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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Latest chapter from Winds of Winter

If you can't get to the page at George R.R. Martin's site, well, here's the text:
* * * * * * * ** 
She woke with a gasp, not knowing who she was, or where.
The smell of blood was heavy in her nostrils… or was that her nightmare, lingering? She had dreamed of wolves again, of running through some dark pine forest with a great pack at her hells, hard on the scent of prey.
Half-light filled the room, grey and gloomy. Shivering, she sat up in bed and ran a hand across her scalp. Stubble bristled against her palm. I need to shave before Izembaro sees. Mercy, I’m Mercy, and tonight I’ll be raped and murdered. Her true name was Mercedene, but Mercy was all anyone ever called her…
Except in dreams. She took a breath to quiet the howling in her heart, trying to remember more of what she’d dreamt, but most of it had gone already. There had been blood in it, though, and a full moon overhead, and a tree that watched her as she ran.
She had fastened the shutters back so the morning sun might wake her. But there was no sun outside the window of Mercy’s little room, only a wall of shifting grey fog. The air had grown chilly… and a good thing, else she might have slept all day. It would be just like Mercy to sleep through her own rape.
Gooseprickles covered her legs. Her coverlet had twisted around her like a snake. She unwound it, threw the blanket to the bare plank floor and padded naked to the window. Braavos was lost in fog. She could see the green water of the little canal below, the cobbled stone street that ran beneath her building, two arches of the mossy bridge… but the far end of the bridge vanished in greyness, and of the buildings across the canal only a few vague lights remained. She heard a soft splash as a serpent boat emerged beneath the bridge’s central arch. “What hour?” Mercy called down to the man who stood by the snake’s uplifted tail, pushing her onward with his pole.
The waterman gazed up, searching for the voice. “Four, by the Titan’s roar.” His words echoed hollowly off the swirling green waters and the walls of unseen buildings.
She was not late, not yet, but she should not dawdle. Mercy was a happy soul and a hard worker, but seldom timely. That would not serve tonight. The envoy from Westeros was expected at the Gate this evening, and Izembaro would be in no mood to hear excuses, even if she served them up with a sweet smile.
She had filled her basin from the canal last night before she went to sleep, preferring the brackish water to the slimy green rainwater stewing in the cistern out back. Dipping a rough cloth, she washed herself head to heel, standing on one leg at a time to scrub her calloused feet. After that she found her razor. A bare scalp helped the wigs fit better, Izembaro claimed.
She shaved, donned her smallclothes, and slipped a shapeless brown wool dress down over her head. One of her stockings needed mending, she saw as she pulled it up. She would ask the Snapper for help; her own sewing was so wretched that the wardrobe mistress usually took pity on her. Else I could filtch a nicer pair from wardrobe. That was risky, though. Izembaro hated it when the mummers wore his costumes in the streets.Except for Wendeyne. Give Izembaro’s cock a little suck and a girl can wear any costume that she wants. Mercy was not so foolish as all that. Daena had warned her. “Girls who start down that road wind up on the Ship, where every man in the pit knows he can have any pretty thing he might see up on the stage, if his purse is plump enough.”
Her boots were lumps of old brown leather mottled with saltstains and cracked from long wear, her belt a length of hempen rope dyed blue. She knotted it about her waist, and hung a knife on her right hip and a coin pouch on her left. Last of all she threw her cloak across her shoulders. It was a real mummer’s cloak, purple wool lined in red silk, with a hood to keep the rain off, and three secret pockets too. She’d hid some coins in one of those, an iron key in another, a blade in the last. A real blade, not a fruit knife like the one on her hip, but it did not belong to Mercy, no more than her other treasures did. The fruit knife belonged to Mercy. She was made for eating fruit, for smiling and joking, for working hard and doing as she was told.
“Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” she sang as she descended the wooden stair to the street. The handrail was splintery, the steps steep, and there were five flights, but that was why she’d gotten the room so cheap. That, and Mercy’s smile. She might be bald and skinny, but Mercy had a pretty smile, and a certain grace. Even Izembaro agreed that she was graceful. She was not far from the Gate as the crows flies, but for girls with feet instead of wings the way was longer. Braavos was a crooked city. The streets were crooked, the alleys were crookeder, and the canals were crookedest of all. Most days she preferred to go the long way, down the Ragman’s Road along the Outer Harbor, where she had the sea before her and the sky above, and a clear view across the Great Lagoon to the Arsenal and the piney slopes of Sellagoro’s Shield. Sailors would hail her as she passed the docks, calling down from the decks of tarry Ibbenese whalers and big-bellied Westerosi cogs. Mercy could not always understand their words, but she knew what they were saying. Sometimes she would smile back and tell them they could find her at the Gate if they had the coin.
The long way also took her across the Bridge of Eyes with its carved stone faces. From the top of its span, she could look through the arches and see all the city: the green copper domes of the Hall of Truth, the masts rising like a forest from the Purple Harbor, the tall towers of the mighty, the golden thunderbolt turning on its spire atop the Sealord’s Palace… even the Titan’s bronze shoulders, off across the dark green waters. But that was only when the sun was shining down on Braavos. If the fog was thick there was nothing to see but grey, so today Mercy chose the shorter route to save some wear on her poor cracked boots.
The mists seemed to part before her and close up again as she passed. The cobblestones were wet and slick under her feet. She heard a cat yowl plaintively. Braavos was a good city for cats, and they roamed everywhere, especially at night. In the fog all cats are grey, Mercy thought. In the fog all men are killers.
She had never seen a thicker fog than this one. On the larger canals, the watermen would be running their serpent boats into one another, unable to make out any more than dim lights from the buildings to either side of them.
Mercy passed an old man with a lantern walking the other way, and envied him his light. The street was so gloomy she could scarcely see where she was stepping. In the humbler parts of the city, the houses, shops, and warehouses crowded together, leaning on each other like drunken lovers, their upper stories so close that you could step from one balcony to the next. The streets below became dark tunnels where every footfall echoed. The small canals were even more hazardous, since many of the houses that lined them had privies jutting out over the water. Izembaro loved to give the Sealord’s speech fromThe Merchant’s Melancholy Daughter, about how “here the last Titan yet stands, astride the stony shoulders of his brothers,” but Mercy preferred the scene where the fat merchant shat on the Sealord’s head as he passed underneath in his gold-and-purple barge. Only in Braavos could something like that happen, it was said, and only in Braavos would Sealord and sailor alike howl with laughter to see it.
The Gate stood close by the edge of Drowned Town, between the Outer Harbor and the Purple Harbor. An old warehouse had burnt there and the ground was sinking a little more each year, so the land came cheap. Atop the flooded stone foundation of the warehouse, Izembaro raised his cavernous playhall. The Dome and the Blue Lantern might enjoy more fashionable environs, he told his mummers, but here between the harbors they would never lack for sailors and whores to fill their pit. The Ship was close by, still pulling handsome crowds to the quay where she had been moored for twenty years, he said, and the Gate would flourish too.
