The Princess Problem, Episode 6

In which Sir Roger uncovers dastardly plots and evil villains…sort of…

Read Episode 5

—6—

There’s nothing like pomp and pageantry to help one appreciate a good night’s rest. And there’s nothing like the speeches of politicians to help one appreciate the caustic remarks of one’s wizardperson. Nonetheless, Rosa and I survived the princess’ homecoming.

It was the pageantry of what came next that nearly caused our demise.

As the pomp (pompous?) part of the spectacle trickled to a close, the pageantry segment spiced things up. We stood to one side of the dais surrounded by several guards at the far end of a long, airy hall filled with colorful (i.e., gloriously bloody) war tapestries and hundreds of nobles, courtiers, and other miscreants. The princess stood at the base of the dais glaring up at her father, her exquisite hands defiantly clenched against her hips. A half-dozen or so advisors stood hunched behind the throne like a pack of obsequious crows.

kinggallon“Sweetheart, darling, angel!” pleaded King Gillan, a robust man with long, wild, slightly-graying hair. Amongst his troops—at least those who guarded Rosa and myself—he was better known as King Gallons. Indeed, a taint of his morning wine fouled the air.

“Now, dearest,” he implored, “would there be anything else?”

“For instance?”

“Since when did you start hauling common mercenaries about?” rumbled a rough, thick voice. It issued forth from the largest man I had yet to set eyes upon as he waddled up to stand beside the king. He had no hips or waist to speak of, merely an extremely large round growth protruding so far from the middle of his body that his appendages appeared to be stuck on. Still, I had to give the man points for dressing so nattily in a glossy, silver-and-gem-inlaid ebony cloak.

“Since when did you begin to worry about the company I keep, Lord Rodney?”

The portly man reddened. “I… I just think you should be more careful of the image you portray to the public.”

“Did my ears deceive me or did the word ‘think’ escape your lips?”

“Ooh, she’s good!” muttered Rosa.

“Aah!” said the court like a chorus.

I glanced down at my wizardperson. Did my eyes deceive me or was there awe etched on her beauteous face?

“Princess Lalena! I am merely trying to save you from embarrassment!”

“You were not hired for your brains, you hippopotomic land mass!”

“Oooh, she’s really good.” Awe was definitely etched on Rosa’s face.

“Aaah!” echoed the court, this time with some light applause.

“Daughter! Enough!”

“Enough of what, father?”

Lalena’s demure sarcasm was so becoming. My heart thudded uncontrollably. The court nodded appreciatively.

“Since when did you start hiring the minions?”

“Your majesty, I protest!” roared Lord Rodney. “Since when did I become a minion?”

“Since I hired him as my chief of staff,” said the princess proudly.

“Your highness, I protest.”

“Your chief of staff of what?” The king rose to his feet.

The princess puffed up her considerable chest.

“I’ll have you know that I am president of WAMA.”

“Uh oh,” whispered Rosa.

“Oooh,” said the court, several of whom began edging towards the exits.

“What’s happening?” I asked my wizardperson.

“What’s WAMA?” asked King Gillan.

Princess Lalena flushed, her composure lost. “I, uh, well, that is…”

Recognition dawned. Unfortunately, my mouth blurted before my mind acted.

“The World Association for the Advancement of Minority Assassins!”

“Uh oh,” muttered Rosa. Nonetheless, she stepped in front of me, her dainty wand at the ready.

“Uh oh,” muttered the court, or at least those few not yet rushing for the exits.

“Uh oh,” muttered Lord Rodney as he edged towards the rear exit.

“Enough uh ohs already,” bellowed King Gillan. “Shouldn’t that be WAAMA?”

“Sorry father, but there’s not enough oompf to WAAMA. The short ‘a’ sound gives more punch to the acronym.” She turned to face me and her arm slowly lifted, an accusing finger aimed at me. “But it was for this one that I left Javern. He’s a member of a renegade outfit, a mere hired hand.”

I stepped forward. A row of lances leveled in front of me.

“Now wait a minute!” I cried as I patted my trusty Craftsman™ broadsword.

“Sit down!” cried the princess (president?), the advisor (chief of staff?) and the king (dupe?) simultaneously. I sat, realizing as my rump struck the floor (painfully, I might add) that there was no chair.

animated-frog-image-0015“Stand up!” cried Rosa. “I’ll take care of these dim-witted, cow-brained numbskulls!” She leveled her dainty wand in front of me. As I scrambled to my feet, a half-dozen lances crashed to the floor and I found myself surrounded by croaking toad-type persons. Glancing up I noticed a dagger in both Lalena’s and Lord Rodney’s hands.

My love sneered at Rosa. “You seem a decent girl. I hate to kill you.”

