Category Archives: Blogs

Merry Christmas

It was a dark and stormy night–and a damn rare occasion in Arizona, because it was snowing.  Nothing was laying, but it was wet and nasty, and it was coming down hard.  Yours truly was driving through this mess, with a tired four year old and a truck full of presents.

Little did I know that earlier in the day, at some point, someone had backed into my truck and fled the scene like the cowards they are.  Yes, backed into my truck on Christmas Eve and either didn’t notice it themselves–which is possible, admittedly–or scurried away, not wishing to deal with the insurance people.

So there I am, at around 10pm, snow coming down hard, having a lot of odd problems with my truck.  First, the speedometer maxed out.  This wasn’t the end of the world, you understand, but highly irritating.  I pulled over at a truck stop, kid and presents and all, and yanked the instrument cluster fuse, reset the computer, and bam–speedometer fixed.  Problem solved, another victory.

Or so I thought.

See–while I was messing around in my fusebox, I noticed something odd about my truck.  It had a dent in the hood where there had been no dent before.  I’m not one of those types that worries about every little scratch in my vehicle, so I was a little irritated, but it wasn’t the end of the world.  I drive a long-bed 4×4 after all, and that’s not a truck that’s made to be pretty.  What I should have done is investigate this further, but it was snowing, it was late, and I might have mentioned the four year old who was just as ready as I was to get home for the evening.  I slammed the hood down, saw the speedometer working correctly again, and so I set off for home–an hour and a half drive back to Tucson.

What happened, you ask?  Well, it turns out that my truck wouldn’t shift out of 3rd.  This gets me kind of angry.  I’m thinking “it’s got to be something electrical, the instrument cluster is messing up plus the tranny won’t shift out of third; maybe it’s the vehicle speed sensor” and damn near pulling my hair out at this point.  I call my brother, who comes to pick me up, and start mucking around with my truck again in the shitty weather.

As it turns out, the front grill was just sitting in place.  You could take the running lights and just push them right off of the front end to hang by the wires that hold them, and the grill itself was cracked all the way around.  That hood dent took on a new meaning for me.  So did the mechanical problems.

Son of a bitch.

At least at this point I knew what I had to do–claim it on my insurance.  Someone at some point in the day had probably backed into me, and drove away.  That’s how I spent my Christmas Eve to Christmas morning, and tomorrow will be a rental car and tow truck adventure, since the old trusty 4×4 is just sitting on the side of the highway right now.  It really sucks.  I hope they can fix my truck.  I really like that truck.  It’s simple, it’s dependable, and it’s got a nice stereo.  Ah, well.  Life goes on.

So that’s how I spent my Christmas Eve.  I hope all of you had a better holiday than me.  On the bright side, things could have been much worse.  Still–when things go wrong for me, they pick the weirdest times to do so.  Snowing in Arizona, Christmas Eve night, loaded with presents and a tuckered out four year old.  What craziness lol.

Merry Christmas people.  Merry effin’ Christmas.

The Old Man of the Temple Delay

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The Old Man of the Temple is going to be delayed by a few weeks.  Look for it around October 20th.  The release dates for The City Under the Mountain and The Oath of the Blade will remain unchanged.  I lost a big chunk of time at the beginning of the month to sickness and a neck injury, and with school kicking up, it has taken a big slice out of my writing time.

Things are back on track, but as much as I hate to do it, TOMOTT will be pushed back.

Also, as some of you may have noticed, I’ve had some serious trouble with the website lately.  Wordpress has been pushing out its updates, and it always causes some general fuckery with everyone’s sites.  Mine has been no exception.  I’m working it out, but I’m not a techie for a reason.  Hopefully it will all be fixed soon.  Yes–that’s the reason this update is so late in coming.  I couldn’t even log in to the site for a long time, and then couldn’t update it.  It has been a real pickle.  By pickle, I mean a major pain in my ass.

Just a quick update.

Also, for anyone who may be confused about the reasons for the re-vamping of the series, look HERE.

The Warrior-Poet’s Workday

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This is for my peeps over at The Smarter Artist.

There are three gorillas that writers wrestle with all the time–procrastination, word counts, and getting fat.  We spend so much time getting everything just right, then ruminating on what we need to write for that day.  We answer emails, we watch videos, we while away our time dreaming about what it’s going to be like when our book gets done.  We stare at the screen when we finally do get ready, telling ourselves that things are just going to come out when they’re good and ready.  Our asses get wider from the constant pressure we put on them.

Also the snacks.

Listen, I’ve been there.  I’m there every day.  I’m the type of person that beats myself up on a constant basis about how much I didn’t get done on any particular day.  For a long time I trusted to the old way–forcing myself to sit in that chair until the damned chapter was done, dammit!  That’s the way my grandfather would have done it–doggedly, until he defeated the book, or it defeated him.  My only system was “GO,” and it had one speed setting that could be described on the whole as “You Could be Trying Harder.”

My system sucked.

A few years ago, something happened to me that forced me to reevaluate my life.  I’m a veteran of both wars, and America-Fuck Yeah 004spent quite a lot of time in combat.  Almost enough time, when taken consecutively, to have a bachelor’s degree in the subject.  Before you go thinking that I got blown up by an IED or something–no.  I made it through my deployments without a physical injury, but was in a minor helicopter accident my last year in the Army that screwed up my back.  The whole thing happened on a training mission–imagine that.  By the beginning of 2014, I was quickly losing the ability to walk like a normal person.  The nature of the VA being what it is, I spent half of that year lying on my back, hating everything about my life, waiting for surgery.  I was on so many pills that I had to take pills to counteract the pills.  Needless to say, life tasted like ten flavors of shit.  Add what people used to call “the soldier’s heart” to the mix, and my entire world looked like ashes.

hospitalThis was my Crucible.  It forced me to confront things.  I’m sure you can imagine.

This is not to toot my own horn, or to elicit sympathy–far from it.  I told you guys all that so you would know where I’m coming from, why I’m deciding to couch things in this language, and what my thought processes are.  I told you this so you would get a better sense of who I was, and who I am.  Every hero needs an Odyssey, right?

Toot toot.

I did finally have surgery, and began a long road to getting things back on track.  Anyone who has ever had back surgery understands the tenuous nature of your body afterwards, and just how much it changes your life.  Suddenly you have to be careful of the things you do, how you sit, where you sit, and for how long.  I remember one instance of having fallen asleep on my brother’s couch, and having to drive myself to the emergency room the next morning, barely able to push the pedals.  I was once a warrior, now laid low by furniture.

