I’m on Plan C or D, Now

I have made something of a habit of following up on pieces I’ve written before–as witness “Another Office Piece” and “Still Another Office Piece.” Another such witness is “My Revised Plan B” in How to Succeed in College: It’s Never Too Late! Part Two for Adult Learners, which is itself an extension of a paper I wrote in my first year of graduate school. In the original paper, I note that pursuing the study of English languages and literatures was a fall-back from my initial plan of being a band director when I grew up; it was a thing I did because I had failed in my intent. In the published revision, I note the ways in which that failure worked to my benefit–and some of them are still true. For example, I am still happily married to the wonderful woman I met in grad school, and I am still bringing in additional money through the skills I developed through studying the liberal arts–although it never seems to be enough.

But there are other things about which I am somewhat less sanguine. As I’ve commented, my academic job search did not go well–at all. I am still teaching part-time at one school, and it looks like that will be about all; I abortively work on pieces for the Tales after Tolkien Society, but most of my scholarly effort is not. I cling to the teaching job out of a combination of stubborn unwillingness to completely abandon what I spent too long attempting–much as I still own instruments and pretend to have ideas about music–and the fact that the job offers me a way to bring in extra money for my family, but I harbor no illusion that it will be anything other than a side-line pursuit for me. (I do still torture myself by looking at academic job listings from time to time. I should not, I know, and I know that a PhD earned in 2012 and not supported by substantial publication since does not suit me for the declining number of jobs being offered.)

No, what I do now is far more mundane; I work as an administrative assistant for a local non-profit. The job is a good one. I have regular hours and ample time to pursue my side-line incomes. (My rates are reasonable, my performance excellent. You can give here.) I am helping people to help people, making their jobs easier so that they can do more for those in need of the agency’s services, and I have actual promotion potential–explicitly and overtly. The pay could be better, of course, and there are always things about a job that annoy, but I have a robust holiday schedule and a supportive set of coworkers, so things are pretty nice, overall. I know I am lucky to be in the situation, to have found a decent, steady job in the world outside academia after more than a year since moving back to Texas and 130 applications for full-time work in that time. I am in a reasonably good position at the moment (although I know it is precarious), and I know it.

At the same time, I am following up on earlier pieces, and I do have to note that there is some mismatch between what I was supposed to do and what I am doing. I was supposed to find an academic job, one that offered promotion potential and would allow me to live the life of the mind as a more-or-less full-time thing. (I know that the professoriate has committee and governance work to attend to, and that there are other concerns associated with the work, but still…) Indeed, several people I know in academe have expressed shock and dismay at the fact that I am not in the field–which is flattering, to be sure, but serves to highlight that I have “fallen.”

And it is hard not to think of the job I have now, one that I would have been able to do out of high school, as in some ways a fall, as in some ways another failure. Again, I know that the job is a good one, and I know I am lucky to have it, and I am grateful that I do have it–but I cannot help but feel that I have wasted parts of my life. I met my wife the first day I was in my master’s program, after all; the PhD did not make me love her any more, and I am not sure that it has done as much to help me maintain my family as it cost us for me to earn it. My student loan debt is smaller than that many hold, and I have paid on it long (with the accompanying benefit to my credit rating, if not to my bank accounts), but it is still nearly the equal of two years’ pay for me–with a job that I did not need to take on the debt load to qualify for. And I field the question, time and again, of why I am not teaching at some level as a full-time thing, why I have settled for the job I have or deigned to take it–not least from the people with whom I work and who have hired me, and who use such words or close enough as makes no difference.

Once again, I know that matters are reasonably good for me at the moment, and that they could be far worse, and I am not unmindful that I have what I have. But when I look at how matters stand with me, and I look at how they might have stood by looking at others next to whom I have stood, for months or years at a time, I have to think that, despite the great value of what I have, the price I paid for it was far higher and that I was a fool to let myself be led into making such a bargain when there was no need. And after spending more of my life than not in the pursuit of living a life of the mind, I have to regard being fooled as a failure–and since my plan B in English has failed, I have to hope that I can at least squeeze by on the C or D where I find myself now.

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A Somewhat Belated Take on Singular They

I know that I am late in speaking to an issue that has been addressed repeatedly and by many people who are in better position to do so than am I: singular they. Still, I do continue to teach and I am asked to be explicit and specific in promulgating specific standards of usage as I do so, so I do have reason to think about such things–in addition to the one that has prompted the present rumination.

In the interest of offering context, the issue of the singular they is that the pronoun in question, traditionally defined as exclusively the third-person plural, is increasingly being used as a singular pronoun–and that the use is being increasingly condoned by agencies and groups that have long been looked to as arbiters of “good style” and “the rules” by which language is supposed to work. As such, the phenomenon of the singular they has occasioned no small amount of condemnation–both by prescriptivists and those taught by them, who hold that the singular they is an abrogation of rules both ancient and sacred, and by descriptivists who look at the condemnations by prescriptivists as emblematic of the failures of such positions.

