Category Archives: Youth Books

Role Models and Heroines – Madeleine de Vercheres

Much is made today of the need for strong female role models for young girls. The academics and critics have succeeded in convincing the public at large that there are not enough heroic women to inspire the next generation of girls. They naturally ignore the mothers of these girls, insisting that there must be other, greater paradigms of feminine glory at every turn which they can aspire to become. When these people turn to history for models for modern girls, they tend to mythologize the heroines of the past. They claim these women “broke with the customs” of their times in order to blaze their own trail in a “man’s world.”

In this way they are the victims of their own desire to eradicate knowledge of true history. They have forgotten that it was not strange in the American West for women to own, use, and know guns as well as men did. Women served in the American War for Independence as well, such as the famous “Molly Pitcher” – Mary Hays McCauley – and Deborah Sampson. One frontier heroine of the Americas, however, was perhaps more daring than even these bold women, in part for the fact that she performed her heroics at a much younger age.

Born on March 3, 1678, Marie Madeleine Jarret de Verchéres grew up in a military seigneury along the St. Lawrence River. A military seigneury was a plot of land granted to officers in the army, as it was known at the time, the army of New France. The French soldiers were persuaded to settle on the land as habitants while the officers, called “seignurs,” remained in command of the fort or stockade.

The stockade Madeleine called home was the property of her father, the Sieur François Jarret de Verchéres. Within the Verchéres fort were the manor house, where Madeleine’s family lived, the blacksmith’s shop, the blockhouse, and the cabins of the habitants. The habitants, men and women, worked in the fields, both for their own food and on behalf of the Verchéres family.

Madeleine was the second oldest child in the family, followed by twelve year old Louis and ten year old Alexandre. The youngest of the six children were a boy, Jean, and two girls, Angélique and Cathèrine. François, the oldest of the Verchéres children, had died at the battle of La Prairie in 1691 as part of a campaign against the belligerent Iroquois Nation. He was greatly missed by the whole family, though they admired his courageous example.

The Iroquois were a confederation of northeastern Native American tribes. The head tribe was that of the Mohawks, from which we get both the name and the distinctive hairstyle. Unlike the Hurons and the Algonquin, the Iroquois were not on good terms with the French. Allied with the British, the Iroquois had adopted their biases and hatreds for the Catholic French settlers. On top of this, the Iroquois were enemies of the Hurons and the Algonquin, Indian tribes which had united with the French. Any friends of those tribes were enemies of the Iroquois.

This animosity led to many battles between the French and the Iroquois. But by 1692, matters seemed to be improving. Governor de Frontenac had returned to New France. To protect his people from Iroquois attacks, he had patrols sent out and fought battles against the hostile Indians. Having dealt with near-famine the year before due to increased Iroquois activity, the French settlers in the St. Lawrence area were pleased with the coming harvest. Reports said that the Iroquois were far away and would not trouble their region.

In October of 1692, Madame de Verchéres had to attend to business in Montreal. With the Sieur de Verchéres away already, in her absence one of the children would have to command the fort as it belonged to the Verchéres family and they must maintain their authority over it. Because she was the oldest of the remaining children, Madeleine was the only choice for this position. This would be unremarkable in the annals of history except for one small detail: Madeleine was fourteen years of age.

While Louis and Alexandre were to be left with Madeleine, the three youngest children would accompany Madame de Verchéres on her journey. The older children saw their mother and younger siblings off before they returned to manage the seignury. For the next two days, all was quiet. But on the morning of October 22, 1692, while overlooking the seignury from the St. Lawrence River, Madeleine and the family’s old manservant spied a number of Iroquois creeping up on the fort. The two ran back and gained the safety of the stockade in time, closing the gates behind them immediately afterward.

Most of the male settlers were not so fortunate. The habitants working in the fields had been left woefully unprotected by the sergeant in command of the fort’s militia. Feeling secure in the lack of Indian activity over the past months, the sergeant had taken six of his men out on a hunting trip. As a result only two soldiers remained in the fields to guard the habitants, while two more were left to guard the stockade. This meant that the men in the fields were easy targets, and many were killed or captured by the Iroquois that morning.

Inside the fort, Madeleine sent Alexandre to one of the bastions – a watchtower on the stockade wall – to monitor the situation and allow any habitants who ran back entry into the fort. Then she, Louis, and the elderly manservant filled a gap that had developed in the palisades. All the while they wondered why the small cannon, kept in the stockade to be used to warn the neighboring seigneuries of an attack, had not yet been fired.

Madeleine learned the reason for the cannon’s silence when she went to the blockhouse to load the muskets she and the others would need for the defense of the fort. The two militiamen on guard in the stockade had retreated to the blockhouse when the attack began. Madeleine found one of the two with a lit match. In his terror, he planned to blow the fort up rather than face torture and death at the hands of the Iroquois, a plan his compatriot agreed was best.

