The Prince of Prophecy Vol. III: Changing Tides

ebook cover finished

Hello Everyone! Sorry I’ve been so spotty with my posts. I’ve been working hard on getting my third book, The Prince of Prophecy Vol. III: Changing Tides, ready for publishing. This new book will feature daring sword fights, pirates, betrayal, magic, and lots of new characters. Changing Tides will also include 8 illustrations for those who purchase hard copies of the book (softcover and hardcover). Those who have read it are calling it the best book in the series yet (said early praise has made me a very happy camper indeed)! This third installment will be released this fall (it’s so close)!

For those of you interested in reading the series, you can click the following links and be taken to the books’ Amazon.com pages:

The Prince of Prophecy Vol. I: Destined

The Prince of Prophecy Vol. II: Cursed

The first book as a 4.6 out of 5 stars rating on Amazon and the second book has a 5 out of 5 start rating on Amazon which is pretty darn good! Reading books with those sorts of star ratings can’t be too much of a gamble, right? If you like fairy tales and classic literature, you’re going to love these books!

 

For new fairy tale, Prince of Prophecy, and Writer’s Corner updates every Wednesday and Saturday, follow this blog!

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Lewis Carroll’s “Lays of Mystery, Imagination, and Humour”

NUMBER 1:

THE PALACE OF HUMBUG

I DREAMT I dwelt in marble halls,

And each damp thing that creeps and crawls

Went wobble-wobble on the walls.

 

Faint odours of departed cheese,

Blown on the dank, unwholesome breeze,

Awoke the never-ending sneeze.

 

Strange pictures decked the arras drear,

Strange characters of woe and fear,

The humbugs of the social sphere.

 

One showed a vain and noisy prig,

That shouted empty words and big

At him that nodded in a wig.

 

And one, a dotard grim and gray,

Who wasteth childhood’s happy day

In work more profitless than play.

 

Whose icy breast no pity warms,

Whose little victims sit in swarms,

And slowly sob on lower forms.

 

And one, a green thyme-honoured Bank,

Where flowers are growing wild and rank,

Like weeds that fringe a poisoned tank.

 

All birds of evil omen there

Flood with rich Notes the tainted air,

The witless wanderer to snare.

 

The fatal Notes neglected fall,

No creature heeds the treacherous call,

For all those goodly Strawn Baits Pall.

 

The wandering phantom broke and fled,

Straightway I saw within my head

A vision of a ghostly bed,

 

Where lay two worn decrepit 2 men,

The fictions of a lawyer’s pen,

Who never more might breathe again.

 

The serving-man of Richard Roe

Wept, inarticulate with woe:

She wept, that waited on John Doe.

 

“Oh rouse”, I urged, “the waning sense

With tales of tangled evidence,

Of suit, demurrer, and defence.”

 

“Vain”, she replied, “such mockeries:

For morbid fancies, such as these,

No suits can suit, no plea can please.”

 

And bending o’er that man of straw,

She cried in grief and sudden awe,

Not inappropriately, “Law!”

 

The well-remembered voice he knew,

He smiled, he faintly muttered “Sue!”

(Her very name was legal too.)

 

The night was fled, the dawn was nigh:

A hurricane went raving by,

And swept the Vision from mine eye.

 

Vanished that dim and ghostly bed,

(The hangings, tape; the tape was red:)

‘Tis o’er, and Doe and Roe are dead!

 

Oh, yet my spirit inly crawls,

What time it shudderingly recalls

That horrid dream of marble halls!

 

Oxford, 1855.

 

For new fairy tale, Prince of Prophecy, and Writer’s Corner updates every Wednesday and Saturday, follow this blog!

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s “Mr. Korbes”

A cock and a hen once wanted to go on a journey together. So the cock built a beautiful carriage with four red wheels, and he harnessed four little mice to it. And the cock and the hen got into it, and were driven off. Very soon they met a cat, who asked where they were going. The cock answered,

“On Mr. Korbes a call to pay,

And that is where we go today!”

“Take me with you,” said the cat. The cock answered, “Very well, only you must sit well back, and then you will not fall forward.

“And pray take care

Of my red wheels there;

And wheels be steady,

And mice be ready

On Mr. Korbes a call to pay,

For that is where we go today!”

Then there came up a mill-stone, then an egg, then a duck, then a pin, and lastly a needle, who all got up on the carriage, and were driven along. But when they came to Mr. Korbes’s house he was not at home. So the mice drew the carriage into the barn, the cock and the hen flew up and perched on a beam, the cat sat by the fireside, the duck settled on the water; but the egg wrapped itself in the towel, the pin stuck itself in the chair cushion, the needle jumped into the bed among the pillows, and the mill-stone laid itself by the door.

Then Mr. Korbes came home, and went to the hearth to make a fire, but the cat threw ashes in his eyes. Then he ran quickly into the kitchen to wash himself, but the duck splashed water in his face. Then he was going to wipe it with the towel, but the egg broke in it, and stuck his eyelids together. In order to get a little peace he sat down in his chair, but the pin ran into him, and, starting up, in his vexation he threw himself on the bed, but as his head fell on the two pillow, in went the needle, so that he called out with the pain, and madly rushed out. But when he reached the housedoor the millstone jumped up and struck him dead.

What a bad man Mr. Korbes must have been!

 

For new fairy tale, Prince of Prophecy, and Writer’s Corner updates every Wednesday and Saturday, follow this blog!

Rudyard Kipling’s “The Undertakers”

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When ye say to Tabaqui, “My Brother!” when ye call the Hyena to meat,

Ye may cry the Full Truce with Jacala — the Belly that runs on four feet.

Jungle Law

“Respect the aged!”

“It was a thick voice — a muddy voice that would have made you shudder — a voice like something soft breaking in two. There was a quaver in it, a croak and a whine.

“Respect the aged! O Companions of the River — respect the aged!”

Nothing could be seen on the broad reach of the river except a little fleet of square-sailed, wooden-pinned barges, loaded with building-stone, that had just come under the railway bridge, and were driving down-stream. They put their clumsy helms over to avoid the sand-bar made by the scour of the bridge-piers, and as they passed, three abreast, the horrible voice began again:

“O Brahmins of the River — respect the aged and infirm!”

A boatman turned where he sat on the gunwale, lifted up his hand, said something that was not a blessing, and the boats creaked on through the twilight. The broad Indian river, that looked more like a chain of little lakes than a stream, was as smooth as glass, reflecting the sandy-red sky in mid-channel, but splashed with patches of yellow and dusky purple near and under the low banks. Little creeks ran into the river in the wet season, but now their dry mouths hung clear above water-line. On the left shore, and almost under the railway bridge, stood a mud-and-brick and thatch-and-stick village, whose main street, full of cattle going back to their byres, ran straight to the river, and ended in a sort of rude brick pier-head, where people who wanted to wash could wade in step by step. That was the Ghaut of the village of Mugger–Ghaut.

Night was falling fast over the fields of lentils and rice and cotton in the low-lying ground yearly flooded by the river; over the reeds that fringed the elbow of the bend, and the tangled jungle of the grazing-grounds behind the still reeds. The parrots and crows, who had been chattering and shouting over their evening drink, had flown inland to roost, crossing the out-going battalions of the flying-foxes; and cloud upon cloud of water-birds came whistling and “honking” to the cover of the reed-beds. There were geese, barrel-headed and black-backed, teal, widgeon, mallard, and sheldrake, with curlews, and here and there a flamingo.

A lumbering Adjutant-crane brought up the rear, flying as though each slow stroke would be his last.

“Respect the aged! Brahmins of the River — respect the aged!”

The Adjutant half turned his head, sheered a little in the direction of the voice, and landed stiffly on the sand-bar below the bridge. Then you saw what a ruffianly brute he really was. His back view was immensely respectable, for he stood nearly six feet high, and looked rather like a very proper bald-headed parson. In front it was different, for his Ally Sloper-like head and neck had not a feather to them, and there was a horrible raw-skin pouch on his neck under his chin — a hold-all for the things his pick-axe beak might steal. His legs were long and thin and skinny, but he moved them delicately, and looked at them with pride as he preened down his ashy-gray tail-feathers, glanced over the smooth of his shoulder, and stiffened into “Stand at attention.”

A mangy little Jackal, who had been yapping hungrily on a low bluff, cocked up his ears and tail, and scuttered across the shallows to join the Adjutant.

He was the lowest of his caste — not that the best of jackals are good for much, but this one was peculiarly low, being half a beggar, half a criminal — a cleaner-up of village rubbish-heaps, desperately timid or wildly bold, everlastingly hungry, and full of cunning that never did him any good.

“Ugh!” he said, shaking himself dolefully as he landed. “May the red mange destroy the dogs of this village! I have three bites for each flea upon me, and all because I looked — only looked, mark you — at an old shoe in a cow-byre. Can I eat mud?” He scratched himself under his left ear.

“I heard,” said the Adjutant, in a voice like a blunt saw going through a thick board —“I HEARD there was a new-born puppy in that same shoe.”

“To hear is one thing; to know is another,” said the Jackal, who had a very fair knowledge of proverbs, picked up by listening to men round the village fires of an evening.

“Quite true. So, to make sure, I took care of that puppy while the dogs were busy elsewhere.”

“They were VERY busy,” said the Jackal. “Well, I must not go to the village hunting for scraps yet awhile. And so there truly was a blind puppy in that shoe?”