Time had proved him right. The Gate’s stage had developed a tilt as the building settled, their costumes were prone to mildew, and water snakes nested in the flooded cellar, but none of that troubled the mummers so long as the house was full.
The last bridge was made of rope and raw planks, and seemed to dissolve into nothingness, but that was only the fog. Mercy scampered across, her heels ringing on the wood. The fog opened before her like a tattered grey curtain to reveal the playhouse. Buttery yellow light spilled from the doors, and Mercy could hear voices from within. Beside the entrance, Big Brusco had painted over the title of the last show, and writtenThe Bloody Hand in its place in huge red letters. He was painting a bloody hand beneath the words, for those who could not read. Mercy stopped to have a look. “That’s a nice hand,” she told him.
“Thumb’s crooked.” Brusco dabbed at it with his brush. “King o’ the Mummers been asking after you.”
“It was so dark I slept and slept.” When Izembaro had first dubbed himself the King of the Mummers, the company had taken a wicked pleasure in it, savoring the outrage of their rivals from the Dome and the Blue Lantern. Of late, though, Izembaro had begun to take his title too seriously. “He will only play kings now,” Marro said, rolling his eyes, “and if the play has no king in it, he would sooner not stage it at all.”
The Bloody Hand offered two kings, the fat one and the boy. Izembaro would play the fat one. It was not a large part, but he had a fine speech as he lay dying, and a splendid fight with a demonic boar before that. Phario Forel had written it, and he had the bloodiest quill of all of Braavos.
Mercy found the company assembled behind the stage, and slipped in between Daena and the Snapper at the back, hoping her late arrival would go unnoticed. Izembaro was telling everyone that he expected the Gate to be packed to the rafters this evening, despite the fog. “The King of Westeros is sending his envoy to do homage to the King of the Mummers tonight,” he told his troupe. “We will not disappoint our fellow monarch.”
“We?” said the Snapper, who did all the costumes for the mummers. “Is there more than one of him, now?”
“He’s fat enough to count for two,” whispered Bobono. Every mummer’s troupe had to have a dwarf. He was theirs. When he saw Mercy, he gave her a leer. “Oho,” he said, “there she is. Is the little girl all ready for her rape?” He smacked his lips.
The Snapper smacked him in the head. “Be quiet.”
The King of the Mummers ignored the brief commotion. He was still talking, telling the mummers how magnificent they must be. Besides the Westerosi envoy, there would be keyholders in the crowd this evening, and famous courtesans as well. He did not intend for them to leave with a poor opinion of the Gate. “It shall go ill for any man who fails me,” he promised, a threat he borrowed from the speech Prince Garin gives on the eve of battle in Wroth of the Dragonlords, Phario Forel’s first play.
By the time Izembaro finally finished speaking, less than an hour remained before the show, and the mummers were all frantic and fretful by turns. The Gate rang to the sound of Mercy’s name.
“Mercy,” her friend Daena implored, “Lady Stork has stepped on the hem of her gown again. Come help me sew it up.”
“Mercy,” the Stranger called, “bring the bloody paste, my horn is coming loose.”
“Mercy,” boomed Izembaro the Great himself, “what have you done with my crown, girl? I cannot make my entrance without my crown. How shall they know that I’m a king?”
“Mercy,” squeaked the dwarf Bobono, “Mercy, something’s amiss with my laces, my cock keeps flopping out.”
She fetched the sticky paste and fastened the Stranger’s left horn back onto his forehead. She found Izembaro’s crown in the privy where he always left it and helped him pin it to his wig, and then ran for needle and thread so the Snapper could sew the lace hem back onto the cloth-of-gold gown that the queen would wear in the wedding scene.
And Bobono’s cock was indeed flopping out. It was made to flop out, for the rape. What a hideous thing, Mercy thought as she knelt before the dwarf to fix him. The cock was a foot long and as thick as her arm, big enough to be seen from the highest balcony. The dyer had done a poor job with the leather, though; the thing was a mottled pink and white, with a bulbous head the color of a plum. Mercy pushed it back into Bobono’s breeches and laced him back up. “Mercy,” he sang as she tied him tight, “Mercy, Mercy, come to my room tonight and make a man of me.”
“I’ll make a eunuch of you if you keep unlacing yourself just so I’ll fiddle with your crotch.”
“We were meant to be together, Mercy,” Bobono insisted. “Look, we’re just the same height.”
“Only when I’m on my knees. Do you remember your first line?” It had only been a fortnight since the dwarf had lurched onto stage in his cups and opened The Anguish of the Archon with the grumpkin’s speech from The Merchant’s Lusty Lady. Izembaro would skin him alive if he made such a blunder again, and never mind how hard it was to find a good dwarf.
“What are we playing, Mercy?” Bobono asked innocently.
He is teasing me, Mercy thought. He’s not drunk tonight, he knows the show perfectly well. “We are doing Phario’s new Bloody Hand, in honor of the envoy from the Seven Kingdoms.”
“Now I recall.” Bobono lowered his voice to a sinister croak. “The seven-faced god has cheated me,” he said. “My noble sire he made of purest gold, and gold he made my siblings, boy and girl. But I am formed of darker stuff, of bones and blood and clay, twisted into this rude shape you see before you.” With that, he grabbed at her chest, fumbling for a nipple. “You have no titties. How can I rape a girl with no titties?”
She caught his nose between her thumb and forefinger and twisted. “You’ll have no nose until you get your hands off me.”
Owwwww,” the dwarf squealed, releasing her.
“I’ll grow titties in a year or two.” Mercy rose, to tower over the little man. “But you’ll never grow another nose. You think of that, before you touch me there.”
Bobono rubbed his tender nose. “There’s no need to get so shy. I’ll be raping you soon enough.”
“Not until the second act.”
“I always give Wendeyne’s titties a nice squeeze when I rape her in The Anguish of the Archon,” the dwarf complained. “She likes it, and the pit does too. You have to please the pit.”
That was one of Izembaro’s “wisdoms,” as he liked to call them. You have to please the pit. “I bet it would please the pit if I ripped off the dwarf’s cock and beat him about the head with it,” Mercy replied. “That’s something they won’t have seen before.” Always give them something they haven’t seen before was another of Izembaro’s “wisdoms,” and one that Bobono had no easy answer for. “There, you’re done,” Mercy announced. “Now see if you can keep in your breeches till it’s needed.”
Izembaro was calling for her again. Now he could not find his boar spear. Mercy found it for him, helped Big Brusco don his boar suit, checked the trick daggers just to make certain no one had replaced one with a real blade (someone had done that at the Dome once, and a mummer had died), and poured Lady Stork the little nip of wine she liked to have before each play. When all the cries of “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” finally died away, she stole a moment for a quick peek out into the house.
The pit was as full as ever she’d seen it, and they were enjoying themselves already, joking and jostling, eating and drinking. She saw a peddler selling chunks of cheese, ripping them off the wheel with his fingers whenever he found a buyer. A woman had a bag of wrinkled apples. Skins of wine were being passed from hand to hand, some girls were selling kisses, and one sailor was playing the sea pipes. The sad-eyed little man called Quill stood in the back, come to see what he could steal for one of his own plays. Cossomo the Conjurer had come as well, and on his arm was Yna, the one-eyed whore from the Happy Port, but Mercy could not know those two, and they would not know Mercy. Daena recognized some Gate regulars in the crowd, and pointed them out for her; the dyer Dellono with his pinched white face and mottled purple hands, Galeo the sausage-maker in his greasy leather apron, tall Tomarro with his pet rat on his shoulder. “Tomarro best not let Galeo see that rat,” Daena warned. “That’s the only meat he puts in them sausages, I hear.” Mercy covered her mouth and laughed.
