Saturday, September 09, 2006

A Guilding of Lillis -- scene 5

Heroes for Hire
Episode 1 – A Guilding of Lillis

Scene 1
Scene 2
Scene 3
Scene 4

Scene 5
Rolf and Zantar are staring down at a dead goblin on the ground. Zantar nudges it with his foot.

ZANTAR: Any chance we could patch him up and get him to run a little farther?

ROLF: He's dead, Zan.

ZANTAR: I'm just saying, is all. (a few moments of silence, suddenly Zantar looks up, sniffing) Hey, I smell ore.

ROLF: "or" who? Don't be accusing me of smelling. I'm an elf of impeccable...

ZANTAR: Iron ore. Like in a mine.

Zantar starts following his nose through the trees.

ROLF: Well of course. Hey! mines are like caves, right? Perhaps the goblins... (in a much lower voice) perhaps we should be more quiet. At what distance can you detect the aroma of ore?

ZANTAR: (trying to talk quietly, but loud enough to make Rolf wince) About that far. (points to a pile of tailings a hundred feet away).

ROLF: OK, why don't you stay here while I try to get closer.

ZANTAR: (too loud again) Why don't you stay here while I try to get closer.

ROLF: Not so loud! Because I'm the stealthy one, remember?

ZANTAR: I thought you skipped all those sneaking-around-in-the-woods classes.

ROLF: Please, Zan, keep it down! I just skipped the tracking classes. Elves have to learn how to sneak around in the woods or the other elves all make fun of them. Sort of like if a dwarf didn't know how to smell ore.

ZANTAR: Sort of like Gitmo!

ROLF: Shhhhh!

ZANTAR: Krikey, what a loser! Couldn't smell a good metal-bearing rock if his life depended on it!

ROLF: Whisper, Zan!

ZANTAR: (in a stage whisper) But I'm done talking.

ROLF: Good. You stay here, OK?

Zantar nods and Rolf sneaks off. Sometime later he sneaks up behind Zantar and taps him on the shoulder. Zantar whirls around, axe swinging and takes off the tip of Rolf's hat. If Rolf hadn't ducked so quickly, Zantar would have taken off his upper torso.

ZANTAR: Find anything?

ROLF: (laying on the ground) Perhaps. I believe this is the tip of my hat.

ZANTAR: I mean did you find the mine entrance or any goblins?

ROLF: (standing up) Certainly. There are four goblins at the mine entrance, detailed there, no doubt to keep watch. Due to my elven stealth and great wizardly ability, they are now deceased.

ZANTAR: Did you put them to sleep like those villagers and then sneak up and cut their throats?

ROLF: It so happens that you have hit on precisely the option I chose.

ZANTAR: You elven wizards have their uses, all right. (starts toward the mine)

ROLF: I should think so. No band of heroes is complete without one.

Rolf and Zantar are standing at the mouth of the cave looking in. There are four goblin corpses scattered in the entrance.

ROLF: Well, what are you waiting for?

ZANTAR: What do you mean? You're the elven wizard. Can't you like make yourself invulnerable and just stomp in there, setting off all the traps?

ROLF: I suppose I could, but it flies in the face of long and honorable tradition. The accepted way to undertake expeditions of this sort is for you, the infantry as it were, to advance to the fore, using your finely honed dwarven senses and your extensive knowledge of mine engineering to detect and avoid traps and ambushes, while I, the artillery as it were, follow at an optimal distance, prepared to handle various contingencies such as mass assaults by the enemy or throwing you a rope if you fall into a hole.

ZANTAR: That also means if we have to run for it, you're in front.

ROLF: A not inconsiderable advantage, that! Who better to have in the lead during a high speed rearward advance than an elven wizard, prepared to wreak havoc on any unsuspecting foes who try to hinder our retreat for regrouping?

ZANTAR: But you're the sneaky one, remember?

ROLF: "Stealthy."

ZANTAR: So you are more likely to detect the ambushes before they detect you.