For the record, I tend to take more of a descriptivist position than a prescriptivist, owing in part to dimly remembered lessons taken during my abortive attempt to become a band director when I grew up (musical “rules” have grown up in much the same way that orthographic “rules” have, with many of the same problems) and in part to my own, more extensive (but maybe not more successful), study of historical Englishes. I confront often the fact that the language changes, and I try not to be one of the curmudgeons who have throughout history complained about cildas þissum dægum and yelled at them to afliehaþ gearde min (or words to that effect). And I recognize the fact that guidelines of “correctness” are used as rubrics to shut out people who might otherwise contribute well to broader discourses and the betterment of us all, functioning as perceived shorthand for intelligence and human worth. (Neither is truly the case.)

There are many who continue to rail against the construction for not better reason than that was the way they were taught English should be used–as if they were ever taught a “perfect” form that was not itself subject to decry by the grumpy elders of its own time, and, in many cases, as if they themselves deployed exemplary use of that form on anything resembling a consistent basis. (While I know that being wrong does not make identification of wrong impossible, I also know that it argues against sufficient knowledge to accurately assess what is and is not wrong, as a given standard would have it.) There are also many reasons to be okay with the singular they, as others have articulated and with which I tend to agree, maugre the heads of those who complain.

Which leads, at last, to the idea that has prompted me to write now. For in my current primary job (because, like many millennials, I have to have more than one to meet my bills), I work with protected health information. By ethical standards and by law, that information must be kept private–and if it must be discussed, it must be discussed with the minimum possible disclosure. To put it another way, the information I have about my organization’s clients must be kept as anonymous as can be–and that would call for the singular they.

Leaving aside the many other problems with a language that admits overtly of only two genders–and there are many, more than can be treated in the present piece–there is the issue that, in speaking of a client’s information with a masculine or feminine attached, there is some abrogation of that client’s privacy, however small. Given the right circumstances, a slipped “he” or “she” can reveal an identity, either affirming it or excluding it, and in neither case is the client’s privacy as protected as it ought to be.

The singular they gets around the problem, however. By eliding expressed gender–which is something that modern English tracks only loosely  in any event–the singular they eliminates one more item of identifying information from any discussion of clients whose information is to be protected. And while the argument could be made that the “correct” third-person singular personal pronoun–it–does the same, common usage practice continues to connect “it” to the inhuman. That is, calling a person “it” dehumanizes that person, which is not an appropriate course of action for them to take who purport to care for others. Additionally, in the case of such work as I do, working with populations whose members already suffer under a dehumanizing onus–because those who struggle with addiction are looked down upon by many–reference to clients as “it” would add to already-existing problems, however slightly, and those whom I serve need have no more burdens than they currently bear.

I know that I could refer to “the client” or to “clients.” I know that I could put all references into the plural. I know I could use s/he or “he or she” or some permutation thereof. But I also know that the language is what people use it to be, and that the singular they economizes words and accords more and more with prevailing popular use–as well as making parts of my work easier, allowing me to focus more on the central portions of the work to be done.

Still Another Office Piece

It has happened again that I have moved into another office. This time, however, was not simply relocating across a campus; instead, it was relocating off of that campus entirely. The anxiety about non-renewal I voice in an earlier pieceNote ended up being validated; I was not invited to teach at Schreiner again for the Fall 2017 term, and so I ended up moving out of AC Schreiner 207. The fact that I had not extended so much of myself into the space ended up being an advantage, as having unpacked less meant I had less to pack up–but it was still quite the chore to move boxes and boxes of books from the office down stairs and to my car.

Where they went to was not another academic office, as such. I yet retain my cubicle at DeVry University in San Antonio, to be sure, but I keep there only what I need to teach there–which is not much. A few textbooks, a style manual, and some assorted paperwork remain in place, largely so I need not carry things back and forth, but I am not on the DeVry campus enough to need to have more things present. I am, however, able to have an office in my home at long last, something for which I have hoped for a long time. Even if it is not my imagined ideal–and it is not, to be sure–it is a great comfort to me, and I am able to do quite a bit because I have it.

The new office occupies most of one end of my home, taking up what was a bedroom; the closet in it gives away its original function. It is a smallish room, some ten feet by ten, perhaps, and it sports only a single window that I generally keep blinded and curtained against the often-intense Hill Country sunlight. (Being at the end of the house, its ventilation is not as forceful as it might be, and keeping the sun out helps keep it bearable. An ever-running oscillating fan does, too.) A large wooden shelf left by a previous occupant currently graces one wall and holds up things I have been given or have gotten for myself over years of being a nerd; it rises over bookshelves my father helped me build and that hold other evidence of my decades-long nerdiness. It is a place in my home, one in which I need not worry that I am the person I am, and so I can afford to extend that part of myself into the outside world, to allow it to be embodied and displayed.

