"Let us go forth a while, and get better air in our lungs. Let us leave our closed rooms...
The game of ball is glorious."

--Walt Whitman

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Taking a Lead(off Hitter)

Normally, three in a row would not be very impressive. But, considering what came just prior (a five game losing streak), TBL just has to say:

Holy winning streak, Batman!

Win the Third came on the backs of Scott "May I Stay, Please?" Baker (8 IP, 7 K, 2 H, 1 ER, 0 BB) pitching a gem, Joe "Sorry About Going 0-for-Cleveland" Mauer (3 RBI) accounting for all Twins runs and Jason "Who, Me?" Tyner (3-for-4, 2 R) hitting like a madman in the unfamiliar role of leadoff hitter (more on that, later).

Win the Second was due largely to an excellent pitching performance by Matt "I'd Like To Stay, Too" Garza (6 IP, 11 K, 5 H, 3 BB, 1 ER) and three errors by a surprisingly helpful Cleveland squad.

Win the First, you may recall, featured a return to form for Johan "En Fuego Again" Santana and the first major-league home run by Jason "Woo-Hoo!" Tyner, snapping his streak of 1,120 at-bats without a longball, which was the longest active-player streak in the ML until it snapped.

Now, if you've been living in a cave you may be wondering why Jason Tyner was batting leadoff last night. Never fear, subterranean friends, TBL will fill you in.

Yesterday, the Twins traded second baseman and perennial leadoff man Luis Castillo to the Mets for a double-A catcher and an A outfielder. And that, in a nutshell, is how Tyner got the leadoff job last night.

But, TBL
, you may ask, don't the Twins have more of a leadoff hitter type somewhere on the roster?

Apparently not, dear readers. Apparently not. There's Bartlett, of course, but it's been proven time and again that when you're waiting for this organization to give Barty a little love, you'll be waiting until just shy of Doomsday. Punto would be a candidate, if this were last season. He'll have to hit something this season to see the first half of the order, however, much less leadoff. The new kid's too untried, Mauer's too slow (ditto Cirillo), Hunter's too free-swinging, and everyone else is either a power hitter, a bench player or on the DL.

And what, you may then inquire, does this trade mean for the Twins, TBL?

That depends, dear readers. That depends.

It depends on what does or does not happen before 3:00 this afternoon. Either the Twins will take the 2 million bucks they're saving on Castillo's salary for the rest of this season and use it as part of an action to acquire someone really good to boost the club in the second half and (oh please oh please oh please) next season as well.

Or, they'll do nothing.

(There is, one supposes, the third option of using that money to make a really lousy trade for, say, Jason Giambi or someone equally appalling, but TBL prefers to cling to the belief that the Twins haven't sunk that far until events prove otherwise.)

If they use the salary savings and make a big splashy wonderful trade, then the Castillo trade means that the Twins were willing to tighten their belts and make a sincere and difficult sacrifice in order to better the team.

If they do nothing, it means they've given up and Pohlad needed two million bucks to buy himself something almost as pleasant as a playoff run.

Clock's ticking, my dears.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Only Award Likely This Season

...and the award for Best Impersonation of a Sad Sack of Crap goes to...


...the Minnesota Twins, in the sixth inning of yesterday's game! Wooo!

Let's take another look at this stunning performance:

Carlos Silva pitching:
~ Frank Thomas walked.
~ Matt Stairs reached on fielder's choice to second, Thomas out at second.
~ Aaron Hill safe at first on 3rd baseman Rodriguez's fielding error, Stairs to second.
~ Gregg Zaun doubled to deep right, Stairs scored, Hill to third.
~ John McDonald tripled to center, Hill and Zaun scored.

Dennys Reyes relieved Carlos Silva.
Dennys Reyes pitching:
~ Troy Glaus singled to left center, McDonald scored.
~ Lyle Overbay walked, Glaus to second.

Juan Rincón relieved Dennys Reyes.
Juan Rincón pitching:
~ Alex Rios singled to left, Glaus scored, Overbay to second.
~ Vernon Wells walked, Overbay to third, Rios to second.
~ Frank Thomas singled to right, Overbay and Rios scored, Wells to third.
~ Matt Stairs doubled to deep left center, Wells scored, Thomas to third.

Matt Guerrier relieved Juan Rincón.
Matt Guerrier pitching:
~ Aaron Hill grounded out to shortstop.
~ Gregg Zaun homered to right, Thomas and Stairs scored.
~ John McDonald lined out to right.

End of Inning (11 Runs, 7 Hits, 1 Error)
(play-by-play from CBSSportsline.com)

TBL sez: It's a good thing this wasn't televised, else TBL might have clawed her own eyes out.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Irons in the Fire

What can one say about the Twins lately? They're not good enough to inspire, nor bad enough to be comedic. They're just rather...blah. Which may be a good word for the season as a whole, really.

As TBL can take only so much blah without going stark raving mad, she's found other things to occupy her attention lately. (She is still as passionately devoted to the Twins as ever, but sometimes one just needs a wee break, especially in the midst of the blahs.)

Obviously, there was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which was brilliant and TBL loved it and is now in deepest mourning for the end of the most amazing fantasy series in her lifetime.

Being a frequent walker and bus rider, TBL is never without her mp3 player. Said player is, as usual, tuned to the Levellers. Today's playlist features "Exodus", "Falling From the Tree", "Just the One (EP version)", "Make U Happy", "Liberty Song", "Tranquil Blue", "Another Man's Cause" and "Men-An-Tol".

TBL normally does not watch movies very often, but has been on a rare DVD surge lately. In the last couple of weeks she has watched:

  • Pride and Prejudice, the 1995 BBC version, which is TBL's favorite movie of all time and which she makes a point of viewing at least thrice yearly despite its being six hours long.
  • Pride and Prejudice, the new version with Kiera Knightley, which TBL had not seen before, and which failed to impress due to taking far too many liberties with the book. It was, however, visually stunning.
  • Emma, with Gwynneth Paltrow. A good and very funny short take on a lengthy novel. TBL is still hunting for a copy the miniseries version with Kate Beckinsale.
  • Sense and Sensibility, the one with Emma Thompson and Hugh Grant. Another old favorite. Yes, TBL does like her Jane Austen...
  • The Cater Street Hangman, an entertaining version of a well-loved book.
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. They're all so TINY in that one! TBL is inspired to greet this coming Halloween as Professor McGonagall.
  • Nicholas Nickelby, with Charlie Hunnam and Anne Hathaway, which was very well done and frequently hysterical. Nathan Lane plays Crummles--'nuff said!
  • Nanny McPhee. TBL adores it. Who can resist a movie with both Emma Thompson AND Colin Firth?
  • An Inconvenient Truth. Even better the second time!
Whilst watching said movies, TBL does like to indulge in some knitting. Currently OTN--on the needles--are: an experimental shawl in James C Brett "Marble" DK (TBL has begun concocting her own patterns, everybody duck), two pairs of socks--a chevron pattern in Lion Brand "Magic Stripes" and a 3x3 rib plain sock in Crystal palace "Panda Cotton", and a Gryffindor House Scarf Bookmark from Charmed Knits: Projects for Fans of Harry Potter in Brown Sheep "Nature Spun".

The past year has not been so good for the writing, but TBL has finally gotten back on that horse. She is actively working on revisions to novel #1, recently completed chapter 4 of novel #2 and a short story which was run as a serial right here on Third Base Line, and is tinkering with chapter 2 of novel #3 whilst pondering another short story. (If anyone would like to volunteer to do TBL's housework and/or laundry, do send an email.)

