Ellen Gregory

D&D Chronicles: Chased out of town. Again.

ZILLAH — Royal Rose inn, Lhangessa

D&D CHRONICLESOutside, the distinct trample of the city watch. Squirrel twitches to his feet. Alix throws an apprehensive glance. I’m on my feet too, not quite knowing why, but I’ve drawn my swords.

The door opens and six armed guards storm in, brandishing weapons.

We’ve had a fair few ales, Vaantus, Abra and I. Waiting. Waiting all day for the other three to return from the city of Tel Elenor. They’re a day later than expected and in the middle of telling us why… I can tell from the looks on their faces they haven’t yet got to the important part.

The guards advance. They’re here to arrest us, they say. For harbouring a murderous Vahdrim mage. Squirrel’s fingers twitch again and there’s no denying at least part of that statement as the captain reels back from a magic strike.

Just what the hell happened in Tel Elenor?

dnd roseThe guards continue to advance. The ale is making me brave (perhaps foolish) and I’m advancing too. Abra flings a spell and now he’s also revealed himself as Vahdrim. Brilliant.

Vaantus is yelling at us to stand down, but I’m committed now. I do not want to be dragged before Testerris lawbringers. They don’t seem the type to be reasonable.

I execute a perfect tumble roll onto a table and ram my sword through one of the guards as I come to my feet. Then I take down two more.

Five out of six guards are down (three at my hand) before we realise just what we’ve done. If we weren’t fugitives before, we sure are now. The captain drops his weapon; we drag him with us and flee.

How we got here

It’s almost two weeks since we left the island of Mycross. Alix and I managed to convince the others that getting the box of documents to Abhorran was more important than chasing after Xolra, and the mage kept his end of the bargain. He paid us more or less what was agreed, including passage off the island and several maps of the south and some documents that may help with our quest to find the Right Eye.

For a cut of the documents — and equal share henceforth — Squirrel, Vaantus and Blizzard have agreed to assist us in our quest. We also have a new companion, Abra, a mage who was on Mycross with Blizzard. He seems young and very inexperienced, and very tight with Blizzard. We have all sailed south — past Port Rabat (thankfully) to Lhangessa — to figure out how best to proceed with our mission. But right now we obviously have other problems…

At our insistence, the guard captain takes us to a stableyard, where we appropriate a carriage with two horses harnessed to it. I find myself the designated driver and as we hurtle along the road finally hear the details of what happened in Tel Elenor.

Squirrel, Alix and Blizzard had gone there to sell the dozen books we salvaged from the crater. We figured the Temple of Elloran was our best option, particularly since Alix still had the token of Elloran, guaranteeing aid and good will. The rest of us headed directly to wait in Lhangessa.

All went well, it seems, with the trade. They received almost half as much for the books as we did for the mage documents. But then Squirrel apparently asked for some particular ingredients that alerted the Elloran clerics to his true nature. Since Tel Elenor is completely in the control of the Testerris priests, who are spearheading the persecution of all mages…

Hearing them tell it, I still can’t quite believe they survived. The three of them fought off eight clerics, before fleeing the city. It cost them gold to hide in the back of a farmer’s cart, but they managed to get out. But it seems their descriptions have been widely circulated, which is how we find ourselves in our current predicament.

Carriage chase

I’m getting the hang of driving this carriage, but it’s not long before we hear the inevitable pursuit. I keep going. Not sure there’s much else we can do.

Six riders catch us swiftly, but they don’t appear to have missile weapons, which is a relief. They pull alongside us. I’m concentrating on the road, so I’m not sure what happens, but they seem to be dropping off, one by one, thanks to my companions.

Then I hear we’ve lost Squirrel off the back, so I start to pull up. One of the riders, however, is trying to grab the reins of one of the horses and almost hauls us off the road. It’s touch and go for a few moments, but I manage to keep the carriage under control. Then the rider somehow falls under the same horse’s hooves (over-reaching?) and I almost lose control again.

Almost, but not quite.

Amazingly, we’re still upright and we’ve lost all our pursuers, although I’m pretty sure some of them high-tailed back to the town. It’s definitely not over yet. We are still probably screwed.

After another half-hour, I judge the horses spent and we vacate the carriage. I turn them round and send them back home with my heartfelt thanks. We’ve reached the Broken Forest — a refuge for criminals we’ve been told. Which is what we are now, I suppose. They will expect us to head there. Perhaps they will not follow.

We head across soggy terrain into the trees, just as night is falling.

Read D&D Chronicles.

And at the bottom of my wardrobe I found…

(Or, “Sometimes it pays to be a hoarder”)

In the very near future I’m heading to the Steppes Of Mongolia. To ride a horse. For two whole weeks. Squee!

As you might expect, I’ve been planning what to take for a while now. I don’t ride horses all that often, so I don’t have all the gear. One of the big question marks was over what shoes to wear. I didn’t want to go out and invest in riding boots, but I didn’t seem to have anything that fit the bill.

