Friday, August 31, 2012

The Tiger, Part III

You can read Part I here. and Part II here.

Below him, heading up towards the pass was a great company of men on horses. They wore their beards and moustaches long, and their swords and bows were short and curved. Some wore iron mail visibly, some carried lances, some torches. The leader rode at their head with a lance in his hand, and streaming from the lance were locks of long black hair. Three human heads were impaled on his lance as a standard.

Edward stood watching them with hot tears stinging his eyes, feeling rage rolling through him, deep, red, hot and powerful. He looked around him. The terrain was favorable. They could not get around him to the right or the left. They had bows, but the ravine became so narrow in one spot that they would have to come up one at a time. That would negate their numbers and limit the effectiveness of their archers. If they cared to try him bow for bow, well, he had a full quiver of well fletched shafts and he would wager himself against any of them. There was no fear or hesitation in his heart, and no hope that he would ultimately be successful. There were more than five hundred horsemen that he could see, and he would not be able to kill all of them before he fell of fatigue. "Let my hand grow tired and freeze to my sword," he swore. "I will lessen them somewhat, God willing."

As the horde drew closer at a light canter he selected a shaft from his quiver and took aim at the leader. They had not sighted him yet. He knew he was going to die that day, but there was no sense in wasting it. If he was smart about this he would be able to prolong it for quite some time. Every moment he lived, every moment they died a little more, was one more moment for his little village to live in peace. He wished he had someone he could send as a messenger to warn them of the coming danger, but there was no time for that. They had to be held there or nowhere, and on the whole, maybe it was better that the people live in ignorance, rather than fear. As soon as he was dead, they would have enough of fear before they died.

They were in range, but he waited. It was only a light hunting bow, not a heavy war bow. It would not punch through decent armor. Better to wait until he was certain to hit the bastard in the face. Thirty more paces, twenty more, ten more, now. A deep breath, hold it, and release. The arrow sped straight to its mark, and Edward's practiced eye knew that it would hit before it reached the target. He backed further into the ravine watching carefully. The arrow hit the leader just below the right eye causing the man's head to snap back violently. He swayed in his seat, and then fell with a clatter of arms and armor.

The rest of the throng gathered around him, shouting and looking around to see where the shaft had come from. A few guessed it had come from the pass which they could see only as a narrow, dark passage in front of them. Four riders were sent up the hill at a gallop. Twang, zippp! The first one fell. The other three threw their shields up before their faces and kept galloping. The rest of the horde let out a yell and charged after them. Edward backed further into the alley. The first rider came through alone, moving fast, no doubt trying to ride down whatever farmer or herdsman he thought was hiding in there. Edward saw the surprise in his eyes at seeing a warrior in armor waiting, but it was too late by then. The Tiger crouched, parried the lance and lunged, slaying the horse in one lunge. Before the horseman could reach his sword, he too fell dead.

"Sorry cousin," Edward muttered to the dead horse. "I have no quarrel with you, but I needed the road held, and horseflesh holds better than human."

Two more dismounted soldiers climbed over the carcasses, and died there. The Tiger piled five more corpses in the alley before the enemy stopped coming.

All that afternoon the battle continued off and on. A few times they would rush in, tie ropes to the corpses and drag them out with horses, and then try to send as many horsemen as they could galloping through, no doubt trying to force him back into the open where they could deal with him on their own terms. Every time he would simply do the same thing again. Their weapons, and more importantly their shields, were too light to be effective against his heavier European arms and armor in tight quarters. The first horse that came through always died and blocked off the rest. On foot he was a match for any of them. Each time he fought a handful of them died and the rest retreated, giving him a minute or two to catch his breath. Then they would come again and it would start again. For hours this went on, again and again and again, until Edward thought to himself, "If I keep this up just a little more, I will buy them enough time to go to bed. Better they die in their sleep, never knowing what hit them. I pray these animals are that merciful, Lord."

Nightfall came, and the attacks slackened. He cut strings from the clothes of the fallen and made tripwires across the path so that he could not be surprised. Anyone who caught one of them would knock over a stack of abandoned arms and the clatter would alert him. His position was probed three times during the night but he held.

"If I can but hold out until dawn, they will have one more peaceful night. Isn't that worth a night of vigilance, Lord?"

At dawn the attack renewed in earnest, and for three hours he had no rest. He had not been wounded, yet, but he now knew what was meant by a hand freezing to the sword. His forearm and right hand had cramped until he could not release his grip on the hilt of his sword. "Thank-you for that, Lord." He laughed grimly. "Else, I think I would have dropped it from exhaustion."

They left him alone for about an hour, and it was all he could do to stay awake through that hour. His blood quieted and cooled, and the wind came whipping through the pass and chilled him even more, and his head nodded and his eyelids drooped, but still he stood his ground. There wasn't much else to do.

