Tarot Tuesday: Six of Pentacles

6-of-pentacles

Rider-Waite-Smith

There’s something ugly about this card. Look at the way the merchant measures out precisely how much he should give to two people reduced to begging on their knees.

Yes, it’s a good thing to share with those in need—no question. But this man seems to have no respect for the basic human dignity of these two people. Shouldn’t he find a way to help them out without humiliating them?

There’s no indication, to me, that this man is supposed to be some sort of holy figure—and therefore I don’t see him as a fitting subject of worship. And this isn’t three consenting adults exploring ideas of dominance and submission for the fun of it. There are two people here who seem powerless, and a third who seems to accept power as his due.

Perhaps this is the dark side of the suit of Pentacles. Pentacles represent earth and everything that suggests: hard work, prosperity, craftsmanship and family. So perhaps we shouldn’t expect the sharp, bitter blades that can cut us in the suit of Swords—the suit of air and the mind. Or the angst that can drown us in the suit of Cups—the suit of water and of emotions. Or the anger that can explode in the suit of Wands, the suit of fire and ambition.

No, when Pentacles presents us with a problematic card, it usually deals with greed (as we see in the Four of Pentacles) or what we have here: a trite sort of superiority. The idea of noblesse oblige gone terribly wrong.

Is there a way to rescue this card? To give it a more profound meaning? In Tarot and the Tree of Life—still my go to book on the Minor Arcana—Isabel Radow Kliegman certainly tries! She acknowledges the ugliness of it and then offers other ways to look at it. But none of those ways satisfy me.

On the other hand, as much as I hate this card, I know it’s good for me as a writer. I sometimes write stories where a power imbalance, for one reason or another, exists between the protagonists. And sometimes not in a bad way—sometimes it’s temporary and situational; sometimes it’s consensual and healthy enough.

But that only works when the people involved do have that basic respect for each other’s inherent dignity. So this card reminds me of how ugly power imbalances are when that respect isn’t there—and it reminds me to include examples of that in my stories.

What do you make of this card? Do you see a way to redeem it? If you’re a writer, what sort of theme or characters does it suggest to you? As usual, if it happens to inspire your own meta or story, please leave a link here!

Meanwhile, we’ll need a card for next week: Strength.

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Meta Monday: Lost Weekend

MetaMondays5I had four days off this past weekend. Four days!  And no particular responsibilities. That should equal lots of writing, right? Nope. I think I wrote a grand total of about 400 words–and that’s counting this post.

So what happened? Not sure. I spent a little time doing some housework, a little time reading and the rest of the time playing Skyrim. (My first run-through as a Khajiit! Loving it so far.)

And, weirdly, I regret nothing. I’m not berating myself or crying over lost words. I’m at peace with my  lack of progress. Does that mean I’m getting more zen, or just more comfortable in my laziness?

Either way, I think I’m okay with it. My brain translated “vacation from work” to mean “vacation from writing” too. So I guess it needed the break.

How often do you take time off from your writing (or the art form of your choice)? If your art is your day job, do you schedule vacations? If it’s not, do you try to dedicate some of your vacation time to it? How does that work out for you? Let me know in the comments.

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Brothers of the Watch: Part 14

halcrest-flagContent Warning: This blog generally contains non-explicit adult content. I think this chapter still falls under that heading, but there are potentially triggery references to past violence and rape.

Link to Chapter Index

Will Talon.

For the better part of twelve years now, Shane had been able to regard that name—and the man who bore it—with indifference. He was no longer a raw cadet, after all. He no longer tasted the blood in his mouth from Will’s right hook. He no longer felt the weight of Will’s hands as he and two of his mates forced him to bend over a table.

But he still remembered. He still recalled every word of their drunken banter as they assured him that a man of his tastes deserved what he was about to get—that his sort would enjoy it, like as not. What he would ‘enjoy’ turned out to be the end of a broom handle.

Shane shook himself and then rose to his feet. No, he had not forgotten that day, twelve years back—nor forgiven it—but it was bootless to dwell on it. He had, out of necessity, worked with Will since then. And once the scraggly blond had even mumbled something that resembled an apology. Shane hadn’t graced it with a response, but he hadn’t set out for revenge either. For the most part, he had simply ignored Will’s existence.

“Sit down, Shane,” Brock repeated.

Shane opened his mouth to formulate some kind of respectful refusal, but Will’s voice cut in.

“He can’t,” he spat, stepping in front of the clerk and the fellow who was probably the inspector. “You ought to know better, Brock. A slave can’t sit while three free men stand.”

