19 June 2012

Ray Bradbury on Writing

Fantastic quote from Ray Bradbury (RB) on writing.  This is from the webpage of Amanda Valentine, herself a writer, editor, etc.  I found her page because she is listed in the credits for a new game being designed - Spirit of the Century - which is a kickstarter project.

A quick word on RB's impact on my life - he had two stories, published 10 years apart.  Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962) and The Halloween Tree (1972).  Those two stories scared the bejeebers out of me as a kid, and also inspired me (along with a lot of other sci fi I discovered in the 1970s, as a youth) to have a life long passion for writing and creating.  A lot of that has taken the form of writing I have done for game (see Valley of the Old Ones, for instance), but also stories.  Thanks RB, and all the others.

Anyway, Amanda's blog post with the RB quote is here.

I have copied and pasted the words of RB here -

To sum it all up, if you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling.

You must write every single day of your life.

You must write dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next.

You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfume and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads.

I wish for you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime.

I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you.

May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories–science fiction or otherwise.

Which means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.

(Ray Bradbury, “How to Be Madder Than Captain Ahab.” Quoted by William Safire and Leonard Safir in Good Advice on Writing. Simon & Schuster, 1992)

14 July 2005

Khalabar Field Force III

"What have you got left, Conn?" The old Highlander passed his water bottle over, reaching past the two bodies laying between him and his companion.

"I'm down to six rounds, what have you got?"

There was a brief pause.

"I've got seven, I can't believe that you're ahead of me. Well, this next time I'll catch up. Hamish - what have you got?"

"Thirteen, but I wouldn't mind trading a few for some of that water. Can you toss it up to me?"

"Thirteen? What are you getting lazy on us? Here, wait and I'll toss up - there. Take a good drink, they'll be coming again soon. Almost time for morning prayers."

Hamish leaned over the rocky ledge he was perched on, well above his companions. He caught the bottle deftly, rolled over on his back, and drank deep.

"Here -" the bottle landed back next to the private who tossed it up, "I'm no gettin' lazy, I got the bullet box off o' Young Davey's sam browne. He won't be needing it now, poor lad."

"'Ats right, Hamish, 'at's right. But he's in a better place now. But your big stinkin' arse is still here with the rest o' us. And I wouldn't have it any other way."

"Same wi' you, Andrew, same wi' you. You dumb Jock."

"There now, lads, keep it quiet. Old Mullah out there is about to call the - wait - there he goes. Morning prayers. Sun'll be up soon, and they'll be back. Old Davey -"

"Yes Serjent?"

"Ah there you are - be a good corporal and gimme a count o' who's left."

"Yes, Serjent. Well, there's only the five o' us, seeing as Young Davey turned in his mess tin last night. And the Captain, but he's still in a bad way."

Sergeant Lewis looked at the fitful, twisting body of Capt. McCallum, and listened to his mutterings.

"-tell the Queen I did it all - did it all with my two hands for her - please tell her, and when I go, tell her I loved her, and don't give a whit if she's a widow - tell her - tell the Queen - "

"Aye, the Captain is jes a poor, dumb officer now, what got himself shot. But it took three t'bring him down, it did," Remarked Hamish, as he examined his own hand. It had been shot, and although he could still make a rock hard fist, every time he did the blood oozed out from the bandage a little more. "I guess, Serjent, that once we're all gone, he won't last long."

"Now, now, Hamish, we ain't turned in our kit yet - you still got years o' army work ahead of yerself. Yer not getting out of my platoon that easy." The Sergeant spoke with deadpan seriousness, but smiled to himself.

The low laughter all around was only half heartfelt. Then they heard the distant mulazim slowly finish off.

"Well, lads, that's it - Old Mullah is finished, they'll be back soon. Connor, you and Andrew keep together. Hamish - I expect that since you have twice as much ammunition as the rest of us, you'll do your part for Dornoch and make every round count."

