Thursday, August 27, 2020

Helmet Headdresses and Statuary

Summary: Solomon VK at World Building and Wool Gathering commented on my helmet post expressing an interest in a d100 table for helmet headdresses. Well, one thing led to another.

I closed my eyes and pictured these.

This knight’s helmet has atop it, in miniature:

1. A sword. This is an actual sword and can be broken off and wielded in an emergency. 2. Bronze spikes in the shape of waving sunrays extending from the lip of the rim, the helmet all in gold. Headbutts from this knight are likely to kill. 3. A knight menacing a peasant woman, who has fallen down and spilled a basket of apples; the apples are, in fact, tiny unblossomed rose buds collected for this purpose before a tourney. This knight is a villain. The roses were cut from someone’s garden and are affixed to the helmet with hairpins. 4. A raised tablet with the charter of this knight’s organization, that all may know his purpose. The tablet is stone and shaped like a tombstone, and this knight executes death warrants approved by a set of castle courts generally held to be legitimate. 5. A pile of hay with a fence around it; perhaps an ideal spot for a warhorse, serving as a kind of spirit-deal in the knight’s mind between him and his horse, or perhaps a fond memory from days as an overworked squire. 6. A big purple and red toadstool. This knight is a berserker. The toadstool is real and will induce combat psychosis that will forever destroy his mind; but if the enemy already surrounds him, he thinks it a fine last meal. For mundane needs, he draws tiny shriveled things from a little steel box built into the back of his helmet. Soon this will be banned from tourneys, but will remain common at the bridges. 7. A plot of rich, dark soil in a raised wooden planter of handsome make. This knight believes that he will lose his finger, nose or pecker in the clash of arms; when he does, he will bury it in this soil. This thought gives him great comfort and as such he is a brave man, and wise in counsel. 8. A garden of sand which this knight has cultivated atop his crown; unlike the knight above, the sand sits very close indeed to the black lacquered boards enclosing it, and this knight has attended to it closely with a fine-toothed brush intended for his horse. So skilled is he at using his legs like pistons that he can ride his horse at a full gallop without disturbing the lines in the garden and, indeed, once carried a full pint of beer atop his head while doing the same. He is preparing for his first tournament. 9. A giant; a ferocious ogreish block of a beast in a green tunic hung with actual human heads that this knight has cut off and forgone pickling so that it might add to the barbarous aspect of the titan atop his crown. This perfidious knight has grown rich because when a foe comes near to touch blades with him before a challenge, he suddenly falls forward and bashes his foe in the brainpan with his headpiece before poniarding him most treasonously.
10. A green and black checkered serpent that appears to be splashing in and out of a similarly-colored sea; in fact this all depicts a single organism, namely an amoeba whose body contains within it several symbiotic serpents whose bites can crush bone. This knight has slain one, but alas the other knights have yet to see such a creature and regard his headdress with wariness.
11. The knight’s mother at her oven; she holds a baker’s board and is peering into the oven, which has the appearance of being lit inside because it is lined with amber. In lieu of bread, the oven contains a single cookie baked by his mother; the knight will eat it once the tournament is over, win or lose. 12. A racing coach with a team of a dozen horses; the front of the knight’s helmet is shaped like a cobblestone bridge so that the full team can be accommodated in the design. However, the knight pictures himself controlling the coach, and so despite the detail there is no coachman and the reins are tied off at a baluster in a wooden armrest. Inside the carriage in miniature are the knight’s wife and mistress; the two are sitting together sharing tea. They remain unbeknownst to each other in reality.

