Thursday, October 10, 2013

Space Limerick: Lonely Planet

A planet without any star
It seems that it isn't too far
We may change our tune
"That isn't a moon!"
The Empire strikes from in thar

Baby Free-Floating Planet Found Alone, Away From A Star

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Dishward bound

Hello dishes my old friend

I've come to clean up you again
The scraps of food that I'll be scraping
While at grunge I will be gaping
And morsels that swirl slowly down the drain
Still remain
Amidst the sound of soap suds.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Space Limerick: Hubble image of comet ISON

The beauty of space is surreal
This image has got some appeal
Just look what they found
The objects abound
That star at the bottom is teal!

Stars, Galaxies, and Comet ISON Grace a New Image from Hubble

Monday, July 15, 2013

Space Limerick: Washing Your Bald Head

If washing your hair is a chore
The scrubbing and rinsing's a bore
Just try it in space!
You're bald? In that case
You won't have to worry no more

Washing Your Hair in Space, Bald Edition

Space Limerick: Star Party

Come in! It's a fine stellar party!
We hope that you're feeling quite hearty.
As upwards we gaze,
The whole cosmic maze
Won't wait for the ones who are tardy.

Virtual Star Party – July 14, 2013

News Limerick 7/15/2013

To search for a comet's not easy
You stay up at night while it's breezy
Equipment you'll need
Must work at great speed
Competing with robots feels queasy

Amateur Astronomer Discovers Comet C/2013 N4 (Borisov) During a Star Party

Friday, July 12, 2013

News Limerick 7/12/2013

A planet that looks rather blue
And orbits another star, too?
The temperature's high
And winds really fly
At least we have learned something new!

Hubble telescope discovers alien 'deep blue' planet

Thursday, July 11, 2013

News Limerick 7/11/2013

We learn that our sun has a tail
As fast through the aether we sail
Like clover-shaped leaves
From strong solar breeze
The size of it makes me turn pale

Our Solar System Has a Tail Shaped Like a Four-Leaf Clover: New Findings from IBEX

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

News Limerick 7/10/2013

An arctic explorer named GROVER?
The first set of tests is now over
It faired rather well
When temperatures fell
As there on the icepacks they drove 'er

NASA GROVER rover completes first tests in remote arctic expedition

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

There Once Was a Kingdom: Misty Castle

They rode on through the clearing, following the path that continued to stretch before them along the deer path.

Elie: What's a deer path?
Me: It's where the deer often walk through the woods to get to food or water. All the repetetive walking makes a small path that others can follow.
Elie: Did they see any deer?
Me: They may have, but deer are very shy and may have been frightened by the horses.

As they continued, the forest grew older, the trees wider and more twisted by age and elements. More and more were entirely bare of all leaves. The undergrowth disappeared and was replaced by swirling mists creeping from the surface of some long forgotten lake.

Elie: Well, who was in the back?
Me: You said it was Tiana, I believe.
Elie: I think she had a chain on her horse so she wouldn't get lost.
Me: A chain from horse to horse? Good idea - that helped them all stay together in the mist.

A gust of stale wind scattered the mist before them and they saw a large jumble of stones and rubble that may once have been a wall or gate. The horses carefully picked their way over these and into a flat open area beyond. An archway still stood to one side. There were runes carved into the top of the passage.

Alatar consisdered these for a moment and then translated:
A hallowed throneroom lies beyond, open for the world to see.
They passed through and found another note scrawled on the wall:
The one who'd take the crown deserves it not
To sit upon the throne will make you rot
Elie: Who had the throne?
Me: Well, they have four horses, who do you think?
Elie: Mandalar's horse is the strongest so it had the throne. Sarai's had the crown, and Tiana the scepter.
Me: Leaving the chest with the treasure of science for Alatar's?
Elie: Yeah.

They had to dismount their horses as the ceiling grew lower as the passage continued. Behind them, they heard the now familiar scratching, clawing noise of stone on stone.

Me: What was behind them?
Elie: The gargoyles!

Frightened, they rushed through the end of the stone hallway and into open mist. Another stiff breeze blew in, this one carrying a salty smell of a nearby sea. Alatar spun around and formed a wall of the mist at the tunnel's mouth. Mandalar drew his sword and hefted his shield before him.

Tiana turned to Sarai. With a hand on her shoulder, she spoke quickly, "Do you want me with you or here to hold them off as long as I can?"

Elie: I think Alatar and Mandalar should be partners and Sarai and Tiana should be partners.

Together, Tiana and Sarai moved led the horses on. The breeze exposed a tlarge square trellis on a large stone courtyard, supported at four corners by thick stone pillars. It was open on all sides with mist streaming through. The ceiling was a latice of wood covered over with ancient vines.

"The throne room, open for the world to see!" Sarai exclaimed. She and Tiana quickly unloaded the throne and put it at one end. The scepter leaned against it to one side, and the treasure chest they placed on the other. The crown they set in the seat.

Me: The old king's throne was covered with hand quilted blankets to make the wood a bit more comfortable. Did they have anything to put on it?
Elie: Their pillows and blankets for sleeping.

These they carefully placed in the throne and it looked almost regal.

From behind them, they could hear more of the gargoyles clawing their way over and around the castle in great numbers. Alatar and Mandalar were losing ground, trying not to get surrounded.

"Quickly Sarai, you have to do something!" Tiana's voice quavered as she glanced back at the approaching hoard.

Sarai looked at the throne. "I can't sit there. And the crown is not mine. I need... something." Casting about quickly, she found an uprooted tree stump just over the edge of the stone floor. With Tiana's help, she moved this to the middle of the trellis. She grabbed a small twisted brach and fashioned this into a circlet for a crown. Instead of a scepter, she chose a heavy broken piece of stonework from an old statue.

With the circlet on her head, she sat on the stump and help her stone. Her shield fastened tightly to her other arm, she faced the gargoyles as they came over Alatar's wall, out of reach of Mandalar's sword. The sound of steel on stone rang out again and again, yet still they came. Eddies of wind whipped from Alatar's hands, sending more spinning and flailing harmlessly away, but two came to replace each one thrown back.

Tiana hurled a dagger a the closest one but it glanced harmlessly to the side. She picked up a large stone and threw this instead, crushing the beast's head. It turned into to a fine gravel and collapsed to the floor. Another came onward and Tiana grabbed for its neck, spinning herself onto its back and out of reach of its claws. The two dissappeared into the mist as the beast bucked wildly.

Two more crept under the trellis toward Sarai.

"Sarai! We're here!" Alatar called, whirling his staff with both hands above his head. A huge cyclone errupted and flew toward the trellis. It landed right around it, clearing the mist inside and preventing any more gargoyles from approaching.  The two already in looked at one another and then back at the girl sitting before them.

"We think it's time for you to give us back our fine things," one snarled. "They've been lost to us for far too long.

Elie: No! They're not yours.

"Oh, but they are!" it retorted, rising on its hind legs. "Our father kept them from us, from us all. They were rightfully ours, as was the kingdom, but he thought us unworthy. Now, he is gone and there is no one to stop us. We will be taking them back now."

Elie: Daddy, I think there was a strong spell then that helped Sarai.
Me: There's a very powerful magic at work here, one that the gargoyles don't know or understand. They can't hurt her. They can't even touch her.

The first gargoyle lunged past Sarai and grabbed the crown. As it looked at it, it laughed and placed it on its head. The instant it did, however, it stopped moving entirely. Then, slowly, cracks appeared in its stone skin. With a thunderous crack, it simply fell to pieces and melted into the stone floor. The other gargoyle shrieked and turned to Sarai.

"You've killed him!" it shrieked. "We worked so hard and so long, casting forbidden spells on our own bodies to prolong life and give us strength. And here, in our moment of triumph, you've somehow struck down my brother? You shall pay for this."

It crept closer slowly as it talked. Unsure what to do. Sarai lept up and backwards. She landed hard next to the treasure chest. A faint line of green seemed to lead straight into it, so she lifted up the lid. The magnifying glass glowed all green at her. She grabbed it and looked through at the gargoyle.

What she saw surprised her. There was no monster there, no wings and claws and whippy tail. There was no snout or sharp teeth or fox ears. What there was instead was an old, thin, bony man with knees that wouldn't stop knocking with each slow step. He leaned on a cane and had no teeth at all.

"You siwwy widdle giwl! What hab you done!" the gargoyle continued shouting. "My poow bwotheh!"

Sarai looked closely and saw that he could barely balance. Remembering the man training himself in unarmed combat, she swung her foot low in a quick arc that landed just below his knees. Her foot connected with a snapping sound and the gargoyle collapsed in a heap. The breeze blew in another gust, and the creature turned to dust before her eyes.

A shout from outside the trellis caught her attention. She saw that the mists had lifted and her companions were struggling with dozens of the beasts all around. The cyclone around her was no longer and more of the beasts were coming fast.