Working out is tough.  Nobody wants to do it when it’s an obligation–let’s just be honest.  It’s boring, it’s harder than you’d like, and it takes serious discipline that not everyone has.  For me, pain was a serious concern.  During the first year after my surgery, I was at about 25% operating capacity.  A tough-looking guy–but weak as a babe.  I figured out one enduring truth during this entire period.

People give up when we allow ourselves the pathway to defeat.  We’re pleasure-seeking creatures, and especially creative types.  Especially authors, because most of us are not only creative, but more than mildly obsessive.  Flights of fancy is what we do, and we’re crazy enough about it all to write it down.

defeated

I realized that the only way to succeed was not to beat myself up, to force myself into the chair, or out of the chair.  It was to arrange my life in such a way that I had no other option than to do what I needed to do.  Instead of beating yourself up so hard, trying to mold your character, lamenting the entire time that you wish you could just change, just be better…I’ve been there.  That is not the way.  The way is to change your environment, change the way you structure your day.

You have to Pavlov yourself.  The following is the way I’ve starting organizing my day, based on principles I used in the last year to lose 50 lbs, and rebuild my body into something normal.  This isn’t an all-encompassing system, or anything.  I’m not some motivational speaker promising you the best results EVER with this TRIED AND TRUE method–no.  These are just things I do that help me, and maybe they’ll help you, too.  There’s a bit of a philosophy behind it, but you can adopt some, or all, or none of these things.  Some of you won’t need them at all.  I just thought some of you might benefit from the ideas, and on the off-chance that I can offer a hand…well, I’ll offer it.

First–The Work Day.

1Get up early and take a cold shower in the morning.  I know it sounds crazy, but if ancient warriors could bathe in cold water, then so can you.  If you can’t start cold, then start hot and finish cold.  When I started, I washed hot and rinsed cold.  The end-game, though, is to get to an all-cold shower.  Believe me–it wakes you up and brings your mind into a sharpness of focus that you do not have if you take a nice, relaxing shower in the morning.

2Get a productivity clock.  I use my cell-phone and an app called ClearFocus.  It goes in 25 minute increments of working with 5 minute breaks.  Every fourth break is 15 minutes long.  During the work period, you put down words, you revise, you edit, you do what you have to do.  No snacking, no distractions.  During the break periods, dedicate yourself equally to getting up and walking away.  You can hover if you have something that absolutely needs to be put down, but if not, get up and walk away.

3During your break periods, do one of the following:  Push-ups, Crunches, Pull-ups, Squats, or a short Yoga routine.  If you can only bang out one push-up, then bang out that one push-up.  Every wall begins with a single brick, so start laying those fucking bricks.  The best thing to do is rotate these exercises so that you do an equal number of all of them in sets that you can handle.  My routine is thus:  75 push-ups one break, 50 crunches the next, 15 pull-ups next, 50 squats, or a short Yoga routine.  Interchange these however you want, and don’t take my numbers for your own goals.  Do as many as you can before reaching muscle failure and focus on the number you’ll do per set and not the total number.  By the end of your day, you might be surprised to have found that you did 200 push-ups, or 60 pull-ups.  Just worry about the sets, though.  Substitute whatever exercise you want, but do something.

4Have a daily word count goal, and meet that motherfucker.  The way I do it is to set a target in Scrivener.  Mine is at least 5k/day of new words, or at least one full chapter of revisions.  Until you meet your daily goal, you’re not done.  If you meet it in two hours, then good.

5If you just have to get up and leave the book alone, go for a long walk.  That’s the rule.  If you take a break longer than the allotted time on your productivity app, then you have to go for a walk for at least 30 minutes.  Also, the time starts back where you left it.  But hey–you’re the boss, boss.

The whole point of this to hack yourself, and I’ll explain the way it has worked for me.  First of all, the cold shower puts you in a state of mind conducive to energized thinking.  You’ll be surprised how, over time, your body feels so different after your shower.  You’ll feel like a marine on an Athenian warship.  Hell, you may even start taking cold showers in the evening when you’re feeling lethargic.  I do, sometimes.  I might be a freak, though.

Secondly, the productivity clock will slowly train your mind to write better, write faster, and write when you command it to do so.  Waiting on inspiration is bullshit–hack inspiration.  When you give your mind hurdles to master, it reacts by adapting.  We’re animals, all of us, and we’re meant to evolve.  Just as genetic populations mold to their environs, we can mold our minds to harness our creativity.  Over time, since I’ve begun using this method, my word count has steadily risen from approx. 800/hr to now around 1400/hr.  It’s not Johnny-paced, but hey–it works for me.  And it’s still going up.

The exercises during your breaks not only train your body, but they wake you up.  If you need energy, the thing to do is not to sleep, or to rest, or to watch that last episode of Game of Thrones again–it’s to do something active.  Besides, even if you bang out 100 push-ups during your break, you’re still left with 3.5-4 minutes of fuck-off time.  As you spend longer doing this routine, your break times will seem like they last forever.  I’ve found myself champing at the bit to sit back down and get started–which is one of the reasons you have to dedicate yourself to getting up.  That reset helps to keep the mind fresh and excited.

Set your word counts as a division of how quickly you want to publish.  I’m a sword-and-sorcery guy, so I’m trying to settle into a three month publishing cycle.  My books are around 130-150k words each, and as long as I schedule things correctly, the 5k/day pace allows me to get things done without worrying about it.  You may have noticed that as your word count per hour speeds up, your work day either gets shorter, or you can elect to get more accomplished.  The whole point of doing things this way is that the ONLY number you need to stress over is your daily word count.  No more stressing as you let days slip by, and you can see the day on the horizon when you’ve got to write 20k words just to make your deadline.  Trust in the productivity clock, Pavlov yourself, and only worry about your 5k.  You will be flabbergasted at the end of the week by how much progress you’ve made overall, and without even noticing.  And you’ll slowly get faster.

warriorpoet

THE RULES

These are things you’ll repeat to yourself when you’re being lazy.  You know what I mean.

1–Don’t be a poon.  Jocko Willinck, a former Army Green Beret and successful podcaster, once said a very direct, and very meaningful quote.  “You know that thing you don’t want to do?  Shut up and do it.”

