435: Model Behavior

on March 16, 2010 in Book 15

In Which Mackenzie Ponders Multiplication Problems

“Today’s lesson represents a bit of a departure from my usual syllabus,” Hart said. He started pulling miniature goblin soldiers out of a box sitting on his chair as Steff and I took our seats. “The inspiration came to me from a new game that’s popular with the Rampant Badgers… it’s a fantasy game, or at least an ahistorical one, but it put me in mind of historical reenactments. ”

“Wait… I thought class didn’t start for another couple of minutes,” Keri La Belle said from her seat in the front row.

“It doesn’t,” Professor Hart replied. “Today’s lesson involved a lot of set-up, though, so I got here early.”

“But why are you talking to us if class hasn’t started yet?” she asked.

“You don’t have to pay attention until then,” he said, placing a few more goblins and then adjusting their positions.

“How do I know when I have to start paying attention?”

“When class starts,” Hart said, continuing to pull out more goblins and placing them on the relief map.

“How do I know when that is, then?” La Belle asked.

“How do you normally know?”

“When you come in and start talking,” she said. “That’s why it’s not fair for you to do that before class starts. Because then how are we supposed to know when class actually begins?”

“For point of reference, assume it starts now,” he said. He stopped placing goblins on the desk… they now outnumbered the red-clad soldiers by more than two-to-one… and gestured for the guys who were crowded around his desk to take their seats.

“But what if someone’s not…”

“If they’re not paying attention, that’s their own fault,” he said. “Now…”

“But you said…”

“Class has begun, Ms. La Belle,” Hart said. “Kindly keep your mouth in the closed position until you’ve figured out what the discussion topic is and have something to contribute on it.”

“It’s war, right?”

“Yes, war,” he said. “When you look at the history of a family, a lineage, you’re talking about a series of marriages and births, mostly. The ‘begats’, to use a classical term. Individuals contribute other accomplishments to the family legacy, but with rare exceptions we don’t divide our family history up into epochs based on when Uncle Mortimer perfected his barbecue sauce. The most compact timelines list nothing more than births, marriages, and deaths.”

For once, I hoped that La Belle would interrupt the class with an irrelevant side-note… from what I could tell, her family did mark its history from the deeds of one ancestor. I would have loved to get more detail or even just confirmation from a stray remark, but Keri appeared to have spent her annoyance charges already. She remained perversely silent.

“But when you talk about the history of a larger people, what you end up talking about most is the wars,” Hart continued. “Advances in culture, art, transportation, crafting… these things are important, yes. We characterize periods by them. But what defines those periods? How do we tell when one ends and another begins? If there’s a war, it’s easy… if there isn’t, there might not be any clear consensus on when exactly something rose or fell.”

He paused to finish laying out the goblin troops. With the caped centurions squaring off against goblins rather than human rebels, it was more apparent that he was looking backwards a bit from the time period we’d been dealing with, back before Magisterion had even arrived in the westering world.

It was an interesting choice, because Hart had bristled at administration requirements to teach material that he saw as outside the stated scope of his class. The decades leading up to the foundation of the Imperial Republic were important background for Early Republican History, but that’s what he’d always treated it as: background. The idea that he’d suddenly break out visual aids to illustrate a fight that had happened long before there was any talk of republic was a little odd.

“So, getting back to the point… a rapidly growing town conquers some of its neighbors in order to feed its expansion… a city begets a city-state,” he said. “Further conquest becomes necessary to secure resources and trade routes, as well as defense. City-state begets an empire, the empire begets colonies, and in some occasions, the colonies eventually beget their own empires. Ms. Carter, is my metaphor too sexual for your tastes?”

“Uh, no, sir,” she replied. “Too martial. What about diplomacy? Most alliances are entered into voluntarily, trade routes can be secured by treaties, weaker neighbors can choose to be absorbed by a stronger one to gain the benefits of its power… colonies can be granted independence after growing into a self-governing state. It doesn’t always have to be war.”

“You have a point, Ms. Carter,” Hart said. “But the hand of war can be felt in those interactions even when it’s not seen. War is costly and disruptive to the point that it can bring about the end of an era. The avoidance of war is a powerful motivator for weaker states and an attractive incentive for strong ones. Any negotiation between distant powers is going to be tinged by the knowledge of who is likely to win if the matter comes to blows. Any consideration made by a neighbor about the benefits of voluntary annexation is going to give weight to the cost of resistance.”

