Thursday, August 25, 2011

Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris

This is volume two of Morris’ three-volume biography of Theodore Roosevelt. His first volume, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt left quite an impression on me, both for Morris’ analytical and biographical gifts, and because of the less flattering portrait it offered me of Roosevelt than what I had remembered of him from H. W. Brands’ TR: The Last Romantic. In this case, that less flattering portrait was a good thing, because I believe my own political philosophies have shifted in the intervening years, and although I still admire a great many things about Roosevelt—his bookishness (love the photo of him reading with a dog on his lap while on vacation in Colorado), his physicality, his clearness of purpose—I have come to view him as one of the first if not the first modern President, pushing the limits of presidential power to leave both his own and the perceived impression of his nation’s necessity on the world.

Theodore Rex offers me more of this portrait; much more, in fact, because it chronicles his two terms as President—from the assassination of William McKinley to the inauguration of William Howard Taft. But at the same time it offers me less. In ways, Roosevelt is a more sympathetic character in Theodore Rex than he was in The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, although it’s not clear to me from where the sympathy rises.


One thing is certain, Roosevelt was an odd kind of Republican, at least if judged by today’s standards. He is neither a Reagan Republican, a Compassionate Conservative, nor a Tea Partier. He believes in big government, and that business must be regulated for its own health and controlled growth—the same way a gardener would prune a bush to encourage healthier growth in desired directions. He believed that…

…perpetual, mild reform was true conservatism, in that it protected existing institutions from atrophy, and relieved the buildup of radical pressure.

Relieving the buildup of radical pressure—that’s key to understanding Roosevelt’s philosophy. He wants to regulate business not because he is anti-business, and not because he wants to protect people from its abuses. He wants to regulate because without some continual check on the power of business, the radicals in the society will rise up in numbers too great to suppress, and catastrophic anarchy may result. That’s the ultimate goal. Keep the society on an even keel. Allow business to grow and to profit—human liberty is very closely tied to that in Roosevelt’s thinking—but keep it on a leash to avoid the destructive clash of Have and Have Not.

Race Relations

Similarly, his views on race put him at odds with many of today’s Republicans—and clearly the Democrats of his day. Importantly, he was the first president to entertain an African-American at the White House. To his way of thinking, this was significant, but should not have been controversial. His guest, after all—Booker T. Washington—was an exemplary example of his race.

The President felt entirely at ease. It seemed “so natural and proper” to have Washington wield his silver. Here, dark and dignified among the paler company, was living proof of what he had always preached: that Negroes could rise to the social heights, at least on an individual basis. Collective equality was clearly out of the question, given their “natural limitations” in the evolutionary scheme of things. But a black man who advanced faster than his fellows should be rewarded with every privilege that democracy could bestow. Booker T. Washington qualified honoris causa in the “aristocracy of worth.”

Roosevelt’s views, while still racist by today’s standard, were well-intentioned. And he is genuinely surprised by the reaction offered up in the Southern press.

An early thunderclap was sounded by the Memphis Scimitar:

“The most damnable outrage which has ever been perpetrated by any citizen of the United States was committed yesterday by the President, when he invited a nigger to dine with him at the White House. It would not be worth more than a passing notice if Theodore Roosevelt had sat down to dinner in his own home with a Pullman car porter, but Roosevelt the individual and Roosevelt the President are not to be viewed in the same light.

“It is only very recently that President Roosevelt boasted that his mother was a Southern woman, and that he is half Southern by reason of that fact. By inviting a nigger to his table he pays his mother small duty … No Southern woman with a proper self-respect would now accept an invitation to the White House, nor would President Roosevelt be welcomes today in Southern homes. He has not inflamed the anger if the Southern people; he has excited their disgust.”

The word nigger had not been seen in print for years. Its sudden reappearance had the force of an obscenity.

Obscene is right. It is something close to unbelievable to this modern reader that such a large segment of the American public could have reacted this way.

In Richmond, Virginia, a transparency of the President’s face was hissed off the Bijou screen. In Charleston, South Carolina, Senator Benjamin R. Tillman endorsed remedial genocide: “The action of President Roosevelt in entertaining that nigger will necessitate our killing a thousand niggers in the South before they will learn their place again.”

Tillman is, of course, referring to lynching, a practice still prevalent in Roosevelt’s time, and something he probably would have acted against if given the freedom to pursue the dictates of his conscience. But this incident with Washington, so inflamed the Southern public, that Roosevelt lost a good deal of political influence with them. Although opportunities presented themselves during his remaining terms in office to strike out against racism and murder, he demurred every time, seeking the path of least resistance instead of the compulsions of his own heart.

