Archers of Knack and Note

When you think of fantasy weapons, what’s the first image that comes to mind? Swords, right? Fantasy and swords go together like peanut butter and jelly, bacon and eggs, sunshine and bike rides- okay, we could go on for a while there. Anywho, swords and those who wield them have been the archetype of fantasy since the beginning of the universe ─ the known and unknown. Who can forget the timeless classics like King Arthur and Excalibur, or Aragorn and Anduril. The sword is the backbone of weaponry in both our history and our favorite fantasies, no question the weapon of choice for any fan, but what about all the other weapons out there? What about the axes and hammers and polearms?

The bow and arrow?

Swords and their wielders are cool, don’t get me wrong, but I’ll venture to say that I’ve always found myself drawn more toward archers and their bows. A long range weapon by design, a skilled archer with the right bow can shoot an arrow over 300 yards ─ that’s about two and a half American football fields. How awesome is that? I know that our modern firearms can hit targets miles away, but have you considered that bows are the reason we have firearms?

In history, the English and Welsh were renowned for their archery ─ longbows in particular ─ during the many wars that took place. It was an effective tactical move to have ranks of archers take down the first lines of the enemy before they came in range for the cavalry and infantry. They were the first line of defense. (If you see him, he probably wasn’t aiming at you. Medieval snipers, anyone?)

But archery, unlike swordsmanship, isn’t confined to the act of warmaking. With such tools a person could hunt for their food, and who isn’t familiar with ye olde shoot-a-zip-line-over-the-deep-expanse-in-order-to-escape? The versatility and sheer awesomeness of these weapons has captured my fascination, and not one person has taken that stance and drawn that string without me getting excited. (Here’s my nerd membership card).

So, we all have our beloved sword bearing fiction heroes, but what about the bowmen? Here’s a handful of my own near and dears.


Nock and Bolt – The Twin Bowmen of Yewland

Aiden could now see two other Glimpses seated on a great log beyond Mallik. They were smaller than most of the other Glimpses, though still greater in size than Aiden. Each had long, straight sandy brown hair drawn back tightly. Each wore a circlet of silver like a thin crown above his uncannily arched brows and restless blue eyes. And though they appeared youthful, their stature was proud and manly. Seated side by side, tuned just slightly, the two Glimpses looked like mirror images.

The Door Within

When I first read about these two years and years ago I fell in love instantly. Elvenesque and remarkably skilled, these identical twins share a close bond not only with each other, but also with their brothers-in-arms in the service of king Eliam of Alleble. Accused of being ‘impetuous upstarts’, Nock and Bolt are cheerful and cheeky, but are devoted to their craft of archery and claim it as the height of excellence in battle.

“With our bows,” the twins protested in stereo, “you need not scrap in the first place. The enemy falls dead ere you draw close enough to be struck.”

The Door Within

Hard to argue with that logic, no?

These two and their story within the larger plot of the trilogy wrenches me every time I read it.


Legolas – Prince of the Wood-elves

He was tall as a young tree, lithe, immensely strong, able swiftly to draw a great war-bow and shoot down a Nazgul, endowed with the tremendous vitality of Elvish bodies, so hard and resistant to hurt that he went only in light shoes over rock or through snow, the most tireless of the Fellowship.

The Lord of the Rings

Believe it or not, Nock and Bolt and the Door Within trilogy were in my life before The Lord of the Rings. I wasn’t reading such epic books back in those days (I’m behind on those childhood experiences. I never read the Narnia books until I was a teenager). The movies frightened me, so I didn’t watch them until later. Orlando Bloom in fantasy getup aside, I had a new-to-epic-fantasy adoration for elves, and Legolas was just so awesome! He was a fearless warrior who could hit anything, shooting arrows fast as thought ─ not to mention being able to walk on top of snow! Given a new longbow from Galadriel, Elven queen of Lothlorien, he could bring down a fell beast in the dark with a single shot.

Tell me you’re not impressed.

Still, I didn’t read the books until a couple years later, and that was my loss, because they really are good books. The story is a powerful one. Legolas fought hard for the people of Middle-earth against Sauron’s armies, was loyal to Aragorn and Frodo, valiant in daring-do, and developed a deep and lasting friendship with Gimli (one of the absolute best friendships in the history of ever).

“Never thought I’d die fighting side by side with an Elf,” [said Gimli.]

