Chapter 27: Althings Considered

on August 29, 2011 in Volume 2 Book 2: The Trouble With Twyla

In Which A Topic Is Deferred

The first question anyone asked was, “What exactly made the Thyleans better sailors than their neighbors?”

“Practice,” Hart said. “It’s not like they had an elemental affinity for water, but you have to sail out of sight of shore to learn how to sail out of sight of shore. The fact that their sailors were all warriors helped, too. Then as now, one of the main hazards of sea travel was monster attack. I’m sure Fenwick knows something about that.”

“Oh, yes,” Fenwick said. “The fight scene against sea monsters was an almost obligatory part of Thylean epics, even ones that only tangentially involved ocean travel. The Thyleans are known to have fought particularly vicious battles against a tribe of creatures called ‘sea-devils’ or ‘sea-wolves’, which are thought to refer to a type of shark person that may have actually been battled to the point of extinction. The oral record shows at the very least a clear decline. In the earliest tales, the sea-devils would come ashore in massive waves and have to be fought off. Later, they are limited to ‘bedeviling’ ships.”

“So why were they more willing to go out there in the first place?” the original questioner asked. “I mean, if it was so dangerous and they didn’t start out any better sailors.”

“Well, part of it was having a culture that put a premium on bravery and individual achievement,” Hart said. “Great deeds were pretty much money in the bank, and if you wanted to do something that no one in your clan had ever done before, your options were pretty limited. Sailing somewhere new was one way that didn’t depend on local dragon populations. Sometimes it wasn’t a matter of choice… a lot of Thylean explorers were exiles, outlaws… being beyond the protection of society gave you a strong incentive to go somewhere that nobody you knew had ever heard of.”

“Professor Hart… um, I mean, Aaron,” a girl said. “I found it interesting when you were talking about the relations between the old empire and the Thyleans that you mentioned they were both white. Is that actually significant?”

“Extremely,” Hart said. “Humans… white humans… have a bad history when it comes to relating to humans of other colors as humans. See? I’m doing it right now. I tend to think of my field of expertise as being ‘human history’, but it’s the history of the human people from the part of the world where white people were best established in the days before halfway reliable global travel was a possibility.”

“I just… it seems racist,” the girl said.

“It is incredibly racist,” Hart said. “Both the tendency I’m talking about, and the way the humans from the Mother Isles ended up relating to the Thyleans as opposed to how they treated the Argenti, or others.”

“It sounds like you’re admitting that you’re racist,” she said.

“Well, I hate to put it that baldly,” Hart said. “And everybody does, which is why we usually end up changing the subject. Which I’m going to do in a few minutes here, but I’ll come back to that. But… yeah. I said the word ‘humans’ and I meant ‘specifically the humans who look like me, share a cultural background with me, and will look the most ‘normal’ to most anyone in a position of authority over me‘. Do you have a better word for that than ‘racist’?”

“How about ‘human’?” Fenwick suggested. “It seems like you’re being a bit hard on yourself, to be quite honest.”

“See, you’re doing it, too,” Hart said. “I’m not being ‘hard on’ myself, Fenwick, I’m simply turning the same kind of critical eye I’d use to appraise the actions of people in some foreign culture at some past age on my own actions, as a member of this culture. How can I examine the mindset of the Old Imperial Man from the Mother Isles hundreds of years ago if I’m going to flinch away from performing the same kind of the mind of his closest living relative on hand, the Modern Magisterian Man?”

“I just don’t think it helps anything to try to make everything about race,” the girl who’d asked the question said. “I try not to see color.”

“Well, then you picked a great university to come to, though really you were sort of spoiled for choices,” Hart said. “Look around the room. Look around the campus. ‘Not seeing color’ isn’t much of an accomplishment when you’re going to college in Palesville, the capital of Greater Chalkwhitonia.”

“It’s funny you say that, because I actually have an Argenti-Imperial suitemate,” she said.

“I’m surprised you noticed,” Hart said.

“I don’t treat her any differently than anyone else,” she said.

“How many times a day do you bring up your other suitemates as examples in conversation?” Hart asked.

“I would if an applicable subject ever came up,” she said. “It’s not racist that there’s something different about her.”

“Right, but if we talk about how that difference might make her experiences going through life different from… or more difficult than… yours,” Hart said, “then coins-to-crullers someone is going to pop up and say, ‘Why make this about race? I don’t even see color.'”

“I just wanted to know what whiteness had to do with it,” she said. “How can we say that if everything else had been the same but they had been black, or brown, or whatever, that things wouldn’t have gone exactly the same?”

“Well, first of all, as I’m one-eighth whatever on my mother’s side, I thank you for that little gesture of inclusiveness,” Hart said. “And you mean hypothetically? We can talk about this as a hypothetical, if you want. We have that luxury. To the people of the Argentus, or many points east and south, it’s less an abstract historical ‘what if?’ to be mooted about and more a little thing called ‘history’, also known as ‘ongoing reality’.

“But let’s try to answer your question, all the same. Was it significant? Yes. It meant that the Metro folk could see themselves in the Thyleans’ shoes, in their skins, and vice-versa. It meant that when a Thylean settlement sprung up on their shores, then after the initial unsettled period where everything is axes and pitchforks the newcomers could be almost seamlessly integrated, treated as not much more different than any other settlement. It means they could look at a Thylean infant and think, ‘That could be son. That could be my grandson.’ These things matter. As far as we know, nobody from the Argentus sailed to the Mother Isles and set up a colony, but if they had done so they’d be a lot more visible than Thylean settlers were. You’re kidding yourself if you don’t think that matters.

“I mean, look at this: the stories, the lore we got from Thylean sources… they became accepted as parts of our culture. The oldest known Pax-language epic poems are about Thylean heroes in Thylean lands. We don’t erase that identity from them, and we don’t treat the poetic cycles as exotic and foreign. That’s not at all how we treat stories from other human cultures, but in this case it just passes without comment. You won’t find these poems or their adaptations shelved away from everything else in special ‘Thylean Interest’ sections. We don’t think of ourselves as Thyleans, or as Thyleans as us… but in how we interact with them, they’re treated as less foreign than native-born citizens of our own Imperium whose ancestors came here by way of the Argentus Archipelago.

“Now I mentioned changing the subject. To be perfectly honest, I don’t feel qualified to lead a discussion about the intricacies of endoracism and exoracism. Certainly not off the cuff. And it’s not actually the topic we chose for the day, by which I mean all of us. This is your class and If you all want to talk about it on a future day, we’ll talk about it, but be warned: as long as I’m here, it’s not going to be a feel-good circle-j… back-patting session where we all come out agreeing that Racism Is Baaaaad Thank Khersis It’s Over. Just bear that in mind.”

“Well… that was, ah, ah invigorating if perhaps overly passionate beginning,” Fenwick said. “Didn’t one of us mention that this isn’t a lecture course?”

“That wasn’t a lecture, it was a rant,” Hart sad. “Just as a point of order. But, let’s move on. Who’s got a question, or a topic?”

A few hands went up around the room. I kept mine down. I knew I’d need to participate to get a good grade, but the things that were popping up in my head all had to do with the off-the-table-for-now topic of racism.

“You’ve got something?” Hart asked a student who had his hand up.