Flabbergasted at their weakness, Madeleine rebuked the soldiers swiftly and fiercely. Sending them to the bastions, she set about her own work. When her brothers and the manservant joined her, Madeleine told them to order the habitant women and children to retreat to the blockhouse, where they would be safest. Meanwhile she, her brothers, the manservant, and the two militiamen would guard the fort.

It was not long after this that, looking out through one of the loopholes in the fort’s walls, Madeleine saw an Indian dragging a boy across the ground. She fired her musket, but was promptly knocked backward by the weapon’s recoil. Experienced with a pistol, she had never used the much larger gun before.

This is one of many details in Madeleine’s story which puts the lie to the academics’ and critics’ claims that women were not expected to fight. Indeed, fighting was considered a man’s profession, and rightly so. But on the frontier, with the threat of attack ever a possibility, the men knew that their women must be able to protect themselves if anything should happen to remove them from the scene. Madeleine’s familiarity with loading muskets and her ability to shoot demonstrates that her family’s status, wealth, and position in New France’s society did not prevent them from teaching her the critical art of self-defense.

Because of the swiftness of the attack, Madeleine did not have time to change out of her simple dress and moccasins. The only thing she had time to do was snatch an old military hat from a peg in the blockhouse after loading the muskets and jam it on top of her neatly tied-up hair.

Many modern filmmakers would be shocked by this. They would be so tied down to the contemporary belief that women were held back by the customs of the times, and therefore expected to be simpering damsels who stayed at their sewing or baking rather than learning how to use a gun or withstand a siege. Were certain directors and scriptwriters to make a film about Madeleine, they would probably show her chafing under her younger brothers, who would be put in command of the fort in her place despite their younger ages simply because they were boys and she a girl.

Yet nothing could be further from the truth. All three children had withstood an Indian attack some two years earlier. During that attack, their father had also been absent. Their mother, however, had commanded the militia and the people in the fort until the siege was lifted. Madeleine had experienced the terror of an Iroquois siege before, and had had a perfect role model for how to withstand one in the future. She was no simpering damsel, nor was she a firebrand who learned to use a pistol in secret while smiling forcedly over her sewing. She was a lady born and bred on the frontier, trained to defend herself and those under her care by her parents.

A battle-tested frontier girl, Madeleine knew that survival in New France depended as much on wits as it did on weapons. She therefore understood that, if the Iroquois decided to directly attack the fort they would easily overwhelm her small band of defenders. So she ordered her group to make it sound and appear as though they had a full garrison of grown men protecting them. Wary of the noise as the guards called “All is well!” and the shots fired intermittently from the loopholes, the Iroquois held off on a direct attack, falling for the ruse.

If this were the extent of her courage, it would be enough, but Madeleine did more. The same day that the siege began, she and the guards watched from the bastions as neighbors of the Verchéres rowed down the St. Lawrence River and into sight of their fort. These were the Sieur Pierre Fontaine, his wife, and three of their children. They had heard the cannon shot Madeleine had ordered, but were unable to row to a better defended fort because of the distance. Pierre Fontaine brought his wife and three children to the Verchéres seignury because it was closer.

At the risk of her own life, Madeleine walked down to the riverfront to collect the family, her only defense a pistol. Boldly she escorted Fontaine and his family back to her fort, despite the threat of Indian attack. The militiamen had been too afraid to do the deed, balking at her order to rescue the Fontaines. And so Madeleine walked out to rescue the family herself.

Madeleine did not sleep during the first two days of the siege. Since the militiamen had proved to be such cowards, she kept them in the blockhouse with Fontaine as their commander at night, unwilling to trust them as sentries in the dark. Thus it was that she stood guard on the bastions with her brothers and an elderly manservant through the nights, rotating shifts with Fontaine and the militiamen during the days. On the sixth night of the siege, a habitant youth managed to escape from the Iroquois camp and return to the fort. He told Madeleine that the Iroquois, tired of waiting for the French to show themselves, planned a large scale attack on the seignury the next morning. With nothing left to do but prepare to fight for their lives, Madeleine and her small garrison prayed and committed themselves to God, knowing they could never withstand such an attack without help.

The attack never came. Another prisoner who had escaped from the Indians managed to secure help from Montreal. The next day, after a week-long siege, Madeleine and her command were overjoyed to receive French reinforcements. When they learned a French force was coming down the river to aid the fort, the Iroquois had quietly and quickly left the seignury. Neither Madeleine nor the others had heard them go.