Except I did.

Have riding boots.

Already.

Not bad for 20 years old?

My RM Williams boots. Not bad for more than 20 years old!

I kid you not. At the bottom of my wardrobe, carefully stored in the original, albeit dusty, box, was a pair of RM Williams riding boots.

RM Williams are an Australian brand — you could say they are the quintessential stockman’s boot. Well made. Hard wearing. Designed for horse riding…

I bought mine back when I was in my early 20s and wore them with jeans for a while. Then, because they weren’t especially comfortable for walking around in, or fashionable, I put them away and forgot about them; but I could never quite bring myself to throw them out.

And now that turns out to be a good thing.

I confess I do have hoarder tendencies. I don’t keep things that are completely useless, but I do find it hard to dispose of items that might prove handy one day… even if ‘one day’ never seems to come around.

(Recently I’ve been eying a stack of ‘gift’ boxes taking up space in my study. I really should get rid of them… I know I should get rid of them. But each of them would make such a great presentation box for a certain kind of present. So there they remain. Waiting.)

The boots I might reasonably have expected never to wear again, having ignored them for more than 20 years. I might reasonably have expected to have got rid of them long ago. Except I didn’t.

And now my decision to keep them has borne fruit! I took them to a bootmaker and got rubber soles fitted over the smooth leather (to give me some friction against the stirrups), and now I’m all set to go.

Not long to wait now!

D&D Chronicles: At the crossroads

Having just completed a fairly hefty mission, some of the party members muse on recent events and what’s going to happen next… and size up their new companions.

SQUIRREL

D&D CHRONICLESStanding on the outskirts of town, I’m at a border between the known and the unknown, on a couple of levels.

We are returned from ranging into the unknown wilderness of the crater of the Vahdrim, the closest I’ve felt to the Vahdrim since my parents left. It was a strange territory compared to the lanes and shanties of my upbringing that I now stand poised to re-enter. There to contact my peers of the shadows to help these new companions.

They are folk unlike any I’ve met: two northerners, a reawakened westerner and a Kaltan war priest of uncertain loyalties. The last makes me typically wary, but these others! Vaantus, who last walked when the Vahdrim were accepted, respected, feared, rather than reviled, mistrusted, hunted to the edge of extinction – oh how his stories excite me.

Alix – clerical, sure, Shadrath being more benign than some – but still, such trust (perhaps naïvety), bestowing the spellbook and copious notes of their fallen comrade upon me. (Can you imagine any in the guild – nay, the entire island – showing such acceptance, such generosity? I can find no ulterior motive, no subterfuge. It’s truly puzzling.) Then the northern ranger Zillah, wisely suspicious but driven to a quest that interests me greatly.

And their patron, probably the most powerful magic user I’ve heard of, is merely days away. Now there’s an opportunity.

This motley crew have garnered more treasure, more magic, than I’ve seen in my life in a mere week. What other glories might they uncover? To not just tolerate but accept, to welcome, a mage into their midst; well, that’s something. Something worth pursuing, methinks, if it lays open the entire world to discovery. A world that has swallowed my parents without a clue…

ALIX

By Shadrath, what is going on? I seem to be forever losing companions, only to have them be replaced by new people who I barely have time to know before they, too, are dead. Is it me?

Calwyn’s death just about broke my heart. We had been travelling together for so long. After my friend Ash died, Cal became a stalwart companion and friend. He wasn’t from my village but he had a good heart and was loyal. And the way he died! Argh, it could not have been a more bitter betrayal. I know it was not Ammonite’s fault and yet, I did blame them. Ammonite felt torn apart for days afterwards and I don’t how they would have fared had they survived the crater. Still, they were a good companion when not bespelled and their absence is felt.

We are out of the accursed crater at last! On our way to meet Abhorran and get on a ship away from this wretched place. There are new faces among us and I am not sure how I feel about them. My fondness for Cal has made me too trusting with the young mage Squirrel and Zillah has had to remind me to be wary a couple of times now.

How will these new acquaintances feel about joining our mission? How do we even begin to tell them what it is?

I miss my friends and feel the need to watch over Zillah all the more closely. My hearth is so very small now. But we are finally leaving and I am relieved.

BLIZZARD

I am no stranger to Vahdrim, but I saw things in that caldera that defy even my belief. Wondrous things, horrific things, and I cannot imagine what they portend. The sight of those winged monstrosities carrying off a person… Even now it makes me shudder.

Perhaps we were naïve when we set out on our adventures – two Vahdrim and one cleric against the world. Long had my companions wanted to journey to Mycross – secret Vahdrim business, they joked. Oh, cursed day we left. Now they are gone, one before we even reached Mycross – and so I sit on my private grief, unwilling to speak of such things.