“Yeah, the thing that really throws me is when you talk about trading,” he said. “Okay, I get that not every Thylean was a big burly barbarian warrior, even back in the day, but who was doing the trading? The little guys? The women?”

“Well, mainly, the big burly barbarian warriors,” Hart said. “Striking out to sea was a risky business.”

“But who did they even trade with?” someone asked. “I mean, was it all internal… they’d go steal a boatload of goods and then take their loot back home and sell it to someone who stole a boatload of money? Or would they steal stuff and then turn around and sell it to the people they took it from?”

“They’d have to sell it on credit if they did. Anyway, there’s a saying I just invented that might explain things,” Hart said. “The difference between a pirate ship and a merchant ship is the contents of the hold.”

“That’s actually more or less the moral of a certain ancient tale, though not precisely word for word,” Fenwick said. “It’s very difficult to come up with a sentiment that has not been expressed somewhere in the annals of lore.”

“Fascinating,” Hart said. “So, anyway, you’re out sailing and you come across someone that has something of value, they’re strangers and foreigners and basically nothing to you… you have an empty hold and more fighters than they do. What happens? You wind up with a full hold. Then you run into someone who has something valuable you want and need… you could take it by force, but that’s risky and you don’t have anywhere to put it. So what do you do? You take something bulky that’s not worth your time to haul back across the sea and you trade it away. Or you just flat out sell that stuff for coin, which is valuable anywhere and takes up almost no room.

“When I put it that way it sounds really haphazard, like Thylean sailors just set out at random and plunder happened. That’s not the case. But when you set out to sail up and down the coastline of a distant land with the intention of coming back with the most return for your risk, you’re going to run into a couple of factors. One is that you can fill up your boat with the contents of a single big raid. Two is that the ‘prime loot’… the gold, the really rare furs, the magic items, the finely worked goods… are going to be a small percentage of your take. So you’re either making the ocean voyage twice for a relatively small haul, or you’re throwing out a lot of what you find and fighting every step of the way, or you’re being canny about it and trading the bulky and useful but not terribly precious things for more smaller and more valuable items.”

“And people would just trade with them?” the guy who’d asked the question asked. “They’d see the Thylean ship and not just attack it on sight, or run away?”

“Well, to a certain point, anyone who came from across the seas was dangerous,” Hart said. “The Thyleans were feared, but it’s not like their sails were the only ones that caused apprehension. But at the same time… the ‘us’ in ‘us vs. them’ was necessarily smaller, back in the day. Each little tribe or enclave was more or less on its own. So if the raiders had pillaged up and down the coast but they stop at your place to trade, you don’t necessarily know what they’ve been up to, and if you do, you don’t necessarily care. It’s not your countrymen living fifteen, twenty miles down the coast. It’s not your neighbors. You aren’t more connected to the people on the next island over than you are to these people who came from hundreds of miles away.”

“I think I’d just be glad they wanted to trade instead of fight,” a girl said. “Even if I had to know that they were selling stolen goods.”

“I’m not sure the concept of stolen goods would even apply,” another student said. “I mean, yeah, it was stolen and that’s wrong… but like P… Aaron said, you see someone with something you want and you’re stronger than them? The people fifteen miles down the coast weren’t just ‘not your countrymen’, they were the assholes who stole your cattle. Can I say assholes?”

“Only if you mean it in the strictest academic sense,” Hart said.

“Okay,” the student said. “Or maybe they were the saps who weren’t clever enough to stop you from stealing their cattle. Either way I don’t think a concept like ‘stolen goods’ really existed in anyone’s mind. It was all just who had possession.”

“Indeed, there is a whole genre of early literature in the northern Mother Isles that revolves around the stealing of cattle and reciprocal raids,” Fenwick said. “It was definitely a might-makes-right society… very similar to the Thyleans, in some regards. Of course, in the south, the seeds of what would become the old empire were already spreading out from the Mother City.”

“Is it okay to talk about something else?” a girl said.

“You mean you’re not comfortable talking about cattle raids, or you have something else you want to talk about?” Hart said.

“I have something else I want to ask about, I just don’t know what the protocol is for changing the subject,” she said.

“Just do it,” Hart said. “If someone else wants to talk more about this, they can change it back. What do you want to talk about?”

“The Thylean views on women.”

“Okay,” Hart said. “What about them?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “I mean, I assume they have them.”

“Views, or women?” Hart said. “The record’s pretty clear that they had women. We can infer they had views, but what they were is still pretty subject to interpretation. As a historian, I’d say that assuming that another culture’s exactly like our own when it comes to things like how women were treated historically is one of the three biggest mistakes you can make.”

“What are the other two?” a different student asked.

“Assuming they’re much better or that they’re a whole lot worse,” Hart said. “Especially when you’re comparing groups like the Thyleans to those of us of Metro descent… well, if this room isn’t at least twenty-five percent Thylean by blood I’d start wearing hats so I’d have something to eat. Not to turn the topic back to whiteness, but people of Thylean descent are going to be nearly invisible among us. At this point in time, our cultures are pretty outwardly homogenized.

“You could go just about anywhere in the Thylean Federation and get by speaking Pax and relying on the other things you’ve learned at home. You might commit a blunder or two, but we’re at the ‘look at the funny foreigner and his quaint ways’ level of difference, not the ‘what strange outland sorcery be this?’ level.”

“So, what’s that mean in terms of women?”

“It means that traditionally women have been the mothers and midwives, that they’re still more likely to be homemakers than men, that they haven’t always had the same level of political power as men, and whether they do now or not is up for debate on a practical level, but under the law they’re equal,” Hart said. “You’d have to ask a Thylean woman what her views on her society are, and vice-versa. I’d say it’s probably mostly what you’d expect, though.”

“Actually…” another student said. “I read a thing recently about how they’re re-evaluating the roles of women in Thylean society. At least, among the settlements in the Mother Isles.”

“Okay, see?” Hart said. “Like I said, there’s a room for interpretation. What did you read?”

“I think I read that, too,” a different student said. “Was it about the skeletons?”

“Yeah,” the first student said. “The thing is that traditionally when we’ve seen a skeleton with a sword, everyone just assumed it was male… you know, warrior corpse equals male corpse, right? Especially when it’s coming at you with a sword.”

“Given the legendary tenacity of a Thylean barrow-wight,” Fenwick said, “I think we can excuse adventurers of generations past for not stopping to sex the skeletons before re-slaying them.”

“No comments from the necromancy students, please,” Hart said. “But, so… I take it that someone’s started doing forensic divinations on some of the, uh, re-dead corpses and it’s changing some minds?”

“Yeah, it seems that a good number of them are… were… female.”

“This is how the historical record progresses,” Hart said. “And so we continue to get a clearer picture of the world, through probing analysis and not just relying on what the received wisdom of the ancients tells us.”

“The ancients would have had quite a lot to tell you about shield-maidens and spear-maidens,” Fenwick said.

“Yes, well… these ones had swords,” Hart said. As much as I loathed Fenwick Hall’s supercilious tone, I had to admit it was a pretty poor objection.

“The tales of the northmen are replete with warrior women of all stripes,” Fenwick said. “The valkyries, for instance.”