“It is here,” said the Adjutant, squinting over his beak at his full pouch. “A small thing, but acceptable now that charity is dead in the world.”

“Ahai! The world is iron in these days,” wailed the Jackal. Then his restless eye caught the least possible ripple on the water, and he went on quickly: “Life is hard for us all, and I doubt not that even our excellent master, the Pride of the Ghaut and the Envy of the River ——”

“A liar, a flatterer, and a Jackal were all hatched out of the same egg,” said the Adjutant to nobody in particular; for he was rather a fine sort of a liar on his own account when he took the trouble.

“Yes, the Envy of the River,” the Jackal repeated, raising his voice. “Even he, I doubt not, finds that since the bridge has been built good food is more scarce. But on the other hand, though I would by no means say this to his noble face, he is so wise and so virtuous — as I, alas I am not ——”

“When the Jackal owns he is gray, how black must the Jackal be!” muttered the Adjutant. He could not see what was coming.

“That his food never fails, and in consequence ——”

There was a soft grating sound, as though a boat had just touched in shoal water. The Jackal spun round quickly and faced (it is always best to face) the creature he had been talking about. It was a twenty-four-foot crocodile, cased in what looked like treble-riveted boiler-plate, studded and keeled and crested; the yellow points of his upper teeth just overhanging his beautifully fluted lower jaw. It was the blunt-nosed Mugger of Mugger–Ghaut, older than any man in the village, who had given his name to the village; the demon of the ford before the railway bridge, came — murderer, man-eater, and local fetish in one. He lay with his chin in the shallows, keeping his place by an almost invisible rippling of his tail, and well the Jackal knew that one stroke of that same tail in the water would carry the Mugger up the bank with the rush of a steam-engine.

“Auspiciously met, Protector of the Poor!” he fawned, backing at every word. “A delectable voice was heard, and we came in the hopes of sweet conversation. My tailless presumption, while waiting here, led me, indeed, to speak of thee. It is my hope that nothing was overheard.”

Now the Jackal had spoken just to be listened to, for he knew flattery was the best way of getting things to eat, and the Mugger knew that the Jackal had spoken for this end, and the Jackal knew that the Mugger knew, and the Mugger knew that the Jackal knew that the Mugger knew, and so they were all very contented together.

The old brute pushed and panted and grunted up the bank, mumbling, “Respect the aged and infirm!” and all the time his little eyes burned like coals under the heavy, horny eyelids on the top of his triangular head, as he shoved his bloated barrel-body along between his crutched legs. Then he settled down, and, accustomed as the Jackal was to his ways, he could not help starting, for the hundredth time, when he saw how exactly the Mugger imitated a log adrift on the bar. He had even taken pains to lie at the exact angle a naturally stranded log would make with the water, having regard to the current of the season at the time and place. All this was only a matter of habit, of course, because the Mugger had come ashore for pleasure; but a crocodile is never quite full, and if the Jackal had been deceived by the likeness he would not have lived to philosophise over it.

“My child, I heard nothing,” said the Mugger, shutting one eye. “The water was in my ears, and also I was faint with hunger. Since the railway bridge was built my people at my village have ceased to love me; and that is breaking my heart.”

“Ah, shame!” said the Jackal. “So noble a heart, too! But men are all alike, to my mind.”

“Nay, there are very great differences indeed,” the Mugger answered gently. “Some are as lean as boat-poles. Others again are fat as young ja — dogs. Never would I causelessly revile men. They are of all fashions, but the long years have shown me that, one with another, they are very good. Men, women, and children — I have no fault to find with them. And remember, child, he who rebukes the World is rebuked by the World.”

“Flattery is worse than an empty tin can in the belly. But that which we have just heard is wisdom,” said the Adjutant, bringing down one foot.

“Consider, though, their ingratitude to this excellent one,” began the Jackal tenderly.

“Nay, nay, not ingratitude!” the Mugger said. “They do not think for others; that is all. But I have noticed, lying at my station below the ford, that the stairs of the new bridge are cruelly hard to climb, both for old people and young children. The old, indeed, are not so worthy of consideration, but I am grieved — I am truly grieved — on account of the fat children. Still, I think, in a little while, when the newness of the bridge has worn away, we shall see my people’s bare brown legs bravely splashing through the ford as before. Then the old Mugger will be honoured again.”

“But surely I saw Marigold wreaths floating off the edge of the Ghaut only this noon,” said the Adjutant.

Marigold wreaths are a sign of reverence all India over.

“An error — an error. It was the wife of the sweetmeat-seller. She loses her eyesight year by year, and cannot tell a log from me — the Mugger of the Ghaut. I saw the mistake when she threw the garland, for I was lying at the very foot of the Ghaut, and had she taken another step I might have shown her some little difference. Yet she meant well, and we must consider the spirit of the offering.”

“What good are marigold wreaths when one is on the rubbish-heap?” said the Jackal, hunting for fleas, but keeping one wary eye on his Protector of the Poor.

“True, but they have not yet begun to make the rubbish-heap that shall carry ME. Five times have I seen the river draw back from the village and make new land at the foot of the street. Five times have I seen the village rebuilt on the banks, and I shall see it built yet five times more. I am no faithless, fish-hunting Gavial, I, at Kasi today and Prayag tomorrow, as the saying is, but the true and constant watcher of the ford. It is not for nothing, child, that the village bears my name, and ‘he who watches long,’ as the saying is, ‘shall at last have his reward.’”

I have watched long — very long — nearly all my life, and my reward has been bites and blows,” said the Jackal.

“Ho! ho! ho!” roared the Adjutant.

 

“In August was the Jackal born;

The Rains fell in September;

‘Now such a fearful flood as this,’

Says he, ‘I can’t remember!’”

 

There is one very unpleasant peculiarity about the Adjutant. At uncertain times he suffers from acute attacks of the fidgets or cramp in his legs, and though he is more virtuous to behold than any of the cranes, who are all immensely respectable, he flies off into wild, cripple-stilt war-dances, half opening his wings and bobbing his bald head up and down; while for reasons best known to himself he is very careful to time his worst attacks with his nastiest remarks. At the last word of his song he came to attention again, ten times adjutaunter than before.

The Jackal winced, though he was full three seasons old, but you cannot resent an insult from a person with a beak a yard long, and the power of driving it like a javelin. The Adjutant was a most notorious coward, but the Jackal was worse.

“We must live before we can learn,” said the Mugger, “and there is this to say: Little jackals are very common, child, but such a mugger as I am is not common. For all that, I am not proud, since pride is destruction; but take notice, it is Fate, and against his Fate no one who swims or walks or runs should say anything at all. I am well contented with Fate. With good luck, a keen eye, and the custom of considering whether a creek or a backwater has an outlet to it ere you ascend, much may be done.”

“Once I heard that even the Protector of the Poor made a mistake,” said the Jackal viciously.

“True; but there my Fate helped me. It was before I had come to my full growth — before the last famine but three (by the Right and Left of Gunga, how full used the streams to be in those days!). Yes, I was young and unthinking, and when the flood came, who so pleased as I? A little made me very happy then. The village was deep in flood, and I swam above the Ghaut and went far inland, up to the rice-fields, and they were deep in good mud. I remember also a pair of bracelets (glass they were, and troubled me not a little) that I found that evening. Yes, glass bracelets; and, if my memory serves me well, a shoe. I should have shaken off both shoes, but I was hungry. I learned better later. Yes. And so I fed and rested me; but when I was ready to go to the river again the flood had fallen, and I walked through the mud of the main street. Who but I? Came out all my people, priests and women and children, and I looked upon them with benevolence. The mud is not a good place to fight in. Said a boatman, ‘Get axes and kill him, for he is the Mugger of the ford.’ ‘Not so,’ said the Brahmin. ‘Look, he is driving the flood before him! He is the godling of the village.’ Then they threw many flowers at me, and by happy thought one led a goat across the road.”

“How good — how very good is goat!” said the Jackal.

“Hairy — too hairy, and when found in the water more than likely to hide a cross-shaped hook. But that goat I accepted, and went down to the Ghaut in great honour. Later, my Fate sent me the boatman who had desired to cut off my tail with an axe. His boat grounded upon an old shoal which you would not remember.”

“We are not ALL jackals here,” said the Adjutant. “Was it the shoal made where the stone-boats sank in the year of the great drouth — a long shoal that lasted three floods?”

“There were two,” said the Mugger; “an upper and a lower shoal.”

“Ay, I forgot. A channel divided them, and later dried up again,” said the Adjutant, who prided himself on his memory.

“On the lower shoal my well-wisher’s craft grounded. He was sleeping in the bows, and, half awake, leaped over to his waist — no, it was no more than to his knees — to push off. His empty boat went on and touched again below the next reach, as the river ran then. I followed, because I knew men would come out to drag it ashore.”

“And did they do so?” said the Jackal, a little awe-stricken. This was hunting on a scale that impressed him.

“There and lower down they did. I went no farther, but that gave me three in one day — well-fed manjis (boatmen) all, and, except in the case of the last (then I was careless), never a cry to warn those on the bank.”

“Ah, noble sport! But what cleverness and great judgment it requires!” said the Jackal.