And, in what miniscule bits of time remain for reading, we find TBL's nose planted in "The Assault on Reason" by Al Gore.

Silva faces off against Litsch today at 11:37 a.m. (and just how in blazes did they come up with that time?!) , attempting to wrest one game of the series from Toronto's clutches. TBL will be tuning in from work and devoutly hoping for something above and beyond blah.

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Absent Mind

Out of body.

Back in 784 pages.

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Measuring Up

While a 2006-esque comeback run is quite possible, mathematically speaking, TBL is just not seeing the playoff fire in this 2007 Twins team. Even when they're winning, they just don't seem like they're prepared to do it consistently. Last year, when they won, they exuded the well-earned satisfaction of a group which has finally begun to succeed at its chosen task. This year, they simply give the appearance of being pleasantly surprised. (This, one might note, does not inspire confidence.)

Intangibles aside, what's the formula for getting to October? Feast on the bad teams, do well against the decent teams, hold your own against the good teams, and have a winning record within your division.

Though who's good, who's indifferent, and who's awful isn't exactly carved in stone yet, either, we know who's in which category now, and how the Twins have done against them so far. Let's review:

The Awful (< .450):

Twins record
Tampa Bay37-57, .39434.429
San Francisco39-54, .419--

Washington40-55, .42112.333
Houston40-55, .421------
Pittsburgh40-54, .426------
Cincinnati41-55, .427------
Texas41-54, .43221.667
Kansas City41-53, .4362
Baltimore42-52, .4473

Feasting? TBL thinks not.

The Indifferent (.450 - .550):

Twins record
Chicago White Sox
43-51, .4577
St. Louis43-49, .467--
Florida45-51, .4692
Oakland45-50, .4745
Toronto46-49, .4844
Philadelphia47-48, .495--
Colorado48-47, .505--
Arizona50-47, .515--
New York Yankees48-45, .5162
Atlanta51-45, .5313
Chicago Cubs50-44, .532--

Doing well? Quite.

The Good (> .550):

Twins record
New York Mets53-42, .5582
Los Angeles Dodgers54-42, .563--
San Diego53-41, .564--
Milwaukee54-41, .5683
Seattle53-39, .5763
Boston56-39, .5891
Cleveland56-39, .5890
Los Angeles Angels56-38, .5961
Detroit57-36, .6135

Holding their own? Not so much.

The Division:

Twins record
Kansas City41-53, .4362
Chicago White Sox
43-51, .4577
Cleveland56-39, .5890
Detroit57-36, .6135

Winning in the division? Not even close.

The Twins have one of the four elements in the playoff formula, 95 games into the season. TBL just doesn't see it happening this year, folks. Which isn't to say the season is a lost cause. Much may yet be accomplished, the development of key young players being numero uno on that list.

But if you've been saving up for playoff tickets, you might want to start pondering what else you'd like to treat yourself to. TBL is considering Lasik. Or perhaps a spring training jaunt. Decisions, decisions...

Probables - Angels (56-38) at Twins (49-46)

6/20, 7:10 pm:
John Lackey, RHP (12-5, 2.98) vs Carlos Silva, RHP (7-10, 4.55)

Lackey is one of the best out there. A bad day for him is still a rough day for opposing batters. Silva is coming off of a very good outing against the A's but has been shaky overall in the last few weeks.

6/21, 6:10 pm:
Jered Weaver, RHP (6-5, 3.36) vs Boof Bonser, RHP (5-6, 4.68)

Weaver seems to have hit his stride after an injury-plagued first half. Bonser was healthy but largely unimpressive in the first half; lately, though, he has had several promising outings.

6/22: 1:10 pm:
Joe Saunders, LHP (3-0, 2.97) vs Matt Garza, RHP (1-1, 0.00)

Saunders hasn't yet pitched a full season's worth of starts in the big leagues, but he's lefthanded and breathing, which usually spells trouble for these Twins. Add to that the fact that he's been quite good in brief callups for the Angels this year, and Sunday's game should be a challenge for Minnesota hitters. Matt Garza has yet to give up an earned run in ML action this season--his one loss was on an unearned run earlier this week.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Unluckiest Man on Earth

7 innings.
26 batters.
3 hits.
3 strikeouts.
1 walk.
0 earned runs.

1 loss.

You, Matt Garza, are the unluckiest man on earth today.

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Pelean's Jewel, Part VII

So the very next day Tallow made that long swim upstream again. He spoke with Pelean for several hours, and revealed more than he realized. When he got back to the palace, he was happy to report that the dragon had agreed to the meeting.

At midmorning on the appointed day, Queen Lilias stood on the bridge where she had lost her jewel, Sir Brennan at her right hand and Mistral at her left, as promised. Knights and nobles and townsfolk crowded the shore to watch this unusual assembly. They saw the dragon coming, a flash of silver in the water, moments before his head broke the surface, rising above the railing.

He looked at the three on the bridge. "You I recognize," he said to Sir Brennan.

"You I do not," he said to Mistral.

"And you must be the queen," he said to Lilias.

"You must be Pelean," Queen Lilias said. "Thank you for coming."

The dragon tilted his head and studied her for a moment. "You'll be wanting this," he said, holding out a webbed paw the size of a serving platter, the jewel in its center.

She caught her breath at the sight of it, but clenched her hands at her sides and did not reach for it. "You are kind, sir, to someone who has not been kind to you."

"You did not know me," Pelean said. "And I can see that you are very young. The young may make mistakes which would be unforgivable in the old."

"No, I did not know you. I did not even know you existed, much less how long and well you had served my kingdom. Yet you were just outside my door all the while. So I wonder—of how many other things, which I ought properly to be aware, am I ignorant?"

"I cannot answer that for you," the dragon said.

The queen smiled. "Of course you cannot. But when you swam away with my jewel, I was forced to look at the world outside my palace. I wish that my first impulse had not been to send men armed with swords and my blessing out into that world to do harm on my behalf."

The dragon said nothing, but inclined his head to show that he understood.

"You are right to say that I want the jewel. But Tallow is right to say that you have earned it. He said you told him that it is the color of the ocean where you were born." She put her hands on the railing and leaned closer. "Do you miss it? Do you want to go back?"

Pelean frowned and thought very hard. "No," he said slowly after a moment. "I love this stream. I do not miss the ocean itself. But when I think of it, I think of my family. And when I see the color of it, trapped within this jewel, I remember them a little better."

"Ah," she breathed. "I understand, Pelean, I do. The jewel belonged to my mother, who died several years ago. I find it difficult sometimes to remember her face or her voice, but when I wear the jewel that was her favorite, it all comes back to me and I feel a little less lonely."

"How can you be lonely?" Pelean wondered. "You are surrounded by people."

"You are surrounded by fish," she said. "But they are not dragons. I am surrounded by people, but they are not queens."

"Oh," he said. "I see."

"I think you do." She turned to Sir Brennan. "Where was Pelean brought from, again?"

"From Gidaleon, by the sea, Your Majesty. A gift from their king to your great-grandfather," the knight replied. His curiosity had led him into the royal records over the last few days, and he had shared what he found with the queen.

She spoke to the dragon again. "If I were to send someone to Gidaleon to find a companion for you, would that please you? Would that be thanks enough for all the time and work you have spent on us? Or is there something else we might do to show our gratitude?"

"I would like nothing better than to have a companion of my own kind," he admitted. "But I would not have another suffer the captivity I endured in my youth."