That made my interest perk up a little. My favorite fantasy show, Mecknights, had a minor character who was supposed to be a valkyrie. I generally dislike when magic fiction elements got thrown into a fantasy series or vice-versa, but Val was a pretty cool character even if she rode a boring giant wolf more often than a motorcycle. She’d inspired enough interest in me on the subject of real-world valkyries that I’d done a little reading on the subject.

“What exactly are valkyries?” some said. “I know they ride pegasuses…”

“That’s actually a myth,” Fenwick said. “Or rather a myth-translation, I should say. ‘Valkyrie-horse’ shows up in the sagas, but it’s what we call a kenning, which is particular sort of poetic turn of phrase. For instance ‘bee-wolf’ means bear, because wolves call to mind deadly hunters, and bears hunt for honey.”

“That’s actually a myth,” Hart said. “‘Bee-wolf’ means bee wolf, a giant half-bee, half-wolf creature that’s endemic to the northlands.”

“It’s ‘endemic to the northlands’ because it’s an unnatural creation inadvertently released into the wild by an overly literal life wizard who wanted to harness the power of the legendary ‘bee-wolves’ he’d read about and created a hive of them,” Fenwick said. “He was stung and mauled to death by his creations, who propagated without any natural predators, thus giving rise to one of the most dangerous pests of the sub-polar regions and a wonderful cautionary tale. Their expansion has only been stymied by a rise in owlbears… in any case, there are no tales about actual bee-wolves prior to three centuries ago.”

“I stand corrected,” Hart said.

“To return to the subject at hand,” Fenwick said, “valkyrie-horse’ refers to wolves… when wolves show up to feast on the corpses after a battle, it’s said that valkyries rode them there. And because valkyries are described as flying through the air on their steeds, it’s assumed that a valkyrie’s horse must be winged. Whether or not actual valkyries traditionally rode wolves or not is a matter of conjecture… it’s possible that reading the poetic description as describing an actual mode of transport is still being too literal. Some modern valkyries do, but they may be doing so in imitation of the popular image, as others have adopted winged horses… and still others have similar mounts. Valkyries are psychopomps in service of divine and semi-divine powers, and some are granted mounts in the manner of cavalier paladins, which many latter-day valkyries actually are.”

“Are there still valkyries?” a student asked. “I thought Thylea was a Khersian nation now?”

“In the sense of ‘nation’ meaning ‘people’, mostly, yeah,” Hart said. “I don’t believe they have a state religion overall, though some of the member states of the federation do. Like Fenwick suggested, most modern valkyries actually are paladins of Khersis… like everywhere else the Universal Temple expanded into, they took on elements of the local practices.”

“Yes, correct on all points,” Fenwick said. “The most common religion in the modern Thylean Federation is in fact Khersianity, though they tend to follow the Reformer’s path, with a greater emphasis on individual accountability and… somewhat paradoxically… the implacability of fate. In older times, the Thyleans followed what we might call more primal ways… some of the more powerful giants were included among their pantheons. The formal census figures show that at least one in ten Thyleans still venerate the old pantheons, though this number may be higher… less formal methods of investigation have greater measures of success in outlying rural areas, and they tend to suggest a robust and vigorous interest in the old ‘gods’.”

“Modern humans worshipping giants?” someone said. “I have a hard time picturing that.”

“Yes, well, when we imagine giant-worship, we tend to picture a group of primitive individuals, usually orcs or ogres, dancing around a brutish hill giant or rocky-skinned stone giant,” Fenwick said. “But these creatures, though they are the most common giants left in the world, are the least of all giants. A giant is not simply a humanoid being built to a larger scale. A giant is not an unusually large denizen of the world. An ordinary giant is a normal-sized creature, scaled to a world that was greater in every sense of the world than the one we know today. A world larger, a world more terrible, a world more powerful than we can imagine.

“The ruder giants we’re most familiar with, are ones that have grown degraded in order to maintain their purchase on this plane. Each subsequent generation of such giants may be a little bit smaller and a little bit rougher. They are not just smaller, they are less intelligent and less well-formed. The great giants of old were known to often be clever or beautiful. Those giants still exist somewhere out there, and they can still reach out to or visit our world… though those who make a serious study of giant lore have suggested that the ‘nearer’ to our world a clan of giants lingers, the more diminished they become.”

“Didn’t somebody say something at some point about this not being a lecture class?” Hart said.

“Now, consider the vastness and power of a more ‘distant’ clan of giants,” Fenwick continued, “one found at the exact equilibrium point where the difficulty of reaching our plane is such that their great power only just allows it. Beyond this point there may be greater giants still, but they are so far past the terminus that they may as well exist in our imagination. These giants, the truest and greatest giants who may reach our plane… is it so hard to imagine them being regarded as gods? Does it seem that blasphemous?

It did sound blasphemous to me… not that I was particularly pious, but my grandmother’s upbringing was in play. Even if I didn’t attach much judgment to the term, I had a working definition of “blasphemy” in my head and Professor Fenwick Hall was pretty much hitting it square on the head.

“They would be immortal, for all our purposes,” Fenwick said. “They would be unbelievably powerful. With communication between the planes at a premium, they would have to rely on ‘local’ intermediaries for most things, and would necessarily find it more useful to convey their wishes in terms of general edicts rather than responding to each situation as it arises. Direct intervention would be rare, but spectacular and awe-inspiring. What does that sound like to you?”

The strange thing was that I’d heard really similar reasoning before, that “god” was just a word for someone powerful enough to say they’re a god and not have anyone dare dispute it. Of course, the person who’d said that had been an enemy of the actual gods… or at least the target of one god, and physically vulnerable to the presence and power of them as a whole.

“Wow, Fenwick,” Hart said. “That’s more… I don’t know what word to put there. But it’s certainly more than I would have expected.”

“An interesting point there,” one student said, “is that the dimensional walls get thinner around the poles. So it may be no coincidence that the giants are worshipped in the north, where they would have an easier time reaching out to worshippers, and vice-versa.”

“Hold on,” I found myself saying. “You’re right about it thinning out to the north, but it isn’t anything to do with the poles, it’s proximity to the Shift, where the walls have been breached permanently.”

“The Shift is to the east, not the north.,”

“On a flat map, yeah,” I said. “But the Shift hugs the northern wastes for more than a third of the globe… you can’t go north without getting physically closer to it unless you’re actually in the Shift, heading out.”

“But Thylea’s in the same hemisphere,” he said. “Wouldn’t they actually be getting closer to us?”

“You’re still thinking flat,” I said. “When you’re standing on top of the world, it doesn’t have any sides, so if you’re taking a polar route it’s basically the same distance to anywhere.”

Seeing the blank stares I got from around the room, I almost gave up. But I knew I was right. One of the few non-religious sources of acceptable reading material at my grandmother’s house had been books on aviation, including aerial navigation.

“Okay, look,” I said. “Imagine you go straight north from here until you are one hundred miles south of the pole. Now imagine other points all along the globe, all a hundred miles south of the pole. In Thylea. In the Khazarus. Everywhere else. If you travel the one hundred miles to get to the pole, you are one hundred miles from all of those points. The one you started from, the ones on the far side of the globe from it… none of them are any farther or closer.”

“Granting that’s true, that doesn’t make Thylea any closer to the Shift than our own northern wastes,” the guy who’d advanced the polar theory said.