The balconies were filling too. The first and third levels were for merchants and captains and other respectable folk. The bravos preferred the fourth and highest, where the seats were cheapest. It was a riot of bright color up there, while down below more somber shades held sway. The second balcony was cut up into private boxes where the mighty could comport themselves in comfort and privacy, safely apart from the vulgarity above and below. They had the best view of the stage, and servants to bring them food, wine, cushions, whatever they might desire. It was rare to find the second balcony more than half full at the Gate; such of the mighty who relished a night of mummery were more inclined to visit the Dome or the Blue Lantern, where the offerings were considered subtler and more poetic.
This night was different, though, no doubt on account of the Westerosi envoy. In one box sat three scions of Otharys, each accompanied by a famous courtesan; Prestayn sat alone, a man so ancient that you wondered how he ever reached his seat; Torone and Pranelis shared a box, as they shared an uncomfortable alliance; the Third Sword was hosting a half-dozen friends.
“I count five keyholders,” said Daena.
“Bessaro is so fat you ought to count him twice,” Mercy replied, giggling. Izembaro had a belly on him, but compared to Bessaro he was as lithe as a willow. The keyholder was so big he needed a special seat, thrice the size of a common chair.
“They’re all fat, them Reyaans,” Daena said. “Bellies as big as their ships. You should have seen the father. He made this one look small. One time he was summoned to the Hall of Truth to vote, but when he stepped onto his barge it sank.” She clutched Mercy by the elbow. “Look, the Sealord’s box.” The Sealord had never visited the Gate, but Izembaro named a box for him anyway, the largest and most opulent in the house. “That must be the Westerosi envoy. Have you ever seen such clothes on an old man? And look, he’s brought the Black Pearl!”
The envoy was slight and balding, with a funny grey wisp of a beard growing from his chin. His cloak was yellow velvet, and his breeches. His doublet was a blue so bright it almost made Mercy’s eyes water. Upon his breast a shield had been embroidered in yellow thread, and on the shield was a proud blue rooster picked out in lapis lazuli. One of his guards helped him to his seat, while two others stood behind him in the back of the box.
The woman with him could not have been more than a third his age. She was so lovely that the lamps seemed to burn brighter when she passed. She had dressed in a low-cut gown of pale yellow silk, startling against the light brown of her skin. Her black hair was bound up in a net of spun gold, and a jet-and-gold necklace brushed against the top of her full breasts. As they watched, she leaned close to the envoy and whispered something in his ear that made him laugh. “They should call her the Brown Pearl,” Mercy said to Daena. “She’s more brown than black.”
“The first Black Pearl was black as a pot of ink,” said Daena. “She was a pirate queen, fathered by a Sealord’s son on a princess from the Summer Isles. A dragon king from Westeros took her for his lover.”
“I would like to see a dragon,” Mercy said wistfully. “Why does the envoy have a chicken on his chest?”
Daena howled. “Mercy, don’t you know anything? It’s his siggle. In the Sunset Kingdoms all the lords have siggles. Some have flowers, some have fish, some have bears and elks and other things. See, the envoy’s guards are wearing lions.”
It was true. There were four guards; big, hard-looking men in ringmail, with heavy Westerosi longswords sheathed at their hips. Their crimson cloaks were bordered in whorls of gold, and golden lions with red garnet eyes clasped each cloak at the shoulder. When Mercy glanced at the faces beneath the gilded, lion-crested helm, her belly gave a quiver.The gods have given me a gift. Her fingers clutched hard at Daena’s arm. “That guard. The one on the end, behind the Black Pearl.”
“What of him? Do you know him?”
“No.” Mercy had been born and bred in Braavos, how could she know some Westerosi? She had to think a moment. “It’s only… well, he’s fair to look on, don’t you think?” He was, in a rough-hewn way, though his eyes were hard.
Daena shrugged. “He’s very old. Not so old as the other ones, but… he could be thirty. And Westerosi. They’re terrible savages, Mercy. Best stay well away from his sort.”
“Stay away?” Mercy giggled. She was a giggly sort of girl, was Mercy. “No. I’ve got to get closer.” She gave Daena a squeeze and said, “If the Snapper comes looking for me, tell her that I went off to read my lines again.” She only had a few, and most were just, “Oh, no, no, no,” and “Don’t, oh don’t, don’t touch me,” and “Please, m’lord, I am still a maiden,” but this was the first time Izembaro had given her any lines at all, so it was only to be expected that poor Mercy would want to get them right.
The envoy from the Seven Kingdoms had taken two of his guards into his box to stand behind him and the Black Pearl, but the other two had been posted just outside the door to make certain he was not disturbed. They were talking quietly in the Common Tongue of Westeros as she slipped up silently behind them in the darkened passage. That was not a language Mercy knew.
“Seven hells, this place is damp,” she heard her guard complain. “I’m chilled to the bones. Where are the bloody orange trees? I always heard there were orange trees in the Free Cities. Lemons and limes. Pomegranates. Hot peppers, warm nights, girls with bare bellies. Where are the bare-bellied girls, I ask you?”
“Down in Lys, and Myr, and Old Volantis,” the other guard replied. He was an older man, big-bellied and grizzled. “I went to Lys with Lord Tywin once, when he was Hand to Aerys. Braavos is north of King’s Landing, fool. Can’t you read a bloody map?”
“How long do you think we’ll be here?”
“Longer than you’d like,” the old man replied. “If he goes back without the gold the queen will have his head. Besides, I seen that wife of his. There’s steps in Casterly Rock she can’t go down for fear she’d get stuck, that’s how fat she is. Who’d go back to that, when he has his sooty queen?”
The handsome guardsman grinned. “Don’t suppose he’ll share her with us, afterward?”
“What, are you mad? You think he notices the likes of us? Bloody bugger don’t even get our names right half the time. Maybe it was different with Clegane.”
“Ser wasn’t one for mummer shows and fancy whores. When Ser wanted a woman he took one, but sometimes he’d let us have her, after. I wouldn’t mind having a taste of that Black Pearl. You think she’s pink between her legs?”
Mercy wanted to hear more, but there was no time. The Bloody Hand was about to start, and the Snapper would be looking for her to help with costumes. Izembaro might be the King of the Mummers, but the Snapper was the one that they all feared. Time enough for her pretty guardsman later.
The Bloody Hand opened in a lichyard.
When the dwarf appeared suddenly from behind a wooden tombstone, the crowd began to hiss and curse. Bobono waddled to the front of the stage and leered at them. “The seven-faced god has cheated me,” he began, snarling the words. “My noble sire he made of purest gold, and gold he made my siblings, boy and girl. But I am formed of darker stuff, of bones and blood and clay… “
By then Marro had appeared behind him, gaunt and terrible in the Stranger’s long black robes. His face was black as well, his teeth red and shiny with blood, while ivory horns jutted upwards from his brow. Bobono could not see him, but the balconies could, and now the pit as well. The Gate grew deathly quiet. Marro moved forward silently.
