I dreaded doing revisions of this episode, because most of what I remembered about it was how difficult I found the original writing. When I wrote this episode last year (was it really only last year? Feels much longer ago), it ate up all of the extra time I had managed to earn for myself getting ahead on previous episodes, and when it was finally finished, I felt dissatisfied with it.
I also remembered the original release post and the thoughts that went into it. The press may have moved on to more in-vogue apocalypses now (interesting, isn’t it, how we stopped hearing so much about SARS-CoV-2 after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and rising inflation gave the press new apocalypses to talk about? Remember, apocalypses sell good advertisements), but a paradigm-altering disease remains much more relevant and real for my readers than it would have been in 2019.
Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I went to do the re-read of this episode and found that there wasn’t much that I wanted to change. Not only was there little that I wanted to do in revisions – I also found the episode to be really well-written. What last year seemed like an episode that, despite being on the shorter side, dragged along without a lot happening, during my re-read seemed tightly plotted and strongly characterized.
Kiluron and Doil don’t get a lot of time in this episode, which is all about setting up the plague that afflicts the Union in this two-parter. Last year, I thought that was a weakness, and it still could be considered so, but with a year’s distance from the writing I also think that it is a strength. We get a viewpoint from Minister Kelina, which is very valuable. She’s been something of a small-time antagonist in the meetings of the ministers, and I suspect that many readers see her as a superstitious, ignorant windbag who just tries to make trouble and doesn’t really care about the people her proposed policies would affect. Giving her a viewpoint helps make her more relatable, shows that she’s just trying to do the best she can to help people in the only ways she knows, and, at least as importantly, it drives home to the reader that what from a modern perspective appears to be hopelessly backwards superstition is genuinely the best “science” of the day.
We’ve written about anachronisms before, I think I even mentioned in that post that some authors argue that characters in fiction must necessarily be anachronistic in order for readers to relate to them. Merolate may believe in something like the scientific method far more than a comparable Earth society, but they don’t have the tools, the history, or the background to understand or even begin investigating things like germs and hygiene. Given the way I structured Contaminant‘s plot, I’m probably pushing the envelope on reader relatability as far as non-anachronizing my characters. It’s very important for me, in this storyline, for readers to understand, not just on an intellectual level, that things like burning an infected city or erecting barriers of manure to deter bad humors are seen by our protagonists as being moral options, maybe even imperatives, for handling an outbreak of disease. That can be a very difficult thing to wrap one’s head around, living in an age where we can go to the store to get a test that sequences the genetic code of the viruses in our systems.
In the original release post, I claimed that Kiluron and Doil needed more active roles, and that this should not have been a two-part episode. I disagree with my former self. This absolutely belongs as a two-part episode: it tells a very interesting story, it tackles some complex and challenging ideas in what I think is a valuable and insightful way, and it has strong characterization of both the individuals featured and the Blood Magic world. Yes, we jump around to a lot of different viewpoints that we probably won’t see again, but I think it works here. Without being in Kelina’s head, and then Talim’s, too much of the story would have been unbelievable to the reader. Giving us their perspectives helps sell what would otherwise seem like a stretch.
So, when they say that we artists (I’ll try not to twitch too much at applying the term) are terrible judges of our own works, they’re probably right. In the case of Contaminant, I certainly was, and it made me thankful yet again that I am doing these revisions, so that I can now say that I am pleased with how Contaminant, Part One came out, and that I hope you go read it soon. Far from being a weaker Blood Magic installment, it might be one of the stronger episodes.
In truth, he did desire an adequate night’s rest before the meetings of the following morning. The taxation debates were finally finished, but even without that catalyst a meeting of the full group of Ministers was never not a headache-inducing experience. Sometimes, he wished he had remained irresponsible and could just go off gallivanting with the guardsmen, though never for very long.
Looking none the worse for wear from the late retirement the previous night, Doil cheerfully handed Kiluron an agenda as soon as he stepped into the conference chamber the following morning, and dutifully pushed a prepared plate of breakfast in his direction, which Kiluron began eating from absent-mindedly as he perused the agenda for the day’s meeting of ministers. Then he glanced up at Doil, noting the large pile of books on the table. “How long have you been here? Don’t you ever sleep?”
“Since just before dawn,” Doil admitted. “Ever since you became Prime, I haven’t had much time to remained updated on the various university publications, so I’m trying to catch up on the backlog that’s now accumulated.”
Kiluron took a bite of a sweet roll and examined the titles. “‘A Treatise on the Underlying Basis of Superstitions and the Manifestations of Inaccurate Belief Systems,’” he read around a mouthful of pastry. “I can see how you would be so excited to get out of bed in the morning to read that.”
Doil hesitated at Kiluron’s unexpectedly sincere tone, doubtless looking for the sarcasm; Kiluron was careful to keep it hidden. “Really, my lord? That is…surprising. Perhaps you really are becoming more of a scholar, now that you’ve been forced to, ah, settle down somewhat for your role as Prime.”
“Yes,” Kiluron agreed, after he swallowed. “I managed to make it all the way through that pretentious title without falling asleep.”
Doil chose not to deign that comment with a response, so Kiluron returned to his breakfast and his review of the agenda. Soon the ministers began arriving, settling themselves into their chairs with various stacks of notes and reference tomes and their own copies of the agenda, which Doil handed to them absentmindedly as they entered the chamber. When everyone had been seated, Doil waited for Kiluron to indicate he was ready, and then began the meeting, consulting the agenda for the first item. “Can we get the regular reports from the ministers first, please?”
