Monday, 18 April 2016

War in an age of innocence: 1

[This serial preview of my first novel will run for ten episodes (two weeks). Each episode will consist of a complete chapter of about 2,000 words. There are 43 chapters in the complete book. The novel will be available for purchase as an ebook, hopefully before the serial ends or shortly thereafter. I am planning to charge $3.99 for it. More details to come. 

It is a "coming of age" fantasy set in the Neolithic and written along Jungian mythological lines. I wrote it when I needed a break from researching the Gundestrup cauldron a few years ago, and had become annoyed by the popularity of one novel that was just a "new age" pastiche of mythological themes without real connection. I am doing a little final editing on it and I hope you like the story.

For the next two weeks I will be devoting more time to the research for a new series on the personality of T. E. Lawrence which will start with the first publication of a document by one of his friends about the then, T.E. Shaw's service in the Royal Air Force in India.]

The sea was their father. Kiri tired easily with the games of the other boys and on this clear morning he sat alone on a clump of coarse grass at the top of the stony beach and gazed at the waves. The waves crashed on the pebbles and then hissed as the sea pulled the water back. He matched his breathing to them and mimicked the sound: exhaling hard when the wave hit the beach, and then inhaling slowly as the water withdrew. Further down the beach a woman with three children were gathering mussels. The woman was working intently, the children mostly chasing each other. They might have been laughing, but the sound of the sea was all that Kiri heard. In the distance he saw a sail, and he watched carefully as the boat drew nearer, trying to see what sort of boat it was. Everyone was happy when a boat arrived. Those who were lucky enough to see it first made sure that they quickly gathered what things they could spare and then hurried to the beach, eager to see what the visitors had brought to trade, and hopefully to get the first choice of their cargo.

Some of the boats had distinctive sails and everyone would soon learn what it was that the visitors wanted, and what they had brought in exchange. It was always exciting when the sail was strange. No one knew what those visitors were looking for, nor what they had with them. It was a game. Sometimes a family would eagerly rush down with a basket full of something only to find that the visitors had brought the same sort of thing. Everyone would laugh. Mostly, though, the visitors were not strangers and as soon as you saw their sail, you would know what was wanted, and what you might get for it. There was always a surprise for the children, though. Among the usual cargo there would be a few strange and wonderful items from some other edge of that vast sea. Food and drink was always brought to the visitors and there would be the music of flute and drum, dancing, and, if you could understand each other’s words, there were stories. Kiri loved the stories best.

The land was their mother. Kiri jumped up from his clump of grass and started running toward home. The long, coarse grass near the sea gave way to shorter, soft green grass made shorter still by the endless grazing of the sheep. Wattle fences kept the sheep away from the fields of grain and vegetables. There were few trees where they lived and the wind from the sea constantly made waves that ran across the fields. All that could be seen of the houses were the thatched roofs and the smoke rising from them. In the distance were the dark forest-covered hills where wolves and the wild boar dwelt. Few would go past the edge of these hills where they could find wood, or hunt for deer. The forest was impenetrable, dangerous and mysterious. Some who ventured too far never returned. The houses were dug into the ground for warmth and shelter from the ever-present wind. The stone slab walls and floors kept the damp out and even most of the furniture was made of that stone. There were stone tables and benches, and stone cupboards and shelves lined the walls. Even the beds were of stone. Comfort was provided by sheepskin covered cushions, wool blankets and rugs. Peat fires gave heat and the rooms glowed with the light from tallow candles. Several families shared the large and often rambling houses. They all shared one large kitchen where all the food was prepared and the families would socialize around the central fire every evening. One by one, or in pairs, they would retreat at the close of the day to their cozy small bedrooms off the kitchen, or down dark stone hallways.

Kiri was careful to stop running before he got too close to home and he slowed to a fast walk instead. He did not want to attract attention from the other families and any person, or creature, that ran into the village would soon be joined by barking sheepdogs that loved to chase anything that moved faster than a grazing sheep. He was pleased to see that it was only his mother, father and his Aunt Vara who occupied the kitchen that morning. It was customary to announce the news to whoever was present. Mara stopped stirring the stew, wiped her brow and looked up at her son.

“I’m glad you’re home Kiri, I need you to go outside and get some more peat for the fire.”

“A Danai boat is coming!”

“Well that’s a bit of good news!” Kiri’s father exclaimed. “They usually have a good supply of that hard green stone. It’s hard to work, but an axe of that stuff is never going to break. Most don’t have the right sort of grit to polish it properly and the effort I will have to put into making a few axes should get us some good fruit from the southerners next month”.

“Vara and I have dried that venison you got. They like that. We will be able to gets lots of the stone for you Boro, and then we will divide up the fruit you get for it. Two shares for us for your effort. Is that alright Vara?”