“I’ll grant that this is a useful filter for viewing history,” Carter said. “But I don’t think it’s the only one. War isn’t some elemental force that shapes everything. If anything, it’s the other way around. There are pressures… social, economic, political, cultural pressures… that cause wars.”

“Sure,” Hart said. “And marriages and births don’t just happen, either. They’re a natural culmination of a lot of other, smaller events. But they’re what gets recorded in the Family Librum and, as single events go, they have a disproportionately large impact on everything that follows them. In a way, talking about them is a way of talking about all those other, smaller events.

“History is, broadly speaking, the study of what came before. But it can’t be the study of everything that happened, for three reasons: one, not everything that’s ever happened is equally significant. Something that doesn’t have much impact on what comes next is not going to be anything more than trivia, if we even know about it at all. That brings me to point two: we don’t know and will never know all of what happened. Finally, even if we did, it would take as long to recount it as it did to happen. So when we look at history, what we are looking at is a scale model of the past: it’s reduced in size to something easier to handle, some details are lost while others become more prominent.”

He held up one of the scarlet-clad soldiers, armed with a tiny spear thing.

“Like this,” he said. “This figure stands for a pikeman… several of them, in fact… who fought under General Clayborn in the first Battle of Seven Hills, during the first Dwarf and Goblin War. All of the foot soldiers who fought in the actual Battle of Seven Hills were individuals with faces and lives . Most of them had names. We know who some of them were, in general terms. We have a few letters, at least one surviving diary. These are important primary sources. They help give us a picture of the world in which the battle took place.

“If we wanted another ‘filter’ to look through besides war, we could go personal. We could say with some certainty that this might have been one Antony Kearns, whose letters to his wife are one of the most frequently-narrated pieces of historical correspondence from the pre-Republican era. We know that he was at Seven Hills, though we don’t have his account of it… which means we don’t have even the smallest idea where he was positioned. Dwarven historians gave us extremely accurate charts of the human and goblin troop positions, but they neglected to identify which of them was the one who would eventually become noted for the correspondence he left for posterity.

“Similarly, we know that Mr. Kearns lived much of his life before his military career in Dunmere Keep, and thanks to him we have some idea what a typical day for a merchant’s son living in Dunmere was like. We don’t know enough about him to write a definitive biography… the story of his life… but we have something like the story of a typical day in his life.

“But a typical day in the life of Antony Kearns of Dunmere Keep, as fascinating as it is as part of the historical record, pales in significance in comparison to this day,” Hart said, gesturing at the desktop display with the figurine still in his hand. “This day, more than two decades before the first skirmish of what we now call Magisterion’s War, when the fight was not yet Republican versus Imperial, colonial versus colonizers… Antony Kearns was born on the other side of the ocean. The son of a loyal subject of the Unnamable One, had always counted himself such a subject. He was no militiaman… he served in the scarlet capes in his father’s stead. Antony was a young man when he fought the goblins. He was nearing forty when revolution broke out. So, what changed?

“We know almost nothing about his life in between those two points, for the simple reason that he didn’t have anyone to write to about it. He fought for the Old Empire in one war and against it in the next, serving with distinction under General Clayborn in one and against him in the other. We have some ideas as to how this came to be, we can make some broad inferences as to the rest based on what we know about the merchant class and how their grievances helped lead to the revolution,” Hart said. He put the figure down, back on the battlefield with the other pikemen. “But at this point, we’re moving away from history and into the realm of storytelling… taking what we know about an era and making up something that might have happened to an individual. The personal view is one way of looking at things, but it has its limits. History is found more often in the aggregate, in big mass movements involving lots of people… and what do you call it when you’ve got a great big mass of people all marching in the same direction?”

“A parade?” La Belle guessed.

“An army,” Hart said.

“Armies have parades. Don’t they?”