My other love held her ground. My heart thudded proudly. “You seem a decent girl. I hate to die.”

My other love? Was I truly so bewitched?

Suddenly the hall fell silent. Was that frost I saw clinging to the war tapestries?

It is moments like these that leads one to rue one’s big mouth. Mine is so big that it often reveals my innermost thoughts (no matter how shallow) without telling my ears. Apparently, that most treasured of circumstances had circumstanced again.

“You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.”

I met the steely-eyed gazes of both women and knew that my mouth had sealed my death warrant. Maybe if I had said women?

castleAs it was, I cannot credit my natural athletic agility for my escape because, no matter how fast my legs moved, my love’s dainty wand and my other love’s sharp pointy daggers moved faster.

It was obvious from the way those sharp pointy daggers never reached my back as I leaped over croaking toads and fallen lances, despite the screams of others. It was obvious in the manner in which magical lights blazed all about me yet never reached my back as I dodged past hopping former courtiers and other sycophants.

No, I can only credit the love that both women must indeed feel for me and the natural jealousy of rivals for my escape. As I sprinted out of the castle gates, I glanced back longingly at the castle, now lit up like a theme park ride, the din of battle and croaking toads crescendoing like an opera’s climax, and I sighed. Surely, just because someone tries to kill you doesn’t mean one should not fall in love with the aforementioned someone(s)!

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Redetermination!

It’s been a long time since I’ve had time to blog. Life floods my free time with its demands, and my writing time ends up drowning beneath waves of work and board meetings.

drowninginquicksandI’m trying to put my foot down on my morning writing time and ignore my boss’s demands. I’m stomping in quicksand whenever I do that, but today I’m willing to put up with a little mud squelching.

The problem with not regularly writing is it’s not like riding a bike; you can’t just pick up a pen or a laptop and expect your skills to be what they were when you left off. It’s much more like working out. Take a week or two off and your muscles ache for a couple of days when you return. Hit the gym after a few months, and you groan with every stiff wobbling step for days.

Tdde17ff45c88bce92ec428d.jpghat’s where I’m at, trying to get my writing chops back in shape. Doing bits and pieces every couple of weeks hasn’t been enough. This past weekend I decided it’s time to rededicate myself to the art. Thirty minutes every possible morning. I’m remembering how hard this can be. It’s taken me two mornings to write four paragraphs. Too much time spent staring at a white page or finding something more interesting on Facebook or reading about last night’s Mariners’ game.

My goal is to get back to at least two blog posts per month. Time will tell. For now, it’s time to reattach my coffee IV drip and focus!

Not-So-New Resolutions

Fall 2017 was the busiest of my life as I took on a second job (a return to swim coaching for the same team I last coached 20 years ago), as well as becoming a board member (as secretary) and an elder candidate at my church. Naturally, the first thing that suffered was my writing.

I managed to complete the sequel to my book (called Heart of the Dragon) and begin outlining the final book of the trilogy (still untitled), but my blog has gone almost untouched. Before I disappear into the haze of the coming quarter, I thought it would be good to revisit my 2017 resolutions.

As I wrote, it was the first time I’d had any resolutions in years. I met two of my three goals (my son graduated high school and I had such a good meet I wrote an article that was published). I did not find an agent, but I stopped sending out query letters while I finished book two, then did some major twiddling with book one. That leads me to my writing goals for 2018: finish rewriting my query letter and start sending it out again.

These were just goals, however. My resolutions had to do with how I live my life. My aim to practice justice of some sort (as in defending the poor, weak, and defenseless) went mostly unfulfilled beyond a bit of research and a bit of financial support to AJS. I don’t want to give up on this resolution, but I’m going to have to make a greater effort in 2018.

My other two goals were to be more kind and more humble. I really did try hard on these two goals, and hopefully I made progress. While my friends and acquaintances are far better able to testify to my success or lack thereof, I rely on how I behave when I’m driving alone. No one can hear me yell obscenities when I’m failing or see when I’m courteous. I have to pray before I leave and literally tell myself to chill while I drive. By the time I climb out of my truck, I’m either irritated or laid back, and my ability to be kind and practice humility are directly reflected by my attitude.

Did I improve in 2017? Definitely. Did I improve enough? No. Remaining chill while I drive is goal I achieve only a fraction of what I’d like. So that’s my biggest resolution for 2018. If you want to ask me at any point this year how I’m doing on my resolution, feel free. If I’m better with my time, I’ll find occasions to blog how I’m doing.