War and Torture

While the sections describing the state of race relations seem so out of line with our modern political climate, there are other sections, again and again throughout the book, where I encountered situations that were eerily reminiscent of scandals and politics of today. And given such resemblances, the detailed differences between then and now become all the more striking. Early in Roosevelt’s first term, a scandal erupted over accusations of torture by the American Army in its occupation of the Philippines.

No sooner had the phrases ‘kill and burn’ and ‘howling wilderness’ [references to illegal orders allegedly given to soldiers] registered on the American conscience than a third, ‘water cure,’ came out of the Committee hearings. Witness after witness testified to widespread use by American soldiers of this traditional torture, developed by Spanish priests as a means of instilling reverence for the Holy Ghost [ed., Charming!]:

“A man is thrown down on his back and three or four men sit on his arms and legs and hold him down and either a gun barrel or a rifle barrel or a carbine barrel or a stick as big as a belaying pin … is simply thrust into his jaws … and then water is poured onto his face, down his throat and nose … until the man gives some sign of giving in or becoming unconscious … His suffering must be that of a man who is drowning, but who cannot drown.”

Other reports spoke of natives being flogged, toasted, strung up by their thumbs, and tattooed “facially” for identification.

So much for the similarities. For the differences, here’s a cable sent at Roosevelt’s behest:

The President desires to know in the fullest and most circumstantial manner all the facts … for the very reason that the President intends to back up the Army in the heartiest fashion in every lawful and legitimate method of doing its work. He also intends to see that the most vigorous care is exercised to detect and prevent any cruelty or brutality, and that men who are guilty thereof are punished. Great as the provocation has been in dealing with foes who habitually resort to treachery murder and torture against our men, nothing can justify or will be held to justify the use of torture or inhuman conduct of any kind on the part of the American Army.

And what Roosevelt has America doing in the Philippines also has eerie parallels with the political situation today. As he told a group of Civil War veterans on Memorial Day, 1902:

They [the American soldiers] were fighting to impose “orderly freedom” upon a fragmented nation, according to the rules of “just severity” sanctioned by Abraham Lincoln. On Mindanao as at Gettysburg, “military power is used to secure peace, in order that it may itself be supplanted by the civil power.”

Roosevelt reminded his audience that legislation to that effect was now before Congress. There was scattered applause. “We believe that we can rapidly teach the people of the Philippine Islands … how to make good use of their freedom.”

People can debate the motives of Presidents—whether it is Roosevelt and American occupation of the Philippines or Bush and American occupation of Iraq—maybe they do intend to work toward civilian authority and maybe they don’t, but you can’t argue that both approach the world with the same paternalistic provincialism, confident in their own self-assured way that the American way is best—not just for Americans, but for everyone.

The Monroe Doctrine and the Panama Canal

What is the Monroe Doctrine? Today, it’s one of those obscure pieces of history that everyone’s heard of but almost no one knows what it is. Wikipedia can help.

The Monroe Doctrine is a policy of the United States introduced on December 2, 1823. It stated that further efforts by European countries to colonize land or interfere with states in the America would be viewed as acts of aggression requiring U.S. intervention.

And as you can imagine, Roosevelt was a big believer in the Monroe Doctrine. He invoked it numerous times during his life to justify military interventions in the Western Hemisphere (and beyond). As Morris artfully describes when referring to his office in the White House, it was a doctrine that perfectly matched his view of America’s role in the world.

The room’s main decoration was a huge globe. Spun and stopped at a certain angle, the orb showed the Americas floating alone and green from pole to pole, surrounded by nothing but blue. Tiny skeins of foam (visible only to himself, as Commander-in-Chief of the United States Navy) wove protectively across both oceans, as far south as the bulge of Venezuela and as far west as the Philippines. Asia and Australia were pushed back by the curve if the Pacific. Africa and Arabia drowned in the Indian Ocean. Europe’s jagged edge clung to one horizon, like the moraine of a retreating glacier.

When Roosevelt spoke of the Western Hemisphere, this was how he saw it—not the left half of a map counterbalanced by kingdoms and empires, but one whole face of the earth, centered on the United States. And here, microscopically small in the power center of this center, was himself sitting down to work.

And if America was going to play this role, this enforcer and protector of national sovereignty in the Western Hemisphere, then something like the Panama Canal was absolutely necessary. When Germany threatened Venezuela with warships in 1903 over some dispute over owed taxes and displaced citizens, Roosevelt fumed over the idea that hostilities might erupt while the bulk of the American Navy was off the coast of California in the Pacific Ocean. The trip around the tip of South America would take far too long for all that American firepower to be either a deterrent or an effective force. Slicing the continents in two, and allowing ships to get from the Pacific to the Atlantic in days rather than months was essential to both the Monroe Doctrine and to Roosevelt’s vision of the world.

