I forgot how short Older Than Stone is, especially for such a pivotal episode. Yes, the Gruordvwrold made a brief appearance earlier in the series, in All Cooped Up and No Place to Go, but this is their true debut, the moment when they are revealed to our protagonists and we learn a little about who and what they are. Very little, but it’s a start. In a sense, this episode is both strong both in its ability to stand on its own, and in how it ties in with past and future episodes.
As I’m making my revisions, both of the season two episodes and of the remaining season three episodes, I am increasingly aware that my writing contains too much telling and not enough showing. “Show, don’t tell” might be the most oft-repeated writing axiom, and I will eventually dedicate a whole post to the topic, but it is a challenge to understand and implement. I’ve grown much better at identifying places where it is done poorly or well, both in my own writing and in other’s, but I still struggle to implement it.
To that end, though, one of this episode’s strengths is what is left unsaid. My hope is that the reader is left with all kinds of questions about the nature of the Gruordvwrold, the Ipemav, and the history of Lufilna. I consider one of the strengths of the series to be the slowly building historical picture. Dropping hints and providing insights about it is enjoyable to write, and hopefully enjoyable to read. In a way, there’s almost a sub-story to the whole series that is telling the story of how Merolate came to exist as it does today.
Unlike my concerns when I first released Older Than Stone, I did not find it too dull or tedious in my re-read. The tension seemed about right, although it did feel very short. I do think that the chapter-in-a-book discussion still has some validity, which is different from how I make most of these episodes, but that doesn’t mean it fails to work in this case.
If you, like me, are coming to the episode in re-released form as a re-read, I would be very curious to know what you think of it now, in the context of all that we’ve since learned about the Gruordvwrold in subsequent events. Especially in light of the upcoming bonus episode, I thought there was a lot of excellent foreshadowing in Older Than Stone that is well-fulfilled, if much later in the series.
Anyway, I don’t actually have a lot to say about this one. Revisions were fairly minor, with the most significant being some cleaning up of continuity issues, and I am pleased with it. I hope you enjoy Older Than Stone.
There was something jarring, Tragger always thought, about a barn made from fresh timbers. In his mind, a barn was a weather-worn, roughened structure of grayed planks, perhaps with a few warped out of place or patched over with other boards. No doubt his new barn would look that way in a few seasons, but for now it was a bright, new, and wrong structure sitting upon the few timbers that survived the dragons’ fire that burnt down the old one. That had been a good barn, though not good enough to save his blummoxes. He wondered if his new barn would do as well.
It had been almost a year, he realized with some surprise, since the dragon attack. Summer was beginning to draw to a close, and the harvest was approaching. Soon, the autumn rains would be coming, and with them all the work involved with preparing the farm for the winter. For now, though, it was a beautiful, hot, summer day, with the sun high overhead, and he had a forest to walk. They would need plenty of firewood to see them through the winter, and it was better to cut it on a hot, sunny day than a wet, cold one. Tragger ducked into his incongruously new barn to retrieve his axe.
The blummoxes lowed at him as he entered, and he paused to rub their noses. There were four of them, since he had replaced those snatched up by the dragons. Blummox corpses had been found scattered all over the woods when the spring thaw came, as if to rub salt into the wound. The Unbalanced dragons hadn’t even been hunting for food, just leaving the dead beasts to rot in the forest, doing good to no one but filthy scavengers. From the looks of those as had been found, few even of the scavengers cared to bother the flesh, as if the dragons had tainted it. None of the farmers cared to find out for themselves. But that was in the past, now, and there was no point in dwelling upon it. Tragger had done well enough recovering from the attack. Aside from the barn’s fresh timbers, few signs remained.
Passing through the barn’s back door, Tragger wrenched the axe up from its perch in the old stump under the overhang, just before the main pasture. It made a good, covered place to cut firewood when the weather wasn’t so fine as it was today. Even as he thought it, a shadow passed over the sun, though he had not noted any clouds. Then it was gone, and the day was as it had been. He walked back through the barn, pausing inside to inhale the deep scents of hay and blummox. Some would call them a stench, and an unpleasant one, but not Tragger. To him, they smelled as much like home as his wife’s bread.
“Pa!” he heard his son, Sagger, shout from outside. “Pa, I think you’d better get out here!”
His reflections jarred aside by the urgency and fear in his son’s voice, Tragger hefted the axe and ran from the barn in the same instant as the blummoxes began to panic, tossing their heads and straining against their stalls, though the confines seemed to be holding for now, new as they were. Panting slightly, Tragger found his son standing on a slight rise fifty paces from the barn, pointing up at the sky.
“What is it?” Tragger asked, squinting against the sun’s glare. “Are those clouds?”
His son shook his head. “Dragons,” his whispered.
Dread flooded Tragger, but he let nothing of it show to his son. “Impossible,” he retorted. “Whatever happened last year, those dragons are gone. The Prime himself sent messengers out telling us that Sub-Prime Kiluron defeated the dragons.” He only wished that he could convince himself.
“Dragons,” his son insisted.
Even with his hand held up before his eyes, Tragger could make out nothing more than dark smudges until the shapes began to move away from the sun. Then he could make out bulky, ridged bodies and wide, flapping wings. He paled beneath his deep tan, but he told himself the same thing he told his son. “They must be way up there. Just passing over, whatever they are. Not bothering us. See?” Indeed, the creatures kept straight on, heading south towards the city. His son seemed to accept his words, as if he were some kind of expert on draconic behavior, the way he knew how to read the signs of deer and wolves and bears in the forest. Tragger wished he could have such confidence. “Go find your siblings and get everybody inside, just in case,” he said.
More excited by purpose than inspired by fear, the boy nodded and ran off across the farm to find his brothers. Tragger let the axe’s head thump onto the hard soil and leaned upon the handle. Still squinting against the sun, he followed the flight of the beasts, trying to count them. Two, three, another three…he stopped trying when he no longer had fingers enough to keep track, but he continued to watch them until they disappeared from view. From such a distance, he could almost convince himself they were merely odd birds, or bats that had gotten confused about the difference between the sun and the moon, but he knew better. At least they had, for now, showed no interest in his farm. He did not know why, or how, or from where, but he did know one, terrifying truth. Dragons had returned to Merolate.
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