the iron stove

The Elsewhere Child

He was supposed to take my memories when he brought me here, the seelie knight, who had been commanded to escort me home with a simple “take it away, it’s too old now and it bores me” from the noble who had kept me for the past while. I traded him my singing voice for them though, and now where once sweet music poured from my lips only hoarse and untuned notes fall out without any of the tempo or melody they had before. Now I think I made a bad trade. It might have been better, if I didn’t remember, or remembered something else entirely.

I stare at the boy next to me in the circle, I was asked to join this circle as a way to make me feel part of something, part of a circle. They call the circle a support group for abducted children. Children who were abducted and got away, that is, I don’t think there’s a support group for those currently abducted. Their abductors wouldn’t allow them to attend, I suppose. The boy is speaking about the man who touched him, speaking of the horrible way he loved that man, because he was a child, and he had to love someone. Are his memories true? Or is he like me? Did a faerie take him away, and replace the memories from Under the Hill with these tragedies? Why? Did he commit some crime? I cannot say.

I am fascinated by the girl who sits next to the girl directly across from me in the circle. She tells us to call her Angie. She wears ratty clothes, not the sort of poor chic that seems to be an underlying trend, with jackets made of patches and ribbed cloth sold at malls, but real grunge. The tears in her sleeves reveal razor scars, her hair is short, she wants to look tough, she wants people to cross the street to get away from her when they see her coming. She is not tough. She is nervous, always nervous, always afraid, though she hides it well. None of these things are too interesting to me, those things I can see anywhere, but I thought context would be important so that the fact that she’s a pathological liar would not be the only thing you knew about her.

She is a pathological liar.

Her lies fascinate me.

After group chat, I take her aside and we talk, sometimes just for a few minutes, sometimes for hours, and I watch her fabricate thousands of untruths, from tiny white ones to huge fantastical ones as bright and colorful as her life has never been. Some days, I believe everything she says and some days I question each word, trying to figure out her secret.

It’s a strange thing, I was taken before I really knew my name, and each faerie that’s kept me (I was a pet for them) called me something different. Do I even have a true name? I’ve been Jane Doe since I showed up, stumbling barefoot and confused into a police station moments after midnight (at least the knight knew to leave me near a place of authority), so I’ve been introducing myself as Roe, like the deer. They ran my DNA through the missing children’s database (I didn’t understand what that was at first, was shocked at how closely humans had approximated magic with computers), but there was no match. I told them I didn’t know how long ago I’d been abducted, and suggested that it might have been before the database was made. They laughed and said I was eighteen, and DNA technology had been around much longer than me. I tried to explain that time was different where I had been kept, but they simply patted me on my head and told me they were sure that it seemed that way to me at the time.

They stared at me worriedly when one of them brought me a McDonald’s Happy Meal, and I asked what she wanted for it. She told me nothing. No one here ever asks for anything besides courtesy in return for their food, but old habits are hard to break. Even now, in my foster home, I cannot help insisting that my hosts confirm that this food is a gift freely given. They asked me to help them cook and I broke down in tears because there was a cast iron skillet on the stove (“Please don’t make me, iron burns, iron burns, and it gets under your skin and makes you go grey and lifeless like a flower severed from its roots, plea-please, please don’t make me”). It took them an hour to convince me that they weren’t trying to force me to poison myself, and the food burned (“I said I would help you, you asked me to cook and I agreed, but, but please don’t make me, it burns, it’ll burn me!” “It’s alright darling, you don’t have to cook if you don’t want to.” “But I said I would! It was an oath!” “We’re sorry, we wouldn’t have asked if we’d known it would upset you, you can help some other way if you like.” “You… absolve me of my oath?” “Yes, of course we do darling!”).

I am more comfortable with iron now, I am not one of the Fair Folk, after all, it will not harm me. Correction, a blade of iron would harm me, but not because it was made of iron. It does, however, mess with my glamor.

It is a difficult thing, growing up bathed in magic and yet to have none of your own. A pixie once spoke of how she envied my hair, and I said, on impulse, “do you want it?” So a trade was made. She gave me the ability to change my appearance, and she walked away with my hair. I expected my hair to grow back after a time though… it did not. With my glamor I can have the appearance of having whatever hair I please, and sometimes I change it daily, but when I sleep or when iron is near my bare head is revealed. It is assumed by my hosts and everyone around me that I have many wigs, I have told them I do not, but they don’t believe in magic, so they insist on believing this instead.