“Not cleverness, child, but only thought. A little thought in life is like salt upon rice, as the boatmen say, and I have thought deeply always. The Gavial, my cousin, the fish-eater, has told me how hard it is for him to follow his fish, and how one fish differs from the other, and how he must know them all, both together and apart. I say that is wisdom; but, on the other hand, my cousin, the Gavial, lives among his people. MY people do not swim in companies, with their mouths out of the water, as Rewa does; nor do they constantly rise to the surface of the water, and turn over on their sides, like Mohoo and little Chapta; nor do they gather in shoals after flood, like Batchua and Chilwa.”

“All are very good eating,” said the Adjutant, clattering his beak.

“So my cousin says, and makes a great to-do over hunting them, but they do not climb the banks to escape his sharp nose. MY people are otherwise. Their life is on the land, in the houses, among the cattle. I must know what they do, and what they are about to do; and adding the tail to the trunk, as the saying is, I make up the whole elephant. Is there a green branch and an iron ring hanging over a doorway? The old Mugger knows that a boy has been born in that house, and must some day come down to the Ghaut to play. Is a maiden to be married? The old Mugger knows, for he sees the men carry gifts back and forth; and she, too, comes down to the Ghaut to bathe before her wedding, and — he is there. Has the river changed its channel, and made new land where there was only sand before? The Mugger knows.”

“Now, of what use is that knowledge?” said the Jackal. “The river has shifted even in my little life.” Indian rivers are nearly always moving about in their beds, and will shift, sometimes, as much as two or three miles in a season, drowning the fields on one bank, and spreading good silt on the other.

“There is no knowledge so useful,” said the Mugger, “for new land means new quarrels. The Mugger knows. Oho! the Mugger knows. As soon as the water has drained off, he creeps up the little creeks that men think would not hide a dog, and there he waits. Presently comes a farmer saying he will plant cucumbers here, and melons there, in the new land that the river has given him. He feels the good mud with his bare toes. Anon comes another, saying he will put onions, and carrots, and sugar-cane in such and such places. They meet as boats adrift meet, and each rolls his eye at the other under the big blue turban. The old Mugger sees and hears. Each calls the other ‘Brother,’ and they go to mark out the boundaries of the new land. The Mugger hurries with them from point to point, shuffling very low through the mud. Now they begin to quarrel! Now they say hot words! Now they pull turbans! Now they lift up their lathis (clubs), and, at last, one falls backward into the mud, and the other runs away. When he comes back the dispute is settled, as the iron-bound bamboo of the loser witnesses. Yet they are not grateful to the Mugger. No, they cry ‘Murder!’ and their families fight with sticks, twenty a-side. My people are good people — upland Jats — Malwais of the Bet. They do not give blows for sport, and, when the fight is done, the old Mugger waits far down the river, out of sight of the village, behind the kikar-scrub yonder. Then come they down, my broad-shouldered Jats — eight or nine together under the stars, bearing the dead man upon a bed. They are old men with gray beards, and voices as deep as mine. They light a little fire — ah! how well I know that fire! — and they drink tobacco, and they nod their heads together forward in a ring, or sideways toward the dead man upon the bank. They say the English Law will come with a rope for this matter, and that such a man’s family will be ashamed, because such a man must be hanged in the great square of the Jail. Then say the friends of the dead, ‘Let him hang!’ and the talk is all to do over again — once, twice, twenty times in the long night. Then says one, at last, ‘The fight was a fair fight. Let us take blood-money, a little more than is offered by the slayer, and we will say no more about it.’ Then do they haggle over the blood-money, for the dead was a strong man, leaving many sons. Yet before amratvela (sunrise) they put the fire to him a little, as the custom is, and the dead man comes to me, and HE says no more about it. Aha! my children, the Mugger knows — the Mugger knows — and my Malwah Jats are a good people!”

“They are too close — too narrow in the hand for my crop,” croaked the Adjutant. “They waste not the polish on the cow’s horn, as the saying is; and, again, who can glean after a Malwai?”

“Ah, I— glean — THEM,” said the Mugger.

“Now, in Calcutta of the South, in the old days,” the Adjutant went on, “everything was thrown into the streets, and we picked and chose. Those wore dainty seasons. But today they keep their streets as clean as the outside of an egg, and my people fly away. To be clean is one thing; to dust, sweep, and sprinkle seven times a day wearies the very Gods themselves.”

“There was a down-country jackal had it from a brother, who told me, that in Calcutta of the South all the jackals were as fat as otters in the Rains,” said the Jackal, his mouth watering at the bare thought of it.

“Ah, but the white-faces are there — the English, and they bring dogs from somewhere down the river in boats — big fat dogs — to keep those same jackals lean,” said the Adjutant.

“They are, then, as hard-hearted as these people? I might have known. Neither earth, sky, nor water shows charity to a jackal. I saw the tents of a white-face last season, after the Rains, and I also took a new yellow bridle to eat. The white-faces do not dress their leather in the proper way. It made me very sick.”

“That was better than my case,” said the Adjutant. “When I was in my third season, a young and a bold bird, I went down to the river where the big boats come in. The boats of the English are thrice as big as this village.”

“He has been as far as Delhi, and says all the people there walk on their heads,” muttered the Jackal. The Mugger opened his left eye, and looked keenly at the Adjutant.

“It is true,” the big bird insisted. “A liar only lies when he hopes to be believed. No one who had not seen those boats COULD believe this truth.”

“THAT is more reasonable,” said the Mugger. “And then?”

“From the insides of this boat they were taking out great pieces of white stuff, which, in a little while, turned to water. Much split off, and fell about on the shore, and the rest they swiftly put into a house with thick walls. But a boatman, who laughed, took a piece no larger than a small dog, and threw it to me. I— all my people — swallow without reflection, and that piece I swallowed as is our custom. Immediately I was afflicted with an excessive cold which, beginning in my crop, ran down to the extreme end of my toes, and deprived me even of speech, while the boatmen laughed at me. Never have I felt such cold. I danced in my grief and amazement till I could recover my breath and then I danced and cried out against the falseness of this world; and the boatmen derided me till they fell down. The chief wonder of the matter, setting aside that marvellous coldness, was that there was nothing at all in my crop when I had finished my lamentings!”

The Adjutant had done his very best to describe his feelings after swallowing a seven-pound lump of Wenham Lake ice, off an American ice-ship, in the days before Calcutta made her ice by machinery; but as he did not know what ice was, and as the Mugger and the Jackal knew rather less, the tale missed fire.

“Anything,” said the Mugger, shutting his left eye again —“ANYTHING is possible that comes out of a boat thrice the size of Mugger–Ghaut. My village is not a small one.”

There was a whistle overhead on the bridge, and the Delhi Mail slid across, all the carriages gleaming with light, and the shadows faithfully following along the river. It clanked away into the dark again; but the Mugger and the Jackal were so well used to it that they never turned their heads.

“Is that anything less wonderful than a boat thrice the size of Mugger–Ghaut?” said the bird, looking up.

“I saw that built, child. Stone by stone I saw the bridge-piers rise, and when the men fell off (they were wondrous sure-footed for the most part — but WHEN they fell) I was ready. After the first pier was made they never thought to look down the stream for the body to burn. There, again, I saved much trouble. There was nothing strange in the building of the bridge,” said the Mugger.

“But that which goes across, pulling the roofed carts! That is strange,” the Adjutant repeated. “It is, past any doubt, a new breed of bullock. Some day it will not be able to keep its foothold up yonder, and will fall as the men did. The old Mugger will then be ready.”

The Jackal looked at the Adjutant and the Adjutant looked at the Jackal. If there was one thing they were more certain of than another, it was that the engine was everything in the wide world except a bullock. The Jackal had watched it time and again from the aloe hedges by the side of the line, and the Adjutant had seen engines since the first locomotive ran in India. But the Mugger had only looked up at the thing from below, where the brass dome seemed rather like a bullock’s hump.

“M— yes, a new kind of bullock,” the Mugger repeated ponderously, to make himself quite sure in his own mind; and “Certainly it is a bullock,” said the Jackal.

“And again it might be ——” began the Mugger pettishly.

“Certainly — most certainly,” said the Jackal, without waiting for the other to finish.

“What?” said the Mugger angrily, for he could feel that the others knew more than he did. “What might it be? I never finished my words. You said it was a bullock.”

“It is anything the Protector of the Poor pleases. I am HIS servant — not the servant of the thing that crosses the river.”

“Whatever it is, it is white-face work,” said the Adjutant; “and for my own part, I would not lie out upon a place so near to it as this bar.”

“You do not know the English as I do,” said the Mugger. “There was a white-face here when the bridge was built, and he would take a boat in the evenings and shuffle with his feet on the bottom-boards, and whisper: ‘Is he here? Is he there? Bring me my gun.’ I could hear him before I could see him — each sound that he made — creaking and puffing and rattling his gun, up and down the river. As surely as I had picked up one of his workmen, and thus saved great expense in wood for the burning, so surely would he come down to the Ghaut, and shout in a loud voice that he would hunt me, and rid the river of me — the Mugger of Mugger–Ghaut! ME! Children, I have swum under the bottom of his boat for hour after hour, and heard him fire his gun at logs; and when I was well sure he was wearied, I have risen by his side and snapped my jaws in his face. When the bridge was finished he went away. All the English hunt in that fashion, except when they are hunted.”

“Who hunts the white-faces?” yapped the Jackal excitedly.

“No one now, but I have hunted them in my time.”

“I remember a little of that Hunting. I was young then,” said the Adjutant, clattering his beak significantly.

