Archive for June, 2014

Things That are Awesome For the Sixth Time.

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

Like the old in an olderglass pass the olds of our lives. Oldly.
Look at all this stuff here that’s happened while I’m being old.

-Magma-based ecosystems and the geologists who are eaten by them.
-Sprawling Mesozoic civilizations whose lingua franca consists primarily of hootin’, stompin’, and hollerin’.
-The desire to succeed, the boldness to try, and the incompetence to prove otherwise.
-Giant carnivorous therapods arm-wrestling.
-Swashbuckling and nefarious yet strangely charming dental hygienists.
-The miracle of tube worms.
-Subterranean marsupials. As long as they aren’t teenagers or ninjas. And don’t live in a sewer. Sewers are much less hospitable, homey, and capacious than fiction would lead you to believe.
-The land of the eyeless where the one-eyed man is considered an okay guy but seriously what’s with those goddamned EYES?
-Languages consisting primarily of winks.
-Of varying salaciousness.
-Musical instruments constructed from skeletons.
-Musical instruments constructed from skeletons being played by musicians with exoskeletons.
-Musical instruments constructed from skeletons being played by musicians with exoskeletons for the auditory pleasure of invertebrates.
-Musical instruments constructed from skeletons being played by musicians with exoskeletons for the auditory pleasure of invertebrates inside a concert hall made from the husk of a giant protist.
-Cloning dinosaurs pell-mell.
-The awe and the power of jellyfish.
-Because we’re all going to be seeing a lot of that and we’d better get used to it.
-Things that are far larger than they have any business being.
-Ferocious and majestic house cats that rule over untrammeled wastes of frayed carpeting as far as the eye can see.
-Clocks that generate borrowed time for public consumption at highly reasonable interest rates.
-Buildings that used to be alive.
-Buildings that are still alive.
-Buildings that are still alive and are your wisecracking best friend that you go on adventures with.
-Plucky little coelurosaurs that stand up to the big guy and evolve into birds.
-Or plucky little coelurosaurs that stand up to the big guy and evolve into tyrannosaurs and eat him. I’m not taking sides here.
-The wonderful world of Pamela Barker. Go on, ask if you can take a look, she usually charges a pittance and it’s the best biosphere I’ve ever seen anyone fit into a matchbox.
-Endless whales. No upper limit. Just wall-to-wall whales, then more behind the walls. Literally forever. An infinity of whales. Full stop. Except there are no stops because there is no point where there are not more whales.
-A reasonably-priced donut that’s pretty darned tasty.
-Books that are larger than computers.
-Computers that are larger than rooms.
-Rooms that are larger than houses.
-Houses that you can put in your pocket and take home with you.
-As long as they’re machine-washable.
-Damning socks.
-Full-contact un-refereed no-holds-barred illegal back-alley math ‘bouts.
-Alphabets. Betabets too. Omegabets I’ll pass on. Epsilonbets no no no see I don’t do that shit shut the fuck up, but I know a guy who knows a guy.
-Nice smooth rocks with lots of trees on ‘em.
-Aggravated moss that turns terminal.
-Judging other people for their failure to think for me properly.
-The Little Mongol Horde that Could. Deserved more press than it got.
-The audacity of apathy.
-Or not. Whatever.
-Humming with intent. Also outside the tent oh HO knee slapped.
-Secret bases constructed inside things secret bases would not be expected to be constructed inside of.
-The end of an era. Any era, just pick one. There’s usually plenty of choices.
-Home products crafted from obsidian for entirely practical reasons.
-Home products crafted from obsidian for entirely impractical reasons.
-Surgery based around volatile chemicals and lots of chanting.
-Things that should have glowing eyeballs that don’t.
-The use of typeface to make a philosophical point, as long as someone gets punched before, during, or after the fact.
-Things that are big but not ol’. Most things shrink when they get ol’, I don’t see why this isn’t more common.
-Emergency use of the inner ear as a filter. For anything, really. Use your imagination. And your inner ear.
-Ancient horrors so feared that man dare not smell of them aloud and sniff only surreptitiously, with fearful glances.
-The dance of those who give no fucks.
-Elegance in brutal overwhelming force. Or vice versa.
-Zippiness in general.
-A calm, slow, even voice in a time of crisis that carefully and rationally suggests unimaginably stupid things.
-Birds with teeth.
-Teeth with birds.
-With bird teeth.
-The unparalleled splendor and majesty of the dandelion.
-Any major landscape feature that contains smaller versions of itself like a matryoshka doll.
-The art of artlessness.
-Gob-smacked monkey’s uncles who get knocked down with a feather so easily it blows their socks off.
-Meagreness in excess.
-Itty-bitty deep sea life. Like, squinchy-winchy at best. Puny. Teensy. Minute.
-The pleasure of plesiosaurs.