I hide when I hear thunder, duck into a bathroom and put everything on backward and inside out if I’m in public, or simply sit quiet if I’m home. The first time I did this, it shook me to my core when someone told me “You know, your shirt is on backward.” I started to panic, until I realized that I could see myself too. It was a revelation, discovering that there was something humans could see that the Good Neighbors couldn’t.

It still boggles my mind how much people throw away, tears and menstrual blood caught on napkins, or gifts from that one aunt that they held onto for so long for the sentimental value but can’t keep now because they have to move into a smaller apartment, or the shirt they can’t wear anymore because it smells like their ex. They could trade these items to faeries for so many things, and yet they simply throw them away. What a waste.

My hosts insisted I should have a proper education, and after three years of homeschooling (to get me caught up) I applied to attend the local state college. There I found more people who fascinate me the way Angie does. There’s Lisa, who fights for animal rights, and Kyle, the leader of the Gay Straight Alliance group, and Riley, who’s going into the Peace Corps next year because they want to help the world. I ask them all the time why they do what they do, what they expect to get back, and they tell me that ideally they’ll make the world a better place, and that will pay them back eventually, but that they don’t do it for what they’ll get back, they do it because it’s right. I don’t understand. There’s Cheyenne, who always gets into intense political debates with other people over dinner in the cafeteria, and she believes so intensely about things that don’t even affect her, and she fights for them, and she tells me she does this because it’s right, and I don’t understand. I’ve never met anyone who cared about anything other than themselves Under the Hill. Faeries can’t lie, they can’t go back on their word, they honor their deals and make sure you honor them too, they repay debts and ensure they’re repaid in turn, they amuse themselves playing or squabbling over power, but they do not do things for free. They don’t care about things for free. They don’t defend the innocent, protect the weak, or forgive the ignorant. The culture shock coming here is bewildering.

If I could I’d honor my debts, leave a pile of gold at the doorstep of everyone who’s done me a kindness, but I have not the magic to do so. The drainage ponds hold no sirens, the falling snow has no frolicking pixies between its flakes, there is no magic for me to use here… or is there?

Perhaps I can’t call upon the magic Under the Hill, perhaps I can’t summon gold or make deals with darklings, but I can find magic here, I’ve seen others do it. I’ve seen a moon so beautiful it sends shivers down your spine captured by a little lense-box and put onto thick shiny paper. I’ve seen songs and stories written with such emotion that it moves those who hear them to tears, to laughter, to dancing, to life. I’ve seen kitchen witches cure colds with hot chicken soup, and I’ve seen holy men ward off tricksters they can’t even see with the power of their belief.

Perhaps I can find a way to create my own magic, and do what other people seem to strive to do to repay their debts. Perhaps I can make the world a better place, and learn the magic of humanity. And as for the places where magic does live? Where the boundary between worlds is thin and the drainage ponds and snowflakes carry faerie magic within? …I think I’ll be staying far away, for my part. I might still have a lot to learn, but I think I like it better here.

anonymous asked:

do you get payed for your animations or are you just rich enough to make them just because you want to?

I get paid for commercial animations, so any music videos, TV segments, advertisements, game cinematics and the like. I then withdraw all of that money and burn it in an iron stove, to keep me alive during the winter months as I make my personal work in an isolated mountain cabin.

Valhalla is where you are - Part 4

Imagine: You and Björn are childhood friend who have separated ways when Lagertha left Ragnar. Years later you and Björn reunite and your love for eachother as friends starts to take a turn.