"Don't you worry, Serjent Lewis, no man from Dornoch ever did the regiment poorly, and it ain't gonna start with me."

"Good lad. Now, Old Davey - stay with me, and we'll stay with the Captain when the last finally comes." The Sergeant thought for a second that there was no reason to call him Old Davey anymore, since he was the last Davey in the company, but didn't say anything.

It was quiet for a while, and nobody spoke. Then they could hear the drumming, and the distant skitter of rocks meaning that the Ghulzar were climbing up into the rocks after them. The last four times that they came up the rocks cost every other man in the Company his life, and the Captain was apparently soon to breath his last. This would be the last time the Ghulzar would have to come up.

"Here they come, Conn. If you make it, please write a letter to my sister, Mary. Say anything, she'll know what to think. Besides, she'd like to hear from you, I think she's sweet on your dumb fat arse."

"Thanks, Andrew. I'll be sure to do that. Here -" He tossed a necklace over to his friend. "Send that to m'mother if I turn in my tin today, okay? It belonged to my Uncle, and she'd want to get it back. It's a St. Andrew's medallion."

A musket ball fired from a jezzail spattered on the rock in front of Sergeant Lewis. Then another, and then three more.

"Well, lads, here they come, get ready -"

They could hear the cries of "Allah-u Achbar!", and then over the lower ridge, the first sword swinging Pathan tribesmen appeared. He was treated with a rifle round through his throat, compliments of Private Hamish McLish.

But then another came, and another, soon there were a half dozen scrambling towards the makeshift barrier in front of Andrew and Connor. Firing like mad, the Scots dropped them all, and no more came over the ridge. The drumming stopped, though nobody noticed.

"They'll start firing now, lads, so keep your heads down."

And fire they did. Bullets and musket balls, rocks and nails, all fired from a strange mixture of modern rifles and ancient muskets and jezzails. What a way to die, though Andrew, killed by some mad Musselman with a musket stolen from Clive's men.

There was a bark of pain, then a thud on the rocks to the Sergeant's side. Glancing, he saw Old Davey slowly let his rifle slip from his hands.

"Davey, you dog - don't you go too!" The Sergeant, in rage, fired his last bullet at a rock not too far below, and insignificant, but one that he swore he saw the shot the killed Old Davey come from.

Then they heard it - a low gutteral cry coming from above them. It grew and grew.

"Serjent - they got up above us somehow, they're coming down on us too," Hamish was nervously looking around him, peearing back up the mountain, looking for more Ghulzar tribesmen -- waiting for them to come down on him. He pulled his dirk and layed it on the rock in front of him.

"Steady lads, steady. Tis nothing we can do right now - Hamish, you set your back against a rock to keep from getting shot, and keep an eye out above us. Connor, you and Andrew keep up your watch below. How is your ammunition? I fear it's the bayonet for me from here on out." He had already used up the last of Old Davey's rounds, as well as his own.

"We're good, Serjent, we each got three rounds left, and the bayonet don't run dry never!" Said Private Andrew Gordon with a smile.

Then the cries from above grew sharper and sharper.

"They're on us, Serjent Lewis! They're on us!" Hamish had his rifle pointing up and jerking from rock to rock, but didn't know where to aim.

"Wait! Hamish - don't shoot. Listen to what they're saying - listen! Lad's, we're saved!!"

They all strained to hear, above the Afghan rifle fire, and the sound of rock splinters being shaved off by missed shots, to the cries from above. Slowly, smiles spread over every face as they picked out the words.

"Aayo-Gorkhali! Aayo-Gorkhali!"

And then they came - little Nepalese riflemen, all bearing a naked kukri, with slung rifles, and leaping over the rocks like mountain goats! They bounded down the rough face, finding footholds where the Scots swore there weren't any, and just kept going past the Highlanders. One paused a second, looked at Hamish and broke an impossibly huge Smile. "Hello Sergeants, a good day, yes, to fight for the White Queen, yes?"