Storytime: Light the Way.

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

The Gdappi Coast is older than eyes, older than sin, older than hearts. Cities line it, ruins encrust it, fishermen ply it up and down past the long, stone beaches, hauling the little nets for the big fat Tzab fish that move slowly through the warm currents. They drift for days on the current, the whole time without a single word leaving their lips – all communication is by hand and eyes. It’s bad luck to speak aloud on a fishing trip, though no-one remembers why. The one exception is when one of the big merchant ships bulls through the path of the fishers; then the dried and gummy lips unseal themselves to vent a torrent of abuse upon the likes of those who would so cruelly run them down.
The merchants don’t care, of course. They’ve got bigger problems of their own. The Gdappi Coast is old, and its trade routes not much younger, but age has not softened the sharp teeth that lie just below the waterline over so much of its length. Where there are no stones, there are reefs; where there are no reefs, there are stones. And as the years and decades and centuries roll by, one constant remains: the petitions and the complaints and the long, long pleas to the kings and queens of the Gdappi for lighthouses and lighthouse-keepers, for lonely men and women to tend farfires that could light the cruel barbs of the sea and steer them well away.
Most came to nothing. A few unlucky ones caught rulers in bad moods and were punished. A handful persuaded a ruler (begrudgingly), and a shoddy little tower of cheap cement and cracked stone would be erected, to stand for a little less than a half-century before a storm roiled up from the deep and spat upon it.
And one day, one petition in the court of Queen Ktami came to her in a capricious and sour mood, and received an unusual response.
“Half,” she said, from her throne of wrought iron and blackened wood. “I will pay for half of the costs of construction. The rest will be paid by the petitioners. And if the cost exceeds eight thousand ba, they will pay two-thirds the cost. And if this complaint comes again in my hearing, they will pay all the costs and all of their property and also their tongues, so that I do not have to hear it again.”
Obviously this did not sit well with the merchants, but equally obviously they did not protest. And so they grumbled and whinged their way around a map of the most dangerous shoals of Gdappi, the spots marked with dozens of little grey scratches of ship names and dates and cargos lost. And so they found, to their dismay if not their surprise, that the most dangerous places of all were remote and difficult to reach, and so construction would be expensive and lengthy.
“One-eighth of the cost shall be paid by all,” said the youngest merchant.
“One-eighth would bankrupt me,” said the poorest merchant. “I should pay less.”
“Your ships use this route more than any other,” said the cruelest merchant. “You should pay more.”
“And you use this route less than any other, and I suppose you’ll say to pay less then?” asked the sharpest merchant. “No, no, no. Enough arguing, brothers and sisters. I have a plan.”
And the sharpest merchant cast out her finger and pointed at a single lump on a single hump on a single point on the coast line, nestled amidst so many wrecks that it was hard to see at all.
“Here there is an old building. Next to it is an old, old hill. And atop that hill is an old, old, old stone that spirals like a corkscrew until it near to brushes the roof of the sky. We shall make this our lighthouse, and all of us shall pay one-eighth the cost of a small shack and a bright torch. Will this please?”
It did.
“Then it is done,” said the sharpest merchant. And shortly thereafter, it was.

The stone did not brush the roof of the sky. It did not even come near. But it looked like, and with a fire atop its brow it looked moreso still.
And so the keeper of the lighthouse was hired for little payment; a young man who could afford to lose a few years tending a fire and losing his mind. He was given a garden on the old, old hill and a crude house on top of the old, old, old stone, overlooking the old ruins. And next to the house was a squat bonfire, whose fuel stole most of his house’s living-space.
He was a lazy man, if still strong, and he put off his labor for some time. Instead he drank. Now and then he threw some on the fire to ‘liven it up,’ and for the most part the fire did not object. Soon the sun went down hard and his little light was all alone but for the stars and the wink of a full moon.
Then, in the deep old heart of the night, the lighthouse keeper heard a noise. It was this noise: thump.
The lighthouse-keeper cocked his head and listened. Was it just the rum in his blood?
Thump. Thump.
Where was it coming from? He wandered to the edge of the trail that led down from his stony perch to the ruins down the hill, and listened harder.
Thump, thump, thump. Thump-thump. Louder and nearer.
The lighthouse-keeper was a lazy man, but not a foolish man, and his mother had been no fool either. And her stories told him what to do when he heard things like that in the night: he ran into his house and barred the door with his own bed, and he did not come out ‘till morning, when he ran far, far, far away. Which was none too soon, since within the week the merchant-men came nosing about with angry questions and angrier clubs, demanding to know why their fire had gone out and taken a good ship to a cold place.