Before she could think what to do, a long low blast from a horn filled the air. Everyone stopped still and listened. The call was answered by another lower one.

"Dwarf horns!" shouted Mandalar.

Goblin bugles blew a high clear melody in reply, followed by the drums of the desert tribes. A hearty shout filled the air from the side, coming up from the now visible sea. The lobster captain and his pirate fleet had landed and were rushing up the hill armed to the teeth. Fairies flew in from the other direction, dumping great buckets of magic dust. Gargoyles screamed and turned into a beautiful field of flowers as it rained down on them. Gnomes followed, throwing magic seeds of their own. A whole group of gargoyles turned into a grove of mushrooms. The gnomes squealed with glee and began gobbling them down hungrily.

The gargoyles flew into a panic and took wing. Sarai grabbed in the chest, her hand finding the telescope. She looked through it and up to them. Each gargoyle caught in her gaze screamed and exploded into a burst of glitter. She lowered the telescope and simply shouted at them, "You cannot be! You've lived far too long and it's time for you to go!"

With that, the rest looked at her, pausing for the briefest moment. Then, they burst as one into a cloud of shimmering mist, drifting away on the breeze.

The gathered creatures of all kinds cheered and shouted. "Go on! Take the throne! Wear the crown!" they shouted.

Sarai shook her head. "It's not mine to wear," she declared. "I don't want to be queen, and you don't really want me to be. But I would happily sit as... as a judge. To provide my best judgement of what to do when there's an argument. I'll serve you in that way, helping you not to fight but rather to help each other. Will you accept that?"

The cheers resounded, filling the whole of the ancient castle. Sarai found Alatar's face in the crowd and saw him nodding silently.

The goblin king made his way through the masses to Sarai. "After you left, I thought about what you were going to do and realized you might want a little more help," he beamed. "Everywhere we went, we heard about the good you were doing and everyone you were helping. Each of them wanted to join us, too, and, well, here we are! I hope we arrived in time."

"Just!" Sarai laughed. "I'm so glad you did. Thank you."

Together, all the gathered creatures began clearing out and cleaning the old castle.

"Since you won't be a queen, would you still want a castle?" the goblin king asked. "We should have some place here for people to come to."

Sarai furrowed her brow, deep in thought. "No, not a castle," she agreed. "But a place to hold court, in a sense. A house is less fancy than a castle, so maybe a 'courthouse' would do? What do you think?"

Everyone agreed and set to work. In a few days, they had built a strong stone courthouse. The dwarves carved a giant stone scale to put before the entrance, perfectly balanced to show fair judgement.

Elie: I think Alatar and Tiana stayed on to help Sarai.
Me: Like advisers? A very good idea.
Elie: Yeah, and they were going to be her mommy and daddy.
Me: That sounds lovely!
Elie: They fell in love and wanted to be married.
Me: And together they helped everyone in the kingdom to live a more peaceful and content life together.

And that's the story of how Sarai helped unite the kingdom.

THE END

Part of the "There Once Was a Kingdom" bedtime stories series.

News Limerick 7/9/2013

Because of the smog in the air
Their lives have been shaved by a hair
But doesn't that beat
To freeze without heat?
There's multiple problems out there

China pollution slashes life expectancy by over five years in north

Monday, July 8, 2013

News Limerick 7/8/2013

The plane was quite close to a stall
And that's when the tail hit the wall
Was pilot to blame
For terror and flame?
Or did he just not hear the call?

Jet was on verge of stalling before hitting sea wall, officials say

There Once Was a Kingdom: A Clearing and a Key

As the companions continued on through the woods, they found the trees grew closer together. At times, so much sun was blocked out that it appeared almost twilight. The deer path was just wide enough for the horses to pass through with branches tickling their sides. From all around them, they heard the sound of croaking frogs and chirping crickets.

Elie: I think Mandalar still had his shield out front, just in case.

Suddenly and without warning, they found themselves in a wide open clearing. The unexpected bright sunshine blinded them momentarily. When they could see again, the four perceived a pair of men in the middle of the field. One was shouting at the other, waving a finger close to his face. The other stood with his arms crossed, frowning and not speaking. When the men saw the four riders, they both turned away from the other and stomped off to different sides of the field.

Me: What did Sarai do?
Elie: She wanted to talk to them and try to help them.
Me: Who did she go talk to first? The man who was shouting or the one who was silent?
Elie: The shouting man.

Sarai dismounted and walked her horse over to the first man. "What's going on here?" she asked.

"This here field? It's just perfect for planting a year's worth of wheat for me to grow and live on," he answered, scowling across the open air at the other man. "I hate the big cities and towns so came out for a walk through the woods. When I wound up here, I just loved it. I've spent several days building a cabin just over that way and now when I come and look back at the field to figure out how to start tilling it, I find him here and he just won't leave! Says he wants to use my field, too, but I just can't for the life of me figure out what for."

Sarai nodded and looked back over her shoulder. "Perhaps I could talk to him and find out?"

"You go right ahead if you want to waste your time," the man sneered. "Just see if you can get him to leave, would you? And then you all can get off my field too."

Sarai almost smiled at the man's determination. This one might not be easy, she thought, but it's still worth trying.

When she walked up to the other man, he looked at her silently. His face was a mask of disinterest, his thoughts lost elsewhere.

"Excuse me, please?" she started timidly. "Can you tell me about why you're here in this field."

A brief silence followed, and then the man shook his head as though startled by a fly. "Why, I'm sorry. I was lost in though," he answered. "Certainly happy to tell you. You see, I've been working on a new way of self defense - one that uses just your hands and feel, knees and elbows, and all the like. No weapons at all, you see? Just a way to redirect the force coming at you with minimum effort. I had so much trouble concentrating in the bustle of the town that I wanted to come out here to practice what I was working on. And this field is peaceful, quiet, and large enough that I have plenty of room for tumbling and rolling."

Me: What did Sarai want to do or say?
Elie: Maybe each of them could work together and build a fence through the middle of the clearing? Then one could plant food on one side and the other could practice on the other!

"Interesting - I'd be happy to just use half the field," replied the second man.

Sarai went back to the farmer to ask him, but he was much less receptive. "I need the whole field or I won't have enough food to last the year!" he shouted. "Tell him to just go find a different field and then get out of here."

The second man had walked up as well. "If we can't share it all the time, maybe we can share it by the time of year?" he asked. "You only plant your grain in the spring and harvest it in the fall, right? Well, then when it's not growing I can practice all winter. The rest of the time I can do other kinds of practicing out in the woods where it's dense, as it might be if I'm attacked."

As he spoke, he demonstrated some of his strikes and kicks. The farmer's eyes lit up. "Say, I haven't got a good scythe yet, but the way you're moving your hands and feet looks very similar to the motion you'd need... Do you think you could help me harvest the grain when it was time? If so, we've got us a deal."

The two agreed and went off talking quietly.

Tiana came up and said...

Elie: I want to say what Tiana said - you can do Mandalar and Alatar.
Me: Oh - okay. Well, she'd finally figured out about the key with a little help from the fairies peeking in to give her hints. While Sarai had been talking, she got the key worked out. What did she say?
Elie: I've got the key!

Sarai, Alatar, and Mandalar rushed over, bringing the treasure chest with them. Tiana put the key in the lock. It fit, but didn't quite turn. She slipped one of her thin lock picking tools in along the top and adjusted the pins slowly and carefully. The key started to wiggle as she worked. A moment later, she was able to turn it freely in the lock. The lid popped up, now loose from the lock.

Inside, they found a few slightly muddy instruments. Unlike the small box, the treasure chest wasn't water tight and some of the sea water and sand had gotten inside. Still, it had dried out after so many days in the air. What they took out was a metal scale with two small, curved plates hanging on chains, not quite in balance with the lumps of sand on the plates. There was also a telescope and a microscope, each with carefully crafted glass. A magnifying glass followed those. Then, toward one side, they also found a helmet that looked just a little large for Sarai.

Me: There was one other thing, too. What was it?
Elie: Another shield in case something happens to Mandalar's.

The other shield was a bit smaller, so they agreed it could be for Sarai in the meantime. It had no straps any longer, these having long since rotted away, but they were able to fix it up with some new ones. The helmet they lined with a bit of soft fleece and then it fit Sarai perfectly.

Looking at the rest of the instruments, they puzzled why this was such an important case.

"I've got it!" Sarai exclaimed. "The ruler of the whole country has to measure and balance things. Look at all angles, from the biggest to the smallest. Then, after understanding it all, come up with an answer they can defend with facts."

The others nodded. "That sounds like the kind of leader the people would gladly follow," Alatar beamed.

Part of the "There Once Was a Kingdom" bedtime stories series.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

There Once Was a Kingdom: Wandering Woods

As soon as they could, they left the desert town and headed back for the road. At the crossroads, Sarai looked again for the thin line to appear before her. Strangely, however, there were several. There was red, yellow, black, green, orange, and a bright searing white. Sarai tried to recall what the two colors were that she had been following.