Queen Lilias nodded. "Of course." She considered the problem for a moment. "What if they wanted to come here? I could send Tallow to try and persuade them. You have no reason to trust me yet, but you would trust him to deal with them honestly, would you not?"

The long column of Pelean's throat worked as he swallowed back some strong emotion. "Even the attempt would be thanks enough, Your Majesty."

"Then it shall be done, if Tallow agrees," she promised.

"I believe he shall," Sir Brennan added. "The boy has an adventurous spirit."

Pelean nodded. Carefully he set the jewel on the railing in front of her. "I may yet see another of my kind again. I could even go back to the ocean if I wished it. You cannot swim south and find your mother. Your memories are more precious than mine."

"Thank you," she said, her fingers closing about the stone. "For everything."

Tallow eagerly agreed to go to Gidaleon, and within a week he set out with Sir Brennan, two strong knights and the wizard's apprentice. The adventures they had along the way are too long a tale to tell here. Suffice it to say that he returned several months later and several inches taller, in the company of not one but three water dragons who wished to live in sweet waters running through a kingdom at peace, far from the brackish sea with its sharks and krakens.

The blue one was called Mirren, the green one, Rushing, and the gold, Donnet. They brought not only themselves but also greetings from Pelean's parents and sister, who had wondered for a hundred years what had become of him, and wept with joy when Tallow told them he was alive and thriving. When Pelean received the message, his own eyes grew rather more watery than usual.

Queen Lilias personally welcomed them all, throwing a great feast on the bank of the stream and scandalizing her advisors by moving freely among her people and speaking with them. The land folk were at first frightened of the dragons, but when they saw how warmly the queen welcomed them and how fond of them Tallow and his companions were, most people gave them a chance and found them quite friendly.

During the party, Sir Brennan found a moment to speak privately with the queen. "Young Tallow is looking for a career," he said. "I have a suggestion."

Queen Lilias listened and agreed that it was an excellent notion. Tallow was given a special tutor, a wise and learned old shifter who had lived among every sort of creature you can imagine, and a few which I daresay you cannot. With his teacher he read a mountain of books and ventured far and wide through the land learning those things which books cannot truly tell. He accompanied diplomats on their delicate missions across the length and breadth of Faerie and spent many an hour in Queen Lilias's court, learning how she preferred that things be done.

When he was older and taller, had absorbed everything his tutor could teach him and knew enough magic from the wizard and enough swordplay from the knights to defend himself, Queen Lilias named him her Special Ambassador to Magical Creatures. If anyone was more pleased with this state of affairs than she, it was her husband the king.

It had, after all, been his idea.


© 2007 by the author. All rights reserved.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Pelean's Jewel, Part VI

Sir Brennan was sitting by the willow where Tallow had left his clothes when the boy stepped out of the water into the last faint light of sunset. He offered a towel.

"I was starting to worry," he said. "You were gone a long time. Did you learn anything?"

"Yes," Tallow said, swiping the towel across himself carelessly and struggling to get his still-damp legs into his trousers. "Lots of things." He looked up at the knight, who frowned at the boy's troubled expression. "I need to speak to the queen. Can you take me to her?"

"Tell me whatever it is, and I will make sure she hears it."

The boy shook his head. "I promised I would tell her myself. Can you help me do that?"

Sir Brennan paused. "Who did you make this promise to, Tallow?"

"To the dragon. I didn't go looking for him!" he added in a rush, before the captain could interrupt. "He found me. And we talked, and all of this has been a terrible mistake, and I have to talk to the queen because I promised and because I don't think anyone else can make it better. Please."

Sir Brennan rubbed a hand across his face. "I'm going to be demoted to stableboy," he muttered to himself. He stood and handed Tallow his shirt. "Get dressed. We might be able to catch her before she retires."

He escorted Tallow through the palace and into the queen's audience chamber. As they crossed that long, elegant room filled with nobles who lifted their brows and wrinkled their perfect noses at the sight of him, Tallow felt very small and scruffy, and very frightened as well.

They stood to one side as an earl gave the queen a long speech about why he thought his lands were being taxed more than his neighbor's. When he was done, the queen's advisors began arguing; half seemed to be for the earl and half against him. Queen Lilias sighed and looked out the window until they were done.

"Lord Jenner," she said when she could be heard, "while it is true that I have never seen your lands, I have more than once dined at your home here in town. And I think that if your lands were half so poor as you make them sound, that home would not be half so grand, or half so lavishly furnished.

"It was, however," she continued dryly, "a valiant attempt to defraud the royal treasury. I admire your courage."

The earl started to object, and she held up a hand to forestall him. "If you are unhappy with the profits your lands yield, I suggest you go oversee them personally. For at least a year," she said mildly.

"But, Your Majesty—" Lord Jenner began.

"I strongly suggest it," she added, not at all mildly. With a great deal of bowing and apologetic muttering, Lord Jenner left the court.

"My word," murmured Sir Brennan, sounding both surprised and approving. The queen's advisors stood there looking stunned and uncomfortable. No one else seemed to want to come forward.

"Our turn, I think," the captain whispered to Tallow, and brought him before the queen. If she was startled to be presented with a slightly damp common child, she was too well bred to show it. Sir Brennan bowed, and Tallow awkwardly imitated him.

"Your Majesty," Sir Brennan said. "This is Tallow. He works here in the palace. He is a shifter, and I asked him to go into the stream as a fish to gather information about the dragon. I had hoped to find a way to reclaim your jewel without anyone being injured," he admitted. "Tallow has learned something which he says he can only tell you."

"Then I must hear it," she agreed, and turned her emerald eyes to the boy and nodded encouragingly. "You may speak."

"Captain Sir Brennan told me not to go near the dragon," Tallow began, quaking in his shoes but determined not to get anyone except himself in trouble. "But while I was in the stream, I heard that the dragon wasn't in his cave. I snuck into it, and the dragon caught me snooping around. There's been a mistake, Your Majesty. He didn't know you had lost the jewel—he thought you dropped it into the stream for him, as a gift. He didn't understand why the knights attacked. They frightened him."

The queen looked at Sir Brennan, and Sir Brennan looked at his shoes. "My fault, I'm afraid," the queen said gently. "I sent them."

Tallow twisted his hands together in front of him. "He gave the jewel to me to bring back to you," he said, his voice hardly above a whisper. "I had it in my hand, but I left it there with him. Now I am the reason you don't have it, and I am the one you must punish for its loss. Not him." Behind him, Sir Brennan closed his eyes in chagrin and began contemplating his probable future as Faerie's oldest and most noble stableboy.

"Why did you let him keep it when he was willing to give it back?" the young queen asked curiously.

He had expected to be instantly taken away for punishment, or perhaps simply tossed out of the kingdom. Surprise make him stumble over his answer.

"I—I thought he deserved it, Your Majesty," he stammered. Her eyebrows rose, but she still seemed more curious than angry.

"And why did you think that?"

So he told her, about the wasps' nests and the trash and the tiny, sparkling fish who could not bear the winter. He spoke of lurking eels and tree limbs fallen in storms and a century of lonely work, for love of a place and a people who ignored him.

"He thought you were giving him the jewel," Tallow repeated at the end. "He did not know you had lost it. He thought you were thanking him. And I…I thought he should be thanked. So I did."

He drew a deep breath and stood up straighter, looking at Sir Brennan to remind himself to be brave. "I should not have thanked him with something that was not mine to give. I did not think of that until afterward, but I was wrong and I will take my punishment, Your Majesty."

