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Re: [Apr 2015] - Plot Twist! Werewolf, Vampire, Goat - Submission Thread Here is my April story. 1,500 words exactly, not counting the title, which is:

GOOD DOG

Disclaimer: There are no goats.  ;D

Spoiler for Hiden:
GOOD DOG

Bard is a good dog. Bard does what master says.

When Bard is bad, Bard is punished.

Bard sleeps in master’s room. Master has a big room, and many dogs sleep in the room with master. Shep is a dog. Shep has a nice bed by the fireplace. Bard sleeps by the cold window because one time Bard peed on Shep’s bed. Master made Bard stand in the corner and didn’t give Bard any dinner.

Shep is a very bad dog. When master was traveling, Shep chewed the magic shoes that fly. Shep hid the scraps in Archer's bedding. When master came back, he was very angry at Archer. Master sold Archer to a bad man who hurts doggies.

Bard does not want to be sold to a man who hurts doggies.

Bard would like a nice home, so Bard is good when wealthy people come to buy the doggies.

***

There is a lady guest! Bard likes the lady. The lady smells like lavender and secrets, like home and holidays. All the doggies like the lady, but Bard wishes he could tell her that he is the one she is looking for.

Bard hides outside a doorway and watches the lady and master. They sit at the long table, which is filled with many foods that doggies are not allowed to eat. Except sometimes master throws scraps on the floor, and laughs so hard when the doggies fight for the pieces.

Master says: "I have created so many of these children, and each one can be taught to do whatever you desire."

Lady says: "How can this be possible?"

Master says: "Enchantment is a craft like any other. I am like a potter, who starts from man instead of clay, but makes something much more useful. Or a sculptor, who sees the animal nature inside each and simply brings it forth."

Lady says: "Clay? Nature?"

Master says: "You are shocked at my children. They upset you."

Lady says: "No, no. This is exactly why I came to you. I have come a very long way to find just the right one. I can pay a great deal. When may I see them?"

Master says: "Tomorrow. You have arrived late - an unexpected guest. You must be tired."

Then master sees Bard, and Bard runs away so he will not be punished for listening at doors.

***

There are kitty cats in the cellars. Sometimes master comes to bed smelling of them. When this happens, he leaves the doggies alone. He snores and forgets to lock the door. When this happens, Bard thinks about home and running away.

Tonight, master spends many hours in the cellars. Bard sneaks down the stone steps just far enough to watch master mix the witching wine. Bard remembers the taste of it, but he cannot remember more no matter how he tries. Shep sneaks down too, and we crouch shoulder to shoulder. The kitty cats are gathered around in the candlelight, singing magic into the wine.

"She wants just the right one?" says master. "I know what that woman wants. But we won't let her have him, will we my girls, whichever of my boys it is."

Now master is snoring and the door is not locked. Down the hall goes Bard, sniffing for the lady’s room. Up to her door goes Bard. Scratch, scratch goes Bard, with Bard’s heart pounding.

Lady must be sleeping.

Whine, whine goes Bard. Here is Bard up on his legs, thumping on the door even though he only likes being on all fours. Whine, whine, thump, thump.

Sound! There are footsteps coming to the door! The door opens just a crack, and Bard bursts through!

Lady screams and jumps backward! Bard is sorry! But Lady looks at Bard, and she is happy! She grabs Bard and pulls him close, kissing all over his face.

Lady says: "It's you! Thank God I found you! When you didn't come home for so long, I didn't know what to think. But then I heard you'd stopped to sing at this awful place. Why did you think to come here, you daft man?" Lady is weeping, and Bard is licking her face so she won’t be sad. "Stop that!" she says. Lady looks into Bard's eyes. "Billy, oh Billy," she says. "We have to get out of here."

But that is not my name. My name is Bard. Doggies do not have their old names. Bad people call doggies by their old names, and master's magic says we must hurt bad people.

I punch the bad lady in her face. Lady screams "Stop that! William! What are you doing?" I push her down. "No! Stop!" I want to stop. I cannot stop.

Lady yells: "Bad Dog!"

I stop. I am a bad dog.

"Bad dog," says Lady. Bard wants to climb into the lady's lap, but Bard is too big now. Lady sits on the side of her bed, crying, and shaking, and holding her face in her hands.