Me: Do you remember?
Elie: There was blue.
Me: True, but they followed that all the way to the shipwreck. What else was there?
Elie: It was... green!

Sarai picked out the green path. The red led out into the desert, the black south to the mountains, the yellow out to the west over the scraggly plains, and the white curled around the town in odd loops and twists. The green, however, went nearly due north towards a forest.

They set out on their way, finding a thin deer path that the line followed.

Elie: I think Mandalar and Sarai were in front and Alatar and Tiana behind.
Me: The path was rather thin - the horses couldn't fit side by side.
Elie: Oh - then Mandalar was in front with his shield up in case there were any arrows, then Sarai.
Me: Who next?
Elie: Alatar, and then Tiana.

As they headed through the woods, the trail meandered easily with the curves and twists of the woods. After a time they stopped to rest. When they went to head back toward the path, they found that there was no path. They looked about and saw no sign of where they'd come from or where the trail used to lead.

Startled, each looked at the other with no idea where to go from here. Suddenly, the undergrowth rustled and a high tinkling laughter could be heard, followed quickly by a shushing.

Me: What do you think might be under there?
Elie: A hedgehog?
Me: I don't think hedgehogs giggle. Maybe something with wings?
Elie: Oh, um. A fairy!

Sarai folded her arms over her chest. "You can come out now," she scolded.

Three bashful fairies fluttered out from the low leaves. The one in front looked up at them, slowly circling and looking each one over.

"What are you doing here in these woods?" she asked finally. "What do you want with our trees?"

Elie: We're here to save the kingdom.

"And you need our trees for that, do you? Well you can't have them!" the fairy shouted.

Elie: We need to go through here! You can't keep us back. It's for everyone's good.

"A likely story. That's what everyone wants us to believe. But then they just want to cut everything down and build everywhere. Well we're not going to have it!"

Elie: But we want to help everyone to get along! We heard that the old king used to help people when they disagreed. Maybe we can help you, too.

"You know what, that's a good idea," the fairy replied. "See, there are some gnomes just over the other way who keep eating all of our mushrooms. We need those for our houses and some of our fairy magic but they just keep taking whatever they want! If you can show us you can talk them into not taking our mushrooms, we'll show you the path again."

The fairies led them through another path that opened before them down a small hollow in the woods. There, they saw a small gnome village. The gnomes were no larger than the goblins had been but with more human looking faces. They had big round noses and much smaller ears. Most had beards and pointy hats flopped over to the side.

When Sarai walked in, they stopped and looked up suspiciously.

"We hear you're taking the mushrooms from the fairies," she started. "But they need those themselves. Why are you taking them?"

"We're taking their mushrooms?!" one gnome squeaked. "Well, they're taking our nuts and berries. And we just love mushrooms, too, so it's really hard to resist when we find a good patch!"

Sarai nodded and said, "If we could get them to stop taking your nuts and berries, would you leave their mushrooms alone?"

"Hard to say, but we'd certainly think about it," the gnome answered.

Sarai headed back to where the fairies waited. "Are you taking their nuts and berries?"

The two fairies who hadn't spoken hung their heads and looked away, one idling drawing circles in the dirt with her toes.

"Well?" asked the lead fairy. "I told you not to go over that way. Maybe we could show them to that new mushroom grove we just found. If we offer them that instead and don't go stealing any more from them... You think you can handle that, fairies?"

The other two nodded bashfully. The first fairy asked to accompany Sarai back to the gnomish village. Once there, a deal was quickly struck and both fairies and gnomes were quick Sarai and her friends for helping them.

With that, the fairies sprinkled a bit of magic dust on the plants and the path opened up again before them.

Part of the "There Once Was a Kingdom" bedtime stories series.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

There Once Was a Kingdom: A Storm in the Pass

After they got back aboard, the fishermen asked if they could keep the underwater craft. "What was it you called it again?" the captain asked.

"A submarine!" Sarai answered.

"Interesting this will help us with our... treasure hunting," the captain nodded, trailing off.

They turned back around and prepared to return to the harbor. As they went, they looked at what they'd taken from the shipwreck. The treasure chest was locked and had iron bands wrapping around it in all directions. Tiana tied to pick the lock but found it very difficult make any progress. They didn't want to try to force the lock and risk damaging anything inside. 

"If only there were a way for me to see what the inside of the lock looks like," Tiana muttered.

Alatar brightened. "I can help with that! Here - hold one end of my staff. I'll make it appear to be a tunnel. You can look down and through it with the other end on the lock."

Tiana held it steady and looked straight down. At first, it just looked like staring through a hollow stick as one would expect. When she focussed on the dot at the end, though, she found that it rushed toward her so fast that she jumped. Looking in again, she found she could move the staff ever so slightly to see the different parts of the inside.

"Interesting! There's not just pins coming from the top and bottom like other locks I've seen, but from the sides, too. I can see where they come in. Maybe I can craft a small key of my own to fit and help me get those pins to the right positions..." she mused. She started to work right away. It was frustrating work with the rocking of the boat and she decided to set it aside until they were back ashore.

After a time, they turned their attention to the small wax coated box instead.

They carefully cut a a slit in the wax and found that the lid swung open easily. Inside, there was a bit of leather wrapped carefully around some folded parchment. Most of it was in an ancient language. Alatar puzzled over it for a time.

"It's unfamiliar to me, but I do recognize the symbols," he mused. "I may be able to make some sense of it after a bit of study."

Beneath all of these, however, was one sheet in their modern tongue. They read this out loud:
The one who brings the scepter, crown, and throne
May claim the whole of country for their own
If brought to castle lost that once was known
Before the 'goyles claim it for their own

A kingdom under them would soon be mud
The rivers dry, the fields all caked in crud
To stop the coming storm, prevent the flood
Will take a savior born no royal blood
"Wait - that says the savior has to be born with no royal blood," Sarai mumured. She looked at Alatar quizically. "Didn't you say I'm the old king's heir? How can I do this, then?"

Alatar stood silently for a moment. "I wasn't entirely misleading," he said at last. "You are not his heir by heritage, but by manner. I used divination to find one in our time who had a similar spirit and good heart to that of the king. My spell led me to you, and, when I asked around about you in the town, knew that I was right. Everyone there, including Tiana, spoke of your kindness and thoughfulness toward others."

Tiana nodded at this, smiling. "I didn't realize why he was asking at the time, but it's true. We all love you very much and respect your care for others."

"I hope you don't hold that against me," Alatar continued. "As you've already seen, you're able to do much to help others."

Sarai sat in thought and then nodded. "I guess this doesn't really change anything, does it? We don't want the gargoyles to get the king's symbols and we're the ones to stop them."

They continued sailing past where they'd met the sea monster without any further incident and made port easily. Sarai and company got their goods and horses unloaded and quickly road back up toward the mountain pass. As the approached the town at the foot of the mountains, however, another storm started brewing and they found shelter for the night.

The following day, the storm was still raging. The people of the town looked up at the cloud curiously. "Odd weather for this time of year," one was heard to remark.

Me: Should they try to rush through the pass in the rain or wait in the town to see if it would subside?
Elie: Try to wait for it.

They waited in the town, but it grew late and they stayed the night. Still the rain came down the next day and the next with no sign of letting up. Tiana ccontinued working on the key throughout but wasn't having any luck getting it to fit quite right.

"Sarai, this storm doesn't seem natural to me," Alatar said one morning. "Perhaps we should brave the pass despite the storm.

Elie: Yes, let's.

They bundled themselves up against the driving rain and walked their mounts slowly to the mountain pass. When they got there, they found themselves facing three gargoyles.

"We know what you have," one rasped. "Just hand them all over to us and we'll be happy to go on our way."

Elie: No!

"Do you really want this burden? Ruling a kingdom is very hard work. The people are always looking to you to solve everything. 'He took my cow! She stole some bread! They won't play nice!' You'd be much better off going back and living a nice relaxing life in the country. Leave all the hard stuff to us, little girl," the gargoyle hissed as it crept slowly closer.

Me: Should they try to go back and find another way to force their way through?
Elie: They should go through.

Sarai nodded to Mandalar, who suddenly charge his horse and swung his sword hard. The blade struck the creeping gargoyle square on the face, shattering its head to a fine dust. The rest of the body stopped as still as a statue and then collapsed into nothing more than a pile of loose stones. The others stared openmouthed.

Before they could act, Sarai shouted, "This way!"

She brought her horse to a gallop in the few steps between her and the stone beasts, leaping clear over their heads. Tiana, Alatar, and Mandalar followed and they rushed headlong into the slippery pass. The gargoyles behind them tried to regain their footing but skid wildly.

As they rushed through, careful not to lose control of the horses, the company heard more skittering, chattering noises coming first from behind them, but then, too, from the slopes on either side. They weren't even halfway through the pass when they could tell there were dozens of the gargoyles almost upon them.