“What about side by side with a friend?” [replied Legolas.]

“Aye. I could do that.”

The Lord of the Rings

(Yes, I know that’s from the movies, but it’s such a wonderful exchange.)


Bran – King Raven

 

Set in 12th century Wales, this was the first tale of Robin Hood that I ever read (I have yet to get my hands on an original copy). The story of Bran ap Brychan, Prince of Elfael, is one full of frustration, tragedy, and sorrow, but also survival and hope. Bran grew up learning to wield a bow alongside his father’s warband. But then tragedy strikes when the Normans come and he must flee for his life into the wild greenwood.

Through Bran’s struggles to survive and the fight to regain his homeland I came across this one part that I love, where Bran is living in a forest cave with an old druid and recovering from an injury. This is a turning point in his life, and through that process he crafts his own bow:

Bran examined the length of ash once more. He held it up and looked down its length. Here and there it bent slightly out of true [but] not so badly that it could not be worked . . . Bran set to work, tentatively at first, but with growing confidence as his hands remembered their craft.

The King Raven trilogy

This bow, shaped with care by his own hands, is a symbol of his own re-making into Rhi Bran y Hud. It’s with this bow that the legend takes hold, and with this bow that he fights and eventually leads his people back home.

 . . . and then he was caught up in the tremendous sea wave of acclamation that rose up from the long-suffering folk of Elfael, whose joy at seeing their king triumphant could not be contained.

The King Raven trilogy


Teryn – First Warrior to the Heir of Tigress

One woman strode forward confidently, hands on her hips with an haughty look in her amber eyes, and bent slightly at the waist to look at them. . . .”Now, my prisoners, there are a couple of things I’ll be wanting yeh to know ere we release yeh. Yeh are over two hundred marks in the air ─ that means if yeh jump or fall yeh have a good chance of dying before yeh splatter into jelly on the ground. Secondly, yeh’re outnumbered ─ pretty sadly, I’d say, and neither of yeh have a prayer against Fordon to overpower any of us.”

The Journey Taken

I have to be honest. When I think over my favorite archers I can’t not include Teryn from my own The Journey Taken saga. First introduced in volume 3, she was so much fun to write, with her cocky attitude and brash tongue. She may have been the cause of a lot of headaches for the company, but there was one virtue about her that could not be denied: her skill with the bow. It’s the weapon her people live and breathe by. Her bow is the sign of her identity and her status as First Warrior to the heir of Tigress, leader of her clan. Hers is a longbow, thick and straight with a heavy draw weight, allowing her arrows to fly far and hard with pinpoint accuracy.

Her biggest pride is that she never misses, but what she needs to learn is that there are some problems in the world that can’t be solved by turning it into a pin cushion.

“In yehr dreams, yeh overgrown toad cac!” Teryn shouted, stringing an arrow before she had even finished speaking. “I’ll turn yeh into a pin cushion first!”

The Journey Taken


Yaedon – The Gadreian Woodsman

Last one, and again, one of my own. I would love to read more books with archers in them, but sadly, I haven’t come across very many (so if you have any suggestions, please let me know!)

This guy is from my new writing project: Falconsbane, so this is also a little ‘sneak peak’ into what you’re in for with the next adventure from the Writing Corner. The following quote is a rough first draft (so let’s not judge too harshly, shall we?)

Roscha’s heart began to beat faster the closer he came, but before he could open his mouth and announce his approach, the peculiarly dressed man with hair longer than his own turned his head and caught sight of him. The man turned full and beamed a bright and welcoming smile, raising his hand in the air. “Greetings, fellow traveler!” he called, and beckoned Roscha over. He didn’t have any armor, either, but the quiver slung across his shoulder spoke to his position as an archer. “The name’s Yaedon, by the way,” the bowman offered. “Yaedon un Hebron-Surah kibur Gadrei.” He proffered a hand in greeting.

Falconsbane

But for however peaceable he may seem, he is absolutely deadly with his bow in hand. During the war he was issued one by the Archery Corps, but he preferred to use the hunting bow he had been raised with, its hand rest worn smooth with use, its shaft well cared for. His early training in stalking prey to feed his family earned him some pretty hard core but sorely underrated skills, too ─ because how many of us can sit perfectly still with a bee or some other bug flying in our ear and crawling all over our faces?


