More Leftover Stuff

(I had this scene written for forever but couldn’t ever find a point to INCLUDE it. Also it needs an update now because when this was written, the monster had actively called the King to him, but now, he hadn’t.)

**

“He was shining,” Micah says. “I will have you know that in that time he was shining, was the King. He was bright. He was a thing of virtue, all mixed in with the pain.”

“What is done by the Kings is right,” Liril says.

“That’s so,” says Micah.

He hesitates.

“Is that so?”

She gives him half a smile. “Who are we to judge a King?”

“He came upon the monster, who stood on the building’s roof, and the monster was looking at him with this weird and twisted smile. ‘I’ve called you here,’ the monster said, ‘to break the bonds of Lia and Amiel.’

“And the King, he bowed his head.

“And the King was vaster than the sky; he was the roiling of green and purple clouds, he was the hollow metal drumbeat of the chamber of the world, he was the strangeness of the lights that moved within the sky, and all around him death, and mold, and life, but still he bowed his head, one monarch to another, and then deeper, in submission, and then came tumbling down like falling stones upon the monster’s brow.

(Though I want to include something like: “It came down to Elm Hill,” Micah says, “and the monster stood before it, holding the Thorn that does not Kill in his pale hand. And it was bright, and garbed not then in its vestments of indigo and green, but rather lightning.”)

“But the monster was afraid.”

Liril shakes her head.

“He was,” Micah repeats.

“Nuh-uh,” Liril protests.

The darkness beats vividly in her mind with the memory of the monster’s wings.

“In that moment,” Micah says, “he understood that if he were freed from the bonds of Lia and Amiel, he would cease to be the monster, but only a man, in possession of his sins; and so he struck the King with the Thorn that does not Kill, and punctured the membrane boundary of that life.

“And if you were to ask me why it is that life must war with life; if you would ask me why the flesh doth move unsettledly in our kingdom; if you would wonder why we to Elm Hill do not go, I would say: for this, for that the monster broke the King of Life with the tip of his brutal Thorn.”

Leftover Stuff

(I queued up a bunch of spoiler/out-of-buffer emergency posts back in like October? in case my move to Taiwan completely blew up on me, then progressively kicked them forward a few months at a time when things didn’t blow up but didn’t normalize to a functional environment either. They’re currently slated for the end of this month and some random times next month, so, well. I’m sticking this parenthetical on top. Things may actually be better at this point but I’m not sure enough to kick it back further.)

From an early version of Micah’s birth scene

**

Micah’s eyes are having trouble getting used to the light in the office. He is reaching around him. He is trying to adapt to the presence of the world.

His hands are still slick with the substances of his birth.

He coughs up liquid on the monster’s shirt.

“The next name on the list is Preston,” the monster says. “You don’t seem a terribly useful god, but you’ll forgive me for noting that you’re mine, and I can hurt you, or her, at any time I please.”

Micah looks blankly at him.

“What are you for, Preston?” the monster asks.

“My name is Micah,” Micah says.

“That’s not an answer,” the monster points out. “That’s just defiance.”

Micah flounders around in his brain. Liril makes a pained noise; his heart leaps in sudden panic, he is moving to try to console her; but a twitch in the edge of the patterns of his will drags his attention back towards the monster once again.

“I have a surprisingly relevant knowledge of historical trivia,” Micah says.

“Oh?”

Micah consults his knowledge of historical trivia.

“Please don’t eat me,” he says.

The monster frowns at him.

“Because sometimes monsters eat people,” Micah says. The monster gives him a deeper frown and adjusts his tie. Micah babbles, “It’s surprisingly relevant!”

The monster sighs.

The monster touches Liril’s hair.

“Small experiment,” he says.

He places his hand on Liril’s chest. He puts pressure on a broken rib. She cries out.

Micah has gone very still.

“Nothing to stop me with, then,” the monster says. “That’s good to know. Unless there’s some bit of surprisingly relevant historical trivia that applies?”