13. This knight has a brown but black-snouted watchdog atop his helm. Its eyes blaze and a growling noise comes from within it whenever it is in the presence of opium, gunpowder, methanol, and other unchivalrous things. Alas, this knight is on the brink of corruption. 14. A huge, bronze scorpion rests atop this knight’s head. When it is boiled in the knight’s own helmet, it comes to life again. When plucked from the pot and dropped by the tail, it will move straight forward and attack whatever it comes near. It carries the essence of this boiling within itself, and its poison will boil in the blood it touches. 15. There is a large, white, friendly spotted dog atop this knight’s helmet, It’s mouth is open and its tongue hangs out. When something roughly pencil-sized is placed in this dog’s mouth, the mouth will close and hold it fast. This is mechanical. The knight’s preferred use of this is to grip the handle of a small lantern for night journeys, but the knight has used it to hold an improvised umbrella, his quill, and a rose from a favored lady. 16. A teakettle. This is not considered glorious or fearsome but it serves an obvious purpose; the helmet can be placed conveniently over the fire, and this very practical and conscientious knight is not interested in what irresponsible dandies think of him. 17. A huge quantity of hair in a brilliant variety of colors; a round updo is currently formed with several braids hanging down the knight’s crimson cloak; one blonde, one brown, one ginger. In his younger days this knight collected locks of hair from maidens who would be his inamorata for the tourney’s hour; but as his favor with the highest courts waned, his time was spent more and more with poor peasant girls, whose locks he now treasures where he once laughed at the silky stands of nobility. Alas, this knight’s fortunes did not fall for any lack of derring-do; unbeknownst to him, he fell from grace because he left goddamned fucking hairs all over the fucking place. 18. A black cat, perched with eyes half-lidded, tail wrapped around the helmet. Nobody wants to make this cat move because when will it sit like that again? Get the easel! 19. A Jack o’ Lantern. The knight is a welcome sight when he rides through villages at night, for he updates the carve of his pumpkin seasonally or as the mood strikes him. For tournaments he prefers elaborate designs such as octopi or hydras, torchlit; when traveling about the country, he contents himself with interesting but prosaic designs such as open books, flocks of birds, and sheep on the hillside, lit by a candle. There are several farmers who grow pumpkins for his preferred specifications for tournaments, but for general purposes he will buy appropriately sized examples from the common farmer he meets upon the way. Alas, the malign correlations of the jack o’ lantern are not entirely out of place for this knight; for when he defeats a foe upon the high road, he takes his chisel and gimlet to the face of his fallen adversary; and not all are killed by his handiwork. 20. A castle. Somewhat unremarkable from the outside, this knight loves to take his helmet off, open up the castle by its hinge and show people the incredibly intricate cross-section he’s created within. Details include hidden spies, prisoners rotting in oubliettes, and peasants defecating at long range into pits crewed by gong farmers. The castle is the knight’s life work and should it be smashed in the lists, this knight will take one last look at it before falling upon his sword. 21. A yellow and black rattlesnake with long, dusty white fangs exposed. These fangs were created by the Hermetic society; powdered ivory pressed with a powerful coagulating agent. When this cruel knight has unhorsed a foe and seized his arms, he asks no further bounty but that the supplicant must pay homage to the serpent by pressing some part of his body into its fangs; relieved, most comply immediately. 22. A winged stone gargoyle. At night, when the thunder is crashing and the wind blows leaf from limb, when the rain lashes this gargoyle and strange lunar mist plays across all God’s creation, this knight is proud as shit of this gargoyle. 23. A crown of ships; a golden ring with tiny vessels of every precious stone at regular intervals along the rim. Set into an angular gray helmet bearing heavy red eyes, blazing light needlessly but terrifyingly, above a skull-jawed vocoder; this was the reward for the first to board a capital ship. Captain Cabinisi of the Astronaval Boarding Regiment had been the same as the others; his EVA armor black with chalky white handprints here and there, or painted with grim red bloodstains, or inlaid with snakescale, which always made them jump. But he earned this crown when he first laid hands upon the AI lovers’ dreadnought, hacked the sensors himself, cut the hull himself, nerve gassed the HVAC himself, and melted the command staff with a flash-DEP himself while his squad waited for his orders. Hahahahaha! 24. A second helm on top of the first. People think it looks idiotic but they’re wrong; it is very, very practical for this knight. 25. A beautiful little crib. The wood is rich, dark and tropical, the pillow goosedown, the blankets arabesque. This knight’s wife is expecting, and when their child is born, it will rest in this crib.

And then this one actually kicked the process off: A painter knight whose helmet contains integrally or has perched upon it a segmented wooden block in which a number of paintbrushes, picks and stick-sponges rest, each of which is connected by a delicate red cord to a hinge on the helmet. Each paintbrush has a large and unusual grip for one’s fingers built into it, so that the knight can quickly identify which is which even if he is wearing gauntlets. It also makes it easy for him to recognize his brushes when they’ve been stolen; woe betide the hands of the knave that carry such ill-portended tools.

(Credit to Stephen Biesty for #20)

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Beautiful Music: Orpheus

 Summary: Sort of a fictional follow-up of last night's post.

    Arcadia passed an alleyway that smelled of split rock. He glanced down it. Desert dust was blowing in from a breach; a rough tan portal of light. The alley ended, unfinished, and dropped off into space. The gleaming desert lay beyond.