At the same time, though, I have to acknowledge it as a problematic space. I’ve not got my honors and awards on the walls as I did in other offices I’ve had, so the strange tension of justified pride and insecurity I’ve addressed elsewhere is not present–or it is at least less pronounced than it has been. But it is circumscribed by its smaller size; I still have not been able to unpack many of the books I would have in it, nor yet other pieces of writing that I might like to have ready to hand. And the furnishings I have in it, cobbled together from pieces inherited from one place or another, remind me that I am in a makeshift space. My identity as a scholar has been confirmed as contingent by the circumstances of my employment; a full-time continuing position in academia does not seem to be available to me, although I continue to work part-time at DeVry, and I may be picking up some teaching work at another university in a coming term. My contingency, my slap-dash and partial existence as a scholar is reinforced by the haphazard nature of my office’s accoutrements, though; I work in the room, and I am glad that my family allows me the room, but I am reminded by that room of what I have lost–and what I might have had.

Still, it is what I have, and it is allowing me to assert again the identity I have had at my root these many years. I got into scholarship in large part from having done–and desiring to do more of–what Mark Edmundson calls for in his 2009 Profession piece “Against Readings”; I entered the scholarly life in part because I had befriended texts and wanted to be a better friend to them. (I also entered it because of failure, in some senses, but I’ve discussed that elsewhere.) I made my attempt at participating in academe because I have always been a lover of reading, and I remained at that attempt longer than I ought to have because I had become by then a lover of writing. Having the office I have now, troubled as it may be, is allowing me to move back into the warm embrace I once knew and am only beginning to realize had been achingly absent from my life; it is filling a hole I had not known had been dug in me and through me. And I think it shows in that I seem to be doing more scholarship and better from the ragged edge of academe than I did while I was trying to burrow deeper into it, worming through the pages to arrive at some putative core that I do not know is even there anymore.

How long I will be in the present office is unclear to me; I seem to be going through them more and more rapidly, anymore. I can hope, however, that I will have the opportunity to set it as I would have it, so far as the room allows, and to get something out of seeing inside myself. For if the office I have is an extension of myself into the outside world, it must surely show something about me; I can hope that it will be something worth seeing.

I am not writing this as a sample for students so much as for my own need to carry forward an idea I have played with for some time. As such, I am not worrying as much about the formal demands of scholarly citation as I might otherwise do. Return to text.

Points of Departure, Chapter 31

Continued from the previous chapter, here, and with apologies for the delay.

𝔗he mail-clad man looked agog at the green-clad man he followed. “This cannot be the same place we left,” he said, “for the very air is different, and none of the people are the same. The ground has changed, as well, for I saw no stone roads where we trod before, and I stand on such a one now–yet how could one have been laid so quickly?”

“How, indeed?” replied the green-clad man. “Yet I said this is the glory of the place, and would you say that what you saw is the glory of any place? And if it were, how sad must such a place be, that such gloom and ruin would be its height?”

The mail-clad man considered what it was the green-clad man had said, and he shrugged, for he could find no response thereto. And then the green-clad man bade him follow, so he did, and they walked out among the stone-paved streets and the strange-speaking people. The mail-clad man watched them as they went, and he noted that they watched him in turn, their faces betraying surprise at his appearance and wariness of the sword on whose hilt he still rested a hand. But they did speak to the green-clad man, and he answered them in the same tongue, speaking as fluently in it as in the knight’s own or the speech of those in the forest before.

Their talks seemed friendly enough, if tone and gesture were any indication, but the mail-clad man knew he did not know the words. He did, however, mark the gestures made toward him, and he thought the green-clad man might be excusing his presence in a part of Anderitum that he still did not think could be. And he was concerned that his presence needed to be excused, that he might well not be welcome in the place where he found himself–and that he knew of no way to make himself seem such. So he did what he thought was best; he remained silent, and he strove to place upon his face a pleasant expression, and he took his hand away from the hilt of his sword. And he noted that when he did, he still attracted attention, for the way in which he was dressed was unlike that in which those he passed were, and that which is unalike always draws the eye, but the eyes he saw turned towards him were far less wary than they had been before.

As the green-clad man proceeded, the knight looked about, and he saw strong stone buildings surrounding wide stone-paved roads and green plazas, rising high above the height of a tall mounted man riding a taller horse. The courses of stone were even and true, and there was but little mortar between them–and the roofs of the buildings were of tile that seemed almost to glow in the sun. It seemed a place of peace and plenty that he walked through as he followed the green-clad man, and he asked him what sort of people were they who could build such things as they saw. And the green-clad man answered that they were the people from whom he was come, people who had long lived in such places but who only rarely did anymore–although they might well again, did the mail-clad man help him.

“Is that the task for which I am charged to aid you, then? The restoration of your people?” asked the mail-clad man, and the green-clad man he followed nodded his head in answer. “Then I am glad to do it,” the knight added, and he looked about at the kinds of things he would be working to preserve. And there seemed to him to be much beauty about him, and many people who seemed folk of peace and prosperity, and he marveled that they would be so hidden and would be so rare, for it seemed to him that such folk should have no difficulty in maintaining themselves. He asked then of the green-clad man what cause required such restoration, and the green-clad man said in reply that he would answer more fully when they were come to a particular place in the town, towards which he directed them as they walked, for some matters were not fit for discussion under the open sky in the light of the day. And the mail-clad man accepted the answer, although he was not glad of it, for it seemed to him that such matters could not be to the good.

