This is one of those episodes that I’ve been waiting a long time to write (although I guess you could say that of all of the episodes at this point, since I wrote the outline three years ago now). Certain episodes stand out to me as exciting to write, and this was one of them, mostly because of Arval. If you checked out our character page way back when we started the series, you’d have noticed that one of the main characters mentioned is Arval…who you’ve never met. Until this episode. While I consider him a main character, I guess you could say that designation is debatable, considering that it’s taken him this long to show up in the story (I did eventually take him off the cast list for this reason).
The world of Blood Magic is experiencing one of those inflection points in history that can seem obvious in retrospect or from the outside perspective, but may not be noticed immediately by those experiencing it. I did this intentionally, making competing forces converge. We’ll talk about this in more detail when I do a reflection post for the whole series, but suffice for now to say that one of those forces is technological change. It was brewing before the Pifechan invasion, but that was certainly a catalyst.
For all that I really enjoyed writing this story, and think that you will enjoy reading it, I don’t have very much to say about it. It’s a simple story, really, introducing Arval and providing a little context and a little conflict. It doesn’t set up a lot of things to come, other than Arval’s existence, and it doesn’t communicate deep messages. Probably the “deepest” part of the story is the trial, which gives us a little glimpse of Merolate’s legal system (a very small one), and features a few interesting debates. Hopefully that trial also contributes to reminding you that, for all that Merolate is advancing, it is not exactly a modern nation-state such as we understand it today.
I’m glad that this episode stands on its own. Blood Magic was always supposed to be episodic in nature, although it builds more in terms of character development and overarching plot than a truly episodic style of storytelling, so it really falls somewhere in the middle between the episodic style and serialization. I worry sometimes that, especially as the series has gone on, each episode has become less independent. With all of the pieces that I need to get into place for the series finale, and the various loose ends that need to get tied up before the end of season three, this season risked being extremely serialized, so it pleases me that this episode can stand on its own. It helps that this is introducing a new character, but I really think this is one of the few episodes that you could read without having read even the pilot episode.
Oh, there is one other note that I can make, which is about Arval’s chosen beast of burden. I could have gone with a horse, or a blummox, but instead I went with a kunga. There was no good reason for this, other than the fact that I read a research paper about a paleogenomic analysis of kunga DNA as I was beginning the rough draft, and thought it would be neat to include. The kunga was actually a class A domestic hybrid, perhaps the first example of such breeding that humans ever produced, and a sign of high class in ancient Mesopotamia – in fact, they were often buried with kings and other figures of great importance. One of the parents of this infertile offspring was the hemippe. Thus, we have Arval’s kunga, who I named (very creatively) Hemi. In a lot of ways this may make no sense if you think about it too closely – Lufilna is more like Europe than it is akin to the land between the Tigris and the Euphrates, the kunga was eventually replaced when horses were domesticated, Arval would in any case be in no position to have access to such a status symbol – but I thought it was a fun tidbit to include, and since it’s my fantasy world, who’s to say that kunga might be different in their social status and profusion?
Instead of continuing to search for things to say about this episode, I will instead conclude, and encourage you to give it a read soon. I hope you enjoy Making Change.
For at least the third time, Arval laboriously turned his overburdened wagon around and returned to his shed. Leaving his kunga to wait with her customary patience for him, he disappeared on pattering footsteps into the shed, which even with the contents of the wagon removed was still full nigh to bursting, so that he could hardly imagine how he had managed to fit everything in it before packing. After significant rummaging, and a few muttered imprecations, he found the bag of tools for which he had been searching, swept an armful of sealed glass jars into it for good measure, and hurried back out to the wagon.
“I promise that we’re actually leaving this time, Hemi,” he said as he haphazardly wedged the tool bag between a large wooden crate, an oversized, bulbous glass jar with an eel inside of it, and an oddly shaped contraption wrapped in waxed cloth – he still wasn’t exactly certain what that was going to become, but the broken plow had been too interesting to leave to rust. Satisfied, he climbed aboard the wagon and took up the long reins.
He flicked the reins so that Hemi began to strain against her harness, although without much immediate effect. Only when Arval dismounted again from his perch and set his shoulder against the wagon’s rear quadrant, adding his strength to the kunga’s, did the tottering tower on rickety wooden wheels begin to move. Once it was rolling as well as he could hope, Arval jogged around and clambered aboard to take up the reins, although the kunga seemed just as willing to plod along the road without his guidance.
Barely had this singular pair passed out of sight of Arval’s ragged property before they were again arrested, this time not by elementary forces or Arval’s scatteredness but by Arval’s neighbor, Crovin. The burly man was holding a splintered wheelbarrow handle in one hand, and the other was clenched into a gesticulating fist.
“You Unbalanced swindler!” Crovin declared. “Your Bloody automatic potato-planter don’t work worth a rotten spud!”
Realizing the source of his neighbor’s impromptu club, Arval prudently did not dismount from his wagon, but he did hasten to placate Crovin. “Master Crovin, you wound me. I assure you that the potato-planter underwent the most rigorous of testing upon the most intractable land I could access, and it functioned just perfectly. Most assuredly if you have had a problem, it was the result of user error.”
Crovin’s face reddened at this eminently reasonable response, and he took a heavy step closer to the wagon. “You says it’s for planting potatoes. I put some seed potatoes in and go pushing along, and for a row or two it were actually working, and I thinks to myself ‘that Arval fellow – maybe he’s not so bad – I don’t know how this magic contraption is working, but it’s planting my taters like nobody’s business.’ Then it gets stuck somehow, so I push on it, and it’s still stuck so I push on it harder, and then the thing up and breaks on me!” He tossed the broken handle at Arval, who fumbled a vain attempt to catch it, dropping it back into the mud.
Arval made the diplomatic and prudent decision to avoid further accusations of user error. “Well, I am heartily apologetic on that count, then, Master Crovin. I suppose it is a possibility that a circumstance arose which I did not foresee in my testing regimen” – like the poor contraption being pounded on by a great brute like you, he added only in his head – “and therefore I will very generously provide you with a repair or replacement at my earliest opportunity. However, I’m presently off to join the Prime’s Progress, so I’m afraid that I really must be going…” He attempted to urge his kunga back into motion, but Hemi could not budge the wagon; its wheels were again embedded in the mud.
“The Prime’s Progress?” Crovin coughed. “You, going to the Prime’s Progress? I don’t know if that’s that best or the worst thing I’ve heard all day.”
“Ahem, yes, I’m pleased that I could provide you with a degree of entertainment.” Arval scooted forward on his seat, as if that would help propel the wagon back into motion. To his surprise, the wagon lurched forward a moment later, and Hemi had to trot a few steps to keep up with its relentless motion.
Crovin jogged out from behind the wagon. “That what you needed? Guess there’s nothing you’ve come up with in that crazy shed of yours to replace good old muscle power.” He laughed heartily.
Laughing in turn, Arval raised his hand in a salute. “Many thanks, Master Crovin! You are truly the most esteemed of neighbors.” He watched as Crovin waved while he receded down the road.
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