“Yeah, but the same is true of the pole,” I said. “So either way, geography alone can’t explain giant-worship.”

“I take it that while the cause is disputed, it’s established fact that the northern regions are in fact more… porous?” Hart said. We both nodded. “Interesting… that’s the first I’ve heard of it.”

“I think you’ll find, sir, that the cause isn’t really in dispute,” the other student said. “Planar topology is my specialty. The Shift-based theory is an interesting footnote, but there have been expeditions mounted to the south pole that could prove the polar theory once and for all. None of them have ever returned… but the ways in which they haven’t returned is very suggestive.”

“I am no planar topologist,” Fenwick said, “but I don’t find this phenomenon the least bit surprising.”

“I said it was interesting, I didn’t say I was surprised,” Hart groused.

“The lore of the world’s northern cultures is replete with stories of otherworldly happenings. The people of Whale Island tell of the sorcerer-king who came out of the sky in a basket of whicker and traded a handful of emeralds for seal-skins to repair his… this is the exact translation… ‘gas-bladder’,” Fenwick said. “And then we have the reliquary of Ylim, which houses artifacts brought to this world along with semi-regular falls of fish that plague the surrounding region. The most recent such incursion included a number of what appear to be arcane government documents and a child-sized black brassiere.”

“Was this last fall?” I asked.

“What, did you lose a bra?” Hart said, and there was some scattered laughter.

I had, in fact, lost all of my clothes and a magical knife to a remote-cast teleportation spell gone awry, but I wasn’t about to say that in front of the class. I regretted even asking, as there was no real reason to suspect the “child-sized” bra was mine. Bras probably did not get bounced across the dimensional ether with any great frequency, but it was still a bit of a long shot.

“No, it was actually just under three weeks ago,” Fenwick said. “The skyfalls of Ylim occur far more frequently than once a year, though they don’t always include anything more interesting than fish.”

“The mystery bra of Ylim is actually pretty fascinating,” the would-be planar topologist said. “Most of the items that come through the local ‘riftlet’ are clearly of extraplanar origin, made up of exotic types of matter… some people actually believe that a lot of it is atomic. But the bra has people buzzing, because it’s the first time anything’s come through that registers as having a local origin, for as long as thaumatologists have been studying it. The most likely explanation, of course, is that it didn’t come in the skyfall… it just happened to be lying in the field, or was planted there as part of a hoax.”

“How would a bra end up discarded in a field, though?” someone said, to immediate snickering.

I decided not to say anything else, and I tried not to think about it. If there were pictures of the “mystery bra” on the ethernet, I could probably confirm things pretty quickly if it wasn’t anything at all like mine. But what if it looked like mine? That wouldn’t really prove anything, unless they had really close-up and detailed images that showed how the tag was frayed and where the color had rubbed off on the bottom of the strap… and what did I do, if it was mine?

I didn’t exactly want it back… I’d grown about half a cup over the last year, and I had no idea where it had been. Knowing its origin and last known worldly location might help the researchers in some way, and possibly something about the bra or the “riftlet” or something would help establish exactly what had gone wrong that day, but I really didn’t see the net benefit in achieving notoriety as the girl whose underwear had ended up… wherever Ylim was.

Even so, I’d probably end up looking it up anyway, just for the sake of curiosity.

“Talking about religion,” someone said. “My thaumatology textbook last year talked about ‘northpersons’ being able to turn into a bear, or take on bear-like qualities… now I’m a little confused if that was literally talking about bears, or if by bear they meant wolf and by wolf they meant horse and by horse they meant pig…”

“You can be fairly certain they were indeed referring to bears,” Fenwick said. “The famous berserkers… the term literally refers to bears, though in modern ages it’s become less literal and more generalized to refer to many different sorts of ‘battle-rages’.”

“I didn’t really understand what the book was saying about how they did that,” the student said. “Was it like druidry, or were they just wear-bears, or did it have something to do with the giant worship thing?”

“It has more in common with druidism, I suppose,” Fenwick said. “The matter is somewhat complicated by the fact that actual were-bears have tended to gravitate towards the northlands, where they stand a better chance of being accepted… or as passing for fully human bear-skin-changers. That is to say that a story taken to be about a were-bear might have been a marauding Thylean berserker, or vice-versa. But spontaneous natural shapeshifting does occur among Thyleans, and it’s a natural magical feat, not a divine gift.”

“What’s the actual difference between someone who turns into a bear and a were-bear?” another student asked. “I would have figured they were the same thing.”

“Well, to go back to last class a bit,” Hart said, “a were-person has two natural forms. A human can take on another form… or an animal can, I suppose… through any number of different means. Pop culture sometimes lumps anyone who’s going between a single humanoid and single animal form together as ‘weres’, but they’re a particular class of shapeshifters.”

“Also on the subject of religion,” another student said. “You were being pretty general talking about what worshipped giants might be like… what are the actual giants that Thyleans have worshipped like?”

“Well, there are actually three competing ‘pantheons’ or tribes,” Fenwick said. “The chief one, or at least the one that’s been most ascendant most recently, is the one most analogous to the beings we conventionally style as gods. While there are some who are called a ‘lord of battle’ or a ‘war god’, they’re all renowned for their battle-prowess, in much the way that mortals would be. The chief god is Vengr, a word that might mean ‘swinger’… with connotations towards hanging… or ‘catcher’ or ‘picker’, with shades of harvesting souls. Vengr is sometimes described as a force of evil, but is more of a morally complex figure. Just as the raiders of older eras didn’t necessarily consider the moral implications of killing and stealing, a god associated with death and slaughter wasn’t necessarily evil to the Thyleans. Vengr is the one who recruited the first valkyries, and who sent them forth to collect the souls of fallen mortal warriors to join him in his hall, hence the appellations.

“More modern tales… especially foreign interpretations… try to frame the Thylean titans as good or evil, with the ones associated with the underworld or seen as tricksters most often drafted for the role of villain, but the truth is that for however high above them they are, they are a people and they have feuded among themselves and have done good things and bad things. Now, of course, they did participate in the war against our gods back in the dusky dawn of time, or their forefathers did… and whether that makes them good or evil is something that different religions have different opinions about… certainly, theologians don’t universally hail all the gods who fought against the giants as all good.”

It was a fair point, though one that sparked a certain amount of controversy. A debate went back and forth for a while about the nature of godhood and the morality of gods… I found myself retreating from it mentally, though.

My grandmother’s education on the subject was hard to shake, and it didn’t exactly leave me in a position to make an informed or respectful contribution on the topic. Even knowing that what I’d learned was at the very least badly shaded by bias, though, I was still uncomfortable hearing others say things I’d been taught to disapprove of.

Fortunately, that topic eventually died down, and Hart spoke into the awkward silence that followed it.

“Here’s a question,” Hart said. “What nation has the highest average standard of living for its people? Anybody? Come on, this isn’t a quiz… it’s still a discussion. A lot of you are being quiet because you’re thinking it’s probably Magisteria, but you’re also thinking I wouldn’t be asking if it actually was Magisteria. Well, let me just tell you: it’s not Magisteria.”

“It’s got to be Thylea,” someone said. “That’s what we’re talking about, right?”