In Akkaron, we heard tidings of a party of adventurers already on the trail and thought to join them. And so I did, alone by then, bereft of friendship and support. Clearly, they are seasoned and stronger than I, so I don’t understand their animosity, their suspicion. I’ve done nought to hurt them and all I can to aid their cause – yet they make out I’m a monster for wanting treasure. But isn’t that what they seek? At least I do so for a greater cause: the glory of Kaltan. Is it my fault I cannot heal that wretched ranger? If only she were lawful, I could help her. You would think, from her manner, that I withhold my healing just to vex her.

But even in their own party – betrayal. That thieving whore Xolra spilled the blood of our companion. I liked Ragal. Now his corpse demands justice, and I want her head. She must pay for her unlawful acts. Blood for blood: that is the nature of law. And if I cannot demand justice for my lost companions, I can at least insist on it for him.

ZILLAH

As soon as we’ve escaped this cursed island, Alix and I need to resume our quest to prevent the rise of Varrien. At least that’s what I hope we agreed to when we pledged to find the other Eye all those weeks ago. The compulsion to go after the Right Eye continues to gnaw at my gut; but I’m also aware we’re not strong enough alone. With Calwyn, Ammonite and Schill dead, we need help. Magical help. Muscle.

I’ve been weighing up our new companions, trying to figure out whether to tell them about our true quest… what to tell them. I do get the feeling they’re likely to be interested in accompanying us if they perceive enough reward.

Vaantus in particular could probably do with a mission after losing the last 25 years of his life. At the moment, we’re the only friends he has. Squirrel has been dropping hints about needing to get off the island and, although he’s a bit secretive, he hasn’t done anything to piss me off yet. Besides, he’s the only mage I’m even close to trusting.

As for Blizzard… I’m still finding it difficult to trust him, but he’s been keeping his head down and pulling his weight. Even so, the manner in which he found us in the middle of that crater was suspicious. And now he says he arrived with a Vahdrim companion who got killed. I don’t know much about southern customs, but I’m fairly certain clerics of Kaltan don’t typically associate openly with Vahdrim mages. Are not all mages persecuted here? Something just doesn’t add up.

But we have to make a decision, Alix and I. Whether we like it or not, whether we fully trust them or not, we need the aid of these new acquaintances.

I just hope they can understand our quest to defeat Varrien extends far beyond the seeking of mere treasure. Everything we do, every treasure we acquire (including that discovered in the crater), is all for the greater goal of stopping the rise of the goddess of destruction.


Thanks to Jason Nahrung (Squirrel), Tracey Rolfe (Blizzard) and Lita Kalimeris (Alix) for their contributions.

More D&D Chronicles.

Travelling in the 90s: Florence is freezing

Meanwhile, at the tail end of my 1993-1994 adventures, we’re in Italy. Having just experienced the Carnival of Venice, we’re now en route to Firenze.

Welcome to Travelling in the 90s


[Saturday 12 February, 1994] It took over three hours on the train to reach Florence, through lovely rolling hills with villages nestled in the valleys. An accommodation scout brought us to the funniest little place — the kitchen and bathroom appear to be those also used by the family (or whoever lives here), but at the same time there are seven or eight rooms. It’s on the top of a four storey building with three other similar hotels in it. Our room is very comfortable with two beds, heater that works, table and two chairs, with lots of space.

[Sunday 13 February, 1994] Today was our introduction to Florence, and it was not a particularly auspicious beginning. Personally I find Florence rather dull and depressing. This may have something to do with the fact that, being Sunday, all the shops were closed. But what city’s museums are only open until 1:00pm? Just what is one supposed to do after that time?

Of course Florence has other attractions (such as the Uffizi Gallery) that are open until later during the week (just not Sundays)… HOWEVER, absolutely nothing is open on Mondays.

We didn’t pick very good days to come to Florence, I’m afraid.

Admittedly we started off badly, missing the 8:30 alarm and surfacing at around 10:00. This resulted in a hasty departure by 10:30 without breakfast and coffee. We went to the Pitti Palace, which houses about 8 museums and adjoins the Renaissance Boboli Gardens.

florence rooftopsWe chose to see the galleria del costume, which proved to be extremely interesting, as apart from various dresses of different periods, it exhibited reconstructed garments of the Medicci family. This included an account (in English) of how they reconstructed all the pieces — fascinating. We then wandered around (up and down) the Boboli Gardens for a while, viewing the red rooftops of Florence from a number of vantage points.

After the Boboli Gardens it was 1:00pm, so of course nothing more was open except for the Duomo (free). So while on the south side of the Arno River we checked out the “piazza de Michaelangelo”, named for the huge copy of David in the midst of a carpark on top of a hill (which we felt compelled to climb) offering a lovely view of Florence.

florence country wallBy this time we were starving and it was at about at this point (2:00pm) that disgust with Florence seeped in. Surely there must be a market for relatively cheap food in Florence? All we could find were heaps of cafes with table service etc… We wandered around for about an hour, until we finally found a snack bar just around the corner from our lodging, and ate heartily and wholesomely within the warm cocoon of the cafe.