“So here we go,” he said, ignoring her. “The Battle of Seven Hils. Background: two legions, under General Clayborn, were sent into the northwest in order to help put down a goblin warband that had been massing in the region. Imperial forces were completely unprepared for the scope of the threat, as they had all but exterminated the goblins in that region less than one generation ago… one human generation. Here again you see the human inexperience with goblinoids rearing its face. Human-style reproduction can’t produce an army from a devastated population in a quarter of a century. With goblins, though, there’s no such thing as ‘almost exterminated’. If they don’t care about social niceties, education, or the survival of the mother, the population can increase tenfold in ten years.

“The goblin warriors weren’t much like the armored soldiers you see here,” Hart said, gesturing at the figurines. “Their weapons would have been cruder, their armor practically non-existent. This isn’t to say they weren’t dangerous… they were born and reared for one reason only, to fight. Their lives meant nothing to them, so death meant nothing. Their elders, the survivors of the earlier massacres, were prepared to raise a whole new generation up after them, once the threat to their survival had been dealt with.

“Here is where the goblin unfamiliarity with humans came into play. The goblins had dealt with invaders before, but they had never dealt with anything on the scale of the empire before. They had never fought a foe they couldn’t outlast with a massive band like the one they’d raised. They couldn’t conceive of armies like those of the empire, they couldn’t imagine a foe with the means and the will to carry men and material from half a world away… soldiers birthed from the womb of the empire in equal numbers to those they’d spawned.”

His whole reel about goblins sounded at least borderline offensive… I really wasn’t sure that “spawn” was the right word, given that goblinoids had sex and carried their young in much the same way that mammals did, however much the messier details differed. I also thought he was probably oversimplifying the math… from what I understood about goblin reproduction, the upper limit on multiple births wasn’t firm but was restricted by practicalities. Even dispensing with the safety of the mother it didn’t seem likely that they could get twenty or so surviving children in a brood, which is what it would take to get a tenfold increase with each mother giving birth only once.

On the other hand, if he didn’t mean each woman carrying a fatally large litter to term every time, just showing no particular regard for their health and breeding as often as possible. That could probably mean triplets or quadruplets, maybe as often as once a year. That still didn’t work out to a tenfold increase in ten years… if anything, it could be much higher. I supposed that the number of times a goblin could reproduce and survive on average would also have some impact.

It was possible that I was simply overthinking what was a convenient phrase meaning “the goblins built up their population really quickly”. A tenfold increase over a decade was doubtlessly possible, but it seemed unlikely that anybody had done an exact survey of the goblins to the northwest of the colonies before the build-up or after it.

“I’ve placed miniatures on the battlefield to represent the placement of groups of men and goblins,” Hart said. “If each human figure represents, say, about five warriors, then each goblin on the board represents fifty. The human soldiers are a detachment of the Nineteenth Legion. Though this was one of the most important engagements of what we call the Dwarf and Goblin Wars, at this point the dwarves were detached observers. They only got into the fight when the goblins entered into an alliance with kobolds. Most other engagements would also have included a number of militia men… I chose this battle in particular because it involved fewer distinct armies than most important fights from this general era. But for the Battle at Seven Hills, Clayborn took what he thought would be enough of his men to be an impressive show of force into the valley where his wizards’ familiars had seen goblins massing. Birds make for decent reconnaissance agents, but they have one weakness: they’re not so good with numbers. When they reported ’many’ goblins, Clayborn and his advisers took it to mean ’this is where the remaining goblins have gathered’.”

He pointed to a mounted figure in scarlet armor, surrounded by imperial knights and riding at the forefront of the imperial forces.

“Clayborn was no coward,” he said. “He positioned himself in battle at the frontlines when it was necessary, and behind them when it was necessary. When directing a battle, he preferred to be somewhere that he could watch things unfolding and issue orders clearly and efficiently to any part of his forces, but when leading what was a relatively small force in what was meant to be an overwhelming display of military strength and bravery, he knew the importance of sticking out his own neck.”

Hart’s eyes were on his miniatures as he spoke instead of the faces of his class, and it occurred to me that there was far less discussion than normal… he usually prompted anyone who looked like they might have something to say, whether they volunteered or not. But even those like Keri La Belle, who would speak without prompting, were watching the battlefield like they expected the metal miniatures to enact the battle for them.