“Sounds fine to me”

“Oh, and Boro, I would like some of that amber they usually bring – for a necklace”

“You’re beautiful enough without it. They always want too much for that stuff,” Boro said gruffly.

Kiri sat down, wrapped his arms around his knees, and smiling, waited for the show. He knew what was coming next.

“Come on, Boro, don’t be mean”. She walked over to him and rested her hand gently on his chest. “It will make me happy”. Mara was the most beautiful woman in their village and it was said that she could charm the birds out of the sky.

“ Well, perhaps a small amount, you did a lot of work drying that venison”

Kiri giggled and Boro got red in the face.

“Don’t laugh Kiri. It will happen to you soon enough!”

Vara laughed too. It always pleased her to see her usually stern brother reduced to such an emotional puddle by the beautiful Mara. She liked Mara a lot. Vara was much older, even than Boro. She was not particularly attractive and shared something of her brother’s gruffness, but she was a kind person at heart and Mara treated her with much respect, often seeking the wisdom of her years. It seemed to Vara that Mara thought of herself as beautiful only to her husband and this was the natural way of things. Vara had never married. She knew much of nature. She knew the times for things; she understood the journeys of the constellations. She was one with the world.

By the time they had gathered everything together and made it down to the boat a few others were already there and had started trading with the Danai. They had the amber, and the green stone, but no one had taken any of either. Boro knew that he was the only one that could properly work that stone, and Mara knew that few of the women would be able to afford much of the amber. It was only Boro’s idea of trading the axes he would make with the southerners that enabled them to afford such costly items. None of the other villagers minded this. Boro had worked hard on his skill, and the fruit that he would bring to the village would benefit all. Other people had their own skills and needed other supplies. Each skill would bring the greatest rewards to those that had it, but there was always enough for everyone else. All around the great sea, other villages had access to different things, and their populations had developed their own skills.

The trading continued at a leisurely pace until evening. Although Boro’s attention was fixed mainly on the green stone and the amber, the wood that the Danai had brought excited most of the villagers. There were long poles of the right size for masts for their boats. It was a kind of wood that could not be found there: strong enough to withstand even the toughest winds. The Danai were pleased with the dried venison. It was tastier than their own venison because the deer fed on different plants and this changed the taste of the meat. Also, Vara had her own special seasonings that made the meat even more delicious. The last grain harvest had been good, and the Danai had heard of this. Their own supply was getting low, as their own harvest was very small that last year.

The Danai had always fascinated Kiri. They looked very different from his own people: the Danai were tall and fair-haired, his people were much shorter with jet-black hair, and both peoples had very pale skin and mostly blue eyes. Their language was about the same, but the Danai had a strange accent and some of the sounds in their words were different. He laughed when the Danai visited their homes; they often had to crawl from room to room, as the ceilings were far too low for them. Everyone had to stoop a bit to get from room to room, that was just the way they built their passages. Vara had told him a story about why this was, but he didn't remember the details. He thought it had something to do with being born, but he wasn't sure. The Danai had told him that they lived in huge houses all made of wood, and all above the ground and that they had floors above other floors. He couldn’t imagine such a thing and wondered if he would ever travel to their part of the great sea. They told him that it was a long way off and that they even sailed at night.

As the earth swallowed the sun and the first bright stars started, shyly, to appear in the opposite direction, the outside fires were lit and the village began to entertain their visitors. Samo was Mara’s grandfather and was the oldest man in their village. He had played the flute since he was a child, and as he started to play with some of the other flautists; one by one they stopped and just listened to him. The drummers also stopped, partly in awe, and partly because they could not understand the variable rhythms that Samo brought to the music. Kiri was nestled up next to his aunt; his parents were nowhere to be seen. The music of Samo’s flute swelled and then shrank in a steady rhythm, while other faster and more complex rhythms coloured it. Kiri thought of the waves of the dark sea with the white birds wheeling over them. He began breathing to the slower rhythm. Vara smiled at him.

“Yes, little one, you are beginning to understand”

Across the crackling fire from them, one of the Danai sailors wiped a tear from his eye. The music rose and fell. The sea came in and went out again. Kiri’s breathing became lighter as he drifted off to sleep.

© John Hooker 2016

John's Coydog Community page


  1. Good mornings. I see the first episode have been blogged and can't wait to read it. Another one of your talents fiction author. The list continues to grow.
    Interesting. today there are no birds singing early in the morning., I wonder if it is because of the lack of rain.

  2. Good morning!

    Talent might be a little premature, we will see. The first chapter is introductory, the second chapter presents their beliefs. I was inspired in this by reports of electromagnetic properties of stone circles and so invented a belief structure that would encompass that idea. I also included something of the different ideas of space that has come to us from quantum physics. This is not a hypothesis, merely something on which to hang the story -- give it connections, so to speak.