“It can’t be,” someone else said. “He’s probably trying to make us think that. There’s got to be a trick, right?” He looked at Hart, who just sort of tilted his head and shrugged.

If others hadn’t been voicing these thoughts out loud, I probably would have been thinking them… but hearing other people say them, I couldn’t help notice how it was sort of backwards in relation to the point of the class. It was like trying to pass a test by getting inside the teacher’s head… it was possible, and the better students tended to be better at it. But it wasn’t the same thing as learning the material… or learning about the material, which seemed like the higher goal.

Of course, I also couldn’t help thinking that it probably was Thylea, for no better reason than that was the topic Hart had wanted to talk about.

“It could be the Mother Isles,” another student said. “I mean, they’re Thylea’s neighbor and we’re talking about how Thylea relates to stuff throughout history, so this could be about how Thyleans raided the Mother Isles because they’re rich.”

“Okay, any discussion’s an improvement over no discussion, but let’s try to steer clear of the meta-analysis here,” Hart said. “Anatomy of an Aaron Hart Class will be a fascinating academic topic and a required course for all students in the year 300 onward, I’m sure, but let’s talk about reasons why a nation would have a high standard of living, not reasons why I’d bring it up.” He turned to the student who’d said the Mother Isles. “Like, you said ‘they’re rich.’ How do you mean that?”

“Well… the Mother City’s all palaces and columns and stuff,” he said. “Palatine looks like that, but it’s like a tenth the size and not even a tenth as old.”

“It’s a big empire, though,” Hart said. “Not everybody lives in palaces.”

“No, but it’s a really modern nation,” the student said. “You’re right, I would have expected the Imperial Republic to have the highest standard, but if it’s not us, it’s got to be the older version of us.”

“Except,” another student said, “if we’re talking about averages, then… well, maybe the Mother City or Palatine by themselves would have really high standards of living, but there are all the outlying provinces and the little backwater towns and the places that imperial protections don’t really protect, right?”

“What’s a ‘modern nation’, anyway?” a different student chimed in. “Isn’t every nation that’s around right now ‘modern’? Are older countries more modern, or newer ones?”

“I meant modern in, you know, outlook,” the student who’d used the phrase said. “I don’t think it’s got anything to do with how old something is… a really old country could be advanced because they’ve had time to get advanced, or they could be living in the past because they’ve got a lot of tradition and things weighing them down. It all depends.”

“Okay, but I think the point stands,” Hart said. “How are you defining a modern outlook? Is it circular… is it an outlook similar to nations that strike you as modern? Or do you have some actual criteria in mind?”

“I don’t think you could define criteria without pointing to a ‘modern nation’ as an example of why,” one student said. “So maybe it is all circular. Or maybe it’s a case of knowing things when you see them.”

“What does this have to do with the question? Aren’t we getting off-topic?”

“Well, if I may engage in a bit of ‘meta-analysis’ myself,” Fenwick said, “I suspect the ultimate goal of Aaron’s question was to foment discussion, which it has.”

“The answer was Thylea, by the way,” Hart said. “The Thylean Federation has a higher per capita income, a very low percent of their population living below the poverty line, and just overall happier people, as measured on several different indexes, than either of the two empires. This contrasts pretty strongly with our stereotypical views of the northlands and the people who live there.”

“Why are they so well-off?” someone asked.

“Well, part of it is their resources,” Hart said. “The two empires are richer in total, but there are a lot more poor people and a lot more resource-poor areas in them. Thylea has some of the largest mithril deposits in the world, certainly the largest ones in human hands. And to go back to that whole ‘modernity’ thing… well, you name it and the Thyleans have probably been doing it for longer. Seafaring. Ocean trade. Even modern government… the Thylean parliament is the oldest continuously sitting human house of government. As institutions go, the imperial seat of the old empire is older, but the senate has been dissolved and reconstituted so many times over the ages, and it hasn’t always been the same thing. In fact, our modern senators… being semi-representative elected offices… have a lot more in common with the Thylean model than they do with the original imperial senate, which was about social class.”

“Is ‘representative government’ really government?” a student asked. “It’s always sounded like a fancy name for anarchy to me.”

“Well, I won’t be weighing the pros and cons versus, say, an imperial republic,” Hart said. “But… it gets the job done. They have laws, and the protection of laws. Fenwick said that the rule in the Mother Isles was might-makes-right… at that time, a Thylean who killed another Thylean would be expected to pay a penalty, which was prescribed by law. Punishments could include literal payment, or exile… like I said before, a lot of Thylean explorers were looking for greener pastures to ride out the term of their exile. And yes, some of them ended up here… or rather, in Greater Magisteria, or the smaller islands of the Westering Lands.”

“What did they do here?”

“Set up colonies,” Hart said. “Or tried to. They didn’t have a lasting presence in Magisteria. There is some evidence of transoceanic trade with kobolds and dwarves, which probably helps explain why they never really made it here… trying to deal peacably with both of those peoples at once takes such a legendary level of diplomacy that it’s become part of the foundational myth of our nation. The Thyleans of that age weren’t the simple ‘barbarians’ we write them off as, but I doubt they were up to that.”

“On the subject of dwarves and things,” another student said, “I know there are dwarven kingdoms in the Thylean Federation. What was that like, back in the day? Did they get along?”

“Old Thylea was pretty much a model of racial diversity, compared to just about anywhere else at the time,” Hart said. “Strength and skill were respected above all else. Dwarves, elves, and humans all might be found within the same enclave… not really a clan, because there were no ties of kinship, but more than a run-of-the-mill adventuring party. I think the concept is translated as a ‘fellowship’.”

“Indeed,” Fenwick said. “In fact, it was a custom among the wilder elves of the continent to journey north when they were young and join a Thylean warband, spending a human lifetime or two living that wild and raucous lifestyle. Those who survived would eventually leave to rejoin their immortal kindred, which prompted some interesting myths on the part of the Thylean humans about the nature of elven mortality and their homeland. The local elves, who mostly lived apart in their snowy forests, were viewed as ‘full elves’ who were truly immortal, while those who came from points south and stayed for a time before leaving or dying a violent death were believed to only be elves in part.”

“But, anyway,” Hart said, “it’s really their system of laws that I was thinking of when I brought up their impact on the modern world. We think of the little democratic flourishes in our system as being the product of elven influences, by way of the Ardanians, but we owe more to the Thyleans there than we often acknowledge. It’s just not in keeping with our image of them to think of them as parliamentarians and peacemakers, of lawgivers and order-keepers… but the thing about a ‘warrior society’ is that if it doesn’t have formal rules for its internal dealings then it’s never going to last long enough to make it across the sea.”

He glanced up at the timepiece.

“And we’re just about out of time for serious discussion, so if anyone has anything they want to quickly ask more about, now’s the time… otherwise let’s hear some ideas for next week.”

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82 Responses to “Chapter 27: Althings Considered”

  1. Lana Lemon says:

    This one was actually fun! Usually I’m not a fan of the class discussions, but I enjoyed this a lot.