“Too lazy,” said the richest merchant.
“Too greedy,” said the meanest merchant.
“Vices of the young,” said the oldest merchant. “We should get someone with experience.”
And so a second keeper of the lighthouse was hired for a larger payment; an older woman with decades of lonely fires and lonelier vigils underneath her belt. On her very first day she sowed and weeded the garden, began a shack for the fuel, and dug a small hole for her pet she-neg, who was nearing deafness in her old age but still a happy companion with teeth that would shame a hippopotamus. By dusk’s end the fire was neatly stacked and kindled fit to put a gleam in the eye of the world that could be seen from heaven, and only then did she permit herself a small smile and a sip from the special bottle she carried everywhere.
She poured out a measure for the she-neg too. Only fair.
And just then, as she was providing fairness, she heard a noise like this: thump.
A frown filled her face, and she and her old neg listened.
Thump-thump. Thump.
Down from below, from beyond the cliff, from the shoals.
The lighthouse-keeper’s mother was long gone and little-known to her, so she’d had to make her own advice. But it was good advice, and right now it told her what to do when she heard things like that in the night: she took herself into the cabin and locked herself in and sat at the window, she-neg at her feet, eyes on the fire.
She sat there ‘till dawn, and she only blinked twice. The neg didn’t growl, but it shook a lot. And come dawn she walked out to her cold, dead fire and wrote a note with charcoal on its stones, then turned heel and left forever.

“Too cowardly,” said the cruelest merchant.
“Too old and slow,” said the youngest merchant.
“Still too young,” said the oldest merchant. “We should’ve hired older.”
“Hire nothing,” said the poorest merchant. “We’re already paying too much, and our help is unreliable and untrustworthy.”
“Then we will rely upon ourselves,” said the sharpest merchant. “Listen to me, brothers and sisters. I have a plan.”

The eight merchants trampled the garden in their clumsiness. They nearly knocked over the shack as they argued over who should complete it. They almost forgot to light the fire.
But in the end they did light it, and they even managed to keep it lit. And in the calm of the wide long night, alone with the flames, they managed to feel just a little bit proud.
“It is good,” said the meanest merchant.
“It is good,” agreed the youngest merchant.
“My rheumatism nags me and my back hurts,” said the oldest merchant. “But I agree that this is good.”
“Shush,” said the sharpest merchant. “Do you hear that?”
Just a little bump on the edge of the eardrum.
“I don’t hear anything,” said the richest merchant. “You’re making that up.”
“I heard something,” said the poorest merchant.
Thump. Thump.
“There, you hear that?” said the cruelest merchant. “Where is it coming from?”
Thump, thump. Thump-thump.
“Down below,” said the sharpest merchant. “Thieves and trespassers, come to steal from us! Quick, quick, into the hut – gird your knives and sharpen your eyes!”
And so they piled into the house and waited as the sounds grew louder, and their eyes fixed like diamond drills on the mouth of the little path that led up the hill from the mainland, knife-hilts growing damp with sweat in their hands, their backs to the wide and empty sea. So fierce was their focus that they didn’t see what was happening until the fire winked out.
“Thieves!” shrieked the meanest merchant.
“Saboteurs!” hissed the cruelest merchant.
“Impediments to enterprise!” shouted the richest merchant.
“Wait,” said the sharpest merchant, who was nearest to the window and had half-thought she’d seen something quite wrong. “Perhaps we should-“
“AT THEM!” roared the oldest merchant, and the door was flung wide for an army of gold and shining steel knives, which stampeded out the door so quickly that the sharpest merchant was knocked aside and rolled underneath the bed.
She listened, and she heard the shouts and yells of her fellows.
She listened, and she heard the calls grow quieter.
And she listened and heard the screams, and she tucked herself into the very farthest corner of the room under the bed, and she did not sleep until the sun rose over a cold, cold, cold fire.
Only then did she search the hill-top, and she was not altogether surprised to see no signs of her fellows beyond excited footprints. Most of these had been erased; obliterated by strange tracks that still smelt of seawater and brine. They had too few toes, and might not have been made by something as straightforward as feet at all.
The sharpest merchant walked the long roads home alone, and counted herself lucky.
But she never did sleep well again without a light.

