted and looked back at the mead.

“Yes,” he said dryly. “I’m familiar with the mechanism. Sadly I’m gifted with superb liver function, though.”

“Ah, yes.” The Phoenician stroked his short, pointed beard thoughtfully, his palms a flash of pale skin against his face. “You are a Rider. I’ve come across that complaint before.”

“Really?” Madog asked wearily. He was in no mood to talk, as nice as the Phoenician seemed to be. A brief glimmer of white indicated the man’s grin.
“Oh yes,” he said calmly. “I come to your country often. I like it here. And I have experience with Riders."

"Experience?" Madog asked. The Phoenician smiled, an easy-going smile that almost managed to pierce Madog's malaise.

"I've met a few," he said warmly. "And, indeed, I am here with others presently to ask an audience at your Archwiliad. My name is Hannibal,” he added. “And yours… let’s see, let’s see. Wrecsam livery, and your collar, in the manner of your people, denotes your rank. Alpha Wingleader, in this case, so you must be... Madog Helygen.”

Madog turned, and looked at Hannibal properly. He was definitely Numibian Phoenician in appearance; he was tall and broad across the shoulders, his skin so dark it had an almost purple sheen to it in the lamplight, his eyes the typical black-and-gold. His nose was broad and flat above beautifully full lips and beneath a strong brow, and his face was framed by long black hair that had been completely braided down his back, each individual plait finishing in a small gold hoop. His ears had been pierced repeatedly, as had his nose, more gold evident in each. His clothes were robes, richly coloured and patterned and wrapped about his broad frame.

None of it suggested any prior link with Cymru. His Cymric was flawless, admittedly, but most of the Phoenician traders were skilled polyglots, and his words in any case were steeped in his native accent, rounded and lilting. He grinned again at Madog now, teeth starkly white against his skin, apparently waiting for the questions he knew would come.

“Hannibal?” Madog asked, skipping the obvious ones for now. Hannibal laughed, the sound almost deep enough for Madog to feel the vibrations in the bar top.

“Ah! Yes. My parents liked history.”

“Do you?” Madog asked, and wondered why. Hannibal nodded.

“Absolutely,” he said, accepting a drink from the barman as it finally came and sliding a Phoenician coin across in payment. “It is important. Mistakes, you see, are how children learn to be adults. History is how humans, as a race, do the same.”

Well, that struck a chord. Madog stared at Hannibal for a few seconds, turning it over in his mind.

“So,” he said slowly, “you would see a child as someone who… hasn’t made a mistake?”

“Yes.” Hannibal looked thoughtful. “Or not enough of them, perhaps. Or perhaps not; perhaps I simply see an adult as one who has made enough, and learned from them all. Philosophy is also my passion, I fear.”

“It’s a good one.” Madog stared at the mead, and decided to file it away for later. “I’ve met people who could work out my name before, but our Wing designation is unusual.”

“Your Wing designation would be, your second name?” Hannibal asked, swirling his tankard slightly. “What we would call your family name? Your surname?”

“Yes,” assumed Madog. Hannibal nodded.

“As I say,” he smiled, “I like your country. You have many lovely social structures absent from most others. Good traders learn the cultures and customs of their customers anyway; it is a sort of itinerant politics, I suppose. But I made an extra effort with this country. Your people are proud of you, my friend. You are a great protector, a great god to them. I find it fascinating.”

Madog nearly choked on the mead.

“A god?” he repeated. “They do not. We’re warriors, not –”

“We have different concepts of the word,” Hannibal said apologetically. “To us, gods are more like people than they are to you. Yours are more like… forces, or concepts. Have you ever been told of the Egyptian Pharoahs of old?”

“Probably not,” Madog allowed cautiously. Hannibal nodded, apparently having expected such ignorance in Rider training.

“They believed, once upon a time, that their Pharoahs were gods on earth,” he explained. “They followed them for this reason. The gods spoke through them, and they could do no wrong. Accordingly, they would marry brother to sister to maintain the royal line. I realise this is an abhorrent concept to you.”

“Yes,” said Madog. “I’m wondering how this relates to me apparently being a god, now, and if we’re going to have to have a fight to defend my honour. Not to mention my sister’s honour, and I’ve never even met her if she indeed exists.”

“I would not survive it. Merely the concept of being a god, not the practices,” Hannibal grinned. “A god in human flesh. In this nation, there is no war. I think perhaps you take this for granted, my friend. You probably don’t see it that way, you see. To you, there is very often fighting, and bloodshed, and death. But to the people of this country, there is no war. Ever. You keep it from them.” He shook his head, gracefully, apparently marvelling at Cymru’s impressive social features. “This is a beautiful thing you give your people, my friend. And so they think of you accordingly. You are god-like to them.”

It was too alien a concept. Madog drained the tankard and signalled for another, shaking his head.