Yet he followed through the fair and open streets until he and the green-clad man he followed came to another door, one with strange symbols upon it, and the green-clad man said “This is where we would be, and when we are within and rested as we ought to be, I will say to you what needs to be said, that you may be the better able to help me in that which I must do to restore my people to what you see from what you have seen. For we are yet in Anderitum, even though it seemed to you to be as it seemed to you, full of filth and squalor and small minds that barely understand what they have seen.”

He opened the door and motioned the mail-clad man inside, and the latter saw that the place they entered was like that they had entered in the Anderitum he had known before, furnished and decorated in the same wise, and with servants clad in green tending to matters as they might be expected to do. And they greeted the green-clad man with words that sounded happy, although they were in the same strange tongue that the rest of the fair town had spoken, so that the mail-clad man did not understand them. But the green-clad man guided him to a room and had him seat himself, and when he had also sat, he said “I will say to you now what must be said, and once, so that you know the enterprise wherein you find yourself and what will need to be done if I cannot do it. For the task has fallen to me, and while I know I can do it, I do not know that I can get to where I need to be to make it happen. And for that, then, you are obliged to me. So listen well, for I have only once the power to say such things as you will hear.”

Alms for the poor? Please click here.

Points of Departure, Chapter 30

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

𝔗he green-clad man and the mail-clad man who followed him proceeded into Anderitum. There were people on the streets, about such business as they had, and there seemed to be much in the way of trade going on. Indeed, the mail-clad man heard voices speaking in other languages than his own, and while he had heard some of them before, others were entirely alien to him. Some seemed almost as if he was hearing his own tongue spoken as if with full mouth and broken teeth; others were utterly alien in sound to his ears, as if spoken by tongues inhuman. And there were strange smells, as well, obviously food, but cooked in ways and with spices that surpassed the knight’s ken, and he regretted for a moment that he was still amid his penitence–but he remembered that he had it not for much longer, and the food bespoken by such smells would still be there for him when he could partake of it.

The green-clad man, however, rode on, seemingly oblivious to all that went on around him. As more streets began to branch off of the main road in from the gate, he made his way down one, then another, turning seemingly at random but with full deliberation–and the mail-clad man followed him closely, and his hand moved towards one of the knives he carried as the streets narrowed upon them and the buildings rose above. As in the forest days–weeks, now–before, he thought him it would be a good place for ambuscade, and he knew he could not count on the aid of the town watch if matters went badly, for the incident at the gate would surely receive much comment, and it is not to be wondered at that one who makes fools of fellows will not find aid from them.

At length, the green-clad man came to what seemed the back of a stone building, in the midst of which was a door. He dismounted, and from within his sleeve, he withdrew a key with intricate wards, and he inserted it into a lock that showed amid the door. It turned, and he opened the door, motioning the mail-clad man inside. The knight obliged, dismounting and leading his horse within; the green-clad man followed after, handing the reins of his horse to the knight as he closed and locked the door behind them. A moment later, torches flared to life, casting flickering flame-light all around, and the mail-clad man saw that he was amid a stable that was dusty with long disuse but seemed clean. He began to tend to his horse and the green-clad man’s, but the man in green forbade him, saying that such matters would be tended to and bidding the knight follow him further–“But keep ready your sword. I know not if other parts of this house have been similarly kept free of others.”

They proceeded inward, and the knight kept his hand on his sword, but he also noted that torches flared into life as they approached and died out as they passed, and the furnishings that he saw in room after room were of older sort, as were the pictures on the walls composed of small pieces of stone set into pleasing patterns or depictions of events whose content seemed familiar but that he could not place–for the most part. Some few depictions showed matters of which he was certain, for he recognized a paler green girdle on a knight who fought another and lost, and he knew who the woman was who was tide to a stake with torches approaching it. And he guessed that the other events depicted were of similar kind–but he said nothing, although he recalled what he had heard and had thoughts in that line about who it was whom he followed. Yet still did he know whither he was charged and whence, and he would not waver from it while his flesh held firm.

Room after room they searched, and in each, there was the dust of years of inattention–but in the dust were no footprints, either of people or of the small beasts that creep in when people are not about. No track of rat or of snake was to be found, no tracing of snail or slug or other such creature, simply dust deep and unbroken save for the paths their own feet made within it. And the green-clad man nodded, saying that things were as they ought to be, and that they would soon be put to rights. “For,” he said, “I am come again into my own place, and it will remember me in time. But now, it will suffice to find food for ourselves and sleep, and we will not need our horses to do that. Nor will we leave through the door through which we entered–although others will not follow us thence.

“Come, now,” he said, and the mail-clad man followed him through some of the same rooms and into still others, moving in ways that confused his senses until they came to another door that the green-clad man opened with another key. He motioned the mail-clad man out into an open street not like that from which they had entered, but again unlike the main road that had led from the gate through the wooden wall. Instead, he stood upon well-laid stone that had been clearly maintained, and while there was business about, it was of different sort than the knight had before seen in Anderitum. Too, the words he heard were familiar, but only from the mouths of priests as they spoke in the Church’s tongue.