Hamish couldn't help himself, he just clapped the short man on the side of the leg, and started laughing - roaring with laughter - he couldn't contain it. He had been called a Sergeant! The little Nepalese rifleman quickly nodded, then jumped down the mountainside with his companions.

Sergeant Lewis peered up the side of the mountain, and in the distance, just as the sunlight of the breaking day started to fall down the side of the peaks, he saw a man in a brown uniform, with a riding crop under his arm, slowly walking down the mountainside, accompanied by several Gurkha aides. It was Cox-Roberts. The damn Field Force had come. Sergeant Lewis smiled to himself, but as careful not to let the men see.

"The Gurkhas, Connor, the bloody Gurkhas! Nat must have gotten through to the pass! Damn my eyes, it's the bloody Gurkhas!" He couldn't contain himself, he rose up and shot his last rounds at the fleeing Pathans, careful not to hit any of the Gurkha riflemen in the back.

"S'alright, Andrew, s'alright. Looks like we might make it back to Khutri-Napur after all. But, you know, I think I'm still gonna write that letter to your sister." He smiled.

Khalabar Field Force II

I was going to write an After Action report about the Indian TSATF game I ran at an Historicon back in 2002, but I never got around to it then.

Luckily, one of the "other ranks" present at the battle, a Private Thomas Burton, wrote a letter to his fiance afterwards, and sent it down to Bombay by way of the HMS Dungbeetle. A copy of that letter appeared in the "London Illustrated News" a few short months later, and here it is, reporduced in full.

My Dearest Hortence,

We saw action today, against the Ghulzar, a wicked band of Afridi high in the mountains of Boruckistan. It was a noble mission, and we rightfully showed the heathen what we were made of! Good, proper-thinking, Christian manliness will overcome pagan badness any day in July. Or June, for that matter. Just like my dear old Nana used to tell me back in Putney.

Anyway, I'm sure you've heard of those Figg sisters? Well, one of them got herself kidnapped by Pinjar Khan. He's that wicked Musselman I was telling you of - the one who has the hidden fortress in the mountains and all. He caught Constance Figg while she were out on one of her missionary rides, distributing Bibles to the native villages. He kidnaps her and brings her back to his Mad Mullah. Old Mullah had something pretty dreadful, probably the worst thing this age, planned for her.

Well, our Major Bagabush was having none of this, so he promptly wires Cox-Roberts on the frontier, and tells him that he'll be up post-haste with a company of us Fusiliers. And what? And old Cox-Roberts had already got himself out on the trail, that's what! And with his Gurkhas and Scotsmen, no less. Lady Dumfries, the Major's missus, then heads out on her riding elephant to deliver the message herself. A right proper English Woman, Lady Dumfries is. And she remembered that Old Hubby had forgotten his flannel pad. He tends to catch a terrible cold on campaign if he don't have his flannel pad, they say, so she took it up with her.

Making double time up the Khutri river, we rode part of the way on the HMS Dungbeetle, and their officer of Marines, none other than Gunny Carstairs, came along with a couple of Gardner guns dismounted from the Dungbeetle. It were turning into a proper Hyde Park parade, what with artillery and everything. Pinjar Khan would regret the day that he ever took Constance Figg captive!

It turns out that Lord Cox-Roberts met up with Lord Baltimore, out on patrol with elements of the Khalabar Field Force - more Gurkhas and some of them fine Sikh fellows. We've got more of the Peerage here in Boruckistan than at a Sunday picnic at Balmoral! Anyway, along comes both of them Lords, so we had two strong columns coming in at the Vishtar valley, where the fortress of Pinjar Khan is hidden.

Major Bagabush recieved intelligence from a Mohmet Hajar, an old PM (our nickname for a Punjabi Musselman) retired from the Bengal Lancers, and always true to his salt, for 50 years now. Turns out that Constance Figg wasn't at the fortress of Pinjar Khan, but rather at the Mosque in the village of Vishtar. Some sepoys were sent with a message to Cox-Roberts and Baltimore, and the two columns converged on the Vishtar. The Denbigh Fusiliers, along with the RMLI under Gunny Carstairs came in from the northwest end of the valley, near the Khutri River, and the mixed column under Majors Cox-Roberts and Baltimore came in from the southeast end of the valley, over the rocky highlands, through goat paths and narrow passes.