“Ah, he’s quite correct,” the clerk added in that nervous whine of his. “And I’m sure the inspector here needs your slave to stand—”

Will ignored him and turned to Shane. “That’s what happened, ain’t it, Snake Blood?”

Shane stiffened. “You’ll need to be more specific, Lieutenant Talon.”

“Specific?” There was genuine outrage in his pale blue eyes. That same outrage seemed to invigorate his tall, lanky frame. “How’s this for specific? Obsidian mitigated your sentence from death to slavery, and then handed you over to the same mongrel who arrested you and testified against you.”

Shane took a deep breath. He saw, from the corner of his eye, Brock stand up, but he hoped the man had enough sense to stay quiet. No point in allowing Will to make a scene.

“Obsidian spared me, yes.” Shane was careful to keep his voice even. “Eshkeri Robin Weaver handed me over to Brock, since he wanted to place me with family.”

“Family?” Will snorted. “That back-stabber?”

Brock stood up and came to Shane’s side. “You have something to say to me, Will?”

“I’m not saying anything different than the rest of the brethren. You know that, Brock.”

The clerk cleared his throat. “Ah, gentlemen? The, ah, inspector would like to go about his business.”

Will stared at Brock. Brock stared back. Shane readied himself. If it came to fists, he would have to break the two men apart—but finally Will stepped aside.

“Right.” He nodded at the inspector. “Go on, then.”

“Very well,” the inspector answered, all business-like. “I’ll need you to strip,” he informed Shane. “And be brisk about it, bucko.”

Suddenly Will’s armed snaked out and grabbed the inspector by the shoulder. “You listen here, bucko,” Will said. “This man, slave or not, is a lieutenant of the Watch. You damned well better treat him with respect.”

Shane had started to undo his waistcoat—Devon’s waistcoat, rather—but he stopped cold.

“Will,” Brock said, “you know he can’t be a watchman now.”

“I know those blasted white heads at Ironbound will discharge him once they find out he’s alive and enslaved, yes. But that ain’t happened yet. They figured they didn’t need to bother, what with Snake Blood offering himself up on a platter to Obsidian. But as of right now, he’s still a lieutenant.”

Brock stared at him, furrowing his brow, but then slowly nodded. “That’s true. He still has his rank.”

Shane started unbuttoning the waistcoat again. He wasn’t going to get out of this inspection, regardless. But both the clerk and the inspector were suddenly looking cowed.

Small wonder. Shane knew first hand just how adept Will was at intimidating and persecuting those he considered beneath him.

So he undressed as briskly as the inspector had ordered, setting his clothes into a neat pile. Then he withstood the man’s hands on him, testing his muscles. He swallowed a smile as he realized just how tentative the inspector’s touch was, what with Brock and Will watching his every move.

The inspector coughed a little and finally spoke up. “Vasteke, I see. From one of the indigenous tribes in Ancora, I take it, not the ones up north. I count four vertical scars on his back, mostly healed. From a whip, I presume?”

“Yes,” Brock answered. “They’re from twelve years back. We all took a flogging now and again as cadets.”

“And you can see those are his only marks,” Will put in. “This inspection is over.”

Shane watched the inspector gape. “But I haven’t—we’ve hardly started. We don’t know the full state of his health . . . .”

“You can see he’s healthy and able,” Brock said. “You’re finished here.”

The inspector looked from one man to the other—both of whom could easily have pummeled him—and apparently decided that discretion was the better part of valor. He took a piece of parchment from the clerk and then politely but hurriedly bowed his way out of the room.

“Ah, I’ll check and see if our messengers have returned from the temple,” the clerk said. Then he, too, bowed his way out.

Shane rolled his eyes and began to get dressed.

Brock turned back to Will. “Eshkeri Robin has requested that we keep what happened to Shane quiet for now—at least until public interest in the trial fades.”

Will frowned at both of them. “You two will have to tell Captain Barros, at least.”

“I will, on the morrow,” Brock answered. “But will you keep silent about this? At least for a bit?”

Will grunted. “If that’s what the high priest wants, yes. But don’t think, Brock, that this will leave you in any better standing with the rest of us.” He paused to turn to Shane. “I’m glad to see you alive, Snake Blood—”

“Are you?” Shane finished buttoning up his breeches. “We’ve never been the best of mates, Lieutenant Talon.”

“Will,” he corrected. “Call me Will—I don’t need your damned impertinent formality. Look, Shane, you might be a cock-sucking sodomite, but at least you never betrayed your brothers of the Watch. You deserve better than to serve the same cur who stabbed you in the back.”