This is one of those insights that one only gains by reading real history. In our American vernacular, Roosevelt is too often said to have wanted the Panama Canal because he needed something equally world-changing to go with his tremendous ego and sense of American importance. In reality, it was much more about strategy than hubris.

But hubris was not entirely absent. The intention to build the canal, once arrived at, was supported with every expansionist and exceptionalist trick in the American playbook. When Colombia, whose government possessed the territory then known as Panama, balked at the offer America made for the land and the labor to build the canal, Roosevelt’s advisors counseled him to ignore its sovereignty.

Professor [John Basset] Moore’s memorandum argued that Panama was the only place in the Americas to build a canal “for the world.” The question of Colombian sovereignty was therefore a global rather than a regional one. All nations had a right to benefit from the opening of this great “gate of intercourse” between East and West. One nation could not delay, or demand an exorbitant fee for, that constructive advance.

In other words, because American wanted it, America should have it. I mean, who were these pesky Colombians? What gave them the right to stand in the way of global progress?

Very little, evidently. One carefully orchestrated revolution later, the fledgling republic of Panama was created and immediately recognized as an independent nation by the President of the United States. The Canal treaty followed soon after, on terms very similar to those first offered to Colombia.


But Roosevelt’s vision of America wasn’t just prescribed to the Western Hemisphere.

Our place as a nation is and must be with the nations that have left indelibly their impress on the centuries… Those that did not expand passed away and left not so much as a memory behind them. The Roman expanded, the Roman passed away, but the Roman had left the print of his law, of his language, of his masterful ability in administration, deep in the world’s history, deeply imprinted in the character of the races that came after him. I ask that this people [Americans] rise level to the greatness of its opportunities.

Here is Manifest Destiny writ large—not just the continent, but the world—couched, as always in the language of peace and prosperity.

We infinitely desire peace, and the surest way of obtaining it is to show that we are not afraid of war.

It’s the debate of the ages, isn’t it? Hawkish presidents of every century have advocated the same “peace through strength” course of action. I’m not sure I buy it, and if I were to rephrase the sentiment with my latest libertarian leanings, I would have to say that the surest way of obtaining peace was to show that we are not afraid of doing business.

But let’s put that debate aside. Roosevelt was eerily prescient about the arc of world affairs, especially with regard to the rise of Japan as a world power.

In a dozen years the English, Americans and Germans, who now dread one another as rivals in the trade of the Pacific, will have each to dread the Japanese more than they do any other nation … I believe that Japan will take its place as a great civilized power of a formidable type, and with motives and ways of thought which are not quite those of the powers of our own race. My own policy is perfectly simple, though I have not the slightest idea whether I can get my own country to follow it. I wish to see the United States treat the Japanese in a spirit of all possible courtesy, and with generosity and justice … If we show that we regard the Japanese as an inferior and alien race, and try to treat them as we have treated the Chinese; and if at the same time we fail to keep our navy at the highest point of efficiency and size—then we shall invite disaster.

In reaction to this view, Roosevelt did at least two things. He personally negotiated a settlement to the Japanese-Russian war then threatening to stalemate, and he demanded that Congress appropriate funds to build a greater number of superior battleships than any other nation on earth.

In both activities, Roosevelt tempered his indelible drive for American expansionism with the reality that America, while uniquely special, was truly one nation among many. There was a role for America to play on the world stage—a strong and important one—but ultimately, I think, it was one in which Roosevelt saw America exerting a temporizing effect on the aggressions of world politics. Much like his progressivism in the world of business, in which he saw the dangers of too much wealth accumulating in the hands of too few people, he also saw the dangers of too much power accumulating in the hands of too few nations. America would be the policeman of the world, but it would be the beat cop of the nineteenth century, not the paramilitary stormtrooper of the twenty-first.

Bits and Pieces

Some quick items worth noting that don’t seem to fit anywhere else. First, during the peace negotiations between Russia and Japan just mentioned, a young reporter observed the following:

For the first time it was borne in upon me that wars were not only not necessary, but even ridiculous; that they were wholly man-made … [I] questioned Socrates’ conclusion that to know the good is to practice it. Humanity is simply not built like that. Except for a few savage or half-savage tribes, we all know that war profits no one, that it’s only result in the world, in the words of Croesus, is that “In war the fathers bury their sons, whereas in peace the sons bury their fathers,”—the normal course. But we are no more normal than we are certain to practice to good if we know it. Those bits of wisdom from the Greek world are two and a half millennia old, but they only emphasize our persistent unwisdom.