Madeleine de Verchéres fades from history after this almost superhuman event. It seems that the Verchéres seignury was never seriously threatened by the Iroquois again. For her heroism in directing the defense of the fort, Madeleine was awarded a life pension by the French crown when she became an adult. At the request of a later governor of New France, she related the story of how she had withstood the Iroquois. She married, but the union apparently remained childless. The only following incident we know of in her life before her death is the story that she saved her husband, Pierre Thomas Tarieu de la Pérade, when he was assaulted by an Indian in 1722.

There are no great memorials dedicated to her memory, no films paying tribute to her bravery. Only in a small park in Verchères, Quebec, is there any physical reminder of Madeleine de Verchéres. It is a bronze statue of a young girl wearing a dress, a set of boots, and an officer’s hat. She is holding a musket, which is pointed at the ground.

Madeleine de Verchéres is not held aloft by the academics or critics as the ideal of a courageous woman, but she should be. Much can be learned from this daring young heroine of the New World frontier. It is a sad shame that, when role models for girls are demanded so vociferously, one magnificent heroine remains lost to the general public. It remains to be seen if anyone will ever champion her memory in the future. Let us hope that someone does succeed in raising her back to the public consciousness. She is a heroine who should not be forgotten.

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Book Review: The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop

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Did you ever dream about your toys coming to life, speaking to you, playing with you, and becoming your best friends, readers? I used to do that. I loved the characters in all the stories I read about or watched on TV. I wanted to romp with 101 Dalmatians come to life, to pilot a zoid across Zi’s burning deserts, to travel through the Stargate with SG-1. I even wanted to hang out with Lieutenant Harmon Rabb Jr. from JAG.

So this means that stories such as The Castle in the Attic were tailor made for me. If I could not convince my toys to come to life and talk to me, I could read about toys that did do this for their owners.

William Lawrence is a ten year old American boy. Since he was little, while his parents have been away at work he has been cared for by Mrs. Phillips. Mrs. Phillips is from England. She lost her husband in World War II, and aside from William and his parents her only family is her brother, who still lives in England.

Coming back from gym class one day, William learns that Mrs. Phillips is going back to England. She is homesick and wants to go back. This upsets William mightily. He loves the old woman like she was his own grandmother and he does not want her to leave.

So he takes the picture of her husband and her pearl pin and hides them, hoping that this will make her stay. But Mrs. Phillips knows him too well not to guess what he has done, and eventually William returns the items. In order to make their parting a little easier, Mrs. Phillips gives William a model castle which has been in her family for generations.

There is only one toy that goes with the fully equipped, articulated castle: a knight carrying a dagger, sword, and shield. Called the Silver Knight, William puts the toy and the box it came in on the castle courtyard.

Later, after he has been put to bed, William waits until everyone has gone off to sleep. Then he sneaks upstairs, opens the box, and takes out the Silver Knight.

But the Knight does not feel like a toy. He feels warm. And squishy. And he is moving!

William is so surprised that he drops the Knight in the castle courtyard. Once he is upright, the Silver Knight challenges William to a duel. Once the preliminary arguments are dispensed with, the two go to their separate beds. William is not quite sure that he has not dreamed the entire encounter, so he goes up to the attic again next morning to see if the Knight is still there and alive.

Turns out, he is.

The adventure continues on from here, readers, but I do not want to spoil more of the story. If you want to know what else happens in the book, you shall have to cross that drawbridge yourselves! I would not want to spoil your fun.

Also, be sure to look for the sequel, Battle for the Castle. It is not my favorite of the two, but it never hurts to read the sequel at least once.

See you around!

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Book Review: The Witch World Trilogy by Andre Norton

About a year ago, maybe two, I covered Andre Norton’s famous first Witch World novels: Witch World and Web of the Witch World. As you may remember, those books detailed the arrival of Simon Tregarth to the Witch World from Earth. After several adventures in this new world, Simon married the Witch Jaelithe who, though she was cast out of the Witches’ Council, retained her Power after marrying him.

These next three tales, which are crucial to understanding the timeline and references in all future Witch World novels, continue their tale in a new form…

Three Against the Witch World

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Three Against the Witch World is set after the Kolder War, at the very end of the year. Told from the point of view of Kyllan Tregarth, he describes how his mother, Jaelithe, gave birth to triplets. This was astounding because no one in the Witch World had ever had more than two children at once. Not in recorded memory, at least; if it ever happened before, it is lost in the Witch World’s ancient history.

But the birth was difficult, leaving Jaelithe lethargic and nearly catatonic for an entire year. This nearly drove Simon mad, and his work on Estcarp’s border with Karsten came dangerously close to killing for killing’s sake. Only when Jaelithe recovered did he calm down.