The Gdappi Coast is old, older than eyes, older than sin, older than hearts, older than humans. And some places on it were never made for their hands and feet to touch.

Storytime: An Account.

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

There are old stones and there are young stones, and the city of Tal made the former look like the latter times three. Empires have been born, grown, spawned, and crumpled like cheap hats in the time it takes Tal to settle another inch in its sun-warmed cradle of hills.
Less than a month ago, they found something new and old both. A book buried in a drawer in a desk in a storeroom behind a boarded-up basement wall in a tower that had been paved over and used as a street support longer ago than anyone would care to guess.
The book’s script is Thymatic Pyuun, a language deader than the realm of Demmer-Don-Dimmer. Its author is Slenn, equally so, and an expert at making others much the same.

Slenn the Infinite, Lord of a Hundred Cities, Slenn Eyetaker, Slenn the Talon, Slashbones, the Deathmaker that old mothers tell little children will eat them if they don’t listen. Clutched in the fingers of a hand that had set in motion the end of countless lives, a pen had carefully written out the events of a long life of butcher-work.
Naturally, the book was highly publishable, although perhaps few if any of its readers had quite anticipated the exact… tone… of its contents.

359.238 – Stuck feeding the birds again because father’s drunk a lake’s-worth and can’t be arsed to move. Old prick’s like to drink himself to death, but GARR forbid he make it easy on us and do it quickly.
359.238B – Gald is on my ass again. “Hey Slenn, c’mon, fuck birds, let’s go to town and get drunk.” “Gald, my father drinks enough for all three of us, screw that, I want to feed my damned birds.” “Aww c’mon maaaaaannnn c’mooooonnnn….” Finally told him I would just to shut him up, as soon as I was done with the Sperrows. Little buggers get pecky when they’re hungry.

359.239 – GARR why do I listen to him?! I killed a cop! We go out, HE gets drunk (spends all of BOTH our money on it to boot), I get to pull his dumb ass out of a fight, and then HE mouths off to a cop, and then I end up in a wrestling match with him, and when the knives come out look who’s standing. I don’t think self-defense covers this as an excuse, Gald! I don’t think it does at all!
Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck me. I’m going to go home and get the birds. If I don’t take them with me, they’ll starve to death before old lakeliver thinks of doing anything about it.

359.240 – So it turns out I missed a couple of the Sperrows yesterday – probably because Gald was nagging me and jostled my arm. It turns out hungry Sperrows’s first choice of pecking target is eyeball. It turns out they’re highly protective of me, probably because I’m the only reason they’ve been fed for the past twelve years.
Anyways, now I’ve killed four cops. Had-killed-for-me. Whatever. I was hoping we could hide out in the hills until this blows over, but fat chance of that now. It’s me, the birds, and Gald. And Gald can carry the damned birdtower until the end of time. A decent start on paying me back for this.
359.240B – I guess we’ll make a break for Nep down south. The birds’ll like the warm, and there’ll be more for them to scrounge up. Which we’ll need because SOMEBODY got ‘tired’ and threw away four bags of feed to salve his poor little achy-wachy back. GARR protect him from me, really do, because if I have to lug the birdtower AND hunt for myself AND talk to myself I think I’ll go crazy and who’ll feed the Drowls then, huh? They’re so fat and stupid they’d be dead in days on their own. You want that on your conscience, GARR?
I hear somethi

360.002 – Well, that was a bit of a break. Long story short, I’m now a bandit chief. It turns out that’s the natural consequence of having the previous chief disembowled by angry Drowls when he’s trying to slit your throat. I always told Gald not to interrupt me when I’m feeding them, and I think ever since that practical example he’s actually paid a little more attention to me. Less to me than to the old chief’s daughter, mind you. Smart lady, and she keeps the others busy so they don’t bug me when I’m trying to feed the birds.
Feed the birds and think, mind you. I don’t think this is the sort of job where you just get to call it quits and leave with a happy goodbye. I figure if we pull in one good haul we can all split with the loot and live happy without worrying about anyone siccing the cops on us for cash.
I’ve had the Marlwings on long patrol for a while. They’ll let us know if anything worth having shows up. A lot better listeners nowadays too – like most of the birds. Getting rid of father’s bad influence might have helped.