Wouldn’t it be nice if more people would come to the same epiphany? And speaking of the press, here’s another interesting parallel between Roosevelt’s and our time that relates to his use of the media.

More than any other previous occupant of the White House, Roosevelt understood that the way to manipulate reporters was to let them imagine they were helping shape policy. A “consultation” here, a confidence shared there, and the scribe was transformed into a pen for hire.

Probably not just our time, I guess. That’s a strategy that’s been with us from the very beginning.

There’s a biography of Oliver Wendell Holmes on my to-read shelf, and I stumbled across this passage that makes me want to advance it to the head of the line.

In his world there was neither absolute good not absolute evil—only shifting standards of positive and negative behavior, determined by the majority and subject to constant change. Morality was not defined by God; it was the code a given generation of men wanted to live by. Truth was “what I can’t help believing.” Yesterday’s absolutes must give way to “the felt necessities of the time.”

Could anyone ever say such of thing in our modern environment and even hope to be elected?

And finally, for all you trivia buffs, Roosevelt was one of the only presidents not to take the oath of office while swearing on a Bible. In the rush of events following the death of William McKinley, it appears, that detail was overlooked.


I wanted to get those items out of the way because I really wanted to finish with this. One of the most interesting parts of Roosevelt’s life is his family and his relationships with its various members. His relationship with his father and his two wives was a prominent backstory of The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, and I expect his relationship with his sons, especially Kermit and Quentin, will similarly infect Colonel Roosevelt, but the deepest familial undercurrent in Theodore Rex is his relationship with his oldest daughter, Alice.

Posing with Alice afterward for a photograph of notable stiffness, he stood leaning away from her slightly, his face devoid of expression. She held herself erect, almost as tall as Nick, in white satin trimmed with old lace, a frozen Niagara of white and silver brocade cascading from her waist and down the carpeted dais.

Did Roosevelt’s masked look, and his apparent scruple not to touch Alice with his shoulder, convey an awareness that the lace covering her shoulder and sweeping in a graceful crescent across her breasts had been worn, long ago, by another Alice? And did Edith Roosevelt, who also remembered that lace with pain, have it in mind when she kissed her stepdaughter good-bye and said, not entirely jokingly, “I want you to know that I’m glad to see you leave. You have never been anything else but trouble”?

The bride, heading off to Cuba on honeymoon, was missed at least by her Mexican yellow-head parrot. For days after her departure, the White House resounded with despairing calls of “Alice—Alice—Alice.”

How unsufferably sad. I’ll steal a line from a Norman Dubie poem—the crimes of the verb to be. Alice, guilty of nothing more than reminding her father of her mother’s untimely death, leads her entire life in a state of rebellious antagonism with her father. He loves her for who she is, but cannot love her for what she represents.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


“I’ve known a lot of gypsies and they are strange enough. But so are we. The difference is we have to make an honest living.”
Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls (Robert Jordan)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Great Things

“It seems that, in order to inscribe themselves in the hearts of humanity with eternal demands, all great things have first to wander the earth as monstrous and fear-inspiring grotesques.”
Friedrich Nietzche, Beyond Good and Evil

Monday, August 1, 2011

Chapter Thirteen


Speculative Fiction
Approximately 46,000 words
Copyright © Eric Lanke, 1990. All rights reserved.

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Although some may claim that it is impossible for one so young to make such a commitment, young Gildegarde Brisbane II chose to become a Knight of Farchrist the day Nog Shortwhiskers told him of his father’s death. While his formal education would not begin until he entered the King’s School at the age of six, his mother read to him from the scriptures and taught him many of their lessons before that required age. When young Brisbane did enter the School, his masters were amazed at his knowledge of the holy works of Grecolus and the lessons they dictated.

+ + +

The name of the tavern was The Lazy Dragon. It was early December and the snows had begun to fall. Shortwhiskers and Brisbane sat at a small table in one of the corners of the common room. Each had a large tankard of ale set before him. The tavern was quiet and not crowded.

Brisbane had been spending a lot of time at The Lazy Dragon lately. Roystnof was still tied up with Dantrius, and now with Roundtower gone, Shortwhiskers was the only true companion Brisbane had. The dwarf liked to spend his winter days and nights next to the warm fireplace of the nearest tavern, so Brisbane invariably found himself in the same places.