"What am I to do?" says Lady. "How do I get through to you?"

***

"Wake up."

Bard wakes from a bad dream. Bard dreamed that master was making the Lady drink the wine with spirits in it. All the kitty cats were watching with their green-glittery eyes. Bard tried to tell lady it was bad wine, but all he could do was bark until master yelled and Shep grabbed him by the neck.

"Wake up, dog" she says. Her voice is low and pained, but she is standing straight and tall over Bard. "I've been thinking and I understand. I mustn't call you by your name, must I, or the enchantment takes control of you. I know you would never hit me. Never."

"Come," she says. We step into the hallway. Lady has a lamp that smells like sunlight and pushes back the night. And there is a kitty cat there, listening. Bard barks and chases, but the kitty runs away. "This place is a nightmare," says the Lady. "Men who think they're dogs. Girls who - oh, I don't even know what they think."

They think they are kitty cats.

Lady looks at Bard with a special secret in her eyes. She holds up a knife. It has spirits in it too. "I spent everything," says Lady. "Everything we had for this. There's more than one wizard in the world, but they all want money. And I don't even know if it will work."

She doesn't know how to find the front door. It is hidden by wizardry, unless you're a doggy.  Left, then right. Left again and down stone steps. Through the wall that isn't a wall.

"Stop," says Lady. "I can’t see you. All I can see is stone." Bard goes back and takes her hand in his mouth and leads her. She is shivering, and Bard can tell how very afraid she is. Bard wants to protect her. From master. From green-glittery cats.

There is light up ahead, and the kitty cat is spying from around a corner. Lady stops, then we go further, but we stop again. If we can see around the corner, they can see us too.  Lady takes a deep breath, then reaches down and pulls me up.

"Stand straight", she says. "You're a man. Hands, feet, the brain you were born with, if you just knew it." Lady reaches up and smooths Bard’s face. "Let's go." She holds up the knife again. "We only use this if we must."

I look at the knife. It is wooden and sharp, with strange letters burned on its blade, and spirits that move and sing to me. They sing of home. My mind clears suddenly and I reach for the knife. From my mother. Her eyes turn bright, and our hands touch as she pushes it into my hand. Together we walk toward freedom, but as we turn the corner a tide of dogs and cats roars over us - punching, tearing, barking, screaming. The master stands at the great iron door, laughing, with Shep by his side.

The kitty cats claw Mother down. She is screaming. I cannot reach her through the crowd of dog-men. I cannot reach the master either. But the power of the knife burns in my hand.

I hurl men and women off me. I yell, "Shep!" and throw him the knife.

Shep catches it and looks at it strangely. The knife sings, and his eyes go wide.  He turns, and with a howl plunges the knife into the master’s neck. The master’s eyes go wide with shock. The kitty cats yowl and spin away from Mother, leaving her broken on the floor. They pull Shep down.

And master pulls the knife from his throat, laughing even while red hot liquid pours from his mouth.

"The heart," whispers mother. "It has to go in the heart, William."

But William is not my name. My name is Bard. Bard is a good dog.


April 07, 2015, 11:55:51 PM
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Re: Ancient and medieval fighting and weapons There's a huge number of weapons that fall under the category of "sword". Perhaps even more than all other premodern weapons combined. A complicating factor is that swords always evolved. Some people tried out making swords with somewhat longer blades or narrower blades, actually liked how it sat in the hand and moved, and recommended it to others. But there never was a perfect sword, because swordsmiths always had to take the availability and prices for raw materials into consideration, and more sophisticated constructions would take a lot longer, making the sword more expensive for the buyer. And always there were other people trying to improve armor against the types of weapons they were commonly facing against. As a result, it all blurs together into a very broad range of "swords", which is really anything with a long blade on a short handle.
Of course in practice there were some forms of swords that worked really well and lots of people used them, while others just never caught on. So there are many different types of swords. But it never was an exact science and there was no standardization, so the distinctions between types are often quite blurry. Like literature genres, you have certain archetypes, but the personal preferences of the smiths and users don't conveniently stay within those lines. Modern historians like to pretend there are such clear lines, but many of the categories used today are modern inventions.

That being said, the names used for swords in fantasy are almost always completely wrong. Mixing up an African leopard with a South American Jaguar is not a big deal, they are extremely similar. But calling either of those a Siberian Tiger is just plain wrong.