360.138 – Busy, busy, busy, but at least now I can delegate a little. To summarize what’s been happening:
-We were late to a good fat caravan, but not too late to plunder its plunderers.
-Who we recruited.
-Who told us about another gang who got a good haul.
-Who led us to their fence.
-Who’s got us a mercenary contract.
-So now we’re working for Nep and we’re going out to hunt bandits in the jungle.
-Had to leave a lot of the birds behind. They’ve been breeding their little tails off. I’ve got three towers now, and a drumful of messenger-Geons for each sergeant. Learned that trick a few whiles ago, good for keeping in touch when you’re spread out.
360.138B – Oh, and I’m still in charge. I think the Drowl story might have had legs. I can thank Gald for that one, or I WOULD if he didn’t keep embellishing it. Nobody looks me in the eye anymore, just the toes. You ever tried talking to someone, eye-to-forehead? It’s uncomfortable.
GARR save me from friends, my enemies don’t need the help.

360.201 – We got back home and didn’t get paid. I’m suspecting that Nep might have hoped us and the bandits would sort each other out. I guess we did since we recruited most of them, but the prospect of paying an extra four-hundred men seems to have tightened up the city purses.
They don’t seem to have touched my birds yet. Time to start getting some whistles carved.

360.210 – Christ that was messy. The Drowls took out the sentries just fine, the Sperrows got peevish at being woken up past sundown and caused a proper ruckus, but still, there’s nothing quite like a proper city-sack once you’re past the front gate for going absolutely batshit. Less a sack and more a subdual, I guess – not as messy as some of the stories I’ve heard. Halla’s still the biggest boss besides me and GARR bless her she can make anybody listen. Except Gald, but I don’t expect miracles, just competence. Going to go see the Sovereign Council and the Laird right now. Demand tribute, extract vows, get some fealty, etc.
360.210B – Well now I’m the Laird of Nep I guess. I didn’t ENJOY having him disembowled by Drowls, but when the man lunges at me with a sword right when we’re negotiating terms what the hell am I supposed to do? I didn’t even want to do it – this Drowl thing is really getting old. Nice birds, friendly as puppies, but damnit people shake around me now when I’ve got them. And I suppose I’m stuck with them, since Halla says I need bodyguards and these are harder to bribe. The shoulder-perches are never coming off. My back aches at the thought of it.

365.987 – First time to sit down and really write for a while. I’d forgotten the last time I’d done this, and looking back, I think this might have gotten out of hand. I’m the Laird of Nep, Count of Mezto, and Duke of Cammerad (it turns out you usually have to deal with a city-state’s neighbours right after you deal with the city-state), and I’m currently locked in a joint struggle against Tresh with Bizto. Whom I’m going to have to backstab later before they stab me. No details, no details, I’ve gone mad with details. I’ll just write down the plain important bits.
-Sperrows absolutely wreck archers as far as skirmisher’s weapons goes, and are very hard to hit when properly trained.
-Marlwings are practically invisible in a night sky, and they can see farther at night than a man can at day. And they’re smart enough to learn signals. I like those birds.
-A Nawk colliding with a horse’s skull wins, provided it hits feet-first.
-A small drum of messenger-Geons for a sergeant, and a heavy cask of Sperrows for a birder. One birder per squad minimum. I miss knowing all my birds by name, but it’s been a long while since that was true.
-Drowls: six. Assassins: a single nasty scrape along my left ribs.
365.987B – Gald still won’t listen to me. GARR, how’d I think having a kid would ever make him grow up? It just gives him another thing to ignore me for. At least he pays more attention to Halla now.

366.486 – Why can’t he pay more attention to Halla? ‘Be quiet,’ we told him. ‘Be calm,’ we told him. ‘Don’t do anything goddamned crazy and weird,’ we told him. Well look what he went and did. Now we have to fight half of Tresh AND Bizto, which has carefully occupied that half of Tresh. All he had to do was smile and nod and look wise and instead he goes “HE’S LYING, LOOK OUT!” and that gives the ambassador an excuse to pull out the knife and now I’m one Drowl short and there’s nothing for it but war.
366.486B – His suggestion of letting my surviving Drowl brood inside the ambassador’s ribcage, however, was inspired.

367.371 – A decisive win at Treshledown. The idiot thought he could flank me at night. Me. Me with the Marlwings. Even though he must’ve had at least six spies in my camp who would’ve told him about them, like I was planning for them to do.
Sometimes this all seems far too easy.