Alatar tried to conjure up another wall of air but found the storm made the air too wild to control from horseback.

Mandalar spun around at the rear. "I'll stop them here, if you ask it of me, Sarai!"

Elie: No! We all stay together.

He nodded swinging his sword in great arcs to keep the gargoyles just far enough out of reach and turned back around to follow the others. Tiana looked over her shoulder and then spun around backwards in her saddle.  Aiming carefully, she threw two daggers, one to each side high on the slopes.

The small blades on a clear, dry day would have had little effect. In the rains that had pounded down for so long, though, each set loose several small stones that tumbled free. These knocked larger stones before them and soon huge walls of tumbling rock were coming crashing in from each side.

Sarai and her companions cleared the pass just as the great waves of rock came crashing together behind them, crushing many gargoyles under their weight. More still were stuck up the slopes or on the far side of the wall of rock but none followed them to the valley below. As they made for the town, they heard the horrible screeching of the gargoyles in the mountain behind them.

They left the storm up in the peaks and found a clear day awaited them below.

Part of the "There Once Was a Kingdom" bedtime stories series.

Friday, July 5, 2013

News Limerick 7/5/2013

For Android, the key is a master
Which seems to invite some disaster
Your data is theirs
While you're unawares
That hole you can't patch with some plaster

'Master key' to Android phones uncovered

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

There Once Was a Kingdom: In the Wreckage

Having escaped the sea monster, they put on all the sail the could manage to make up time. The genie's magic showed Sarai that their destination lay some distance ahead. Over the crests of several waves, she could tell that it seemed to spiral and dive down into the water. She asked the captain to lower the anchor. After her guidance in confronting the sea monster, he didn't question her directions.

As she peered over the side, Mandalar, Tiana, and Alatar came up beside her.

"What do you see?" Alatar asked.

Sarai told them of the line falling away beneath them.

Elie: They should take a submarine!
Me: Those haven't been invented yet, but it's a very good idea.

Sarai tried to explain the idea of a boat that goes under the water to them. They looked skeptical at first, but willing to listen.

Me: What might they use to try to make one?
Elie: The other raft boat?
Me: A good start, but it needs something to hold the air in.
Elie: A sail?

They built a few arches from loose lumber and stretched a length of sail over it.

"I can seal it with magic, and enchant this rope to act like... well, a sort of a straw of sorts up to the surface," Alatar surmised.

They also took small pieces of glass and tied them in place front, back, and both sides in the canvas so they could see out. They fashioned a pair of the oars into a spinning rudder they could turn about to change direction. With that, they all climbed aboard and the captain and crew lowered them to the water.

Alatar ran his hands around the seams, chanting a solemn spell. When he nodded, they all crowded toward the front and the lifeboat plunged into the sea.  They held on as Mandalar spun the rudder to force them down farther still. As they descended it grew darker and darker and soon they could see nothing but a faint light twinkling from the surface high above them. Still, Sarai could see the path stretching farther down into the blackness.

Me: What do you think might help them see?
Elie: Glowfish!

Just when they worried they would lose all light, small fish darted past, glowing in brilliant blues, greens, and purples. A whole school of them darted before the boat, revealing a shipwreck below. The craft's side was split in two, a huge whole opening inside. It looked as though the vessel had been smashed by the monster they met, cracked by its strong tentacles. The blue line led straight inside.

As they passed through the hole, Sarai was surprised to see that the line blurred and split into three. One ended at a treasure chest on the floor. The second went to a small box smeared all over with wax and chained on a shelf. The third led behind a toppled table.

Me: What do you think they might find back there?
Elie: I don't know?
Me: They've already found the crown and scepter. What else is there?
Elie: The throne!

Sure enough, when they came to the other side of the table there was the frame of a wooden chair. It was well preserved, but had no cushion or cloth. If it were not for the magic line, Sarai could mistake it for any other well-crafted wooden chair.

Me: What might they use to try to get these things?
Elie: Rope.

They made a lasso out of a length of rope and threaded it through the side. With this, they grabbed the chair and were able to pull it aboard as Alatar strengthened his magic to keep the water out. The chest they snared too, but the box on the shelf was stuck fast by the chain.

Me: How can they get that?
Elie: Alatar can push it with his staff.

Sure enough, when Alatar shoved it with the end of his staff, the rusted chain broke apart. They pulled the box into their boat, too. With no other blue lines visible, they turned to head back to the surface.

When they emerged from the shipwreck, the glowfish suddenly panicked and scattered as something else approached.

Me: What might it be?
Elie: A whale.
Me: Many whales don't eat fish but things even smaller. What's something else that might scare the fish?
Elie: A shark!

A shark swam lazily through the water, silently circling them. Every now and again it turned its beady eyes toward them, watching their movements. They would have to find a way to get past it as it could swim far faster than they could maneuver their boat.

Elie: They could try talking to it.
Me: Reasoning with it, hmm?

Alatar tried cupping his hands against the sail and speaking into them to help his voice echo out through the water. He made a sound like a low hiss, punctuated with several pops and clicks. The shark spun towards them and rammed the wood hard.

"I tried to tell it we have no food for it here, but it didn't seem to care," the wizard apologized.

Elie: They could blind it with some more sail!
Me: Like the sea monster! That might work.

They tied some sail on the end of another length of rope, quickly slipping it out the side. It wriggled in the water, looking very much like a floundering fish. The shark charged it full speed and quickly became tangled in the sail and rope. As it twisted to try to get away, it just became more trapped in the fabric.

They quickly spun the rudder to rise as quickly as they could, watching below as the shark fell away, twisting and turning in circles. They broke the surface a moment later with an explosion of seaspray. The captain and crew helped them back aboard, admiring the craft they'd built.

Me: We'll stop there for the night, but what do you think the treasure chest and wax-sealed box might be?
Elie: The pirate's treasure.
Me: Pirates? Which pirates?
Elie: The lobster captain and his crew.
Me: Oh - they're pirates are they? Interesting twist - we'll have to see what we can do with that.

Part of the "There Once Was a Kingdom" bedtime stories series.

News Limerick: 7/3/2013

They act like the state is their chapel
As difficult issues they grapple
Sharia in courts!
Abortion extorts!
For crazy, they rank number apple

Senate tacks sweeping abortion legislation onto Sharia law bill

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

News Limerick 7/2/2013

The school district's practicing yoga
Which parents don't like one iota
"Religious indeed!
It's far from my creed.
It's making me want a Toyota."

Judge goes to mat for yoga, rules it's irreligious

Monday, July 1, 2013

There Once Was a Kingdom: To Catch a Monster

The lobster fishing vessel set sail with Sarai at the captain's side, directing him which way to guide the ship to follow the line only she could see. Every now and then, the captain would look at her out of the corner of his eye to try to catch her looking at a compass or the angle of the sun. Still, he listened to her directions and turned the rudder accordingly.

The boat was well stocked with lobster traps, rope, spare lengths of cloth to repair the sail, long oars to row in case the wind gave out, and wood to patch the boat.

Me: Do you know how lobster traps work?
Elie: I don't know.
Me: It's a kind of a wooden cage with a door that snaps shut behind the lobster once it gets inside, or rope that gets it tangled.

Ahead, the line seemed to dive and turn. "Slow down," Sarai instructed. "I think we need to turn left."

The captain turned to face her. "Are you certain? I've... I've heard stories about the seas that way. They say there's a monster that lurks beneath the waves and can eat ships larger than this whole."

He started to call to his crew, but Mandalar simply jangled the change pouch at his belt. At the sound of the coins, the captain's eyes lit up and he turned back to the wheel. "Haul in the sail, pull the line! We're off hard to port!"

They turned as fast as the ship's sails and the wind would allow. When the thin line again seemed to point straight ahead of them, Sarai nodded and said, "That's far enough."

The sails again billowed with air and they were about to ride the wind again when the sea before them began to bubble. A storm cloud gathered overhead, rippling and roiling with grays and blacks. Flashes of lighning appeared, but it was very odd for the rest of the sky remained calm. Alatar muttered some more words trying to discern the source of the clouds and bubbling sea but could find nothing he recognized.

Ripples grew to small waves and rocked them about. The captain quickly dropped the anchor as the sea erupted in a spray that doused them all.

A creature burst forth with tentacles thicker than the ropes in the rigging. It had a head towering over them with ten eyes on tall stalks waving to and fro. It opened a mouth filled with jagged teeth and said, quite clearly, "AWUUUARRGGAAAAH!"

It slapped the sea hard with its long tentacles and started to swim towards them. Alatar tried to conjure up the wind to form another wall as he had with the gargoyle but the air was too quick here and he couldn't make it stand still. Mandalar drew his sword while Tiana readied several daggers. Sarai, though, looked at the equipment on the boat itself.

"There must be a reason the line led to this boat," she thought.

Me: What do you think they might use to trap the creature or stop it?
Elie: The rope!