Link to Part 15

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Brothers of the Watch: Part 13

halcrest-flagLink to Chapter Index

“You’d look better with a club.”

Shane made a face at that as they walked west on Pike. He had taken off his beaver in order to pull one section of the hat down—Brock didn’t blame him; tricorns were useless otherwise—so Brock had reached over to tussle his hair. Or what was left of it, now that Emma had cropped it for him.

They fell quiet as Shane put his beaver back on, and Brock decided to accept the silence. He knew his partner. Knew he was preparing himself for what lay ahead, so that he could muster some dignity to see him through it.

The Registry was up on the Ridge, south toward the docks. In easy reach of the slave market which, Brock supposed, was the point. All too soon they were walking up the steps to the old brick building and entering the foyer. A slave stood there, directing masters, mistresses, and their new property to the first of many lines. Shane followed behind Brock without a word.

It took nearly half an hour, but eventually they reached a desk where a thin, tired man presided. He didn’t even bother to look up. “Master’s name?”

“Brock Parr.” He spoke clearly but quietly, hoping not to attract the attention of any of the watchman who were stationed here.

“Do you have the paperwork for your slave or slaves?”

Brock handed over the documents Robin had given him. The clerk stifled a yawn as he unfolded the parchment. But suddenly his eyes widened and he finally raised his head. “This, this says that, uh, your new slave belonged to—”

“Yes.”

The man’s eyes bulged. “Ah, excuse me. I’ll need to speak to a superior. If you two would be so good as to follow me?”

They obliged. Brock kept his eyes down; he had no desire to witness the actual inspections. And it wasn’t as if he hadn’t seen them before. Slaves of all races—with no regard for their age or modesty—stripped, humiliated and handled as if they were so much horseflesh.

He glanced over at Shane. His face was down too, and he wasn’t making eye contact with anyone specific. But, knowing him, his eyes had swept the room, taking inventory of everyone present. Brock had nothing but respect for Shane’s powers of covert observation.

At length they came to a private room. Brock made up his mind that they would remain there for Shane’s examination.

“Please, sit,” the clerk told Brock. “I’ll be back directly . . .” his voice trailed off as he bustled into another side room.

Brock plopped down on the bench, but Shane remained standing. Brock rolled his eyes. “Have a seat, Shane.”

But perhaps he had no desire to sit—that was like him. He would frown and scowl and pace if given half the chance. “Sit,” he repeated.

Shane folded his arms over his chest and cocked his head at him, as if trying to determine whether that was an order. He must have decided it was, because he sat down next to him without bothering to argue.

Brock put an arm around his shoulders. Shane stiffened, but didn’t resist—his usual reaction. It took a moment, but at length Brock felt him relax.

“I suppose the clerk was surprised to see Obsidian listed as my prior owner,” Shane said.

“I hope so. That should buy us continued privacy.”

He grunted. “That would be wise . . . did you spot the watchman by the north door?”

Brock frowned. “No.”

“It’s Will Talon.”

“Bloody hell.” He sat up straight and moved his arm back to his side.

“Exactly.”

Will might be a brother of the Watch, but he was no friend to Shane. “What’s a man of his rank doing here?”

Shane shrugged. “Probably minding the cadets.”

“Did he spot us?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Good. I’d as soon not explain ourselves to him—” he broke off as the clerk reentered.

“Ah, sir? Mr. Parr—I mean, Lieutenant Parr?”

“Yes?”

“It, ah, it’s not that your documents are in question, however, we felt it best to verify the information with the temple . . . .”

“I understand. You’ve heard tell of Shane Corlisa and his trial?”

“Ah, yes, sir. It was quite the sensation.”

“Well, since Shane is sitting here beside me, you can see that Obsidian spared him. Would you send someone in here to, uh, handle all this privately? Eshkeri Robin Weaver requested that we keep the mitigation of his sentence quiet for now.”

The clerk swallowed again. He seemed to be turning the request over in his mind, searching for any possible problem that might arise from agreeing or refusing, and estimating the amount of blame he would be forced to bear in either case. “Eshkeri Robin Weaver?”

Brock nodded. “Yes. The high priest.”

“Yes, I see. Of course we will be pleased to accommodate your request, sir.”

“My thanks.” Brock nodded at him.

The clerk nodded back, wiped the sweat from his receding hairline, and bustled out into the main room.

“Was this your plan all along?” Shane asked, staring down at his hands.

“To win you some privacy by mentioning Robin? Yes.”

Shane turned to him and stared at him for a long moment, his dark eyes unreadable. “Thank you.”