So, how about you? Do you have any favorite fantasy archers, did I mention any of yours already! Share in the comments! If you have any suggestions for stories with awesome archers in them, I would love to hear about them, so please share!

 

Reynwood’s Reviews: The War of Souls Trilogy

28509Title: The War of Souls Trilogy

Authors: Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

My rating: 3 out of 5


The people of Krynn have known war in past ages. Some are still alive who remember the triumph of good at the conclusion of the War of the Lance. Still more remember the devastation of the Chaos War, which ended the Fourth Age of the world.

But now a new war is about to begin, more terrible than any have known. This war is one for the very heart and soul of the world itself.

The War of Souls.


My Thoughts:

Wow. I had to take a moment and a deep breath after this one. This trilogy took me (I’m a little embarrassed to admit) several months to finish. Each volume is so big it could break a foot if you dropped it. This is a very intricate story with many threads woven to make a fine mesh tapestry.

I have been interested in the universe of DragonLance for a long time, and my very first venture into the world of Krynn was the Suncatcher Trilogy by Jeff Sampson (which I’m thinking of reading again, because Sindri). I fell in love with the race of kender, which are kind of like hobbits, but not really.

Then I brought this War of Souls Trilogy into my collection and decided to give it a whirl. My first impression after diving into the first volume was that I would have benefitted exponentially from reading its predecessor series first, as there are many people, places, and events mentioned and alluded to that bear some significance. Albeit the authors did a fair job adding enough detail to give a novice (such as I am) some understanding to keep me from being totally lost, but in the future I would advise starting at the very beginning, because that’s a very good place to start. I jumped into an ocean with this DragonLance stuff, because while there are numerous (and I mean numerous) series and trilogies encompassing individual stories, they’re all strung up along the timeline of this world of Krynn, which opens with Dragons of Autumn Twilight, first in the Chronicles Trilogy by Weis and Hickman.

So, before you dive into the War of Souls, be smarter than yours truly and start in the beginning instead of somewhere in the middle.

Now, that said, I have to admit I have some mixed feelings about this story. Overall in the grand scheme of things I enjoyed it, but it was the ending that sold it to me. I love me a good ending (I’m not saying anything more about that, because a spoiled ending is the worst). I had some trouble getting there, though, because it took so very long. We follow a bucket load of people scattered across the continent dealing with the myriad of happenings, and to be honest, I really only cared about Tasselhoff’s happenings (poor, poor, loveable Tas. I’d read Dragons of Autumn Twilight just for him). I favored Gerard’s bits, too, but those two were my only real favorites.

The overarching theme of this One God seriously creeped me out in the beginning, when I couldn’t decide if it was a good or bad thing. The details were so conflicting (which is good storytelling, leaving the reader in the same shoes as the characters as they try to figure out what to think of it). I’m going to spoil that for you and say that it is most certainly a bad thing. There wouldn’t be much of a story if it had turned out to be a good one.

Such is life.

Anywho, the diversity of the characters and their varying personalities gives a wide perspective of what’s going on, what it means to the world as a whole, and how it affects/will affect the individuals in it. One thing is for certain, not a single person will be the same. Trials can stretch and grow or shatter and destroy. Tas learned about fear and true bravery, Odila found her way through the mire of a troubled heart, Gilthas fought through the pain and responsibility of kingship to lead an exiled people. Mina succumbed to darkness.

Mina is a curiosity for me. Duly mysterious in the beginning, we learned very little about her throughout the story. Outside of her unswerving faith in her One God, she has almost no personality. Her initial impression is one of a capable leader and miracle worker filled with kindness and compassion for everyone, including her enemies, so long as they recognize the One God whom she serves. Then come to find out towards the end that this ‘innocent’ youth isn’t as kindhearted as we’ve been led to believe. I know that stress and pain can alter a person, but I would think that such a compassionate person would hesitate a little more before doing what she did, might waver a little in the face of the dark truth. But maybe it was all a farce to begin with. An act. Devotion to her god turned this inquisitive girl into a devout pawn and then a bitter and vengeful creature. It would be interesting to see what happens with this new bane in the followup series, The Dark Disciple.