    The Thyleans are so cool. ;u;

    Current score: 0
    • jc says:

      As I read this, I kept thinking that one could replace “Thylean” with “Norse” or “Scandinavian”, and it wouldn’t change much. Except for the actual magic and elves and gnomes, of course. But then, many current-day Scandinavians like to insist that such creatures are all real; they just hide when there are strangers about. AE didn’t have to invent very much to write this bit of history; she mostly tweaked the history of some of our world’s most northerly people. This is all reasonable, of course, since so much of that history is a result of the pressures of living in that environment, and other successful societies in such extreme conditions will adopt a lot of the same survival techniques.

      Current score: 1
      • Lana Lemon says:

        Yeah, I’m aware that it’s very similar. That’s the best part to me though! I think I had the most fun when they were discussing the often-female barrow wights. Seeing the heavily-borrowed history mixed with her own fantastic flairs was so fun. c:

        Current score: 0
  2. potatohead says:

    “Given the legendary tenacity of a Thylean barrow-wight,” Fenwick said, “I think we can excuse adventurers of generations past for not stopping to sex the skeletons before re-slaying them.”

    “No comments from the necromancy students, please,” Hart said.

    Apparently Seff is less alone than she believes.

    Current score: 0
  3. sliversith says:

    Since it was brought up already, I would love to hear more about racism and perceived racism in the old empires. Particularly regarding other… well, Races. Like, dwarf/elf/human/other races, not just subraces of humans.

    Current score: 0
  4. Jennifer says:

    A really fun chapter to read! I quite liked how our “examining skeletons in archeology” turned into the MUniverse’s “examining the re-dead skeletons we had to fight off.”

    “Coins-to-crullers” as a substitution for “dollars-to-donuts” is also rather cute.

    Plus: a shout-out to the Wizard of OZ, and the return of Mackenzie’s missing bra? Pretty sweet chapter, overall!

    *edit: Are we supposed to come up with suggestions for next week? Or will that be left to the author this time? (I don’t actually have any bright ideas)

    *edit 2: Is Ylim a reference to something I am not aware of?

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  5. anna says:


    “That could be son.”

    is missing a ‘my’

    “or as Thyleans as us”

    has an extra ‘as’

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  6. anon y mouse says:

    ‘That could be son. That could be my grandson.’ – my son?

    We don’t think of ourselves as Thyleans, or as Thyleans as us… – or Thyleans as us?

    “Like I said, there’s a room for interpretation. What did you read?” – maybe take out ‘a’

    “An ordinary giant is a normal-sized creature, scaled to a world that was greater in every sense of the world than the one we know today.” – do you mean ‘every sense of the word’ or is ‘world’ correct here?

    “Was it like druidry, or were they just wear-bears,” – do you mean ‘were-bears’?

    “Pop culture sometimes lumps anyone who’s going between a single humanoid and single animal form together as ‘weres’, but they’re a particular class of shapeshifters.” – should there be an ‘a’ before ‘single animal’?

    “Anatomy of an Aaron Hart Class will be a fascinating academic topic” – do you mean to have the ‘an’ in there?

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    • potatohead says:

      Yeah, that’s correct grammar. The course is about the anatomy of Aaron Hart’s class, not Aaron Hart’s anatomy.

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  7. Liudovic says:

    I am seriously liking these class discussions.
    I liked the zeppelin/air balloon reference …

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  8. Nadia says:

    I was particularly interested in the piece about “sea devils”, it’s a very obvious reinforcement of what we already know, but laying it down in an almost concrete manor is always a nice way to tip the hat at older information.

    A sort of chuckle as we realize the weight of such small things while reading the rest of the piece, it leaves a good feeling, one of those “Ah ha!” moments, the eureka of it all in a glaze coating the scrumptious cake that is your writing.

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  9. Chris says:

    a basket of whicker – did you mean wicker?

    I continue to wish I could take a class from Hart.

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  10. Morten says:

    The Shift. How did the Shift affect the formation of the modern world? What if it hadn’t existed?

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    • Jennifer says:

      Seconded. I’d love to hear more about the Shift.

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    • Alico says:

      I definitely want to know more about The Shift as well. The points that Mack brought up about the poles being close to The Shift is also interesting. Would that mean that the shift is like a very swampy, yet still cold, Siberia?

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  11. Angnor says:

    Perhaps I’m being silly, but I was wondering if ‘Vengr’ was a reference to the old D&D cartoon?

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    • anna says:

      You’re probably being silly 😛

      ‘Vengr’ is probably a reference to ‘Vingnir’, which is one of the by-names for Odin, and thought to be related to the verb ‘vingsa’ (to swing ’round). That relationship isn’t all that solid, since Vingnir is only attested once in the literature.

      As is common with Odin, this is probably a reference to the gallows.

      I suppose it’s possible that the old D&D cartoon character, Venger, was somehow playing off the same reference. But just as likely it was a play on ‘vengeance’ (which is a Latin-rooted word) or something similar.

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      • Angnor says:

        Thanks for the info. My lack of Norse knowledge knows no limits… 😛

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      • Why would I make a reference to one thing when I could be referencing two? 🙂

        Current score: 1
  12. Schulze says:

    So Thylea is really the west of Middle-Earth, only with actual vikings-on-ships than the vikings-on-horseback of Rohan…
    “A fellowship”, har har. 😀

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  13. Triof says:

    Owlbears 🙂

    Plus, more stuff about sea-devils. Apparently the Thyleans weren’t fond of mermaids.

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    • Trystia Indraea Olyphis Farrower says:

      The ravenous creatures that view ships the way modern Americans view oyster pails? Why wouldn’t they have an intense hatred for such creatures? The way I see it, since the Thyleans were the first notable ocean-going culture, they would have run into the mermaids the most, and since their ships were crewed entirely by warriors, they would be far more likely to survive such as encounter.

      What I found far more interesting is that it was common for elves to join up with Thylean warbands, meaning that there may still be elves who know exactly what ‘sea-devil’ refers to as well…

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  14. Readaholic says:

    Oh Wow!! Awesome update, and we haven’t even gotten to the horned helmets yet (lol). Wizard of Oz, “arcane government documents”, missing bras, fellowships, and shield maidens, oh my! Very entertaining, and an interesting insight into Mack’s upbringing included with the reference to aerial navigation books. Not to mention the massive yet still very entertaining world-building infodump.
    Om nom nom indeed! I deem this chapter worthy of an Ook.

    Current score: 0
    • Jennifer says:

      Do we know what those “arcane government documents” are?

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  15. Heather says:

    Hooray for the Wizard of Oz shoutout!

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  16. Ducky says:

    I really liked discussing a non-Magisterian culture. Maybe we could take a look at Yokan next?

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  17. anna says:

    Another correction:

    “but it’s what we call a kenning, which is particular sort of poetic turn of phrase.”

    Should be ‘a particular sort’

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  18. Zergonapal says:

    That was quite long, I hope this is evidence of you shifting into gear and producing more frequent updates AE.
    I really liked this chapter, it was both humourous and informative. Would have been interesting if they had pursued the subject of racism some and Mack had come out of her shell.

    Current score: 0
  19. Month says:

    A question:

    What IS the shift. Besides apparently hell on earth according to the Khersians.

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    • Zergonapal says:

      Sounds like a localized warp rift without the daemons and excessive mutation to me.

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      • Month says:

        I wonder if they have an Emperor, or some cultists in there…

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    • Burnsidhe says:

      It’s always sounded like a dimensional shift to me. A place where the barriers between different dimensions and alternate planes are practically non-existant.