Brisbane had not liked the taste of ale the first time he had tried it. All the years he had helped Otis in The Quarter Pony he was not allowed to sample any of the drinks he had served. Not only had Otis thought Brisbane was too young for alcohol, the older man had considered it beneath the station of a Knight-to-be. Pure body and pure spirit.

But the events of the past months and Shortwhiskers’ insistence had changed Brisbane’s outlook. Otis and The Quarter Pony seemed leagues away and Shortwhiskers had taken it upon himself to declare Brisbane old enough.

His first taste was awful. It was a bitter liquid that always felt like it was fighting against Brisbane’s swallow. After he had taken his first sip, he was dismayed at the size of the vessel he would have to drain. He thought it would take him all winter. But each drink he took was a little easier to down than the one before it, and soon he could take a healthy swig without wrinkling his nose or squeezing his eyes shut.

Whereas Brisbane was still not crazy about the way the drink tasted, he was certainly becoming a fan of the way it made him feel. He could understand why so many people drank the stuff and why so many people had trouble controlling how much they drank. He had seen people sick on the drink plenty of times, back at The Quarter Pony and here at The Lazy Dragon. Brisbane never wanted that to happen to him so he made Shortwhiskers promise to cut him off whenever the dwarf felt he had had enough. So far the system had worked, but it was often called very close. Brisbane had fought a lot of skirmishes and so far he had won them all.

For the most part, Brisbane enjoyed these times he spent with Shortwhiskers. The dwarf was a good drinking companion and Brisbane liked him. He only wished he could spend more time with Roystnof.

The drink tended to loosen Shortwhiskers’ lips, which Brisbane enjoyed, and often they found themselves discussing things freely that Shortwhiskers would have normally been close-mouthed about.

It was a day like any other they had spent in the tavern. Sitting around the fireplace, watching the snow fall, sipping ale, and listening to stories of past adventures told by Shortwhiskers and other regular patrons of the tavern. It was late afternoon and the sky was darkening when the door to the tavern swung open and The Lazy Dragon received a trio of the most unusual customers.

The first man who entered the common room was unusual in no other way except for the uniform he wore. It was dark blue, neatly tailored to fit the man’s body perfectly. He wore riding boots and a long riding cloak. The uniform bore no rank insignia but the visored hat the man wore bore a shiny silver badge on it. Behind him entered the two other men, huge and bulky figures dressed in chainmail, helmets, and red capes. They wore the Farchrist Crest above their left breast.

The three quickly surveyed the room and went over to the bartender. Everyone, including Brisbane, knew what the three men were here for. Brisbane had seen three similar men come into The Quarter Pony every year around the same time. The man with the badge on his hat was the tax collector. The other two were guards to make sure everyone gave Dalanmire his due.

Brisbane and Shortwhiskers watched as the tax collector went through a large account book the bartender had produced for him. He ran a stiff finger down a column of numbers, and when he had found what he wanted, he brought out a book of his own and began making notes in it.

“Every year,” Shortwhiskers spat. “And all over the kingdom. Sometimes I feel like it’s my fault, Gil. Did you know that before the expedition to Dragon’s Peak, the dragon tax came due only once every three years, and the King only had to tax the citizens of Raveltown to meet it?”

Brisbane nodded. He knew. Shortwhiskers had told him many times.

“Now it’s every year and all over the kingdom. All because the King defied Dalanmire and sent the two Knights to confront him. I shouldn’t have gone along, Gil. I shouldn’t have guided them there.”

Brisbane shrugged. “Someone else would have,” he said simply, taking a drink of his ale.

One of the guards had produced a small cash box and the bartender was slowly counting coins and dropping them into it. The tax collector kept a close eye on the procedure.

Shortwhiskers put down his ale. “Would they have?”

Brisbane nodded. “Of course. The King was so much in favor of the mission nothing could have stopped him. You’ve said so yourself. If the dwarves had refused to help, the King would have found some other way if he had had to go there himself.”

“Yeah,” Shortwhiskers said, picking up his ale again. “I suppose you’re right. I still feel guilty about it, though.”

“Drink your ale,” Brisbane instructed.

One of the guards snapped the cash box shut and the tax collector spun on his heel to leave. The two guards followed him out the door and to the next place of business. Soon, Brisbane supposed, the trio would show up at the cabin they had rented and demand a percentage of whatever money was on hand. It didn’t worry Brisbane much, he was broke, living off the charity of his friends. He didn’t know how much gold Shortwhiskers and Roystnof had accumulated over their travels, but he assumed it was quite a bit. He also believed it was the kind of income that no one really kept track of and which would be hard to tax.