And the children? There were three: Warrior, Sage, and Witch. Kyllan is the warrior. He reached for a sword hilt when he could only crawl. The first born, Kyllan is not prone to asking questions or thinking on ancient mysteries. He is a man made to face the present moment, the desperate hour of battle.

Kemoc, the second of the triplets, is the Sage, the one with all the questions. He pries into records, old knowledge, and wants to learn anything and everything. Kaththea, the third triplet, was born almost immediately after him, and so the two have always been closer to each other than to Kyllan. Though not displayed in her early life, Kaththea has the same gifts as her mother; she is the Witch.

With Karsten maintaining its aggressive stance toward Estcarp, Simon and Jaelithe have to spend almost all their time on the border. Thus they rarely interact with their own children, whom they leave in the keep of their old friend, Loyse of Verlaine, the wife of Koris of Gorm.

The children’s only real mother is Anghart, a Falconer woman who left her village after her own deformed son was killed. The Falconers cannot tolerate weakness of any kind in their ranks because of their harsh lifestyle as mercenaries. And so, like the Spartans of old, they traditionally dispense with any child that is crippled or somehow blemished – even by, say, a large red birthmark splattered across their face. So Anghart is cold and distant to all in the keep. Only the Tregarth triplets, whom she cares for as her own, know her true warmth and nature.

Anghart may be the only one, aside from Jaelithe, who perceives the special tie among the triplets: though three distinct people with their own strengths and weaknesses, the Tregarth heirs have a mental link that lets them meld into a cohesive whole. On instinct, they do not display this ability openly or use it often. It is private, for them alone…

But when Kaththea accidentally intercepts a message sent by a Witch to the Council, asking for aid, their bond activates in response to the urgency of the summons. Captured by Karsten raiders, the Witch called her Sisters for help, and Kaththea was in the line of communication. She and her brothers immediately used their special connection to find the Witch and then help the Borderers save her.

But in doing so they revealed Kaththea’s talent. The Witches do not care for men, and because Jaelithe had left the Council, they did not test her daughter to see if she had the Power. With this rescue of the Witch, however, Kaththea’s Power has been revealed to them. The Council demands the right to test her and, if she proves to have the Power, to take her as a novice who will someday become a full-fledged Witch.

Although they almost never spend much time with their children, the Tregarths are no less protective of their offspring than any other parents. They flatly tell the Council that Kaththea is off-limits and will not be tested. But the Council is patient, and when Simon goes missing two years later, Jaelithe chases after him once she has found his location with the help of their children’s Power.

Years later, despite their parents’ best attempts to guard them, while Kyllan and Kemoc are with the border guards, the Council strikes. Sensing Kaththea’s cry for help, her brothers take off immediately to protect her. It takes the two of them a couple of days to get to the keep, where they find Anghart, barely alive. She stood by her foster daughter to the last, throwing herself between Kaththea and the Witches. When she would not be persuaded to move, they tore her will to live from her with their Power. Though she has the will to live long enough to tell Kyllan and Kemoc what happened and to advise them on how to rescue their sister, she dies two days later.

And so the Tregarth brothers remain Borderers, protecting Estcarp from attacks committed against their nation by Karsten, biding their time until they can find a way to save their sister. In one of these skirmishes Kemoc’s sword hand is injured and he has to be sent to Lormt to recover. When he comes back, he tells Kyllan he has learned where their sister is and where the triplets may hide from the vengeance of the Witches: in the East.

Why is this so special? For all those in Estcarp save Simon and his three children, there is no East on the map. There is not even a recognition of the word in the minds of those Kemoc has asked about the East. It is as if something blocks them from traveling or even thinking in that geographical direction.

So the brothers rescue their sister from the Witches’ training grounds and take her East – where they upset many balances, meet new allies, and find bitter, monstrous foes…

Warlock of the Witch World

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The sequel to Three Against the Witch World, this novel is from Kemoc’s perspective. Living in the Valley of Green Silences with its people, his brother, and his sister, Kemoc leads raids against the evils that prowl the Eastern land known as Escore. Kyllan has married a high lady among the People of Green Silences – Dahaun – but Kemoc and Kaththea as yet have no such heart-ties.

Until a man named Dinzil arrives with his people to join in the Valley’s defense. Kaththea and he get along right from the get-go, and he is well known by reputation among the People of the Valley, not to mention well-liked for his charm.

The only one who cannot stand him is Kemoc. It is not that his sister, with whom he has always been close, is showing favor to the man. That bothers him, but not in the way you might think. The reason that it bothers him is that he instinctively dislikes Dinzil. He cannot find a reason for his aversion; he only knows that every time he gets close to the guy, he has to restrain the urge to grab for his sword. The fact that Kaththea and Kyllan do not have this problem, and that Kaththea is dazzled by Dinzil, only makes matters worse for the Sage.