So did Mercy. The costumes were all hung, and the Snapper was busy sewing Daena into her gown for the court scene, so Mercy’s absence should not be noted. Quiet as a shadow, she slipped around the back again, up to where the guardsmen stood outside the envoy’s box. Standing in a darkened alcove, still as stone, she had a good look at his face. She studied it carefully, to be sure. Am I too young for him? she wondered. Too plain? Too skinny? She hoped he wasn’t the sort of man who liked big breasts on a girl. Bobono had been right about her chest. It would be best if I could take him back to my place, have him all to myself. But will he come with me?
“You think it might be him?” the pretty one was saying.
“What, did the Others take your wits?”
“Why not? He’s a dwarf, ain’t he?”
“The Imp weren’t the only dwarf in the world.”
“Maybe not, but look here, everyone says how clever he was, true? So maybe he figures the last place his sister would ever look for him would be in some mummer show, making fun of himself. So he does just that, to tweak her nose.”
“Ah, you’re mad.”
“Well, maybe I’ll follow him after the mummery. Find out for myself.” The guardsman put a hand on the hilt of his sword. “If I’m right, I’ll be a ma lord, and if I’m wrong, well, bleed it, it’s just some dwarf.” He gave a bark of laughter.
On stage, Bobono was bargaining with Marro’s sinister Stranger. He had a big voice for such a little man, and he made it ring off the highest rafters now. “Give me the cup,” he told the Stranger, “for I shall drink deep. And if it tastes of gold and lion’s blood, so much the better. As I cannot be the hero, let me be the monster, and lesson them in fear in place of love.”
Mercy mouthed the last lines along with him. They were better lines than hers, and apt besides. He’ll want me or he won’t, she thought, so let the play begin. She said a silent prayer to the god of many faces, slipped out of her alcove, and flounced up to the guardsmen. Mercy, Mercy, Mercy. “My lords,” she said, “do you speak Braavosi? Oh, please, tell me you do.”
The two guardsmen exchanged a look. “What’s this thing going on about?” the older one asked. “Who is she?”
“One of the mummers,” said the pretty one. He pushed his fair hair back off his brow and smiled at her. “Sorry, sweetling, we don’t speak your gibble-gabble.”
Fuss and feathers, Mercy thought, they only know the Common Tongue. That was no good. Give it up or go ahead. She could not give it up. She wanted him so bad. “I know your tongue, a little,” she lied, with Mercy’s sweetest smile. “You are lords of Westeros, my friend said.”
The old one laughed. “Lords? Aye, that’s us.”
Mercy looked down at her feet, so shy. “Izembaro said to please the lords,” she whispered. “If there is anything you want, anything at all… “
The two guardsmen exchanged a look. Then the handsome one reached out and touched her breast. “Anything?
“You’re disgusting,” said the older man.
“Why? If this Izembaro wants to be hospitable, it would be rude to refuse.” He gave her nipple a tweak through the fabric of her dress, just the way the dwarf had done when she was fixing his cock for him. “Mummers are the next best thing to whores.”
“Might be, but this one is a child.”
“I am not,” lied Mercy. “I’m a maiden now.”
“Not for long,” said the comely one. “I’m Lord Rafford, sweetling, and I know just what I want. Hike up those skirts now, and lean back against that wall.”
“Not here,” Mercy said, brushing his hands away. “Not where the play is on. I might cry out, and Izembaro would be mad.”
“Where, then?”
“I know a place.”
The older guard was scowling. “What, you think can just scamper off? What if his knightliness comes looking for you?”
“Why would he? He’s got a show to watch. And he’s got his own whore, why shouldn’t I have mine? This won’t take long.”
No, she thought, it won’t. Mercy took him by the hand, led him through the back and down the steps and out into the foggy night. “You could be a mummer, if you wanted,” she told him, as he pressed her up against the wall of the playhouse.
“Me?” The guardsman snorted. “Not me, girl. All that bloody talking, I wouldn’t remember half of it.”
“It’s hard at first,” she admitted. “But after a time it comes easier. I could teach you to say a line. I could.”
He grabbed her wrist. “I’ll do the teaching. Time for your first lesson.” He pulled her hard against him and kissed her on the lips, forcing his tongue into her mouth. It was all wet and slimy, like an eel. Mercy licked it with her own tongue, then broke away from him, breathless. “Not here. Someone might see. My room’s not far, but hurry. I have to be back before the second act, or I’ll miss my rape.”
He grinned. “No fear o’ that, girl.” But he let her pull him after her. Hand in hand, they went racing through the fog, over bridges and through alleys and up five flights of splintery wooden stairs. The guardsman was panting by the time they burst through the door of her little room. Mercy lit a tallow candle, then danced around at him, giggling. “Oh, now you’re all tired out. I forgot how old you were, m’lord. Do you want to take a little nap? Just lie down and close your eyes, and I’ll come back after the Imp’s done raping me.”
“You’re not going anywhere.” He pulled her roughly to him. “Get those rags off, and I’ll show you how old I am, girl.”
“Mercy,” she said. “My name is Mercy. Can you say it?”
“Mercy,” he said. “My name is Raff.”
“I know.” She slipped her hand between his legs, and felt how hard he was through the wool of his breeches.
“The laces,” he urged her. “Be a sweet girl and undo them.” Instead she slid her finger down along the inside of his thigh. He gave a grunt. “Damn, be careful there, you — “
Mercy gave a gasp and stepped away, her face confused and frightened. “You’rebleeding.”
“Wha — ” He looked down at himself. “Gods be good. What did you do to me, you little cunt?” The red stain spread across his thigh, soaking the heavy fabric.
“Nothing,” Mercy squeaked. “I never… oh, oh, there’s so much blood. Stop it, stop it, you’re scaring me.”
He shook his head, a dazed look on his face. When he pressed his hand to his thigh, blood squirted through his fingers. It was running down his leg, into his boot. He doesn’t look so comely now, she thought. He just looks white and frightened.
“A towel,” the guardsman gasped. “Bring me a towel, a rag, press down on it. Gods. I feel dizzy.” His leg was drenched with blood from the thigh down. When he tried to put his weight on it, his knee buckled and he fell. “Help me,” he pleaded, as the crotch of his breeches reddened. “Mother have mercy, girl. A healer… run and find a healer, quick now.”
“There’s one on the next canal, but he won’t come. You have to go to him. Can’t you walk?”
“Walk?” His fingers were slick with blood. “Are you blind, girl? I’m bleeding like a stuck pig. I can’t walk on this.”
“Well,” she said, “I don’t know how you’ll get there, then.”
“You’ll need to carry me.”
See? thought Mercy. You know your line, and so do I.
“Think so?” asked Arya, sweetly.
Raff the Sweetling looked up sharply as the long thin blade came sliding from her sleeve. She slipped it through his throat beneath the chin, twisted, and ripped it back out sideways with a single smooth slash. A fine red rain followed, and in his eyes the light went out.
“Valar morghulis,” Arya whispered, but Raff was dead and did not hear. She sniffed. I should have helped him down the steps before I killed him. Now I’ll need to drag him all the way to the canal and roll him in. The eels would do the rest.
“Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” she sang sadly. A foolish, giddy girl she’d been, but good hearted. She would miss her, and she would miss Daena and the Snapper and the rest, even Izembaro and Bobono. This would make trouble for the Sealord and the envoy with the chicken on his chest, she did not doubt.
She would think about that later, though. Just now, there was no time. I had best run. Mercy still had some lines to say, her first lines and her last, and Izembaro would have her pretty little empty head if she were late for her own rape.