Shortwhiskers called for two more ales and the bartender, who had seemed defeated at the loss of his hard-earned money, hurried over with hopes of keeping this year in the black.

“Someday, Gil,” Shortwhiskers muttered. “Someday I’m going to go back to Dragon’s Peak and put an end to this tax nonsense.”

Brisbane chuckled. “Okay, Nog. Just don’t leave without me. We’ll skin that dragon alive.”

Brisbane was joking but he could tell by Shortwhiskers’ eyes that the dwarf was serious. “Yes,” he said resolutely. “We’ll make daggers out of his teeth and shields out of his scales.” The dwarf drank his ale.


The voice was feminine and came from over Brisbane’s left shoulder. Shortwhiskers looked up and Brisbane turned in his chair to behold the form of Allison Stargazer. At first, Brisbane didn’t recognize her, but he soon placed her face in his memory and let a smile escape him. She was dressed much as she had been when Brisbane had first met her, in a simple blue dress with intricate lacing at the bodice. Her honey hair fell loose to her shoulders and her green eyes sparkled in the firelight.

“Hello, Allison,” Shortwhiskers said. “You startled me. Won’t you sit down?”

“Thank you,” Stargazer said, taking a seat between the dwarf and Brisbane on the other side of the table.

“You remember my friend, Brisbane,” Shortwhiskers said.

“Yes,” Stargazer said. “How are you, young Gildegarde?”

“I’m fine,” Brisbane said. “Please, call me Gil.”

Brisbane was suddenly nervous, but he thought he had handled that first exchange well. Stargazer was the prettiest woman he had ever seen.

Stargazer smiled at Brisbane and then turned to the dwarf. “Nog, I heard you were back in town and figured you would be in one of the taverns. How many have you had today?”

Shortwhiskers shrugged, pulling his ale a little closer to himself. “Who counts?”

Stargazer turned to Brisbane and her gaze reminded him of the way she had referred to alcohol when she had been treating that old man. He suddenly felt ashamed about all the ale he had been drinking.

Stargazer looked at Brisbane but spoke to Shortwhiskers. “Look what your influence has done to your young friend here. Really, Nog, I wish you would be more aware of what is going on around you. Young Gil simply admires you.”

There was no malice in her voice and as soon as she had said it, Brisbane realized that it was true. It wasn’t something he could have decided or admitted to before, but after Stargazer had said it, Brisbane saw it had never been any other way. He did admire Shortwhiskers.

Shortwhiskers laughed. “Well, there’s no accounting for taste, so I guess I won’t hold it against him.”

Stargazer turned back to the dwarf, smiling. “So anyway,” she said. “How was your little adventure? Profitable?”

Shortwhiskers shook his head. “Educational.”

Stargazer’s eyebrows flew up. “Now that’s a new one. How so?”

“Something you may be interested in,” the dwarf said. “Did you know that only one day south of here there is an ancient shrine of Grecolus?”

“Nog, don’t kid me.”

Shortwhiskers reached out and took her hand. “No kidding, Allison. One day south.”

Stargazer eyed him suspiciously. “How do you know it’s devoted to Grecolus?”

“Ignatius confirmed it for us,” Shortwhiskers said. “You know, Ignatius Roundtower. You’ve met him, haven’t you?”

The conversation was staying away from Brisbane but he didn’t mind. If he had to talk, he would be too nervous not to come off sounding like a dope in front of Stargazer. He was content to just sit there and look at her.

“Yes,” she said. “I’m surprised he’s not here with you.”

“He’s gone on to Farchrist Castle to try for the knighthood,” Shortwhiskers said.

“Wonderful!” Stargazer exclaimed. “I will pray for him.”

“I’m sure he would appreciate that,” Shortwhiskers said.

“And he said this shrine was devoted to Grecolus?” Stargazer asked, looking doubtful.

Shortwhiskers nodded. “Said there were ancient worship symbols or something on it. One he recognized had a circle with a bunch of wavy lines crossing it.”

“Safe passage,” Stargazer whispered.

“Yes, safe passage,” the dwarf said. “That’s what Ignatius said. “Didn’t he, Gil?”

Stargazer suddenly turned to Brisbane. Her eyes were anxious, glowing with an intensity all their own. The color was high in her cheeks and for the first time Brisbane noticed that her ears came to a slight point.

“Yes,” Brisbane said. “Peace and safe passage for all loyal to Grecolus.” His voice was cool and confident. “That’s what Ignatius said. We went right in.”