367.372 – Tresh’s Royal Armourer must’ve seen the way the wind was blowing; he already had twelve suits of armour ready to go as tribute when we knocked the palace doors down. Armour for birds, mind you. You know, the things that have to fly. Still, his heart was in the right place, so I guess I’ll do him a solid and leave it there. Besides, his nose makes little Masha giggle.

368.843 – Gald’s dead.
I don’t know what to say. To Halla or Masha.
368.843B – Scratch that, he was just stuck under a dead horse and then he took a nap because he was tired and it was warm. Because.
GARR save him. Mostly from Halla. But don’t save him too much.

372.673 – Bizto, Bizto, Bizto. I’m not sure what your leaders were thinking.
“Here is a valley,” they said. “Surrounded by hills,” they said. “Let’s put our city right at the bottom, surrounded by hills, so Slenn can someday stick siege catapults up in them and chuck enough mortar to build an entirely new city at us until our walls are dust and gravel.”
Well, I’m not going to complain. I’ll marvel, but I won’t complain.
Also, Masha was playing with some of my Nawks today (damned things are still too finicky for anyone but me to rear them; makes breeding more a pain) trying to dress them in that silly armour from ages ago. Gave me an idea.

372.675 – Two new things learned: a Nawk with steel gauntlets on its talons can impact a steel helmet at full force without harm to itself, and an army with a decapitated general is as much use as you’d expect.
I’m out of enemies for now, finally. Maybe I can retire for five minutes with a nice prince who doesn’t talk too much and actually pays attention to me when I tell him not to pet my Drowls. Hell of a way to lose a finger, Gald.
372.675B – The Biztahn counsellor just told me that they were getting their west front pushed in by Nerontingsahn when I came in through their front door. Some days this just doesn’t seem worth it.

372.678 –Gald tells me they’re rebuilding the city around my base camp. Says they’re calling it ‘Talon’ in honor of me. What a cheesy suck-up of a name. GARR why do I listen to him?

Storytime: Dead Ringers.

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

One sunny afternoon, a priest came to Dan Cesco.
He walked up the roaming turnpike, passed between the twinned monuments, and stood a while in the peaceful shade of a shrine to Mil, contemplating the sun through its elegantly branch-woven roof. When the day drew longer, he paced down the market of the town, and admired greatly the airy, light buildings that the vendors roared and boasted from – they were hardly there at all, yet no wind and no rain could possibly make it past the cunning shapes of their many-angled eaves. And finally, as the evening began to draw down night’s curtains, he paced past the homes at the skirt-end of the town, the old ones, and found himself at a building that was neither old nor young but possessed the best qualities of both: a timeless carewornness.
He knocked, and two men answered.
“Are you the Brothers Meer?” he asked.
“BROTHER Meer,” said the elder. “As for the other, he may have been adopted.”
“Brother Meer indeed,” answered the younger. “I believe my father disowned him on his deathbed, but this lout sabotaged the will afore I saw it.”
“Peace, peace,” soothed the priest. “I have come with a task for you. I heard that you were the greatest of all architects in this land, and as I walked the road to your homes I saw proof of this. A market with no walls that no weather could touch, a shrine knit from trees that served stronger than any stones, and a house that could have been built a thousand years ago, yesterday.”
“Father’s work,” sighed the elder.
“Some of his best,” agreed the younger.
“I have seen these proofs, and I would ask you to undertake a grand labor. I have found a new godlette, hiding under a wide leaf in a chance puddle in a glade deep in a wood I shall not name. If this godlette is to feast on prayer and grow fat and proud enough to aid us, it shall need a place to call home, that its worship may throng.”
“A church,” said the elder. “Easy.”
“A church,” said the younger. “Easy… for me.”
“Precisely,” said the priest. “I would entrust no others with this task. The land is purchased, surveyed by a man as sound of eye as he is holy. I leave the rest to you, Brothers Meer.”
“When you witness my creation,” vowed the elder, “you’ll be shocked like a toad on a stump in a storm.”
“I will outdo this laggard, just you see,” swore the younger, “though he’ll say anything to tell you otherwise.”