She grabbed an length of the rope and swung it around. It caught on the creature's eye, making it blink furiously and stop where it was for a moment. Soon, though, it cried out again and started toward them.  It struggle gave Sarai another idea, though, and she quickly grabbed a lobster cage.

Me: Is there anything she could do to the cage so it would stop the creature from seeing them?
Elie: Wrap it in cloth?

"Quickly! Cut some cloth and tie it around the cages," she yelled a the captain. He didn't argue this time but rapidly sliced a length of the sail to size and fastened it tightly. Sarai tied another length of rope to one side and swung the trap around in a circle, slowly at first but gradually gaining speed.

She released the rope at the top of one arc and the trap sailed through the air. It landed right on top of one of the eyes, ensnaring it. Seeing this, Alatar, Tiana, and Mandalar hurried back to grab more of the traps that were being bound up by the captain and crew. They launched one after another, Tiana having the best success at aiming true.

When the last eye was caught, the monster howled a let out a noise that sounded very much like, "Harumph!" It slapped the water angrily and began feeling around for the ship.

"Do you have anything large we can throw?" Sarai whispered.

The captain thought for a moment and pointed at one of the two lifeboats, little more than a rowboat swinging on the side of the ship. "I hate to lose a lifeboat but would hate to lose my ship more," he sighed.

"We need to swing it as far out as we can and cut the ropes at just the right moment," Sarai said.

They all snuck over, unloading the spare food and water to store in the hold. They all pushed the boat but it only swung out a short distance before coming back in. They pushed again harder and it got to rocking farther. They pushed one more time and it rocked back and forth in a great arc. As it swung back over the side, Mandalar sliced the ropes holding it in one wide stroke.

The dinghy sailed fifty feet before crashing into the waves. The monster squealed with glee, sounding rather like, "AWHHEEEEE!" and wiggled its way through the waves toward the craft. When it got near, it felt out tentatively until it felt the edge and then opened its mouth for a big bite.

The crunch of wood echoed over the waves, but seemed to be entirely unsatisfying to the beast. It spat out the shards and quickly began rubbing its tongue with all its tentacles at once. "WWWWAAAAAUUUUGH!" it cried, desperately trying to get every last bit out of its mouth. It sunk quickly beneath the waves again and was gone from sight.

"Let's get out of here before it decides to try again," Sarai said.

The captain needed no convincing and they put on full sail to put as much distance between them and the creature as they could.

Part of the "There Once Was a Kingdom" bedtime stories series.

There Once Was a Kingdom: Magical Menace

All the way through and down the pass they heard more of the creaking, snapping, and crackling sounds that had heralded the gargoyle's arrival. Look though they did, though, they didn't see another sign of a gargoyle all the way down.

Sarai followed the blue trail into the town. In the main square, they stopped at a small cafe for some hot apple cider to warm them up from the cold mountain pass. They ate bread, cheese, some apples and salad, and a sweet roll each to lift their spirits. Their horses were fed oats and given plenty of water to drink, too.

Thus satisfied, they start back on the path. Sarai started having more and more trouble picking it out along the road. Down one street, it stopped altogether. She backed her horse a few steps and found it again, but every time she came forward it disappeared completely.

She started to panic. Which way would they go? How would they know where to look? The others sensed her indecision.

Tiana reached over and put a hand on her shoulder. "What's wrong?" she asked quietly.

"I can't see it! It just seems to stop here," Sarai replied.

Mandalar put his hand on the hilt of his sword and slid it just barely out of its sheath. He looked quickly around but saw no threat.

Alatar got down from his horse and looked around. "There's no magic shops, witches hovels, or any other source of magic I can see from here."

He held his staff in both hands. He placed it firmly against the ground and began muttering in a language long forgotten by most.

"Alume sata inuroni tasoru..." he intoned softly, his voice falling to scarcely a whisper. For a time, his lips moved without any sound appearing to come out. When he lifted his face, his eye swirled with dancing orange lights and he looked slowly around. Then he shook his head vigorously and his eyes cleared.

"There is a powerful magic at work here but I do not know it, or where it comes from," he said after a moment. "Sarai, can you try to reach out to the genie with your thoughts? Perhaps the spell he cast links the two of you and he can hear if you ask for his help."

With the others looking on encouragingly, she closed her eyes and wrapped her arms around herself. As soon as she did, she noticed that she could still just faintly make out the blue line with her eyes closed. She quickly pressed both her hands over her eyes and could see it better.

"Quickly! Give me some cloth," she said to her companions. They handed her a length of fabric that she folded and bound over her eyes. With this blocking out most of the light, she could make out the direction they had to go. "I'll tell you which way to turn, but someone will have to lead my horse.

Mandalar took her horse's reins and tied them onto the back of his saddle. They started off again, Sarai watching for any turns in the path.

"Straight ahead here for a bit. Now it turns left! Hard left - that's right. And up ahead just a short distance back to the right..." Turning back and forth, the path led the through the town and out to the countryside beyond. As they rode along the road, the blue thread seemed to grow stronger again.

When it blazed behind her eyelids once more, Sarai pulled off the blindfold. With her eyes open, she could now see it as strongly as ever. "It's back," she sighed, "Whatever was stopping it is behind us."

Alatar looked at her closely and then back toward the town. "Whatever it was may try to come after us to interfere again. Let's move quickly."

They followed the trail down the slope of the land toward a harbor town. A great many ships were clustered in the bay, everything from large warships with a great many sails to sailboats, fishing vessels to rowboats. The path led them straight to the docks and down to one end. It turned sharply out onto the very last pier with only a single rundown looking lobster boat tethered to the end.

The captain and two crewmen were leaning back against the pier's piles, looking all scraggly and unkempt. They looked up curiously at the approaching riders.

"Captain, do you ever take passengers? We would like to ask you to take us out to see," Sarai asked.

The captain looked them over and answered, "We don't usually, but seeing as how it's not lobster season and haven't much to do... Have you any coin, perhaps?"

Mandalar opened his change pouch and pulled out several gold coins. He let these drop slowly, one after another into his other hand. Each made a satisfying clink against his metal gauntlet.

"Well, that's settled then! Welcome aboard!" the captain smiled. With that, they boarded the ship and prepared to make way.

Elie: What did they do with horses?
Me: They probably stored them in the hold under the deck with some fresh hay.

Part of the "There Once Was a Kingdom" bedtime stories series.

New Limerick 7/1/2013

The U.S. is listening in
Which some folks might say is a sin
But we can surmise
That everyone spies
And doesn't that make us all kin?

On defense for reportedly bugging EU offices, US says it gathers same threat data as allies

Sunday, June 30, 2013

There Once Was a Kingdom: A Forked Path

The companions headed back to the oasis and found the traders just preparing to head onwards. They were surprised to see Sarai coming back at all, let alone so soon.

"Well, did you find it?!" one wanted to know.

"Yes, and we got just the one piece we wanted," Sarai answered.

"One piece? But why not take more?" another asked.

"It wasn't ours to take. The genie who owns it didn't want us to have it."

"Still, you could have slipped at least a few coins, right?"

"Not even one," Sarai said, shaking her head.

The baffled merchants were nonetheless happy to have the other camels back in the caravan to help carry the spice for the rest of the journey. They spent the next several days traveling form one oasis to another.

As they traveled, Sarai was surprised to see a thin blue and green entwined line stretching out before her on the ground. It traced the exact path the merchants were following through the desert.

When they reached the far side of the desert, they unloaded all the goods and took them to the market.

Sarai and her friends found another merchant to exchange the camels for horses again, and this one was happy to make the trade. It was clear the camels were find beasts but he understood wanting horses for the plains beyond.

After resettling their packs on the new mounts Alatar looked to Sarai. "Which way now?"

She looked for the line and found it leading out of the town. "This way, I think. The genie's gift is helping me see the way."

At the edge of town where the road forked, she stopped short. The line split, with the blue trailing off one way and the green following a different path. She described what she was seeing to her companions.

"But isn't there just one item left to find?" asked Mandalar.

Elie: There's the castle.
Me: Anything else?
Elie: The throne, too!

"Well then - two more places to go," Tiana said. "Which way is which?"

Alatar scratched his beard thoughtfully but had no answer. Mandalar shrugged, and Tiana slowly shook her head.

Elie: The blue one.
Me: You think that's where the throne is to be found?
Elie: Yes

So they set off to follow the blue trail. As they rode, they saw a mountain range looming in the distance. It was clear their road was leading to a pass between two high peaks. The farther up the slopes they went, the chillier it became. Soon they were even seeing patches of frost and ice on the ground.

At the pass itself, the two mountains formed a ravine through which the road twisted. They slowed their horses to a walk and started through.

Behind them came the sound of creaking and crackling of rocks, as if small pebbles had fallen and knocked larger stones along with them. When they looked back, though, what they saw instead was a creature who looked made of all stone.

Its face was like that of a dog with ears of a fox. It had a long whip-like tail swaying easily behind it. Two wings stretched from behind its shoulders, and on the end of its arms were hands with long claws.