I should mention here that today was FREEZING. The wind was bitter.

florence duomoAfter lunch we of course came across three other snack bars — that’s how it goes. We then wandered into the Duomo — all rather impressive on the outside with its pink/white/green marble facade, but typically churchy and almost dull on the inside.

Thoroughly freezing, tired, grumpy and bored, we got lost on the way back to our hotel and spent the rest of the afternoon in bed with books. Our “home”-cooked dinner of spag-bol was delish, and there’s enough for tomorrow night as well. yum yum.

[Tuesday 15 February, 1994] Yesterday we had lots of fun. Since Florence is dead on Mondays we went shopping — although it turned out that the only reason the market itself was open on a Monday was because it happened to be Valentines Day. In any case, we wandered around in the freezing cold, trying on leather jackets. I was after a brown-ish suede blazer-style jacket — and the first one was gorgeous! But I could hardly buy the first I tried on. Even though the man seemed very concerned that we understood he had NOT doubled the price of the jackets just so that he could halve them. Hmmm.

One guy at one of the stalls said: “Australian? You’re looking for something in brown suede.” I stared at him blankly until he said that all Australians wanted brown suede. Very amusing.

Eventually H tried on one she liked, then they finally brought out one I liked, and offered us a good deal for two. I checked the seams and the leather and the button-holes and the way it hung, and was satisfied. It’s impossible to say whether we got a good deal or not, but I don’t think we were ripped off. We are both feeling very pleased with ourselves.

florence fountainThis morning we went to the Uffizi Gallery. I had been especially looking forward to this because Florence is supposed to be the art capital of the world. When we got there at about 10:00am we waited in a 20 minute queue and it cost about aus$10.

We were disappointed to discover that owing to the bombing a while ago, only the top floor of the gallery was open. This took all of an hour and a half to see. They showed us some of the paintings that had been restored after the bomb, but most of what we saw were marble busts and statues, and paintings of the Madonna and Bambino or the holy family — too much of the latter gets rather tedious.

Nevertheless, we DID see the Botticelli room which was fantastic, brilliant, marvellous. I’ve decided I’m a big Botticelli fan. I crashed an English art history class and learnt about the “style” of his “Annunciation” compared with Leonardo’s — fascinating. I also saw “Birth of Venus”, “Allegory to Spring” and various others — a whole room devoted to him! Unfortunately only one Titian and a Michelangelo. Very sad.


Ah yes, methinks I need to go back to Florence in nicer weather, because I know so many people who love it and I just… didn’t.

Please share your Florence stories in the comments, happy or sad.

(Always apologies about the crummy photos from back then.)

Journal ~ update on words, books, journeying

Words…

In the last several months I haven’t talked too much (in fact, at all) about the novel revision I’m (still) working on. This is because it’s taken me a while to conquer ‘the middle section’, which has been nipped and tucked and rearranged and tweaked… and then some more…

I’ve been enjoying myself, though. Aside from the sense of time tick-ticking by too fast, I’ve been working steadily and regularly (mostly in cafes) and making things better. It’s now structured in 5 acts, which feels right, and I’ve finally reached the end of what is now the third (middle and longest) act.

This leaves me poised at the start of the run to the end. Which (of course) I’m looking at pretty much rewriting, because the first draft was too complicated and long and bloated. So I’m currently in a brainstorming and mulling and planning phase. Lots of notes.

Gee, I’m looking forward to the time I can get things more right the first time.


Books…

I’m not blogging all my reading this year, but I haven’t stopped. In fact, I’ve read about 60 books since the start of January, some of them novellas, some re-reads, but mostly not. (OMG)

When I was kid I used to read a lot, but there were parental controls back then… I wasn’t allowed to read all day on the weekend, or all night, or during classes at school (even if I sometimes pushed the boundaries). Now I have no one to regulate me.

So… reading on the weekend when I’m supposed to be vacuuming (or something) is fair game. As is reading until 6am. And even reading during the work day if I don’t have too much to do. (The joys of a flexible self-employed lifestyle.)

It’s got to the point where I’m now trying to wean myself off reading. Yep. Ironic to say the least. Sometimes I wonder why I can’t do things by halves.


Journeying…

The other major focus of the last few months has been planning my imminent trip to Mongolia. It’s less than six weeks away now, and I’m suddenly wondering what I’ve forgotten… passport (check), visa (check), vaccinations (check), shewee (check), pen with light (on order), dry shampoo (still need to try that out).

After our initial practice trail ride some weeks ago, we were intending to fit in another, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to work out. No matter. We figure what will be, will be. How much more ‘prepared’ would a single ride make us anyway?

However, I have started Pilates in the past few weeks, with a focus on strengthening the muscles I’ll need for horse riding: core, inner thighs, glutes etc. Pilates is waaaay more technical than I ever realised, but I think it’s going to be great if today’s session is anything to go by. I am so looking forward to this trip.

And… that’s a quick wrap of where things are at in my world.