The mail-clad man looked at the green-clad man he followed and asked where they had gone. And the green-clad man replied that they were in Anderitum, as he had purposed to bring them, and as it stood in its glory. “For it is here, Sir Knight, that you will make a difference, perhaps,” he said, “for it is here that my business lies–or its beginning does, as yet.”

Alms for the poor? Please click here.

Points of Departure, Chapter 29

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

𝔗he two men, one clad in green so dark as to be nearly black, one clad in mail overlaid with a surcoat of the same green and embroidered with an escutcheon of gules, on a bend argent a baton gules wavy, approached the walls of Anderitum–or of the town that had grown up around it. A low berm rose half the height of a person above the marshy land, and a wooden wall of uneven height emerged from out of it, standing taller than a person ahorse. Platforms, marked by higher thrusts of timber, studded its inside, and a largish gate stood open to the road. A couple of guards, standing in mail and leaning on their spears, kept watch on the gate at the level of the road; at least two more, archers, stood above, likewise watching.

The two proceeded ahead towards the gate, noting that there was some traffic through it. Farmers and merchants drove carts through, more going in than coming out, and people afoot walked freely in both directions. Most received no more than a cursory glance, although some merchants did have to stop and talk for a bit, and the mail-clad man marked that some coin exchanged hands more than once. One poor merchant was turned away, and progress through the gate stopped as he turned his cart around, the donkey pulling it resisting being guided about, and his face was sullen as he passed by the green-clad man and his knight.

At length, the two travelers came to the gate themselves. The green-clad man walked his horse through the gate as if wholly unconcerned with the guards around him, but the mail-clad man could not help but look about at them, and one of those carrying a spear saw his glance and called out to him, saying “Look, you in the armor, hold on a bit! We will need to talk to you.”

The mail-clad man stopped his horse and bent down in the saddle to hear, but the guard continued. “You’re going to need to come down, man, and give account. You’ve got a guilty look about you, you do, and we don’t need no guilty folk in this town. We’ve got enough problems as it is without more of them coming in through the gates.”

At that, the green-clad man turned back and rejoined his follower. To the guard, he said “What’s this about? Why do you feel the need to harass my man? What has he done that is so wrong that you would impede him? We are on urgent business, he and I, and we are not to be stopped by the likes of you!”

The attention of the archers was now fully on the two as the spear-bearing guard leveled his weapon at the green-clad man. “We guard the gate and guard the town, and if we think your man here looks guilty, then we will find out what it is that makes him so. And if he’s your man, then maybe you’re guilty, too, and we ought to stop you from heading on in and ruining what all we have.”

The mail-clad man reached out and lifted the spear away from the green-clad man. He seemed to move with little effort, but the guard struggled with the shaft of the spear and grunted as he failed to resume his posture. The knight said “As you guard the gate, I guard this man. In guarding, I note where those who carry weapons are, because each of you is a potential threat to my charge–as you have said I am to you. Being a warrior, I know the truth of this, and I take no umbrage at it. But I do take umbrage that you will point your weapon at the one in my charge, and I will ask you not to do so again, on pain of your suffering.” And he lifted his arm a bit, and the guard felt himself dragged up, pulled by the great strength of the mail-clad man exerted with seemingly little effort.

The guard let go of his spear suddenly, and he rocked a bit as he fell back onto his feet. He cried out, then, and the twang of bowstrings sang of arrows loosed. One, the mail-clad man caught in his other hand, stopping it scant inches from the green-clad man’s face; the other struck the uplifted spear. The green-clad man said to the guard “Stop your fellows, or my man will have to stop you all.”

Another twang sounded, and the mail-clad man whipped the spear about; two more arrows joined the first in its shaft, and the knight dropped it to reach for his sword. But the guard saw that they would not beat him in any fight that day, and he raised his hand and called out, and the archers relaxed their bows. And the green-clad man said “I am pleased to see that matters have resolved without incident. I trust that you are satisfied about my man and me, that he is no more guilty than I, and that I could not be so well defended were I laden with burdens. For I would hate to have to demonstrate matters more fully than has already been done.”

The guard looked at the two, then back to the gate, where several stood and stared at what had happened, and he shook his head. “I see no problem with you, now. Move along, then, and be about your business quickly.”

The green-clad man nodded and turned back towards the town. After a moment, seeing that the guards resumed their usual vigil and traffic began to flow again, the mail-clad man followed him. Houses and other buildings stood not far inside the wall, although there were fewer near it than further forward, where stone walls stood frowning. And as the knight drew abreast of his charge, he heard him to say “Welcome to Anderitum.”

Alms for the poor? Please click here.

Points of Departure, Chapter 28

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

𝔗he green-clad man and the mail-clad man who followed him camped near the swollen stream, off the road and above its level, and they waited for the waters to recede that had grown from the rains that had fallen not long before. That night, as had been true for most of the day, there was little speech between the two; they had not much to discuss at that point, in truth, or, at least, little enough that the man in green was willing to share with the knight who followed him. But the knight, at least, had somewhat to do, for there is always much with a man of arms that needs attention, and he had no squire for to do for him as he had done for Sir Erflet in years gone by.