Dahaun figures this much out through observation and asks Kemoc what his problem is. Kemoc admits that he does not want to speak ill of an ally, nor does he want to accuse a man without proof. He only knows that something about Dinzil feels wrong. He cannot say it any other way.

Unlike his siblings, Dahaun accepts Kemoc’s instinctive assessment of the man. She knows Dinzil’s reputation, knows that he has been vouched for by others as a servant of the Light. But she is not willing to dismiss the second Tregarth youth’s concerns out of hand. Instincts can be as good as knowledge or reason; sometimes, they can be even better than those. In this case, she thinks he may be right and promises to keep as close an eye on Dinzil as she can.

Later, Kemoc and one of the men in the Valley go to visit the Krogan, humans mutated centuries ago by Adepts in magic so that they can live in water, not to mention weave spells using it. The catch is that the Krogan cannot survive long out of water. If they travel too far away from any source of water, salt or fresh, they will die. Don’t bring ‘em to the desert. 😉

At the lake the Krogan call home, Kemoc meets Orsya, one of the Krogan women. Later on, the Krogan emissary states that his people wish to remain neutral. Though of the Light and not allied with Darkness, they are tired of war and just want to be left alone.

Kemoc and his guide/commander leave the lake peacefully. But on the return journey, Kemoc is separated from his friend by a flood. It is not a natural flood, either; Kemoc feels as though this flood was conjured up by something or someone of the Dark. He gets back to the Valley eventually – only to learn that Kaththea, distraught at his disappearance and her inability to find him by mind touch, has gone with Dinzil to use that man’s “means” to locate him.

Though no one else is worried, Kemoc sets out almost at once to find her.   His every instinct is screaming that this was a trap set for his sister, and he has to find her before she is killed. Or worse….

Sorceress of the Witch World

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The final book in this trilogy of Witch World novels is from Kaththea’s point of view. After the events of Warlock of the Witch World, Kaththea was left in a childish, not-quite amnesiac state of mind. She has had to relearn everything, and her memory has come back slowly. Soon, though, the only things she does not truly remember are what she did while she was with Dinzil.

Nevertheless, her dabbling and subsequent mind wipe have left her open to the wills of the Dark things that roam Escore. Finally, she can stand the nightmares no longer. She decides to go back to Estcarp to find a surviving Witch to retrain her in the use of her Power.

The plan goes awry, though, when an avalanche separates her from her brothers in the mountain pass that leads back to Estcarp. Alone and unable to contact her brothers due to her weakened mind bond with them, she can only hope that they are still alive and that she will be able to return to them and the Valley.

That idea seems destined to die when a primitive man finds her and takes her back to his tribe – which turns out to have an old, old, old Witch guiding it around Escore’s myriad dangers.

Although she does not like being in this tribe or her separation from her brothers, Kaththea instantly recognizes that this Witch can help her regain control of her Power. This arrangement works well enough – until the old woman appoints Kaththea her replacement in the tribe’s society, seconds before she topples over dead!

Trapped with a tribe she does not want to lead, Kaththea slowly breaks free of the spell holding her to these people. When her attempt to safely guide the tribe ends in a massacre, Kaththea escapes, with only her most bitter enemy for company as she searches for a way back to the Valley.

The search is hampered not simply by those who are hunting the two women, but also by the magnetic pull of magic coming from an abandoned Adept’s castle. Unable to resist the pull, Kaththea and the other woman enter the castle and pass through a gate into another world –

It is through these events that Kaththea becomes the Sorceress of the Witch World.

Wow, that was a longer post than I had intended to write. Whew, I did not realize how much I would have to say to whet your appetites, readers! I think I will sign off now and let you look up these books yourselves. ‘Till next time!

Book Review: That Fine Summer by Ella Manuel

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That Fine Summer, by Ella Manuel, is a short children’s book set in Fox Cove, Newfoundland. Never heard of Newfoundland? I am not terribly surprised; The Rock, as her people call her, is not the most popular tourist destination in the world.

Newfoundland was discovered by Norsemen and colonized by them at the turn of the Dark Ages, if my memory serves me correctly. But it was not until after Christopher Columbus discovered America that a more permanent colony was set up. Over time English, Scottish, and Irish settlers came to Newfoundland to make their living on the bountiful cod, as well as the natural wealth of the rugged island itself. By the twentieth century, Newfoundland was its own island nation. I do not know the year, but Canada eventually annexed the island through Confederation.

I believe That Fine Summer is set before Confederation, back when Newfoundland was an independent country. In this short novel, Mahala “Malie” Jacobs marches out to her Grandfather’s house in a right fury. When asked what the matter is, she tells him that her mother has made her wear a new dress and a new set of shoes first thing in the morning.