D&D Chronicles: We pull off the retrieval mission but are betrayed

ZILLAH

D&D CHRONICLESThis crater expedition has been long and bloody and we have lost dear companions — but finally we have discovered the treasures we were seeking. They will never be worth three lives (what could ever be worth that?) but I’m so relieved we have something to show for the high price we have paid.

Tonight we rest inside the Palace of Spires — that mysterious building behind the enormous hedge — having finally retrieved the scrolls and documents we came for and discovered many other items of value as well.

The Palace of Spires

The palace is a marvel. Beautiful. All bright air and carved marble. It is definitely a mage’s palace, though, and I fear we would not have made it very far today without our new friend, Squirrel.

There can be no doubt after today that Squirrel has mage blood, although he has tried to keep it hidden. But it was Squirrel alone who could pass unchallenged through the great doors into the palace. And Squirrel alone who could activate certain portals within.

Before the rest of us could enter the palace, we had to defeat a pair of guardians made of whirling wind. They were terribly hard to hit and poor Vaantus was almost slain, but in the end we prevailed. Blizzard made some ground in gaining party trust by helping Vaantus (although it might have been a ploy).

Inside the palace of spires, we explored the three floors thoroughly and discovered many items — weapons, armour, objects, books and potions — of great value.

The documents and scrolls we sought were not in fact here; but we found instructions and information as to their location.

We find what we were looking for

We knew immediately where we needed to go next — back to the wooden door we found in the rim of the caldera during our earlier explorations. Armed with a knock spell to open the door, we finally discovered a crate of magical documents, preserved here for 25 years. And some other magical loot.

It’s so hard to believe our quest is almost over. I am desperate to get out of this awful place, but that is for tomorrow. It’s been a big day, so tonight, after divvying up all the treasures among our party of seven, we rest.

That is, most of us rest. Squirrel is sitting by himself in the corner poring over a large book he found in the library (he was so excited), muttering and writing into another large volume. I believe he is learning new spells…

I cannot help but wonder what the cleric of Kaltan thinks about this.

Betrayed

Xolra has murdered Ragal. It’s too horrifying. We all thought they were friends, but she stitched him up and stole from us as well.

We were all leaving the crater this morning (thank you, blessed Emrys, for seeing me and Ash through this campaign), hauling the crate of documents and other heavy stuff on a magical floating disk; but we decided to make one last attempt to find Brynn. We assume he’s dead, but I felt we owed it to him to find out for sure.

So we stowed all our extra gear in the mage stronghold at the entrance to this crater (so close to getting out of here!) and set off for one final search. Xolra and Ragal waited, supposedly to guard our gear, and Alix left her pack with them as well.

But we returned (unsuccessful) to the stronghold to find Ragal sprawled out dead on the floor, multiple sword wounds all over him. And much much blood.

Pursuit through the night

All the weapons comprising Xolra and Ragal’s share were gone, along with some extra armour that was ours and a couple of potions from Alix’s pack. As far as we could make out, Xolra was carrying the full load herself, so she couldn’t have been travelling very fast. She had about a five-hour head-start, but we decided to pursue.

We made it through the caverns and finally finally got out into the fresh air and natural forest (oh it’s wonderful to be out of that cursed crater). And then I tracked that bitch through the forest until it got dark. And then I took a dark vision potion and we kept going into the night.

Eventually, we arrived at a path and clear evidence of a horse-drawn wagon. Dammit! An accomplice! At this point, it felt like we weren’t far behind at all — no more than an hour.

Alix was really struggling to keep up by then, so she and Squirrel waited with our heavy gear, while Vaantus, Blizzard and myself ran on after that wagon. We ran for hours, but we didn’t catch it.

In the end, we gave up and trudged back to rejoin Alix and Squirrel. We are so pissed off and upset about poor Ragal. Squirrel is now saying he didn’t actually know them well at all, but that such behaviour doesn’t tend to go down well with the local thieves guild.

Glad to hear it. I hope she meets the pointy end of someone’s dagger sometime soon.

So what do we do now?

We have a couple of days to get back to meet up with Abhorran, the mage who sent us on this expedition. He seems to have dealt with us fairly until now, so I can only hope he continues to do so and takes these magical documents off our hands for a fair price.

The last thing we need in this part of the world is to be discovered carrying all this illegal magical and weapons contraband. I’m hoping Squirrel’s local contacts will be able to help us there. It’s in his best interests too.

Also, the lawbringers could still be hunting for Alix and me, a price on our heads. And now that Xolra has shown her true colours, she could prove to be a problem.

Travelling in the 90s: The Carnival of Venice

We’re into the final two weeks of our 1993-1994 (Travelling in the 90s) adventure (back when I was a true natural blond — check out the photo). Venice was our first stop in Italy and undoubtedly one of the highlights. I can’t tell you how many exclamation marks I had to remove from the following extract from my original travel diary.

