Musings and Writing of GG Alexander


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They meet in the town tavern, both looking for adventure.

His master has told him to go out into the world, because wisdom is empty when laid on a person with no experience. So he has come to the largest town and waits for an opportunity to come by. He wanders the town and the fields outside and asks people about their lives, and some are willing to talk and some are not, but they rarely say anything he does not expect. Some girls smile and try to invite him for longer talks, and he declines. Early mornings, stretching the body; evenings, stretching the mind with meditation and reading. Always contemplating, because that is the path that has been laid out for him, that is his temple future. Always disciplined. A serious, celibate man like him allows himself one vice, one pleasure only.

For him, music.

Nights, sitting in the tavern, usually alone, listening to the band in the corner. Closing his eyes and trying to ignore the chatter all around. Thus, they meet.

She is beautiful. Long cascades of hair, black eyelashes, white fingers. When she takes out her lute and sings, the tavern falls silent. He is caught in the bright soul of her voice, wrapped in the melody and anchored by the soft strumming of the strings. A shudder, down his back. He hears no words.

Afterwards, she lays eyes on him. It is a mutual spinning together, as they approach each other, a simultaneous step to this unusual stranger – for both of them.

‘You sing very well,’ he says to begin.

‘Katharine,’ she says of herself after the thanks.


‘What are you doing in a place like this?’ she asks a moment later.

‘I want to go to Forcene for the winter,’ she says immediately after his response. ‘And I need a guard group to keep me safe.’

She points to the two who have already said yes: a brother and sister with tanned skin, wanting to take the ship from Forcene to back home.

He says yes, because he has been waiting for something like this. He refuses payment.

‘I deal in more abstract terms,’ he says.

‘Because someone keeps you,’ she laughs.

The public keep her. The ones who put the money in her hat, who ask her to play for them or their families. But this place is dead in winter, and she does not intend to be the same.

They buy supplies the next day and head out into the wild, on their way to the mountains, and to Forcene.


He experiences little new, in his mind. Nature, his oldest friend. Two people who eagerly offer talk about their own country, and retreat into themselves for all else. Katharine sings to the stars, the sun, the sky, with the birds and boulders and brooks. She invents melodies with nonsense words, and at other times she recites lyrics with no tune. She speaks of her life, which is simple, and her love, which is all-engulfing. Music. She is an Artist.

He is but a grunt.

The fiends shuffle through the undergrowth and prowl behind rocks. Isaac and Agatha, the brother and sister, know each other like their own scars. They move as one. Marten is less practised than they, but the fiends here fall the same as those back home. He is stronger with his bare arms than the rest. He eschews steel, and Katharine worries for him.

She pulls a large sword on their first encounter, and wields it with spirit. He enquires, and she smiles because it is obvious.

‘One who travels needs to defend themselves.’

But the wilds here are different, the creatures stronger and the land more open. And they are approaching the mountains, the deadly mountains, where the rocks and underground water and hot earth have spewed up far fiercer a creature than can even exist, in such a barren place. It is not a place for a person alone. Even four is too little, Isaac says one night. But no-one else would come, says he.

Marten enjoys the increase in heartrate of a battle, enjoys the satisfaction of putting his skills to test and finding them as successful as he hoped. Beware bloodlust, master has said. Beware pride. Beware desire. He detaches himself from the happiness he knows he feels in killing a living, bastard creature.

He allows himself the sound of Katharine’s lute. Nought else.


Near the mountains is a shanty town – their last font of humanity before the bleak tops. She walks through it in her brightly dyed skirt and cropped blouse, bare stomach on display to every man who leers at her passing by. Starting from the edge of his shoulder bones and creeping up symmetrically to the back of his neck, he senses anger at them. Once he aknowledges the feeling, he is shocked by its force. But let it be. Have no desire. They have done nothing but look, and that look has hurt no-one. Should they act, then he may act. He should not desire to act before they do – and he should not desire violence against those weaker than him.

Katharine breezes through the slime. Agatha mentions the looks and she laughs. She is made of stronger will, it seems.

An old monk, an overseer of the rabble, has keen eyes on them all. Marten requests his advice, and the old master runs his thorough eye over him and his company.

‘Be careful,’ he says. ‘When your master said you must gain experience, he did not mean first hand for everything. Watching others may yield their experience to you. Do not fall down.’

‘I won’t,’ Marten says. Years ago, he learned to accept the whining voice in his mind that tells him constantly: it’s too hard! Accept it, and ignore it. Keep acting, and ignore the weakness that cries out so shrilly, that weeps like a petulant child.