At about noon he heard something above his head, just a little scrape of something over the rocks. Glancing up he saw the toe of a boot sticking over the edge of the ravine and knew that he had been flanked. Someone yelled in front of him, and he looked to see a warrior with a beard down to his waist charging with upraised sword. He took the blow on his shield, and ducked low, lunging upwards under the ridiculously small round shields these heathen used. His blade went through his enemy's body and he lifted him up bodily over his head and tossed him behind him. He could feel the two arrows from the two archers above him stick in the lifeless carcass before he dropped it. He snatched up a fallen lance and threw it, killing one of the archers. The only other weapon at hand was a rock so he threw that at the other one, before he had to defend himself against opponents behind and in front. Before he had tried to select the narrowest parts of the ravine to fight in, but now he had to find the widest parts, places where he would have room to turn and maneuver. It was death to face enemies directly in front and behind. He set his back to a wall under a slight overhang and fought it out, attacking very little to the left, mostly covering himself with his shield. It looked like only five of the enemy had been nimble enough to scale the cliffs and come at him from behind, so he concentrated on killing those first. He got three before the enemies on the other side, discovering that they could not get him past his large, three-cornered shield, decided to push him. So they hit his shield in a rush, knocking him off his balance so he ran into the other warrior's swords. They cut him, and cut him deep before he despatched them. One had stabbed through his chain mail leggings, cutting a deep gash across the front of his leg. The other had knocked his helmet askew, rattled his head, and cut his nose so all he could taste was blood, streaming down through his moustache. There was no time to think about that. Before those two fell he was already turning and leaping back to avoid a second rush like the first one.

"This is it, Lord," he whispered. "I can't guard two sides to save my life, so I'll keep my face to the front until I feel cold steel between my shoulder blades. Then I'll probably have my face to the mud and won't care anymore."

The rush came at him as he said this and he leapt nimbly back to avoid it. The front runners in the wall of human flesh coming at him were not so nimble and they tripped over their fallen friends. Edward was on them in a second, killing the ones who were trampling on their struggling comrades, and making sure to despatch the ones on the ground before they could get up. He cried out and split a helmet with a single stroke, from crown to chin. Rage filled him again, battle lust erased all his pains and fatigue and he attacked like his namesake, bulling into the first two men, and driving them back on the ones behind them, hacking lustily, singing lustily, smiting and striving and hewing like a man possessed. He drove them back, killing any who couldn't flee, until he chased them out into the clear light of the sun. They fell back shouting in dismay and he stood out in the open, blinking at the brightness. Something was knocking at the door of his mind, very urgently, but he could not attend to it. All he knew was that it didn't stink so badly of mud and dead men out here. Then he remembered that he was in the open. He heard the swish of arrows, rather than saw them as he turned and ran back into his lair.

"The Tiger waits in his lair. Come and get him, if you dare." He chuckled like a boy. One of the dead had a wineskin on him, and he poured it on the wound in his leg, relishing the sting of it, and how it made his heart pound and his head light. He had a terrible thirst, which he quenched with the snow that lay untouched outside his narrow battleground, until he heard the steps of men advancing cautiously into the ravine and he laughed with joy. "Come, friends. Let us dance." He realized that he had not been stabbed in the back. There was no one behind him. He never found out what had happened to that second archer.

The battle continued again until nightfall, sometimes with a break of an hour or so. Maybe the enemy was deliberately trying to make him let his guard down. Perhaps they were just arguing about what they should do next. Each time the fighting lulled, the urge to sleep was even fiercer. By now they had to have realized they were fighting only one man. He couldn't understand why they didn't just rush him and finish him off. Surely they had to have at least a few men who knew how to fight.

"Lord, I don't know how much longer I can continue this. Soon, I am going to fall asleep, and then they will kill me anyway. At least I won't have to stand on my feet anymore."

Nightfall came and something crashed in front of him. Someone had thrown an earthenware jar into the ravine. He must have been asleep. The next instant he heard voices, and more jars crashing, and then everything became bright. He realized what was going on only very slowly as his exhausted mind came into full wakefulness. Of course, they had thrown wine or oil jars into the ravine and lit them on fire hoping to smoke him out. The wind was tearing through the ravine, sending foul smelling smoke into his eyes and mouth. He crouched as low as he could to get somewhat under it, and wrapped a rag over his eyes, and held his ground.

"At least now I can't go to sleep," he coughed. "Should I thank you for that, Lord?"

The fire was uncomfortable, but it burned for only about twenty minutes. Even before it was completely out, he heard the footsteps of the enemy and roused himself for one last battle.

"Whatever happens here, Lord, this is the end. You cannot ask me to keep going on like this. I can barely see, I can barely stand, I can barely lift this sword. If you could see your way to let one of them get lucky with a lance or a sword, I would be eternally grateful." For some reason this struck him as hilarious. "Eternally grateful! Of course, eternally." When the enemies reached him he was laughing uproariously and running at them like a bull.

Many times that last night, he felt like he could not go on. Every time they would draw back to collect their dead to make room for another attack, he would listen to them shouting angrily at each other outside his tunnel and he would sway with weariness, knowing, not thinking but knowing, that the next assault would be the last one. He knew he could not lift his sword for another stroke. He knew the next time a shoulder hit his shield he would fall on his back and be stomped mercilessly into the mud. And he would probably be so grateful to be able to lie down at last that he wouldn't even mind.

Then they would attack and he would lift his sword and lunge for their faces. They would hit his shield and he would fall back, and then thrust forward as he had been trained, his heavier, more solid shield knocking their shields and weapons aside, making room for his thrusts. The way would get bogged down with the dead, and they would pause and drag the corpses back out while he would recover and have time for more despairing before the next attack. How long this went on, he never knew.