"What is your purpose here?" Mandalar demanded.

"My purpose? What is yours?" the creature spoke, its voice like grinding stone. "Just where do you think you're going?"

Elie: We're off to help unite the whole country.

"Why go through all that bother? The people love squabbling so much, why not leave well enough alone?" it asked, a sly smile spreading around its face. "No one really wants to go back to the way things were, you know. There is much more that can be accomplished now that people don't have to all work together if they don't want to, you know."

"That's not true!" Sarai shouted. "And it's not a nice way to live at all. We can do so much more together."

"Begone, fowl gargoyle!" Alatar shouted. He waved his hands quickly and a wall of air appeared between them and the beast, shimmering and weaving back and forth.

The gargoyle hissed and spat. "You may think that's a good thing, but remember that us gargoyles like how it is now and don't want to let you change it."

With that, it flapped its wings and flew off toward the peaks. The companions hurried through the rest of the pass and down to a village below.

Me: We'll hear about their next obstacle tomorrow.
Elie: Well, why do they gargoyles like how things are?
Me: Hard to say, maybe it gives them energy and strength somehow. Perhaps they think it's like a show and they like to watch. Maybe we'll find out more in another part of the story.

Part of the "There Once Was a Kingdom" bedtime stories series.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

There Once Was a Kingdom: Just Desert

As Sarai left the plains and forest kingdoms, the forest king told them of a town near the edge of the desert. There, he said, they should exchange their horses for something better suited for desert travel.

Me: Do you know an animal that's good for traveling in the desert?
Elie: I don't know.
Me: A camel! And there are two types - dromedary with one hump and bactrian with two. Which should they take?
Elie: Dromedary, I think.

They got to the town and found a merchant.

"We'd like to trade our horses for some camels," Sarai told him.

When the man looked at their fine horses, though, he saw how powerful they looked. Why would they want to trade such fine beasts for camels, he wondered. Perhaps there is something wrong with them.

"Your horses are obviously tired and growing weak," he said dismissively. "It will cost you much more than that to get these four fine camels."

Me: What did Sarai answer?
Elie: They're strong, and very good.

"Then why are you looking for camels?" the merchant wanted to know.

Elie: We want to cross the desert, said Tiana.
Me: Oh, Tiana said that, did she?

Well, the merchant smiled. "You know, I have a caravan of traders who will be leaving tomorrow with a load of spices to trade for silks on the far side of the desert. If you carry some of the spices on your camels, then, I'll be happy to trade."

They agreed and moved all their packs over to their new camels. The caravan set out early the next morning. They rode over the sand dunes for some time. Each wore a scarf wrapped tightly around their head and face to keep the sand out. Only a thin slit stayed open for their eyes.

After a time, they came to an oasis in the desert. It was the only fresh water for miles around so they stopped to refill their canteens. While they were stopped, Sarai asked them about the treasure trove rumored to be hidden in the desert. The traders grew very quiet and wide eyed.

"We've heard of it, yes, but no one who's every gone looking for it has come back with anything," one finally said. "Some don't come back at all."

"It's guarded by a powerful genie who won't let anyone in," added another.

Elie: We're not afraid!

So the traders pointed them in the direction they believed the treasure was hidden. Off rode Sarai with her companions on their camels.

Elie: Did they fill up their camels like a gas tank?
Me: The camel's hump is kind of like a gas tank, but it doesn't have a place to just pour stuff in. Do you know what it's made of?
Elie: Food and water?
Me: That's right- and the camels had plenty to spare.

Just over the fifth dune they saw a stone archway set down in the sand. A desert breeze swept away some of the sand as they approached.

All of a sudden, a blue and green mist began swirling up from the ground. It billowed larger and taller, soon as large as a tall tree. It whirled around in a slow circle, a slow tornado of color. The mist began to clear at the top and they found themselves staring at a genie large enough to hold them all in his hands.

From the waist up, he looked like a man with a broad chest, long thick arms, neck and head. But instead of legs he had the swirl of mist still spinning about. His brow furrowed as he looked down at them.

"Just what do you think you're doing here," the genie bellowed.

Sarai smiled at him. "We're not here for your treasure," she said reassuringly. "We just want the old king's scepter. Do you happen to have it? We've already gotten his crown from the goblin king."

The genie smiled and shrunk down to just her size. He reached over and fondly honked her nose. "I knew that already, but it's so good to hear you say it! So many people just want to take all the treasure, or at least as much as they think they can carry out without my noticing."

"Before I let you in, would you mind if I cast a helping spell on you? Just a little something to assist you as you go," the genie asked.

Elie: Sure!

The genie waved his hands slowly in circles, gradually reaching toward Sarai. As he did, his hands turned pale, even patchy. Soon they became mist again and he held them toward her eyes. Some of the mist flowed in and her eyes glowed briefly.

"There! Now, you can see that which you seek even better. You path will be always visible to you," the genie told her.

As she looked around, she found she could now see the smallest grain of sand on the next dune, and even the one beyond that. On the door to the treasure itself, she could now see the lock and, in seeing it so well, knew just how too open it. She opened the door and started inside.

The genie called after her, "Remember, take nothing but the scepter!"

She entered a large room filled with golden coins, polished gems, fine crowns and jewelry, and more. Everywhere she looked, there were glitters and sparkles in the dim light. But she walked carefully around these looking for anything that looked like what Alatar had described as the scepter so many days ago.

A thin line seemed to appear in the air, almost like a thread in blues and greens. It lead her to the corner under a table. There, beside a wooden crate stuffed with beads and under folded tapestry lay a black iron scepter. It looked nothing like all the riches and finery in the room.

Still, Sarai knew that this was just what she was looking for. It was even heavier than it looked at first sight but she was able to carry it in both arms. She carefully walked back around the other piles scattered throughout the cavern.

Emerging back into the glaring sunlight, she found the genie watching for her. "Good - you have only the scepter," he beamed. "I knew you could do it - something about your smile told me so. Had you taken even one other coin, I would have to imprison you forever in the cavern, transforming you to treasure as well. That's what most of it is, you know. Overeager explorers who wanted only wealth. Sometimes true riches are not to be found in gold or silver, you know."

With that, he honked her nose again and whirled down to a faint mist by the door as it creaked closed.

Part of the "There Once Was a Kingdom" bedtime stories series.

Friday, June 28, 2013

There Once Was a Kingdom: Food for the Forest

The foothills of the mountains gave was to easily rolling hills as they rode on. Soon, the companions found themselves riding though the plains, with a few hills still scattered off to one side or another.

They heard a sound like gathering thunder off to one side. This was rather odd, though, as there were so few clouds in the bright sky. As they stopped to wonder at it, they saw first a cloud of dust off to one side followed by row upon row of horses with heavily armed riders.

The riders all wore helms with giant plumes. Some carried banners, others trumpets, and most had swords or spears at the ready. As the riders approached, Sarai and her friends slowed to a halt. Not far from, the riders stopped, too, and one rode forward.

"What business have you here?" he inquired gruffly.

"We're on our way to the desert, just passing through," Sarai answered. "And how about you?"

The rider seemed somewhat surprised at the question. "We're off to defend our kingdom," he replied. "They used to trade with us, but for quite some time now they've been looting our food stores. Though we have plenty to share and sell, they're no longer interested in trade. What's worse is that they won't sell us the wood from their forests, either. We used to use it in the smokehouses to cure meat, as well as to warm our fires in the winter."

Mandalar frowned, "But how did it start? Why did the trading stop?"

"I'm afraid I don't know - but it must be that they decided they just didn't want to pay a just and fair amount for the food," replied the rider. "And that's when we had to start taking to wood without payment. No reason to try to trade with someone who's stealing from you, after all."

Everyone sat for a moment, until Sarai remembered the goblin king and how he had helped the dwarves and goblins to get along. She looked up with a smile, "So you're saying they don't want to trade anymore?"

"That's right," he said, "and there's no help for it."

"And you would rather go back to peaceful trade than continue this war?" she askeed.

The rider looked back over his soldier at the horsemen gathered. "I've lost too many friends already. If I could end this, I would."

"Suppose, though, just suppose that they did want to trade and would prefer peace to war, as you do. Would you work with them?"

The man nearly fell from his horse with laughter. "And supppose the sun were to rise purple in the north." He paused to wipe a few tears from his eyes and grew serious. "Yes, clever girl, if they prefer to talk rather than fight then we would be happy to oblige."

"Then let us go talk to them and see what we can do," Sarai offered.

A shadow passed over the rider's face as he said, "It won't do any good, and I must see to the defense of our kingdom. But still, your wit might just amuse them enough to try..." He paused to sigh. "Very well. I give you two hours. If you've not returned by then with news, or returned at all, we ride on to the border to take the wood we need."

Sarai exchanged a glance with her companions, and then they swiftly rode off as fast as their horses could run. The horses' breath grew heavy and labored before they finally neared a castle with archers and spearmen lining all the walls. A thick moat surrounded it filled with water, and only one drawbridge lay across.