Story aside, I thought the narrative had good points and not so good points. It was wonderfully descriptive, painting vivid pictures, but there were times when I thought this exposition or that one wasn’t entirely necessary for the development of the plot. I also found a boatload of typos, but it’s not like that ruined the experience for me. The pace was moderate for the most part, kind of slow at times (which is one of the reasons it took me so long to finish, I rarely felt the insufferable need to read more at the soonest opportunity). But it got better in the last three or four hundred pages, keeping me up too late.

All in all I’d say it was a good addition to the DragonLance world, certainly enough to convince me to go back and read from the first.

Sayonara to ’17 and What’s Coming

Hello everyone! Happy New Year! How was your Christmas? Merry? Bright? We were a little scattered over here in the Writing Corner and beyond, what with all that’s been going on this past year, but we pulled off another great holiday with the family nonetheless. The Lord’s blessings abound in all types of life’s weather.

Taking a moment to look back at the past year, I can remember feeling that 2017 was going to be a big year in my family ─ and boy did it turn out to be true! Here’s a bullet point list of some of what’s gone down:

  • The final volume of The Journey Taken was published, completing a seven volume, five year project
  • My younger brother got married, giving me my first-ever, super cool sister
  • In fact, I ended up attending a whopping 5 weddings this past year, with a life total of (I’m thinkin’) 6. So it’s a record, I dare say. I think it’s wonderful and exciting to have been witness to the beginning of so many new lives.
  • The farm’s greenhouse finally got covered
  • My older brother brought us a cat (poor thing was orphaned). This may seem small to most people, even undesirable by some, but this writer has been wanting a cat for years, and this wee, furry spaz has brought us a lot of laughter. He is also very warm when he decides to sit on your lap while you’re trying to write. His name is Chestyr.
  • We fixed up and sold (almost there!) the house we’ve been renting out
  • I’ve developed a fancy for making earrings ─ the whimsical sort, not fashion. I’ve never been very fashionable.

Quite a doozey, yeah? And that’s not even everything. But now the old year has come to a close and a new one has opened ─ it’s like turning to the first page of a brand new book you’ve never read before! The possibilities are endless. Here’s a few things that I am looking forward to:

  • More weddings! Oh, how the young ones have grown . . .
  • Plying my culinary craft at the farm stand (gotta start small, right? For those of you nearby, keep a lookout for magical munchies come spring)
  • Riding a thousand miles on my dual-sport hybrid bicycle of beautifulness (this’ll be the summer . . . this’ll be the summer . . .)
  • Getting that blasted license
  • Working on my new story. Last November I participated in NaNoWriMo, kicking off the start of a whole new writing project that I’m calling Falconsbane (many thanks to everyone who voted and helped me out). I won’t say an awful lot here, but I’ll tell you that it’s not a part of the TJT universe. Don’t be alarmed, I’m not anywhere near done with Jasinda and its peoples, but this time I felt like branching off to a new location and building something from scratch again. It’s about a young man by the name of Roscha who goes from a fairly anonymous existence to discover a bigger destiny than he ever could have imagined. There, that’s all I’m going to say about it now. You can read the synopsis here and check out the Pinterest board dedicated to it here. I’m super excited about it and pumped to share the journey with you all, so stay tuned!

Now how about you all?

Take a moment to look back over 2017, what things ─ big or small ─ happened? Have you grown, changed because of it?

What sorts of things are you looking forward to this year? Don’t be shy to share in the comments!

Warm up with a Skillet – and Meat and Potatoes and . . .

Hello everyone! Can you believe December’s halfway over already? Christmas is almost here! Please tell me I’m not the only one running the USPS ragged with packages coming in almost every day. It’s so exciting! I can hardly wait to give these gifts to my loved ones.

Now, I know that usually people cook up some special recipes for Christmas, but believe it or not ─ we don’t! Outside of gingerbread men, chex mix, and haystacks, my family doesn’t make fancy food for the holidays (Christmas Eve we’ve eaten pizza and wings at my grandparents’ for as long as I can remember, and our traditional Christmas dinner is your basic lasagna. Nevertheless, they’re both family favorites).

So today I’m going to share with you another of my favorite dinners: Cajun Kielbasa Skillet. It’s a simple dish with a handful of ingredients that packs some great flavors and a bit of bite (yes, I’m in favor of spicy food. The only one in the family, too, it seems). I hope you’ll give it a try sometime ─ and don’t forget to tell me what you think of it!