“Clayborn had misjudged the situation, but he was considered one of the best military minds of the empire… hence his posting to the furthest corner of it. He adjusted quickly. He had the wizards send up signals immediately to alert the rest of the army, half a day‘s march behind them. While the general marshaled his troops into more defensive formations,” Hart said, moving the figures around to reflect this, “his aide-de-camp worked with the magicians to get reinforcements and open a line of rapid retreat. They had made no provisions for a mass teleport or gate spell… their battlefield mages were prepared more for showy spells of mass destruction, fireballs and lightning strikes… but the wizards back at the encampment had everything they needed to open a planar rift, once the battle mages relayed the message to them.

“It’s a ritual that takes hours in the best of circumstances, and they finished it in one. After the rift was open, they had a link to the rest of the army. They were able to evacuate their wounded, bring in field healers, and most importantly get the rest of their soldiers onto the field. At that point the fighting wasn’t over, but only because the goblin war band had no concept of surrender. It’s the hour between the first engagement and the opening of the rift that the events we think of as the Battle of Seven Hills took place.

“If General Clayborn had lost that day, if his men had been wiped out or he’d been slain, then history would probably remember him as an arrogant fool who marched an inferior force into an impossible situation. But because he not only survived, but held out long enough to turn disaster into victory… or into what would have happened if he’d marched his whole army across the river and into the goblin encampment… he was considered the hero of the day.”

I was reminded of Hart’s earlier insistence that history couldn’t be the study of everything in perfect detail because it would take as much time to recount as it had to happen. If he spent an entire hour long class period telling us about an hour-long battle… well, he was kind of proving his point there in a bad way.

“Clayborn did have advantages. His men were armed and they were trained. The goblins of the war band weren’t tacticians. They’d dug in in a valley ringed with hills, feeling safer in the lowlands and out of sight. Clayborn and his men had the high ground from the beginning,” Hart said, shifting the goblins around to surround the hills where the imperial soldiers were. “The war band was numerous enough to encircle the bases hills, cutting off mundane escape routes, but their best hope of victory… a suicidal mass charge… was hampered by the terrain.”

He didn’t spend the rest of the hour describing the Battle of Seven Hills, thankfully, though it seemed like there were a surprising number of “pivotal moments” in an hour-long skirmish. None of it was that interesting to me… war might have been a perfectly valid “filter” for viewing history, but it wasn’t what appealed to me. Really, I thought more credit should go to the wizards than to the fighters who asked the wizards to save their asses, after having led everybody into a fight where they were outnumbered twenty to one in the first place.

“And that’s the Battle of Seven Hills, visually speaking,” Hart said, after reaching the part where the rest of the Nineteenth Legion started pouring out of a rift. “Now, to get back to my rhetorical question from before class started: what is war good for? For historians, it’s useful for marking off eras… and for getting everybody to sit up and pay attention every once in a while. We only just touched on some of its other uses, though: securing resources, securing borders, and so on. The Dwarf and Goblin Wars were about securing the colonies from the threat of goblin attacks, and securing resources that would otherwise have been in goblin-controlled lands. The causes of Magisterion’s War have been one of our recurring topics. Here we come to the fun part. Each of you needs to pick a partner. You’ll pick a battle of the pre-Republican period, from the Goblin Wars on through Magisterion’s War. You need to make a graphic representation of that battle… it can be as simple as a detailed map, or you can go all-out with terrain and miniatures, but either way you’ll be expected to present the battle to the class and to do so in an interesting and engaging way. You’ll need to show not only the events of the battle, but also how it fits in with what happened around it… its immediate causes and its effects.

“In the case of Seven Hills, it made Clayborn’s reputation all the stronger. It made him more ruthless in dealing with goblinoids, but also more cautious. He never allowed himself to be baited after that. This proved to be frustrating to his later opponents, though it also caused him to miss several important opportunities in Magisterion’s War. I won’t be going into those now, though… I’ll be doing someone’s work for them if I do.

“You’ll have a few weeks to work on this… I’ll have the exact requirements for the assignment posted on the bulletin board in the hall before class on Wednesday,” Hart concluded, glancing at the timepiece at the back of the room. “It’ll be right next to the sign-up information for the new miniature battle club.”


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43 Responses to “435: Model Behavior”

  1. Cheezits says:

    “wait, this is her last class? I guess it must be time for sex, then.” Hahahahahaha…

    Once you linked Keri La Belle, everything else got linked too.