ROLF: A true, but irrelevant consideration. The enemy, thanks to my successful scouting foray, are unprepared for our assault and therefore unlikely to have prepared any ambushes. A much more urgent consideration is the snares, pitfalls, deadfalls, gas traps, spring blades, avalanches, and other traps that we are likely to encounter. I shall leave these to your far greater knowledge. Besides, it's your turn.

ZANTAR: Krikey. It is my turn.

Rolf and Zantar can both see in the dark, so they don't carry light sources. The lighting in the cave should suggest darkness but still reveal the action. Zantar starts carefully into the mine entrance, scanning the walls, waving the axe in front of himself to trigger any wires, stopping occasionally to sniff and feel the walls. Rolf follows about ten feet behind. After a few minutes, Rolf grows impatient and closes up behind Zantar to complain.

ROLF: (in a low voice) I feel compelled to point out that at our current rate of advance, we can expect to go about a hundred yards over the next week.

ZANTAR: You in a hurry?

ROLF: Not me, of course, but if goblins wipe out the entire village while we are exploring the first hundred yards of the cave, our pay may be disappointingly small.

ZANTAR: (glowers for a moment, then) OK, OK.

Zantar turns and sets off at a brisk pace. On the second step he falls into a pit. He's lying face down on the bottom and Rolf wordlessly throws him one end of a rope. When Zantar's face comes over the edge it's bleeding from several cuts and looks murderous.

ZANTAR: (pulling a piece of glass out of his cheek) You have anything to say?

ROLF: Nope.

ZANTAR: (pulling another piece of glass out of his arm) You don't want to tell me what a good job you are doing in the artillery and rope-throwing position?

ROLF: Just glad to be of service.

ZANTAR: (pulling out another piece of glass) Well, guess whose turn it is to go first now.

Rolf wordlessly edges past the pit and starts down the mine shaft. Zantar follows a few feet behind, pulling a couple more pieces of broken glass out of his body. Some time later, Rolf motions to Zantar to stay put while he moves on ahead. He comes back a few minutes later.

ROLF: (whispering) Don't say anything because you can't talk quiet, OK? Just nod. (Zantar nods) There's a chamber ahead with at least two other entrances and at least six goblins in it. There's no way we could get all of them before one got away to warn the rest of the pack, so here's my plan...

Cut to: Rolf, tromping loudly down the mine shaft. He's not wearing his sword or his pack.

ROLF: (loudly) Geepers! This is one big empty mine! Maybe I should go home to my mommy before I get hurt.

Rolf walks into the chamber with the goblins who are all staring stupidly at him.

ROLF: Eek! Monsters!

Rolf turns to run and all of the goblins give chase. It's a close race, all the way to the pit, which Rolf scales with an impressive leap. The goblins stumble to a halt at the edge, and one starts working his way along the side. It isn't dangerously narrow, but only one at a time can pass. Rolf picks up his sword which had been laying there and strikes a dramatic pose.

ROLF: Oh, I forgot, if I ran home to my mommy without first slaying you goblins, she would send me to bed without my milk and cookies.

The goblin crossing the pit (Crut) stops, considers for a minute then starts back. When he gets back he turns to Rolf.

CRUT: Nice trick, elf. You probably think we're all going to come at you one at a time so you can kill us. But some goblins aren't that stupid.

GOBLIN1: We're not?

Without warning Crut hurls his spear at Rolf, who blocks it contemptuously with his sword.

ROLF: Maybe you're not as stupid as the average goblin, but you throw a spear as badly. My sister could throw harder than that.

Crut takes a spear from Goblin1.

CRUT: Go get help. Run.

Goblin1 takes off. Crut starts beating two of the remaining goblins onto the ledge to go after Rolf. They reluctantly inch along to painful prods from Crut. When they get close, Crut whispers something to the two remaining goblins. As the first one gets close enough to leap to the edge of the pit Rolf lunges, taking it through the heart, then leaps back.

CRUT: Now! Get him!

Crut and the two with him all throw their spears, but Rolf moved so fast that only one comes close and he parries that one.

CRUT: OK! Lut! You delay him while we go get help!