      Current score: 0
  20. Amelia says:

    “Hart sad” should probably be Hart said but it just had me imagining a LOLHart poster.

    Great chapter which should probably win some sort of terrible titular pun award.

    Current score: 1
  21. Sarah says:

    I love this chapter so much.

    Current score: 1
  22. N'vill says:

    I am going to be really awkward here and suggest that Thylea is in fact modelled on the UK, and the Valkyries are of course part of Nordic legend anyway, therefore suggesting they, the Valkyries, are the original Vikings.
    Being in the UK it makes some kind of sense rather than as others seem to have interpreted it.
    I will no doubt be shot down by A.E. on that but just my opinion.

    Otherwise most folk have found the same minor mistakes I have, so I will just say and agree, a very entertaining and fun read.

    Current score: 0
    • Dave says:

      AIUI we (the UK) are the prototype for the Mother Isles. Thylea is based on Scandinavia, or part of it.

      Current score: 0
      • Bramble says:

        My understanding is that the Cosmopolitan Empire (seated in the Mother Isles) kind of a Roman Empire/British Empire mashup, with the capitol in the rough equivalent of Great Britain but controlling a significant chunk of the continent. Thylea definitely has a Scandinavian flavor to it, and probably is similar geographically – but remember, the MUniverse is not just a map of earth with different names on. Not everything matches up one-to-one with our world.

        Current score: 0
        • Rey d`Tutto says:

          Well, according to some physicists, there could theoretically exist a, or multiple, parallel universes, each with it’s own sets of basic laws and fundamental constants. Within the possibilities, we can look inside one that is the equivalent of a one cubic diameter sphere, which has a lifespan measured in microseconds, and it would still have a “one to one” correspondence of SpaceTime with our own universe.

          The Infinite tends to play poorly with others. It usually results in Zero, the Square Root of -1, or Infinity.

          Of course, travelling to, or even conversing with, the level of entropy contained within a 1 Meter, Microsecond universe, is more than i care to contemplate.

          Current score: 0
    • Amelia says:

      I though the fact that the earliest written documents in Pax (the Mother Tongue?” were Thylean was probably a reference to Beowulf (first story written in English) rather than Thylea being British in itself.

      Current score: 0
  23. Dave says:

    “were they just wear-bears” – ITYM were-bears.

    Interesting that Thylea is rich because of mithril deposits – whereas Norway is rich because of oil. And its income-per-head is 5th highest in the world because of that AND the fact that its political system ensures a more equal society with a smaller gap between rich and poor than in the USA, or indeed the UK. (The 4 top countries, according to Wolfram|Alpha, are very small. #1 is Monaco, pop 33,000.)

    Even more interesting; “The oldest known Pax-language epic poems are about Thylean heroes in Thylean lands.” And I’m immediately thinking of one of our earliest Old English tales, Beowulf. Which actually took place in Denmark and Sweden. As AE in fact tells us, with her mention of ‘bee-wolf’ (AKA Beowulf) as a kenning for bear.

    As for our world’s oldest parliament – that’s the Icelandic Althing.

    Current score: 0
  24. Glenn says:

    I find it interesting that the planar theory student says some people in Mack’s world think that some of the extra-planar matter that comes through is “atomic”. Evidently Amaranth isn’t the only person who thinks that material from science based realities can enter their world.

    Current score: 0
    • Jennifer says:

      Yes, that is fairly interesting. Extra-planar matters (and the Shift) would probably make a pretty fascinating, and perhaps scientific at times, topic.

      Current score: 0
    • Burnsidhe says:

      The theory of atoms is a very, very old one. And it boils down to “Something must make up all this stuff, but it cant’ be infinitely divisible, so there must be a fundamental particle.”

      Current score: 0
      • Rey d`Tutto says:

        but there are four fundamental particles, Air, Earth, Fire, and Ethyl Alcohol…
        no, wait… Strong, Weak, Electromagnetic… oops, umm…

        Current score: 1
  25. Arakano says:

    Gotta love the snarky yet bluntly open statements of Hart regarding racism!
    And yes, the parallels between Scandinavia and Thylea are of course rather strong. 😉

    Current score: 0
  26. Anvildude says:

    I literally laughed for about five minutes straight at the part about the bee-wolves. And not just little giggles, either. Big, belly busting, guffaws of pure hilarity laughter.

    Then it started again when it got to the Owlbears.

    I have to imagine it’s easier writing these narratives, where one of the characters is actually, well, narrating something- which is good, because it means longer, faster updates, and the stuff that’s being narrated about is fascinating and informative.

    Current score: 0
  27. Heather says:

    I laughed out loud at “one-eighth whatever on my mother’s side” and at the literal beewolves. Excellent chapter!

    Current score: 0
  28. cnic says:

    People mentioned a Wizard of Oz reference. Where was it?

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    • Jennifer says:

      “The sorcerer-king who came out of the sky in a basket of whicker and traded a handful of emeralds for seal-skins to repair his… this is the exact translation… ‘gas-bladder.’”

      AKA, a wizard, who is a ruler in a different plane, coming out of the sky in a basket held up by a gas balloon, bearing emeralds.

      In addition, it’s been mentioned before in the Q&A that Amaranth got her glasses (and other off world artifacts) from a scientist-wizard who was in a balloon traveling between planes.

      Current score: 0
  29. carson says:

    Someone I respect (friend of a friend) had a very unfortunate racial-profiling incident recently. Between that & the movie “The Help” I’ve had very similar conversations about race this week. Thanks, AE. You are very wise in many ways.

    (Now I have to scamper back for the TWWOO reference! :facepalm: I can’t believe I missed it the first time!)

    Current score: 0
  30. OhPun says:

    Christine Northrup, a physician and author about women’s medical issues, says that women need to address/resolve any persistent irritations before menopause or the need to address them will be extremely strong once menopause arrives. After menopause there is no softening of feelings to counteract the irritation. Of course, I’m (badly) paraphrasing. Her books are huge and full of detail. My point is that the Thylean barrow-wights may be the next logical step in this progression. If women do not take care of the irritations when they are alive, even after menopause, perhaps cutting those irritations to bits with a sword after death is the next step.

    Actually, it’s a wonder more women don’t do this. Perhaps that is why men are so interested in keeping swords out of women’s hands while they are alive. Lorena Bobbit anyone?

    Current score: 0
  31. Sapphite says:

    Bravo! Fascinating ‘history’ lesson, and lots of delightfully fun easter eggs.

    Current score: 0
  32. Teunis says:

    If you want a saga about warrior women in the Norse, look up Freydís Eiríksdóttir (Grœnlendinga saga) … among others.

    I like this. Speaking as someone fascinated by what historic Teutonic, Nordic, Saami, Finn and even good ol Angles, Saxon and Jute cultures thought of things… this fit 🙂
    (well relatively well, anyway)
    the Aesir, Vanir, … as Giants… heh. That’s probably a closer description than many I’ve heard in modern references.

    May the mead in your cups never run dry!