On the first day, the brothers gathered in the tiny, cramped leather tent that the architect’s table was cradled within, and drew up their plans on old vellum sheets. Each brother took his own.
“A great strength is what is required here,” said the elder. “A godlette will never grow mighty without inspiration.”
“A soaring height is far more important,” scoffed the younger. “A godlette given naught but bulk and mortar will grow nowhere but horizontally. Let his appetite for beauty be sated, and I tell you that he will become a god to remember!”
“Needling pissant,” fumed the elder. “Go back to the cradle and smother yourself.”
“Blundering clodhead,” hissed the younger. “Do the world a favor; strike your face, and do not stop.”
So the brothers sat at opposite ends of the tent and drew and snipped and cast their spells, and when the time came for the men to labour at the site they stood at opposite ends of that too, calling out orders that clashed so badly that no man could heed them both, and instead gave up entirely and sided with one or the other. And when the day was done, the main body of the church lay complete. The front hall was a towering monument of solid granite, the chapel a spiralling beauty of limestone. They were each lovely, but they clashed greater than two bulls in a half-size paddock.

“Not quite what I’d had in mind when I hired you,” said the priest as politely as he could.
“I had it well in hand,” informed the elder in a wounded tone, “before this lump stuck his great gummy fingers in everything.”
“The wisest of the workers heeded my words above the lout’s,” sighed the younger, “but alas, some of the more impressionable youths fell under his spell of deceit. I pray, do not punish them. It is but innocent inexperience rather than malice that would allow any man to listen to my brother.”
“Upstart serpent!”
“Fool twice!”
“Peace, peace, peace,” shushed the priest. “For shame, to squabble on ground so newly holy! Now, do to the two of you really disagree so firmly?”
“Utterly,” said the elder.
“Without a single doubt,” said the younger.
“So be it,” said the priest. “But the bell-tower must be built and the bell housed and rung before your contract is fulfilled and the godlette may move in to grown old and happy. You must cooperate! Look here, look at what your callous clashes have created! Why not both work together on the tower? Surely you wish to avoid disharmony in your work, if not in your words?”
“It could use some work,” admitted the elder. “But I will kill the idiot if he touches my brushes.”
“Very well,” said the younger, “and it is worth recording that I would rather choke myself than use the twit’s substandard tools.”
So the second day the Brothers Meer walked to the site, and they drew as one, on the same sheet.
“It needs more height here,” said the elder.
“Rubbish, it needs more light here,” said the younger.
“Soar, soar, soar until it gets to the tallest steeple of the building?” asked the elder incredulously. “You are madder than a hare in March, May, and August all at once.”
“And YOU are madder than a mosquito in any season whatsoever, if you think to give size without contrast. It will be darker than a pit in there without proper windows.”
“Those aren’t windows, they’re canyons! Structural weaknesses abound!”
“Your foolishness abounds!”
And they snipped and fought and on at least two occasions they wrestled for the brush (with biting) but at last they pulled through and the workers began to haul the bricks and mortar as they cast their spells and yelled their orders.
“No, not THAT mix!” called the elder. “Use the grey fine crisp mortar!”
“No no no no,” screamed the younger. “Use the heavy thick brow mortar!”
“The dark bricks from Bormbarr Quarry!”
“The light bricks from Teeland!”
“Left more!”
“Right more!”
By the day’s end the belltower was complete and all the men had crossed eyes, except for the brothers, who were being held back from each other by the two largest of the stone-haulers. The belltower itself, alas, looked as piecemeal as a puzzle put together by an infant; its pieces all at odds with their neighbours and often themselves. It was a kaleidoscope of a building.