“I was well established here. My village was being builded for the third time, as I remember, when my cousin, the Gavial, brought me word of rich waters above Benares. At first I would not go, for my cousin, who is a fish-eater, does not always know the good from the bad; but I heard my people talking in the evenings, and what they said made me certain.”

“And what did they say?” the Jackal asked.

“They said enough to make me, the Mugger of Mugger–Ghaut, leave water and take to my feet. I went by night, using the littlest streams as they served me; but it was the beginning of the hot weather, and all streams were low. I crossed dusty roads; I went through tall grass; I climbed hills in the moonlight. Even rocks did I climb, children — consider this well. I crossed the tail of Sirhind, the waterless, before I could find the set of the little rivers that flow Gungaward. I was a month’s journey from my own people and the river that I knew. That was very marvellous!”

“What food on the way?” said the Jackal, who kept his soul in his little stomach, and was not a bit impressed by the Mugger’s land travels.

“That which I could find — COUSIN,” said the Mugger slowly, dragging each word.

Now you do not call a man a cousin in India unless you think you can establish some kind of blood-relationship, and as it is only in old fairy-tales that the Mugger ever marries a jackal, the Jackal knew for what reason he had been suddenly lifted into the Mugger’s family circle. If they had been alone he would not have cared, but the Adjutant’s eyes twinkled with mirth at the ugly jest.

“Assuredly, Father, I might have known,” said the Jackal. A mugger does not care to be called a father of jackals, and the Mugger of Mugger–Ghaut said as much — and a great deal more which there is no use in repeating here.

“The Protector of the Poor has claimed kinship. How can I remember the precise degree? Moreover, we eat the same food. He has said it,” was the Jackal’s reply.

That made matters rather worse, for what the Jackal hinted at was that the Mugger must have eaten his food on that land-march fresh and fresh every day, instead of keeping it by him till it was in a fit and proper condition, as every self-respecting mugger and most wild beasts do when they can. Indeed, one of the worst terms of contempt along the River-bed is “eater of fresh meat.” It is nearly as bad as calling a man a cannibal.

“That food was eaten thirty seasons ago,” said the Adjutant quietly. “If we talk for thirty seasons more it will never come back. Tell us, now, what happened when the good waters were reached after thy most wonderful land journey. If we listened to the howling of every jackal the business of the town would stop, as the saying is.”

The Mugger must have been grateful for the interruption, because he went on, with a rush:

“By the Right and Left of Gunga! when I came there never did I see such waters!”

“Were they better, then, than the big flood of last season?” said the Jackal.

“Better! That flood was no more than comes every five years — a handful of drowned strangers, some chickens, and a dead bullock in muddy water with cross-currents. But the season I think of, the river was low, smooth, and even, and, as the Gavial had warned me, the dead English came down, touching each other. I got my girth in that season — my girth and my depth. From Agra, by Etawah and the broad waters by Allahabad ——”

“Oh, the eddy that set under the walls of the fort at Allahabad!” said the Adjutant. “They came in there like widgeon to the reeds, and round and round they swung — thus!”

He went off into his horrible dance again, while the Jackal looked on enviously. He naturally could not remember the terrible year of the Mutiny they were talking about. The Mugger continued:

“Yes, by Allahabad one lay still in the slack-water and let twenty go by to pick one; and, above all, the English were not cumbered with jewellery and nose-rings and anklets as my women are nowadays. To delight in ornaments is to end with a rope for a necklace, as the saying is. All the muggers of all the rivers grew fat then, but it was my Fate to be fatter than them all. The news was that the English were being hunted into the rivers, and by the Right and Left of Gunga! we believed it was true. So far as I went south I believed it to be true; and I went down-stream beyond Monghyr and the tombs that look over the river.”

“I know that place,” said the Adjutant. “Since those days Monghyr is a lost city. Very few live there now.”

“Thereafter I worked up-stream very slowly and lazily, and a little above Monghyr there came down a boatful of white-faces — alive! They were, as I remember, women, lying under a cloth spread over sticks, and crying aloud. There was never a gun fired at us, the watchers of the fords in those days. All the guns were busy elsewhere. We could hear them day and night inland, coming and going as the wind shifted. I rose up full before the boat, because I had never seen white-faces alive, though I knew them well — otherwise. A naked white child kneeled by the side of the boat, and, stooping over, must needs try to trail his hands in the river. It is a pretty thing to see how a child loves running water. I had fed that day, but there was yet a little unfilled space within me. Still, it was for sport and not for food that I rose at the child’s hands. They were so clear a mark that I did not even look when I closed; but they were so small that though my jaws rang true — I am sure of that — the child drew them up swiftly, unhurt. They must have passed between tooth and tooth — those small white hands. I should have caught him cross-wise at the elbows; but, as I said, it was only for sport and desire to see new things that I rose at all. They cried out one after another in the boat, and presently I rose again to watch them. The boat was too heavy to push over. They were only women, but he who trusts a woman will walk on duckweed in a pool, as the saying is: and by the Right and Left of Gunga, that is truth!”

“Once a woman gave me some dried skin from a fish,” said the Jackal. “I had hoped to get her baby, but horse-food is better than the kick of a horse, as the saying is. What did thy woman do?”

“She fired at me with a short gun of a kind I have never seen before or since. Five times, one after another” (the Mugger must have met with an old-fashioned revolver); “and I stayed open-mouthed and gaping, my head in the smoke. Never did I see such a thing. Five times, as swiftly as I wave my tail — thus!”

The Jackal, who had been growing more and more interested in the story, had just time to leap back as the huge tail swung by like a scythe.

“Not before the fifth shot,” said the Mugger, as though he had never dreamed of stunning one of his listeners —“not before the fifth shot did I sink, and I rose in time to hear a boatman telling all those white women that I was most certainly dead. One bullet had gone under a neck-plate of mine. I know not if it is there still, for the reason I cannot turn my head. Look and see, child. It will show that my tale is true.”

“I?” said the Jackal. “Shall an eater of old shoes, a bone-cracker, presume, to doubt the word of the Envy of the River? May my tail be bitten off by blind puppies if the shadow of such a thought has crossed my humble mind! The Protector of the Poor has condescended to inform me, his slave, that once in his life he has been wounded by a woman. That is sufficient, and I will tell the tale to all my children, asking for no proof.”

“Over-much civility is sometimes no better than over-much discourtesy, for, as the saying is, one can choke a guest with curds. I do NOT desire that any children of thine should know that the Mugger of Mugger–Ghaut took his only wound from a woman. They will have much else to think of if they get their meat as miserably as does their father.”

“It is forgotten long ago! It was never said! There never was a white woman! There was no boat! Nothing whatever happened at all.”

The Jackal waved his brush to show how completely everything was wiped out of his memory, and sat down with an air.

“Indeed, very many things happened,” said the Mugger, beaten in his second attempt that night to get the better of his friend. (Neither bore malice, however. Eat and be eaten was fair law along the river, and the Jackal came in for his share of plunder when the Mugger had finished a meal.) “I left that boat and went up-stream, and, when I had reached Arrah and the back-waters behind it, there were no more dead English. The river was empty for a while. Then came one or two dead, in red coats, not English, but of one kind all — Hindus and Purbeeahs — then five and six abreast, and at last, from Arrah to the North beyond Agra, it was as though whole villages had walked into the water. They came out of little creeks one after another, as the logs come down in the Rains. When the river rose they rose also in companies from the shoals they had rested upon; and the falling flood dragged them with it across the fields and through the Jungle by the long hair. All night, too, going North, I heard the guns, and by day the shod feet of men crossing fords, and that noise which a heavy cart-wheel makes on sand under water; and every ripple brought more dead. At last even I was afraid, for I said: ‘If this thing happen to men, how shall the Mugger of Mugger–Ghaut escape?’ There were boats, too, that came up behind me without sails, burning continually, as the cotton-boats sometimes burn, but never sinking.”

“Ah!” said the Adjutant. “Boats like those come to Calcutta of the South. They are tall and black, they beat up the water behind them with a tail, and they ——”

“Are thrice as big as my village. MY boats were low and white; they beat up the water on either side of them and were no larger than the boats of one who speaks truth should be. They made me very afraid, and I left water and went back to this my river, hiding by day and walking by night, when I could not find little streams to help me. I came to my village again, but I did not hope to see any of my people there. Yet they were ploughing and sowing and reaping, and going to and fro in their fields, as quietly as their own cattle.”

“Was there still good food in the river?” said the Jackal.

“More than I had any desire for. Even I— and I do not eat mud — even I was tired, and, as I remember, a little frightened of this constant coming down of the silent ones. I heard my people say in my village that all the English were dead; but those that came, face down, with the current were NOT English, as my people saw. Then my people said that it was best to say nothing at all, but to pay the tax and plough the land. After a long time the river cleared, and those that came down it had been clearly drowned by the floods, as I could well see; and though it was not so easy then to get food, I was heartily glad of it. A little killing here and there is no bad thing — but even the Mugger is sometimes satisfied, as the saying is.”

“Marvellous! Most truly marvellous!” said the Jackal. “I am become fat through merely hearing about so much good eating. And afterward what, if it be permitted to ask, did the Protector of the Poor do?”

“I said to myself — and by the Right and Left of Gunga! I locked my jaws on that vow — I said I would never go roving any more. So I lived by the Ghaut, very close to my own people, and I watched over them year after year; and they loved me so much that they threw marigold wreaths at my head whenever they saw it lift. Yes, and my Fate has been very kind to me, and the river is good enough to respect my poor and infirm presence; only ——”

“No one is all happy from his beak to his tail,” said the Adjutant sympathetically. “What does the Mugger of Mugger–Ghaut need more?”