    Current score: 0
  33. Trystia Indraea Olyphis Farrower says:

    By the way, I love the confusion everyone in the class (except Mackenzie) had over polar route distances, both because it closely parallels the real world, and because it points to the scientific backwardness of the world of MU. Reykjavik is a full thousand miles closer to Beijing than San Francisco is, yet if you asked the average American which was closer, they’d answer, “Where’s Reykjavik?” And then you could explain that this was the capital of Iceland, and they’d then answer that San Francisco must surely be closer.

    Also, fun detail on Granny Blaise having a book on polar routes, since that would have come in handy back during the Chaos Wars when she was an active paladin…

    Current score: 0
    • ayla says:

      Also, Grandpa Blaise (Martha’s husband) was an airshipman, so having books on aerial navigation lying around the house is an obvious detail– but still a cool one.

      Current score: 0
      • Trystia Indraea Olyphis Farrower says:

        Huh, I completely forgot about that… which chapter was her grandfather mentioned in?

        Current score: 0
        • Zukira Phaera says:

          I forget which precisely but it is in at least one of the other tales where Aidan/Dan’s adoption is discussed.

          Current score: 0
    • Burnsidhe says:

      Granny Blaise may well have been on at least one significant expedition into the Shift.

      Current score: 0
  34. Zathras IX says:

    In which is discussed
    The Incredible Whiteness of
    Being a Human

    Current score: 1
  35. Zarflax says:


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  36. Miss Lynx says:

    Loved this chapter – by far the most entertaining of all the classroom-based chapters thus far. I think I am in love with Professor Hart and his snarkiness. A few particular highlights for me:

    (to the student with the Argento-Imperial suitemate) “I’m surprised you noticed.”

    “one-eighth whatever on my mother’s side”

    “it’s not going to be a feel-good circle-j… back-patting session”

    “Can I say assholes?”
    “Only if you mean it in the strictest academic sense.”

    “No comments from the necromancy students, please.”

    Current score: 0
  37. Yumi says:

    Sorry if this topic has already been addressed somewhere, but I seem to no longer be receiving emails about the updates here. Is this happening to a lot of people, everyone, or does it seem to be just me? I tried to sign up again for the email updates, and it said that it already had my email address; I’ve also checked my spam folder, and there was no notice of it there either.

    Current score: 0
    • You are not the only person to report this difficulty. I’ll try re-jiggering things on my side.

      Current score: 0
    • N'vill says:

      Yes me too, though being new thought perhaps the system hadn’t seen me yet.

      Current score: 0
  38. Sindyr says:

    Good job on the updates; keep up the good work. We enjoyed the stories as always!

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  39. Mix*G says:

    Awesome chapter… Title made me giggle. 🙂

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  40. Erm says:

    against a tribe of creatures called ‘sea-devils’

    Ooh, I’m liking this chapter already.

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  41. Erm says:

    sex the skeletons

    … ^_^

    “Their expansion has only been stymied by a rise in owlbears…”


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  42. Silver says:

    Wow… so many fantastic references to so many things. LotR, the Wizard of Oz, merfolk, the Shift, Mackenzie’s missing bra, European history debates, and the list goes on. Since my college started back up last week, the economics debate rang particularly closely, since I’m taking a night class about international economic growth.

    Anyhow, if we get to submit topics of inquiry, I’d like to echo the suggestion to find out more about the Shift. Also, it’s nice to see the stories coming more frequently (or maybe that’s just my being busier and checking a little less frequently).

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  43. Glenn says:

    Reading about the wolf bees has made me more curious about life magic in general, so I hope we get a future discussion on that. What other new species have been created besides wolf bees? And I wonder just how good a “genetic engineer” Amaranth might have the potential to become. Given her fascination with the idea of animal intelligence, could she be studying life magic because she someday hopes to be able to uplift animal species to full human level intelligence?

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  44. siberian says:

    “Old Thylea was pretty much a model of racial diversity, compared to just about anywhere else at the time”

    When I read this paragraph I immediately thought of Macks interest in the little village of Puddy’s probably ancestry that didn’t seem to make sense in a geographical/historical way. A Thylean outpost/settlement would make sense, wasn’t it in a river valley? even if it was significantly inland exploration tends to follow waterways, and it was (again testing memory) at a unique juncture of elven, fairy, dwarven (others i’m forgetting) races, so, chicken or the egg, was a small trading outpost set up and the other races came toward it for trade, or did they all actuall happen to overlap in one spot and thyleans just happened to find it?
    yeah, i fully embrace my history geekness 🙂

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  45. Kalistri says:

    I would still like to know more about the fae within MUniverse, so I’ll make a suggestion that the next class discusses fae in much the same way as the previous class discussed dragons.

    Also I wouldn’t mind knowing something of Thylean magic, but I suppose there might not be time before the class ends if turning into bears is just the beginning of their capabilities.

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  46. That Dave Guy says:

    The academic chapters are always my favorites ^_^ If MU had been around, I might have actually gone to college…

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  47. M says:

    I’m curious: is the choice of “pegasuses” as the plural of pegasus intentional? I would have guessed “pegasi”, but then I know that some people have strong opinions about “octopi” not being the proper plural of octopus (though a portion of them think that the right plural is “octopodes”) (eg,

    Google fight tells me that pegasi is more commonly used – doesn’t mean it is right, of course:

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    • erianaiel says:

      I do not think that debate is ever going to settled, anymore than the one about the proper plural of wolf, dwarf and elf. The only good thing about it is that the people who get really worked up over it tend to take their battles to the internet and not to the nearest larp…

      Personally I go with Pegasushi as the plural of Pegasus. It is most certainly not what the Greek have used, but at least it is mildly amusing.

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      • N'vill says:

        I have always understood the plural of those three are wolves, dwarves, and elves, the “v” substituting the “f” followed by “es”. However if there are other opinions, who am I to argue?
        As far as Pegasus is concerned, there has always been a problem with the plural of anything that ends with “S”.
        However, I do find Pegasushi amusing, any more fun ways of doing it out there?

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        • Zukira Phaera says:

          I’m one for going with a fish out of water plural for the pegasus.

          One fish, two fish
          red fish, blue fish

          A horse ain’t a bird but all pegasus fly

          (And now I’ll attempt to cease playing Seuss and try to shelve my silliness)

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  48. Kiraya says:

    Man, I love Hart’s snarky attitude so much. He’s definitely my favorite MU professor.

    Great chapter — the worldbuilding and academic discussion ones are always so fascinating.

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  49. Speight says:

    Great chapter. Some interesting info and food for thought about the real-life northern European tribes as well.

    Liked Hart’s wit, but also good to see that he doesn’t know everything.

    The following sentence is tripping me up, looks like some words are missing or something:

    How can I examine the mindset of the Old Imperial Man from the Mother Isles hundreds of years ago if I’m going to flinch away from performing the same kind of the mind of his closest living relative on hand, the Modern Magisterian Man?

    Perhaps “exercise on” or similar is missing from between “kind of” and “the mind of”? Makes an even longer sentence of it, though.

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  50. Khazidhea says:

    “I’m not being ‘hard on’ myself, Fenwick”
    Not sure on this, but seems the emphasis should just be on ‘hard’, not ‘hard on’.

    “That could be son. That could be my grandson.”
    Missing ‘my’ before son.

    “This is your class and If you all”
    Capitalised ‘I’ in ‘if’

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