That Mad Mullah fellow must have had a pretty neat tea party planned, cause all the clans and tribes for miles and miles around had been summoned to the village, and we had a terrible fight of it! Cox-Roberts and his lads, the Gurkhas and Highlanders got held up at a small fortified villa at the edge of the valley. It were a terrible firestorm, by all accounts, and old Cox-Roberts and Lady Dumfries were both wounded in the rifle exchange. Eventually the Highlanders convinced the tribesmen of the error of their ways, but it took near all afternoon to root the buggers out!

We Fusiliers had a better time of it, under the fire support of the Marines, we entered the Western side of the village, and worked our way around to the Mosque. It was then that the most exasperating thing happened! Our own Lt. Evans led the charge up into the Mosque - facing the Mad Mullah himself. Major Bagabush were bringing up the rest of the Company, but Lt. Evans got there first. He's engaged to be married to Constance Figg, so I figure he had a pretty good reason for wanting to get up there! Well, he pulls his sabre, and facing off the devilish Mad Mullah, he says "Unhand that woman, you lecherous villain!"

Well, it seems that while the old Mullah is a fearsome fellow, much given to his arcane and mystic ways (and it do seem like a good number of odd occurrences happened that day, which can be explained in no other terms than "heathen sorcery"), and no doubt a scary boogeyman to children everywhere, he's no match for good Sheffield steel. Looking at Evans once, then twice, he shrieked out to Allah, and flung his body off the tall Mosque! At that point, the rest of the tribesmen disappeared back into the hills, Miss Figg were safe, and something about a supply of Russian rifles was discovered and secured.

Now, Pinjar Khan was never found amongst the dead or dying, nor was the body of Mad Mullah recovered, but all in all it was a good day.

Your Beloved Betrothed,
Pvt. Tommy Burton
Denbigh Fusiliers
Lahore, India

ps- in a happy note, it turns out that both Lord Cox-Roberts and Lady Dumfries survived the battle, albeit in a grievously wounded state. They were packed into Lady Dumfries' elephant, Petunia, and have begun the pilgrimage down out of the mountains to Khutri-Napur, where they will receive proper medical attention. I hope all is well, but by the time you receive this letter, I'm sure you'll have read of their safe arrival in the wires from Bombay.

Khalabar Field Force

The setting of this little story is in the headquarters wing of the British Residency at Khutri-napur.

Khutri-napur, besides being a trading post along the Khutri river, is also the main village guarding the Khalabar pass into Boruckistan - a country full of dangerous hill tribesmen, and crafty Khans waiting to pounce down on India from their mountain fortresses.

The only thing standing between the bloodthirsty warriors of those Mountain Khans, and the peace loving peoples of all India, is the famous Khalabar Field Force, commanded by Lord Cox-Roberts.

Now, onto our story.

It was very, very hot. The sort of hot you only find in Khalabar. The air itself seemed to be melting. A plump, lazy little wallah in a white turban was pulling on a fan, and the room smelled like cheroot smoke.

Lord Cox-Roberts had pushed all of his official paperwork off the side of his desk, into a jumbled pile on the floor, and instead he had a large butterfly pressing board laid out, and was examining his most recently collected specimen, an exceptionally beautiful Common Jezebel. He got so excited, that he often fogged over his magnifying glass with cheroot smoke.

He was fascinated. This was a beautiful specimen, clearly larger and more lovely than that nasty little crumb that LeFoot showed in Paris last year. Cox-Roberts laughed to himself. He'll show that Frenchy! In fact, his absorption with the butterfly was so deep that he didn't hear the two Gurkha riflemen snap to attention outside, as the outer screen door slammed shut.