    Current score: 2
  2. N. says:

    Was this meant as a complete statement? The idea that he’d suddenly break out visual aids to illustrate a fight that had happened long before there was any talk of republic. This one was probably intentional, but the transition from the previous sentence was still jarring: If he spent an entire hour long class period telling us about an hour-long battle.

    Current score: 0
    • Maurice says:

      I noticed those. Also,

      “But because he not only survived, but held out long enough to turn disaster into victory.”

      Your two can be solved with an ellipsis, but I’m not sure what can be done to this.

      Current score: 0
  3. Copycat says:

    This chapter was AMAZING. I’m so glad Mack paid attention!

    Current score: 0
    • DCT says:

      I have to agree!
      Hart’s one of those teachers whose classes I would’ve loved if I’d taken them, and I always enjoy the chapters in his classes. He has a way of making history like this interesting to me when it normally isn’t, and that’s awesome. AE even more so for writing all of this, and so well!

      Current score: 0
  4. keyserchief says:

    I’m always a fan of mirroring history in this way, even if “Dwarf and Goblin Wars” was a bit of a giveaway. Am I correct in presuming that Antony Kearns is a bit of a Joseph Plumb Martin, or perhaps Colonel Washington? Clayborn seems too smart to be Braddock, so Wolfe maybe? Either way, the original elements are brilliant as well.

    Current score: 1
  5. Drudge says:

    Here’s hoping Puddy or Mack Daddy or Viktor or Mercy burst in mid hump, and the plot gets rolling.

    Better yet, all of them, at once.

    Current score: 1
    • Jechtael says:

      *The Man and Mercy burst into hand-to-hand combat*
      *Puddy and Viktor get in a shouting match*
      *Mackenzie and Steff sneak out*
      *Two shows up and bawls everyone out*
      *The Man leaves, Mercy and Viktor are cowed, Puddy flips her off and runs away*
      *Amaranth shows up and tells Two that it’s rude to shout at people, even if they’re being impolite*
      *Arkeus and/or JerK complain*

      Current score: 2
  6. amber indikaze says:

    “It’ll be right next to the sign-up information for the new miniature battle club.”

    Neeeeeerd.

    *furtive glances around*

    Hart is kind of adorable in this chapter. <3

    Current score: 3
  7. Keith says:

    good chapter – i prefer this kind of stuff… has a better feel of story telling

    Current score: 0
  8. Brokencookie says:

    “Really, I thought more credit should go to the wizards than to the fighters who asked the wizards to save their asses, after having led everybody into a fight where they were outnumbered twenty to one in the first place.”

    That bit of Mack twisting the facts to suit her bias (unless I am reading it wrong and she means the wizards were the ones doing the leading and not the warriors) made me giggle.

    Current score: 1
  9. Andy says:

    Who needs plot when we’ve got history?

    Current score: 1
  10. athsryk6l says:

    Laughed my ass off at the next chapter title.

    Current score: 0
  11. Kitsune says:

    Am I the only one who thinks that was a clever way for Hart to promote the miniature battle club?

    I love the new layout by the way. I can get in and read the new chapters no problem, unlike the previous one.

    Current score: 0
  12. Cernael says:

    Typo: “The Battle of Seven Hils.”

    Some jarring syntax: “But because he not only survived, but held out long enough to turn disaster into victory. Or into what would have happened if he’d marched his whole army across the river and into the goblin encampment.” (Seems to me that “because” demands a follow-up clause that doesn’t come.)

    Current score: 0
  13. Andra says:

    I thought it WAS the follow-up to the sentence before. Had he lost he would’ve been a moron,
    “But because he not only survived, but held out long enough to turn disaster into victory-”
    “-he was considered the hero of the day.”

    Current score: 0
  14. Zathras IX says:

    Goblins are Irish:
    Their numbers are known to keep
    Dublin and Dublin…

    Current score: 7
  15. Morten says:

    General Custer and the Battle of Little Bighorn? If he had had a planar rift he might have defeated the Indians and he was quite popular before then…

    Current score: 0
  16. fka_Luddite says:

    [corrected]

    A planar rift would have been of no use to Lt Col George Armstrong Custer. As an junior commander of the force that was supposed to gather at the site two days later, he had no other forces he could have called on.