“That little white child which I did not get,” said the Mugger, with a deep sigh. “He was very small, but I have not forgotten. I am old now, but before I die it is my desire to try one new thing. It is true they are a heavy-footed, noisy, and foolish people, and the sport would be small, but I remember the old days above Benares, and, if the child lives, he will remember still. It may be he goes up and down the bank of some river, telling how he once passed his hands between the teeth of the Mugger of Mugger–Ghaut, and lived to make a tale of it. My Fate has been very kind, but that plagues me sometimes in my dreams — the thought of the little white child in the bows of that boat.” He yawned, and closed his jaws. “And now I will rest and think. Keep silent, my children, and respect the aged.”

He turned stiffly, and shuffled to the top of the sand-bar, while the Jackal drew back with the Adjutant to the shelter of a tree stranded on the end nearest the railway bridge.

“That was a pleasant and profitable life,” he grinned, looking up inquiringly at the bird who towered above him. “And not once, mark you, did he think fit to tell me where a morsel might have been left along the banks. Yet I have told HIM a hundred times of good things wallowing down-stream. How true is the saying, ‘All the world forgets the Jackal and the Barber when the news has been told!’ Now he is going to sleep! Arrh!”

“How can a jackal hunt with a Mugger?” said the Adjutant coolly. “Big thief and little thief; it is easy to say who gets the pickings.”

The Jackal turned, whining impatiently, and was going to curl himself up under the tree-trunk, when suddenly he cowered, and looked up through the draggled branches at the bridge almost above his head.

“What now?” said the Adjutant, opening his wings uneasily.

“Wait till we see. The wind blows from us to them, but they are not looking for us — those two men.”

“Men, is it? My office protects me. All India knows I am holy.” The Adjutant, being a first-class scavenger, is allowed to go where he pleases, and so this one never flinched.

“I am not worth a blow from anything better than an old shoe,” said the Jackal, and listened again. “Hark to that footfall!” he went on. “That was no country leather, but the shod foot of a white-face. Listen again! Iron hits iron up there! It is a gun! Friend, those heavy-footed, foolish English are coming to speak with the Mugger.”

“Warn him, then. He was called Protector of the Poor by some one not unlike a starving Jackal but a little time ago.”

“Let my cousin protect his own hide. He has told me again and again there is nothing to fear from the white-faces. They must be white-faces. Not a villager of Mugger–Ghaut would dare to come after him. See, I said it was a gun! Now, with good luck, we shall feed before daylight. He cannot hear well out of water, and — this time it is not a woman!”

A shiny barrel glittered for a minute in the moonlight on the girders. The Mugger was lying on the sand-bar as still as his own shadow, his fore-feet spread out a little, his head dropped between them, snoring like a — mugger.

A voice on the bridge whispered: “It’s an odd shot — straight down almost — but as safe as houses. Better try behind the neck. Golly! what a brute! The villagers will be wild if he’s shot, though. He’s the deota [godling] of these parts.”

“Don’t care a rap,” another voice answered; “he took about fifteen of my best coolies while the bridge was building, and it’s time he was put a stop to. I’ve been after him in a boat for weeks. Stand by with the Martini as soon as I’ve given him both barrels of this.”

“Mind the kick, then. A double four-bore’s no joke.”

“That’s for him to decide. Here goes!”

There was a roar like the sound of a small cannon (the biggest sort of elephant-rifle is not very different from some artillery), and a double streak of flame, followed by the stinging crack of a Martini, whose long bullet makes nothing of a crocodile’s plates. But the explosive bullets did the work. One of them struck just behind the Mugger’s neck, a hand’s-breadth to the left of the backbone, while the other burst a little lower down, at the beginning of the tail. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred a mortally-wounded crocodile can scramble to deep water and get away; but the Mugger of Mugger–Ghaut was literally broken into three pieces. He hardly moved his head before the life went out of him, and he lay as flat as the Jackal.

“Thunder and lightning! Lightning and thunder!” said that miserable little beast. “Has the thing that pulls the covered carts over the bridge tumbled at last?”

“It is no more than a gun,” said the Adjutant, though his very tail-feathers quivered. “Nothing more than a gun. He is certainly dead. Here come the white-faces.”

The two Englishmen had hurried down from the bridge and across to the sand-bar, where they stood admiring the length of the Mugger. Then a native with an axe cut off the big head, and four men dragged it across the spit.

“The last time that I had my hand in a Mugger’s mouth,” said one of the Englishmen, stooping down (he was the man who had built the bridge), “it was when I was about five years old — coming down the river by boat to Monghyr. I was a Mutiny baby, as they call it. Poor mother was in the boat, too, and she often told me how she fired dad’s old pistol at the beast’s head.”

“Well, you’ve certainly had your revenge on the chief of the clan — even if the gun has made your nose bleed. Hi, you boatmen! Haul that head up the bank, and we’ll boil it for the skull. The skin’s too knocked about to keep. Come along to bed now. This was worth sitting up all night for, wasn’t it?”

*****

Curiously enough, the Jackal and the Adjutant made the very same remark not three minutes after the men had left.

 

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Lewis Carroll’s “Photography Extraordinary”

The Milk and Water School

 

 

ALAS! she would not hear my prayer!

Yet it were rash to tear my hair;

Disfigured, I should be less fair.

 

She was unwise, I may say blind;

Once she was lovingly inclined;

Some circumstance has changed her mind.

 

The Strong Minded or Matter of Fact School

 

Well! so my offer was no go!

She might do worse, I told her so;

She was a fool to answer “No”.

 

However, things are as they stood;

Nor would I have her if I could,

For there are plenty more as good.

 

The Spasmodic or German School

 

Firebrands and daggers! hope hath fled!

To atoms dash the doubly dead!

My brain is fire–my heart is lead!

 

Her soul is flint, and what am I?

Scorch’d by her fierce, relentless eye,

Nothingness is my destiny!

 

 

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Jacob and Wilhlem Grimm’s “The Dog and the Sparrow”

dog and sparrow

A shepherd’s dog had a master who took no care of him, but often let him suffer the greatest hunger. At last he could bear it no longer; so he took to his heels, and off he ran in a very sad and sorrowful mood. On the road he met a sparrow that said to him, ’Why are you so sad, my friend?’ ’Because,’ said the dog, ’I am very very hungry, and have nothing to eat.’ ’If that be all,’ answered the sparrow, ’come with me into the next town, and I will soon find you plenty of food.’ So on they went together into the town: and as they passed by a butcher’s shop, the sparrow said to the dog, ’Stand there a little while till I peck you down a piece of meat.’ So the sparrow perched upon the shelf: and having first looked carefully about her to see if anyone was watching her, she pecked and scratched at a steak that lay upon the edge of the shelf, till at last down it fell. Then the dog snapped it up, and scrambled away with it into a corner, where he soon ate it all up. ’Well,’ said the sparrow, ’you shall have some more if you will; so come with me to the next shop, and I will peck you down another steak.’ When the dog had eaten this too, the sparrow said to him, ’Well, my good friend, have you had enough now?’ ’I have had plenty of meat,’ answered he, ’but I should like to have a piece of bread to eat after it.’ ’Come with me then,’ said the sparrow, ’and you shall soon have that too.’ So she took him to a baker’s shop, and pecked at two rolls that lay in the window, till they fell down: and as the dog still wished for more, she took him to another shop and pecked down some more for him. When that was eaten, the sparrow asked him whether he had had enough now. ’Yes,’ said he; ’and now let us take a walk a little way out of the town.’ So they both went out upon the high road; but as the weather was warm, they had not gone far before the dog said, ’I am very much tired–I should like to take a nap.’ ’Very well,’ answered the sparrow, ’do so, and in the meantime I will perch upon that bush.’ So the dog stretched himself out on the road, and fell fast asleep. Whilst he slept, there came by a carter with a cart drawn by three horses, and loaded with two casks of wine. The sparrow, seeing that the carter did not turn out of the way, but would go on in the track in which the dog lay, so as to drive over him, called out, ’Stop! stop! Mr Carter, or it shall be the worse for you.’ But the carter, grumbling to himself, ’You make it the worse for me, indeed! what can you do?’ cracked his whip, and drove his cart over the poor dog, so that the wheels crushed him to death. ’There,’ cried the sparrow, ’thou cruel villain, thou hast killed my friend the dog. Now mind what I say. This deed of thine shall cost thee all thou art worth.’ ’Do your worst, and welcome,’ said the brute, ’what harm can you do me?’ and passed on. But the sparrow crept under the tilt of the cart, and pecked at the bung of one of the casks till she loosened it; and than all the wine ran out, without the carter seeing it. At last he looked round, and saw that the cart was dripping, and the cask quite empty. ’What an unlucky wretch I am!’ cried he. ’Not wretch enough yet!’ said the sparrow, as she alighted upon the head of one of the horses, and pecked at him till he reared up and kicked. When the carter saw this, he drew out his hatchet and aimed a blow at the sparrow, meaning to kill her; but she flew away, and the blow fell upon the poor horse’s head with such force, that he fell down dead. ’Unlucky wretch that I am!’ cried he. ’Not wretch enough yet!’ said the sparrow. And as the carter went on with the other two horses, she again crept under the tilt of the cart, and pecked out the bung of the second cask, so that all the wine ran out. When the carter saw this, he again cried out, ’Miserable wretch that I am!’ But the sparrow answered, ’Not wretch enough yet!’ and perched on the head of the second horse, and pecked at him too. The carter ran up and struck at her again with his hatchet; but away she flew, and the blow fell upon the second horse and killed him on the spot. ’Unlucky wretch that I am!’ said he. ’Not wretch enough yet!’ said the sparrow; and perching upon the third horse, she began to peck him too. The carter was mad with fury; and without looking about him, or caring what he was about, struck again at the sparrow; but killed his third horse as he done the other two. ’Alas! miserable wretch that I am!’ cried he. ’Not wretch enough yet!’ answered the sparrow as she flew away; ’now will I plague and punish thee at thy own house.’ The carter was forced at last to leave his cart behind him, and to go home overflowing with rage and vexation. ’Alas!’ said he to his wife, ’what ill luck has befallen me! –my wine is all spilt, and my horses all three dead.’ ’Alas! husband,’ replied she, ’and a wicked bird has come into the house, and has brought with her all the birds in the world, I am sure, and they have fallen upon our corn in the loft, and are eating it up at such a rate!’ Away ran the husband upstairs, and saw thousands of birds sitting upon the floor eating up his corn, with the sparrow in the midst of them. ’Unlucky wretch that I am!’ cried the carter; for he saw that the corn was almost all gone. ’Not wretch enough yet!’ said the sparrow; ’thy cruelty shall cost thee they life yet!’ and away she flew.