2–Wars are won a battle at a time.  Pay no attention to the entirety of how many words you need to write before your publish date, only worry about your daily counts.  Small victories amount to a successful campaign.

3–Movement clears the mind.  When you’re stuck, when you’re frustrated, the best thing to do is go for that long walk, or do a 30-minute Yoga session.  The Spartans knew this, Yogis knew this.  We have forgotten.  Remember.

4–Take time to pay the Muses.  I’m non-religious, but I do something I call “Yoga for Dionysus”.  Mostly it’s because I’m a nerd, but part of hacking my mind is adding in a bit of reverence for the process.  I sacrifice something on the altar of the universe in thanks for my inspiration.  I know it’s anthropomorphism.  I know it’s dumb.  You don’t have to do it, but it helps me to remain grounded.  And hey–Yoga’s good for you.  This can be anything, though.  Dedicate your run to the gods, read a book and absorb some culture, go to church if you’re religious, whatever.  Spend some time cleaning your apartment once a week, just do something.

TAKE THINGS FURTHER

If you want to go even deeper, integrate a fast into your daily life.  This is all completely optional, but this part is especially optional.  I know not everyone is a freak like me.  One thing that I do is only allow myself to eat during certain hours of the day.  There are many mental and physical benefits to fasting, you can read all about them on the interwebs.  There are many ways to do it, though, and most revolve around having a window within which you allow yourself to eat.  Outside that window, it’s all water for you, bub.  Try the following:

16 hour fast/8 hour eating window

18/ 6

20/ 4

You can also mix in 24 hour-long fasts, but its all up to you.  Believe me, though–integrate the 20/4 eating habit with the workday outlined above, and you’ll start to lose weight without having to slice out a huge chunk of gym time every day.  Fasting works much like everything outlined above–the more you do it, the better at it you become.  Plus, eight hours of your fast will be sleepy-time, anyway (depending on your own habits).

Maybe some of this crazy stuff will help someone, and maybe I just spent forever typing this for no reason.  This is my sacrifice on the alter of The Smarter Artist, though.  This group, and the SPP guys, have helped one salty war vet get his shit together, so a man wishes to give something back.  Maybe it’s a metric ton of crazy, but maybe it will help someone.  It has certainly helped me.

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Much love and respect to you all.

Diodorus Siculus FTW

snctryref
In keeping with my current fascination with Greek mythology (perhaps because I’m currently taking a really good class on the subject) we’re going to talk today about the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi.  For those of you who don’t know her–and I’m using the term ‘her‘ to refer to a position and not an actual person–the Delphic Oracle was a very important figure in the ancient world.  Even kings and conquerors visited the Oracle–the Pythia–and heeded the prophecies which she handed out.

One such story is the story of Croesus, the King of Lydia.  Croesus was one of the richest people known in ancient history, and was apparently wealthy enough to warrant his own epithet in common language–someone would be said to have been as rich as Croesus.  Croesus wondered whether he should go to war with Cyrus the Great, who was unifying lands that would soon become what we know as the Achaemenid Empire–or the Persian Empire.  Cyrus deserves ten posts dedicated completely to him on his own, but he’s not the subject of today’s little rant.  Croesus, before making such an important decision, visited the Pythia to ask for her prophecy.  The Pythia responded with something like “If you go to war, you will destroy a great kingdom.”  Croesus gathered his forces, went to war with Cyrus the Great, and was subsequently crushed.  The Pythia had given him a truthful answer–it was his own kingdom, though, that he destroyed.  Other famous visitors to the Pythia included Lycurgus, Solon, Philip II of Macedon, Cicero, and the Emperor Nero.

How did one petition the Oracle to receive a prophecy from Apollo?  Let’s see if I can simplify it.

First, the applicant had to purchase a sacred cake at a fixed cost, and leave it on the altar outside.  From there, the applicant moved inside and sacrificed a goat, or maybe a lamb, carefully guided through the process by the priests.  Once the sacrifice was made, the petitioner was allowed into a room where they could hear the Pythia speak, but not see her.  The Pythia would have the question posed to her by the priests, who would interpret her ramblings from the state of enthousiasmos (“divine enthusiasm”) and translate them into the form of an epic poem, which would be presented to the petitioner.

delphivaporsThe Pythia, on the other hand, had her own preparations to make.  She either bathed in, or drank from, one of two
“sacred springs” at Delphi in order to purify herself.  She chewed, or maybe burnt, Laurel leaves–the sacred tree of Apollo–to prepare herself to receive the god.  She then went into an enclosed space, and climbed onto a tripod which sat over a chasm, breathing in “sacred” vapors that would send her into the trance-like state.  Plutarch described the vapors as being “sweet,” and even described an instance where the Pythia died as a result of too much divine inhalation.

The thing is, there weren’t any springs found at Delphi that ran through the temple, nor was any chasm discovered at the site.  Scholars long believed the tales to be fanciful, perhaps to try and explain the trance-like state into which the Pythia would put herself.  Reading some of the papers, the words scoffing at the idea of “sacred vapors” practically get up off the page and sneer at you.  The quickness with which ancient sources, like Plutarch, were dismissed is wild to read.  One such account by a man named Diodorus Siculus–a Greek historian who visited the site at Delphi and wrote about it–were completely shat upon by the establishment.

A summary of what Diodorus Siculus had to say about the Pythia at Delphi:

“In Diodorus’s narrative, it was this chasm, and the powerful vapor that emerged from it, that led to the initial discovery and installation of an oracle at Delphi. He recounts the story of how a goatherd noticed that
his goats, approaching a particular hole on the mountainside, started to shriek and leap around. Goatherds began to do the same when they approached, and also began to prophesize. The news of the spot spread and
many people started leaping into the hole, so “to eliminate the danger, the locals appointed one woman as prophetess for all. They built her an apparatus [the tripod] on which she could be safe during her trances.”

~From Oracle, Princeton University Press

portrait_man_bce_050-025_2_mus_hamburg.428x0-is-pid7313Diodorus Siculus came along, talked to the locals and said “look everybody, this girl is basically just getting high.”  Scholars have long discounted his story as fanciful, saying that he probably had trouble imagining that the spirit of the god of Apollo could enter the Pythia, because Greeks had strange notions of the spirit–a lot of mental back-flipping to explain away his account.