The office door burst open, and in rushed a very nervous junior officer. He jerked to attention so fast in front of the Major's desk, that the dust on his uniform shot forward and began to sprinkle down on the butterfly mounting board.

"What in the blue blazes do you mean barging into a man's private office," The ample mustache under Cox-Roberts' nose blasted out with every syllable, "you little heathen?"

"Sorry Sir, but I was told to deliver my message to you, immediately, and without delay. Sir." The young officer was hot, dusty, sweaty, and now scared for his life.

"Well? Out with it." Cox-Roberts never looked up from his specimens - he replaced the Jezebel on the mounting board, and was gently blowing dust off some of his others. While grumbling and cursing to himself. Infernal little snot-nosed lieutenant. No respect for elders. Not worth the blacking on his boots.

"Sir, it appears as if our scouting pundits never made it through Boruckistan. We received word from Albanipur that Raja Percy never received our scouts. We immediately sent out a pair of trustworthy scouting officers to trace their path, and report back on what was found, and it turns out that they have been captured. One of the local hill tribes, the Ghulzar, that our scouts had to pass by had a Russian envoy, and his party, as guests. And they smoked out our scouts as soon as they came to Pinjar Khan's fortress. It seems as if the Russians are making a very large gift of modern rifles to Pinjar Khan and his Ghulzar tribesmen. To make matters worse, it seems a civilian, a Miss Figg, was traveling with the scout and has been captured while trying to distribute Bibles."

"Hmmm, damn fine Jezebel," said Cox-Roberts, "Quite a midsection, too. Will do especially well, mounted."

"Excuse me Sir?" The Lieutenant was puzzled.

"What? Oh, oh, my butterfly." Cox-Roberts glanced up at the young officer with a wince, "How long have you been in India? Don't you know a Jezebel when you see one?"

"Sorry, Sir, I thought you were referring to Miss Figg. She's been captured, along with our scouting natives."

"Right. Well, I suppose we'll have to go rescue them," the Lord pushed back from his desk and bellowed, "Singh! Tommy Singh!"

"Yes, sahib?" A rather young household servant, dressed in a red silk vest and white turban, ran into the room.

"Rouse out my mare, Old Peculiar. Send for the Mem-Sahib, too." Cox-Roberts thought for a moment, while brushing his mustache, then yelled out again, "Captain Price! Captain Price! Oh, there you are. Full packs for the company, 200 rounds each and 4 days of rations. Brown saddle, with full kit, for Old Peculiar, and my regrets about dinner to the Mrs."

"Yes, Sahib." The slapping of bare feet could be heard as the young Sikh ran out of the room.

"Sir! Full packs, 200 rounds, and four days of rations. Very good, Sir." The Captain turned to leave the room.

"Now what was she doing up near Boruckistan, I wonder?" The Major was peering over his mounting board again, while talking absently.

"Sir? The butterfly?" The Lieutenant had not been dismissed, and fumbled with indecision.

"No, not the butterfly! I meant Miss Figg. I knew her, and her sister, while in Africa. Troublesome lot. I hear that one of them married an Officer from the Denbigh Fusiliers."

"Yes, sir. It's the other one." The young officer tried to be helpful.

"Why yes, of course. That one's dead." Cox-Roberts slowly weaved his head back and forth with sarcasm as he looked up.

"Sir? I don't mean disrespect, but I believe she's getting married, not dead."

"What? Of course she's not getting married! She's bloody well dead! In my killing jar! And she's a Jezebel! What in blue blazes are you talking about?"

"The other Figg." The Lieutenant swallowed hard, he was barely holding on here.

"What, er, oh yes. A lot of bottom, don't you think? Though a bit flighty. Still, not a bad pair."

"I wouldn't know, sir, not being an expert on them insects, as you are." The Lieutenant almost smiled thinking he had finally kept up with the old man.