Then he woke up. He was sitting against the wall with his sword still cramped in his nearly useless hand. The daylight was bright, the dead were stacked around him. He leapt to his feet in a panic and rushed through the ravine, thinking to find his enemies bearing down on him. But he was alone. He could see their trail as they headed back the way they came, a much diminished band. Far off, miles in the distance, he saw them riding away, and he could not tell how many of the horses had riders, and how many did not.

"I suppose they must have given up and decided to go by a different route. And I must have fallen asleep waiting for them. Well, that's good, Lord, because it means now I can sleep." With a sigh, he laid back down, and was oblivious in a second.



Four months later, Lady Celia received a messenger at her husband's castle who told her that her brother had returned to the family's home, and that he would be making a trip to see her very soon.

"How did he seem to you?" she questioned the old family servant who had brought the news.

"Very well, Lady. He was sorely wounded during his travels, but he will not say how."

"Thank you Peter. He will tell me, though."

However, to her surprise he never did tell her. He never told a living soul, except his wife when in God's good time he married. He refused a position as the King's advisor, and instead retired and spent his time training the young squires who came from all over Christendom to learn skill-at-arms from his hand. He never again fought in any war, but lived out all the rest of his days in perfect peace.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Tiger, Part II

Part I is here.

When he woke up he was in place of warmth and complete darkness. As he tried to open his eyes, someone seemed to stab a red hot needle into each one. He closed them again.

He didn't know how many days he slept and woke, to drink some very strong tasting broth, only to sleep again. He lay naked under what felt like a fur blanket of some sort, and a cloth was bound over his eyes. Strange voices spoke in a strange language, softly, and that was his world. He didn't mind it though. It was a pleasant world, simple, uncomplicated, soft, and above all warm. He could smell the smoke, and hear the crackling of a fire most of the time he was awake. It smelled like they were burning dung.

Eventually the blindfold was removed and he looked around him for the first time. Many people, all very old, all very brown, with high cheekbones and serious, intent faces stared at him without speaking. He stared back. Eventually, one by one, they got up and left. It appeared he was in some sort of mud dwelling with a low, flat roof. The embers of a fire smoked lazily through a square hole in the ceiling. Whenever the curtain over the doorway was opened he could see snow, sometimes swirling in a white mist, sometimes falling lazily against a wall of stars in the night sky, sometimes lying blindingly white in the sun, sending daggers of pain shooting through his head. He preferred it when his eyes were closed.

After a few days of this, he rose, accepting the clothes he was offered. He had tried to speak to his hosts in Latin, German and French, or in the few words he knew in the Moorish tongue, but no one even answered. Among themselves they spoke a soft, guttural language that seemed more suited to whispering than to yelling. They seemed to have no desire to communicate with him at all. As soon as he was up and about, they left him completely to his own devices. Meals were served regularly and if he was asleep, he soon learned, he would miss the meal. No food was ever left when all had done eating.

In a week or two he began to wander outside the hut and found that there were about twenty such dwellings scattered around what looked like a giant flat plain, surrounded by mountains. On one end of the village was a much larger hut with a sheep pen outside it. Children dressed in fur and wool watched him curiously from afar, but the entire village seemed to share the same intent, serious, silent stare. No one spoke to him.

Eventually he found his armor and weapons. Or rather they were brought to him. They had been wrapped carefully in a leather cloth and left by his bed while he was out on one of his daily walks. After that he began wearing his armor daily to re-accustom himself to the weight. Out on the plain alone he began practicing with sword and shield. At first the exertion was almost more than he could handle, and he thought ruefully that "The Tiger" was more like "The Kitten" these days. Slowly he began to grow stronger and his speed and agility returned. The snow made it harder to move, bogging him down a bit like the heavy mud he had endured in the wars, but a lot more slippery. This forced him to work twice as hard, but he welcomed the challenge. One day he shot a cat, a large white cat that looked a little like a leopard. He carried it back to the hut, and roasted it over the fire. The entire village came and partook of the feast, accepting the meat he offered them in complete silence. At first he had thought that they didn't speak to him because they either didn't like or didn't trust him. Now it occurred to him that they might very well have no concept of people who spoke other languages. If he wouldn't speak to them in a tongue they knew, why should they waste their energy speaking to him? They seemed a very practical people.

Months wore on like this in a silent but courteous existence. Edward found himself retreating out into the wild to pray, as well as to practice his swordsmanship. He didn't know what else to do. He was not restless anymore. He was empty. He trained because that was his way, but he did so with little sense of purpose. Every day he asked God to bless and watch over his family, and every day he asked, "Jesu, why have you brought me here?" And always the only answer was stillness, the gentle whisper of emptiness, wind, and cold. It might have been his heart talking, for all it said to him.

The weather began to warm, slowly, but noticeably. The children and women began to appear dressed in bright, vivid colors, bright, sky blue, brilliant yellow, like the buttercups back home, and deep, deep rich burgundy. It made a brave show, and somehow awakened longings for he knew not what. Some of the younger children would even smile at him now, as if the warming weather had warmed their thoughts of him. Or perhaps they had just gotten used to him.

On a day in what he took to be mid spring he took his weapons and began to walk. He had a notion that if he climbed one of the nearer hills he might be able to get some idea of the lie of the land, and still likely be back before nightfall. He would shoot some kind of animal along the way so he wouldn't have to go hungry.

