It doesn’t come up a lot in my writing on the site, but I’m something of a Star Trek fan, and the style of storytelling utilized by that franchise was certainly in the back of my mind while I was writing the outline for the Blood Magic series. Two episodes particularly stand out for that influence, and both of them involve Pifecha: Strange Lands, and this one.
Not that this is a Star Trek episode spoof, but the basic idea of an asylum claim forming the core plot of an episode could fit right into The Next Generation. In this case, I got to twist that basic premise around in several ways, not least being that the ‘advanced’ people are seeking asylum from the ‘primitive’ people. What makes this episode work, though, is how well it plays to the characters. We’ve had a lot less of Kiluron in season three, so this was a chance to bring him out and let him really shine. I consider him the driving force of this episode, for all that Tildain gets more screen time.
The contrast between Wezzix’s firm adherence to the rule of law and Kiluron’s more instinctive style of governance has been a long-running arc, and here we get something of a resolution to it. With Tildain’s asylum claim, Kiluron is torn between two instincts, and his resolving of them is the climax of the episode; Tildain’s final scene is just denouement. Which is somewhat fitting, since this is the end of the Pifecha arc; they won’t feature in a major way in the season finale (minor spoiler, I guess).
Writing on Principles was pretty smooth, which leads me to worry a bit that this episode might be too predictable or dull – I know, I worry when the writing is difficult, I worry when it’s easy, I just always worry about my writing. I really didn’t encounter any major questions or uncertainties. My biggest debates were how to make Tildain distinct, how much to give him a viewpoint, if any of the other Pifechans should get a viewpoint, and if Kiluron was getting enough attention for what is arguably his episode.
Reservations aside, I like this episode. It’s relatively simple, embraces many of the best aspects of Blood Magic, and I think that it makes for an ideal final ‘normal’ episode for the series. It’s sort of a comfort-food episode, a little bit of a feel-good story, which is nice after some of the darker episodes that this season has featured. After this comes the season finale. Well, the bonus episode actually comes first, which makes it all the more valuable that I finished Principles as far in advance as I did – it leaves me plenty of time to work on A Spiritual Journey before it’s time to turn my attention to Balancing Act. While I get to work on those, I hope you enjoy Principles.
A sheet of clouds unrolled towards the vanishing point of the rising sun like a glowing, bloodied carpet spread across the sky. It was like a perspective painting. Combined with the salty sea spray and the tang of ocean wind, it was a beautiful dawn. Captain Tildain gripped the rail and grimaced; behind him, the single smokestack belched soot into the sky, and the stench tickled his nostrils and blocked the smell of the ocean.
“Red in the morning: sailors take warning,” he muttered. The smoke rising behind him was like a beacon, though he knew the crew would soon shut down the engine and switch to sails. The Frigold was a hybrid vessel, but most of its speed came from the steam engine; it was too heavy to make good headway under pure sail.
Ostensibly, the Frigold was a cutter, but it was not the slim, speedy ship Tildain associated with that class. Its wooden frame was plated with steel, it was too heavy to turn adroitly or make good speed without its paddlewheel, and it was too small to carry enough coal unless they could stop at port every night. Doubtless some engineer who had never sailed before or seen the ocean had designed her. Now that they were out on the open ocean, the limited range was a severe problem.
Plus, they were undermanned, with only half of the ship’s usual complement of sixty souls. Tildain sometimes wondered if he should have waited until he gathered more people he could trust, but there was no time for such regrets, and the circumstances of his departure had hardly allowed for other choices. He dreamt of that horrible night sometimes, and the afternoon which preceded it.
A woman came to stand next to him near the prow, facing away from the rising sun with her golden hair loose and blowing in the wind of their passage. She still wore her uniform, with the commander rank on the shoulders, but the top two buttons were undone, the boots were scuffed, and both the gloves and the cover were nowhere to be seen. “Captain,” she greeted him.
“Gema,” Tildain grunted. He was not displeased by her company, just irritable in the morning. The galley had no coffee.
“Those privateers almost had us last night. You think we lost ‘em?” Gema asked.
Tildain shrugged. “Think so. They won’t want to burn more coal after that race we ran, no matter what the bounty on us is. I’m more concerned if the Headmaster sends the navy after us.”
Gema frowned. “For us? Seems excessive.”
“It would be a matter of pride. And, perhaps, security.” Tildain looked towards the west. “They must have figured out where we’re headed by now.”
Gema nodded towards the horizon. “You think they’ll take us in? I heard they’re savages who ride dragons and practice human sacrifice.”
There was a pause before Tildain replied. “I don’t know, Gema. But where else are we to go? Where else can the Headmaster not reach us?”
“I’m not doubting you. I just…worry. This feels like my fault, and we know so little about what’s beyond the double zero.” Gema sighed. “I probably shouldn’t have punched that guy.”
Tildain snorted. The scene of his first officer decking an admiral in his own office had to be the most classic Gema he could imagine. “It was always going to come sooner or later. Perhaps we had to leave sooner than I planned, but that may prove for the best. Regardless, it’s not your fault.” A faint smile played with his mouth. “Besides, that admiral deserved it. I’ve been tempted to hit him myself a time or two.”
A laugh from Gema. “Any orders for the day, Captain?”
Tildain shook his head. “Just maintain full sail. Weather looks good, but we’d best keep an eye open; it’s a red dawn.”
“Superstition? From you?” Gema chuckled. “I’ll tell the crew to watch out for gremlins, don’t you worry.” She walked off, and Tildain shook his head. Maybe it was superstition, but something felt off about the day, and it made him nervous. Then again, he hadn’t felt properly restful since fleeing the harbor, and fighting pirates all night had left him jittery. He returned to his cabin for his turn to rest.
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