"No, I meant the Figgs, confound it! Where's my horse? Is the company ready? What are you still standing there for, Lieutenant? I assume you know the way to this Pinjar Khan's fortress? Then come along. Singh! There's a sharp lad. Bring around Old Peculiar, and the Mem-sahib too. You'll like her, Lieutenant, and Lady Dumfries, my wife. Just don't mention those two pretties to her."

"The Figgs, sir? I never..." The Lieutenant looked very puzzled.

"No not the Figgs - the Jezebels! The Mrs. would never understand if I were to let on that I'd been chasing around these hills looking for Jezebels. No, not one bit. Captain Price! Good man, we'll leave within the hour. Now step along, all of you."

13 July 2005

Nathaniel Dithers in the Sudan

A little story . . . Nathaniel Dithers is a new character to be used in some Sudan games - he is a Methodist Missionary, but also a man of action (he's run a Boy's school, where he taught boxing and took the lads on frontier trips in Canada). He is married to a reformed dance-hall girl named Fanny - who is 23 years younger than him.

Also introduced is the leader of a band of Bashi Bazouks - Kemal Marzuq.

It's not as if Nathaniel Dithers always wanted to die a martyr's death in the desert, but this is where a lifetime of service had brought him.

After seminary school, Nathaniel spent 12 years as a director of a Boy's school in Toronto - mostly instructing the little ruffians in the arts of self defense. While his boxing, hunting, shooting, and Latin improved, he was bored.

Seeking high adventure, he requested reassignment from the church - and was sent to St. John's, in Newfoundland. There to set up and established the Methodist church at Cochrane Street.

While in St. John's, he met Fanny Belcher, a pretty dance hall girl down on her luck. She had sprained her ankle, and couldn't dance for her wages. Nathaniel had pity on her, and wed her, even though she was more than 20 years his junior.

Still, he sought more excitement, so he applied and applied for missionary work - finally (and quite by accident, too), Nathaniel was sent to the Sudan, to Bokhala.

Nathaniel Dithers is quite fluent in French, and is experienced with boy's schools, so he was to be sent to Brevilly, in the Sedan area of France - to oversee the running of a Methodist finishing school. But some clerk got Brevilly, Sedan mixed up with Bokhala, Sudan -- and here he is. Doesn't speak a word of Arabic, or any other language used within 100 miles, but still Nathaniel is determined to succeed.

So on the spot we find our man, in the Sudan, managing a Missionary school for the native children, as well as the various sons and daughters of the Europeans in the area.

And now the school is about to be overrun by bloodthirsty savages.

"It's a good thing", though Dithers to himself, "A golly-darn good thing I brought my Winchester 1866 with me. Helped me bag three Bison last time I took the Toronto lads on a buffalo hunt out west - should be good enough to shot some of these desert savages!"

Fanny had armed herself too. Her old pepperbox was still with her, as well as a bottle of gin. "Nathaniel is a good man, a kind man - and still quite well up to vigorous husbandly duties at his age," she thought, "But damn it all if I'm going to die here in the desert!" She took a long draw off the bottle, then hid it under her skirt, lest her husband see her.

The children were all hidden inside the church, and Dithers and his wife had piled up a bunch of boxes outside. They had a platoon of Egyptian soldiers with them, led by Corporal Nafiki. Those same soldiers had abandoned their railroad outpost a few weeks before, when the tribesmen were first threatening them. They abandoned the outpost, and came to Nathaniel for guidance and protection.

Arrayed against these few defenders of the lonely mission station were the screaming fanatical devotees to the local desert madman, Ras Al Mufti. A fervent holy man, practicing his own peculiar blend of Mohammedanism and ritual mumbo-jumbo, he had stirred up some of the local tribesmen into a fervor - determined to destroy the Christian missionaries, and all who had converted. Word of a Messiah, the Mahdi, had reached these men - but they only had ears for Ras Al Mufti - the mad mullah of Bokhala.