“You don’t want to break her flesh,” Micah says.

The pressure of the monster’s hand lightens.

“Is that so?” he says.

“She is tainted,” Micah says, “by the passage of a King.”

**

(Later)

He is searching around him in the dark. He puts his hands against the bars of the cage. They are still slick with the substances of his birth.

The cage is one unbroken trap.

Something terrible is approaching in the dark.

He sits cross-legged. He pulls her head into his lap. He says, “You do not need me. You are already in a cage.”

It hurts him terribly that she is damaged.

“I need you,” she tells him.

He bites his lip. He looks around, pointlessly. He thinks.

“I have a talent for surprisingly relevant historical trivia,” Micah says. “Would you like me to use that to set us free?”

“OK.”

Micah sits there in the dark.

Liril coughs.

He suspects that there is blood.

“Let me restate that,” Micah says. “Would you, ha ha, like me to use a talent, ha ha, for surprisingly relevant historical trivia to break us free from this cage and the miles of horror that surround us?”

“Oh,” Liril says.

She coughs again. The fact that he is being sarcastic bludgeons the solution space of her thoughts like a sledgehammer upon a melon.

She ignores it.

“OK,” she says, again.

“Oh,” Micah says.

He looks up. There are red eyes in the darkness, staring down at him. They are swaying a little. They are quite large. He does not like to imagine the mouth that must be attached.

He licks his lips.

He tells the story.

“There is,” he says, “a King.”

Enter Title Here

Hm!

So my grand plan for more posts per week this year relied principally on an increased willingness to break up the ones I had into more parts. I wasn’t really going to write much more. Unfortunately now I seem to not be writing any.

I’ve more or less finished putting my head back together after a med interruption; unfortunately, I’m currently looking at 2-50 hours of hunger and a couple of weeks of projected cold snap with no idea if I’ll be able to obtain a heater for that period. Then I’ll be running out of riboflavin and not sure whether I can get more before I start having migraines, after which my visa will be running out and my housing situation will go up in the air. If there is writing time in there, it’ll go into finishing some Chuubo’s-related stuff—I’m using it to test for brain function as well as to hypothetically make money and make my fans happy, so it pretty much has to be first. Likely it’ll be difficult, then if all goes well suddenly both easy and an obsession, and at neither stage will I have energy for Hitherby. I’m not sure what happens after that.

So I think I have to shut this site down for now. Spoilers and excerpts for the remaining ongoing arc, the name of which I can’t remember right now*—oh! Right. Frog and the Thorn—are queued up to appear automatically towards the end of the month in a lame and haphazard fashion; if I can avoid the vague embarrassment of an untidy presentation by presenting them sooner and cleaner I will do so.

Best wishes,

Jenna

Letters Column in January 2012: “Holy Thursday, Batman!”

The problem with “God values free will, and talking to people would compromise their free will” is that our concept of god is based on the Bible, and in the Bible God talks to people all the time. (In at least one case, he struck someone blind, and the person only regained their vision after they agreed to be God’s direct servant.)
— David Goldfarb, on And Three Points is the Game

Oh, man, it’s supposed to be based on the Bible?

looks once, sadly, at her tetrachloradic divinity device, then puts it away in the closet, folds the closet after it, and pastes a sad-face sticker in the air whereupon it used to be.

**

There are a bunch of possible responses to that, and I’m disinclined to try for a serious discussion of non-Hitherby theology here, but here’s the one that amused me the most:

What if the Bible’s made of legends, not histories? (Using Hitherby definitions, obviously.) It’s the sort of thing God would say if he did talk to people. *shrug*
— Xavid, on And Three Points is the Game

“This is going to be LEGEND. . .

three days pass

**

Beautiful as always. An unexpected origin for Tainted John, for me at least.