Mahala is a tomboy who likes to go fishing and sailing, things she can only really do with her Grandfather. Her mother, her grandfather’s only child, wants Mahala to act and dress like a proper lady. The only things the two agree on are that they love each other, they love Grandfather, and they are ardent piano players.

That evening, Mahala’s mother springs another unwelcome surprise on her daughter. She tells Malie that they are going to St. John’s, the capitol city of Newfoundland, for the summer.

Malie is thunderstruck. She does not want to go to the city. She wants to stay in Fox Cove with her grandfather, fishing, exploring the beaches, and just having fun in her own native place. She has had it all planned out for the last few months.

This leads to an explosive family argument, and Malie goes to the person who understands her best to solve the dilemma: Grandfather. Grandfather talks to Mahala’s mother and convinces her to let Malie stay with him throughout the summer… That fine summer.

I’ll not spoil the rest of the book for you, readers. It is a sweet little story, with lots of local color and language. If you do not understand the Newfoundland slang, the BREAKWATER edition has a short glossary of Newfoundland expressions included in it. But between the jigs and the reels, the story should be easy for children to read and understand.

Have fun fishing for this book and learning about The Rock, readers!

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Book Review: The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly

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In the Church of Our Lady Mary in Krakow, Poland, there is a special tradition. Every hour of every day, on the hour, one of the firemen of Krakow goes to the tower in the church and plays a special hymn on the trumpet. This hymn is called the Heynal, the Hymn to Our Lady. You can hear it in this video here:

If you listen carefully, you will notice that the hymn ends abruptly. It actually ends on a broken note. Why?

In thirteenth century Poland, the Tartars were invading. They were almost at the gates of the city of Krakow when they heard a song. It was a boy in the brick cathedral of the Church of Our Lady Mary, which at that time was outside the walls of the city. All the other buildings around the church had been burned by the invading Tartars. Only the church remained standing.

The boy was blowing the Heynal on his trumpet, as he had sworn to do in times of emergency. He knew doing this would get the Tartars attention and let them spot him. But it was his duty to play the Heynal on the hour, and the time had come for him to play. So he played.

And a Tartar took aim and fired at him, killing him with the arrow. This left the broken note of the Heynal, as the boy died before he could finish the tune. All who play the hymn today end the tune on the broken note, in memory of the boy who died fulfilling his duty to country, God, and church. Even during the years when the Communists had control of Poland, the Heynal would be played from the tower of the Church of Our Lady Mary.

In the twentieth century, a student and teacher named Eric P. Kelly heard the Heynal being played from the tower of the Church of Our Lady Mary in Krakow. The melody enchanted him almost as much as Poland did. And it inspired him to write The Trumpeter of Krakow.

In later centuries, after the Tartars were driven out of Poland, the Heynal was played not only on the hour, but to alert the city to the danger of fire. The watchman who would play the Heynal on the hour during the day or night (they rotated shifts, of course), would ring the bell and play the hymn to warn the city of invasion and other such dangers. But for the most part, during the fifteenth century, it was to warn against fires.

Krakow had a lot of wooden buildings at the time. One little set of sparks in the right place at the right time and – whoosh! There goes a third of the city up in smoke.

Pan (Mr.) Andrew Charnetski, his wife, and his son Joseph are headed into Krakow one day in July of 1461. Joseph is sitting on the back of the cart with the last possession of his family besides the cart itself, the horses, and the clothes on their backs – a pumpkin. The Charnetskis lived in the Ukraine until their house and property were burned to the ground by raiders.

Now they are headed to Krakow, on a market day. The road to the city is full of farmers headed to market with their goods, as well as with those coming to buy those goods. The Charnetskis are the only refugees of any import in this story.

As Joseph sits on the back of the cart, watching the world go by, he suddenly sees a man riding toward them. Getting his father’s attention, Joseph dives at once to catch hold of the animal’s reins when the stranger commands him to mind the horse. Young though he is – Joseph is fifteen – the youth senses something amiss with the stranger. There is something dangerous, something evil, in his expression.

The man introduces himself to Pan Andrew and talks to him rapidly in a low voice. Whatever he says, Pan Andrew does not like it. In fact, though no one can tell from his expression, the stranger’s words frighten him. He tells the man to be off, but the stranger is stubborn. He then asks how much Pan Andrew will take for the pumpkin.

Pan Andrew tells him it is not for sale, despite the fact that the man offers him far more than any pumpkin ought to be worth. When Pan Andrew continues to refuse to sell the pumpkin, the stranger draws his sword –

But Pan Andrew is better. He knocks the man off of the cart and to the ground. Thinking quickly, Joseph turns the man’s horse and slaps its rump, sending it running. He jumps aboard the cart and his father takes off, leaving the stranger cursing and shouting in the mud beside the road.