My Recent Publication

Due to a suddenly crammed schedule, I have not had much time to write lately. However, I did have an article published in the most recent Swimmer magazine about my journey to become a sprint swimmer. Since the online version requires a password to read, I’ve scanned the page and posted it here in case you’d like to read it. It was actually written last April and accepted in early May, so this might give you an idea of how long it takes just to get a ~650-word article published! Hope you enjoy!

article

Our Culture of Hate

For the past month, I’ve been unable to get out of my mind a column I recently read in World magazine by Andrée Seu Peterson called Being in Hate. She contrasts our well-known emotional state of “being in love” with “being in hate.” In particular, she said this:

“People who are in hate don’t know what they have lost. What they have lost is their very humanity.”

hateHer final paragraph references America’s current political state as hate-driven. I’ve thought about this quite a bit and realized it’s not just our political state, but our culture. We think of the KKK and other white supremacists as the worst of the worst, as they proved in Charlottesville a few weeks ago. However, whether it’s President Trump, the LGBT community, Evangelicals, Black Lives Matter, the NRA, college students, or the ACLU (to name just a few), most rhetoric pours out as hate speech. Usually, those speaking (and their supporters) don’t hear the hate, and sometimes even claim their words are meant in love.

Our president, with his unfiltered tweets, is possibly the worst individual offender outside of true hate groups (such as the KKK) I’ve ever seen. The snobbish attitude among our leaders in the Democrat Party towards voters who supported Trump, however, is just as wicked. Those who compare Trump to Hitler and Evangelicals to the KKK are more hate-filled than Trump himself. The same goes for those who claimed President Obama was the Antichrist and LGBT supporters are equivalent to Nazis. (For the record, I find all of these comparisons to be deplorable.)

colin_kaepernick_vet_protest_apOur reaction to the Colin Kaepernick saga is a perfect example. The venomous hatred spewed against him (and other athletes who have followed suit) is horrific. When I mention Colin’s name to those who are perfectly rational in most circumstances, spit flies and hate creases their face. On the other side, however, are his supporters who grow just as livid and irrational about his supposed blacklisting by the NFL. There’s no possible middle ground, no chance that his monetary demands are too great for his skill level. No, they demand it’s a conspiracy.

I understand both sides, because both sides have valid points. What I see, however, is a microcosm of America’s current culture of “being in hate.” There’s no rational dialogue, no allowance for the other side, no willingness to listen. It’s no longer just “my way or the highway.” It’s become “If you disagree with my viewpoint, you’re a racist bigot who hates (fill in the blank–it’s your worldview).”

Today, every side name calls. Read editorials on MSNBC or Fox News. Sure, they can make a few rational points, but most of those points–if not all–are nothing more than carefully couched insults that barely hide the disgust the writer holds for those of an opposing viewpoint. Follow that up by reading the comments to articles. Talk about hate! It doesn’t matter if the poster is right- or left-wing.  If those are too vicious for your stomach to handle, go to ESPN and read the nasty comments between fans. It doesn’t get any better.

I’m not claiming to be above this. I’ve been just as guilty in the past and I continue to fall into that trap today (especially when confronted with idiot drivers! LOL!) and probably will do so until I die. What I am trying to change is my heart. I am trying to love Republicans and Democrats (I am neither), evangelicals and atheists, the NRA and the ACLU. I’ve found that when I know someone personally from a particular group, I can no longer make the blanket claim that everyone from that crowd is wicked and heartless. If I do, I am in a state of hate. To be in a state of love–that is, love for my fellow person–I cannot succumb to the temptation to lash out at those with different worldviews. I need to listen and care.

10 Best Scenes from Lord of the Rings: #1

10 Best Scenes from Lord of the Rings: #1
Click to view video

1. Gollum’s Dual Personality Scene. This was the easiest choice for me. I thought the gollumscene was great in the movie and was amazed at how well the animators had captured both the Smeagol (good Gollum) and the Gollum (evil) sides of the villain’s character. Once the DVD came out and I got to see how motion capture was used and understood the animators were simply transforming Andy Serkis’ performance, I realized why there had been a push to nominate Mr. Serkis for the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award. His performance is phenomenal.

Of course, the scene is not merely a marvelous feat of motion capture/animation, but one of the most moving scenes in the entire trilogy. Smeagol’s victory over his evil persona is a satisfying triumph for the viewer, and sets up his tragic fall when Frodo fails to protect him. Without this scene, Gollum remains a pathetic, spiteful creature. With it, he becomes the empathetic villain Lord of the Rings otherwise lacks, and thus provides a far greater depth to the story.

Most interestingly, this scene–as it is written–exists only in the movie, not in the book. Tolkien certainly hinted at Gollum’s schizophrenia, but it took the writers, the animators, and especially Andy Serkis to bring it to life. This brief video shows a side-by-side clip.

For more on how Andy Serkis and Weta Digital created Gollum, watch this video.

Continue to #2