On a more general note, with the progression of my contemplative path, Hitherby Dragons is gaining a deeper resonance for me. I suspect it is half-secretly an elaborate metaphor or instruction for the process of awakening.
— villum, on Green

When we are not ready to wake up, the world is full of comforters and pillows. When it is time to wake up, it is full of alarums shouting. That is not narrative! That is simply life. ^_^

… although, hm, technically I suppose that is a broken metaphor since it is if anything the other way around when one is actually in bed.

This is why I’m not a guru, y’all. My allegories are more backwards than a pollening tree at a Claritin convention!

**

Caught up. I’m glad you’re writing Hitheryby again.
— ScrewyAnathema, on Green

Yay!

**

I wonder who John’s father is. Is it the monster? the fiend that came to pick up micah?
— durroth, on Green

A casualty.

**

Why does John’s father have to be anybody other than an abusive asshole? Not everything has to be tied into the storyline.
— David Goldfarb, on Green

Oh, I could make a point of it—of his normalcy, of the fact that the real world is full of people like John’s father, and kids like John. I could say “here is a wonder. Here is a brightness. In Liril’s neighborhood, there was a perfectly ordinary, mundane boy who was both abused and going to become an abuser. A boy who didn’t have a compass. And she decided, before she left to deal with her more magical problems, that she’d step in and save him, because he was too young for his awfulness to count.”

And that would be meaningful, because this is a story of the end of the tyranny of the mundane. It’s a story of how magic went away, and everyone was happy, only, now? There’s no magic to stop things like John’s father from doing whatever they like. It’s a story about how sometimes, because there’s no such thing as magic, people sometimes just suffer, and it’s not their fault, and yet they keep on suffering anyway. About how, in fact, everybody just keeps on suffering anyway, but also, sometimes? For some people? It’s this unbearable, unimaginably

awful thing.

I could do that. I could write that. I totally could.

But there isn’t a kind of god that saves you. There isn’t a magic that rescues. That’s the wrong analogy. This isn’t a story about how Jane and Martin will appear in your lives and make things better, or Liril and Micah, and certainly not Melanie.

John’s history ties into the storyline because the point where magic enters his life is the hook for magic to change it.

So here’s where it started. Here’s where it came from.

John’s father was in Santa Ynez when the monster broke the Dominion at Elm Hill. His father was made sick by the breaking of a King that humans have no pacting with. He drank that breaking, ate that breaking, breathed that breaking; it was in the groundwater, and the soil, and the sky. He was there when when the monster’s truth asserted its supremacy—not at Elm Hill, not in the monster’s employ, simply, well, nearby. It poisoned him.

He was a casualty.

Of course, not everyone who gets sick on the monster’s leavings goes on to hurt others. That’s just the easy road. That’s what happens when people are bright enough to figure out that their suffering is unfair, but a bit too dim or broken to realize that that doesn’t make it justice when they pass that suffering on.

Aside, in January 2012: “Of the Pontiffs and Magistrinae and their Wailing”

Hm.

So I was working on a tetrachloradic divinity device in response to the way that an omnibenevolent omnipotent omniscient God should really be intervening a lot more often, and, apropos of nothing, found myself wondering if it is in fact true that God does not talk to people in dramatic, externally observable and trackable events all the time. Oh, sure, there’s no evidence for it, and there would be such evidence by definition, but

You can totes build a perfect mapping between the real world and a world where that happens. It is easily space-time isomorphic.

Now, that mapping? It isn’t a simplification. It’s got to be practically a complication. And I’d even go so far as to say that that is why we do not experience it. That we tend not to experience things that add that much Kolmogorov complexity to our experiential world unless we’re schizophrenic (or human) or whatever. but

I’d also guess, using my way undernourished computer science intuition, that the additional complexity of an active interventionist God is less than logarithmic in world-size, and possibly even constant. So what does it even mean to say that that world isn’t so?

Now that may make me seem like I’m all apologetic for the Lord and stuff, that I’m being a good theodicist, but OK, that’s not quite true, because look, this bit here? This bit is where I go off the rails of apologetics and crash right into a brain controlling a trolley.