"Halt! Identify yourselves!" commanded a guard by the gate.

Me: Did Sarai tell him right away or did she try to be crafty?
Elie: She told him right away.

"I'm Sarai, and we want to talk to your king about stopping this fight," she answered. "May we see him?"

The guards looked them over for a moment. "Leave any weapons you have here and you may enter."

Sarai immediately handed him the long dagger she carried. Mandalar took his sword and gently handed it to the guards. "Keep it safe," he said, "for that is no ordinary knight's sword."

To the amazement of the guards, Tiana quickly removed forty seven daggers from all over her armor and put them in a sack. She gave a sideways glance to Sarai who nodded. Then, with a sigh, Tiana took three more well hidden ones and added them, too. The stunned guard took the sack and placed it along with the other weapons.

They dismounted their horses and followed another guard to the king's court. He looked at them sternly and asked, "Are you spies? Are you hear to learn about our defenses from theh inside and report back?"

"No! And you haven't much time to end this war before a great many horsemen attack," Sarai shouted. "Would you rather fight or do you prefer to trade peacfully with your neighbors?"

The king shook his head. "Of course I would rather trade without incident. Too much is lost in war. But they asked for too much for the food we need so we had to take it or our people would starve. Then they attacked and stole the wood so we had even less to trade. Now there's no reasoning with them"

"You can reason with them! They want to trade, too, and I'm sure they'd be willing to talk about a fair price if you're willing to listen. Maybe they had a bad harvest and food was scarce for them, too. Perhaps they had a fire and lost much," Sarai said.

The king regarded her for a moment. "And you're sure they would rather trade than fight?"

"She speaks the truth," said Alatar, and everyone knows that a wizard's word is good. At least when he speaks so plainly, that is.

"Quickly! You only have a half an hour before they cross the border!" Sarai urged.

The king lept to his feet. "Then there's not a moment to lose! Guards, gather as many wagons loaded with timber as you can. We ride as soon as they are ready."

Minutes later, they set out from the castle with a dozen or more wagons. There were only a few guards to ride along with them to show they did not intend to fight. They rode hard, arriving at the border at the same moment as the riders came into view at full speed.

However, when the horsemen saw the wood, they slowed and stopped. The same rider came forward.

"What is this?!" His eyes were wide as he stopped before them.

The king rode forward. "A gesture of good faith. Let us stop this fight. I'm sure there's a good reason you wanted us to pay more for the food, but we just don't have the money. Perhaps we can work out something else?"

The rider nodded, "Rats ate a good deal of our foodstores and so we had less for us, too. But we didn't expect it to lead to war. I'm sorry it got to this point."

"And I, too," replied the king.

The horseman called for his men to bring forward all the food from their caravan that they could to give to the foresters. The horseman and king talked for awhile and arrived at a new deal to trade the one for the other in the future.

"I haven't let many know, but I am actually our king's brother and can make bargains in his name," explained the rider. "We'll work together, now, and be sure to talk about anything that changes instead of being so quick to fight."

They all thanked Sarai and her companions, sending them on their way and promising to remember them.

Part of the "There Once Was a Kingdom" bedtime stories series.

News Limerick 6/28/2013

The Trekker invented by Google
Will help those who act rather frugal
They'll see all the sights
With none of the flights
To try to avoid it is futile

Google loans out Street View Trekker for global exploration

Thursday, June 27, 2013

There Once Was a Kingdom: The King's Crown

After he had finished telling them how he came the goblin king, he paused and looked them over. "You did mention you were interested in the old king's crown," he mused, learning back with his arms crossed. "Why do you want to know about it?"

Sarai quickly told him of her quest and all that had happened since they left the farm. His eyes grew wide as he looked each of them over. He could tell by Mandalar's armor, the crest on his shield, and his ornate sword that he was no ordinary knight. Alatar nodded in agreement throughout, and Tiana quietly smiled.

"Saved a village? Rescued a king? And freed... how many prisoners?!" The goblin king's eyes grew wide in amazement. "And now you want the old king's symbols to try to help bring peace to the whole of the land. Well, if it weren't so utterly unbelievable it couldn't be true. I mean if it didn't seem so unlikely then it would be false. Or anything so incredible must not be a lie. I think... I've gotten myself confused."

As he put a hand to his head to stop it spinning, the wizard kindly placed a hand on his shoulder. "I scarcely believe it myself," he murmured, "and I was there."

At this reassurance, the goblin king brightened and sat up. "Well! It's settled then," he said cheerily. "You shall have the crown - but first I'll tell you how we came by it."

"You see, not long after the dwarves and goblins began mining together we came across a series of underground lakes and rivers running right through the mountains. In one of the largest and most beautiful caverns, a scouting dwarf saw something poking up through the water that he though must be a vein of gold. When he returned with goblins and more dwarves to investigate, however, they were surprised to find it was merely an old, dull crown.

"They pulled it up and brought it to me to decide what to do with it. Of course, having traveled and heard all the old stories I recognized it immediately. The goblins had no use for it, but were happy to polish it up. The dwarves agreed it was much too precious to sell and insisted we close off the caverns with the doors you had to pass through, just to keep it safe, you see."

At this, he reached behind him and pulled forth a simple wooden box. Lifting the lid, he revealed the ornately carved, yet unadorned, crown of the king.

"Here," he said gravely, "it is now yours. Use it well!"

"Thank you for trusting it to us," Sarai beamed. "Now, do you know anything about the scepter or the throne? We have to find those, too."

After a moment's thought, the goblin king replied, "I do recall a story I heard long ago of a desert some ways from here. There is said to be a treasure trove buried there, and the scepter may well be hidden in its midst."

They soon said their goodbyes and prepared to leave the mountains for the desert. Once out of the caves, they mounted their horses grazing idly by the chill mountain stream and rode off in the direction the goblin king directed.

Elie: Were they holding those... things?
Me: The reins? Yes, they were.
Elie: And did the all put on helmets to be safe?
Me: Certainly! Wouldn't want to get hurt horseback riding, of course.

Part of the "There Once Was a Kingdom" bedtime stories series.

News Limerick 6/27/2013

With lemurs, you can't turn your back
Or else they may quickly attack
They'll steal all your food
But not to be rude
It's just that they wanted a snack

Lemurs' group size predicts social intelligence

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

News Limerick 6/26/2013

She spoke for ten hours alone
Objections against her were thrown
Her tactics still worked
And Perry's now irked
The fate of the bill is not known

Texas Vote Passing Abortion Bill Is Rendered Moot

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

There Once Was a Kingdom: The Goblin King's Story

They sat precariously on the tiny chairs. The goblin king leaned back against the child-sized table and grinned. "You'd like to know how a man like me got to be king of the goblins? A rather strange story, that, but I'll happily tell it," he said softly, his voice almost musical in his small chambers.

"You see, I wasn't always the goblin king. I was one a traveller, buying goods from one town and selling them in the next. When there was nothing to buy or sell, I made my way performing with song or dance, learning more of each as I went, too.

"Some years ago, I happened by these mountains when a terrible rainstorm struck. I tried to take shelter under the trees, but it was such a gale that I was soon soaked through even under the thickest branches. It was then that I spied the cave leading into the mountain and raced for its shelter.

"In those days, they hadn't yet built the door so I walked right in. I soon found myself in their town, welcomed warmly by the friendly folk here.

"You see, just as I haven't always been the goblin king, the goblins haven't always had a king at all. They lived together in harmony, each working as the could for the good of all and sharing happily together. When I offered to buy or sell, the looked at me as if I had two heads. I offered to pay my way with a performance but they smiled and shook their heads.

"They told me, 'Song and dance are wonderful, indeed, but there is no need for payment. Instead, there may be something you can help us with, if you would be so kind?'

"Then the told me of their mines throughout the mountain and how they dug up some of the gold and gems within to make statues, mosaics, and other fine works of art. Lately, however, a colony of dwarves have moved in to the other side of the mountain and reached the same areas the goblins favored. When the dwarves arrived, they demanded the goblins leave the riches to them. Hating any form of confrontation, the goblins sadly retreated from first one and then another rich vein under the mountain.

"The same day I arrived, however, the dwarves had worked their way down to the very heart of the mountain where the most beautiful and varied collections of gems was to be found. As ever, the goblins had left it to the dwarven invaders but they were all sad at the loss. Perhaps I could possibly consider that maybe I would be willing to think about going down and speaking with the dwarves, inquiring if the goblins might have a chance to ask to come back from time to time to share the mine.

"I was more than happy to oblige and they showed me the tunnels to take. When I arrived, a dozen dwarves were hard at work with their pickaxes and wheelbarrows, carting away great loads of the precious stones.