Indeed, as he tended to his mail, carefully wiping it dry and oiling it once again, so that it might stay proof against blade and rust not more in the damp, he recalled doing so for himself and his old master while he was yet in his youth. Sir Erflet had had him doing such things long before letting him swing a blade even in practice, noting that the use of a thing meant the care of that thing, and that the care was what allowed the use to continue. So it was that the care was more important than the use, and so it had to be the thing known first and best. “For,” he said, “what good is skill with a sword if there is no sword with which to ply that skill? And what sword will remain if not kept clean and sharp and oiled? Be sure of that before you will be sure of your blow, young one, and matters will be the better for you.”

It was with glad heart, therefore, that the knight of gules, on a bend argent a baton gules wavy, did the many menial tasks of keeping up his arms and armor. He did not stint at oiling his mail, nor yet at honing the edges of his sword and his several knives–and he well knew the value of such blades, remembering as he put the stone to one of them that he had fought one fight in a noble hall that had been closely packed, with neither room to swing a sword nor armor on body. In that, the very knife whose edge he now tended had served him well, drinking deeply of the blood of those who would have slain him and opening enough of a path for him to find a better tactical position. And there was, too, the value of the blade in the hunt, as well as many times along the road for one task or another, the myriad things that must be done but receive no comment in song, for they are daily done and seen by all who can look and care to do so.

While the knight attended to the tools of his trade, the green-clad man tended the fire. It burned badly, for the rains had made the wood wet, and it smoked much, but it grew and gave heat and light. In its hazy flicker, the face of the green-clad man seemed strange, seeming at times to reflect the flames back again as if it were of flame itself, at others to drink in all the light as if it were a hole formed at the end of a stream. And all throughout did the green-clad man’s eyes shine out, seeming brighter than the flame or even the stars that could be seen in the sky. Always did he stare towards Anderitum, across the swollen stream, and it seemed that he neither breathed nor blinked, but sat as a carved column of stone, rooted deeply and pointing the way to another destination.

The night passed with little ado, and in the morning, after the mail-clad man had risen and eaten and prayed, he and the green-clad man looked at the stream and was that it was much reduced, although still high and brown and full of debris. The green-clad man considered it a while, and he drew his horse back from the side of the stream, going off a ways. Then he charged toward it, galloping his steed as if tilting with a spear in hand, and the mail-clad man began to call out for him to stop, for he was certain that the one he followed would fling himself headfirst into water that could yet bear him far away. But the green-clad man leapt his horse, jumping the stream, and only its one back hoof touched the water, and that only briefly.

From across the stream, the green-clad man gestured, urging the knight to attempt the feat himself. For a moment, the mail-clad man demurred, for he knew himself of heavier build than the green-clad man, and his horse heavier than the other’s horse, and it seemed to him that the one he followed had not made the jump with much room for error. But then he recalled words that had been spoken to him, words that reminded him the challenges placed before him were instead gifts to be accepted gladly, and he made his trial at the feat. He drew back further than had the green-clad man, running at the bank longer than his companion had, and he waited just a moment longer before jumping.

His landing was the same; the one back hoof of the horse he rode touched the water of the stream, and the horse bounded forward, getting clear of the still-swollen water. The green-clad man smiled as he did, and the two continued towards Anderitum in their increasingly familiar silence. Save for one thing that the green-clad man said:

“We should be there tomorrow, and what will be done will then be done soon. The waiting continues to annoy, but it is better to wait there than elsewhere–at least for this.”

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Points of Departure, Chapter 27

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

𝔗he next days went by slowly. Rain fell on the mail-clad man and the green-clad man he followed, obscuring sight and hindering progress along the road toward Anderitum. They plodded onward, of course, for though they could not see far ahead, they could see that the road continued at least a short way in front of them with every step, and the green-clad man seemed to have little enough patience with any delay anymore. And so through mud and mire, they pressed on, their horses’ hooves sucking at every step as they picked their way carefully along, and they found no dry place to camp in the evening, but bivouacked under such trees as they could and did what little could be done to find a dry space under the boughs.

After a few days of rain, and a few more days of prayers and fasting for the mail-clad man, they came to a small village, and there they were able to stay with a roper who allowed them space under his roof in exchange for a coin, as well as food for another, and he did not disturb them as they rested and he went about his work of braiding together many strands into twine, then cords, then rope. The mail-clad man bought a coil from him, knowing that rope is a good thing to have at hand and knowing that his own supply was somewhat limited, but other than the speaking needed to transact their business, there were no words exchanged between the roper and his guests, or between the guests themselves. For the green-clad man sat and stared towards where their path led for long after they came into the roper’s home, and still he stared when the knight finally fell asleep.