He began walking straight westward until he reached a trail heading into the mountains. He followed that northward until he lost it, and then continued moving upwards. There seemed to be two large mountains with what looked like a pass between them. If he could reach the pass and look through it, he would be able to have a clear look to the west for at least a good day's march, he hoped. Looking back into the valley below him, he was amazed to see how much of the snow had melted. The village he had been staying at stood out clear and brown, with little bits of color, amid a predominantly white background. He could see the river, gray, brown, and even a little bit green in spots winding its way through the valley, from where it emerged from the mountain glaciers, to where it disappeared in whiteness at the end of the valley. He saw something he had never noticed before. Along the slopes of the hills he could see patterns of ditches and hedgerows, arranged in irregular shapes, which he took to be irrigation works. Acres and acres of such fields stretched as far as he could see on both sides of the valley. The men and women of his village no doubt had constructed these fields, or their ancestors had. They had probably been living in this valley for hundreds of years, quietly handing on their fields and irrigation ditches, flocks, huts, traditions and languages generation after generation. Strangely, his heart swelled with love for them. They were so stupid and ignorant compared to his people back in Europe, but what strength! What toughness and determination! "Lord, these people are as tough as the mountains they live among. Surely, Lord, Your Love is here with them, as surely as in Christendom."

He continued on. It was a stiff climb to the top of the pass, and before he got there he could smell the smoke. Something on the other side had made a dreadful burning. A saddle between the two hills narrowed until it became a ravine, with sides so steep that no horse and precious few men could have climbed them. It was in the middle of this narrow pass that he stopped. Before him lay a valley much like the one he had come to think of as his own. In the center of it was a village much like his own, except that this one was on fire. Thick, black smoke rose from every hut and small black shapes lay motionless scattered over the snow. He could tell what they were, even at that distance.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Tiger: Part I

Once, there lived a knight. Edward "the Tiger", he was called, for though a young knight there was nothing he would not dare and do, and nothing that he had ever set his hand to do in which he had failed. He had fought in tournaments and battles, quests and adventures and had never lost. At jousting he unhorsed anyone who came against him until many thought that Launcelot had been reborn. In the press of battle he would often dismount and fight on foot, surrounded by the press of enemies. At times his comrades feared the worst, for he had been known to move so far from any friends or allies, and to bury himself so deeply in the thick of the melee, that even from horseback his friends would lose sight of his red helmet plume. But each time they rode to his rescue he would shake off the crowd of his foes and behold, he would be standing in the midst of the press of them, utterly untouched and untouchable. His sword flashed too rapidly to be followed, and thrust and hewed too mightily to be blocked. This was how they first called him "The Tiger" for his every movement was smooth and powerful. Every enemy attack was smashed by his shield flying and swiping like the wing of a heron, and every attack was answered by an instant counter so that to strike a blow at him with lance or sword was certain death. Such was his skill in battle that wherever his red plume and gray heron arms were seen, the enemy ran before him. Only the bravest, seeking to boost their own reputations, ever challenged him, and every one was destroyed.

In the times when he was not fighting, the report of his exploits spread among the courts and castles to the delight of all who heard them. Wherever he went he was welcomed. He was tall and handsome, and every lady who met him thought him also well-mannered and pleasant, so consequently he was never short of fair admirers. Many a nobleman tried to arrange a wedding between this brave knight and a daughter. However, Edward only smiled and shook his head.

Tournaments were held in his honor. Castles were awarded him. His father was raised from a relatively minor lord to the King's personal circle of councilors. His family was made rich and powerful. His brothers and sisters all made wealthy and influential marriages. It seemed there was nothing he could not do. There was no favor the King Charles would have begrudged him, perhaps not even one of his own daughters, or at least neices, for Edward had broken the backs of the Moors in many battles.

When the wars were over, and the borders had been secured, everyone told him to come home. His father was anxious that he should marry and take up a position in court, close to the King's ear. His mother wanted him to rest and stop riding off to fight in the wars. No one was prepared for him to leave. At a rare family meal with his parents and most of his brothers and sisters he told them simply, "I'm going away. I don't know when or if I will ever return."

"Where are you going?" his family asked him.

"I am going East."

"To the Holy Land?" His father asked.


"Are you going on pilgrimage?"

He nodded thoughtfully, as if that was a new idea. "Yes. I think so."

"Why? If you wish to do a pilgrimage we can arrange that next year. I am sure some of his Majesty's ships will take you most of the way in the spring."

"I am afraid that will take far too long. I am gone tomorrow."

Of course there was a great uproar and much argument from his father and tears from his mother. He remained immovable. His purpose was fixed.

After the meal, as he was retiring to his room for the last time, his favorite sister, Celia, came to him with a lamp.

"Are you going early, little brother?" she asked.

"Before light, lady."


"I must."

"I know. Brother, you always do what you must, I know that you must do this. I would like to know why, though."

He sighed. "I have fought many times, sister. I have never once been free. Every fight, battle or tournament, I have fought for this land, for the King, for my Father, for my family, for the audience, for the damsels crying my name, for every reason you can think of. I have even fought for love, once." He laughed.

"I didn't know that," she smiled with interest.

"When we were children and that peasant boy threw mud at you, and I pummeled him until he begged your pardon. You were my sister, and I would not have you treated so."

"I had forgotten about that," she laughed.

"Of all the battles I have ever fought," he said, "That was the only one that made any sense."

"What of all those battles to drive the Moor away?"

"They were good and necessary, but they did not make sense."

"And that is why you must go?"

"I must learn why it is that I fight."