Stargazer smiled and turned back to Shortwhiskers. “I would very much like to visit this shrine, Nog. Do you plan on going back there?”

Shortwhiskers nodded. “In the spring. We will be going south to investigate rumors of a forgotten temple at the source of the Mystic. We can take you by the shrine on the way.”

“Is it a temple of Grecolus?” Stargazer asked.

“I don’t know,” Shortwhiskers said. “It could be. There’s really no way to tell until we go there.”

Stargazer nodded. “I think I will be coming with you in the spring, my friend. I have been settled here in Queensburg for perhaps too long. It’s about time for a sabbatical. If that’s okay with you.”

“Fine by me,” Shortwhiskers said. “It’ll be nice to have you along. Could have used your skills once or twice on the last excursion. What do you think, Gil?”

Stargazer again turned and looked at Brisbane.

Brisbane remembered how she had taken that old man’s pain away and the various injuries his friends had sustained on their trip. “Yes,” he said. “Her services would certainly have come in handy.”

“But, Allison,” Shortwhiskers said. “There’s more. We saw some things you may not like.”

Stargazer sobered. “Like what?”

“Like Illzeezad Dantrius.”

“Illzeezad Dantrius?” Stargazer said. “Where have I heard that name before?”

“He was Gregorovich the Second’s chief advisor,” Shortwhiskers said. “You remember.” Shortwhiskers turned to Brisbane, gave him a very strange look and then turned back to Stargazer. “The one who argued against the expedition to Dragon’s Peak and then disappeared from the kingdom after the party left.”

“Yes,” Stargazer said oddly as she too gave Brisbane a strange look. “I remember you telling me about him. Where did you find him?”

“He was standing before the shrine as a statue of rock. He was the victim of what Roystnof called a basilisk. Do you know what that is?”

“I believe so,” Stargazer said. “It is a large lizard that can turn people to stone.”

Brisbane sat helplessly as he wondered what was going on. Both Shortwhiskers and Stargazer were talking guardedly in front of him and both of them had given him a strange look at the mention of Dantrius. They were sharing some kind of secret and Brisbane wanted to know what it was.

“That is how Roystnof described it,” Shortwhiskers said.

“Roystnof?” Stargazer said, searching her memory. “Oh yes,” she exclaimed. “The wizard you travel with.”

Brisbane did not like the way she said the word ‘wizard.’ She made the word sound like a curse. She said ‘wizard’ almost the way the demon from the shrine had said ‘paladin.’

“Wait a minute,” Brisbane said, trying to think of something of some consequence to say.

“Nog,” Stargazer said before Brisbane could collect his thoughts. “Perhaps we should discuss this another time.”

Shortwhiskers looked at Brisbane. “Yes, I think that might be best.”

“Fine,” Stargazer said. “Another time, then. I regret that now I must leave.” She rose from her seat.

Brisbane and Shortwhiskers awkwardly got to their feet.

“I have business across town,” Stargazer said. “But I’ll be sure to see you again before our departure.”

“You know where to find me,” Shortwhiskers said.

Stargazer gave the dwarf a slanted look. “Yes,” she said. “I’m afraid that I do. Farewell, Nog.”

“Farewell,” Shortwhiskers said.

Stargazer took Brisbane’s hand in her own. “And farewell to you, Gil,” she said, trying his informal name for the first time. “I hope to see you before the spring as well. Take care.”

“Take care,” Brisbane repeated as Stargazer turned and left the tavern. Brisbane and Shortwhiskers sat back down.

“Nog?” Brisbane said.

“Yes, Gil?” Shortwhiskers said, picking up his ale again.

“Do you think that was really such a good idea?”


Brisbane lowered his voice. “Inviting Stargazer to come along. Won’t it be dangerous?”

“Allison?” Shortwhiskers seemed shocked.

“Yes, Allison,” Brisbane said, raising his voice. “What the hells was that just all about?”

Shortwhiskers hid behind his drink. “What do you mean, Gil?”

“Okay,” Brisbane said as he quickly leaned back in his chair. “So don’t tell me what’s going on between you and Stargazer.”

“Gil, please,” Shortwhiskers said. “Don’t get all worked up. I’ll tell you but must promise never to repeat what I am about to say. Not,” the dwarf stressed, “even to Roystnof.”

Brisbane swallowed hard and leaned closer to the dwarf. “I promise.”

Shortwhiskers paused. “It’s something she doesn’t want to be widely known, but I don’t think she’ll mind if I tell you.”

“What is it?” Brisbane begged.

“The expedition to Dragon’s Peak. I told you your grandfather, the Prince, myself, and a High Priestess of Grecolus made the journey.”