    I remember that, often, May is quite rainy. Let's hope so. There is some rain in the long-term forecast, but you know how unpredictable this region can be and how so often the weather man does not get the next day's forecast right. I hope we are not going to see a lot of wildfires this summer.

  3. Just finished reading the chapter one. Well done!
    There is a hint of something to come, which catches the readers interest. As reader I want to know what is going to come next.
    I am off to an appointment and have to go grocery shopping I am out of tomatoes, ice berg lettuce and numerous other things. And sometime to day I have to make it to Golden Acres to talk to them about plants to replace the one that was removed. I will ask about the blackberry vines.
    I am feeling much better today. A good nights sleep works wonders.

    1. Thanks, Tannis, I planned each chapter that way so I'm hopeful that you will enjoy the rest.

      From a quick web search it seems that a number of people are growing thornless blackberries in the Calgary area and there now seem to be more than one variety. My friend (in south Calgary) got his from the U.S. but it looks like there are local suppliers.

      Did it take you quite a few years to get the earth in your garden up to snuff? Before we moved to Westmount and had no garden, a neighbour of ours used to dig in great bales of peat moss, manure etc. into her garden every year. She grew a lot of vegetables.

      Westmount had rich black earth, we even had great success with corn there which is unusual for Calgary -- old flood-plain.

      Glad to hear you have perked up.

    2. The neighbour was in Capitol Hill, btw, ex prairie soil.

  4. After moving in I had a couple truck loads of top soil brought in that helped a lot to get everything growing. As an old farm girl, just used manure no peat moss. If the soil is high in clay one does not have to add anything that helps retain moisture. The best thing is to add compost and manure. Once had a hugh vegetable garden but turned everything back to lawn and flower beds. If you want to talk about gardening one should go to where I grew up. Those vegetable gardens put what is grown in Calgary to shame. We had sandy soil in the farm yard where oou house was located and the root crops were something else. We did a lot to food processing and always had enough until the next spring came. My father also raised beef so we had our own meat supply. Everything was organic.

    1. Curious, I just took a look at our old house on Westmount Road (satellite view in Google Maps). I wish I had not done that. Not only is there no vegetable garden, but they seemed to have managed to destroy both lawns. It's a house sitting on waste ground -- waste indeed!

      I had sunflowers in one spot at the back fence (Kensington Road -- no alley) and everywhere else along that fence tomatoes (also had French Marigolds in front). The corn was in the west corner.
      The main beds east of the back lawn were raised beds with walkways between: Potatoes (I used to like feeling for young new potatoes in the beds, they were so good), peppers and a small bed of shallots(I grew them because they took up little room and were otherwise expensive to buy). Then there was a kitchen salad garden (crowded raised bed) and a herb box. It was all also organically grown. I had a compost heap. I bought this alfalfa based fertilizer and once, walking across the lawn with the bag did not realize there was tear in the bag and some of it was spilling out. Well, there was trail of extra long grass on the lawn just before the rest needed mowing after that! It was rather funny. I had speculated about keeping rabbits, but my daughter was horrified at that and Carrie was not keen either. Why is rabbit so expensive at Calgary butchers?

      My grandparents (father's side), had vegetables and chickens at their house in the country, picked mushrooms and got rabbits from nearby.

  5. Well done John that was a great read, its good to see your
    publishing your book.

    Thanks for posting il look forward the next chapter.

    1. Thanks! I was just about to reply to your email when I got a message from John Howland on yesterday's post. You might want to take a look at it and at my reply. You will understand why ;-)

      Talk to you in few minutes in the other media!



  6. I guess gardening is our topic for today. Out garden was so huge it took a full day to plant. It was not as elegant as your's. I am making mental images of your green strip across the lawn.
    I see you like to eat rabbit but for us who watch the movie Bambia there was no way we would eat "a poor bunny rabbit". We had chickens and a Jersey milk cow running around the yard. I still remember the chickens having their heads cut off and the rest of the procedure to clean them. Wouldn't some people be horrified. It was just a fact of live for us.
    Went all the way over to Golden Acres and they had very little stock. What a waste of time! I am looking for a rhododendron because it will grow in acidic soil ( has removed a juniper). I am still going to investigate about the blackberry plant.
    I have been driving all over the city today and have had enough. It is time to relax and plan dinner. I am going to cook steelhead trout, brown rice and cauliflower.

    1. There is nothing so appetizing as the smell of rabbit cooking. I still remember my grandmother's rabbit pie; and rabbit cooked in Burgundy At the Bristol Room (a great French restaurant that used to be downtown here), and for short while there was a Macau restaurant in 16th NW that had Piri-Piri rabbit, phenomenal.