The family makes it to the city safely. On their way in Joseph hears the Heynal as it is played from the tower of the Church of Our Lady Mary. Pan Andrew promises to tell him the story of the broken hymn later on. What poor Pan Andrew does not yet know is that all is not well in Krakow. Pan Andrew goes to see his relatives but finds his cousin has been killed in a feud between the tradesmen and the nobles. This leaves the Charnetskis with no place to stay, no money and, worst of all, no protection.

If you want to know what else happens in the story, readers, you shall have to chase down a copy of The Trumpeter of Krakow yourselves. I have whet your appetite, I hope, for this charming story. Someone I know read and went into raptures over the book a long time ago. I waited a long time to read the novel, unfortunately. Perhaps, if I had read it earlier, I would have enjoyed it more than I did.

Poland is left in the dust these days. For twenty years it did not even exist; it was divided between Germany, Russia, and Austria. By far Austria treated the Poles better than the Germans or the Russians. Poland has suffered much throughout her long history.

However, as the Japanese say, “Fall seven times, stand up eight!” Poland has suffered, but she has always stood back up at some point. It is time she was recognized for this strength. This post and, perhaps, others will help to put her back in the world consciousness, where she belongs.

God go with you, readers!

Book Review: Forerunner Foray by Andre Norton

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And we are back in one of Andre Norton’s amazing stories, readers! Today’s title is one of her space novels, Forerunner Foray. This story focuses on a girl with the talent of psychometry.   For those of you who do not know, psychometry is the ability of someone with extrasensory abilities to see the history of any object they touch. The “sniffers” in the film Push are psychometrics. They touch an object, handle it, and can tell who used it before they picked it up. There are other characters in other stories that can do the same thing. Jedi Knight Quinlan Vos, for example, was a psychometric. This was not through any special skill of his in the Force but due to an inherent ability in his humanoid species.

Parapsychology and telepathy are standbys of Andre Norton novels, which you probably know by now, readers. Forerunner Foray is set in the far future, on a world called Korwar. A pleasure world, the wealthy come here to play, while the poor live in a place amid the splendor called the Dipple.

The Dipple began life as a “temporary” refuge for people fleeing some sort of war – or series of wars – in the galaxy. Gradually it turned into a permanent camp of poor people. It is a little like the Undercity on Taris in the Knights of the Old Republic game. If you are sent down there, you stay there, unless you are only visiting. No one born in the Dipple ever gets out on their own, either.

Ziantha was lucky. Her telepathic talent and psychometric ability attracted the attention of one of the highest members of the Thieves’ Guild: Yasa, a feline/humanoid Salarika. Yasa plucked Ziantha out of the Dipple and had her taught everything she needed to know to become a skilled thief. Because of this and the oath Ziantha took to become part of the Guild, Yasa as good as owns her.

At first, though, Ziantha does not really seem to mind this. Especially as she goes on her first major “foray” into the apartments of a member of the Guild who was kicked off-world. Yasa wants some information from the data cubes this guy keeps in his treasure rooms. What is the safest way to get the information without his knowledge? Psychometric readings.

So Ziantha is sent to retrieve the information on these cubes. She gets in safely, finds the cubes, “downloads”’ the information from them into her mind, and heads out…

Only to stop by a table filled with, presumably, other valuable artifacts. I say presumably because the one which has caught Ziantha’s mental eye is a nondescript lump of clay or stone. Whatever this thing is, it is dragging her attention toward it.

Ziantha reaches out to touch it, then snatches her hand back. These apartments and rooms are the property of a head honcho in the Thieves’ Guild. Just because the government caught him in illegal dealings and kicked him off of Korwar does not mean the booby traps littering his residence have been deactivated. If she so much as touches that object, she could set off an alarm.

And so Ziantha does not pick the object up as she desires. She instead escapes back to Yasa’s villa and delivers the information safely. The mission is so successful that Yasa promises Ziantha whatever she wants as a reward. While considering this in her rooms, Ziantha realizes that what she really wants is that lump of clay.

So she goes back to get it – and the adventure begins.

Forerunner Foray is a complicated story. You have to follow Ziantha carefully or you will get lost as her adventures take her out of herself and, perhaps, even out of time. During the course of her adventures, she learns what she is really made of – and what it means to be free.

That’s all you will be getting out of me, people! If you want to know more, then you will have to go on your own “foray” to find a copy of this novel to peruse at your leisure. This is as far as I am taking you. Happy hunting!