AUGH where the hell is the rest of the post GIVE IT TO ME NOW!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Comfort is a privilege, not a right

Privilege is about comfort. It's about living your life in a zone where you expect others to be conscious of and concerned about your own comfort, while at the same time there are no such expectations placed by others regarding your own behavior. 

Much, if not all, of the anger and resentment certain classes and groups feel in America today is about the loss of this privilege... the loss of this feeling that others must take their comfort into consideration at all times, while they need not reciprocate. Just to use one of many, many examples, this is entirely what the so called "War On Christmas" is about. Certain people are only comfortable with one particular type of MidWinter Solstice celebration -- Christmas -- complete with all its odd Druidic and Roman Saturniliaesque rituals and trappings -- and when Midwinter Solstice time rolls around, if any other kind of MidWinter Solstice celebration intrudes on their sensibilities in any way, they are made uncomfortable. It never used to happen -- non-Christians used to just keep their big yaps shut or take a beating for their trouble -- and that's the way they think it still should be. Because they were comfortable with that... and they don't care about anyone else's comfort. Just theirs.

It's important to understand -- nobody has a 'right' to be comfortable. And once you understand that, you will also understand just how utterly noxious and unacceptable any sort of 'privilege' is. An expectation that others will shape their lives in a way that takes your comfort into concern at all times and in every way, that accepts no similar obligation on your own part... this is no part of a mature, civilized culture or society.