By complete serendipitous coincidence, we landed in Venice smack bang in the middle of Carnival. Oh. My. God.


[Friday 11 February, 1994] Well, today was Venice. There is simply no other way — no way at all — to describe it. Venice is the most beautiful city I have ever seen.

The overnight train from Nice got in just after 9:00am. A guy in our cabin informed us that Venice was in carnival and that all the rooms would be booked… Naturally we became rather apprehensive about accommodation, because we’d had no idea. Thus when we jumped off the train and were offered a double room for one night only in a small pension for 70,000 lira (~$70) we took it straight away.

Thank heavens we did too, for I’d not have missed the Venice carnival for the world — and it transpired that the pension was quite close to Piazza San Marco and the very hub of the carnival.

There are so many things to describe about today. The man at the station put us on a vaporetto with directions, and we sat in the very front of the boat. Thus Venice was first introduced to us as we glided down the Grand Canal on a sunny blue morning.

Venice - Grand Canal

Venice – Grand Canal

It is one of the most magical things I have ever experienced — my heart was singing.

Now that sounds so corny, but I was so uplifted that I cannot describe it any better. The city is beautiful (I repeat myself!). The buildings are very old and often in severe disrepair, but there is something about water which makes everything beautiful. I can only hope that some of the many photos taken today can do the place justice. Today, Paris fades into nothing.

We found our hotel easily enough and deposited our bags, then we went out to explore. How lucky we are to have chosen now to come to Venice, because the carnival is the most amazing thing!

The basis of it appears to be costume — and in fact one of the first things that struck us about Venice was that every second shop was entirely devoted to masks. There are thousands of them, literally. And of all sorts: painted porcelain, leather, papier mache, sequin-covered, all sorts of interesting fabrics etc. Any possible conceivable mask could be found in Venice somewhere.

Venice - Masks

Venice – Masks

The costumes worn by people throughout the city (but mainly around the Piazza San Marco) were also extremely elaborate. Many of them appeared to be concoctions of tulle, rich fabrics, sequins — set off with plain white masks. But there were also Renaissance figures, medieval figures, young D’Artagnons, richly-dressed ladies of the past etc. Anything was conceivable.

The Piazza SM was very crowded, consisting mainly of huddles of people frantically taking photos of costumed figures, who seemed to spend all day walking a few paces and then stopping to pose serenely for at least ten minutes.

Venice costumes

Venice – Carnival costumes

Aside from those glorious costumes, there was street entertainment — mainly music by bands from all over Europe (it seemed). One German band played medieval-style music while dancing around and being generally silly. We spent quite a bit of time wandering through the crowds, admiring costumes, listening to music and absorbing atmosphere.

Venice gondolaWe also wandered around the ‘streets’ of Venice, which consisted entirely of pedestrians and bridges over the canals. We were waylaid by a Gondolier at one stage, and succumbed to a 40 minute gondola ride. (Well, it has to be done doesn’t it?) We also had the privilege of training a new gondolier — he needs a bit more practice! In any case, we thoroughly enjoyed our gondola ride — the near-silent lapping of the waters against the side and the dip of the oar in the water, as we glided through some of the smaller canals.

Afterwards, we found and photographed the Bridge of Sighs. By this time we were so starving that we blew our food budget on dinner. I had pizza, H pasta — with bread and water. Hmmm. Tomorrow it will be bread and cheese again!

Venice canal[Saturday 12 February, 1994] We got up at 8:30am (how funny that now we’re on the road we can do so easily!) and packed and left. For breakfast we had yoghurt and banana on the banks of the Grand Canal, while further costumed merrymakers passed us by. It was all rather lovely.

We then caught the number one vaporetto to the train station, where we booked a train ride to Firenze (Florence) and deposited our packs in the luggage store. We then set about finding souvenirs — for Venice hit us hard and we will never be the same again. Venice has DEFINED the word ‘masquerade’ for me, and that is how I will always remember it.

We were distracted from our battle with the scores of Saturday tourists who had flocked to the carnival, by a group of four English actors performing in comic style a version of Richard III in four (4) languages (English, German, French and Italian). They really were hysterical and very clever. Lunch took place on the steps of the station, and then we took the train to Florence.


Okaaay, so I was just a little bit excited… Next stop in 1994 is Florence, where we are considerably more subdued.

In preparation for the steppes of Mongolia where there be horses

There’s a rumor going around that my next big adventure will be in Mongolia. Horse trekking in Mongolia. On the steppes. The steppes of Mongolia. On horseback. With horses. For two weeks. (And then some.)

Except it isn’t a rumor.

It’s tremendously exciting. The scenery should be amazing, the culture fascinating — and, oh, the adventure!

For me an added bonus is the experiential research a two-week horse trek (with camping, no electricity and no showers — eek) will give me. For someone who writes fantasy with horses, this is going to be the ultimate research expedition.