Book Review: The Reb and the Redcoats by Constance Savery

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If there is one thing I love more than a good story, it is history. Notice, readers, what that word is made of: his and story. His story – the story of man.

And oh, what a palette history is! Great heroes, megalomaniacal villains, comedy, tragedy – history has it all. Every fictional story draws something from history. Star Wars draws a great deal from the Japanese style of swordsmanship. It is hard not to see how the Nazis inspired the Galactic Empire, or how the gunfighters and gamblers of the Old West inspired Han Solo and Lando Calrissian. Without history, we would never have fiction.

This brings us to the topic for today, one of my favorite novels of all time. I have been meaning to write about it for some time, and at last I shall do what I have wished. The historical novel I present to you today, readers, was written by Constance Savery. The Reb and the Redcoats is set during the American War for Independence. But it comes with a twist – the entire story takes place in England!

Charlotte Darrington and her siblings – Joseph, George, and Kitty – are met one day with an old friend come back from the war in America. An injury has laid him up, and he will not be fighting in any more battles. The man has brought along a box of gifts from the children’s father, as well as letters written by him for their mother, since Mr. Darrington is an officer in the British army fighting for his country against the American rebels.

But Old Harry, the soldier returned home with an injury, has a special present for Charlotte. According to George, she was always his favorite among the Darrington children. He has brought along a child’s doll he discovered when he and the British contingent with him raided an American plantation in Virginia. The doll has a little American flag pinned to her chest with a poem on the back. The poem names the doll and her former owner as Patty, and so Patty is what Charlotte calls the doll.

Later on word comes that the children’s uncle, Laurence Templeton, needs their mother’s help to nurse their ill grandparents at the White Priory. For a while it seems the children will have to be left in the care of the girls’ governess. The boys quickly blame the rebel doll for the trouble. They claim that she is full of black magic and set a trap for her so that she will not be able to cast spells on them in the middle of the night.

Unfortunately, the trap catches the governess – who quits in an absolute fury after having a bucket of water land on her head!

With no one else available to mind the four, Mrs. Darrington must take her children with her to the White Priory. This decision is cemented that night by the appearance of a young prisoner of war looking in the window. Charlotte only catches a glimpse of the man’s countenance before telling her mother to run. With rebel prisoners on the loose in the area, Mrs. Darrington decides emphatically that she will not leave her precious young alone with a few servants to guard them.

All five depart for the White Priory the next day, where they meet their Uncle Laurence. Laurence, an officer in the British army, has been sent home on leave to convalesce after an injury to the leg during the war overseas. The children once got on famously with him, as he was always cheerful and fun-loving. But since his return from America, Uncle Laurence has been grim, stern, and temperamental. None of the children know why; one day he was their friendly uncle, the next he was an old ogre.

Anyway, as they settle in to the White Priory, someone mentions the escaped prisoners in the vicinity of the Darrington home. Laurence happens to know something of the affair. It seems there is a prison near the White Priory full of American POWs. There have been several escape attempts from the place led by a young soldier, one Randal Everard Baltimore.

This young man has helped his fellows to escape the prison camp time and again. The only reason he has not escaped himself is because of one of his friends, Timothy Wingate. A complete klutz, Wingate is always messing up the plan somehow. Oh, he does not do it on purpose – the poor young fellow simply cannot help himself. He trips and breaks his leg, makes a noise when all are supposed to be quiet, and before you can say Jack Robinson, the entire crew is running for their lives and leaving him to face the British alone. Randal is the only one who ever stays behind to take care of him after these blunders, since the two have been friends from boyhood and are accustomed to taking care of each other.

The children learn that because Randal has been such a nuisance to the camp, the commander of said camp has given him to Laurence to guard. Laurence seems to take a fiendish delight in tormenting the young Reb, as the children call him, offering a half crown to whichever one of the little ones can guess his name. When George tries, he insults the young officer so badly that Charlotte and Joseph, the oldest of the Darrington children, try to make amends for the slight their brother has given.

But in trying to do this, they accidentally help the Reb to escape again. He is eventually recaptured, along with Wingate, and locked in the penance cell beneath the White Priory. (The White Priory, in centuries past, was a monastery or an abbey; now it is a manor house.) Though the servants have been ordered to treat him well, Charlotte and Laurence discover that they have not done what they were ordered to do at all. His escape in the midst of winter and his confinement in the cold cell have made the Reb terribly sick…

And now, readers, it is your turn to read the novel! I will say nothing more about this touching, sweet story. Find yourself a copy and read the book in your own time!

Constance Savery wrote something on the order of fifty books and died at the age of one hundred one years old in 1997. I have read only one other book by this magnificent author, but you will have to stay tuned to learn which one that is. I hope someday to read more of her books – she wrote very well.

Until next time!

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