The only hope that Dithers and his stalwart, but woefully outnumbered, band of defenders had was in a strange mix of wandering brigands and bandits that sometimes came to the mission to trade. These horsemen, self-styled Bashi Bazouks, wore Turkish style clothes, rode Arabian stallions, carried British rifles, and would work for anyone if the price were right. Nathaniel Dithers felt sure he had struck a chord of respect and friendship with their leader. But would they come to aid the defenders of the Christian church? And if they did come, would they fight for Dithers, for Al Mufti, or for none but themselves?

It wouldn't do any good appealing to Governor Gordon for aid, he had his own problems in Khartoum. The Mahdi had besieged the city, and who knows how long before the long promised rescue column would reach? No, Nathaniel Dithers, and his flock, were on their own.

Natunni, the servant girl, had just brought around a pot of tea to the defenders on the makeshift wall, when the first pink of dawn began to color the distant horizon. The hot cup felt good, and reassuring. Another night - another long night they had made it through, and Al Mufti's madness hadn't caused the warriors to attack. Perhaps they would just calm down and leave?

Slowly the sky brightened, and out past the lazy, shallow stream next to the mission, Dithers could see the tribesmen had come to within a couple hundred yards of the outpost. Nafiki saw them too, and he pointed. "Look, Dithers-pasha - they come. Soon morning prayers will be finished, and they will come down on us with spear and sword!"

"Have heart, Nafiki my friend. They haven't come yet...not yet." He checked his Winchester, and the boxes of ammunition he had stashed here at his place on the wall. He looked down the line to see that the fellahin had gotten their Remingtons ready in a similar manner.

"Fanny, love- Fanny, can you come here please?"

There was a ripple of spear points out on the highland, as the tribesmen began to rise from their morning prayers.

"Fanny dear - could you please get the children to sing the Hymn of Joy - it does so cheer us all up, and I think it would get the whole Mission in a great spirit this morning. Nafiki - I've been teaching it to some of your fellows, and if you wouldn't mind they could join in. The Hymn of Joy always does well with a strong bass section."

"Why Nathaniel, yes of course. That would be an excellent idea." She shuffled off to the Vestry - making sure she felt her gin bottle was safe and handy.

Out across the way, the lone figure of Ras Al Mufti could be seen rising up on a berm, directing the faithful. They began descending out of the hilly area - first slowly, then with gathering speed. Soon, the bands of spearmen could be seen running at full speed across open ground towards the river.

The singing from the Church started out, as if in response to, and trying to dampen the crescendo of tribal charge.

Sing with all the Sons of Glory, sing the resurrection song!
Death and sorrow, earth’s dark story, to the former days belong.
All around the clouds are breaking, soon the storms of time shall cease;
In God’s likeness we, awaking, know the everlasting peace.

The first Arabs made it to the edge of the river, and began splashing across the shallows, when a blast of gunfire off on the right called them up short. In an instant, the charging fanatics stopped, looked stupidly at the sight charging down on them, and turned to head back to the hills.

Out of the scrub - a failed attempt at an olive grove - came riding the band of Bashi Bazouks - firing into the Arabs and yelling their Turkish war cries at the top of their lungs! They were magnificent fellows, dressed in the brightest red and blue silks, wearing turbans and fezzes, and firing into the Arabs from horseback with deadly accuracy.

Soon the Arabs had fled for the safety of the hills, and the Turkish horsemen had ridden into the confines of the Mission Station.

The big smiling Turk, Kemal Marzuq, came up to Nathaniel and slapped him on the shoulder.

"Truly, my friend, you are Beloved of God! You stand here like brave flies, ready to sting the mighty elephant that rides down on you. You and your help - ", he glanced contemptuously at the Egyptians.

"Still, you bravely faced the Arabs, and would have died facing them. All while your children sang praises to God! You are a wonder to behold, friend Dithers!"

Nathaniel couldn't help but smile.