Her advisors buzzed around her like wasps, jostling each other in their eagerness to speak, but Queen Lilias did not listen to them. She was thinking of tiny opalescent fish glimmering as they passed through a sunbeam, of clear sweet waters and a hundred years alone. She turned to her personal guard, a craggy-faced troll who spoke rarely and then said only brief and sensible things.

"Get rid of them, Mistral," she said softly. "I am sick to death of their racket. You and Sir Brennan and the boy will stay. The rest must go."

When a large, armed troll wants you to leave, you leave. The advisors and nobles protested loudly, but they went all the same. As Mistral shut the great double doors against the last of them, the queen rose from her throne and stepped down from the dais on which it stood. Tallow felt as if he should bow again when she came closer, so he did.

"If you don't mind, Your Majesty, I'd like to know what my punishment will be," he said. "The waiting is awful."

The queen smiled at him then. "How could I punish you for generosity? And indeed, I am no worse off now than I was an hour ago. Perhaps," she mused, "your kindness has even created an opportunity that was not there before. Tell me about this dragon," she said, drifting toward the windows.

"His name is Pelean, and he was very nice to me. He didn't have to be, either, since I snuck into his home to steal from him."

"The dragon has a name?" she asked, surprised.

"Of course he does. Doesn't everyone?"

She set her fingertips on the windowsill and looked out over the rolling hills of her kingdom. "Does everyone? Do I? Sometimes I forget that I was ever called anything but 'Your Majesty'," she murmured.

Sir Brennan looked at her then, startled, and for the very first time saw not a royal being who formed the epicenter of all his duty, but a real person who might wonder and doubt and struggle as he did. Tallow looked at the floor, ashamed to realize that he did not know her name.

She turned away from the window. "Do you think he might speak to you again, this Pelean?"

Tallow nodded. "Yes, I think so. Actually...he's expecting me."

"Then I will ask a favor of you, Tallow. Will you go to him tomorrow, and ask him to meet me a week from today, at the bridge where I lost the jewel? I will personally guarantee his safety, and I do not expect him to bring the jewel. I only wish to speak with him myself."

Sir Brennan frowned. "Your Majesty, the creature may be dangerous."

"Then you will stand at my right hand, and Mistral will stand at my left," Queen Lilias said, not the least bit troubled by his warning. "But if he will come I will speak with him."

© 2007 by the author. All rights reserved.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Pelean's Jewel, Part V

For a moment Tallow honestly believed that his heart would burst from sheer terror.

"I...um...I..." he stammered, whirling about to face a huge shadow.

"At a loss for words?" it said. "Let me get a look at you, not-fish." It spoke another word, one Tallow had never heard before and was fairly certain he couldn't pronounce, and little lights flared to life in the water around them, illuminating the cave, its owner, and Tallow.

It was twice the size of a knight's charger, silvery white with smoke-grey eyes and very long, very sharp teeth. Long and sharp as well were the claws on its four wide, webbed feet and the barbs that ridged its whiplike tail. Tallow felt very small and tasty.

"You're a wizard," he blurted.

"All dragons are wizards. You don't think anything breathes fire naturally, do you?"

"Er, no, I guess not. Now that you mention it."

The dragon flexed its gills. "What are you, not-fish? You smell like land folk."

Tallow changed himself into a water-dragon, which helped him feel less appetizing, though he was still less than a tenth the size of the beast whose lair he had invaded. "I am land folk. My name is Tallow."

"Ah. A shape-changer. I knew one like you once, not long after I came here. She used to visit me, but she got old, as land folk will do, and in time she came no more." He sighed, then turned his attention to Tallow. "My name is Pelean."

"Pleased to meet you, Pelean," he offered politely. "You weren't born here?" He thought it was a very good idea to keep the dragon talking. It is hard to snack and talk at the same time, after all.

"Dear me, no. I was captured by land folk and brought here. I wasn't much longer than you. Just a little thing, I was."

"How old are you now?"

"Oh, somewhere around a hundred years." He swished his tail through the water. "Old by your reckoning. But I feel young. I think my kind live much longer than yours."

"You don't know how long you might live?" Now Tallow was genuinely curious.

"How would I know? I haven't seen any like me since I was a sprig. I hardly remember them. But speaking of sprigs, what brings you here?"

Tallow decided to be honest. It was the least he could do, he thought, in return for not being eaten. "I was looking for the queen's lost jewel."

Pelean grew very still. "She...lost it?".

Tallow nodded.

"Is it..." The dragon sighed. "Is it blue?" He sounded like he already knew the answer.

Tallow nodded again. "Yes. As blue as the sky."

"Oh." Pelean drooped and seemed to shrink. "I thought she had given it to me. Is that why men with swords tried to kill me? They thought I had stolen it?"

"Yes," he said, as kindly as he could. "I'm sorry. They aren't bad people. We all just...assumed..." He trailed off awkwardly.

"You assumed I was a brute like the plains dragons, or a thief like the mountain dragons? Or maybe both?" Pelean asked shrewdly.

Tallow gave a miserable nod, and the dragon's tail angrily churned the water, his voice rising with his indignation, "Well, that's very nice, isn't it? I get taken away from my family, hauled over land in a miserable little tub, dumped in this stream all alone and told to protect it. But I do it anyway.

"For a hundred years I've picked land folk's trash out of the water, killed biting eels and lizards that would be happy enough to take a nibble of you when you splash around in the summer, moved fallen trees from the stream so the land wouldn't flood, knocked wasps' nests out of the trees along the bank so you and your kind could enjoy the water in peace, and you all finally bother to notice me because of a jewel?!" he thundered, and Tallow cringed away from him.

"I'm sorry," he whispered, and he meant it. "I'm so sorry."

All the anger left the dragon as quickly as it had come. He hung his head. "I thought she gave it to me to thank me. It is the color of the ocean where I was born. I thought...oh, it does not matter what I thought. She did not give it, and it is not mine."

He darted into a nook on the far side of the cave and emerged with the jewel held gently between two claws. He gave it to Tallow, who handled it carefully with his unfamiliar webbed fingers. He had never seen it before, had never gotten that close to the queen. It was so very beautiful that he suddenly understood why everyone wanted it so much.

"Take it to her," Pelean said sadly. "With my apologies for the misunderstanding."

"Why do you do all that work when no one ever pays any attention?" Tallow blurted.

"If I do not, who will?" His tail twitched restlessly. "Besides, it is only the land-folk who do not notice. The fish and frogs do. They aren't very good company, but they are grateful."

"Those little tiny fish...they said they lived here in the winters?"

"Yes. Their ancestors were washed up here from the south in a storm many years ago. They wouldn't survive the winters this far north, so they come to my cave. I keep the water warm in there for my own comfort, and they are too small to get in the way," the dragon explained dissmissively.

Tallow suspected that the eager chatter of the little fish would 'get in the way' long before the winters ended. Pelean looked at the jewel in Tallow's hand, then jerked his gaze away.

"You'd better get back with that before dark, or else you might lose it. Come," he said abruptly, and swam toward the entrance. Tallow carefully tucked the jewel into his cheek so he could swim and followed.

They emerged into the long shadows of late afternoon. Tallow watched the long ribbon of water snaking toward the palace, which looked like a little toy house from this distance. He had a long swim home.

"You said someone like me used to visit you. May I come back, sometime?" he asked.

The dragon smiled, which was rather unsettling in light of all those wickedly pointy teeth. "I should like that a great deal. The fish are friendly and affectionate, but just between us? Their conversation leaves something to be desired."

"I'll come back soon," he promised, and set off toward home. As he reached the first bend in the stream, he looked back, and saw Pelean still bobbing in the water in front of the cave. He looked at the distant royal city, the dragon, and the long stretch of water which was only the most obvious thing separating the two.