AUGH where the hell is the rest of the post GIVE IT TO ME NOW!

The Good of the Few

Robert Reich says -- 

"Fifty years ago, America's business leaders understood they needed a strong and growing middle class in order to have enough customers to grow their businesses. They knew that they and the economy would suffer if almost all the economic gains went to the top.

But today, business leaders compare those who worry about inequality to Nazis. Ken Langone, billionaire co-founder of Home Depot, says "if you go back to 1933, with different words, this is what Hitler was saying in Germany. You don’t survive as a society if you encourage and thrive on envy or jealousy.” Venture capital pioneer Tom Perkins says “in the Nazi area it was racial demonization, now it is class demonization.”

Why don't today's business leaders get it? Why aren't they speaking out against the scourge of widening inequality?"

It's because they don't care.

The super wealthy of today have enough money, and they simply don't care about any one who has less. You can see this in the callous cruelty of conservative talk radio, in the increasing popularity of Ayn Rand among the uppermost economic tiers. To them, the poor are less than trash beneath their feet. They simply don't care. They don't care if their businesses go under; they'll still have their mansions, their cars, their swimming pools, and their private security forces.

What they do care about, just a tiny little bit, is the growing unrest among the peasant class. They are vaguely aware that they are badly outnumbered, and that even if the trashy folks they constantly disparage didn't go into open revolt and march them off to a guillotine, those same folks can hurt them badly simply by boycotting their businesses... or going on strike. This is why they've starting comparing any public concern for wealth inequality to Nazism. They are worried about some kind of meaningful populist backlash that might, possibly, impact their lifestyle... but they're not very worried. And they certainly don't want to do anything significant to prevent it. They just want to bitch and whine.

There have been many points in human history where it has been clearer and more apparent that the wealthy are the natural enemies of those who actually produce the wealth that they parasitically live off. But nonetheless, this is becoming clearer and clearer every day.

AUGH where the hell is the rest of the post GIVE IT TO ME NOW!

Random Heinlein Notes #whatever

One of the interesting things about THE ROLLING STONES is that unlike Heinlein's other juveniles, it's not really a coming of age story. In fact, it really has no central theme at all. It's a series of adventure episodes about a supposedly typical family exploring the Solar System several hundred years in the future.

Oh, the twins do grow up considerably during the course of the book, but the book isn't about them. It's about the family, and yet, it's not really about them, either. It's more just about the idea that the human race will always expand into whatever room is available to it.

Nearly every other Heinlein juvenile ends with the central protagonist becoming a man (other than PODKAYNE OF MARS, which ends with the central character either dead or in a coma in a hospital, depending on which version you read -- yet another indicator of Heinlein's unpleasantly deep misogyny... but I've gone into that in detail elsewhere, I'll spare you here). THE ROLLING STONES ends when Heinlein apparently either ran out of ideas or just decided to stop typing.

Of all the Heinlein juveniles, this one and THE STAR BEAST are the only ones that aren't 'coming of age' stories that show a boy becoming a man. Perhaps that's why I'm always so reluctant to reread them, despite the fact that they're both very well written.

AUGH where the hell is the rest of the post GIVE IT TO ME NOW!

Dear Ralph Reed:

Sorry. Let me help you. It's not 'bigotry against evangelical Christians is the last acceptable form of bigotry in the country'. It's 'speaking out against bigotry, hatred, narrow mindedness, and intolerance for othe...See more

AUGH where the hell is the rest of the post GIVE IT TO ME NOW!

Let's get this straight --

-- being a hateful, selfish piece of shit is not a right. It's not freedom of speech. It's not a religious thing. Your money does not buy you this. This is not a 'right' of any sort. You're just being a dick. Stop it.

AUGH where the hell is the rest of the post GIVE IT TO ME NOW!

BREAKING NEWS: Matt Drudge is a lying sack of shit

Who knew?

AUGH where the hell is the rest of the post GIVE IT TO ME NOW!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Hate and Love At The Closing Of The Year

So a Republican candidate for Senate wants to make poor kids sweep cafeteria floors before they can have a free school lunch. 

I try to be empathic. I try to understand that other people have different points of view and different ideas of what is right and what is wrong. I try not to be knee jerk and, when possible, to avoid unthinking jingoism. And I understand that left leaning progressives are just as susceptible to reflexive, unthinking adoption of liberal memes as anyone else, and I try to actually think things through and try to see them from other points of view.

I get that conservatives do not necessarily 'hate poor people'. In fact, many conservatives are poor people. And I get that the underlying emotion in all the 'punish the poor' tropes that are going around -- get rid of the social safety net, 'workfare, not welfare', 'no free lunch', all that stuff, is probably, by, at the very least, poor working class conservatives themselves, meant more or less honestly. These are people who work hard, don't make much money, have lousy benefits, and they pay taxes. Even if they're too poor themselves to pay much or anything in the way of income tax, they still pay sales taxes, gas taxes, other taxes. And they don't like to see the taxes they pay spent on 'freeloaders'. And that's an honest reaction, and I can respect that, I really can.

But the conservative politicians who propose this crap aren't poor. They're never poor. They're affluent or straight up rich pricks who have never swept a floor in their lives. Some of them may be 'self made', they may have started out in life poor, but if they did I guarantee you that somewhere in their past, they have benefited from the social programs that they now affect to despise (Paul Ryan, for example, wouldn't be screwing things up in Congress today if his family hadn't made a fortune in government contracts over the last 100+ years). And the ones that came from affluent backgrounds have never done anything particularly difficult or unpleasant in their lives. 

And that's what's really going on here. Affluent/wealthy/superwealthy conservatives are accustomed to living lives of indolent luxury. They have never had to do any hard, uncomfortable, or dangerous physical labor in their lives, and they don't want to, and they don't want their kids or grandkids to ever have to, either. But there is always hard, uncomfortable, and/or dangerous physical labor that needs to be done, and affluent/wealthy/superwealthy conservatives need to make damn sure there are always desperate poor people out there willing to do it... and they want to be able to pay those poor people the least amount of their inherited, fraudulently obtained, or softly earned (at comfortable executive jobs) money as possible, too.