Borivat had just opened his mouth to begin his report first, as was customary, when Minister Kelina preempted him. “Hold on, I think we need to talk about the emerging situation going on in Dervate right now, right away. It’s very urgent.”
“I suppose someone sneezed funny?” Minister Adima retorted. “Or someone slipped on a loose stone and broke an ankle?”
Kelina gave Adima a sour look, though Kiluron tended to agree with Adima; Kelina’s emergencies were as frequent as they were minor, or at least poorly supported by evidence. Mostly, she seemed to seek the attention. Regardless, Doil glanced around, and reluctantly proposed: “are there any objections to discussing the urgent business presented by Kelina before the periodic minister reports?”
Predictably, Adima objected, and so did Inpernuth, who objected to almost everything on principle, but no one else did, so Doil nodded to Kelina that she could address the ministers. Kiluron sat back and prepared to wait for it to be over.
Appearing pleased, Kelina pushed back her hair, and began holding forth in her usual, dramatized fashion. “If you’ll recall, I warned about the bad humors that might have been dissipated by the warmer air back after the Heart War, and I did recommend a full incineration campaign to purge them entirely from the landscape, but you will please recall that I was at that time overruled, and it was decided to leave the landscape un-burnt, and only manure barriers would be erected. While I would assuredly be the last individual to question the wisdom and efficacy of this august body, I would like to point out that, as I warned, the disease appears to have returned in force, and in new form.”
“Any chance you’re going to get to the point of all this recrimination?” Adima interjected acerbically, so that Kiluron thought for a moment that Kelina might actually hush her. The moment passed, and left Kiluron considering that the interpersonal drama was sometimes the most interesting part of these governing councils.
“As I was saying,” Kelina continued, when she was satisfied that she had glared at Adima for a sufficient length of time, “I’ve heard several reports now of persons exhibiting similar symptoms of what seems to be a very deadly disease circulating in Dervate. These victims have reported fevers, numbness of the extremities, and clamminess of skin, especially about the face and neck. Swollen glands have also been noted. Of the individuals who have so far been reported as suffering from these symptoms, only three have recovered.”
“Just how many people have reported these symptoms?” Borivat asked. Although he was careful to keep himself aloof from the drama between Adima and Kelina, he did prefer to keep it from escaping the bounds of reason. Kiluron enjoyed the moment as Kelina sweated before she answered Borivat.
“There have been fifteen reported cases so far, but of course there are likely many more that have gone unreported,” Kelina replied.
Adima rolled her eyes. “That’s hardly a relevant sampling. People die of all kinds of things; a dozen people perishing in the summer of some kind of a rotting sickness is hardly unusual.”
“If, as I suspect is the case, these are really all victims of the same sickness, we’re talking about an eighty percent fatality rate here. If the spread of the originating humors is not curtailed immediately, we could have a full-fledged plague on our hands,” Kelina insisted.
“What would you recommend?” Doil asked, trying to keep the acrimony from derailing the conversation further. He clearly wanted to return to the carefully scripted agenda he so dutifully prepared before each of these meetings.
Kiluron was amused by how eager Kelina became as soon as Doil asked her that question; it was like she had been waiting for this trigger to animate her, like the sun striking grass in the springtime. “We have to quarantine the area immediately. Cordon off the places where the cases were reported, and fully immolate them. And all travel to and from Dervate should be suspended until we can be sure that the humors have been suppressed.”
“Because of fifteen cases of a sickness that may or may not be different from anything else usual to the summer?” Admiral Fel asked. “That seems a little extreme to me, but I admit that my expertise lies elsewhere.”
“Yet you are so much more right than the supposed ‘expert,’” Adima snapped at Kelina, who just raised her chin.
“Why don’t we appoint a commission to study the matter?” Borivat suggested. All of the ministers were scholarly to varying extents, but Borivat was a scholar in the truest sense of the word. “We can gather real evidence, rather than rumors, and perhaps then be better able to fully address whatever danger may be posed by these humors.”
Doil latched onto the idea. “I think that sounds reasonable. Prime Kiluron?” It was probably the closest Doil would ever come to effectively playing politics, preempting Kelina’s further arguments by soliciting a decision from Kiluron directly.
“Perfect,” Kiluron replied. “Let a commission be appointed and dispatched at once.” He thought about adding a gratuitous wave, but he restrained himself. He also restrained himself from observing aloud that these meetings seemed to produce a lot of commissions, but not a lot of actual decisions. That number didn’t even include the number of extant commissions from Prime Wezzix’s time.
With Kelina, while not satisfied, at least temporarily appeased, the meeting could resume its usual course in accordance with Doil’s agenda, and Kiluron settled back and watched it unfold. He paid attention, mostly, but there was nothing else to be discussed that wasn’t routine, and he was glad when the ministers finally finished speaking, and he could apply himself to more productive tasks for the remainder of the day.
Click here to read the rest of Contaminant, Part One
Click here to read the rest of Blood Magic Season Two
Click here to read Blood Magic Season One
Click here to read the most current Blood Magic episode: Blood and Dragons, Part One
Click here to learn more about Blood Magic
Click here to join the discussion on the Blood Magic forum