Ingredients:

4 medium potatoes

1 large onion

2 medium sweet peppers (any color, or try a mix! I like to use red and orange ones)

1 lb. beef kielbasa

1-2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning (depending on your taste)

Instructions:

Gather all your ingredients. (This is an important step that I don’t practice as often as I should when both cooking and baking. It’s worth the extra step, believe me).

Cube the potatoes and chop the onion. Slice the sweet peppers into strips and then cut the strips in half. Cut the kielbasa into 1/2 inch or so pieces.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat and add the vegetables and kielbasa. Cook, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are soft. Add the seasoning and stir to coat, then it’s ready to serve!

I made this last night and served it with a batch of baking powder biscuits ─ super delicious!

Thoughts on a Christmas Classic

Well, with it being December and Christmas and all, I thought I’d share with you one of the universe’s all-time classics (at least since 1843: A Christmas Carol. This story has become so popular that you might be hard pressed to find a person who hasn’t heard of it. Ever wonder how we got the term ‘Don’t be such a Scrooge’ and how ‘humbug’ became so popular?

You guessed it.

A Christmas Carol, by our dear Charles Dickens.

This story is small in size and big on impact, recounting the tale of a miserable old miser by the name of Ebenezer Scrooge, who cannot see the joys of Christmas and will not open his heart to the world and people around him. Then he receives a visit from the ghost of his long-dead business partner, Jacob Marley, who warns him of the woes awaiting him after death and gives him a heads up about his opportunity for hope in the future.

Thus begins Scrooge’s journey, his heart shattered as old and painful memories are resurrected, the lives of good and suffering people outside of his melancholy existence are made known to him, and the mysteries and miseries of a dark future are revealed if his ways do not change.

This is a powerful story that teaches us to overcome ourselves, to see the joys in life beyond the hardships and troubles and disappointments, and to share that joy and compassion and impish good cheer with the people around us. There’s more to life than money (gain/success) — this is but one lesson Scrooge learns. Money doesn’t bring happiness, otherwise there would have been no need for the spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet To Come to visit.

Money doesn’t bring happiness. Happiness and joy come from a far less material source, and once Scrooge realizes this he is reborn as an all-new person. This just goes to show that you’re never too old and never too far gone to change and turn a new leaf, try again. The journey may not (and usually will not) be easy or pleasant, but nothing worthwhile is every easy. True and lasting change comes from the depths of the heart where all the gunk we keep hidden there has dried up and stuck to the walls ─ it requires some serious scouring to clean it ─ but is it not worth it in the end?

Scrooge relived some very painful moments from his past, saw the struggling of good people in his present life, and knew the fear of a bleak future were he to remain on his path of destruction. When dawn came his eyes were opened and he received a second chance.

And by George he took it! The hope he now has makes him positively giddy. He now finds joy and happiness in giving to and serving others, not hoarding for himself. He finds love, and that it was always there waiting for him. The Spirit of Christmas has awakened in his soul, and nothing remains as it was

But Scrooge isn’t the only character in this story. We have his nephew, whose joy in life is untainted by his uncle’s grouchy attitude. His love and faith in Scrooge is admirable. Then there’s Bob Cratchet and his family, poor and content to be so, for they have each other. Despite his less than stellar treatment, Bob Cratchet remains grateful to Scrooge for the job he holds and the provision it provides for his family. These men go to show that, no matter how wretched we might be, no matter how many others despise or couldn’t care less about us, there is always someone who wishes us well.

This is a story about hope, which is an absolutely perfect theme for Christmas, the holiday we celebrate hope coming into the world through Jesus Christ.

May you all find hope and joy this Christmas!

NaNoWriMo Finale and Excerpts

Happy December!! Tis the final month of the year, 2017’s last hurrah, the season of giving ─ and taking a deep breath after the marathon of NaNo! The race has finally come to a close, and so many of us have crossed the finish line exhausted, sweating, bloody and bruised from the trials . . .

Okay, maybe not sweating, but who’s looking at details, right?

Right?

The month of November has brought into this world innumerable brand new, beautiful, bursting-with-promise-and-potential words. Magic has happened. Blood, sweat, and tears have been shed. Caffeine has been consumed in excessive amounts (really, I think November is the month coffee and other caffeine containing beverages spike in consumption). And the result has been the genesis of many brand-new stories well on their way to spread inspiration, wonder, adventure, and marvelous characters across the globe to eager readers everywhere. How mighty the word!