The voice is perhaps becoming louder. He will not waver.


The mountains hold harshness of a natural level: cold, and hard terrain. The stumble down and they stumble up and the paths are narrow and they have to retrack. Marten’s eyes are good, but even his attention can wane with the lack of sleep and food. Strange noises come in the night, and he is self-appointed protector.

‘Let me help,’ Isaac says.

To accept help is virtuous. To allow another to prove themself is a kindness many forget. Beware pride. He accepts, and Isaac takes watch, and his sister takes watch after him. Still Marten does not close his eyes.

‘This is our chance to rest while there are no fiends,’ Katharine says when they are all sleep-beggared the next morning. ‘Sleep!’

They disobey her. Agatha says that the lady has a talent, and that rare talent should be protected.

‘We have no talent but fighting,’ Isaac says. ‘And that is enough back home.’

Beware pride. But Marten does not believe he has a talent beyond combat either, after so long without real meditation, so long without solitude. So long in an earthy, animal state. It is hard to contemplate when your body’s needs are low, he thinks. He forgives himself, for that moment.


The path rolls down. Down, down. They are all worried, but Katharine insists they must follow it. There is but one path through the mountains, she is sure, and on the other side is their destination. So they roll down, down, and into a cave which smells of salty sea.

‘We are near,’ she says with hope in her voice. ‘We are near.’

The siblings rally. Marten continues, unable to rally. The earth turns to sand. A flow of water has been churning through the rock from the heights up ahead, and now runs out towards the sea. They follow, because that is where the path leads.

They are unprepared, from the treacherous safety of their crossing thus far. The fiends, jelly-like suckers and bone-covered critters, surprise them, but they are easy enough. Beware complacency – that lesson is gone, forgotten. The cave opens, gaping, sea frothing and dark up ahead, and across the opening, spread from wall to wall, the giant arachnid awaits.

The unnatural spider near water, it is churned from fears and bodies and spirits lingering in the earth, like all fiends. It is made from hellworthy stuff, the reminders of mortality: bones, claws, knives, black hooked hairs and sticky entrapment. The floor constricts and Marten does not avoid it. They are stuck at the soles, the ankles. He frees himself, and his attention goes only to his own escape and not to anything else, because tiredness has made him telescopic. He has not helped anyone but himself before it is too late.

Agatha screams. She is the first down: the monster scuttles across its lair to her, and suddenly she is collapsed. Isaac roars, attacks; Katharine and Marten join him, but limbs and web batter and keep them away. Then the two are blown across the den in one swipe, winded. Marten’s head rings. His muscles ache as he pulls himself up, but it is too late. There are only the two of them left.

Who does the beast target next? He expects her, expects to protect her, but instead the fiend bears down on him. Katharine takes a limb away, but the frontmost still grab him, and as much as he struggles he cannot escape the weave it wraps around his body. With a back leg the arachnid swipes at its irritant, and again Katharine is blown backwards. Then Marten can see her no more.

For the first time, he feels truly afraid.

The head and eight black gleaming eyes draw closer to him. He struggles, and thinks of how animal he is now: pathetic prey, robbed of all faculties, ready to be devoured by the stronger creature. He had said he accepted death, a long time ago. Now he knows that he lied.

Its jaws pierce his skin, and his muscles spasm. A bitter taste rises to his tongue, and now he is frozen, barely able to breathe. As he is dropped to the web, he begins to see double. In one layer, he sees the beast attack Katharine, sees her scream with her sword in hand. In the other layer, he sees the men who slavered over her body in the town, sees them grabbing her in a shack, throwing her lute against the wall. The second view takes over. Between cuts of Isaac and Agatha’s bodies, he sees them violate her, and his mind contains nothing but screams.

Something splatters on his body. The screams sharpen into reality. Sand and rock return to his awareness. Finally, he sees her face, sobbing over him, with a potion in shaking, gut-covered hand.

The beast is dead, hacked apart a hundred times. Katharine says nothing about what has happened. He watches as she revives Isaac and Agatha. She hugs them close once their eyes open, sobs how happy she is that they’re alive. Agatha says she had the most awful dream, of her home burning and her country invaded and her brother dead. Isaac quietly says the same, and tries to catch Marten’s eye.

He will not look at any of them. He is disgusted with himself.


The path beyond the web leads along the coast, all the way to Forcene in bright countryside. Katharine finds him a little away from the others at dawn, as he stretches, and breathes. She asks about his training, and he finds he is able to speak. He tells her about awareness, and attachment, and discipline, and how the monk’s way is the way to true peace, and that is the way he has grown knowing and that is how he will continue, until he can be a master himself.