The funny thing is, in the year 2000 a group of scientists published a *study in Geology magazine about the site at Delphi.  As it turns out, Delphi sits at the center of two fault lines, and has been a hotbed for seismic activity since ancient times.  There were recorded earthquakes there in the past.  The scientists were able to not only identify the faults with modern technology, but determined that a spring probably flowed through the Temple of Apollo at one time, and that a chasm probably did run through the Temple of Apollo.  Furthermore, though scientific methods, they determined that the rocks beneath the Temple of Apollo at Delphi produce a gas called ehtylene.  Ethylene was used as an early anesthetic, and can produce feelings of detachment and euphoria.  In higher doses, it can cause mania and death.

The kicker?  Ehtylene has a sweet smell.  It was also found in natural springs near the site.

The Pythia on the Tripod-by-H.Leutemann

Just imagine this one staggering fact–the fate of kingdoms, of empires, was partly decided by the ravings of an old woman who was sitting in an enclosed room huffing gas for most of the day.  This is why I love history.

It took just over two thousand years, but in the end, Diodorus Siculus was vindicated.  Turns out his story makes a lot of sense, and is further backed up by the writings of Plutarch on the matter.  So raise a glass in the man’s honor sometime, he deserves a libation or two.

*The link goes to Nature magazine, but it’s a story about the same study.

In case you missed it, Child of the Flames is now available on Amazon Kindle.  Get your copy today!

Omophagia

maenadI’ve been thinking about this lately, so I figured I’d write some of it down.  Maybe you guys will find this as interesting as I do.  Maybe you’ll just think I’m morbid.

I want to talk about the Maenads.  Now, some of you are raising your fingers in the air, saying “Hey, I remember those from True Blood!”  Some of you might know more about them than that, and might be saying “Aha!  He’s talking about the crazed followers of Dionysus!”

True, and true.  More than that, though, I wanted to write down a few stray thoughts I’ve been having about their rituals, especially the culmination of their rituals.  Let’s go into more detail–bloody, gory detail.

So, Dionysian rituals were famous for being revels of complete abandon.  In fact, that was sort of the point.  There are lots of festivals dedicated to Dionysus, now, and they were varied.  Before someone decides to flay me for leaving out the City Dionysia, or dithyrambs, or the fact that they were the origins of Greek tragedy, I know–but we’re not talking about all of that today.  Though, I suppose my penchant for writing fiction has its origins in Dionysian ritual.

Give your thanks to Dionysus, you pitiful little mortals.

The Maenads were the crazed female followers of Dionysus, the priestesses of the god of the grapevine.  They were known by the animal skins they wore, the wreaths in their hair, the fact that they danced barefoot, handled snakes (they got there first, Pentecostals), and the thyrsus–a rod wreathed in vines, and topped in leaves or pinecones.

maenad

The Maenads went up into the hills to perform wild rituals by the moonlight.  In short, imagine a bunch of intoxicated, crazed women dancing until they’ve worked themselves–and everyone else–into a frenzy.  The whole point was to reach something called ecstasis, a religious fervor so great that it sent everyone into a state of abandon.  At the height of this fervor, an animal would be tossed into the center of the crowd.

There, it would be torn limb from limb by hand, and eaten raw by the frenzied mob.

This practice is called omophagia.  Now, the weird thing about this practice is that it’s not exclusive to the worship of Dionysus–or his Roman counterpart, Bacchus–it actually turns up in different places all over the planet.  In places where primitive tribes have been met with more advanced chroniclers, there have been rituals described that bear striking resemblance to those of the Maenads.   Dancing crowds, intoxication, abandon, and at the height of the rituals, no matter the details–omophagia.  In Divine Madness, there was a scene described in Africa where a ritual took place that bears such a startling resemblance to those of the Maenads that I had to read it twice.  One horror story even mentioned a woman who, at the height of her religious fervor, tossed her baby into the crowd, where it was subsequently torn apart and devoured.

Frightening.

Most people regard the practice as having arisen from Dionysus’s birth myth–that he was ripped apart, but born again.  But others believe that Dionysus was the representation of something older, something more ingrained into the human psyche.  Dionysian rituals represented a return to the primitive, a regression to something more brutal.  What strikes me as odd is how often the practice pops up in history, and throughout cultures who haven’t heard of one another.  Does it serve some purpose in society–perhaps an evolutionary release valve of our more brutal instincts, like an ancient version of the Purge?

K12.12Dionysos

I’ve become really intrigued with Dionysus.  His worship was so varied in scope, and so wild in its extremes.  On one hand, you’ve got the origin of Greek tragedy, and a god who relishes in the heights of human creativity.  On the other hand, frenzied mobs ripping apart animals with their bare hands and eating them raw–the depths of human depravity.

Another interesting aspect was how afraid the Romans were of the worship of Bacchus.  They outlawed his cult, and sought out those who practiced the rituals.  There are all sorts of wild stories about the worship of Dionysus/Bacchus.  Alexander’s mother was apparently a follower of Dionysus, and there’s even a story that the wife of Spartacus was a priestess of Bacchus, though I’m not sure of the second’s credibility.

So, yeah.  I just wanted to take some time to share these weird little thoughts with you.  I really don’t know why.

~D.W.

Child of the Flames

Coming August 1st

Coming August 1st

Child of the Flames is coming this Monday, August 1, 2016.

It will be released on Amazon at $0.99.

It’s a story of revenge, of tragedy, of triumph.  And it’s got blood, swords, and magic.  What more do you need for a good story?  It’s been a long time coming, and now it’s finally here.  I know you guys are just as excited about it as I am.

I know a lot of you have already read up to The City Under the Mountain, and may not want to start back at the first book.  However, Child of the Flames is not The Sentient Fire.  It’s a new book through and through.  While many of the same things happen (you can’t revise and not hit the plot points) they happen a bit differently, and to characters who are much more three-dimensional.  In short, The Seven Signs is maturing a bit for it’s relaunch.

You can certainly just pick up at The Oath of the Blade when it comes out if you want, and you won’t miss anything, nor will you be confused.  But, if you’re like me and you re-read the entire Game of Thrones, or Wheel of Time, every time a new book came out because you forgot a lot of the story…

Child of the Flames will be enjoyable for you.  It’s like re-reading, only with new writing 😉

(You guys should know that I love you–that’s the first time I’ve ever used an emoticon, after years and years of refusing to do so.  I broke my prohibition for you, ‘cuz I love ya)

So look for Child of the Flames on Monday.  You won’t be disappointed.