 

Book, Old, Clouds, Tree, Birds, Bank, Rush, Landscape

Over here in the Writing Corner we’ve contributed 64.5k to the pot, and over the next month and more I plan on adding to that as this new project progresses.

Now, because I know you’ve all been as thrilled as I am about this project, I’m going to give you a few short excerpts of the rough and unrefined, raw first draft.

•  Roscha didn’t respond. His teeth were welded together, hardly allowing even a grunt to escape his throat, let alone an answer.

•  That had never stopped him from accepting Shyloh’s challenges. It had never once deterred him from climbing trees, or the cliff by the lake, or the church turrets. “I must be a sucker for punishment,” he muttered.

•  Roscha lifted his head to find Shyloh standing in the doorway, a lantern in one hand and a bulging satchel in the other. “What are you doing back so early?”

“What, do you want me to leave?”

“No, but . . .”

Shyloh smiled in the corner of his mouth and walled in. “You didn’t show up and I was getting bored of waiting.”

•  Roscha’s attention zeroed in. This is it . . .


Also, if you’ve been curious about what this new world and theme of the story looks like, check out my board on Pinterest dedicated to the project!

Thanksgiving and Feasting Contemplations

Hello, everyone! Thanksgiving has already come and gone (for many of us, anyway), yet the season of thanksgiving should last far longer than a single day, don’t you think? We are given so much every day, ought we not then give thanks every day for these things? And I have often wondered, while we celebrate Thanksgiving and adopt this theme of giving thanks for all that we have and love ─ to whom are we thankful?

All that aside, the passing of this feat-ive holiday reminds us of the fact that November is almost over ─ which means so is NaNoWriMo! I have been busting my rear quarters and head quarters on this challenge of writing a novel in a month, and while at times it may not seem like such a good idea, it’s also fun to test your limits and see just how far you really can go. So far my top daily word count is 6,681, and you can keep track of my daily word counts right along with me from my Twitter account.

Since we’re in the season of Thanksgiving and everyone is practically salivating over thoughts of feasting on crispy skinned roast turkeys, creamy mashed potatoes, sweet and tangy cranberry sauce, steamy-hot rolls, and so on and so forth, I thought I might share on the subject. But today, instead of going into detail about the history and meaning behind the holiday (a worthy tale, to be sure) I wanted to take a different route and go into the subject of feasting itself ─ historical and fantasy feasting, to be more precise. I want to share with you a blog post by Sara Gailey on the Barns&Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog, titled On Feasting. I read this and found it eye-opening and insightful. There’s little better than reading and learning something new that you didn’t know you didn’t know.

So, without further adieu:


On Feasting

by Sarah Gailey

 

You are a character in a fantasy novel. Congratulations: you have been invited to a feast.

The first course is already on the table when you arrive: strange, small fruits and pungent cheeses, goblets brimming with wine, tiny salted fish, smoked meats.

The second course arrives before you’ve had time to sample everything in the first: small birds cooked in cinnamon and pepper, rum-soaked buns studded with currants, eels in a pie with a flaking brown crust. Olives so salty that they make your tongue curl. More wine.

The third course comes along quickly, and it’s a beautiful one: peacocks with the tails still attached, their bodies stuffed with figs and ginger, their beaks flaking with gold leaf. Huge joints of boar. Good brown beer, or more wine, whichever you want. A whole suckling pig with an apple in its mouth, its skin dripping with molasses and pepper. A huge fish served on a bed of squid and salt.

This is like nothing you’ve ever experienced before. Most of the food tastes strange (wonderful, but strange). You don’t know the names of half the things you’re eating. In the corner, musicians play familiar songs, and there are several rounds of raised glasses at particularly good choruses of songs you remember from your time in the army.

There is no respite. Food bows the table. You try to taste everything, but it’s all whisked away so quickly to make room for more. At the end of the night, dessert: sweet wine and tiny glasses of strong anise liquor. Huge bowls filled with grapes and oranges and lemons and kumquats and huge green fruits that you don’t know the name of, with centers like custard. Cakes, a dazzling variety of them, all sparkling with sugar. This one is filled with a banana cream; that one is dotted with strawberries. Spiced sugared nuts, tasting like nutmeg and clove and honey. At the center of the table, towering and beautiful, a croquembouche: puff pastries piped full of sweet cream, stacked into a tall pyramid, and strung with threads of caramel. Half of them are filled with vanilla cream, and half with chocolate.