Pelean watched curiously as Tallow swam back to him and spat the jewel out into his hand. He held it out to the dragon.

"If she knew what you did, I'm sure she would have thanked you. So keep it. It can be what you thought it was." He thrust the jewel toward the dragon.

Pelean hesitated. "But she does not know that I thought it was her thanks to me."

"She will. As soon as I get back to the city, I will tell her myself."

Gingerly the dragon plucked the jewel from his hand. "If you are sure..."

"I'm sure," Tallow said, and swam away before he could change his mind. A mile downstream hegrimaced and shook his head.

"I'm sure I'm in big trouble," he groaned.

© 2007 by the author. All rights reserved.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Pelean's Jewel, Part IV

Tallow left his clothes beneath a willow that grew along the stream's bank. He slipped into the water and became a fish, swimming a few lazy laps around a large, flat stone to accustom himself to fishiness before he set out upstream in search of others. He thought he was in luck when he saw a school of tiny milk-white fish no bigger than a fingertip, who glimmered with other colors when the light hit them, as opals do. They were coming toward him very quickly. Perhaps too quickly.

"EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEL!" they shrieked in chorus as they flashed around him. Only when they were past could he see what pursued them—a bulge-eyed, sickly yellow eel with a row of cruel teeth lining its gaping mouth.

"Aaa!" he yelped, turning tail and swimming after the rapidly disappearing school. Spying a cluster of water lilies he dashed among them, and was relieved to see the eel glide by a second later, still pursuing its smaller prey. A few moments later he heard a great thrashing and splashing in the distance and thought rather sadly that it must have caught up with the little fishes.

Exploring among the stems while he waited for the eel to finish its meal and move on, Tallow found a catfish sheltering from the heat of the day in the shade beneath the lilies' pads. When he asked about the dragon, the catfish twitched its whiskers and burbled, "Hrrrm, yes…lives in the cave. Scares away the alligators, whenever they come up from the south to nose around. Don't like alligators, m'self. They eat catfish, y'know."

"I've never seen an alligator," Tallow remarked.

"Hrrrm, 'course y'haven't. Dragon chases 'em off, doesn't he?"

"If you say so. Have you, ah, seen the dragon lately?"

"Not for a moon or more. Hrrrm. Big stream."

"Oh. Well, thank you," Tallow said politely before swimming away. A little farther upstream he came across some frogs splashing about among the reeds. He turned himself into a frog and hopped toward them.

"Excuse me," he said, "Could any of you tell me about the dragon?"

A big old frog cocked its head at him and croaked, "What precisely did you wish to know, young sir?"

"Oh, ah…just what sort of dragon he is, you know. Friendly or not, that sort of thing?"

The frog bobbed his head. "You must be new to the area, my good frog. Saw him swimming about and gave yourself a bit of a scare, did you? He does look rather fearsome, I suppose, with those teeth and claws. But you may rest easy on that score. You are not his idea of a meal."

Tallow was feeling rather baffled. "I thought dragons were, well…vicious?"

The frog chortled. "Land dragons are, to be sure. All that fire-breathing and whatnot, eh? Nasty creatures, land dragons. Water dragons, on t'other hand, are much more civilized."

"Oh. Yes. That must be where I got confused. Er, thank you for your help," he said, and hopped off until he was out of sight and could turn back into a fish. He swam around in the shallows for a while, thinking. He had expected to find that every creature in the stream was terrified out of its wits at the mere mention of the dragon, but the catfish and the frog seemed to like the great beast. It was all very curious. He decided to swim on, and see who else he might meet.

He came around a curve in the stream and found himself in the middle of the school of little fish who, much to his surprise, did not seem any the worse for wear. He looked around quickly, but saw no sign of the eel.

When he inquired after the dragon they became very exited, swimming around him in a circle, all of them seeming to speak at once.

"Dragon? Dragon-friend? Big dragon! Eel-biter! Bird-chaser! Snow-killer!"

"The dragon...is your friend?"

"Yesyesyesyesyes!" they clamored. "Warm cave! Winter-home!"

"You live in his cave in the winter?"

"Yesyesyes!" They swam in ever-tighter circles around him, their enthusiasm churning up a bubbling wake.

"Have you seen the blue jewel he has?"

"Jewel? What is jewel?" Their circling slowed.

"Um…a smooth blue rock. Very pretty."

"Nononono. No blue rock."

"Well, what about him? Have you seen him today?" he ventured.

"OHyesyesyesyesyes! Eel-slayer! Sun high! Going south!"

Well, he thought, that explained what had happened to the eel. Tallow glanced up. The sun was still high in the sky, only now beginning to drop toward the horizon. If the dragon had left its cave heading south near midday, it might be gone for a while yet. He could just nip into the cave and have a look around for the jewel. He had only promised Sir Brennan that he wouldn't go near the dragon. If the dragon wasn't in the cave, where was the harm?

"Thank you. Thank you very much!" he said, and swam upstream as fast as he could. If he could find the jewel he would be a hero, and maybe Sir Brennan would reconsider and make him a knight after all. But even with that thought to sustain him he was exhausted by the time he had travelled the several miles to the cave entrance. There he stopped and looked around and carefully tasted the water before darting inside.

It was black inside, black as pitch, black as death. That was his first thought. But slowly his eyes relaxed and picked out a faint glow on the walls. Some sort of moss or lichen was growing there, emitting a very faint light. He made himself wait until he was sure his sight would not improve any further, then he began swimming about the cave. It was very large, larger than the vast kitchens in the palace.

If I were a dragon, where would I put a stolen jewel? he wondered as he began poking about in the nooks and crannies along the walls, and among the oddly pleasing arrangements of river stones that dotted the chamber floor.He was nosing about in a pile of reeds and lilypads which he suspected was the dragon's bed when he felt a stirring in the water.

Behind him, a deep voice rumbled, "Hello, little fish that is not a fish. What brings you to my home?"

© 2007 by the author. All rights reserved.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Pelean's Jewel, Part III

"BOY!" bellowed the cook in charge of pastries, a surly ogre who could make a pie crust so light only the fruit filling kept it from floating off into the wilderness. Tallow, who had been carefully cracking eggs into a bowl, jumped and dropped the egg he had been holding. He faced the furious cook with yolk spattered over his shoes.

"Sir?" Tallow squeaked.

"Don't know what you've done, but it must be bad," the ogre rumbled. "Captain of Knights himself wants to see you. Now. His office."

"I haven't done anything!"

"Humph. Tell it to the Captain, if that's your story. Off with you, now! Don't keep him waiting!" The cook shooed Tallow out of the kitchens.

The fields where the knights honed their skills lay just behind the palace, next to the stables and a stately blue stone building where the unmarried knights made their homes in peacetime, and where all knights would live should the kingdom be at war. Just inside the front door was a small office with a large window overlooking the jousting field, and inside the office was Sir Brennan.

He sat at his desk signing orders for supplies like wooden practice swords and new saddles. Knights destroy an astonishing number of things on a daily basis as they prepare to destroy other people should the need arise, so Sir Brennan spent nearly as much time with a pen in his hand as he did with a sword. (In addition to war, illness and death, Faerie also suffers the curse of paperwork. They do not, however, have celebrities or fast food, and are much happier for it.) When the kitchen-boy appeared in the doorway, he was glad to set down the pen and put the papers aside for a while.

"Sir Brennan, Captain, sir," Tallow babbled. "You wanted to see me? Has something happened? I didn't do anything, I swear!"