She looked at him understandingly. "Life has never come easily to you, little brother. Even when you were learning to crawl, I could not keep you still. You would be everywhere, in the fire, on the stove, under the cows, hanging off the bridge above the mill wheel, trying to climb the tallest trees, running off to the forest alone. I hope you find what it is you seek."

"As do I."

She stood on tiptoes to embrace him. "Go with God, little brother."

Before the sun rose he saddled his favorite horse, and rode away, taking only his sword, his light armor (consisting of a cuirasse and helmet, with chain mail and leather arm guards and leggings) and a shield and lance, with a light hunting bow to secure his meals.

Edward rode for many months. His shield had no device on it, and his helmet was bare and practical, with not even a crest. Before the first month was over it didn't matter anymore. No one had ever heard his name in these lands.

Eventually he came to wide, barren, mountainous lands, cold, bitter, swept by wind and snow. These lands seemed even colder and more bitter than the alps themselves. He didn't know where he was going, but he was driven to go there beyond all sense or safety. He could not sit still and rest at any town he came to. Sometimes he slept in a barn or house if hospitality was offered him for a night before moving onwards, sometimes he slept in the open, his back against his horse for warmth. Sometimes he did not sleep at all. He wasted a little from poor food and little sleep, but still he pushed himself on without pity. Without a destination mere movement became his only goal. Just to cover as many miles as he could, in a generally eastern direction before he collapsed from sheer exhaustion. After a few days of this, he was caught in a blizzard, which rushed up behind him with no warning. He forced himself on, knowing that to stop moving meant death, punishing himself and his horse until the poor beast, not being as driven as his master, gave up and died rather than endure the torment. Edward could not. He left his lance, bringing his shield and the hunting bow from long habit, and continued to walk. The longer he forced movement from his torn and ravaged limbs, and the more pain he endured from his blistered, bleeding feet, and the harder the cold and wind nipped and froze his nose and fingers, the more the deep relentless burning grew inside him. At times he feared he was going mad, until he decided that he already was mad. His sanity had fled a long time ago. Behind him, wherever home lay, there was a warm house and a loving family. Peace, quiet, contentment and ease lay behind him. On the road he had many times thought of how simple it would have been to turn back. He could have gone to any seaport, paid a few coins and bought passage to Europe, and once there, the mention of his name would erase all his troubles. He had not taken that opportunity. Now here, in hell, there was no such chance. He would continue to walk until he died, and when he died, he would do so never knowing why he had died. In rage and pain, he lifted his face to the heavens, only to find he could see only swirling white, and he cursed himself for a dog. Pain shot through his legs, from ankle to hip, and they came unstrung, and he fell at full length in the snow. After that his legs, which had been absolutely numb for as long as he could remember, gave him no relief. The pain was incessant and terrible. He might have stayed on his face and gone to sleep, but the pain throbbed through him too badly. He couldn't move his legs, but he put his hands under him and crawled until he remembered no more.

Saturday, August 25, 2012


Well, what do you know? This blog received an award from Amanda. This, in itself, is awesome. There is just one problem...

It is a pink award. :-o I'm not sure how well it will fit in with the general scheme of blue and knightliness.

Oh well, here goes.

Hmmm.... Surprisingly it isn't the pink that is the problem. It is the white around the pink. Hang on a second while I mess around in paint....

Wow, that took a lot longer than I thought it would, and involved such mysterious things as "prt sc", color grab, and paintbrush shapes. Thank you for waiting. I think you will agree that the result is much better than it was before.

Anywho! The way this works is that the Liebster Award (Liebster is german for one who liebs, I think. Maybe someone who liebs good thoughts in your heads?) is given to bloggers by other bloggers. It has to be given to bloggers who have less than 200 followers, which makes things simple for me, since all the bloggers I most enjoy have less than 200 followers. If you get tagged (which I have, see above) you have to post 11 (or 7) random things about yourself, answer the 11 (or 7) questions asked by the person who tagged you and tag 11 (or 7) bloggers that you like and come up with 11 (or 7) questions for them to answer.

Since the post that tagged me went with seven, (and because it will save me 45.45% of the brain power, I may need it later) I will also go with seven. And as Amanda points out, it is a sacred number.

So first, 7 bloggers I like to read.

1) Learning Late in Life
2) Food Pantry Feasts
3) The Social Continuum
4) Danny B
5) Marianna
6) Charming Disarray
7) Arnobius of Sicca

Seven random things about me:

1) I like Owl City.
2) I am listening to T. S. Eliot reading his "Four Quartets."
3) I grow a great beard. I inherited my beard from my Dad, who grows the most awesome beard. Ever. Alas, America requires that I shave. It is indispensable to the performance of my job, apparently, to have a smooth shaven face.
4) Ever since I can remember I have been fascinated by swords.
5) I have about 800 books in my room.
6) I am not really a fan of cake. It's the texture, really. The lighter and airier it is, the less I like it. I prefer sweets with a chewy or gooey texture. Brownies, cookies, etc. I also like pies. However, I very much enjoy carrot cakes with cream cheese frosting, especially if they are frozen. Creme de Menthe cake is another exception. My point really is that desert should be bitable.
7) I cannot stand Hemmingway.