The next morning, the mail-clad man rose early and counted on his fingers for the days that he had spent in penitence, and he knew that he was drawing near to the end of it, and he was glad of it. But he spoke not words to that effect, but ate and prayed and readied himself for another day of wet travel. And when he made to gather his horse and that of the green-clad man, he saw that the rain had ceased, and though the road was still much muddied, he would at least be able to see some ways down it, and he looked forward to moving faster as a result. It seemed to him that the green-clad man did, as well, for there was something like a smile on his face as he mounted and they began again to travel.

As with earlier days, their going was quiet. There were few on the road as they rode along, so there was little chance to hear news from others, but the green-clad man did not speak much to the mail-clad who followed him. For his own part, the mail-clad man looked at the countryside surrounding him, for he had not been in that part of the land before, and the trees and flowers and fields seemed to him to differ from what he had known. And he recalled what his old master, Sir Erflet, had said to him of such matters:

“Not many will see what the knight-errant sees, my boy, for they will be in one place long and stir little from it. And while it is true that they will know well what they know, down to the smallest jot and tittle, still will they be bounded, never knowing the world outside what can be seen from their small village. You will learn, as I have learned, that there is glory everywhere, that there is beauty in all places in God’s creation, if you but look at it aright. And you will learn, too, that some is easier to see than others, but it is for the challenge that the knight lives, and if there is a place that looks all foul to you, it is upon you to work to see what good is in it.”

The mail-clad man knew that he was in a place where the challenge was not to find the good, for the green fields and blooming buds and ample leaves and burgeoning fruit of the trees all spoke of bounty and plenty, and the good of such things is easily known. Instead, he knew that the challenge he would find would be that of remaining vigilant amid the splendor, for it would be easy for him to lose his focus amid the beauty, and he recalled the fight in the woods, when he had been taken nearly at unawares–and if he had come out of that fight well, still could he have done the better in it, as he knew, and if no mark remained on his flesh from the wounds he took, still did he recall the pain of getting them, and few relish such hurt.

Soon enough, the two found that they could go no further towards Anderitum on the road. The green-clad man had stopped his horse, and when the mail-clad man came up alongside him, he said “This is normally a small stream, easily forded, but the rains of the past few days have swollen it. It would not be wise for us to try to cross here, but other crossing points are far enough away that it might be well for us to wait. The rain has ceased–for now, at least–and we may hope that the waters will recede soon. But I still chafe at the delay. Perhaps we ought not to have stayed for the festival as we did; had we not, we would have been well across by now, and possibly in Anderitum already.”

The mail-clad man made reply, saying “It may be so, but it may also be that there will be a thing for us here and now. For I have heard such things said in many other cases, so it may well be true in this one.”

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Points of Departure, Chapter 26

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

𝔗he day after the fight dawned through rain, and it found the mail-clad man already having eaten and offered his prayer of penitence. It also found the green-clad man waiting for him outside the chamber that had been given to his use. After greeting him, the green-clad man said that it was time for them to make their way forward, now that the festival was done for which they had said they would stay. To this, the mail-clad man assented, knowing that overstaying a welcome is a poor thing to do and knowing that he was ready for the challenges that might face him and the green-clad man along the road. For his performance in the fight yesterday had emboldened him, as well it might, and he knew that even the most worshipful knights of days gone by would have been hard-pressed to do as he did.

So it was that that morning, they gathered up their things and made their farewells, and the proceeded east and south along the roads towards Anderitum. And their travels were easy, for the roads were good and much used, and there were patrols of noble lords’ forces and bridges, although there were tolls to cross the latter when they came upon them. Yet the green-clad man had plenty of coin, and there was no trouble as he and the mail-clad man went along their way.

But if there was little trouble, there was also little cheer. Never had the green-clad man been particularly open with his words, but after leaving the town, there was an intensity about him that the knight had not before noted, and he did not approach it to break it. The green-clad man sat forward on his horse, leaning and peering, and it seemed that he neither blinked nor breathed, so focused was he on the road ahead. And he did not run his horse, but he did force its walk as fast as it could be without breaking into a trot or a gallop, and the mail-clad man, long used to horsecraft, knew that it strained the animals they rode–for he did not dare let the green-clad man get too far ahead. Too, he saw that they did not talk to others along the way as had been their wont before, and the others on the road also avoided them, almost as if not seeing them. And he wondered at that, but not too much, for he had come to know there was a way about the green-clad man that made for such things to happen, and that it were best not to delve into it too deeply.

That evening, as the sun sank behind the western horizon and the green-clad man and the mail-clad made camp beside the road, the former said to the latter “I know that you think it strange that I have acted as I have today. Yet we are close to where we would be, close to being able to do what it is that I need to do–and what I need you to do, as well. And so we are close to the end of your obligation to me, which must be a source of joy for you, as well.”

The mail-clad man replied “I do not find it a burden to be in service, but rather a welcome thing. I have seen that you have much power, although some of it is strange and the working of it beyond my ken; it is not a small thing to be in service to such a one as you. And I have grown the greater in that service, strengthened as you have said of it, and I am not displeased that I can do more and do it better now than I could in earlier times. So it is not joy I feel at the prospect of being done, although there is satisfaction in discharging a charge laid. It is something I shall soon know, as well, for there is a penance upon me to fast and pray. It will be good to be quit of it, although I relish that I am purified by it.”