Brisbane was confused. “Yes?”

“Allison Stargazer was that High Priestess.”

Brisbane sat back. “Stargazer? How can that be, Nog? That was forty-two years ago. She doesn’t look a day over twenty-five.”

“Keep your voice down,” Shortwhiskers admonished. “I know how long it’s been. Allison Stargazer is sixty-seven years old.”

Brisbane felt like he had been slapped. He felt like he had when Shortwhiskers had said that he was a hundred and sixty-three years old. But Stargazer was no dwarf.

“How can that be?” Brisbane asked.

“She’s not wholly human, Gil. It’s not that noticeable, but she has elven blood running in her veins. Her mother was an elf, her father a human.”

“Elven?” Brisbane said, looking back at the door as if Stargazer was still standing there. “How could she be a High Priestess of Grecolus if she was a half-elf?”

“Well,” Shortwhiskers said evasively, “she wasn’t a High Priestess for long.”

“What’s that got to do with it?”

Shortwhiskers sighed. “Whenever Knights go on long journeys away from the kingdom,” he explained, “a High Priest or Priestess is sent with them to tend to their spiritual needs. When news of the expedition to Dragon’s Peak reached the Temple in Raveltown, none of the clerics there were willing to go along. They thought no one would ever come back from such a mission. So they took little Allison Stargazer, then more of a girl than a woman, gave her the title of High Priestess, and sent her off with me and the Knights.”

“Did they know she was of elven stock?”

“They might have,” Shortwhiskers said. “It might have helped them decide to send her. But she took her new position seriously. She actually thought she had earned the promotion, even though she had previously been serving the Temple as a simple Acolyte. It wasn’t until after we got back that she realized they had sent her only because they were all too afraid to meet Dalanmire themselves. Too weak in their faith, Allison called it.”

“What did she do?” Brisbane asked.

Shortwhiskers drained his mug of ale before he answered. Brisbane watched him take the swallows, his adam’s apple bobbing up and down. Brisbane didn’t think he could ever drink that much so quickly. It would certainly make him sick.

“She left,” Shortwhiskers said. “She said she was through with organized religion and went off to worship Grecolus in her own way. She’s been traveling ever since. She settled here in Queensburg just a couple of years ago.”

Brisbane thought about it. He had never known an elf before but had heard a lot about them. But they were a very reclusive people so Brisbane figured most of what he had heard was probably rumor. There were no full-blooded elves living in the kingdom, though. At least none that anyone knew about. They were slender, wilderness folk who were said to live impossibly long lives, some a thousand years or more. If Stargazer were indeed a half-elf, Brisbane supposed she could very well be sixty-seven years old and appear no more than thirty.

But if what Shortwhiskers had told him was true, and Brisbane had no reason to doubt it, that would mean that Stargazer was yet another person who had known his grandfather. He remembered a time when Stargazer had said she respected the name of Brisbane, and that memory now made Brisbane feel oddly proud. The more he traveled, it seemed, the more he learned about his family’s past. It was strange, in Scalt, Otis had always told him to revere his family name but he had never told Brisbane much of his family’s history or tradition.

“Bartender!” Shortwhiskers called out. “You want another?” he quietly asked Brisbane.

“No,” Brisbane said, still having half a mug of ale left.

“One more ale,” Shortwhiskers said when he could tell he had the bartender’s attention. The man brought the drink, placed it in front of Shortwhiskers, and left before the dwarf and Brisbane exchanged any more words.


“Yes, Gil?”

“How do you think Stargazer will react to traveling with Roy?”

Shortwhiskers shook his head. “She won’t like it. But she’ll put up with it if I know her. She really wants to see that shrine.”

“She’ll think Roy is evil, won’t she?” Brisbane still found the idea ludicrous.

“He works magic,” Shortwhiskers said. “That will be all the proof she needs. If you want to stay on her good side, I wouldn’t let her see that medallion you wear.”

Brisbane pulled on the chain around his neck and drew out the silver pentacle that had been hidden behind his shirt. “Nog,” he said, “I don’t wear this because I worship Damaleous. I wear it because Roy gave it to me.”

“I know that and you know that,” Shortwhiskers said. “Allison doesn’t. If she sees it around your neck, she’ll draw her own conclusions.”

Brisbane examined the small piece of metal. “Does it really mean that much?”

“To her, yes. Trust me, Gil. Keep it inside your shirt.”

Brisbane pulled on his collar and dropped the medallion inside. Shortwhiskers returned his attention to his ale and Brisbane moved his chair a nudge closer to the fireplace.