    Current score: 0
  17. Rethic says:

    I love your writing, but I wish they were a little disclaimer saying these are no plot points in this history lesson. I hate history IRL so oddly enough goblin history isn’t my thing either, lol. So I always end up reading through the whole thing and being disappointed in the end, but I suppose I’ve read that some people do the same thing to the sex scenes so I’ll just deal like them.

    Current score: 0
    • Rethic says:

      Clearly I need to stop leaving comments when I’m drunk. Happy St Patty’s day!! (don’t mind my horrid grammar)

      Current score: 1
      • capybroa says:

        I, for one, only comment when I’m drunk. Happy Fourth of July.

        Current score: 4
  18. Fiona says:

    i like the new layout but the new screen format has gotten a little wider than my phone screen (which is where I usually read MU before bed) can handle. To get the whole line of text on the screen everything gets so eenie weenie that I can hardly see it. Somehow the old width was not only perfect, but also automatic. Now its nearly impossible to find the right “zoom out” to balance not having to scroll L to R with not having to squint.

    Current score: 0
  19. Helen Rees says:

    so goblinoids are r-strategists, huh.

    h.

    Current score: 0
  20. Eric M. says:

    I love the self-mockery at the end.

    Current score: 1
  21. tjhairball says:

    I agree with Kitsune – clever way to promote the miniatures club.

    But WOW, Shiel is having such an impact on campus! This has been an interesting developing story in the background.

    Current score: 1
  22. bigMAC says:

    “Birds make for decent reconnaissance …(shortened for length)…goblins have gathered’.”

    I laughed. Also, it reminds me of a race in Dragonlance a friend told me about. They can only count as high as three, which to them means lots. So, when you ask one how many guards there are up ahead, and he says three, you should probably run away.

    As always, I loved reading, and can’t wait for the next installment. I wish MY classes were this interesting…

    Current score: 1
    • Laszlo says:

      I used to tell people when counting opposing fighters that the count was: one, two, MANY 🙂

      Current score: 1
      • Ryzndmon says:

        I see what you did there.

        Current score: 0
      • Jechtael says:

        One, Two, Three, Many, Many-one, Many-two, many-three, LOTS.

        Current score: 1
        • Athena says:

          Many-many comes after many-three.

          I thought lots came after that but it turns out I’m misremembering too – it comes after many-many-many-three. Or just after many, for the thicker trolls. Or should that be, warmer?

          Current score: 0
  23. Niall says:

    Amazing! All the character development and all the drama between them is awesome, but this is where I feel you AE really stand out as a top notch writer.

    Current score: 0
  24. Frost says:

    Continuing to keep up with this story on my iPhone while I’m here at my military training. Thanks for providing us troops with reading material and keep up the good work 😀
    – Frost

    Current score: 0
  25. Frost says:

    The mobile version looks just fine, just a little hard to get used to from the normal web layout on a regular computer. A little more simplified I would say.

    Also, I use AT&T; or did u mean something else in the second question 😮 ?

    Current score: 0
    • I meant the hardware; that was actually directed at the person above who’s got problems with scaling.

      Current score: 0
  26. Wojonatior says:

    I am using it on the iphone, and it is a lot better then it used to be, now i can navigaite easier and i can post a comment without it exploding! Awesome chapter, on to the sexy time!!!

    Current score: 0
  27. Griz says:

    Did you mean “marital” rather than “martial”?
    (LaBelle’s response to many “begats”)

    (Delete and don’t post)

    Current score: 0
  28. mike says:

    i’m reading this from a nokia 5800 and it looks great, fit the screen perfectly, and is just the right size… And since this is one of my few comments let me just say that this is an awesome story (although i do feel that the sex scenes can go on a bit too far)… When do we hear some more about Mack Daddy?

    Current score: 0
  29. Erm says:

    Re-reading this, and it’s as awesome as I remembered.

    I wonder if General Clayborn was a golem. Or descended from one, if that is possible.

    Current score: 0
  30. MentalBlank says:

    “…and what do you call it when you’ve got a great big mass of people all marching in the same direction?”

    “A parade?”

    A.E., you make me laugh so often, and I love ya for it 🙂

    Current score: 2