Seven Questions to answer:

1. What is your favorite book in the Bible and why?
 Hmmm... That depends on what stage in my life you ask the question. For a bit it was the Gospels. For a long time it was Song of Songs and Ephesians (I was going through JPII's TOB pretty heavily). I have a strong affinity for John's Gospel, and his epistles. Hmmm... on thinking about it, I would have to say I don't have a favorite book of the Bible. As near as I can figure, it is probably because I don't really think of the Bible in terms of individual books. I think of it all as one integrated whole. It's rather like asking what my favorite chapter in Lord of the Rings is.
I suppose I would have to go with the Song of Songs. Even without the rest of the Bible I would still love that poem.

2. If you found a random turtle in your garage, what would you do with it? [Please note that turtle soup is not an acceptable answer.] Well, there is always fried turtle meat. Or roasted. Turtle isn't too bad eating. Once upon a time I was eating turtles and snakes and any other living thing I could find, because I was hungry. But if I was in my garage I probably wouldn't be too hungry, or at least would be able to find some food that would be easier to prepare than turtle. So I would probably take a couple of pictures and put the turtle out in the nearest pond. I wouldn't keep it. Turtles tend to carry salmonella.

3. What is one thing you want to achieve in the next 3 years?

Get out of the army, find some way to continue my medical education, and work in anti-human trafficking work. (Sorry, I lost count.)

4. What is your favorite color, and what does that color say about you?

Green. Green says, "Well, there is no accounting for tastes. Ryan isn't too bad, but not really my type. And he is always hanging out with all the other earth tones."

5. If you had to switch careers tomorrow and could go into any field you wanted, what would you do?
That is easy. I would be a writing warrior doctor until I was old, and then I would be a teacher until I died. (What's that you say? That isn't an actual career? Whyever not? Nonsense. You didn't say it had to be a real career. I'll make it a real career.)
6. If you could have dinner with one person, dead or alive [excluding Jesus], who would it be?

7. If you had to leave your current country for the rest of your life, where would you move?
I liked Thailand a lot. The people are friendly, the food is delicious and cheap, and the weather is always sunny, except during the monsoons. Of course the culture has its issues, but what culture doesn't? But in reality I would live anywhere and be perfectly happy. It isn't where I live that matters, but who I live with. If my family wasn't exiled with me, that would be a bummer.

And now, seven questions. If you were tagged, then you must answer the following:

1) Do we, in fact, need more cowbell?

2) To be or not to be?

3) If you had the time, what would you learn?

4) What does your blog mean to you?

5) What is the first thing you are going to do when you get to heaven?

6) If you had a super power, what would it be?

7) How many roads must a man walk down?

I hope you enjoy these questions. Have a nice day, Y'all.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Sometimes I am Proud...

A few weeks ago I was in Boulder, CO. It was the evening after a hard day of climbing at the boulder park and a bunch of us were going out to eat. We were heading down towards Pearl Street in a 15 passenger van and the guys were all playing "Legal or not," a game which involves guessing the age of passing females from as far away as possible.

At one point we passed a little shopping mall, and G, the driver, remarked, "Whoa, definitely not legal. And the guy who is following her looks super creepy. Looks like someone is about to get raped."

"Are you serious?" one of the Captain's asked.

"Yeah, dude, that guy looked super sketchy."

"Alright, then, let's turn this van around and check it out."

I'm going to pause the story right here to explain something about the way SF guys, and a lot of soldiers who have Iraq/Afghanistan experience, view the world. We are all observers. Some of us are better at it than others, but we all have a lot of practice observing things as we pass by them and making snap judgments based on what we see. Potentially lives hang in the balance of these snap judgments. Depending on the personality type of the observer, some develop an almost arrogant confidence in the accuracy of these judgments, while most have a subconscious habit of second guessing themselves. I tend towards second guessing, but historically my guesses are right, so I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

I am usually a middle class observer. My eyes aren't shut, but I don't have the detailed photographic memory of, say, a sniper. I remember things in terms of connections and concepts and the story, not visually. I hadn't been paying as close attention to the girl that G was talking about, but I had seen her in passing, so I replayed the image in my mind. There had been a girl, probably in young highschool age range, walking north along Broadstreet with a young boy of about the same age. At the time the van passed he had been slightly behind and to her right side on the sidewalk, maving at about the same pace, but close enough that it seemed to me they were walking together. At the same time a homeless man (there are a lot of them in Boulder) had been walking out of a side alley from east to west, and had paused at the crosswalk, right in in front of the teenagers. He wasn't looking at them, he was watching the crossing sign on the opposite side of the road. I reviewed that memory and concluded that most likely there was nothing out of the ordinary going on. All this took a second or two.

In the meantime the guys up front were arguing about whether to turn around. Most weren't willing to give a definite, "No, I saw them and there is nothing wrong," but they didn't want to delay dinner based on G's gut feeling. G is not known for being the brightest light on the Christmas tree. However the Captain was adamant. "If you have a funny feeling we are going to go check it out. I am dead serious. What's the worst that can happen if there is nothing weird going on? We are five minutes later eating. But what if she is in trouble and we don't do anything?"

At any rate, the Captain carried the day and we flipped it in a little housing development and headed back north again. As we drove back to that intersection M said, "Okay, what's the plan?"

The Captain said, "They will be on your side of the vehicle so keep your eyes open as we get closer. When we pass we'll slow down and take a closer look."

M said, "I'm nearest to the door so if it does look sketchy do you want me to just jump out and punch him in the face?"