My instinct is also that getting from here to a perfect world is quadratic.

And that is so much worse than merely bad apologetics that it will probably actually be described by future archaeologists as a crude biologically-prototyped example of the computational heresies that would later tear apart the allegiances of the pontiffs and magistrinae of the First Artificial Church.

Letters Column in January 2012: “Because, Otherwise, it Would Be Wrong.”

More than half of the people around you are sharks in disguise. They wear their fleshy human faces so that we do not know. However you can spot them by their plover fish and their inability to breathe on land, if you try. By their vastness. By their rows of teeth.

Why have we allowed them into our homes? Onto our streets?

Ultimately it is probably the fault of all those people who voted for Nader. This is what you get, Nader voters. This is what you get.

**

I tend to think of God as valuing free will; choosing to walk the path of righteousness is only meaningful if you had a free choice and reasonable alternatives. If God doesn’t give answers, you can’t really be sure whether you’re rebelling against God or rebelling against a false interpretation of God, or something.

It also reminds me of the old question of, say, whether it would be morally good to sell your soul to the Devil to feed starving children.
— Xavid, on And Three Points is the Game

Dude . . . um . . . that’s not what children eat.

Seriously.

The Devil is misleading you. The Prince of a Thousand Lies hath thee in thrall. What most children eat is not made of humans at all(*), but even if it is, even if they are vicious wolf-raised free-range anthropophagous orphans, they’ll still prefer something that’s more meaty than a soul. Now, I suppose that if you’re not a dualist, you could argue that the Devil intends to feed your enfleshed soul to the hungry orphans, but that’s not only sophistry but it’s a pretty easy moral choice to make to boot: human trafficking is always wrong.

Even if you’re just exporting someone to the nutrient pits to be torn apart by starving children while the Devil laughs! Even if it’s yourself!

You probably aren’t even allowed to traffic humans to feed God.(**)

(*) I mean, except for nursing children, of course. But frankly by the time they graduate from nursing school they aren’t really children any longer. That’s the horrible irony of it all. It’s even worse if they become doctors, sharks,(***) or pharmaceutical researchers! Although I don’t mind you taking a moment to think about Doogie Howser and more generally Neil Patrick Harris so I can make a Barney Stinson as Jesus joke tomorrow.

(**) although seriously after all these years of transubstantiation he is kind of owed. That’s not the joke. It’s not Barney’s flesh. That would just be ridiculous. Nobody would want to eat a purple dinosaur. I mean, except for starving children. But even they would probably not attach spiritual significance to it.

(***) you don’t know pain until a baby shark tries to nurse from you. Particularly if it is a robot shark. I mean, seriously. Also, that plover fish? NOT HELPING. Let the robot baby nursing shark cry. Your nipples will thank you for it. I thank God every day that I failed out of the Young Ladies’ Squaline Robotics and Finishing Academy before the mandatory nursing seminar.

**

I am pretty messed up from running out of all money and all food that was not oatmeal for a fair few days but now it is resolved. However if I seem a little visceral and bleak, like my words are an undersea-installation shell encrusted with barnacles and through the window-glass are peculiar vibrating, darting globules of darkness—well, then, that is why!

Incidentally that is what they sound like to me. I’m not just being random! Though that description doesn’t capture the golden hue of the thing or the rust on the pipes.

**

It took me this long to realize that the non-chibi pictures of the Fox and Hound, like the last panel in #27, are from Prosaic Reality. Before I’d thought it was a way of providing contrast and highlighting the Chibi style of the rest of it, but in Nobilis “two different styles” isn’t just art; it’s the way the world works!

Is there any other area for comments on it?
— dave.o, on And Three Points is the Game

There was not!

There is now. You could go over and say something cool about the guest art for this week or last week! But at the same I was using ComicCMS as an experiment. I wound up taking the comments down when I made a test comment and lost all my queued posts or something. It was sad! So I switched Chibi-Ex over to WordPress.