‘It sounds hard,’ says she.

He denies it is hard.

‘It is like a level lake,’ she says. ‘A still place, with no ripples or eddies. But life is surely more glorious when you are an ocean, filled with crashing waves and frightening depths.’

He denies such an unexamined life is glorious. It is harsh and filled with destruction, like the frightening brutality which crashed his parents together, and ripped them apart, leaving only his life as testament to their existence, leaving only a boy squalling on the temple steps.

She thinks for a while and he fears he has said too much. His control has slipped a multiplicity of times since they entered the mountains. There has been no voice to ignore, no way to avoid it; he has merely found himself acting on the worst habitual principles, the ones that the majority of humanity subscribe to.

‘I can’t defend creating hardship,’ Katharine finally says. ‘But I do know that without fear and sadness, you cannot feel sweetness. So I choose to endure the worst, because then I can be enriched by the best – and as an artist, I can take inspiration and create comfort from either.’

He cannot let himself agree with her.

Later that day, in front of the others, she says she will take inspiration from their adventure, and – once she can grasp her feelings enough – she will include the spider fiend in her tale. Marten wishes he could forget it happened. He knows he should accept it, accept his weakness and guilt and self-hate, but the voice that always reminded him to do these things seem to have flown away, away with the birds and hawks of the plains.


Isaac sits up with him at night.

‘I feel weak,’ the man says.

Marten has no words for him.

‘We were brought here to protect her, but in the end she protected us,’ Isaac continues. ‘Nothing else has made me feel as useless.’

Marten finds himself counting his breathing, as he does in the morning. One, two, exhale. A tiny voice returns to him, and whispers:

Beware pride.

He exhales, and finds he is more relaxed than he has been in months.

‘I feel the same,’ he says to Isaac.

Admit the shrieking voice: I feel exactly the same, and worse. Accept it, truly accept it before you push past it. I am made of those rolling volleys of emotions, high and low, and right now I am low.

‘I think it is all right,’ he says, ‘to feel this way, after what happened.’

Isaac stares, and his shoulders finally drop as well. He smiles.

‘I suppose it is.’

Marten did not mean to help him, but he is glad he did.


The next day they are in the meadow before the fields before Forcene, and Katharine sings. Her voice is brighter than it has ever been. Marten is enraptured by the flowers, and the bees, and the melody, and with the sunshine beating down on him he is glad he is alive, because he faced death so closely. The deprivation of all these things today would have been the worst kind of deprivation – the deprivation he would not even know he had.

He makes the choice, and he sings along with her.

Katharine stares at him in shock, then bursts into a greater smile. They sing together, and then she sings in harmony. Isaac and Agatha join them after a while, and so the four of them pass through the meadow, high on music and the joy of existence.

It fades, as such feelings always do, but Marten feels the better for it. He feels his mind has returned to him.


‘I will keep watch,’ Agatha says that night. Her brother disagrees, and says it will be dangerous.

‘It is always dangerous,’ Katharine says. ‘Even here, where the fiends are weak. Why did you let her stay up before and not now?’

Marten leans close to him, and talks low so only he can hear. His contemplation has returned; rather, it has sparked into luminous life, catching everything in its grasping hands and letting it free again, a thousand revelations a moment, only some of which will be remembered. He accepts that. He will trade the loss of these epiphanies if only he can retain the clarity which has come to him now.

‘She wants to be strong again,’ he says. ‘Let her. Your vision won’t come true.’

Isaac is surprised; his look says he wants to know how he realised, but Marten will not say. The brother agrees to let her stay up. During the night, they wake to find her standing triumphant over a dead fiend, and they delight in her – and by extension their – return to power.

Only Katharine does not seem as cheered by her victory. A cast comes over her eyes whenever there is happiness or laughter between them all.


‘It won’t be long until we are there,’ she says the next day.

The town is in sight, its large houses and churches and castle.

He wonders why she says it so sorrowfully, but he lets her be. To hurt her in trying to find out the truth would be to give in to desire. He has that desire, but he needn’t act on it. He hasn’t acted on many, many things, so he knows he can stand one more witholding.

She sings: a soft lullaby as the sun dips down. He thinks he will never love anything as much as he loves her voice, and it pains him to know that he will have to do without it.

‘I’ll miss you all,’ she says softly at the end.

‘We’ll all miss each other,’ he replies.