"If he's molesting her then f--- yeah! If not I'll get out and talk to him."

By that point we were coming up on the intersection, and we could see the girl up ahead. As we got closer it became abundantly clear that the boy walking with her wasn't a day older than fifteen. They were just a couple of teenagers out for a stroll, and the homeless guy was nowhere in sight.

"Nope, I'm not punching a fifteen year old," M said. "Nothing going on here."

"No, but we pretty much just saved a life," G said.

"Hey, at least we did something," the Captain said as we turned around again. "I mean, what if you had read about a kid getting raped in the paper tomorrow morning, and we could have stopped it? Too many people go through life and see things happening but don't f---ing do anything, but at least we were ready to."

You know, SF guys aren't saints, by any stretch of the imagination, but generally speaking they are men. And every once in a while they do something that makes me proud to be one of them.

Although, I couldn't help but think how creepy it would have looked to anyone paying attention. A stretch van with tinted windows and seven dudes in it drives by, then turns around, and drives by again slowing down as we pass this teenage girl. Yeah. That doesn't look weird at all.

Fortunately for us, most civillians don't see anything. Especially teenage ones.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Many Moods of Marmot

Over the last two days I took a little jaunt up and over the 14,000 ft Ellington Peak in Colorado. On the way down I ran into this little guy. He was such a photogenic critter, and he agreed to pose for some pictures for me.

Marmot Dash.

Businesslike Marmot.

Talk to the Marmot Butt.

Pensive Marmot

Isn't 'Marmot' a funny word?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Little Brother

Dear Matthew,

You are going to Basic Training next week. You already read the book. In fact you read the book before it was the book. But these are some specific things I wish someone had told me before I went to basic training. They are in a very particular order, i.e. the order I happened to think of them in. If I had known then what I know now, I would never have had the courage to do what I did. But if I had not done what I did, I would not know now what I didn’t know then:

·         The Army is a toxic environment. It is toxic to faith, it is toxic to morals, it is toxic to good manners, it is toxic to free-thinking, it is toxic to humanity. However, this does not mean that people in the Army are the enemy. They are people, beloved of God. He died for them. Each one has his own story, his own history of wounds and health, brokenness and wholeness, happiness and sadness, wisdom and stupidity that made him what he is. Know the story, know the person, see him as he sees himself, and see him (as closely as you can) as God sees him. It will change the way you treat everyone in your life.

·         Some people have nothing to say worth saying. But no one is not worth listening to.

·         Push yourself to do your best at everything they put in front of you. Go the extra mile. But do not define yourself by how well you do.

·         Compete with your peers, because it will make you faster, stronger and better. But do not define success by how you measure up to them. You will be faster, stronger or smarter than many of them, but that does not make God love you one iota more than He loves them. Someone will always be faster, stronger or smarter than you, but that does not mean God loves them more.

·         The most valuable things cannot be earned. They are given for free, and the best you can do is try to be worthy of them.

·         Make friends with your peers. Do not do what I did and be a loner, and take pride in that loner attitude. You are more outgoing than I am so that should come naturally. But be prepared to part company without hesitation or possibility of appeal the first time someone says, “Hey, let’s go to the strip club.”

·         Friendliness is not the same as trust. Trust is earned and it is neither implicit nor all-encompassing in most cases. There are more men in the army than I can count that I would trust with my life, but less than a dozen I would trust not to try to lead me into sin on a night out on the town. And there have only been two friends in my entire career that I would trust with anything really important to me. Go out with the guys, but keep your own counsel on what really matters. Una Certa Sprezzatura.

·         Draw your lines, make them known, and never cross them. Don’t be afraid to alienate people who don’t like your faith and morals. If they are fair you will earn enough respect to get on with by being good at your job. If they are not fair, who cares what they think anyway? Unless they are your boss. In which case, well, some days are like that. Morals are more important than promotion.

·         Know your alcohol limit. Figure it out on your own, around people you trust. Take that number of drinks down by about 25-50%. That is your “going out with the guys limit.” Set that number in your head and NEVER allow them to talk you into going over it. Make the decision before you go out. Once the first drink crosses your lips, do not change that plan.

·         When your peer hangs a pinup girl on your wall locker, borrow his lighter and burn it in front of him, and say, “I will not be a part of treating women like objects.” If he does it again, punch him in the nuts.

·         When someone tries to get you to look at porn, ask them if they would kindly shoot you in the face instead. Trust me, you are better off dead. Nothing will kill your ability to love more effectively than porn. You were raised on love. Losing your ability to love will twist you up inside worse than you can possibly imagine and you will feel it. You are better off taking a bullet to the brain than getting hooked on that poison.

·         Do not go it alone. The first chance you get, you find a parish. Give yourself a few weeks to try out the different churches in your area, and then make your decision and stick with it. Register at that parish, get envelopes, volunteer to be a reader, an usher, sing in the choir (I’ll warn you right now, the choir probably sucks, bless their hearts), anything. Be involved. Commit to that parish.

·         Seek out Catholic young adults. If you can’t find a group, make one. Your peers in the army will be a toxic influence. You need a wholesome influence to counter it.

·         Don’t expect your Catholic friends to be perfect. Peoples is Peoples.

·         Don’t expect your Army peers to be demons. Peoples is Peoples.