    He caught a glimpse of a boy sitting at the edge before his eyes adjusted and the alley went dark. Arcadia paused. The boy might be a carcass. Parents dead, food stolen, killed by a steel toed kick. There were many like that. Arcadia walked in anyways. After a moment he saw boy’s shadowy face against the tan, bright and barren mountains beyond. The boy had gotten up and turned around. He had one hand on a piece of rebar jutting out from the ferrocrete into the expanse.

    Arcadia sized the boy up. He was skeletal and his skin was too tight around his cheeks and lips, like a T’au. He wore a sack and the ribs of his chest looked like ripples in water. There was a huge bulge in his upper stomach. Arcadia knew that was an ill omen despite rosy proclamations to the contrary by the frumentarii. Arcadia had seen many corpses like this boy.  His arms were like twigs as he grasped the rebar. He did not want to climb away.

    “How long has it been since you’ve eaten food?” asked Arcadia. The boy froze. One hand fell from the rebar. He blinked, looking Arcadia over.

    “I’m not sure,” he said, his voice almost lost in the wind. Arcadia waited a good distance from him. “...I think four days.” Arcadia guessed the boy had been trying to eat things not meant to be eaten.

    Arcadia took a knee and unlatched a steel cylinder from his belt. Both ends were etched for twisting; a cap on one end and a pusher on the other. Arcadia uncapped it and showed it to the boy. Meat and cheese whipped in lard. Rare food in the hive during times of plenty, unthinkable in this famine. Arbitrators had many such privileges.

    “Eat this. That’s an order.” He rolled the cylinder towards the boy. Arcadia didn’t expect trust; both of them knew that would be a fatal habit to pick up under the circumstances. The boy decided to take his chances. He let go of the rebar and picked up the cylinder, glancing inside. He smelled it, and then looked up at Arcadia. His eyes were incredulous and he began wringing the cylinder.

   “You can eat it, but do it slowly.” The boy's eyes thanked him. He began digging the stuff out with his finger and wolfing it down. Arcadia thought, I'll tell him about the dispenser later.

    “Where are your parents? Is anyone taking care of you?”

    When the boy had realized what Arcadia had given him, he had almost cried. Now tears fell across his cheeks. For a moment he could not swallow. Finally he spoke.

    “We live on the Sill,” he said. Very quietly. He looked down at the metal walkway and he was seeing something in his mind. The Sill was a flooded district. Arcadia stood up. He walked forward slowly, then knelt again and put his hands on the boy’s shoulders. Arcadia knew there would be no food for this creature at the ration arches. His heart ached for the boy’s innocent suffering.

    “Tell me. What did your parents teach you? Did they teach you any skills?” He asked gently. The boy looked at Arcadia and tried to be brave but couldn’t speak yet.

    “How to weld? Even sew? Letters?”

    The boy took a breath and said, “They taught me how to sing, sir.” The boy was uncertain of the value of this, and then offered, “Elegies. To the Emperor.”

    Arcadia slowly nodded. He tilted the boy’s chin up. “Your parents gave you a gift. It was no accident that they taught you to sing. Parents have a special right to pass on the Emperor’s blessings to their children. When you have such a blessing, you must pass it on to the people of the Imperium.” The boy nodded. He looked down at the food cylinder. Arcadia took his hand from the boy’s shoulder.

    “Clear your throat and try to sing something. It doesn’t have to be any good. Just try. Whatever you sing is good enough.”

    The boy glanced up at Arcadia. Then he gulped and closed his eyes. He seemed relieved to have clear instructions. He began to sing an elegy for the sacrifice of the Emperor. This was a song that was clearly near to his heart. His voice was a little shaky and not tightly disciplined, but it was heartfelt. And it loosened the iron bands around Arcadia’s heart. The grief of the catastrophe rose within him, and he turned his head sharply away from the boy. He lowered his head as if listening intently. His face clenched and burned while tears filled his eyes. When the boy’s song was finished, Arcadia swept a dusty glove over his own eyelids. At length he looked at the boy again with solemnity and grace.