      I much prefer Sunnyside for gardening stuff: the trees, shrubs and fruit are across the street from the main building. It's so huge a place, worth the extra drive for you I think. It might be that all the stock is not quite in yet around Victoria Day everything will be there, though.

      Steelhead trout is great. I had a very early supper: slow roast pork (not overcooked but with still a touch of pink) and then just boiled yellow potatoes, peas and apple sauce. The roasting pan has already gone through the "dog cycle".

      Check out yesteday's post for John Howland's comment and my reply. Didn't get as much done today as I had hoped, but was a bit tired.

  7. At what temperature do you slow roast your beef and pork? I have never been to Suunyside but others have mentioned it as an excellent location to shop for plants. I should have known items would not be available , I guess since the weather is so warm I am getting ahead of myself. I found my copy of the Container Gardening for Canada book. So I will start to plan the types of plants I will combine for the different pots. These are the only annuals I will purchase since everything else in the flower beds are either bushes or perennials. I planned the garden this way because it can pretty well look after itself if I am away and the neighbors only have to water the pots.
    Tristan is treated like royality. No wonder you were tired I saw what time you posted on your blog.

    1. My oven only reads down to 200 F, so I have to judge it as best I can. Today I set it to just at the lower edge of 200 because I was late putting it in But it cooked faster than I thought and was nearly at an internal temp of 155 when I took it out. I prefer it about 145-50 for pork (Rare pork is quite safe, contrary to the advice from the 1920's) People overcook it until it is dry.

      For slow roasting where time is no problem just set it at the preferred internal temperature of the meat after roasting it at about 400 for about ten minutes. I sometimes buy a big Hutterite chicken at Sunterra and then I slow roast it at 200 until its done. If you slow roast a fresh bird at its internal temperature it can sometimes collapse! Of course carving in neat slices is not that possible because everything just falls of the bone. Roast beef I like rare, so I just roast it about 200 for a shorter time. (Grilled steaks I like blue rare, though, pretty well raw save for a little bit on the outside).

      Never been to Sunnyside? They have so much there! It's easy to get carried away though, and get too much. They have lots of other garden stuff too, pots, benches and so on.

      Here's their 112 page plant catalogue (web viewer):

      Fruit is on page 100. No blackberries but multiple varieties of most other berries and many varieties of other fruit such as plums (10). Cherries (10)They also have Saskatoon berries, honey berries gooseberries, currants white, red and black, many kinds of blueberries, three kinds of grapes...

  8. Thank you for the cooking info. I understand how you felt when you saw the Google picture of the property that was your former home. The farm yard I called home is in just as bad shape. The new owner could not access any water for the trees and they have all died.
    I have driven by Sunnyside but no never visited the place. Beaver Dam Nursery is my favorite place to look for plants for the garden. They are located on the west side of highway two as you travel towards High River. When I started redoing the garden many years ago I purchased many of the shrubs and ground cover plants from them.
    I have grown grape vines from the Saskatoon Farm. They are beautiful vines but I had to get rid of them because they were taking over everything. Someday I will give them another try but in a different part of the garden. I am beginning to think you love fruit trees from the info you provided.
    Tomorrow I have a meeting in the morning at Fort Calgary about the Christmas function fior the FCCC. And then I must do the vacuuming there are no more excuses.

    1. I'm mainly puzzled by the amount of fruit that will grow here compared to what is actually grown.

      I'm going to have an early night, it's been a long day. Give that Moyers style question a thought when you get a moment.

      Good night!

  9. Good morning! I did not sleep well. I was thinking about the "poor little bunny" statement I made in reference to eating rabbit meat. It wasn't Bambi I was referring to but Thumper. Once we give human qualities to animals it is hard for some to make separate the two.
    I hope you slept well.

  10. Good morning! I thought you were referring to the movie rather than the character. I did not post your brief goodnight, as it seemed pointless to do that this morning: I had gone straight to bed after I signed off last night. Perhaps eating rabbit is slightly more appealing for readers of Watership Down. Chapter two of War in an age of innocence is up.

  11. Sails? In the (early?) Neolithic? Are you sure?

    1. Poetic license is a necessary part of the fantasy genre, it just has to be balanced a little: I would certainly not have a character look at his watch to see the time of day, but some things are needed for the plot development that would not be too jarring for the reader. Readers of fantasy, anyway, like to suspend disbelief to gain greater enjoyment from the novel. Wind in the Willows would never have been published if that were not the case.

      I have also shrunken time over the novel so that changes, later, that took a few hundred years are brought within a single lifetime. The adventures of the characters in the novel are, together, a metaphor for the human condition of warfare and a hope for its eventual end.