·         God loves your Army peers as much as He loves your Catholic friends. But your Army peers might need you to translate that love more than your Catholic friends do

·         But then again, I’ve known some pretty wounded Catholics. You are related to more than a few.

·         If a person never knows the love of the brother he can see, how will he ever believe in the love of the God he cannot see?

·         Give your job your best, but do not give it your heart. To the Army you are not Matthew Kraeger. You are not a son, a brother, a friend, a boyfriend, a cousin or a nephew. You are not a person at all. You are an 11B10. Your identity and place are entirely representable as a sequence of numbers and letters, detailing your age, height, weight, physical fitness, rank, job, how well you shoot, etc. Your entire military existence boils down to a sheet of paper called an Enlisted Records Brief. You are fully interchangeable with all other 11B10’s. Give the job your best because it is what you swore to do, but do not give it your all because it is not who you are. My biggest regret is that I spent so much of myself for so long on a worthless job, instead of on relationships with people who could actually care about me. In a lot of ways I made a bad trade, but I never totally lost myself into it, and many people have been more patient with me than I deserved, so I came off all right in the end.

·         Being a soldier is a job. Being a warrior is a vocation. There is a difference. Never confuse the two.

·         Learn everything you can. Everyone has some wisdom no matter how stupid or irritable they might be. Listen to them with a completely open mind, take in everything they say, whether teaching you how to shoot, or how to bandage a wound, or how to march. Listen as if they were teaching the only possible way of doing things. Then, when you have wrung every last drop of knowledge out of them and sifted out the garbage (that takes a while, sometimes it is hard to tell what is garbage and what isn’t) file it away in your mind and remind yourself, “That is one way of doing things.”

·         You have the bad luck to be of significantly higher than average intelligence. This means that at least half of your leaders will not be as smart as you are. Do not for an instant think that this means that you know more than they do, or that you do not owe them respect and obedience.

·         The dumbest person in the Army knows more than you do about something.

·         Always question everything. Including me.

·         Expect an answer. Don’t just question to be smart.

·         Some people will not be able to answer you and they will mock you and tell you to shut up. This does not mean there is no answer, only that you need to find it for yourself because you have gone beyond your teacher’s depth. Remember that when you are the teacher and one of your students goes beyond your depth.

·         You are a human being, not a rock. You are going out with a faith much stronger, more mature and better informed than I had when I went out. You are older than I was. You have the benefit of more experience from your older brothers. But I promise you, you are not invulnerable. If you think there is any sin or folly out there that it is beyond you to commit, think again. Of course, vice will not seriously challenge you, not at first. Once you make your standards known pride itself will ensure that you never back down from them. What will kill you is complacency. Better men than you have become alcoholics, murderers, rapists, drug addicts or just plain lazy bastards and it can happen to you. They did not fail because they were weak. They failed because they were strong, and they trusted in that strength. Only God’s mercy stands between you and becoming everything you justly hate. Remember, because you start out with great gifts, your fall will be more terrible if you fail. If you stop growing in your faith, you will fail. It may take ten years to undo your natural gifts and habits of home. It may take fifty. If you stop growing, you will die.

·         If you keep growing in your faith, it doesn’t much matter what else you do. God will bring you through.

·         By “Faith” I mean relationship, not book knowledge or observance of rubrics. Those will kill you deader than anything else if you trust in them in the absence of a vital relationship with God.

·         But don’t skip the study or the rubrics either.

·         Maintain your prayer life. Without it you will fail.

·         Go to daily mass when you can. I don’t care whether you feel like it or not. It will save your soul.

·         Develop a No Less Than prayer life. It might be no more than a morning offering when you wake up and Hail Mary, Our Father and Gloria as you fall asleep. This is what you fall back on when you simply have no time for your regular prayers. Train yourself to wake up with a morning offering on your lips. It will serve you in good stead when your drill sergeant throws a trash can down the hall at 0400, and the next chance you get to think is 2200 lights out.

·         Guard time = rosary time.

·         Mopping the latrines = rosary time.

·         Standing in line at the chow hall = rosary time.

·         You are a human being, not a rock. You will be contaminated. You will wake up one morning and look at yourself and see a habit that you have picked up that you could have done without. It might be something silly. It might be something vulgar. It might even be something sinful. Do not freak out. Did you expect to be perfect? Set about cheerfully and hopefully undoing it. Cheerfully because God is already working at it. The very fact that you see it means that He showed it to you, which means it is time to start working. Hopefully because He wants to perfect you far more fervently and effectively than you ever could.

·         In the end, you will never save your soul. The best any of us ever learn to do is cooperate with God as He saves us. But the results can be quite spectacular. Read a biography of Mother Teresa if you need an example. Actually, read her biography whether you need an example or not.

·         4 years, 10 years, 20 years, a lifetime. The Army is temporary. Like anything else it is worse than useless as an end. But as a means it can be a road to the service of God in His people, and a path to Heaven. Just keep in mind what is truly important.

·         Remember who you are (easier said than done, as you’re still figuring that out.) You were a Catholic gentleman before you joined the Army, and God willing you will be a Catholic gentleman when you are out of the army.

·         Remember that you are loved. The Army can never love you, but there are plenty of people who do. They loved you before you were a soldier, and they will love you when you are a soldier no longer.

I will be praying for you. I love you, and I am proud of you.

Your Older Brother, who made 93.4% of the mistakes he has just warned you against, and saw the rest of them first hand…


I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Matthew 10:16