 

Child of the Flames

Coming August 1st

Coming August 1st

Child of the Flames is coming this Monday, August 1, 2016.

It will be released on Amazon at $0.99.

It’s a story of revenge, of tragedy, of triumph.  And it’s got blood, swords, and magic.  What more do you need for a good story?  It’s been a long time coming, and now it’s finally here.  I know you guys are just as excited about it as I am.

I know a lot of you have already read up to The City Under the Mountain, and may not want to start back at the first book.  However, Child of the Flames is not The Sentient Fire.  It’s a new book through and through.  While many of the same things happen (you can’t revise and not hit the plot points) they happen a bit differently, and to characters who are much more three-dimensional.  In short, The Seven Signs is maturing a bit for it’s relaunch.

You can certainly just pick up at The Oath of the Blade when it comes out if you want, and you won’t miss anything, nor will you be confused.  But, if you’re like me and you re-read the entire Game of Thrones, or Wheel of Time, every time a new book came out because you forgot a lot of the story…

Child of the Flames will be enjoyable for you.  It’s like re-reading, only with new writing 😉

(You guys should know that I love you–that’s the first time I’ve ever used an emoticon, after years and years of refusing to do so.  I broke my prohibition for you, ‘cuz I love ya)

So look for Child of the Flames on Monday.  You won’t be disappointed.

 

World of Eldath: Magic, the Blessed, and the Learned

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Many scholars throughout the years have attempted to discern exactly what magic is and where it came from.  Its effects have been studied by the School of Magical Arts, the Conclave in the Sevenlands, and even the Minsdurim Academy, upon occasion.  There are multiple books on the subject, the foremost among them being Garland’s Song of the Fabric of Creation.  Still, at the time that this report is being written, this scholar has found no invention, scientific method, or even a magical device that can test the essence of magic and tell us what it really is and where it came from.

The accepted view by most laymen is that magic is the “fabric of creation” or the “material of creation” left over from when the Gods forged the world.  Such a simplistic explanation can be credited to the Epics of the Gods and the mythology that most religious texts perpetuate.  The general idea, explained by a Devlan Devotee, is that Evmir shaped the world and everything we see from a magical base material.  The phrase so often repeated is that he  “commanded the world come forth from the ether”.  When asked exactly what magic is, or what the “ether” is, most religious explanations fail to satisfy, as they so often do.  If one wants to learn of magic, one must go to a wizard.

According to representatives of the Conclave of Wizards, children who are born with an inherent connection to magic, referred to as “Blessed”, begin to show signs of the power between the ages of seven and fourteen years.  This range is not as accurate as it could be; the Conclave admits that some children may go for years using magic undiscovered by their scouts or their parents.  The manifestation seems to correlate directly with the children aging into sexual maturity, though there have been cases which seem to show no correlation.  Sometimes trauma has been shown to be a direct factor as well, though those cases are rare.  Findings from the School of Magical Arts directly support the information from the Conclave.

Magic is described by wizards as having an empathetic nature.  It apparently responds to emotions felt by magic users, and those emotions can either intensify, confuse, or entirely null the effects of their intended spells and evocative castings.  By their own admission, the use of magic can be a very dangerous undertaking.  Wizards have been known to lose control of their powers and kill themselves–or others–because of the emotional factors at play, though the Conclave assures me that such things are rare and easily controlled and prevented through proper training.  Strenuous mental discipline is the best deterrent, according to those who traffic in the use of magic.

Magic apparently responds to outside stimuli as well.  It has been shown to resonate differently with different materials, such as brass, stone, various gems, and even water.  Mathematical and geometrical formulas seem to evoke a response from magic, as do certain shapes in nature, the most common of which is the circle.  This scholar had heard rumors of a great circle constructed in the bowels of the Conclave called the Crux, but any reference to it, or request to see it, was met with denial.

The most interesting magical reaction seems to be with music.  Apparently musical tones have an intense effect on magic, and the Conclave has studied the phenomenon for a long period of time.  They have found that the most interesting reactions seem to come from entire compositions of music rather than individual tones, as if the music produces an emotional response from magic, as ridiculous as that sounds.  The theory seems to hold water when compared with the earlier knowledge that magic responds to emotions from those who use it.  The two phenomenon seem to be intertwined somehow, though sufficient time and effort would be needed to study it further.

Magic seems to be able to perform almost any action the wizard can imagine, though the boundaries of such power are blurry and undefined at best.  Most wizards seem to operate on their own preconceived notions about nature, and such a thing can be a serious deterrent to studying magic’s full potential.  Some of the more mundane uses for magic, such as moving large objects or producing a small light from nothing, can be as simple or as complicated as the mind of the wizard wielding the power.

This scholar personally listened to two different explanations on how one would move a rock with magic.  One wizard preferred to simply seize the rock with his “Kai”, as he put it, and move the thing a small distance.  He explained that in his mind, he pictured carrying the stone in a large, invisible hand.  The second spoke of an invisible force holding the rock to the ground already, and he simply pictured himself coaxing the force to let go for a small amount of time while he moved the rock.  The results were the same, though the methods were clearly different.

Wizards do seem to have a limited amount of endurance for using magic.  Each person would appear to have a different threshold for holding a certain amount of power, and it has been determined by the Conclave that every wizard grows slowly stronger over time.  Exposure to the power also seems to lengthen the lifespans of all wizards, though it is said that most older magic users retreat from society in order to better commune with the strange energy.  It is also said that wizards heal faster than normal people, and are more resistant to disease, though the factor by which this happens is minimal.  It has been demonstrated to this scholar that magic also cannot heal any ailment with reliable results.  The two things may be connected, and that subject may warrant further study in the future.

It is possible for those born without the ability to touch magic to gain it through careful study and training.  In the Sevenlands they call those wizards the “Learned”.  The differences between Learned and Blessed magic users stop at the method by which they gained use of the power.  There appears to be no correlation between the method of training and the final ability and strength of any wizard in question.  This would suggest that physical properties and breeding do have some effect on these phenomenon, though those effects have yet to be studied.