This is why affluent/wealthysuperwealthy conservatives hate 'government interference in the free market' (like minimum wages) and are deadset against 'freeloaders'. It's why they make up stories about black Welfare queens driving Cadillacs and black Welfare bucks eating sirloin steak on your dime. Because if you're going to convince poor people to vote against their own interests, you have to make those poor people think they're not doing that. 

But it's not simply the (wealthy, trillion dollar) conservative propaganda media that is to blame. There is a genuine streak of mean spirited hatefulness that runs both wide and deep in the conservative movement, and nowhere is that more evident than among poor conservatives. If conservative demagogues appeal to these people and win their votes by serving up endless shovelsful of hate, resentment, and fear, still, these people swallow that shit by the 55 gallon drum and beat their spoons on the table shrieking for more. 

The conservative poor in this country will scream and shake their fists in the air when a President tries to give them affordable health care insurance, and why? Because their conservative Congressman, Senator, or Governor tells them that their tax dollars will be subsidizing poor freeloaders who don't look like them. 

The conservative poor in this country will howl in outrage if a 'liberal Congress' tries to extend Unemployment benefits, despite the fact that many of them have been living off those benefits for an extended period... and why? Because they've been told that a lot of those benefits go to support freeloaders who don't look like them.

What are the conservative poor willing, even happy, to see their taxes spent on? More prisons for people who don't look like them. More and more guns for local police forces who do look like them, to be used to lock up people who don't look like them. More airplanes, more cruise missiles, more military ordinance of every kind, all to be used to blow up people who don't look like them. And by all means, let's pay more money and give more benefits to the soldiers who invade the countries populated by people who don't look like them. 

If your entire political philosophy boils down to "help people who look like me/hurt people who don't look like me", you're not part of the solution. You are, in fact, the problem. 


AUGH where the hell is the rest of the post GIVE IT TO ME NOW!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Too much time on my hands

AUGH where the hell is the rest of the post GIVE IT TO ME NOW!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Dream That Died

The True Story Of How I Nearly Ended Up Writing For Marvel Comics, But Didn't -

I've been a superhero comics fan since I was six years old, back in the long dead days of 1967 or thereabouts, and for as long as I can remember, I've wanted to write the adventures of my favorite superheroes.

Over the course of my life I've had many close brushes and near misses with making my dream come true. In college I was part of a clique with several comics fans, two of whom have gone on to become award winning, well known, very popular comics professionals. Could that have been me? Well, had I had an affluent father willing to pay all my bills for a year in New York City while I did nothing but trudge around to editor's office with script samples, and a close friend working as Marvel's Direct Sales Manager who could give me tips like "Denny O'Neil just got told he can't write and edit POWER MAN/IRON FIST any more, he needs a permanent writer ASAP"... then, sure, and you might all be writing worshipful posts about "D.A. MADIGAN'S ASTRO CITY" right now.

(It's not likely, though.  I'd have created an original series.)

Also back in the early 80s, a publishing company named New Media Irjax accepted two original superhero proposals by me and the Late Great Jeff Webb. Unfortunately, NMI went broke before either BROTHERS OF THE ATOM or ARCHANGEL could see print.   Had they gotten into print, I have little doubt that Jeff would still be alive, and I'd be nearly as famous now as Alan Zelenetz or Charlie Boatner.

Then there was the time I met a guy online who was close friends with a Vertigo editor who was looking for new series ideas for Mature Readers. I came up with a proposal called Seraphim 66 (http://www.angelfire.com/ny3/docnebula/seraphim.html) that my online buddy said was a shoo in... but then his editor friend got fired.  Whoops...

And then there was the time I nearly got published by Steve Jackson Games, and how I came THIS close to getting into an anthology edited by... but never mind. Never mind.

Suffice to say, over the years, I've had many many opportunities to achieve my dream... and, as Crosby Stills & Nash might put it, I've never failed to fail.

My most recent near miss came just a few months ago. A Professional Established Artist who shall remain nameless contacted me, saying he'd read some of my articles on the Internet and thought I was just the guy to work with him on a proposal he was putting together for Marvel Comics. Marvel had contacted him and asked him for ideas for a new superteam, and he had some basic ideas, but wondered if I wanted to collaborate with him.

Did I? And HOW!!

And, as always, after a great deal of work, I was left with nothing to show for it... except a new book, called A Dream That Died.  So I got that goin' for me.  Which is nice.

A Dream That Died reprints much of the email correspondence back and forth (with identifying characteristics removed, of course) between me and the Professional Established Artist, and shows how, once again, I seem to be my own worst enemy when it comes to getting any kind of break.

AUGH where the hell is the rest of the post GIVE IT TO ME NOW!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Josh Marshall continues to be a douche


"Where Are We On Obamacare?
What's your gut tell about where this is going, going on seven weeks in?

You're an optimist? A pessimist? Or maybe like some, you know it's the law and one that President Obama is highly unlikely to allow Congress to mettle with, so it's just going to plow on, bumps or not. That's what we're discussing at The Hive (sub req). Join us and let us know what you think."


I'm honestly looking for feedback here -- am I the only one who finds it incredibly inappropriate and tacky for a guy who runs a website to pose a question to his general readership, ask them to join the discussion... and then require a subscription fee from them before they can do so?

Marshall and I went around and around on this via email one day last week. He is, to say the least, somewhat defensive about moving all the discussion threads on his Talking Points Memo site behind a paywall. He's also very defensive about the incredibly intrusive ads he cluster bombs his readers with -- they are, literally, everywhere (despite his insistence that he decided to stop doing pop ups, a 'stop the Republicans' full page ad still pops up over every page there when I click on a link).

He advised me in no uncertain terms that (a) he needs to generate $200K a month to keep that site up and (b) the paywall only pays for about 5% of that. (He did not tell me how much the ads actually generate every month, nor did he tell me how much of that $200K a month goes to his own salary and bennies. And of course he's not obligated to, but as he began his side of the discussion by calling me 'unhinged', well, I'd find his further hectoring about how hard he has it and how tough it is and how he needs to do these things to pay his bills to be more convincing if he'd also told me exactly how much he really DOES make from the ads, instead of just how much he needs to make, and how much of that money goes to him personally.)