**

From Should Siggorts?:

These are the signs of the coming of a King: corrupt actions. Fear and hatred. The pollution of the groundwater, so that sinks run with green water and with black.

Right now these little hints just tease at me, but I look forward to the day I’ll be able to look back over it all and see the connections I couldn’t see now.
— dave.o, on Green

It is probably just another Nader reference. I can’t stop talking about him! I think it’s some kind of disease. One where you Ralph things up. But only if you eat them first. BUT it’s bad to feed people to children. Even politicians! So if you’re going to eat a politician make sure you’re old enough first, and please also make sure that you haven’t downloaded any illegal content lately.

Because, otherwise, it would be wrong.

Letters Column in January: “Why Does God Allow Bad Theodicies?”

Your idea of obedience not being good and rebellion being right makes me think about young Vincent idolizing his father, who is almost certainly evil, and the Monster, sitting on the throne of the world as he does, being functionally similar to God (in a less-than-omnibelevolent way).
— Xavid, on And Three Points is the Game

Why, good sir, are you really accusing the monster of not being perfectly benevolent?

What would that even mean?

How would you even define goodness, if the monster hath all of it not?

Er, I mean, haha, yeah. What was I talking about there? That was crazy. I slipped! Bad theodicy, Jenna. Bad theodicy!

The thing I was meaning to say is: the funny thing about “Vincent and the Devil” is that Vincent really is damning himself just fine on his own. The Devil isn’t manipulating him. This isn’t a story of the Devil tricking him. If anything, it’s a story of how and why Vincent is so dedicated to his path that the Devil himself couldn’t sway him from it.

Now, if it were a story about the Devil, and one day when we talk more about the Devil it will retroactively so be, then I’d have to talk about why the Devil bothered trying; what he hoped to get out of this; what he does get out of it, out of tempting or trying to save Vincent, I mean. But this isn’t a story about the Devil. It’s a story about Vincent. Vincent is very, very scared of being damned and doesn’t listen to anybody who suggests that possibly his path might lead that way already.

At least, I guess, not if they’re the Devil. Admittedly, he’s a rough one to listen to; in a lot of stories, you know, listening to the Devil isn’t ever the right thing to do, and Vincent doesn’t know he’s not in one of those.

And, heck, counterfactuals are trouble in general.

Maybe Vincent is in a story like that. Maybe walking away was the right thing to do. Maybe Vincent would have hurt more kids, or wound up dying worse, if he’d gone with the Devil’s offer; though I think I explicitly said late in Vincent’s story that that’s not how things are.

**

“How beautiful!”
— Rand Brittain, on And Three Points is the Game

Hahaha. Yes, exactly. Well spotted!

**

I’m trying to come up with motives for a God who doesn’t give answers, and who allows for and appreciates rebellion, at least in some forms. Perhaps God himself has a question he can’t answer, and the universe is an attempt to create something greater than himself that has the answer. Or God wanted to create something greater than himself out of benevolence (or boredom, if we’re being cynical), and by necessity such a thing has to have answers God doesn’t have. Making God imperfect is the easy way out of theodicy though. Perhaps God was perfect in himself when he was the only thing that existed, but as soon as he created something other, things got complicated. Along the lines of mathematical systems of sufficient complexity lacking some proofs, say any world complex enough to have the subject-object relation by necessity lacks some answers.
— dave.o, on And Three Points is the Game

Infinities are difficult. One theodicy I encountered at some point pointed out that even if the world were not perfect, the capacity of a perfect world to imagine this world, or the possible existence of this world as part of an infinite series converging to the perfect world, would suffice to give this world a certain kind of reality. And how are we to know that that is not exactly as much reality as it actually has?

I think ideas like this are relatively inadequate, though, because they have the feel to me of a transitional theodicy—that they’re a different way of invoking “God,” in this case abstract details of the structure of mathematics, and that a deeper understanding of that invoked God will restore the need for a theodicy. It may be totally legitimate to dodge the problem of suffering in the real world by invoking possible worlds and mathematics and limited knowledge, but if you take that dodge far enough you’ll wind up—

I suspect!—

Right back in a conundrum again.