Of course, there are a few practicalities to consider… Am I an experienced rider? No. I’ve been on a horse several times, maybe as many as ten times in my life, but I definitely consider myself to be inexperienced. (But maybe I’ll have characters with as little experience — right?)

A great many people have looked worried and asked how much riding I’m going to do beforehand. A little, I say. I know I’m going to be sore. It’s all part of the experience.

Having said that, I’m not entirely averse to a little preparation…

So today I went on a two-hour trail ride

Yes, that’s two hours, not two weeks or even two days. And even so, I am a little, er, weary.

horses1

The lovely horses at Hepburn Lagoon Trailrides

I rode a beautiful horse called Wilson at Hepburn Lagoon Trailrides, near Ballarat. He liked to be right up the front. He also liked to walk right up snug to the horse that was supposed to be leading. He was a good horse — trotted and cantered when he was supposed to, and most importantly stopped when I asked him to. Good horse.

We had two ‘dramatic’ incidents (almost). First, when he stumbled quite badly and I could have gone over his head. Second, when the horse next to him shied and we got shoved aside rather abruptly. I managed not to fall off both times. Yay me.

This ride was very much a trial run. I am expecting it to reveal which parts of me are going to hurt the most (presently I ache all over with weariness, but there is no real pain… yet). It’s also highlighted a few bits of gear that could be useful — such as riding gloves and elastic straps to keep my sunglasses on.

Over the course of two hours I made some progress with my trotting technique, although it’s still far from mastered, and managed most of the time to hold the reins correctly. But I figure after two weeks, I’ll be a pro!

horse-scratching

Wilson scratches his head

When we got back to the yard and dismounted, Wilson scratched his head all over me, which was kind of funny. I choose to think this was his way of saying thank you. (Or maybe good bye and good riddance?)

We had fabulous weather and it made for a spectacular day. The people — both staff and other participants — were lovely and there’s a good chance we’ll return for a longer ride — all part of the preparation.

Meanwhile, I’m sure that tomorrow I will ache.

D&D Chronicles: The Green Man

Recap:

D&D CHRONICLESOur party has spent the past couple of weeks (game time) stumbling around a tiny island, summoned by a mage who wants us to retrieve certain magical scrolls from a secret stronghold inside a forested volcanic crater. The first time we attempted this, we lost our mage, Calwyn. Then we tried to leave the island, but were shipwrecked (and rescued). We’re now back in the ensorcelled crater with new companions, including an odd little rogue-type called Squirrel, but unfortunately our fighter, Ammonite was recently killed by centaurs.

As things stand, we’ve been looking for the ‘green man’ to help us heal the forest, and a set of four leaf-shaped keys to gain admittance to a large building (surrounded by a magic hedge) in which we hope to find the magical scrolls. We’ve also lost track of our rogue, Brynn, who swam off and did not return…

And we need to be back in the port town to catch a ship leaving in around 8 days.


ZILLAH

Maybe if I roll into a tight little ball and close my eyes everything will go back to the way it was before. That’s what I feel like doing. It’s night, I’m camped with strangers at the edge of crater lake, and I want to go home.

OK, Alix is here. My only northern friend. And Ash has his warm head on my thigh. The others are strangers.

There is a man called Blizzard, who is pushy, always asking about treasure. He waltzed up to us at around midday, calm rude as you like, saying he’d heard there was an expedition on for treasure and he wanted in. The presumptuous red-haired git wears the symbol of Kaltan, and acts exactly like he’s sworn to the god of war. I do not trust him at all.

There is also Vaantus, whose slumber we disturbed in the Palace (flying book meet blue nimbus of light). Turns out he’s a fighter sworn to the mages, but they put him to sleep and left him here for 25 years. He’s more than a little pissed and confused… but for all that not a bad sort. And he says he can cook.

Brynn is not here. If we can believe Blizzard (and I’m not entirely convinced of that) he saw a figure that could have been Brynn being carried off by giant wasps. Alas, after our encounter with the wasps the other day, I fear this is all too likely to be true. Surely if Brynn were all right, he would have found us by now?

We burned Ammonite’s remains this afternoon, so at least one duty is discharged. But I have a mind to avenge my fallen companion tomorrow.

And now Ash’s ears twitch and I can hear it too… Rustling in the forest as something approaches. A glorious large brown bear. We’re on our feet, weapons ready, but I don’t attack and thankfully the others don’t either, because trailing behind the bear is a decrepit figure who can only be the green man we have been searching for.

Vaantus recognises him as a former mage from the days when they were experimenting here, but the man’s wits are addled and he seems fixated on extracting from me in particular information about ‘the broken forest’. All I want are the cursed leaf-shaped keys around his neck, but our attempts to persuade him to give them to us prove futile and he shambles off again, shadowed by his bear.

Vengeance is sweet

I managed to find the green man’s hut in the forest today. His clearing is warded magically, and overgrown with several varieties of strange vegetation that I do not like at all. We tried to talk to him again, tried to figure out what will make him give us the keys around his neck.