Brock opened his mouth to respond, but closed it as he stared over Shane’s shoulder. The clerk was leading an older man, presumably an inspector, into the room, but a watchman followed close behind. It was Lieutenant Will Talon—the last man Brock would have chosen to witness Shane’s humiliation.

“Don’t thank me yet,” he whispered.

Link to Part 14

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Um, One More Delay on Tarot Tuesday

Forgive me. I’m still too brain dead to conquer Tarot Tuesday, so I’m going to wait one more week before posting my meta on the Six of Pentacles. I blame that partly on the fact that I’m still settling into my new position at work. (Okay, okay. The new position is kicking my ass.) And partly on the fact that I seriously dislike this card.

Well, dislike might not be the right word. Let’s just say I find the Six of Pentacles to be–damn it, what is the right word? Condescending, I think.  But more on that next week!

Edit: I’m so out of it that I initially wrote Coins instead of Pentacles. Coins are an acceptable alternate word for the suit of Pentacles–but, seriously, what’s wrong with me?

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Meta Monday: Help Me Tackle These Edits! (Please.)

crevlock-coverAs I’ve mentioned before, my web-serial Crevlock Tower needs some major edits before I publish it as a novel. In fact, I’m feeling daunted.

For one thing, I wrote the story in the first person, which would have been fine if I’d stuck with Aric’s point of view. But partway through, I felt like Shocha deserved to have his say. (Bad enough that he was mute, without me silencing his thoughts too.)

And so I wrote some chapters from his perspective, also in the first person. But that makes the whole thing a tough read, I think. I don’t like switching from character to character in a first-person story. So I feel like I should overhaul the whole thing and use a close third person point of view instead, switching more often between the two protagonists.

And that’s just one issue. My initial outline for this story didn’t quite work, but neither did my improvisation! Don’t mistake me—the gist of the story is fine, I think. But I need to streamline the plot and make better use of the supporting characters.

I want to tackle this. I do. But I freeze up every time I try!

I just can’t muster up the energy and gumption I need to start powering through these edits. So what gives? Is it too soon? Do I need to be better disciplined as a writer and just get on with it? Or do I just need to recognize that, yeah, this job a little overwhelming?

I need some help, my friends. How do I convince myself to tackle these edits?

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Brothers of the Watch: Part 12

halcrest-flagLink to Chapter Index

Brock drank the last of the goat’s milk—there was about half a cup left now that his cubs had gulped down the rest—and leaned back against the wall as he watched his wife see to Shane’s hair. Nothing new in that: she was the hair dresser for the entire family, and Shane had been included in that circle ever since he and Brock had been cadets together.

Emma always insisted on washing the hair she was about to cut, so she had a small wooden tub up on the table. Shane was leaning over it, dunking his head when ordered, and allowing her to scrub and rinse as she deemed necessary.

“Will you need more water?” Devon called out as he sidled up to his brother.

“More wouldn’t hurt, if you two don’t mind going back to the well,” Emma answered. “Take both yokes—four more buckets should see us through to the afternoon, at least.”

Brock put his tankard down and then led his little brother outside to the shed. He picked up the first yoke, attached a bucket to the chains on either side of it, and placed it over his shoulders. Devon followed suit with the second.

“Why doesn’t Shane want me to come to the Registry?” Devon asked as soon as they were out on Pike Street.

Brock sighed. He’d been hoping that Dev wouldn’t ask. “Because the entire process is bloody well set up to humiliate the slaves. Why would he want you to witness that?”

For a moment, Dev didn’t say anything. Brock couldn’t see his face, because the cub was behind him, but he could guess that Dev was wearing that half-thoughtful, half-disgusted look that crept up on him whenever he encountered plain cruelty.

“What do they do?” he asked at last.

They had reached the public well now—it was only one block down Pike—so Brock marched to the end of the line. He turned toward his little brother, careful not to hit anyone with the yoke.

“Dev, they treat slaves like horseflesh. They strip them, mark down their scars, count their teeth—” He broke off. It was hard, he realized, to explain the ugliness and malice of the whole damned process. “And none of it’s private. I might be able to persuade them in this case, since Shane did belong to Obsidian himself and we’re supposedly keeping the fact that he’s alive quiet for a bit, but . . . .”

Devon blinked, and then his face reddened. “They do this to all slaves? Regardless of age?”

“Yes.” He grunted. “You’ve lived a sheltered life, little brother. So have your nieces and nephews. And don’t think I’m not grateful for it. My cubs have time, yet, before they find out what a fucking brutal city this is—not that the rest of the world is any better.”