Generally speaking, there are two types of swords: Bronze swords and steel swords. I am almost certain that you will never see a copper sword or an iron sword anywhere. Copper and iron are both too soft for large blades (though I think there are some copper knives) and you have to mix them with other elements into an alloy that has much better property. Copper alloys are usually called bronzes (brass is a modern term for a specific type of alloy that was lumped together with other bronzes in ancient times) and iron alloys are called steels, regardless of what those other elements are.
You can make steel that is superior to bronze, but this is very advanced metalurgy that has been invented only in recent centuries. Ancient and medieval steel is not superior to bronze! The reason bronze fell out of favor for weapons and armor around 3,000 years ago is that tin, which was most commonly mixed with copper to make bronze, became fantastically expensive and almost unaffordable. This forced metalworkers to find some way to make a good alloy based on iron. Those early types of steel were inferior in quality to bronze, but still could do the job decently enough and were many times cheaper. Over time the quality of steel improved, but it really is the much cheaper price of steel that made it the primary metal of choice throughout late antiquity and the middle ages. When you have one guy with a bronze sword and one guy with a steel sword, it really doesn't make any difference. When you have five guys with bronze swords and twenty guys with steel swords, it makes a huge difference.
Copper and bronze didn't really play a big role in ancient Central and Southern Africa, and they started with steel. (Though much later did develop bronze technology for art.) In America, they didn't even have that (only gold and silver, which doesn't work for weapons), but the Aztecs did have a weapon called macuahuitl that has a size and shape similar to sword and is also used in a very similar way, so it's sometimes called an obsidian sword. It's constructed more like a wooden club with a row of obsidian shards set into it as an edge. Completely different construction, but works almost the same way, so whether you want to call it a sword or not is probably personal preference. If it looks like a sword, handles like a sword, and cuts like a sword...

Okay, now we are getting to the kinds of swords you usually see in fantasy:
Keep in mind that the "Middle Ages" refer to a period of 1,000 years and an area that includes all of Europe and extends into Northern Africa and Asia. There are lots of differences between specific places and times, so everything here is a very gross simplification. Scientifically very inaccurate, but I think for the purpose of fantasy weapons entirely sufficient. Unless you want to have a fantasy story set in real world France in the year 1241 and want to have it as historically accurate as possible. The most common one-handed sword that every halfway decent knight runs around with would have probably called by him a "sword". It wasn't like the swordsmith had a wide range of different models on a rack. You picked your length and weight that best suited your height and strength, but that was mostly it. When people are talking about knights now, it's usually called an arming sword and looks like this.
Spoiler for Hiden:

Which looks very similar to a viking sword, which lloks like this.
Spoiler for Hiden:
The only real difference is a much smaller crossguard between the blade and the hilt. Not really sure why. The term Arming Sword is used mostly for swords that are later than the viking period so it might be possible that the crossguard was a new invention that came up around 1000 AD, but as I said those developments are always fluid evoultions that reach different places and different times and might not be adopted everywhere.
This sword was not only used in Scandinavia, but I think throughout all of northern and central Europe.

It is almost the same weapon as the earlier Roman spatha.
Spoiler for Hiden:
Again, the handle is a bit different, but the blade is mostly the same. A straight steel blade about as long as an arm and two fingers wide.

Even in China, at the opposite end of the Old World, you get the jian, which again is really pretty much the same thing.
Spoiler for Hiden:
Why? Because it works! It's good. It's weight and proportions are a very good match for a human swordsman and it's a great alrounder that combines speed, accuracy, and versatility, while also being easy to carry around with you all day on your belt.