1 | 2 | 3

Words: 2007

Timeline: Situated around S02E05

Request by: Anonymous

Tags: Emotions

Outside it had started to rain. One of Björn’s arms was around your shoulder and with the other he tried to prevent you from becoming soaked wet. “I want to go home.” You said while shivering. You felt your knees become weak. The alcohol, the emotions, the shock, all those things had made you feel dizzy. Björn noticed. “Hold on.” He said and took back his arm. Softly he grunted from the pain in his side. But that didn’t stop him from taking you softly into his arms. Your feet came off the ground and you hung in Björn’s arms as he walked to your house. In the distance the thunder had started to growl. It felt as if the earth was shacking with every rumble that came from the sky. An enormous lightning strike made the air bright blue. “The gods will protect you.” Björn whispered into your ear. Softly you hummed, closed your eyes and turned your head towards him. “I will protect you.” Gently he kissed the top of your wet hair as he fastened his pace towards your house.
Inside the warmth came towards the both of you. Björn walked to one of the comfortable chairs and gently laid you down. “Are you okay?” he asked, still whispering. “I’ve felt better.” You saw some sort of pain appear in his eyes when you said that. He kneeled next to you and stroke your hair. “Let me take care of you.” He pushed his forehead for a moment against yours. When he pulled back he turned towards your shoes which he started to take of your feet. Every piece of clothing on your and his body were soaking wet. You nodded at him with a smile and helped him by taking your dress of. Björn looked respectfully away from your bareness and saw the blanket you threw at your brother earlier that evening. He picked it up, shook the dust of it and placed it on your body. “Better?” He asked with an uncertain smile and looked you deep into your eyes. “Much better.” You said and looked at the fireplace that was barely burning anymore. “I’ll take care of it.” He assured you and left the house to pick up some firewood.
Björn was walking to the little shed next to your house when he heard Vidar’s voice calling him. Immediately he turned his head and looked to the slightly older Viking that was coming at him through the rain. “Where is he?” Björn asked and stepped forward, clearly talking about Kettil. Again he felt his anger grow. “Easy Björn. He has been taken care of.” Björn scoffed and shook his head from left to right. “Maybe for now. But he is still alive isn’t he?” He asked Vidar. “If they had let me I would have killed him.” Vidar stroke over his face and saw some blood sticking to his hand. He had a bruised eye and blood was dripping from his lip. “Who didn’t let you?” Vidar sighed because of the question and leaned against the shed, trying to escape some of the rain. “Your father.” Björn couldn’t believe his ears and he bit his lip out of frustration. “I’ll take care of it in the morning.” Björn assured Vidar. “Don’t do anything stupid.” Björn snorted sarcastically. “I would do anything for her.” Björn said. Vidar laughed softly as he took some blocks of firewood and placed it into the muscular arms of Björn. “I know.” Vidar gave Björn a soft pat on his shoulder. “Take care of her. And try to hear her out, okay? I need to know what that bastard did to my sister. And I think she’d rather talk to you than to me right now.” Björn nodded confident. “Where are you going?” He asked Vidar as soon as the boy started to walk away. “I also have someone who keeps my bed warm at night, Björn Ragnarsson.” The words made Björn laugh and with that gesture a thunderbolt cleared the sky.
It took a few minutes before the red coals were able to put the wooden blocks on fire. Björn was pushing them with an iron bar and was daydreaming whilst looking at the little flames. You saw he had sunk in deep thoughts and you pulled the blanket a little higher on your arms. “Björn?” You softly said his name. When he heard your voice he immediately awoke from his slumber. “Yes?” He answered with a little smile on his lips and looked at you. “I’m so sorry for tonight.” You said and looked towards the floor. Björn frowned his eyebrows and came walking towards you. “Don’t be.” He stroke over your cheek trying to comfort you, his fingers were still cold and wet from the bad weather outside. “The only one who needs to be sorry it Kettil. Sorry for what he did to you and sorry for what I am about to do to him.” You swallowed unsure and looked at Björn with big eyes. “What are you going to do to him?” You asked him whispering. Björn dropped himself on the floor, sat right next to the sofa you were laying on. “Depends on what he did to you, y/n. You want to talk about it with me?” You heard in his voice that he wasn’t sure if he should be asking these questions. “It is useless, it happened Björn. You can’t turn back the time.” He frowned his eyebrows and a dark glance appeared on his face. “But I can make him pay for what he did to you in the past.” You laughed softly from impotence. “Then why don’t have the gods punished him yet?” Björn grabbed the edge of the soda and pinched into the fabric. “I don’t know, y/n. Just tell me what he did to you.” You could clearly hear Björn was getting frustrated by you being silence about what happened. “Don’t you understand?” He said in an almost begging way as you didn’t spoke anymore. He turned on his knees and leaned towards you. “I want to protect you. I want to make up for the time a wasn’t here.” He grabbed with both his hands to his head and buried it away. His fingers slithered through his wet hair. “I want to make you happy.” Eventually he looked back up to you and you could see the imploring look in his eyes. “Please, y/n.”