**

“That’s bad number theory!” Six protests.

And Seven is close in on her now, and with a knife held in her trembling hand, and Seven demands, “Silence!”

And all becomes tableau.

Until finally, Seven withdraws a bit and says, “What you say is true, but like any other problem in mathematics, the difficulty may be resolved using limits.”
Six’s Story

Letters Column in January 2012: “‘The Fashiolanche Has Started,’ Said Posh. ‘It is Too Late for the Little People to Vote.'”

There is a new guest comic up on Chibi-Ex today! Warning! May contain peanuts.

Over here on Hitherby, we’re going to continue posting 3-10x a week for at least a while, so don’t be too put off by the length of this particular letters column. It was like 6000 words of stuff when I started queuing entries up on Wednesday!

**

And on a tangent…

I find it interesting that we have separate tags for “God-Defying Lightbringing Yama King’” and “the Devil.”
— Eric, on Vincent and the Devil

They are distinct characters. Possibly they are the same person. Possibly they are not!

**

“Three things you can ask me, to decide what you’d like to do. And I’ll tell you right now that I’ve got a trick worthy of the Enemy himself, which is to say, I can’t promise you that walking away and turning me down is the right and moral thing to do, much less the way to save your soul.”

Hm. “The Enemy” is the term demons use to refer to God in The Screwtape Letters. (I’ve only read reviews, but one excerpted some of this.) So reversing the situation, since the Devil is referring to God’s trick not his own — does God here not promise that obedience is good? Perhaps that would make things too easy, or make free will vapid. So he’s left the option open that rebellion is the right thing to do. There was a similar idea in the blockquotes in “An Unclean Legacy: Sophie and the Devil”. What do we call that kind of quoted text anyway? Does it parallel the vignettes Jenna is known for in RPGs, or is it something else?
— dave.o, on And Three Points is the Game

In An Unclean Legacy, it was a voiceover. ^_^

In general, I don’t know!

I guess you could call them pull-quotes, legends-in-legends (legend colegends? monogatari comonogatari?), or stock footage.

I think the Devil is not so much claiming to have stolen and mirrored one of “the Enemy’s” tricks so much as boasting about how awesome this particular trick he’s using is. Look, he’s saying. Aren’t I clever? You’d think a person should never listen to anything the Devil says, but it is possible that “walk away and have nothing to do with me” is the thing that will get this damned boy damned.

Whether he’s saying that to the reader, or to God, or to Vincent, or to himself, is not currently clear.

**

Why the heck did I say “we” back up at the top? There’s only me here! I am alone in Taiwan loading up Hitherby into glass bottles and casting it out onto the sea.

I think it is possible that I wanted to be one of those POSH authors with a POSSE. A POSHSE, as it were. I would lounge around in vintage memorabilia and crack a whip with my wineglass hand—for a true author fears no great labors, but rather will put down the wine glass or consider drinking it dry before cracking the whip, and then filling it up again—and my posse would run, lurchingly, dragging the posts forward into the world. Behind me it would be always winter and never Christmas, except when it was spring, summer, fall, or, well, December 25. But even on those occasions I would only reach into my bountiful collection of Christmas cards and throw handfuls of them, laughing, from the posts. The people would be lashed about by these devious well-wishings but they would look up to me nevertheless with faces bright with joy.

I would be welcome at all the greatest parties and all should love me and despair!

P.S. I do not drink wine. That is part of the elegant fantasy. In reality it would be water and would only turn into wine if someone, I’m not going to say who, I’m not naming names here, gets a little too loose and fancy free with the Christmas miracles. If you know what I mean.