“They’re grateful, yes,” he said. “But divinity is a bit of a step up from there, I’m afraid. Druids, now; I’d see what you meant. Or even bards when you hear a good song. But not Riders. We’re just warriors.”

“Yes,” said Hannibal, his voice slightly odd. “You are not the first Rider to tell me that. This I find most interesting of all. You cannot see yourselves, can you? Literally or figuratively. It is forbidden, and you are incapable. Tell me, my friend, and do be honest; if you needed to kill me, right now, right at this very second without even standing up; could you?”

Madog looked at him levelly.

“Yes,” he said blandly. Hannibal nodded.

“If this entire roomful of people suddenly drew blades from beneath the tables and bows from the rafters and aimed for you, could you beat them all?”

“Still without standing?”

Hannibal’s mouth twitched.

“I’d be very much interested to know the answer if I said yes,” he said wryly, “but you may stand for this hypothetical.”

“Then yes,” Madog said simply. “I could.”

“And yet,” Hannibal mused, “with all of this self-confidence, all of this understanding of your own skill and efficacy; you have no self-worth. You consider yourselves lower than all who live in your society. Most interesting.”

Madog bit back the automatic ‘Well, we are’ that threatened to jump out of his mouth. It would just prove Hannibal’s point in his eyes, regardless of its accuracy. He accepted a new drink from the barman instead, and drank half as he tried to work out where to go from there.

“You say you've met a few Riders,” he said after a while. Hannibal grinned.

“I have,” he nodded. “I like Riders. I like complex.”

“Thanks.” Madog rubbed a hand across his eyes. He was starting to get the vague feeling that this conversation was going somewhere vaguely significant in a vague sort of way, but there were too many vagues and he was already feeling jumbled. “You said you liked philosophy?”

“Also complex,” Hannibal smiled. “But a different ‘like’, I confess. Yes.”

“Philosophically speaking,” Madog said carefully, “or hypothetically or whatever; let’s say there is a choir of bards. One is the leader of the choir. They sing very complicated music, eight-part harmonies and more, you know?”

Hannibal nodded elegantly. Madog carried on.

“Let’s say that this piece of music has a very complicated, technically demanding and difficult descant,” Madog said, watching Hannibal. “So difficult that most singers would loathe even trying it, but without it, the piece doesn’t work. That ought to be the choir leader’s job, really, shouldn’t it?”

“Hmm.” Hannibal paused, stroking his beard again. “Perhaps. It would be logical in an ideal world, certainly. But there are many variables there that are too important to ignore. A choir, after all, is a team of bards blending together, functioning as one. The leader in this case, I should think, is the one who facilitates this functioning, not necessarily the one who sings the best. If this choir contains an individual who has great skill and competence, but too much individual spirit, then they should not be leader; but logically, they should sing your descant. I have said something good?”

“Perhaps.” Madog grinned at the mead, feeling lighter than he had for a while. “More helpful than you could probably imagine, at any rate. Thank you.”

“You are most welcome,” Hannibal said, giving him a slight bow that was probably normal for Phoenicians but unnerved Madog slightly. No one bowed to Riders. “I enjoy helping out Riders. There are... so many small ways to do so.”

The subtext of the conversation finally surfaced enough to give Madog a hint, and he laughed out loud.

“Really?” he chuckled to Hannibal’s unabashed grin. “I’m trying very hard not to ask you what those are.”

“A shame. I’d be happy to tell,” Hannibal purred. Madog shook his head.

“Aren’t Phoenicians meant to be more conservative about sex?” he asked. “Or… ah. This is one of our lovely social structures absent from other countries?”

“Indeed!” Hannibal said merrily. “As I say, I like your country. Certain preferences are normal here that are not elsewhere. And you have such different attitudes to the act itself! To your people, it is important to pleasure one another, as this is how you… join, how you connect, with other humans. This is how you remind yourselves that you are not alone in the world, that you all have problems.” Hannibal shook his head. “This is also a beautiful thing, my friend. It is sacred, and special. Not so in the rest of the world. Elsewhere, who you do it with and for what purpose are the important factors. Never visit the Graecian Empires, my friend! They would not welcome you.”

“Oh, I couldn’t leave Cymru,” Madog shuddered. “I can barely take the idea of visiting Erinn. It just wouldn’t be right.”

“Yes, another god-like aspect of Riders,” Hannibal smiled. “You are quite firmly attached to your country and worshippers. But this subject makes you uncomfortable. So were the others.”

Madog glanced at him, amused.

“Is this your usual tactic?” he asked. “Mentioning your previous partners to imply prowess?”

“You wound me, my friend,” Hannibal laughed. “No no. Only with Riders. It is to let you know that I understand both the risks and the procedures associated with causing a being who is pure killing instinct to lose control in some way.”

There was a slight pause.

“That’s forthright,” Madog commented. Hannibal nodded.

“It is best,” he said impishly, his eyes gleaming. “And the best part is, I am a sailor. I bring my own rope.”