The carter seeing that he had thus lost all that he had, went down into his kitchen; and was still not sorry for what he had done, but sat himself angrily and sulkily in the chimney corner. But the sparrow sat on the outside of the window, and cried ’Carter! thy cruelty shall cost thee thy life!’ With that he jumped up in a rage, seized his hatchet, and threw it at the sparrow; but it missed her, and only broke the window. The sparrow now hopped in, perched upon the window-seat, and cried, ’Carter! it shall cost thee thy life!’ Then he became mad and blind with rage, and struck the window-seat with such force that he cleft it in two: and as the sparrow flew from place to place, the carter and his wife were so furious, that they broke all their furniture, glasses, chairs, benches, the table, and at last the walls, without touching the bird at all. In the end, however, they caught her: and the wife said, ’Shall I kill her at once?’ ’No,’ cried he, ’that is letting her off too easily: she shall die a much more cruel death; I will eat her.’ But the sparrow began to flutter about, and stretch out her neck and cried, ’Carter! it shall cost thee thy life yet!’ With that he could wait no longer: so he gave his wife the hatchet, and cried, ’Wife, strike at the bird and kill her in my hand.’ And the wife struck; but she missed her aim, and hit her husband on the head so that he fell down dead, and the sparrow flew quietly home to her nest.

 

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Chapter 6 of my new sci-fi novel!

It’s been a while since I’ve posed an update for my sci-fi novel, so here is chapter 6 (it still has yet to be named by the way). If this is the first chapter you’ve come across please check out the prologue, chapter 1, chapter 2, chapter 3, chapter 4, and chapter 5.

Disclaimer: these chapters have not yet been professionally edited so there will most definitely be mistakes that I did not catch. Also this series contains violence, moderately strong language, and a touch of gore. Reader discretion is advised.

Chapter 6

Welcome Aboard the N.E.S. Bengal

 

Kira shut her eyes as soon as she felt her molecules tearing themselves apart. The pain was agonizing, but only for a moment. When she next opened her eyes she took a gasping breath and braced herself against the glass cell of her teleportation capsule. The pain was gone but she still felt as if she had come up for air after being under the water for much too long. Her heart pounded against her chest like the beat of one of Artemis’s annoyingly loud 20th century rock songs. She stared wide eyed at the luminescent platform beneath her feet before the sudden sound of someone knocking on her capsule brought her back to her senses.

“Sergeant Leonid?” called a muffled, high pitched, female voice. “Sergeant Leonid? Are you alright, ma’am?”

“She’s not used to being ripped apart and reassembled again,” replied Artemis’s muffled voice.

Kira’s raised her eyes just enough to see two pairs of feet standing in front of her teleportation capsule. She recognized Artemis’s large black boots, and figured the smaller pair of boots must have belonged to the woman her first spoke. However, she did not feel well enough yet to lift her head up any further.

“Sergeant Leonid isn’t used to being teleported?” the female voice asked. “Teleportation training is a prerequisite for being authorized to access the Bengal, isn’t it?”

Kira watched Artemis shift his weight from foot to foot. “Um … well, y-yeah?”

Kira scowled at Artemis’s stammered reply. They hadn’t even been there five minutes and they were already causing suspicion. After taking a deep breath, she straightened up and smoothed back her short, dark brown hair. “You’ll have to forgive me, solider. It’s been a while since training, and a simulation is nothing like experiencing the real thing.”

Pushing back her shoulders she raised her chin and pressed her palm to the capsule’s evacuation button. The door slid open with a whistling breath and Kira stepped out, doing her best to keep her balance despite how shaky her legs felt.

She gave Artemis a look that she hoped would tell him to stop talking, before turning her attention to the new women. She was pretty with blonde hair that was pulled back into a tight bun and a broad—although slightly nervous—smile. Thankfully, her stunningly pink eyes—definitely a surgical modification—studied Kira with more curiosity than suspicion.

“I hope you don’t take offense to this, Sergeant Leonid, but you’ve got to be the youngest Chief Master Sergeant I’ve ever met,” the young woman said, tilting her head to one side. “My biometric scanners say you’re about twenty-one years old, correct?”

Biometric scanners? Kira thought, feeling the blood drain from her cheeks. God I hope that isn’t a standard issue program… Although Kira’s heart was threatening to beat right out of her chest, she forced herself to calm down. “That’s correct—“ Her gaze darted down to her uniform stripes for only a moment before flickering back up to meet the woman’s hot pink eyes. “Senior Master Sergeant.”

“Oh my gosh! You must be some sort of prodigy!” she cried with enthusiasm that Kira found inappropriate for a woman of her ranking. “Oh, sorry! I know your names from the teleportation roster, but you probably have no idea who I am. My name’s Penrose Lemta, but most people call me Penny.”

“I think I’ll call you Sergeant Lemta, if you don’t mind,” Kira replied, sounding colder than she’d intended—she was still a bit out of sorts from teleportation. However, she wasn’t going to apologize for her tone. Penrose was her ‘subordinate’, and she would treat her as such to keep up appearances.

Artemis nudged her sharply in the side, flashing Penrose one of his charming smiles. “Don’t mind her, Penny. K’s just a little grouchy from the trip—and I thought she was bad after those teleportation sims we had to go through a couple months ago!” Artemis said, slapping Kira hard on the back.

Kira coughed from the impact and shot him a deadly glare. Penrose laughed, placing her hands on her slender hips. For a woman with such a small and slender frame, Penrose had an ample amount of chest. Artemis eyes flickered from her breasts to her face a few times before seemingly making a conscious effort to keep his line of sight above her shoulders. Kira sighed inwardly. Don’t be dumb, Artemis. A blind man could see those are modified.

Penny chuckled, apparently unfazed by Kira’s chilly demeanor. “Don’t worry, Sergeant Leonid, the first teleportation is always the worst,” she said in an upbeat tone. “Why don’t we take a walk to get your systems recalibrated, hm?”

Artemis grinned. “Sounds good to me. What do ya say, K?”

Kira didn’t really feel like walking just then, but she decided to push through her discomfort. Thus, she nodded. “Yes. I’d like to get acquainted with the ship as soon as possible.”

“Yeah! We’re really interested in that MCTA stuff. Can you takes us there first?” Artemis asked a little too eagerly for Kira’s tastes.

“MCTA is being tested in our engineering division,” Penny explained. “Only level three security clearance personnel with division eight or higher engineering downloads can access the facility. I’m a navigator so I couldn’t escort you two into the engineering department even if I wanted to. If you really want to see what’s going on over there, Sergeant Hartford, you can ask Sergeant Leonid to get you clearance since she’s the only one between the three of us with access to that department.”

Kira clasped her hands behind her back as she had seen Noire do many times before—she had always thought it made him look so authoritative. “Engineering can wait, Sergeant Hartford. We’ve been assigned to the Bengal to work, not to sight-see. I’m certain we’ll have plenty of time to explore after Sergeant Lemta has shown us around.”

“Sure, sure,” Penny said waving to them as she led the way out of the small teleportation chamber. “The officers encourage us to take advantage of all the N.E.S. Bengal has to offer when we have the time. Honestly, it’s pretty relaxed around here unless you’ve got trials on your schedule for the day.”

“Trials?” Artemis asked.

“Yes, trials,” Penny replied, briefly glancing back over her shoulder at them as she led then down a long metallic hallways without windows. The large square tiles beneath their feet lit up as they walked across them. “You were briefed about your roles aboard this ship, weren’t you?”

“Refresh our memories,” Kira said in a monotone.

“All Tora Corp soldiers brought aboard the Bengal are required to participate in the testing of TCEs at least eight hours a week—that’s the mandatory minimum,” Penny said.

Artemis scratched his head. “Uh, I think my mind beans are still scrambled from the trip. What’s a ‘TCE’ again?”

Penrose paused in her tracks and spun around to face them, causing both Kira and Artemis to freeze in place. “Mind beans?”