"I cleared my throat and spoke, 'This is quite a lovely mine you're working, and with such skill too!' They looked at me and I got a good look at their faces in the torchlight. They looked surly and mean spirited, every one. From their furrowed brows to their pouting lower lips, their heavy thick beards to their potbellies, their broad hands to their large feet. Every one of them appeared on the verge of flying into a rage at anything that displeased them.

"The largest one, his head scarcely up to my chest spoke first, 'Yeah? And what's it to you?'

"'Have you worked here long, sir?' I asked politely.

"They exchanged quick glances before they replied, 'Eh, only a bit. Them goblins got it nice and started for us and now we're here to do the job right.'

"I brightened at the opening, 'Oh! So the goblins said. They were hoping to come back to mine a bit, too.'

"The dwarves laughed then, deep belly laughs that started in their guts and vibrated their way out to their arms and legs in great bubbling waves. 'Those goblins want to come back?!' one gasped when he regained his breath. 'They wouldn't know the point end of a pickaxe if you were to poke them in the bum with it! We're the only ones who truly know how to work a rich vein like this one.

"A spark of an idea came to my mind then. 'Oh, you think so? Perhaps you might be willing to show them in a sort of a challenge? Let's take that one wall there divide it down the middle and decide with a coin flip - yes one of those nice golden coins will do - who gets each side. Then, the winner gets to decide who gets to mine where and when down here in this mountain. What do you say?'

"If I thought they had laughed before I was mistaken. The cave itself began bouncing like a bowl of jelly from their howls and squeals and I was clean knocked off my feet, as were they. 'You just bring them right down and we'll show them how it's done!' they chortled.

"I raced back up the tunnels and told the goblins about the challenge. Their bright eyes lit up and they quickly ushered me into a small workshop. 'This is perfect!' one said. 'We've been working on this super mine whizbanger and just put on the final touches yesterday.'

"It was quite the contraption. It had picks on a wheel in front, shovels underneath, spikes to poke out the hardest rocks coming out all directions, and conveyer belts to drop the stones into an assortment of buckets and baskets. The whole of it was covered with gears and pulleys and twisted ropes with levers and handles for the goblins to make it work.

"We got that whizbanger loaded up and covered with a blanket, so as not to spoil the surprise. When we got back down, the dwarves were leaning back idly in the corner. We flipped a coin and picked sides. I raised my hands and said, 'Ready, set, go!'

"Off came the blanket with a whoosh of air and the goblins set to twisting and turning and pushing and prodding and lifting and pulling like you've never seen.  The dwarves were speechless, a few halfheartedly lifting their axes, but most were transfixed. One got in a couple of good blows on the wall before he missed and hit his foot instead. He yelped and just about hit the roof, I'll tell you!

"Well, in no time at all the goblins were done and had a beautiful pile of fine gems all ready to transport. The dwarves hadn't even gotten one free. Now, there's about two ways the dwarves could have felt. Do you think they were happy or mad?"

Elie: Happy!

"You'd be right, they were just about as happy a bee with a bowlful of honey. 'We got it all wrong,' said the largest one. 'You goblins really know what you're about! Would you maybe show us some of what you know and help us build one of them whizpoppers too?'

"From that day on, the dwarves and goblins have worked together happily down in the mines. The goblins plan it all out so no one vein is mined too deep or too fast and the dwarves handle all the trade to bring in better parts for more goblin inventions. The goblins were so happy they decided to crown me king just so I could have an official title if we were ever to need to deal with another group of folks again.

"But you wanted to know about the old king's crown, didn't you? I guess we'll just have to save that for next time."

Part of the "There Once Was a Kingdom" bedtime stories series.

There Once Was a Kingdom: The Goblin Keep

The door swung open and Sarai stepped through followed by the others. On the other side of the door, a small stair led up to a platform by the panel. A short goblin was waddling down the steps, peering at the visitors with keen interest. He was no taller than Sarai's waist, but wore a metal helmet with a tall spike on top to try to make himself appear taller. It didn't help much.

Me: What do you think he was wearing?
Elie: Pants, a belt, and a shirt!

He wore short trousers held up by a belt almost as wide as they were tall. Above this, his shirt came just over his shoulders into short sleeves that exposed his thin green arms. He had two long, pointed ears, the tufts of which sprouted wispy hairs out to the sides. His face was mostly eyes and mouth, sporting a broad grin.

"Don't often get visitors around here," he said, his high-pitched voice ringing in the small corridor. "Glad to see a friendly face."

"We're hoping to meet the goblin king," Sarai repeated. "We hear he has the old king's crown...?"

"Well, I've heard so too, though I've never really seen it," the goblin sighed. "I'd lead you down to the Keep myself but I've been up here on guard duty so long I've rather forgotten the way."

With that, the small goblin grasped a tall pole, easily more than twice his height, with a hook on the top.

Elie: Why did he get a tall pole?
Me: To help reach things up high - he's rather short, you know.

This he used to help pull a latch to close the wooden door behind them and he went back to peering through a peephole at the empty tunnel beyond.

Sarai, Alatar, Mandalar, and Tiana walked easily down the sloping corridor, finding it grew more chilly and damp as they went. The tunnel seemed to go on endlessly and they were sure they must have reached the heart of the mountain by now. Their legs ached from walking so they stopped to rest.

Mandalar, hot in his heavy suit of armor, tried to lean back against the rock wall, but as his lifted his elbow to rest it on a large crag, he fell straight through what appeared to be solid stone.

"An illusion!" Alatar exclaimed. Tiana drew her daggers quickly and leapt through after him. Alatar and Sarai quickly followed.

On the other side of the wall, though, they found no enemies. They were standing on a wooden path fixed against the wall of an enormous cavern. It extended up so high that they couldn't make out the ceiling for all their straining. The cavern was deep, as well, and the lower tiers were lost to view.

All around the edge of the cavern were level after level of wooden walkways, fronting on shops, houses,  and large open areas. Bridges spanned across at odd intervals and goblins could be seen going about their lives all around. Some were sitting down for lunch at open air cafes, others enjoying a life juggling and tumbling performance up to one side. On the other, a class was in session with students learning goblin history. Across from Sarai and her friends, a parade of goblins with pickaxes and shovels on their shoulders were off on their way to work in the mines.

The adventurers stared in amazement at the town, their mouths forming perfect Os as their jaws dropped at the sheer immensity of the goblin keep.

Each of these goblins was no more than three feet high, and most were shorter than that. One young goblin looked up at the newcomers and squealed, "Look mommy! Giants!"

All the bustle and noise of the town screeched to a halt. A thousand pairs of eyes turned and faced them from a thousand stock still faces, each a mask of surprise.

"Hi!" the young Goblin blurted out.

Me: What do you think Sarai said?
Elie: "Hi!"

"What's your name?" the goblin asked.

Elie: "I'm Sarai. Who're you?"

"I'm Gerta," the young goblin bashfully replied. "What're you doing here?"

Elie: "We're looking for the goblin king!"

"Oh - you probably want to talk to them," Gerta answered, pointing at two guards near the entrance.

Sarai turned to the guards who looked her and her companions over. "Well, do you want to take the quick way down or the long way?" one asked after a careful inspection.

Elie: "Oooh! The quick way!"

The goblin grinned, "I was hoping you'd say that!" And before they knew it, the goblins had grabbed nearby ropes, tying one each fast around their waists.

"Have a nice day!" the other goblin called as they flung Sarai, Alatar, Tiana and Mandalar over the railing. The ropes looped through pulleys and hooks high out of view and they found themselves falling quickly through the open air, narrowly missing bridges and wooden beams and they sailed down. A cheer rose from several goblins they zipped past and Sarai grinned at the rushing air. Alatar appeared a bit queasy and held onto his staff extra tight. Tiana was quite at ease, of course, and Mandalar - well, he still had his helmet on so it was difficult to tell.

As they neared the bottom, the ropes grew tight and slowed them down to a gentle pace.

Elie: Was it soft at the bottom?
Me: Of course! They had a pile of mattresses and pillows for them to land on.

When they untied the ropes, several goblins at the bottom directed them into the goblin king's chambers. Down the narrow passage they went and into king's chambers. What they found was perhaps the greatest surprise of all.

Unlike all the goblins they had seen outside, the king was about the height of Tiana. His ears were small, not pointed, and his skin wasn't green either. In fact, he didn't look very much like a goblin at all. He looked more like a person!

"Ummm, how do you do?" Tiana asked hesitantly.

The goblin king looked up from a low table he was hunched over, almost as startled to see them as they were to see him. He quickly regained his composure, however, and smiled warmly. "Let's skip all the pleasantries, shall we?" he suggested. "You're probably wondering how me, a not so goblin looking guy, got to be the king of the goblins. Well, it rather surprised me too, but it's a bit of a long story. Perhaps we should all sit down?"

And so they did, squatting uneasily on chairs rather too small for them.

Elie: But why didn't he look like a goblin?
Me: That's the Goblin King's story, and we'll hear that next time.

Part of the "There Once Was a Kingdom" bedtime stories series.