"I didn't think you had," the captain replied. He smiled reassuringly and beckoned the boy forward. "Come in, come in. You are not in any trouble."

Tallow inched forward and Sir Brennan stood, striding around the boy to shut the door. He turned and looked down at Tallow, who craned his neck to look up at the captain.

Nobles are tall, as a rule—tall and slender, supple and unbreakable as reeds. They have fine, even features, pointed ears, pleasing voices and eyes like gemstones in the moonlight. If you were to meet them, you would probably call them elves. I would advise you not to do so aloud, however. They would be insulted and might turn you into something slimy and unpleasant. In Faerie they are called nobles, or fair folk, and that is all.

Sir Brennan was tall, even for a noble. His hair was the color of ripe wheat, his face browned by the sun. His eyes were the color of garnets, his hands scarred from a thousand small training injuries. He was one of the younger knights, but he was captain because the queen believed—and she was not alone in this—that he was the bravest of them all. Tallow believed it, too. He had been a tiny child when it all happened, but the story was already legend in Sanmeara.

Sir Brennan was only seventeen that summer. He had been a knight for less than a year when the king and queen returned from a diplomatic visit to a neighboring kingdom, bringing with them the Captain of Knights, four other knights, and, though they did not yet know it, the fever that would kill them.

One of the knights was the first to fall ill, then another, then the king, the captain, the queen and finally the other two knights. Two servants who tended the royal couple became sick within days, as did the royal physician. The king ordered himself and all the others who were ill to be removed from the palace, to prevent the fever from spreading farther. It was the last order he would ever give; he died hours after being moved.

One of the knights died the next day, followed by both the royal physician and a servant in the night. The physicians and healers who had been caring for the sick fled in fear of their own lives. One of the two knights guarding the doors to the sick-house helped the doctors leave and slipped away himself when no one was looking.

There are as many kinds of bravery as there are kinds of honor, or duty, or love. It is one thing to face an enemy with a sword, another to face an enemy hanging invisible in the very air you breathe.

Standing guard at the front, unaware of the exodus which had taken place through the back door, young Sir Brennan did not at first respond to the cries for water that reached his ears through the open windows. The healers would take care of them, he thought. But the pleas continued and, his suspicions raised, he entered that house of illness and death to find no one but the sick.

The physicians and healers would not return, and no others could be persuaded to take their places. New guards were found for the doors, but only Sir Brennan was willing to enter the house. For the next week he tended the sick as best he could, giving them water and broth and putting cold cloths on their heated brows. The Captain of Knights died, as did one of his remaining men.

One of the healers who had fled was brought back after contracting the fever. He lived, as did the only other knight and the servant. The queen closed her eyes late one afternoon and never opened them again. She had asked him to make sure her daughter received the jewel if she should die, so Sir Brennan personally took it from about her neck and put it in a kettle of boiling water for an hour before having it sent back to the palace for the little princess.

When it became clear that the danger had passed, he left the sick-house expecting to be hated for having allowed the queen to die. Instead, he was surprised to find himself hailed as a hero.

Lilias was only ten and had been queen for less than a week when she rewarded his bravery by making him Captain of Knights. In the five years since, she had never had cause to regret it. Most days, he did not regret it, either. He hoped he would not come to regret this day.

He lowered himself into a crouch so the poor child wouldn't snap his neck from bending it back so far. "Tallow, isn't it? I have seen you at our drills."

"I keep out of the way, Captain, sir," Tallow defended himself.

"Yes, you do. But I thought that if you enjoy watching us so much, maybe you would be willing to help us? We need a shifter to do something that none of us can."

"Anything, sir!" His eyes were as wide as saucers.

Sir Brennan laughed. "Always know what you are being asked before you agree. That is something a knight told me when I was only a squire." He glanced out the window, toward the palace. "You have heard about the queen's lost jewel, I assume?"

"Yes, Captain, sir. The water-dragon took it, and now it's hiding in a cave because it's afraid of you."

"Hmm. I wonder if it is. There are many things I wonder about that dragon, Tallow, but I can't find out for myself."

"Why not?" Tallow wondered, amazed that brave Sir Brennan might find anything impossible.

"Because I cannot talk to the other creatures that live in the stream, and ask them about the dragon," Sir Brennan confided.

"But I can!" Tallow exclaimed.

"Yes, you can. Would you be willing to help me? I only want you to find out about the dragon—what its habits are, whether it is afraid of anything, maybe even where it keeps the jewel."

"If I find out where the jewel is, maybe I can go there as a fish and steal it back!"

"No!" Sir Brennan said sharply, and the boy jumped. He forced himself to speak more kindly. "I need information, in order to discover how best to handle this dragon. I do not want anyone, not you, not me, not my men, going anywhere near that creature until we understand it better."

Always in his thoughts was the queen's desire that no one be hurt in seeking her jewel. That was why she had called off the search, but Sir Brennan still hoped to find a way to get it back.

Tallow thought about that. "That makes sense. I guess I was just hoping for something more exciting than talking to fish," he confessed.

"I will tell you a secret." He leaned forward and dropped his voice to a whisper. "Most of the time, beign a knight is just doing drills and polishing your armor. Talking to fish sounds pretty interesting to me."

"Can you let me be a knight?" Tallow asked. "You're the Captain, can't you just say it's so?"

Sir Brennan shook his head. "No. I'm sorry, but you are not one of us. There are many common folk in the army," he offered, "and even a few in the palace guard. If it's a military career you have in mind, I can help you into either of those."

"I'm not sure what I want to do if I can't be a knight," he admitted. "But I know I don't want to work in the kitchens."

"Help me now, and you will not have to go back. We can put you to work in the stables while you decide what you want to do," Sir Brennan offered.

Tallow smiled. "Deal."

© 2007 by the author. All rights reserved.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Pelean's Jewel, Part II

Her advisors were all talking at once, as they often did, trying to reassure her that she would have her jewel by nightfall, or possibly the next morning, at the very latest. Queen Lilias did not seem very reassured, which only made them talk louder and faster, competing with each other to be the one to say just the right thing that would make her smile again.

"Oh, do be quiet for once, all of you!" she said after several moments of this, and the tone of her voice was unkind. They did all stop talking, for she had never spoken to them like that before. They stopped talking and they stared at her as if she had grown another head.

Lilias knew she had been impolite, and she knew she should be sorry for it, but she was not. She had lost the most precious thing her mother had left her, and all she wanted was a bit of silence in which to be sad for it. (It would probably also be fair to say that the rude way in which her advisors treated each other was a bad influence on her.)

"Leave me," she said. "I do not wish to be disturbed until my knights return."

"But, Your Majesty—" one of the advisors began.

"Leave," she insisted, and they left.

Lilias pulled a large and comfortable chair over to her chamber window and curled up in it, watching the gate for her knights' return. It was many hours before they came, trotting into the torch-lit courtyard with their heads bowed in defeat. Slowly she stood and left her chambers.

She met them in the throne room. They set up a great clatter in their armor, dropping to kneel before her as she walked to her throne. Once she was seated, the captain of the knights stood and came forward.

"You did not find it, Sir Brennan," she said softly as he approached.

"No, Your Majesty," he said. "We found the dragon quickly, but when we attacked it swam into the middle of the stream, where the water was too deep for our horses to go. It swam toward the mountain, and we followed on the bank, but the stream is very deep so close to its source, and the dragon never strayed into the shallows where we might have fought it. It disappeared into the mountain itself.