"I would thank you, now, if you could spare some food for my men. We have ridden hard for six days to reach you. There is a storm coming, and we wanted to tell you. And, it is true, you also have the fattest sheep! Along the way we raided a Arab caravan, and also two slaver camps. The men have some plunder with them, and seek time to enjoy it."

Nathaniel only now noticed the women, Sudanese and others, being lowered down off of some of the horses.

"Kemal, Kemal - you know that my house is your house. You are welcome to rest here, and also kissra bread and miris will be ready within the hour. I must ask, however, that your men do not avail themselves of the ladies, which, um, well . . ."

"Ha ha! Dithers thinks we are going to have our way? Like Arab dogs? Nay - each of my men shall marry - today in fact - before he beds his prize. None of them have more than 1 or 2 wives already, so it is permitted. Still, come and tell me more about this miris, and I shall tell you of a wretched storm that comes to crash on your house."

"Storm, what storm? The miris is already cooking, we slaughtered several sheep last night, and it was to be for a feast today, but you are welcome to it. Now tell me of the storm."

"Well, you already have the dogs of Al Mufti across the stream wanting to cut your throats - that is bad enough, but perhaps a man might be allowed to survive such an ordeal. What I tell you of is a tribulation that the Prophets of old would have a hard time living with. The Mahdi - you have heard of Mahdi I believe? Yes - good. The Mahdi has many men - too many to count - coming this way. They seek to gather power by conquering all in the Sudan. Mahdi wants to conquer first all the Sudan, then go on to cleanse Egypt, and then finally all of Turkey. His goal is to make the Faithful more Faithful. Or that is what his followers claim. I think he is a conquering dog, who has been ignored too long. Now he is out of control. But his followers are coming this way - they want your head. And that of your Wife, and all those of your church here."

Nathaniel stared, not believing what he was hearing. First Al Mufti, now the Mahdi? Was this a test from Heaven?

"But fear not - Dithers. For your friends the English are coming to rescue you. They have sent soldiers, soldiers riding camels, led by a man called Baltimore. These men cannot ride so well, and go slow, but it is said that they can shoot with the eyes of eagles, and fight with the strength of lions. They come to help you."

"Good", thought Dithers, "the Camel Corps. They must have sent a detachment out from Gordon's relief column. That will be a blessing."

"And, friend Dithers, that is not all. When you came to Bokhala, did you not think it strange that there was not a village already here? A fresh stream coming from the rocks, a lovely oasis, green plants, everything a village longs for here in the southern Sudan. But there is nothing. Only the rocky rise across the stream. Do you know why, friend Dithers? No, you do not. Ha ha ha ha! And that is good, for it would keep you awake at night."

"Tell me Kemal. What do you know about the oasis?"

The Turk, suddenly, grew very grave and stared at his friend.

"It it because, friend Dithers, there was once an ancient city here. A city for a great king of old - older than Mohammed, Jesus, and all the prophets - a great king of the old Egyptians. But this king was living here in exile - for he had done a wicked thing. And for that wicked thing, a curse was placed on him that he should never die, but live forever in torment. Five years ago, a meddling Frenchman dug up the tomb of this king, and he walked the earth. It took many men to put him down, but still he did not die. It is because of this that Al Mufti seeks to kill you. He wants no man living in or near the site of this ancient curse."

Nathaniel looked serious for a minute, then a smile broke across his face.

"Kemal - my good man. Surely you can't be serious? An ancient curse? A wicked king who can't die? The Mahdi, with an army -- that I can believe. It makes me weak in the knees, but I can believe it. English soldiers on Camels - strange, but I can believe that too. But a story about an ancient king, and a curse - no, Kemal. You have been in the sun too long. Come let us see if that miris is ready to eat."

In the distance, the church boomed to life again, with another verse of the Hymn of Joy...

Life eternal! heaven rejoices; Jesus lives, Who once was dead.
Join we now the deathless voices; child of God, lift up your head!
Patriarchs from the distant ages, saints all longing for their heaven,
Prophets, psalmists, seers, and sages, all await the glory given.