Bonus: “Some Thoughts on the Ending of An Unclean Legacy”

I thought I’d share some thoughts on An Unclean Legacy and how it evolved from the original story to the book. This contains medium spoilers: I’m going to avoid spoiling anything crucial to the story, but I will talk about a lot of stuff. Skip this entry if you want to be completely unspoiled! We’ll be back to the letters column on Monday. ^_^

**

So the first version of An Unclean Legacy was basically written live—back then I was posting Hitherby Dragons 6x/week, with nothing even faintly resembling a buffer, and while I had the basic ideas plotted by the first post, when it came to the details I was basically riding the hurricane.

One consequence of this is that the character of Violet got a bit shortchanged.

See, each of the siblings had received one magical gift on their tenth birthday—anything in the world they wanted, really, although Sophie’s first request was arguably denied. And Violet had wanted not to have to worry about suitors, which in practice meant that anyone that got too close to marrying her by force or choice was seized up by magic, cut into extremely fine pieces, and expelled over the local forest in a mist.

Why?

Well, hm.

So, most of the Groeneveldt siblings are fundamentally messed up by what they can do. That isn’t a general statement by me on what it means to have talent; I suspect that where it’s coming from is Montechristien’s guilt. They’re all coming from a household where power is fundamentally held in suspicion, particularly once Yseult dies but even to some extent when she was alive. Giving Violet a power that she could use as a weapon against her siblings, in a story like this one, meant that she would have to turn that weapon against her siblings at some point, as part of the exploration and explanation of what that power meant, and I didn’t want her to do that.

So there are hints throughout the book that Violet has some of the Saraman nature: that she has unnatural tracking abilities, unnatural beauty, is probably a sorceress, and may or may not have a handful of low-end not-quite-human tricks—but that isn’t really allowed to matter. If she were able to turn into a giant land-shark or whatever then we’d have to show her turning into a giant land-shark (or whatever) and fighting with, probably, Elisabet. And that would break my heart.

At the same time, it was important that Violet not be vulnerable, because that isn’t what she’s about either. If there were a relatively powerless marriageable female eldest sibling, it’d be a natural reason for external powers to get involved in the Groeneveldt succession struggle. That would give the other siblings a reason to band together to protect her from those outside forces, and—given that their reasons for hating and fearing one another were only barely stronger than their love for one another as it was—that would have screwed the story up something fierce. Nor could I just ignore the matter—I can handwave Francescu’s suitors disappearing because frankly he was a lot less viable as marriage bait by the time they both got their gifts, but I wanted pseudomedieval pseudoChristian metaphysics and that meant a pseudomedieval pseudoChristian society and that meant that I had to have an actual reason why people weren’t spending all their time trying to influence Montechristien by way of Violet.

At least, I think that’s what was going on in my head. I assume that I conceived the whole story in a single night and for a single night’s post and then only realized slowly how long it was going to be, so it’s quite possible that it was just “OK, Violet needs a way to be able to kill anything,” (subconscious advises: except her siblings), “lol, maybe she didn’t like boys when she was 10 and so has the power to kill any potential fiance.” Or possibly there was some connection between holding things too closely and killing them that was going on there, something like that percolating. It would fit, of course!

But anyway.

So day after day passed, and I didn’t have a good moment to introduce her gift. I was writing An Unclean Legacy mostly in three segments per day, and while I didn’t have to link them together chronologically I did need to link them thematically so that each day had a beginning and an ending. And Violet’s gift wasn’t really thematically connected to any of the stuff that was going on with the siblings, in part for the reasons we just discussed—it’s a hedge against the outside world interfering rather than part of the internal story. Plus, she was interacting almost exclusively with her siblings and her father, which made it a pretty hard thing to bring up.

“As you know, Manfred, anyone who gets too close to marrying me gets threshed by Montechristien’s Magical Suitor-Threshing Machine.”

“Golly! I’m sure glad I’m your brother and not your fiance!”

Manfred would not actually have said golly, however. Instead, he would have looked at her in that way that Manfred, when people give unnecessary exposition in his company, looks.