“I have noted it, and it seems to do you no harm. But now, you must eat, and then we must rest, for I hope within a few days to come to Anderitum. Too long have I been away from it, and there is much there I would resume, much that was mine that I would reclaim.”

“Are you from Anderitum, then?”

The green-clad man looked at his companion levelly for a moment. Then he gave his reply: “Not originally, no. I am from rather farther from here than that. But I did live in that tow for some time, indeed, and I was forced out of it. But I have had word that what forced me out is gone, and so I can return to what is mine and reclaim it again. Surely this is the kind of thing your chivalry calls upon you to assist, the resumption of right by one dispossessed from it?”

“I have said that I will aid you. I have accepted that I am charged to do so. You need not return again and again to the idea, as if you think that I will forget it if you do not remind me of it. I have said I would do a thing, and so that thing will be done, if I live to do it. You do ill to think that I would be otherwise, and I have done no thing to give you cause to doubt my word. So I will thank you not to voice that doubt again unless I should do so.”

“I am glad to hear you say it, then, Sir Knight, and that you will recall it. And I will be glad of your help when we arrive at Anderitum. I will be glad of it, indeed.”

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Points of Departure, Chapter 25

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

𝔄fter the cheering died down from the victory of the mail-clad man and the town over those who would assail it, the green-clad man went to his follower and said to him “You see now that it is as has been said to you, that you are made mighty to do work in the world. And I am glad of it, as are those who have seen you work, so that you need not be in worry over such things. Rejoice, rather, that you have such skill as meets the needs before you, and that you have such strength as needs to use such skills, for lacked you either, the day would not have gone so well for you as might have been hoped–although others might well have enjoyed the result.”

The mail-clad man nodded in reply and said “I am glad to have disappointed them. Yet I am amazed at the event, for it is not often that a single man can face many and not be harmed by it, and I stand unbloodied while those who faced me have fallen or fled. I had not thought that a few days of practice would make such difference as seems to have been, for even while I have known you, I have not fought so well.”

“Speak you of the encounter in the woods? Yet you yourself have said that there is no mark upon you from it, and yet there were two dead, and one an archer. So I do not know that you are improved so much as you might think in your skill, but rather in that you have been strengthened to aid in the tasks that lie before you–since they lie before me, and you must follow me, as you are charged to do.”

“I am, as I know, and I will. But first, I must see to the killing I have done, and while I need not be the one to do the burying, for there are others here to tend to it, I have taken lives and must ask forgiveness therefore. For although they would have killed me had I not them, I recall that the knight for whom I squired, Sir Erflet, said that any life taken is a sin, and I already carry enough of them without coming clean of more. So if you will excuse me, I will to the priest once again, that I may be shriven and stride ahead with less fear.”

Then the mail-clad man did as he said he would do, and he sought the town priest, finding him helping with the wounded and praying over the dead. And he agreed that he would hear the knight’s confession and absolve him once those who were in gravest need were attended to, “for I doubt me that God will send it that so worthy and worshipful a man as you will be taken at unawares after the moment of victory, and that you have acted in defense of yourself and of others will argue in your favor with the Most High even if you should be called thence between now and then. But if you will help me with such matters, I can be done with them the sooner, and then might I turn to address your need.”

So the mail-clad man did as he was bidden, and he ended up digging graves and burying bodies maugre his earlier words. But he was strong and the digging was swift, and they were laid in earth unconsecrated who had attacked the town, while those who had dwelt within it and were killed were laid out and their graves dug in the churchyard. And those who had taken hurt were eased as they might be, both by the priest and by others in the town, and the mail-clad man noted that the green-clad did not offer his healing arts readily, but only in a few cases, and then only as asked directly by the Lord Deleiere. He wondered at it, but then he thought of his own life in the short time since his own healing, and he thought it were perhaps better that others not be given the same gifts as he had received.

So it was that the town was set back to rights and swiftly, and when it was, the priest did as he had said he would, and he heard the knight’s confession, and he gave him absolution freely, saying that the labor he had done for the town was penance enough, and he blessed him openly. Then the knight continued the penance he had undertaken after the stay in the home of Lady Maelis, after which he went back into the town. For although it had been interrupted, the festival of founding still continued in some wise, having been prepared to just that end. And the mail-clad man ate and drank readily and heartily, and in each place he went in the town, he was greeted by cheers and applause, and some of the people of the town sought to have lain with him that night. All of them he rebuffed, not wanting to repeat the error for which he was already penitent, and some heard the refusal well, but others wept and fled from him when he said them no.

The night was long, and the festival went long into it, with people eating their food and drinking their drink and thanking God for the charter that made them free forever and the knight who had fought to keep them so. And the knight saw that it was of such things that peace was made and upon which kingdoms such as Logres had been at its height were founded, and he prayed that the new king would do as the old one had done in that wise. And after he prayed thus, he found his way to his lonely bed for the night, and he slept well and deeply.

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