"I took off my armor and followed. Soon I found myself in a great underwater cave. I could not hold my breath long enough to explore even the hundredth part of it, Your Majesty. And had I found the dragon, I would not have been able to fight it, weighed down with water as I was. I have left five good men there to watch the entrance to the cave from the safety of the shore, and to follow the dragon if it should emerge. The rest I brought back here to receive your command," he concluded, and knelt once more.

Queen Lilias sat back in her throne, her fingers curled around the gilded knobs at the ends of its arms, looking thoughtful. An advisor opened his mouth to speak, but she glanced at him with a warning clear in the royal eyes and he thought better of it. He shut his mouth and shuffled his feet awkwardly. A rare, complete silence fell over her court.

Minutes passed before she spoke. "It is only a thing," she said as if she didn't really believe it, but felt she ought. "It is not worth risking lives over. Bring your knights home, Sir Brennan. The jewel is lost. I have others."

"But none so fine, Your Majesty," Sir Brennan said gently. "Nor so full of memories. We would seek it for you, gladly."

She tried to smile at him, but could not quite manage it. "I know you would. But I say you shall not."

"As Your Majesty wishes."

"Little this day has been as I would wish," she murmured to herself, so softly that only Sir Brennan heard. He closed his eyes for a moment, ashamed to have failed.

The young queen stood and faced her knights. "Thank you for your service," she said graciously. "Good night."

With that, she left her court abruptly, hurrying to the privacy of her own chambers and dismissing her maids the instant she set foot through the doorway. Her mother had once told her that a queen must never be seen to cry in front of her subjects, not even the servants. She flung herself onto the high bed, weeping into the silk coverlet until sleep stole her away.

Sir Brennan dispatched a rider to summon the five home from the mouth of the stream, and saw to it that his knights were well-fed and their horses cared for. Then he climbed the five hundred stairs to the top of the highest tower and looked out over the kingdom he was sworn to protect. It was late at night by then, and Sanmeara slept, her rolling hills which were so smooth and pleasing to the eye in the daytime had become strange lumps in the darkness, broken only by the occasional candle in a cottage window and the will-o-the-wisps dancing on the moors to the west.

He stood atop the tower and leaned his forearms on the low wall and thought. He thought of the dragon, the jewel, the young queen and the kingdom. One by one he made plans to recover the jewel, and one by one he discarded them as impractical or unlikely. He thought until dawn sent its bright tendrils creeping along the edge of the world, and he thought as he descended the long flights of stairs on legs stiff from standing through the night.

He thought as he ate his breakfast. He thought during early morning swordfighting exercises, midmorning jousting practice, and late morning tracking drills. Once, he thought he had a solution that would work, until he realized that he had no way of keeping a frost giant properly chilled all the way from the mountains of Kethelor and back again.

He thought through lunch, and during early afternoon quarterstaff sparring he thought so hard he nearly gave the little kitchen-boy, who always sat on the fence to watch them during his own lunchtime, a whack on the skull by accident. He thought while he exercised his horse in midafternoon, while he polished his armor before dinner, and while he sharpened his sword after dinner. (He took a break from thinking during dinner because they were served roast chard with scallions in bergamot sauce and really, who can focus on anything but their own immediate survival when Cook is feeling experimental?)

He thought as he crawled, exhausted, into his bed and fell almost instantly asleep. He must have been thinking in his sleep, too, for when he woke up in the morning he knew why he hadn't been able to find a solution, and what was required to change that.

© 2007 by the author. All rights reserved.

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

Pelean's Jewel, Part I

for Conan, Jakob, Corbin, Shaun, Kallan and Dashiell

The faerie queen's amethyst castle stood in the curve of a stream which was clear and sweet and which burbled over the smooth and luminous rocks of its bed in the most charming manner. This stream was home to all sorts of marvelous fish and water flowers and dragonflies and the occasional enchanted frog. It flowed from deep underneath the great grey snow-capped mountain behind the palace, so its waters were deliciously cool in summer and delightfully warm in winter.

(Yes, there is winter in Faerie, but the snow is not white. It is very faintly green, like the ghost of a new spring leaf, and it is always just heavy enough to make perfect snowballs.)

The queen's name was Lilias, but no one called her by it. They addressed her as "Your Majesty", and referred to her as "Her Majesty" or simply "the Queen". She was very young, hardly more than a child, and was only just beginning to realize that it is a difficult thing to have a perfectly good name and never hear it used. Should we use it to tell this story, do you think? It is a very pretty name. I think we should.

Queen Lilias had hair as black as midnight and eyes as green and bright as emeralds. She was still growing and could at times be awkward, yet she had an inborn grace that would serve her well when she was older. When she laughed (which did not happen as often as it ought) it sounded like little crystal bells rolling against each other.

Her kingdom was neither large nor small. Its greatest claim to fame was a sort of general prosperity which ensured that even the lowliest peasant had plenty of food and good sturdy clothes and regular holidays. The land was at peace and the people content. Her subjects were pleased with her, though to say they loved her would not be strictly true. They did not know her; queens and subjects do not mix in the normal course of things.

She was rarely alone, even for a moment. She had dukes and duchesses, earls and countesses, barons and ladies competing for her attention and her favor. She had brave knights who must be allowed to look upon her from time to time, that they might know for whom they could be asked to risk their lives. She had wise and learned advisors who filled her head with conflicting advice, each according to his own particular interests and beliefs.

If that were not enough, the palace was filled with servants, privileged members of the common races of faerie who were fortunate enough to live and work so close to the nobles. Most of those servants considered it part of their duty to protect their monarch from any unpleasantness, be it a smudged spoon or a persistent petitioner. An ordinary person had a better chance of dancing on the moon than of speaking with the queen.

One of the palace servants was a boy named Tallow. He was a kitchen-boy; he scrubbed pots and peeled potatoes and generally made himself useful to the small army of palace cooks. If he worked hard and paid attention, he could look forward to being a cook himself in ten or twenty years.

Tallow was seven years old, sturdy and restless, with walnut-colored hair that would stand on end no matter how carefully he brushed it. He was a shifter, a faerie who could turn into any animal he pleased. Some very gifted shifters could even turn into plants or insects, but he had not gotten the hang of that at all.

He wanted, rather desperately, to be a knight when he grew up. The problem was, knights were always nobles, and shifters are not nobles. He spent many an hour up to his elbows in suds, scouring pans and trying to think of a way around that particular rule, but so far he hadn't hit upon a solution. If he could not be a knight he definitely, most assuredly, wanted to be something more interesting than a kitchen-boy or a cook.

But let us leave Tallow there for a moment, in the great sprawling kitchens with his pots and potatoes, and return to Queen Lilias.

On the day she was born, not so very many years before our tale begins, the sun shone brightly over the kingdom, which by the way is called Sanmeara. When the sun shines that brightly in Faerie, the sky is the bluest blue that could ever be, and when Lilias was born a wizard used his magic to trap a bit of that astonishing blue inside a smooth round jewel the size of a plump cherry. He gave the jewel to the queen, Lilias's mother, and a few years later when the king and queen died, the jewel and the crown both came to Lilias.

Oh, did you think there was no sickness or death in Faerie? I am sorry to say that there is. It is not quite so extraordinary a place as to have escaped those troubles.

By the time Lilias received it, the jewel had been set into a necklace. The young queen wore it often, for it reminded her of her mother and of course it was very beautiful in its own right. One day—and this is where our story truly begins—she was taking a stroll outside the palace with several of her advisors. While they argued among themselves over some fine point of inter-kingdom relations which Lilias did not find at all interesting, she thought her own thoughts and, as she often did, stroked the jewel hanging on its delicate chain about her neck.