Big downside: It's really expensive. Which is why most people who went to war didn't have one. Not only does the blade of a sword need five or six times as much metal as a spear blade, it also needs to be forged at a much higher quality because longer blades are at greater risk of bending or snapping. That's basic mechanical physics. Imagine taking a pencil and snapping it in two. That's easy. Now take one of those halves and snap it again. Which is a lot more difficult. And good luck snapping one of those quarters with your bare hands. And it's not because you have a bad grip on a small piece. Long things bend and snap easier than short things in relation to the thickness. Which is also why you get to see small blades very early, but really big and long swords only very late. You need a lot of metalurgical tricks to make steel that can take the stresses of such a large blade.
Most people who went to war had spears or axes, which have much smaller blades and are therefore a lot cheaper. In most languages other than English, the word "knight" means "rider", because they were a small elite of people who were wealthy enough to own a horse bred and trained for battle. These people also tended to be rich enough to own a sword. Which is why knights are usually very much associated with them. A sword was nice to have on your belt when you visit the village or run around in the castle, but for really serious fighting, there were better alternatives:
When you fight a guy with really heavy armor, you want a weapon with a lot of punch, because your sword blade can't cut through it. When you do a cavalry charge, you don't want to get into the reach of your enemies spears to be able to hit them, so you also use a spear (a "lance" really is just a spear used while on a horse for most of history). Or a bow. The sword is wonderful when you don't have anything else. It's a great alrounder that will be useful in almost any situation. But when possible, you want a specialist weapon for your specific task. When you went into battle with one, it was your backup weapon, like a pistol. Even the samurai didn't make a big deal about their swordfighting skills, because that implied you somewhat regularly got into situations where you lost your bow and spear. Then why do modern Japanese people make such a huge deal about their swords? Because contrary to common belief, exotic foreigners are just as stupid as Europeans and Americans and love cool stuff they see in movies or read in unrealistic fantasy books.
The lack of reach of a sword compared to a spear is a real problem in battle. Sparring is of course not the same thing as battle to the death, but people who are decent with swords and spears made the experience that if you have one person with a spear against one person with a sword, the swordsman needs to be extremely good to win.

The only case I am aware of where regular soldiers were all using swords were the Roman legionaries. And that was because the legions used a very specific type of formation combat that relied on getting everyone squezed together so tightly that spears couldn't be really used and then stabbing swords were extremely effective. But that is really the only case I know of large numbers of soldiers using swords instead of spears.

Speaking of the Roman sword: I mentioned the spatha earlier, but the standard roman sword was the gladius. Which also really just means "sword".
Spoiler for Hiden:
The gladius is shorter than the spatha, but not really by much and calling it a "short sword" is quite misleading. They are still pretty big. I mentioned before that large blades require advanced metalurgy and forging techniques, and therefore most bronze swords tend to fall into this category.
In the same way daggers can be really big too. Much larger than a small pocket knife. The roman pugio looks like a big knife (though technically a knife has a single edge, while a dagger has two), but some types are large enough that some people might think of them as small swords.

The other type of sword that is super popular around the sword are sabers. There is a huge variety of sabres, both in blades and handles, but they all share the same trait of having a single edge and being curved.
Spoiler for Hiden:
Sabers have some advantages and disadvantages compared to straight swords. The disadvantage is that they are generally not as good at chopping, but instead work much better at slicing. Which is why soldiers on horses generally tend to favor sabres over straight swords because when you ride by someone on the ground quickly, it's easier to just slice your blade over him than trying to get a good chop from an akward position. But when you hit armor, a sabre has less of an impact and doesn't hurt as much. Neither sabres nor straight swords can cut through metal armor, but any heavy impact still hurts and can push you over.

Then you have a couple of "hybrids" like the German messer ("knife") and the Japanese katana ("sword").
Spoiler for Hiden:

While they do have a single edge and a slight curve, the curve is quite subtle and the blade pretty heavy. You see katanas everywhere, but I don't remember seeing a messer anywhere in fantasy, even though there's no reason why it shouldn't.

Going back to antiquity, there is also a kind of chopping sword that looks really quite weird at first. Again, there are many names, but the most generic is kopis.
Spoiler for Hiden:
And the title for weirdest looking sword probably goes to the Egyptian khopesh.
Spoiler for Hiden:
Swords like these are almost a kind of hybrid between sword and axe and saber. You can't do any fancy fencing with them as you see in a three musketeer movie, but you can both chop and stab with them. And you really just have to look at them to see how extremely good these are at chopping.
While they look very exotic, this was one of they ypes of swords used by the Greeks for quite a long time. But they went out of fashion during Aniquity, and I don't really know why. I would suspect that a straight sword is simply easier to forge, though.

You also might know the Asian kukri, which really is just the local adaptation of the kopis introduced by Alexander the Great when he was in the region. Most kukris you see are small and knife sized, but they can get to the size of big two-handed swords.

April 12, 2015, 01:44:21 PM
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