From A Treatise on Magic and its Effects, by the Magister Sir Umril Genhardt, of the Tauravon Archive.  Written in the year 1066, archived in 1067.

Hope you guys enjoyed that little tidbit about the setting.  I’ll be uploading little blogs like this to help flesh out the story for you guys, as the World of Eldath will be an ongoing setting for stories long after the Seven Signs is finished.  More news on this to follow, and I’ll talk to you guys soon.

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The Battle of Alesia

In honor of Veteran’s Day I thought I would write a blog to you guys about one of the craziest military engagements of ancient history.  Throughout human existence there have been these great moments when the courses of entire civilizations have been decided upon the courage of fighting men, the guile of generals, and the edges of swords.  One such battle was the siege of Alesia, a fortified town in the Roman province of Transalpine Gaul, where Gaius Julius Caesar finally closed in on the Gallic general Vercingetorix.

For years before this battle took place, Roman legions under Julius Caesar had been ravaging the Gallic countryside, bringing the region firmly under the control of Rome.  At this time, the Roman economy had morphed into this beast that was almost entirely dependent upon foreign conquest and the subjugation of native peoples.  Romans had settled in the region, and Caesar had been squeezing the Gauls for tribute for around six years.  The Gauls, having been crushed by the Romans, were simmering at the Roman boot upon their throats.

After a tribe called the Carnutes, who had been previously pacified by the Romans, rose up and slaughtered all the Roman settlers in the town of Cenabum, Caesar mustered his legions and marched over the winter-locked alps into the province of Transalpine Gaul to put down the rebellion.  He was unaware that the major Gallic tribes had previously met and elected someone to take the fight to the Romans, to drive them from the lands of Gallia.  That man was the chieftain of the Arverni tribe, and his name was Vercingetorix.

Vercingetorix defeated the Romans in the field at Gergovia, and fought a decent field campaign against Caesar.  The Gallic cavalry was much stronger than the Roman cavalry, and Vercingetorix was famous for using his mounted soldiers to devastating effect.  After a few engagements between the two forces, Vercingetorix withdrew his army to the fortified town of Alesia.  Caesar followed him, and trapped his forces within the city walls.

Where Ceasar Crushed Vercingetorix

Alesia was a relatively small settlement by our standards.  It was built upon a solitary hill between two rivers, and overlooked a small valley that surrounded it.  There was high ground beyond the valley, but Alesia would have had a decent view of the surrounding countryside.  It was surrounded by a low wall that ran for around 5 miles, and probably had a fortified gate of some sort.  It wasn’t a very large settlement, but by Gallic standards of the time, it was a well fortified position.  Vercingetorix had some 80,000 men inside, along with thousands of civilians.

Caesar surrounded Alesia with somewhere around 50,000 legionnaires and Germanic auxiliary forces.  Imagine what a man like Julius Caesar would have thought when he looked up at the town of Alesia.  By this time, Caesar was already a seasoned military man and commander.  He was a strange figure in history, and there are famous (and infamous) stories about him in the Roman records.  Caesar was a popularis–which would have been roughly the equivalent of a democrat in Roman politics, with a definite violent twist–and he was loved by the Roman lower classes.  He was known to buck convention, and, in the words of Dan Carlin, was something of a “punk rock like figure of the ancient world”.  He was said to have moved twice as fast and decisively as other men.

Caesar was also fiercely loved by the men under his command.  He regularly ate, camped, and fought with them, and earned their respect through his deeds.  Caesar’s men supposedly loved him so much that, when they messed up in battle, they begged for him to punish them so that they could once again be in his good graces.  Caesar heaped rewards and praise upon his soldiers, and they were fiercely loyal to him–something that would bode ill for the Republic in the future.  Any one of them would have died for him without a second thought.

Caesar was also known to be a military genius, and that will become apparent during the Battle of Alesia.

Caesar knows that Vercingetorix has the advantage.  The Gallic cavalry had devastated Caesar’s own mounted units, and from the high ground in Alesia he can send his horsemen out to raid the Romans virtually at will.  Caesar has to neutralize the advantage that Vercingetorix has taken, but how to do it?  He sets his men to digging.

One thing that the Roman legions could do better than any other ancient army was build.  Every single night a Roman legion would fortify their camp.  They built walls in record speed, they brought tools and technology with them, coupled that with a fiercely industrious nature, and used it all to great advantage.  Caesar has his men dig a wide trench all the way around the city–a distance of around ten miles.  After this wide trench is dug, he has them dig another trench and fill it from the water of the nearby river, creating an effective moat.  After another trench goes in, he fills all of this with stakes, caltrops, and other nasty defensive surprises the Romans were famous for.  He turns the ground around Alesia into a killing field.

Then he sets the legionnaires to building a wall around the city, turning a defensible position into a prison–a tactic called circumvallation.

Vercingetorix isn’t stupid, and he can see all of this happening from the city walls.  He sends his best troops–that Gallic cavalry we spoke about–to raid the Romans building the wall, but the legion regularly pushes him back into the city.  Roman legions were also good at defense, and Vercingetorix was unable to break through the Roman lines.  Day by day, his sorties failed again and again.  Finally, Vercingetorix makes what many people believe to be the mistake that sealed his fate–he sent his cavalry out into the countryside to rally the tribes for help.  The move cripples his ability to harass the Romans building the wall.

Caesar, ever the clever opportunist, uses the escape of the Gallic cavalry to his advantage.  He orders his quartermasters to procure a supply of food from the surrounding countryside for thirty days, and sets his men to building even more fortifications.  With the ability to build with impunity, the legions get right to work.

They build a second wall around the first, and this one is around twenty miles in length–a line of contravallation.  It goes up without incident, and in record time.  Caesar makes his camp between the two walls and, anticipating the appearance of a Gallic relief force, prepares to be besieged while besieging Vercingetorix.  Wild, huh?  The walls that Caesar’s legion built had only one weak spot–the western side, where the walls met the river.

After about seven weeks of being besieged, the people of Alesia began to starve.  There is a small supply of beef and corn inside the walls, but Vercingetorix has seized control of the food for his men, and the civilians are running out of sustenance.  What happens next is a strange thing, to be sure.  Either Vercingetorix, or the tribal elders inside the town, decide to send out their women and children–some three thousand people–to the Romans.  Doubtless these people thought that the Romans would hopefully let them through to safety, or even take them as slaves.  Either way, from their point of view, they might avoid starvation, and the possible slaughter coming their way.