She looks at him and he is lost. He is trying hard to balance the things he has found in this journey, and he still has much work to do. He knows he must experience the worst to appreciate the best, but he also knows that the middle path is the one of least hardship and greatest control. He does not know whether to act, and risk ruination, or restrain himself, and risk the lack of deep, thrilling joy.

‘I’ve made many friends in my life,’ she says. ‘And most of them are gone or far away. I miss every single one, and I don’t want to miss others. Had I been under that poison…I think I would have seen myself alone.’

‘A person like you will never be alone,’ he says. It is his sincere conviction, but she looks at him with sudden tears in her eyes.

‘You know what I mean. I want a friend who will stay.’

‘You’ll easily find one,’ he says, and immediately wonders at his own words. His heart thumps with unfamiliar anxiety; he acted without thinking again. He looks away and she says nothing else. They keep walking, and Katharine hums to herself.


Forcene’s crowds are piercing and jostling after the wilds of outside, but little annoyance compared to the discomfort they have all been through. At the port, Marten embraces both Agatha and Isaac after Katharine has let them go.

‘Thank you,’ Isaac says,gripping his arm. Marten feels he is the one who was helped more.

It hurts to see them leave, and he knows Katharine feels the same. The two pairs wave at each other until the ship is on its way, and then the two on land go to the nearest tavern.

‘Are you going to go back to the temple now?’ she asks him.

‘Yes,’ he says. ‘I have to report what I’ve learned.’

She nods at her drink in sad acceptance.


‘So,’ master says, ‘what have you learned in your time outside?’

His wizened face is the same after months, where Marten is broader, more scarred, and lighter in all his actions.

‘Many things, master, but the main was this: to accept life, and to consciously make your choice of what to do in it, is not the same as holding yourself to an inhuman standard, and neutering all experience.’

Master smiles, and Marten is relieved to see it. He had known he would accept master’s approbation or displeasure either way, but still he had worried for the response.

‘Anything else?’

He is surprised by the question. It is a probing lead, something to which master wants a specific answer. Marten thinks, runs his mind through, but he doesn’t believe master will accept any of his ideas and epiphanies until he remembers the one that has hurt, and will hurt him the most:

‘All men fail, master,’ he states.

‘Very good,’ master says, wrinkles lifted in satisfaction. ‘Your experience taught you well. And I am glad you returned. I worried a man like you may fall into the normal life, and wish never to return – especially given who you travelled with.’

Marten does not know how the news had travelled so far, so fast, but he remembers again the eyes of the monk in the shanty town – drinking Katharine’s beauty and spitting it back in his warning.

‘Now, I will see you after breakfast for your training,’ master says, nodding his head to let him know he can leave. Marten remains kneeling.

‘Yes, master. But after this week, I am leaving.’

The master’s eyebrows flutter up, then he accepts his own surprise.

‘Are you giving up your training?’ he asks.

Marten has given much thought to himself since he left Forcene, and he has come to a conviction.

‘No, master. I will always return here for what training you will give me. But I have decided that our lessons, our techniques, are better served in the dark world outside, than remaining solely here in our temples.’

An impenetrable look, half-glare, half-smile.

‘You intend to reveal our philosophy to the everyday person?’

Marten admits his fear at such a look and such a question; it is the deepest fear excepting the fear of death. Rejection. He breathes, one-two, and exhales.

‘I intend to help those who need help, and I believe our ways are invaluable for that. I will reveal what I think is best.’

He trembles. The knowledge that he will accept whatever response comes is no comfort.

Master’s face changes, melts into mollification.

‘You have grown beyond what I had imagined,’ master says. ‘And I am proud of you, for that.’

Marten’s heart swells.


After the week, master comes to the gates of the temple with him.

‘So,’ says he, ‘you will return to her.’

Marten is not surprised that he knows.

‘Yes. I want to help her, first of all.’

‘And if she does not accept you?’

He pauses, and considers it. The thought terrifies him, but he does not believe it will come true.

‘Then she does not accept me. I will keep going.’

‘And if something awful were to happen to her?’

Marten looks at his master, wondering if the man knows everything that has happened in his mind. He thinks for a long moment, the horror of his death-vision returning to him.

‘Then I would grieve, and stay by her,’ he whispers. ‘After that…I don’t know, master. I don’t know.’

He hangs his head, acknowledging his failure.

Master claps him on the shoulder.

‘Then you have achieved more than hundreds of others who cannot admit such a thing. Go on, return. I expect to hear much about you and your new ways.’

Marten leaves his home with sober hope filling his spirit. Singing to himself, with his sword by his side, he enters the wild and begins the journey back to Forcene.


Written by G.J.

08/05/2013 at 2:45 pm

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