What started it all was me sending him a somewhat irate email after I read a little blurb inviting me to "be part of the team" and "join the discussion"... and when I clicked on that link, it led me to a page shilling me for a $50/year subscription.

He strongly implied he had no idea where that particular piece of verbiage was, near hysterically advised me that there were declaimers all over the site about how TMP Prime required a subscription, and also strongly implied that he had not written the "be part of the team join the discussion" lead in to the subscription pitch.

And yet, here he is, doing it even more explicitly, and signing his name to it. He's posing a question, asking everyone who reads his site to join in the discussion... and then, say hey and by the way, you need to subscribe to do so.

This just seems, to me, to be tacky bordering on immoral. But maybe I'm crazy. Certainly Mr. Marshall thinks I'm 'unhinged'.

AUGH where the hell is the rest of the post GIVE IT TO ME NOW!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Josh Marshall, the Classiest Guy On The Internet

So today, I was over at Talking Points Memo, one of my favorite kneejerk liberal political sites, and I clicked on an article that sounded interesting.  Instead of getting the article, I got a page telling me all about the wonders of TPMPrime.  At the bottom of the page, it said:

""Become a part of our team. Join TPMPrime today."

And I thought, omigod, I'd LOVE to become part of the TPM team!  What are they going to pay me?  What are the benefits?  I mean, that would be AWESOME!!!

So I clicked on the link and... uh... no.  No, not so much.  To 'become part of the team' and 'join TPMPrime', I need to pony up fifty bucks a year as a subscription fee.

So, I sent off this email to the site:

* * * * *

"Become a part of our team. Join TPMPrime today."

That's what it says, at the bottom of the page that came up when I clicked on an interesting sound article (I think it was "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going") listed in the right margin of another TPM article I'd just finished.

"Become a part of our team."  I swooned!

But then, after another click, and much reading, I discovered... I'm supposed to pay for the privilege of doing this.

Yep.  "Become part of our team.  Join TPMPrime today."

Nowhere in those calculated to appeal,  wonderful sounding words, does it say anything about money.  Nowhere does it use the word 'subscribe' or 'fork it over' or 'yeah, happy to have you, just haul out that credit card, bitch'.  Nowhere.

Just 'Become part of our team.'

You know what?  Fuck you.  And your team.

I've been an avid reader of Talking Points Memo for a decade now.  I used to be a pretty regular contributor to the reader forums, under the name Doc Nebula.  I got a lot of likes, a lot of dislikes, stirred up some controversy, took part in a lot of good conversations.

And now, to be 'part of your team', I need to give you some money.

I'll be unliking your Facebook page to get you the fuck out of my Facebook stream.  And I won't be dropping by your page any more.  Whatever microscopic income may have been generated by my 10 or 20 hits a day, is now gone.

You want me to subscribe?  Ask me to subscribe.  Use those words.  Or words that otherwise indicate you're putting your hand in my pocket, groping for my wallet.

Don't ask me to 'become part of your team' by 'joining TPMPrime'.

That's just low.

Once again, a very cheery and unprofessional 'fuck you' to every single one of you.  Yes, you and you and you and YOU!



D.A. Madigan

* * * * * *

And then, wonder of wonders, I got an email back!  From the head honcho at TPM his damn self, Josh Marshall!  And he said:

* * * * ** *

Dear Darren,

I think you win the award for the whackiest and most unhinged email in some time.  The site is positively plastered with the fact that Prime is a membership program.  Look at the top of the site where it says "Subscribe to Prime".  It takes you to this page.


You will notice the blaring "Subscribe to Prime" $50 / Year.

If there's a part of the site as opposed to the top of the site and the bottom of the site and basically everywhere else where this doesn't clear, it would be help if you could say where that it is as opposed to launch off on this tirade.

You are clearly under the impression that some rich person pays the millions of dollars a year it costs to create TPM.  Sorry to disabuse you of that illusion.  TPM is a company.  It requires revenue to pay its employees.  Our membership system costs $50 and this you apparently see as a major conspiracy against you because you didn't see quickly enough that there's a subscription fee and that's driven you on a wild rant against everyone here.

I think you need to take a deep breath and probably focus on how completely inappropriate and bizarre this email is.


* * * * * * *

So then I said:

* * * * * *

Well, at least I won an award.

While advising me of how whacky I am, you might perhaps take a moment to reflect, not on how many different places you have different messages plastered, but just how disagreeable the message 'join our team' is, as a lead in to a delayed pitch for money.

But, again, as long as I'm the best at something, I'll declare victory and retire from the field, and you go on and continue to ignore my opinions.  Cuz I don't matter.  Not unless I give you fifty bucks, anyway.

Were you ever not a sell  out?  I'm just wondering.

* * * * * * * *

Now... I get that Talking Points Memo, like every other breathing bipedal semi sentient mammal on this planet, wants my money.  I do.  I get hammered with that knowledge every time I go over to TPM and get barraged with pop up ads every time I click on a link or scroll down or even look sideways at any of their pages.

And I guess I don't object to it.  I mean, everyone wants money. I want money.  TPM employs lots of people, Josh has to pay those people, he's got rent and ISP fees and all kinds of other stuff.   He needs to generate revenue.   Apparently, he needs more revenue than is generated by the ubiquitous and exasperating array of ads he puts on his site, and so, he is reserving some of the site's 'better' content behind a pay wall.

That's great.  That's fabulous.  That's all well and good and hunky motherfucking dory.  Absolutely.

My protest, and I think I made this clear, was directed directly towards the language used to try to entice me to subscribe.  Namely:

"Become a part of our team. Join TPMPrime today."

This does not sound like "Give us money".  This sounds like "We value you and want to pay you".

And I'm reasonably sure that this phrasing is not accidental.

So, I sent him a nastygram.  And for doing this, for taking the time to voice my feelings about this almost cruelly deceptive phrasing on his website, what do I get?

I get called 'whacky' and 'unhinged'.

You're a class act, Mr. Marshall.

AUGH where the hell is the rest of the post GIVE IT TO ME NOW!