Crut and the two goblins with him turn to flee, but Zantar is standing behind them. They draw up in surprise.

ZANTAR: See there? That's what you goblins don't understand about spears. If a spear is the only thing you've got to fight with, you don't throw it.

Zantar takes one huge swipe with his axe and cuts all three goblins in two at the waist.

ZANTAR: Not that the spears would have done you much good. I'm just saying, is all.

Close up on a very frightened Lut, trapped on the tiny ledge between Zantar and Rolf. Rolf walks toward him and leans against the wall at the edge of the pit.

ROLF: (in a friendly voice) Well met, Mr. Lut. Does the day find you well?

LUT: (trying to speak, but too frightened) Squeak!

ROLF: (nodding sympathetically) I know precisely of which you speak, sir; why mere moments ago you were lounging about, enjoying the damp ambience of your lovely subterranean dwelling, reveling in the camaraderie of your little goblin companions, anticipating with relish the carnage you would inflict on the villagers in a few hours. Then without warning, you find all of your companions cut down with sudden violence, and you find yourself trapped and facing the prospect of cruel murder, the abrupt and unfortunate end to an all-too-short life. Events have no doubt ruined a formerly pleasant afternoon for you.


ROLF: A lesser goblins might stoop to betraying his pack members to ensure his own survival, but you, sir, are obviously a goblin of great courage and loyalty. A goblin of your great nobility would never stoop to such craven behavior, would he, Mr. Lut?

LUT: (nodding head vigorously and trying desperately to speak) SQUIRK!

ROLF: I say, Mr. Lut, you appear to be trying to speak. Do you wish to tell me something? Something of great import perhaps? Did I --it is hard to fathom, but-- did I perhaps misjudge your character in some small way? Could it be that you are actually contemplating the possibility of buying your own life with a betrayal of your pack?

LUT: (after a few swallows and false starts) I'll betray anyone you want me to! Just tell me who you want me to kill!

ROLF: Ah, Mr. Lut, you are a goblin of pragmatism rather than of unthinking loyalty. What a fortunate happenstance for us all...

Scene 6

Thursday, September 07, 2006


By the way, Donald is hosting the 200 year aniversary (or something like that) of the StoryBlogging Carnival next week. Send in a story!

I feel like such a failure

Donald Crankshaw got an 87; all I got was a 68:
I am nerdier than 68% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!
I note that this test is a bit too temporal; if I'd taken it five years ago when I was working on my own homebuild Linux system, browsing with Konquorer, and using ssh frequently, I would have scored a lot higher. A better test would concentrate on tendencies rather than mere contingent circumstances. Also, I suspect the fact that I neither know nor care what my GPA was counted against me which is unfair because some nerds (like me, for example) think of themselves as so much smarter than everyone else that it isn't worth competing.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

my favorite cat woman

I spent my labor day doing a marathon --specifically, watching a Dark Angel marathon on the sci fi channel. I really enjoyed it, and not just because Jessica Alba is hot, but because the show is so well done. I never noticed before how well-written that show is. The plots were interesting and often surprising. The dialog was funny and in a natural way, not by having unbelievably witty characters. There were no deus ex machina resolutions (a very common failing of sci fi shows) and there were no repeated plot elements. Also, the writers carefully avoided cliches; there was even a nice moment when they threatened to use a cliche --would the ambiguously evil bad guy who raised the heroine in the evil lab turn out to be her real father? As the moment of revelation approaches, Alba says something like "I hope you're not going to say that you're my father. That would be too cliche." I really respect the writing of this show, unlike, for example, the unoriginal writing of Stargate or the weird writing of Battlestar Gallactica.

And, of course, Jessica Alba is hot.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Is honor worth dying for?

David Warren has written a piece accusing the two Fox News Journalists who converted to Islam under duress of being cowards. Xrlq, Patterico, and a bunch of their commenters are coming down pretty hard on Warren for saying this. My own first reaction was "Of course those men weren't cowards. What difference did it make if they mouthed a few meaningless words? They just did what they had to do to survive." But on further reflection I believe that Warren is right. After all, what is a coward if it is not someone who makes his own survival his highest goal, who thinks that his personal honor is worth nothing compared to his desire to continue breathing?