Kira released a breath she had not known she’d been holding in and chuckled hoping that it didn’t sound too relieved. “Yes. That’s what Sergeant Hartford has instead of a functioning brain. Please forgive his ridiculous euphemisms, Sergeant Lemta.”

“Pfft!” Artemis said, waving his hand in Kira’s direction. “’Mind beans’ is gonna catch on, and when it does you’re gonna be sorry you didn’t hop on the ‘bean train’ sooner. And at least I don’t make up words—what the hell is a ‘u-phone-ism’ anyway? Sounds like old tech.”

Kira stared at him for a long moment. “Any sort of intelligence is wasted on you, isn’t it?”

Penny laughed, tilting her head back towards the domed metal ceiling a few feet above. “You two have known each other for a while, haven’t you?”

Artemis playfully ruffled Kira’s hair. “Heck yeah! Me and K go way back, don’t we, kiddo?”

Kira grabbed his hand and threw it back down to his side. “Regrettably.” Kira straightened up and cleared her throat. “Now, you were about to remind Sergeant Hartford what a TCE is, weren’t you?”

“Oh! Right,” Penny said, wiping the amused smiled from her face. “TCE stands for ‘Tora Corporation Experiment’. So far we’ve got about a thousand experiments and counting locked away in our onboard containment facilities. Class three personnel, like you, are cleared for testing green and yellow division TCEs. Red division TCE testing is reserved for level five personnel only—basically only the highest officers on board have that sort of clearance. Anyone below a level four security clearance isn’t even allowed to enter the red division containment center.”

Not our problem, Kira thought and decided not to ask any more questions on TCEs. Their primary goal was the MCTA which seemed to at least be within her reach. Artemis was charismatic enough to pry some information out of the tighter lipped Tora Corp employees, so she would leave Cain’s little task to him. Kira didn’t care what they were keeping in the red division, though she sensed from the hint of frustration in Penny’s voice that she did care. Again, that wasn’t her or Artemis’s problem.

Kira kept quiet as Artemis casually flirted with Penny until they reached the end of the long hallway. Penny paused in front of a pair of brushed metal doors, still blushing from Artemis’s last compliment. She pressed her hand to the touchscreen on the door and a hollow female voice sounded throughout the hallway. “Access granted, Senior Master Sergeant Penrose Lemta. Clear to scan Tora Corp employee data chips?”

“Clear, Mia,” Penny said cheerfully before turning to face them. “Alright, Sergeants, arms at your sides and face forward, just like in base training.”

Kira and Artemis did as they were instructed, allowing the ship’s A.I. to scan them. It hardly took more than a second before the A.I. spoke again. “Chief Master Sergeant of Tora Militia Artemis Hartford, and Chief Master Sergeant of Tora Militia Kira Leonid cleared for entry. All access to appropriate level three security areas granted.”

“Thanks, Mia,” Penny said as the door slid open for them. “By the way, that was Andromeda—Bengal’s onboard A.I. I call her Mia for short and so do a lot of other employees. She’s the most sophisticated A.I. around. She monitors nearly every part of this ship.”

Nearly?” Kira asked.

“Well, I’m told that the only parts of the ship Mia’s been barred from monitoring are the red division testing facilities—there aren’t any audio or video devices allowed in there,” Penny explained. “Don’t get me wrong, Mia’s still got that area locked down tight with protocol security measures, she just can’t see or hear what’s going on in there.”

So it all comes back to the ‘red division. This woman must really be obsessed, Kira thought as Penny led them into a large central hub area. Like the Tora Corp Transportation center on earth, this room’s ceiling was made of thick, tempered glass. Kira found it truly amazing that it didn’t shatter beneath the extreme pressures of space. The glass allowed them a lovely view of Earth which floated amidst a seat of blackness and distant stars. Although the hub didn’t have many furnishings—there a few uncomfortable-looking metal benches pushed against the wall, a couple of plants protected behind glass enclosures, and a massive laser projection up on the far wall which Reid Zarlok’s scruffy face was taking up. Zarlok winked and gave all of his employees passing through the hub a ‘thumbs-up’, his grin looking too wide for his face.

As in the transportation center on earth, the hub was bustling with people dressed in militia uniforms, lab coats, and expensive, tailored suits made from the finest materials money could buy. Though, as Kira scanned the room, she saw that there were no more data chip scanners of any sort—she supposed Andromeda had all that under control.

Penny led them through the crowd of people to a large counter arena right beneath Zarlok’s ridiculously huge projection. The bored looking solider behind the desk who was tossing a ball of blueish energy up and down, immediately sat up at attention when he caught sight of Penrose. Kira could tell by his stripes—or rather, lack thereof—that Penny was his senior officer, which meant she and Artemis were as well.

With a quick snap of his fingers the ball of blueish energy disappeared and he smiled broadly, his cheeks turning pink. “H-hello, Sergeant Lemta! New soldiers?”

Kira guessed that the boy must have been around her age—maybe a little younger, but not by much. Penny nodded once. “Yep, yep! They’ll be needing their orientation packets.”

“Right,” the solider said, flicking his forefinger and thumb out causing a translucent blue screen appear before him. “Mia, please pull up new recruits identity data.”

“Immediately, Senior Airman Jones,” replied Andromeda’s smooth, womanly voice from somewhere behind the desk.

The translucent blue screen filled with lines of information—which Kira couldn’t read because they were backwards to her—along with both Kira and Artemis’s pictures.

Jones tapped the screen a few times before minimizing it. “Alright Sergeant Hartford, and Sergeant Leonid, you’re orientation files are being downloaded to your data chips right now,” he said with an exuberance that only came from youth.

Kira, on the other hand, was not as excited as Jones. Instead of having that information that was supposed to be downloaded to their data chips immediately at their disposal, she and Artemis would have to study it, and study it well. She would probably have to connect Archimedes to Artemis’s language chip to help him navigate the ship—after all, he was not as competent with studying as she was.

“Alright, are your maps downloaded?” Penny asked, setting her hands on her scant hips. Kira and Artemis exchanged hesitant looks and murmured ‘yes’. “Okay! Let’s start our tour then.”

Kira briefly shut her eyes and released a steadying breath. Thank goodness they were still going to be given a tour. As Penny marched toward the large archway to their left—one of the four large archways leading away from the hub—Kira turned away from Jones and gently nudged Artemis in the side. “Pay attention,” she hissed. “We’re both going to need to know the lay out of this ship.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Artemis said with an airy wave of his hand. He ruffled her hair. “Chill out, will you? I got this.”

Kira grimaced as Artemis’s hand fell from her head back down to his side and he started after Penny. Needless to say, his ‘I got this’, hadn’t exactly inspired confidence. He had said that many times before when he clearly hadn’t ‘got it’. She just hoped for his sake, as well as her own that this time he actually meant what he said.

 

Penny showed them the different sections of the ship, and, as Kira had anticipated, the layout of the N.E.S. Bengal was quite complicated. I guess I will have to program Archimedes to give him directions after all, Kira thought glumly to herself as she glanced over at Artemis who looked utterly confused.

After being shown the cafeteria, mall area, weapon range, training facilities, the mental hospital—which they had been told Tora Corps criminally insane test subjects were held—and beta-testing areas, Penny finally led them to the section of the Bengal that they were most interested in. “And here we are,” Penny said brightly, thrusting her arm toward a pair of reinforced steel doors. “Tora Corp’s famous engineering labs! Behind these doors the greatest inventions the world has ever seen are being developed. This is where you’ll be working, Sergeant Leonid. Aren’t you excited?”

Kira could not stop the slightest of smirks from forming on her lips. “More than you realize, Sergeant Lemta.”

Kira’s stringent gaze fell upon the ominous steel doors set into the sterile white wall before them. This should be a quick job. I’ll get in, grab the MCTA while Artemis snoops around for information on Tora Corp corruption, and then we can leave.

Almost as if reading her thoughts Penny went on to say, “Oh! I should tell you now that the rules are the strictest in the engineering labs. Protocol is followed to a T there. No authorized materials go in no prototypes come out of there without express approval from General Kipling. The anti-gravity shoes are fun, but trust me they’re not worth borrowing for a joy ride—Sergeant Aldan got discharged for just trying to sneak those babies out of the lab.”

“How’d he get caught?” Artemis asked.

“Mia,” Penny replied simply. “She’s got eyes and ears all over this place. Besides that there are scanners all throughout the Bengal that run independently from Andromeda’s programing. Between the scanners and Mia, it’s pretty much impossible to get away with shenanigans here.”

Artemis snorted a laugh. “Shenanigans…”

“It means ‘mischief’, you dolt,” Kira snapped, having to restrain herself slapping him in the stomach. “Stop laughing.”

Penny chuckled. “Well, to be fair, it is a pretty funny word.”

Right?” Artemis said, his eyes lighting up as he and Penny shared a strange ‘idiot moment’.

Kira shifted uncomfortably watching Artemis and Penny smile at one another like they had forgotten she was there. She cleared her throat loudly, jarring them out from their daze. “Shall we continue our tour now, Sergeant Lemta?”

“Yes, of course!” Penny said, her cheeks turning pink as she averted her eyes from Artemis and hurried past them. “Follow me! We’ve still got a lot to see.”

Artemis was just about to prance off after her like a dog that just had been called to a meal when Kira grabbed his arm and tugged him back. “Artemis, I swear to god, if you mess this up I will never forgive you. This is dangerous. Do you understand that?” she whispered harshly.