Caesar, though, turns the civilians back toward the city.  He denies them any sustenance or mercy.  This might have been a cruel thing to do, but from a tactical standpoint, it’s quite devious.  Caesar’s armies aren’t doing much better than the citizens of Alesia, as Vercingetorix had enacted his famous “Scorched Earth” policy and convinced the Gauls to burn their own crops before the Romans, and allow them no succor from Gallia’s fruits.  The legions are struggling to forage food from the countryside, and they’re in hostile territory far from their home.  Caesar knows he cannot feed these refugees, and doing so would place his own supplies in jeopardy–which might have been Vercingetorix’s strategy from the start.

What he does next speaks to that intention, because Vercingetorix turns the civilians away from Alesia, too.  He keeps the gates tightly shut.  There are different estimates of the number of women and children that were left to starve in the killing fields between the city and the Roman fortifications.  I know that this was a darker time, and these people were used to killing, but it’s hard for me to believe that the soldiers on both sides–not to mention the husbands and fathers of those left to die–could listen to the cries of the helpless without feeling some kind of sympathy for them.  I couldn’t even imagine the sight.

Vercingetorix eventually breaks, and allows the women and children back into the city.  Caesar wins the battle of wills.  Alesia is starving, Vercingetorix’s men are getting desperate, and he knows he’s on his last leg.  Caesar now has the upper hand.  It was in that desperate hour, however, that Vercingetorix gets the reinforcements he was hoping for.

His cavalry has returned, having rallied the surrounding Gallic tribes, riding at the head of a force 60,000 strong.  They are commanded by a man named Commius.  They occupied some high ground outside of the outer walls of Caesar’s defenses, screaming and beating their shields at the enemy below.  Caesar had anticipated them, though, and was prepared.

Commius immediately sends in his cavalry, covered by archers from the high ground, at the small groups of Roman infantry that were outside the walls.  They begin killing everything in their path, and Caesar sends his own cavalry out into the hills to counter the Gallic forces.  A battle ensues where the Gauls slowly retreat, drawing Caesar’s cavalry into the range of their archers, where they begin to get cut down in a storm of arrows.  Caesar orders in reinforcements, and they somehow manage to fight their way to a nearby hill.  The Romans swing around and charge down at the flanks of Commius’s cavalry.  The Gauls are routed, which leaves the archers to the mercy of the Roman cavalry.  They are easily cut down before the Romans, and Commius is forced to pull his army back, losing a tithe of his mounted soldiers and almost every archer under his command.

The victory emboldens Caesar’s men, and makes Vercingetorix even more desperate.  Caesar, outnumbered over two to one, has managed to fight off a larger force while keeping Vercingetorix easily besieged within the walls of Alesia.  Vercingetorix must have known that the help he was holding out for may not be his salvation, and it must have been crushing.  The Romans were notorious for the things they did to the people that crossed them, and it was doubtlessly on Vercingetorix’s mind.

That night, Commius and Vercingetorix launch a coordinated attack under the cover of darkness.

The Romans had withdrawn within their defenses by this point, and Caesar had stationed his men along the wall in various strategic positions.  Suddenly the Gauls come screaming out of the night from both directions, trying to fight their way through Caesar’s defenses and create a breach.  Caesar reinforces his men on the outer wall, but the defenses and traps he’d left on the inner wall are wreaking havoc on Vercingetorix’s forces.

The Gauls had to run through a field sprinkled with Roman style caltrops–called Goads–before passing through yet another field that Caesar’s men had dug with row upon row of buried, hidden traps with sharpened stakes.  If one made it through this field, they then had to cross the moat, which also had traps inside of it.  After that they had to battle through two separate trenches that were five feet deep and filled with a forest of sharpened stakes.  Only then could they attack the wall.  The entire time the Gauls would have been pelted with Roman arrows, javelins from ballistae, and stones from slingers.  The grounds around Alesia would have been choked with the dead.

Vercinetorix’s assault from the inside was suffering the entire weight of Caesar’s preparations.

The outside assault under Commius is going better.  The Gauls, by sheer weight of numbers, are putting a lot of pressure on the Romans.  The fight for the walls goes back and forth, and the Romans nearly break more than once, but the quick actions of a young commander by the name of Mark Antony saves the fight.  The Gauls are repelled from the walls and sent back into the night without the will to continue.  It was that night that won Antony the respect of Caesar, and Antony became his right-hand man after the Battle of Alesia.

The Gauls are pushed back from the Roman defenses a second time, and Vercingetorix retreats into the walls of the city.  This was a crushing defeat for the Gauls.  Vercingetorix, after having watched Caesar repel yet another attack by a larger force, must have been feeling the weight of destiny on his shoulders by now.  The Roman general has managed to spend his forces at just the right times in order to win through by the skin of his teeth, and the people of Alesia are starving.  Things aren’t looking good for the people of Gallia.  They know they have to do something soon, or their cause will be lost.

It is about this time that Commius finds the weak spot in Caesar’s wall–the one on the western side near the river that we talked about earlier.  He sends in his men under the cover of night, and hides them near the river.  The next day he springs his trap on the unsuspecting legionnaires, and a fierce battle ensues for control of the wall.  Both sides are tired from the battle of the night before, but the Romans are still outnumbered more than two to one, and have to fight more often.  They’re beginning to flag, and start to get pushed back into the space between the two walls–back into their camps.

Vercingetorix sees this from the walls of Alesia, and orders his men to attack.  At the same time, a third force under one of Vercingetorix’s cousins attacks the outer wall, and the Romans are beset on all sides.  To the west, Commius has fought his way into the camp and is pressing the legion hard.  On the eastern side the defenders are facing another army of Gallic tribesman on the outer wall, and Vercingetorix is pressing hard from the inside.  Romans are being slaughtered everywhere, and for a time it seems that Caesar will die under the walls of Alesia along with all of his men.

Caesar is standing atop a tower he’d made his men build into the defenses, watching everything happen.  He can see that his lines on the western side–where the Gauls are streaming into the camp–are starting to break.  If those legionnaires give way, the Romans will be routed and slaughtered to a man.  It’s now that he does one of those things that he’s famous for, at least in his early history.  He straps on his famous red cloak, rallies four cohorts of reinforcements, and leads them right into the teeth of the enemy, where the fighting is most desperate.