One error of Warren's critics is clear from comments like these from Xrlq:
From the comfort and safety of your home in a civilized western country, lecture former hostages …
I’d bet good money you’d have done the same as them if beheading was a possible result of your non-compliance.
A thought experiment: your distant cousin and two other captured soldiers are told, “state for the camera that you have converted to Islam, and you will be released. If you do not, you will be beheaded. Need help making up your mind? Here’s a cell phone, call anyone in the world for 15 seconds of advice.” The first guy calls Warren; the second guy calls Xrlq; one beheading and one release. Now your cousin calls you.
In other words, these people are making the same mistake I made initially: "Well, I would probably capitulate in those circumstances and of course I'm not a coward…" But is it so obvious that I'm not a coward? I'm a product of my culture, just like everyone else is. Is my culture one that brings young men up to be courageous? Well, the answer is clearly "no". We are told constantly not to take risks. It's up to the police to protect you, don't try to do it yourself. If you get mugged on the street, give the mugger what he wants. Seat belts, air bags, extreme drunk-driving laws, bicycle helmets, extreme anti-smoking laws, official dietary advice, orange vests, fire drills, yearly checkups, posted warnings about the possibility that maybe some possibly-harmful chemicals are used in the area … society tells me over and over that my life and safety are critical. No risk, is too small for the government to make a law about it.

The fact is that we live in a cowardly culture and so we are ill-equipped to judge whether an act is cowardly or not. Having us judge whether an act is cowardly is like asking a slavery-era southerner whether something is cruel. He would have to check his first impression. That white man just beat that black man for talking back to him; is that cruel? The first impression would likely be, "Well, if some uppity n*r talked back to me like that then I'd …". He has to take a step back and try to think outside his culture --not how would he behave, but how should he behave. Even a slave-owning southerner ought to have been able to grasp the rightness of the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

So it is with us. We can grasp the value of personal honor even if we don't value it very highly. The evidence of this is the way that we admire Fabrizio Quattrocchi, the Italian who defied his kidnappers and died like an Italian. He brought honor to himself, to his family, and to his country. With his courage this great man turned a pathetic tragedy into a bittersweet victory for the people who cared about him.

So don't ask yourself whether Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig were cowards, ask someone who would know, someone who understood courage. Put on your channeling helmet and ask General George Patton. Or what about Davy Crocket or Francis Drake or the Minutemen? What about the Vietnam War POWs who refused to cooperate with the North Vietnamese even under daily torture and beatings? (no fair asking them in public; you have to ask them in private and they have to trust you enough to tell you what they really think). It doesn't have to be men that you admire for their courage either. What would Genghis Khan say, or Geronimo or Osama bin Laden? One doesn't have to be a good guy to understand courage. What did the terrorists who captured Centanni and Wiig think? Did those men think that the two were cowards?

But is that really fair? After all, if it isn't appropriate to judge courage by our own low standards is it fair to judge them by others who have unusually high standards? Patterico and Xrlq suggested in Xrlq's comments that there is a middle ground; that the reporters were neither courageous nor cowardly, but just normal. Maybe their behavior was normal, but that doesn't mean that it wasn't cowardly. Ask yourself this: what would a coward have done differently? If you are going to say that they were not cowards then you ought to be able to point out some distinction, some factor of their behavior that separates them from the cowards that they could have been if they hadn't been merely "normal". I confess that I can think of nothing.

By all appearances, these two reporters capitulated entirely and without reservation to violent enemies of their people. Their courage was put to the test and they did absolutely nothing to demonstrate courage. I don't see how we can call that anything but cowardice.

UPDATE: It never occurred to me until now that I had to say this, but I suppose I should: even though I categorize Wiig and Centani's behavior as technically cowardly, I don't endorse Warren's offensve remarks about not forgiving the hostages or not being willing to say their names. Their actions were both understandable and forgivable. What they have done since is considrably less understandable and forgivable.