“Huh? What are you talking about?” Artemis asked, raising a brow.

Kira merely shot him a knowing look in response.

“What? Penny?” Artemis asked, laughing softly, so as not to draw attention. “I’m just being friendly. Cool your jets, K, we’ll be fine. I ain’t gonna mess anything up for us.” He then leaned in closer. “We probably shouldn’t be talking about this here because of, you know … GLaDOS.”

Kira’s face scrunched up. “Who?

“Portal reference?”

Kira shrugged and shook her head. “I don’t know what apertures have to do with this.”

“Seriously? You’ve never heard of Portal and you choose to say aperture?”

“Why is that so strange? It’s synonymous with the word porthole.”

“No! Not porthole, Portal! You know, the video game?”

Kira cast him an apathetic look to which Artemis rolled his eyes. “Okay, never mind that. Just, you know, watch what you say,” he said, discreetly nodding to one of Andromeda’s touch screen command pads. Now she understood. He was worried about the ship’s A.I. overhearing them and for good reason. Kira would have to create some sort of scrambling programming to shield Andromeda from recording their private conversations.

He clapped his hand on Kira’s shoulder. “Look, we’ll talk later. Let’s just finish our tour, yeah?”

Before she even had a chance to reply, Artemis strode forward, following after Penny. Kira clenched her jaw and grudgingly went after him. She would knew she would have to keep a keen eye on him—he got distracted so easily, especially when buxom women were involved.

Penny led them though a large common area and down a long hallway at the end of which were two double doors with the word ‘Dormitories’ glowing upon a glass pane above them.

“Since you two are Chief Master Sergeants you get your own state rooms. I heard they’re really nice—I can’t wait until I get promoted to your levels!” Penny said, flattening her arms down to her sides so she could be scanned.

Artemis and Kira mimicked Penny by pressing their arms flat against their sides as well. The doors beeped and slid open with a breathy squeak that reminded Kira of the sound decontamination chambers make with their release their antibacterial mist. Penny led them through the doors and down another hallway lined with metallic wainscoting. There were doors at regular intervals on either side of them.

“This is generally where the E-1’s stay. They’re bunk rooms that house about four people each. Men’s dorms are on the right and women’s dorms are on the left. After curfew Mia locks all the bunk rooms in this section to prevent any hanky panky, if you know what I mean.”

“I don’t think there are many definitions for ‘hanky panky’, so yes, I know what you mean,” Kira replied monotonously.

Artemis laughed loudly and slapped her hard on the back, the force of which nearly made her stumble forward. “Don’t be such a wet blanket, K! Penny’s just tryin’ to liven up the tour for us.”

“Sergeant Leonid is all business I see! General Kipling is going to love you,” Penny said, winking back at Kira. Her face suddenly brightened up with excitement. “Hey! Maybe you’ll even get to meet Mister Zarlok! Sometimes General Kipling holds banquets for upper division enlisted and Mister Zarlok is usually in attendance. Sometimes Mister Zarlok will promote you right on the spot and then you get transferred to the Tora space station orbiting Neptune. You guys are E-9s so you’re shoo-ins for at least an invite!

Kira made a face. “I thought Tora’s Neptune station was just a myth.”

“So did I until my friend Jodie got promoted and sent there,” Penny said. “She’s been so busy she hasn’t even gotten the chance to write me.”

They continued down the long E-1 hallway, and at the end of the corridor was a glass elevator. They stepped inside and Penny said, “E-7 through E-9 please.”

As soon as she gave the command the elevator moved up so smoothly Kira could only tell they were moving by the floors the rushed past the elevator’s glass walls in a blur of white, gray, and black. When the elevator came to a halt they stepped out into a large, domed chamber with doors lining the concaved wall before them. Directly across the hall from the elevator was a huge archway that led to another hall. There was a fountain in the middle of the room that gushed a glowing bluish substance that was most certainly not water—Kira’s best guess was plasma.

Penny threw out her arms, smiling broadly. “And here we are! Home sweet home! This area is the E-7 and E-8 rooms. We, unfortunately, have to bunk in pairs here.” She motioned to the door directly to their right. “That’s mine and Maria’s room, for future reference,” she said, flashing Artemis a flirty smile.

He grinned and began to move towards her, but Kira grabbed his arm and held him back. Unfortunately she couldn’t stop him from saying, “The A.I. doesn’t lock the doors after curfew up here, does it?”

Penny only giggled in response and motioned with her hand for them to follow her. Penny led them down an archway and to a much smaller domed room with a glass ceiling from which one could view the starry heavens that surrounded them.

“And here is the E-9 chamber. This is you guys,” Penny said. “There are laser plaques on the doors, so just find your name and head inside—I’m sure you guys will want to rest before dinner in an hour or so. I remember when I was first teleported up here, the journey kicked my butt!”

Kira nodded her thanks and excused herself to find her room—she didn’t think Artemis and Penny were too broken up over her sudden desertion. She found her door quickly and wasted no time in entering her chambers. The room was spacious and separated into several sections by frosted glass dividers. There was a small kitchen area at the back of the room with a food tablet and beverage dispenser, a little metal table and two metal chairs. The living room area had a rectangular, uncomfortable looking, white couch and the latest model of laser projectors was on to displaying Reid Zarlok with his big cheesy grin, giving her the ‘thumbs up’. She scowled and said, “Projector off.” The projector shut off on her command and all the remained was a blank, white wall.

The bedroom area was plain with only two nightstands on either side of the bed—that looked about just as comfortable as the couch—a dresser, and an interactive mirror mounted on the wall. Beside the sleeping area was the bathroom which featured a shower, toilet, sink, and mirror—nothing exorbitantly fancy.

However, the very best part of the room was the ceiling. Just like out in the hall the ceiling was made of glass allowing her to see the beautiful cosmos that they were weightlessly floating in. She fell back on the bed and was glad to find that it was far more comfortable that it first appeared. She stared up at the starry sky above her and for a moment she forgot that she was only there to steal some dumb hunk of metal. For a moment she just reveled in the magnificence and serenity of space.

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Rudyard Kipling’s “Mowgli’s Song Against People”

I will let loose against you the fleet-footed vines –
I will call in the Jungle to stamp out your lines !
The roofs shall fade before it,
The house-beams shall fall;
And the Karela, the bitter Karela,
Shall cover it all !

In the gates of these your councils my people shall sing.
In the doors of these your garners the Bat-folk shall cling;
And the snake shall be your watchman,
By a hearthstone unswept;
For the Karela, the bitter Karela,
Shall fruit where ye slept !

Ye shall not see my strikers; ye shall hear them and guess.
By night, before the moon-rise, I will send for my cess,
And the wolf shall be your herdsman
By a landmark removed;
For the Karela, the bitter Karela,
Shall seed where ye loved !

I will reap your fields before you at the hands of a host.
Ye shall glean behind my reapers for the bread that is lost;
And the deer shall be your oxen
On a headland untilled;
For the Karela, the bitter Karela,
Shall leaf where ye build !

I have untied against you the club-footed vines –
I have sent in the Jungle to swamp out your lines !
The trees – the trees are on you !
The house-beams shall fall;
And the Karela, the bitter Karela,
Shall cover you all !

 

Man, I’ve been off my game, guys! I’m sorry I’ve missed so many updates. A lot of exciting things have happened with The Prince of Prophecy Vol. III: Changing Tides, and it’s kept me really busy! I’m going to try to stay on top of these posts, but if I get a little behind I’m sorry in advance–right now I’m running my own three-ring circus.

For new fairy tale, Prince of Prophecy, and Writer’s Corner updates every Wednesday and Saturday, follow this blog!

 

Lewis Carroll’s “She’s All My Fancy Painted Him”

She’s all my fancy painted him
(I make no idle boast);
If he or you had lost a limb,
Which would have suffered most?

They told me you had been to her,
And mentioned me to him:
She gave me a good character,
But said I could not swim.

He sent them word I had not gone
(We know it to be true):
If she should push the matter on,
What would become of you?

I gave her one, they gave him two,
You gave us three or more;
They all returned from him to you,
Though they were mine before.

If I or she should chance to be
Involved in this affair,
He trusts to you to set them free,
Exactly as we were.

My notion was that you had been
(Before she had this fit)
An obstacle that came between
Him, and ourselves, and it.

Don’t let him know she liked them best,
For this must ever be
A secret, kept from all the rest,
Between yourself and me.

 

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Lewis Carroll’s “Coronach”

She is gone by the Hilda,

She is lost unto Whitby,

And her name is Matilda,

Which my heart it was smit by;

Tho’ I take the Goliah,

I learn to my sorrow

That ‘it wo’n’t’, said the crier,

‘Be off till tomorrow.

 

“She called me her ‘Neddy’,

(Tho’ there mayn’t be much in it,)

And I should have been ready,

If she’d waited a minute;

I was following behind her

When, if you recollect, I

Merely ran back to find a

Gold pin for my neck-tie.

 

“Rich dresser of suet!

Prime hand at a sausage!

I have lost thee, I rue it,

And my fare for the passage!

Perhaps she thinks it funny,

Aboard of the Hilda,

But I’ve lost purse and money,

And thee, oh, my ‘Tilda!”

 

His pin of gold the youth undid

And in his waistcoat-pocket hid,

Then gently folded hand in hand,

And dropped asleep upon the sand.

 

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