This is where you have to remember what I told you earlier about the regard Caesar’s men had for their general.  Caesar was like a combination of Patton, Kennedy, and Russel Brand to these guys.  They loved him.  They trusted him completely, and each one was ready to lay down their lives if he thought it was necessary.  He had won their respect over years of campaigning beside them, and had taken good care of them along the way.  Imagine if you saw your idol hoist a sword, yell “follow me, boys!”, and rush right into the worst of the fighting.

When the legionnaires saw their leader charge down upon the enemy, a fire must have lit along the battlefield.  Each man who was throwing javelins, or pelting the Gauls from a distance, was said to have dropped his missiles, drawn his gladius, and followed Caesar right into the fray.  Right when their lines were about to break, the men at the front saw Caesar come rushing down into their midst at the head of hundreds of reinforcements.  Suddenly their salvation had appeared, and they rallied to meet their fates.

Commius had committed his forces to a narrow strip of land where Caesar had been unable to build up the walls enough to keep them out.  He had somewhere around 40,000 men behind him, but as the numbers on the battlefield grew, the flaw in his tactics became apparent.  The Gallic infantry basically just rushed down on their enemies with swords aloft, the way you could imagine any barbarian horde might do.  The tight space they were rushing through started to choke their advance as more and more bodies filled the gap.  This was exactly the kind of fight in which the legions excelled.

Caesar pushed his advantage and tore into the Gallic lines, pushing their advance back to the weak point in his defenses.  The Romans fought for their very lives, and with the advantage of numbers neutralized, began to slaughter the Gauls right and left.  As the Gauls saw their countrymen being sliced down in droves, their attack broke, and they began to run away in fear.  The Romans pushed their advantage and routed the Gauls, pursuing them all the way back to their camp.  In one decisive move, Caesar took a full third of the Gallic army, and Commius’s forces melted away into the forests.

Meanwhile, the forces attacking the outer defenses were unable to gain a foothold.  The legions under Antony and Caesar’s other commanders continuously pushed them back.  Vercingetorix fared no better against the circumvallation lines than he had before, and was forced to retreat back inside the city walls.  Once the Gauls had learned of the destruction of their camp and the rout of Commius, the tribes retreated into the night.  By the next morning, the battlefield outside of Alesia was deserted, save for the dead.

Vercingetorix was alone.

Imagine the way he must have felt looking out over the destruction of the countryside, and the Romans camped outside of the walls.  He must have known that Caesar was now free to attack the city at will, or starve them out in short order.  The people were already dying, both of starvation and the continuous fighting.  He knew that if the Romans were forced to breach the walls, the city’s innocents would probably be raped, killed, or sold off into slavery.  I think the next decision he made was a noble one.  He put on his armor, opened the city gates, and rode out to meet Caesar alone .

The romantic version of the story has Vercingetorix being brought before Caesar, drawing his blade, and dropping it silently at his feet.  Caesar takes Vercingetorix into custody, but in a surprising move, spares a large number of people inside the city.  This was out of character for him at the time, especially on the heels of such a tough battle.  Perhaps it was a political move designed to quell the ill feelings toward the Romans at the time–after all, the local tribes had been killing Romans for awhile at this point.  Perhaps it was the beginning of Caesar’s tradition of clemency for his enemies, or perhaps Vercingetorix begged for him to spare the city.  I have a feeling that the ones left alive and free were probably from tribes that Caesar wanted as allies in the region.

Whichever thing it was that spared the people of Alesia, the same couldn’t be said for Vercingetorix.  He was kept imprisoned for five years as the political turmoil in Rome upended Caesar’s life.  During that time Caesar fought more wars against his own people, and maneuvered his way into being declared dictator in Rome.  It was after his defeat of the Senate that Caesar organized his own Triumph–a huge party and parade that was considered one of the highest honors a Roman man could be granted–where Vercingetorix was paraded out for the plebians to see.

There, after being paraded before the assembled people of Rome, Vercingetorix was strangled to death in a Roman dungeon.  Gallia was subdued, and eventually became a Roman province.  It would be around three hundred years before another uprising.   Later in the Roman history, there would be campaigns to extend citizenship to the Gauls, who had become close to Romans themselves.

It started bloody, though, as do a lot of things in history.

I hope you guys enjoyed that little story.  There are a lot of details I glossed over about the battle, and historians always disagree on a lot of details.  Feel free to google it and read up on it yourself.  It’s wild to think that this stuff happened, even in some way close to the story we accept today.  I’ll update you guys soon on Child of the Flames, and don’t forget to JOIN THE CONCLAVE, like, subscribe, and all of that nonsense.

Happy Veteran’s Day.

Child of the Flames

childoftheflames02

The Seven Signs, book one. Coming in 2016

It’s been awhile since I’ve written a blog.  I recently started school again, and my life has been pretty hectic since.  If I’m not working on overhauling The Seven Signs, I’m writing something in APA format.  The neat little schedule I worked out for myself while finishing The City Under the Mountain was pretty much thrown out the window.

So, what have I been doing, you might ask?

I’ve been working on what will be the new Big, Bad Book One:  Child of the Flames.

What’s changing?  Well, let me try and explain.  During The Sentient Fire, I really felt like I could have dived into the story a little more than I did.  There were a lot of things happening behind the scenes during the first book that I never illuminated, so I’m illuminating some of them.

Also, Shawna’s part in the story is getting more of an overhaul.  Earlier today I finished writing the opening scene to the book, and it’s about ten times more exciting than before.  A large part of the first book was her flight from the Red Swords, yet she got little “airplay” in the original book.  She’ll get more this time around, and you know it’s going to be bloody.

I may have mentioned my original intention to give the book a stylistic polish, and that will be happening as I go, as well.  It’s weird returning to this story so many years later.  Sometimes I read parts of it and cringe at the writing, but I guess that’s the way it goes with art.  You’re never really happy with it, but it is kind of fun to go back and rewrite some of the parts to give them a little more punch.

So far, January is still a good date for the release of the overhauled series.  As the date gets closer I’ll keep you guys updated, but as of right now I’m sticking with that.  Don’t forget to like, subscribe, follow, and all of that.  Check me out on Facebook if you’re so inclined, or follow me on Twitter.  To get the updates as they come straight from the source, join my mailing list, the Conclave.

Talk to you guys soon.

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