After dessert, as everyone tries to find buttons to undo so that they won’t feel quite so full, coffee and tea and brandy and pipes.

No one is murdered at the feast. You stagger home sated and drunk and groaning and certain that you won’t need to eat for months. You sampled everything that you could reach, but you’re sure that there was more you didn’t get to try. You hope you’ll be invited back.

What a nice story. Nobody died, the food was all delicious. Perhaps this is a children’s book. Perhaps it’s a happy ending, a wedding feast. All is well. How pleasant this is.

You can stop reading now if you’d like.

A parade is more than just a show, and a feast is more than just a meal. The feast to which you were invited was more than just a collection of important people eating as much as humanly possible. It was a display of wealth and power. It was a subtle, quiet threat. It was a bribe. It was a conversation.

Fantasy feasts are modeled after real-life feasts, and those feasts were conversations, too: between those who had power, and those who did not. Every dish that graced the table at a lush, overwrought feast was a line in a victory speech.

Nutmeg and cloves, from Indonesia.

Tea and oranges, from China or India.

Bananas and cocoa, from Central or South America.

Coffee from Ethiopia, or maybe from Central America.

Sugar and rum and molasses.

Lemons.

Peacocks.

Tobacco.

You and a hundred others are sitting in a dining room, arrayed in your fineries, and every new platter that emerges from the kitchen is there to remind you of how you got where you are. Look around you: who is wearing silk? Jewels? Gold? Silver? These are the people who know where the food comes from. The food is a prize, a trophy that you are being allowed to see and touch and feel part of.

Some of the people at the feast are responsible for bringing back the goods, others for ensuring the people who grow and harvest them don’t change their minds about who has the right to their goods, to their land, to their lives. Still others are responsible for nothing but feasting, enjoying the novelty and variety of the evening, and being pleased with the results of whatever regime they support.

Consider the journey of the tiny salted fish: packed in barrels aboard a ship that also carries peacocks in cages, or crates of bananas, or a precious orange tree with its roots shrouded in burlap. Consider the people whose hands touched the bananas before they were sent to you. Consider the origin of the spun sugar that is draped over the croquembouche. Where did it come from? Who wielded the knife that cut down the cane plant? Who choked on the smoke from the burning of the cane field?

Do you know?

Do you care?

Or is your belly full?

It is easier, isn’t it, to enjoy the feeling of your belly being full? If you think too much about the display you’ve witnessed, about what it means, about the empire you live in—the sugar might turn to ash in your mouth. It’s easier not to think about it, or to imagine that the display you’ve just witnessed is a celebration of free trade. Your kingdom sends ships and caravans and armies out to map the far reaches of the world, and to bring back whatever it can. And if people leave the feast—the parade of wealth and power—wanting more? And if they decide to send more ships and caravans, and if they decide to claim the land that the tea grows on, the land where the peacocks are fed, the land where the gold rests waiting in the earth for ready hands to take it?

So be it. There will be more ships, and there will be more armies, and there will be more feasting. Go to sleep, for now, and wake up with a headache from the wine, and remember the feast. Remember the silks and the jewels. Remember the tobacco and the lemons. Remember the strange fruit you don’t know the name of.

Remember that, and forget the rest. The rest is ugly. The rest is hard.

You have been invited to a feast.

Will you attend?


Isn’t that fascinating? I never knew that feasting ─ at least back in the day ─ was such a display of power and influence. Like the ignorant attendee, I never even thought about it.

So, now that you are more aware of the unspoken words behind the myriad of dishes presented at grand banquets, will you consider more the origin of where such dishes came from? Granted, a traditional Thanksgiving feast is comprised of foods that can all be grown nationally here in America, but have you considered the ‘trade routes’ all of these had to travel in order to reach your local grocery store? The same goes for all sorts of different foods we have available to us today. Here in Upstate New York, we wouldn’t have things like bananas, mangos, citrus fruits like oranges and lemons, shrimp, tuna, pineapples, a vast majority of common spices like cinnamon and ginger, COFFEE, TEA ─ the list just goes on . Without trade, we would be eating (and wearing) only that which we could produce in our local environment (apples, anyone?). And it all started long ago and far away.

What are you serving, and where did it come from?