    “You are indeed blessed by the Emperor. Your parents were standing at His right hand when they taught you how to sing.” Arcadia thought he knew what to do now. “I’m going to give you an order now. You’re going to use an old wiring artery to go to the Shrine of Saint Ana├»s. You’re going to go there, among the pilgrims, and you’re going to sing. I’ll show you the way.” Arcadia stood up, but the boy’s face clouded. Arcadia could see his heartbeat quicken. His moment of safety and surety was ending. Deprivation, danger and death loomed again. Arcadia stopped and thought for a few moments. Then he said,

    “Move your arms. Feel that? You’re in control. You are, even though you’ve seen things that make you want to lock up. When you look out into the street, it’s going to feel as though there’s a wall in front of you. Like going out into the open is impossible. But it’s not. I won't lie to you. This could be dangerous. But you can do it. Even if it takes a few tries to get going. " He paused. "I can’t go with you. But if you stay here you will suffer and die. So you are going to to go to the Shrine and face whatever comes, head on. Do you understand?” The boy looked up at him and Arcadia could see that he was listening intently. He nodded.

    “Good. Now. I found this old wiring artery when I first got here. It’s almost empty, and if you climb it you’ll end up in an old machine shop with yellow livery. Go outside and you’ll see the shrine. It’s like a big, skinny stone bell. There will be pilgrims there. They were flooded out of their homes, just like you.”

    Arcadia paused. He remembered the gutted piping in the lower quarters. Something had been breaking its way out of the pipes and devouring people. Its claws cut their bones without a splinter. It ate the fattiest parts off them like a dilettante and spat out their bionics in a pile. The Arbites were afraid it was a tyranid. But Arcadia knew it wasn’t a tyranid. Perhaps the boy’s skeletal aspect would save him.

    “If you see pipes that have been broken open, hold still and listen. Hold as still as you possibly can and make no noise. Listen for a long time. If you only hear repeating noises, or if you don’t hear anything at all, keep going. If you hear something odd that you can’t explain, wait as long as you can and then move very slowly and quietly until you can’t hear it anymore.” The boy was nodding. But he didn’t want to know what was breaking the pipes.

    “Yes, sir. When I get to the shrine...”

    “There will be crowds. Families. You’ll go among them and you’ll sing. Don’t worry if you only know that one song. Sing it. You will heal their pain. Believe me. Try to think of new melodies when you can. The people will share their food with you if you just sing that hymn for them.” The boy nodded again. The thought of new songs was taking him from his pain.

    “Talk to the people who feed you. Find a man and a woman who’ve lost their little boy. Who’ve seen him die and put away his ashes, if you can.” The boy was looking up at Arcadia and his eyes were full of tears but his face was radiant now. He was ready. “Come now,” Arcadia said. He walked towards the street and the boy came behind him, glancing out around the corner. Arcadia pointed to a broad, cracked staircase leading to a raised promenade. In the outer wall of the staircase there was a corrugated steel grating that had been kicked loose in ages past. Behind it there was a ratty, pitch black tunnel.. The boy gazed at it. Arcadia put his hand on the boy’s shoulder. He spoke to him like he was giving his patrol partner his final orders.

    “You must go in there. Remember that I’ve gone before. Picture me leading the way. When you get into the darkness,  walk forward until you reach a wall. Look up and there will be red lights. Climb. There will be places to rest. You can do it. Go now.”

    “Thank you. Thank you, sir,” the boy whispered, paused, and hurried into the tunnel.

Beautiful Music: Joanna Newsom et al

Summary: Sometimes the most useful and truthful thing you can say is "look at these images, because they far exceed the average." Because you haven't finished formulating a thought yet, I suppose. This is one of those times, but for music.

Joanna Newsom

Monkey & Bear

Fascinating. A good place to start.

The following two songs, Emily and Only Skin, are the most beautiful songs I know. From the same artist, from the same album. I've been trying hard to crack these and edge in something else, but I haven't been able to. I think they're heartbreaking. They make me wonder what magical talent we've missed throughout human history through lack of the ability to record it. I have no doubt that the ancients had experiences of meaning via music that could match ours; there have probably been many Joanna Newsoms throughout history.

Ys was produced in tandem with Newsom by Van Dyke Parks, who did the orchestral arrangements. In his younger days he arranged the Jungle Book.


Only Skin

Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie

In California

Baby Birch

I didn't include anything from The Milk-Eyed Mender but it's not to be missed either.

FYI she's married to Andy Samberg.

Et Al

While we're on the subject here are a few songs that I think are beautiful by other artists. Trying to keep the list tight.

"1952 Vincent Black Lightning, Live from Austin, TX" - Richard Thompson
This is the best version and I can't find it on YouTube for some reason. Accept no substitutes.

"Ring Them Bells" - Sufjan Stevens

"Metal Heart" - Cat Power

"Down There By the Train" - Tom Waits

"Fall Apart" - Death in June

Art - First Run