The Eye of Varrien meant nothing to him. (Oh, blessed Emrys, how are Alix and I to complete our quest for the other Eye with all our companions dead?) But he did seem interested in news of the city of Tel Marrenor, deep in the broken forest (where we believe the other Eye to be). In fact, he had the nerve to ask us to go to the broken forest, gather a lichen sample and bring it back for him to study. Right.

He still refused to give us his keys. Told us to go get our own leaves.

I am so sick of this place. It has cost us far too much.

There was one highlight of the day. For lack of any other ideas, we cleared out the centaur forest. There were only three of the poor creatures left after Ammonite’s mighty effort the other day. They’d constructed some pit traps as defences, but damn it felt good to brush their arrows aside and drive them back into their overgrown stables.

I finally got a chance to use one of my exploding beads, which collapsed the dilapidated building on their heads, killing one. Then we hacked through the rotting timbers and took out the last creature swiftly.

We found Ammonite’s gear. It was some consolation to retrieve certain magical items and weapons. I would much rather have Ammonite back.

We get our own leaves

We spent another day and a half stumbling about this crater looking for something, anything (found more giant wasps, pixies, bears, doors with passwords, no sign of Brynn), before Vaantus and Squirrel came up with the idea we should maybe try actual leaves in the key plate. I thought no way would this work.

Turns out I was wrong.

We collected a pile of leaves, laid them on the appropriate slots, and have been promptly whisked… somewhere. To the other side of the hedge? Somewhere else entirely?

I have no idea where we are at present, other than a well-maintained ornamental garden, complete with flowerbeds, manicured lawns and a duck pond. There is a building here and another key plate (lucky we collected many leaves).

Is there where we will find the scrolls we came in search of?

It feels good to be making progress finally, but I am still uneasy, forced to work with new companions I do not know or trust.

I miss Calwyn and Ammonite. I miss my cousin Schill. I even miss Brynn a little bit, although he was from around here and I did not know him long.

I feel so very far from home.

Musings on secret preview TV viewing versus feedback reading

I’ve done my fair share of reading and providing feedback on short stories and novels over the years. It’s much easier to be objective and analytical about someone else’s work — all in the name of being constructive and helpful, of course.

In such cases you know the author will take onboard some suggestions, discard others, depending on how it aligns with their grand vision or whether there’s consensus. Because everyone is unique, responds to stories differently.

What is clear to one reader will be confusing to another. Plot holes may only be glaringly obvious to a tenth of your audience (although a tenth is probably still too many). Some readers will happily go the journey and trust something will be explained; others have less patience.

Whatever happens, it’s up to the author to revise and play with the words on the page. No one else needs to get involved.

It was recently impressed upon me that it’s not quite so ‘straightforward’ in television and film.

This week I attended a secret preview screening of a new Australian TV mini-series that’s in post production, scheduled to hit local screens later this year. Having signed a non disclosure agreement, I cannot say anything about the show itself. But I can talk about the interesting experience of providing feedback in this very different medium.

The production team had assembled a small group of about 15 people (referred to as ‘civilians’, by which I think they meant non TV industry) and sat us down to watch the first two episodes of a six-part series.

After each episode, we filled out a questionnaire on issues such as pacing, characters, logic, clarity of plot etc. Most of it was exactly the same sort of feedback authors ask for. I was right in my element!

Except, as I filled out my answers, I couldn’t help feeling perturbed by the fact that the scenes had already been shot, with actors. Going through my mind was the recurring question of how much they could actually change at this point?

They emphasised that it wasn’t a final edit, and I’m aware there’s probably tons of footage currently on the cutting room floor. But… what if it’s a story hole and there’s simply no way of fixing it without reshooting some scenes? Or what if it’s just bad acting?

I should say at this point that these thoughts were hypothetical about the industry, rather than specific to the particular show in question. But I certainly wasn’t holding back with my comments (which were mostly positive) or hesitating to make suggestions, just as I would if it were simply words on the page.

Following the questionnaires, an objective facilitator led us in a group discussion for about half an hour, which went much as a group critique of a story does — different people picking up things I hadn’t noticed, or didn’t necessarily agree with. Debating what things meant, what might happen next. All very familiar.

But when you get a group going like that, it’s inevitable they end up ‘rewriting the script’ so to speak (as one participant jokingly said). How do the producers weed out the real value from this type of feedback, when so much of it is obviously not feasible? How do they identify the gold?

I will be really interested to see the final cut of the show when it’s aired later this year, just to see how much it changes. To see how much it can change at such a late phase of production.

The whole experience has given me a new appreciation of the TV and film industry — as in just how many people have an input into the final product. How many instruments need to be tuned before music is made.

It makes the solitary art of fiction writing seem unbearably simple. Although I know it’s NOT — and this is because the author has to effectively play and tune all the instruments herself!

In any case, I’m certainly interested to see the rest of the show… a mere two episodes out of six, kind of sucks.