They were crossing a bridge over the stream when the jewel suddenly moved under her finger. Fearing it was coming out of its setting, she stopped there at the crest of the bridge and held it up to see if it really was loose. She nudged it ever so lightly with a fingertip.

That last careful touch, alas, is what knocked it free. It tumbled out of its setting, bounced once upon the railing, and dropped into the water with a tiny splash.

"Oh!" Queen Lilias cried when this happened. A second later she said it again as a sleek, silvery shape darted out from underneath the bridge, scooped the jewel up in its mouth, lifted its barbed and gleaming tail out of the water and wiggled it in a manner that looked very much like a cheerful wave. Having done so it swam away, quick as you please.

"What was that?" she exclaimed.

"It was the water dragon, Your Majesty," one of the advisors said. "It has lived in the stream as long as anyone can remember."

"That water dragon has my jewel! We must get it back!"

"It shall be done, Your Majesty," another advisor said, shoving the first aside.

The first advisor shoved back. "Do not give it another thought, my queen. You shall have your jewel again before you know it."

Soon after, the knights in their gold and silver armor mounted their horses and thundered through the palace courtyard in pursuit of the dragon. The queen stood on a balcony and watched them go until all she could see was a little cloud of dust following the stream northward as it disappeared into the hills at the foot of the mountain.

© 2007 by the author. All rights reserved.

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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Bats Afire

Minnesota 32, Chicago 14

That, ladies, gentlemen and Yankee fans, is not a Vikings/Bears score. It is the cumulative score of yesterdays' not-so-split doubleheader between the Twins and the Whine Sox.

In game 1, Scott Baker gave up seven runs in five innings, but added a shiny new "W" to his record because Chicago's Jon Garland, being the competetive sort, had to one-up him by allowing 12 in 3 1/3. The Chicago bullpen got in on the fun by coughing up 8 more, with the Twins bullpen close behind at 7.

Is it any wonder the game lasted 3 hours and 42 minutes?

In the game, the two teams combined for 5 homers, nine doubles, and a triple. The Twins chalked up 21 hits and 1 error, the Whine Sox 18 hits and 5 errors. (Wow, is that a record? Actually, no, but Chicago does own the record, along with Detroit: 12. Detroit committed 12 in a game against Chicago in 1901, and Chicago returned the favor against Detroit in 1903.)

Game 1 homer roll call:
3rd: Hunter, MIN, solo
4th: Kubel, MIN, grand slam
5th: Konerko, CWS, two-run
7th: Fields, CWS, solo
8th: Thome, CWS, solo

In the second game, Ron Gardenhire's worst nightmare came true--the starting catcher (Mr. Redmond) was injured after being hit in the head with a bat on the backswing, in the first inning no less. Meanwhile the backup (Mr. Mauer) was DHing, and there was no third catcher on the roster, thus creating the necessity for the pitcher (Mr. Garza, making his first start of the season) to bat for the remainder of the game. Garza was, you may be interested to know, the first pitcher to bat in an AL game since 1989. Despite not having batted in a game since high school, Garza laid down a sacrifice bunt in one of his three plate appearances.

Contrary to Gardy's expectations, the world did not end, the sky did not fall, and the Twins did not lose. (Although Redmond did need some stitches.) Indeed, with their pitchers batting the Twins romped to a 12-0 win.

Adding to the abundance of joy, Justin "Boom Boom Stick" Morneau hit three homers in game 2, the first time a Twin has done that since TBL was but a mewling infant. (Stop calculating TBL's age, that's rude.) The first of those homers was career longball #100 for everyone's favorite first baseman, and the game marked Gardenhire's 500th win as a major league manager.

(Also, props to MLB.com for using "thrice" in a headline. Literacy is a wonderful thing.)

Game 2 homer roll call:
1st: Morneau, MIN, three-run
3rd: Morneau, MIN, solo
Hunter, MIN, solo
7th: Morneau, MIN, two-run

Today, "You Can't Handle The" Boof Bonser goes up against Mark Buehrle at 2:55. TBL will miss most of the game on account of attending a wedding. (Stupid love, interfering with the important things.)

And finally, TBL will be running a special weeklong non-baseball event here on Third Base Line starting tomorrow.

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Friday, July 06, 2007


This is for all of you trapped at work with no radio.

If there's one team TBL hates nearly as much as the Bankees (and there is) it's the Whine Sox. Which is why it gives TBL great pleasure to announce that in the top of the fourth in Chicago, just minutes ago, Jon Garland intentionally walked Torii "GIDP" Hunter to load the bases and get to Jason Kubel.

Kubel went yard.

Twins 12, Whiners 4.

So far.

Update, 4:55 pm: After an epic three hours and 40 minutes, the game ended at Twins 20, Whiners 14.

Good grief. Maybe the Twins should play the football season instead of the Vikings.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Twins 6, Satan 2

Unless this is one of your first reads here at Third Base Line, you are aware that TBL thinks the world would be a much better place if a flying saucer swept up the Yankees for a bit of festive probing and accidentally deposited them on a planet with an inhospitable atmosphere afterwards. (If they could grab the Executive Branch while they're down here, that would be keen. But TBL digresses.)

So if there's one thing better than beating the Yankees, it's beating the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, where every freakin' call goes their way. Suffice it to say that TBL firmly believes that the player salaries aren't the only big bucks Georgie-Porgie is flinging about. Beating them courtesy of home runs by a guy with no knees and a utility infielder who has only a passing acquaintance with the Mendoza line is particularly sweet.

For those of you who missed Monday's game, while the Bankees were up by several runs a certain Bankee whose name rhymes with PayRod shoved Justin Morneau (who only days before had been coughing up blood after a collision at the plate) in the back as he fielded a throw, knocking Justin onto his keister at great risk of re-injuring him and getting the safe call for himself. Mr. Sportsmanship then proceeded to wail about a tweaked hammy and get himself escorted off the field to the sounds of solemn applause. (Only if you have a very, VERY strong stomach should you read this.)

TBL regrets to report that one of her cats still has not come out from under the bed after the swearing and throwing of objects which this dastardly display engendered. On the other hand, TBL is extremely pleased to report that Justin is fine (no thanks to He Who Shall One Day Reap What He Has Sown), and that CyTana shut the jackass down yesterday.

Also, Pat Neshek struck out the Smirking Bastard (Bankee shortstop), which was both hilarious and deeply satisfying. Did you see the look on his face? Eat your heart out, MasterCard--THAT was priceless!

This afternoon, Kevin Slowey faces Kei Igawa as the Twins go for the split. TBL is not normally the praying type, but Young Master Slowey will be receiving whatever sort of holy vibes she can muster.

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Sunday, July 01, 2007

Do Not Disturb

Well. It appears TBL was overly optimistic last week in declaring that the insane busy-ness was nearing an end. It has merely changed flavor.

Some of you are already aware that TBL has been known to write things that do not get posted to this blog, and also that she hopes to someday reclaim her soul from her corporate masters and write for a living. So when the Muse says, "Yoo hoo! Over here!", TBL drops everything that does not help her pay rent. Yes, dear readers, even the baseball. ("Inattentive" would be a kind description of her game-watching habits of late.)

Regular blogging will resume when it resumes. One presumes it won't be too terribly long, for the Muse, she is fickle and drives TBL bonkers.

If you are interested, the project of the moment is a short story tentatively titled "Pelean's Jewel", and it is going just swimmingly. It is about an old dragon, a young queen, a knight, a kitchen-boy, and a lost jewel.

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