“This is his fault!” roared the elder brother.
“His!” shrieked the younger.
“Peace, peace, peace, PEACE!” shouted the priest, and so loud was his voice that dust shook from the roof of the architect’s tent and the brothers were cowed in spite of their spite. “Is there no end to your turbulence?! The belltower is a patchwork folly at your hands! The church greater is bifurcated! Surely you know of the poor influence this can be on an unguided godlette’s mind? Surely you know that your pettiness has harmed more than you can know? All our hopes rest in the bell now; the godlette will arrive the very next morn and there is no time to mend the sorrows of your squabbles. This must be perfect, and since the two of you have proven as soluble as water and oil, there will be two separate plans. Only one shall be used, chosen by myself, for though I am no architect, my father was a great blacksmith. Now work – and work quickly!”
He left them there, the two of them, and they glared at one another with venom no serpent could brew.
“When my bell rings,” swore the elder, as he dipped his pen, “it will sound sweeter than a thousand doves.”
“When my bells ring,” said the younger, sliding a fresh sheet of vellum across his lap-bench, “I will laugh until you strike yourself stone deaf to escape them.”
“Ant,” mused the elder, beginning his work with a vicious stroke.
“Flea,” pondered the younger, jamming pencils behind his ears and between his teeth.
They sketched the morn over with the speed of demons, and as they wandered to the forge where the priest would meet them, they eyed each other’s plans.
“Bells? BELLS? This is a BELLtower, not a BELLStower,” sneered the elder. “Your tinny little things will lead the godlette astray into thinking it is a leader of posies rather than men.”
“You grasp grammar as readily as you grasp your genitals,” spat the younger. “And your bellmaking skill is every bit as poor – a single great clanger, a loudmouthed yawper! Great minds think alike, but fat minds design themselves! Why don’t you name the bell after yourself, too?”
“At least I designed a bell,” said the elder. “And you know it is your better. You always sneer this loud when you are wrong, brother.”
“And you always enrobe yourself in smugness when you are out of arguments, brother.”
“And it is deserved,” agreed the elder. “My bell is the greater. You know it. I know it. The priest will soon know it. And brother, if father were here, you know he would say so.”
The younger brother went white at the lips. “You shouldn’t say that,” he whispered.
“Then silence me, or stick your fingers in your ears,” retorted the elder. But he’d stepped too far, and as he turned his back, the younger leapt atop him, and with a pencil, slit his throat open into the boiling cauldrons of metal that would be used for bellmaking.
“Here,” he said as he cut out his brother’s tongue. “Let no-one say that I let you do nothing.” And he cast it into the molten vats, and spat after it, and threw the body in to keep it company. Last of all, for good measure, he cast in his brother’s plans, and the great bell’s patterns flared prettily and were gone forever.
Soon the priest was there, and surprised he was to see but one architect. “Where is your brother?” he asked.
“Gone, gone, and gone for good, if I’m any judge of the blowhard’s pride,” said the younger. “My design wounded him sore, and he left from shame – gone from our home at last! Now, look at this, and look at art!”
The priest cast his eyes over the scribblings. “These are beautiful work,” he said. “Call the men!”
And so the third day went by, and if started late, it moved fast. The men were almost done and they knew it, and more importantly they were not being used as checker-pieces by competing managers. The sun was only just touching the trees when the rope was attached to the bells; a beautiful set of fraternal twins that shone with soft red light underneath the sunset.
“They are the finest I have ever seen,” said the priest, “and I have walked this world for half a century and more. But a bell is its voice, and its voice is all. Pray, would you care to be the first to ring?”
“I would relish it,” said the younger, “and may my brother hear it wherever he scurries now, and know his better!”
And he eagerly reached up to the rope and tugged it once, twice, thrice, and the bells burst into a song so beautiful that tears nearly came to the priest’s eyes. But the younger brother’s face remained as dry as a desert bone, though he smiled as he watched the bells swing and clang.
Then the sounds changed, and the smile began to drain from his face.
“Killed-me, killed-me, killed-me, killed-me,” mourned the bells in tongues of brass and velvet.
“Hold, what was that?” asked the priest. “Surely even your skill, great as it was, did not give these bells human voices?”
“I hear nothing,” said the younger. “It has been a long day – perhaps your mind plays tricks?”
“Not since I was a boy,” said the priest. “Listen close; ring it again.”
The younger reached up again – with less zeal this time – and hauled on the rope again. And the bells swayed in their cradles, calling out a new song in their long sad voices.
“He-stabbed-me, he-stabbed-me, he-stabbed-me, he-stabbed-me.”
“Your bells sing with human voice,” said the priest. “But tell me, do they tell the truth as well?”
“This is some devilry of my brother,” quavered the younger brother. “He sabotaged my plans before he left! This is no working of mine!”
“Perhaps,” said the priest. “But I would hear what they have to say. Ring again.”
Slowly, unsteadily, with the shaking hands of an old man, the younger hauled at the rope. And for a third time the bells tolled.
“Check-the-clapper, check-the-clapper, check-the-clapper, check-the-clapper.”
The priest walked up the spiralling steps of the belltower and looked. And there, embedded tightly in the clapper’s surface of the larger of the two bells, was the elder brother’s tongue.

The younger brother was hanged at midnight, and buried before one o’clock. It is bad luck for such things to come to the eye of an impressionable godlette, even in cold justice.
And that was the end of the Brothers Meer – and the beginning of the end for more than their bodies. Their church stood for no more than a decade before it was a ruin; the stones seemed to tear themselves apart at the seams, as if brick could not bear to stack atop brick.
The new church was designed by the priest, who’d gone grey at the edges, and was smaller. The tower did not soar as readily. The bells were quieter.
But it was peaceful there, and the god that came from it was a peaceful one. And that was all that was required.