So by the time Violet’s gift came up at all, it was only barely early enough to not seem like a deus ex machina when it mattered—and possibly even did seem a deus ex machina, and an unnecessary one to boot, since there were plenty of other ways I could have resolved the particular point in question.

I wanted to fix that particular awkwardness when I was writing the expanded version. In fact, I knew as soon as I sat down to start that fixing that was the first step—that the first scene of the new, expanded story would be Violet receiving her gift. That meant that I had to give her a more dramatic motivation—the story isn’t a comedy of manners, so showing her and Francescu fending off various suitors at age ~10 until she got so exasperated that she snapped wasn’t really something I could open with. Fortunately, I knew that she had at least two fairly unpleasant suitors in the story, so I figured that a bit of prognostication could make her choice of gift an obviously wise one as well as illustrating some of the dangers of the world in which she lives.

Here’s the interesting thing: it was a wise choice. It sounds completely stupid, as a magical gift, but she gets much more mileage out of her ten-year-old gift than at least three of her siblings. I did some stuff in the update to make her gift feel more epic, to make it resonate with high heroic fantasy, but even before the update—before Violet and her magic mirror seeing the suitors to come, before the implications that she has broad conceptual and narrative authority over what it means to be her suitor and who and what qualifies for the threshing, before the chance to look in at her personal story’s ending—it was always something that gave her the power to make her own destiny.

Of course, opening with a scene like that means ending with a mirror-scene; a book’s ending, IMO, reflects its beginning, and I wound up organizing Unclean Legacy as cut more or less directly in half by the mirror. (Arguably, anyway. There are really two places you could put the mirror.)

The interesting thing about this, and the reason we’re talking today, was that the best scene I could find to mirror and answer that opening with Violet receiving her gift wasn’t the close to Violet’s story—which, for I think good reason, was mostly a grace note towards the end of Christine & Sophie’s story—but rather her father Montechristien’s proposal to her mother, Yseult.

Now, the very beginning and very end of a book aren’t always the heart of what it’s about. That’s why they’re called prologues, I think, rather than chapters one, sometimes. And epilogues, rather than chapters whatever! Sometimes the very beginning and ending is a structure around the story rather than the beginning and ending of the rawest part of the story itself.

And so if I had to say what the heart of the story is, well, it goes from “the Devil and the Unicorn” to “In a World of Miracles,” from Montechristien and Santrieste’s answers to the Devil to Sophie and Manfred’s answers to the onyx void; that it’s about suicide and salvation and suffering and all that kind of thing.

But the Once Upon a Time opening is still about a girl who doesn’t have to bow to anybody, and who accomplishes this in part by being completely unsuitable for marriage and functionally immune to the threat of sexual assault (as well as by inheriting money and power); and the Happily Ever After ending is still about a woman who accepts a marriage proposal from a guy who objectifies her a bit less than her previous suitors had.

(I’m giving away the ending because it’s a flashback and a digestif; the interest value of the ending isn’t the events but the emotional content and the details.)

I’m not totally sure how I feel about that beginning and ending on feminist grounds. I certainly didn’t expect that to be the moral of one of my stories, ever. I mean, I think Yseult found something priceless but I wouldn’t consider her happy ending something that Violet was ever looking for; nor does it seem to me like I want to say Yseult’s fantasy is more evolved or mature than Violet’s, because it’s not; Yseult is arguably an incomplete Violet, rather than the other way around.

So I don’t know what it means, exactly, only that it’s right. Maybe one day someone will tell me why and I’ll be “oh, of course, it’s because it’s a flashback that that works” or “Violet’s story doesn’t make sense without showing where she’d be without her gift, which is noticeably but not necessarily overwhelmingly different.”

I don’t know. It’s weird. I like romantic happy endings, but I’m critical of the patriarchal structure of marriage, and so I don’t want Yseult’s ending to be something obviously good or something obviously bad, but … well. It is what it is.

We know it pretty early on in the story.

Yseult’s time with Montechristien isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t suck. It’s a happily ever after, more or less.