Dev fell silent again. Brock watched him take a deep breath, but his face was still red when he spoke up. “Does Shane believe I’d think less of him if I—if I witnessed any of this?”

“If you want to know that, you’ll have to ask him yourself. But if I were you, I wouldn’t bring it up. I’d respect his wishes and stay home.”

-oOo-

Shane ran his fingers through his hair—it was still damp, but it was clean and short and it felt right again. “Thank you, Emma.”

“You’re welcome.” she reached for the small tub that still sat on the table.

“Ah, no.” He grabbed it before she could. “I doubt you should be lifting anything—”

She laughed. “In my delicate condition? You’re right, of course. I’ll let you clean up. But may I give you a piece of advice?”

He raised his eyebrows.

“If you, um, wish to get out of those clothes, even before you pick up your things, I think you’re about the same size as Devon.”

He cringed. He was wearing the same clothes he’d worn to the trial, and then to Obsidian’s Marsh—he shuddered again, remembering the feel of the dragon’s breath on him—and then to the Temple. “I didn’t think to ask Eshkeri Robin for a change of clothes, not before Brock showed up. About time, isn’t it?”

“Ah . . .”

He grinned. “Straight away, Mistress.”

She laughed again and gave him a playful shove toward the kitchen.

He nodded at Nell as he passed through her domain, but he didn’t set the tub down. He carried it up the narrow back staircase and into Devon’s bedroom instead. No point in wasting the water; he might as well treat himself to a second sponge bath.

He had stripped down to his breeches when Devon opened the door. The lad smiled appreciatively as he leaned up against the door frame. Shane almost felt himself blush. Almost.

“Like what you see?”

“Very much so,” Devon allowed his eyes to rake over him. “Unfortunately, I think I’m supposed to be dressing you, not undressing you. Need a moment to finish up your bath?”

He shrugged. “We’re adults. I don’t care if you stay.”

“I’ll pick out fresh clothes for you, then.” Devon tore his eyes away and moved toward the wardrobe. “Stockings, breeches, shirt, waistcoat—would you prefer a cravat or a neck stock?”

“Neck stock.” He stripped out of the dirty breeches. “Not many slaves wear cravats.”

“Some do: fancy butlers and footmen and such. And that Colebrant fellow, I reckon. We heard a lot about him, even at University.”

“He’s an exception. Most slaves don’t rise to that level of power. Besides, I’d rather a neck stock. They’re less trouble.”

“True enough.” Devon tossed one onto the bed, along with the other items. “Care for a frock coat?”

“No, thank you. It’s warm enough without one.” He finished sponging off as quickly as he could and then reached for the new breeches.

“Here, I’ll tie the back of them for you.” Devon moved behind him as Shane pulled them up.

“Looking for a position as a valet?”

“Ha ha. It would serve you right if Brock ordered you to take up those duties . . .”

Shane laughed as he fastened the front buttons. “I don’t think that’s likely.”

“It’s not.” Devon pulled the back laces tight. “I think we’re exactly the same size—convenient.”

“Yes. Thank you, Devon.”

Devon reached over to the bed and then handed Shane the shirt. “Why do you always call me that?”

“Call you what?”

“Devon. You never call me Dev, like the rest of the family. But you use ‘Nance’ and ‘Katie,’ so I know you don’t object to shortening names.”

Shane shrugged the shirt on. “I’m not sure. I suppose, back when you were still an annoying seventeen year old, I didn’t want to be too familiar—I didn’t want to do or say anything to encourage you.”

Devon snorted. “Thank you so much.”

“Don’t give me that tone. You were too young for me then. And your brother would have strangled me.”

“Huh. That’s true, so I’ll excuse your lack of interest at the time. But now?”

Shane reached for the waistcoat. “Now we’re getting to know each other, aren’t we?”

He turned back to Devon as he spoke, and found him smiling again—and then Shane found himself smiling back, because it was impossible not to.

He wasn’t sure which of them made the first move, but suddenly they were standing closer, and Shane saw that Devon and he were, indeed, about the same height and weight now—and that they would fit . . . .

“Shane! Get your arse down here!”

Both men rolled their eyes as Brock’s voice hollered from downstairs. Shane took a step away from Devon and toward the door, somehow sidestepping the tub. “I’ll be there straight away, Brock,” he called back. Then he swallowed and turned back to Devon.

“Would you—”

“I’ll take care of the tub, yes.” He paused, and suddenly his smile was gone. “Shane, I—”

“Yes?”

He sighed and shook his head. “It’s nothing. I’ll wait for you here.”

Link to Part 13

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