“He came to this house at night when Vidar was away. I had seen him the day before on the market. Don’t ask me how we got there, but eventually we were talking about my past. I told him that I was feeling lonely since my brother started to spent a lot of time with his significant other. And that I felt an empty hole inside me since the day you left with your mother.” Your eyes started to fill with tears. You felt Björn was watching you but you didn’t dare to look at him. “You had your mother Björn. I had nobody. You knew how hard it was for me when they died when. We were just kids, but I was definitely old enough to experience the pain and the emptiness.” With a finger you caught a tear that was going to fell on the blanket. And at the same time you felt Björn’s hand on your other hand. Softly he pinched, stimulated you to tell further. You gasped for breath, trying to prevent yourself from crying. “So like I said, he came here in the night Vidar was with Inkeri. I was here all by myself, so at first I was frightened when I heard the intruder. Until I saw it was Kettil. He told me he knew Vidar was away and so he was there to make me feel less lonely.” You laughed trough your teard, realising how stupid you had been. “We talked. I cried. He comforted me and told me everything would be okay. And eventually I believed him. After that he told me it was better that I would catch some sleep, and that he would watch over me when I did. So he joined me in my bed and..” You stopped telling and immediately felt Bjorn’s hand tighten around yours. “And?” he asked, his voice sounded deep and raspy. “And he tried to rape me.” Björn jumped up without saying any further word. He grabbed the red glowing iron stick from the stove and made preparative to leave the house. “Björn no. Stop!” you yelled at him and also jumped up. The blanket hung around you like some kind of dress as you ran towards him to stop him from leaving. “He didn’t succeed. I fought him of, he didn’t get the chance to touch me properly.” - “It doesn’t matter. It is the fact that he tried.” His eyes looked like they were glowing from anger. “Please, Björn. Don’t leave me here.” An lonely tear rolled over your cheek. Björn sighed deep, trying to calm down. “One day I’ll make him pay. You can’t take that away from me.” You looked down to your bare feet and clammed the blanket closer around your body. “Don’t you want me to make him pay?” He asked you in confusion and put his finger under your chin to make you look at him. “I do, but..” - “But what?” Björn frowned his eyebrows in a worrying way. “He took my mother’s and father’s wedding rings. He knew how much they meant to me and now he is using them to blackmail me.” You started to walk towards the sofa and the stove again and Björn followed you closely. “Blackmail you how?” He asked. “He keeps them hidden somewhere and told me I’d never get them back as I didn’t do as he wanted me to.” Björn didn’t know what to say, and instead he pulled you against his chest. You felt his cold, wet clothes to your naked body but despite that the hug made you feel warm. “I’m going to make this right. I promise you. No more need to worry, no more need to be afraid. If the gods don’t watch over you, I swear to Odin that I will do it myself.”
It had taken a few minutes to calm down, but eventually you were able to smile again. Björn had comforted you and made you feel safe as he had promised. His axe was on the table next to the sofa the both of you laid on. In the meantime he had also taken off his clothes and put them next to yours to dry in front of the stove. “You are staying, right?” you asked him as you snuggled your head against his bare chest. You were laying in between him and the stove so you felt warmth on both sides of your body. “Why are you asking such stupid questions?” He whispered with a smile and pressed his lips against your neck. Softly you giggled and stroke with your hand over the side of his body. Björn cringed shortly and you looked at him concerned. “Are you okay?” He smiled at you to reassure you. “It’s just a scratch.” You frowned your eyebrows and suddenly remembered Kettil had hit him with the knife. “Let me take a look at it.” Björn laughed and held you down with his arms when you tried to get up. “No.” He loaded you with little kisses on your face. “Please.” You giggled and tried to push him away playfully. “No.” he said again as he pressed his lips fully on yours. And then you relaxed, totally went into the kiss. Eventually he ended the kiss but kept his head close to yours. “You can look tomorrow, but for now I just want to enjoy this moment. And especially, enjoy you.” You hummed in approval and pressed your lips afresh against his. In the background Thor was still playing the song of the gods.

The Sorrow Pot - A Spell for Sadness

Then said he, “If you will not tell me anything, tell your sorrows to the iron-stove there,” and he went away.

Then she crept into the iron-stove, and began to weep and lament, and emptied her whole heart, and said, “Here am I deserted by the whole world, and yet I am a King’s daughter, and a false waiting-maid has by force brought me to such a pass that I have been compelled to put off my royal apparel, and she has taken my place with my bridegroom, and I have to perform menial service as a goose-girl. If my mother did but know that, her heart would break.”

-The Goose Girl


There are times in our lives when we suffer from the words and deeds of others. These are hard enough to bear without the additional strain of feeling like we can’t talk about it or have no one to turn to for sympathy. This spell allows for both a venting of those grievances and a call for justice upon those who have wronged you.

Intent: To relieve your sorrows and bring justice for a grievance.


  • Small pot / saucepan / teapot / large mug
  • Fire-safe dish
  • Bayberry candle
  • Herbs: Willow Bark, Rosemary, Marjoram, Powdered Allspice or Ground Clove

Ideal Timing: This spell can be performed whenever there is a need.

Obtain a small pot or saucepan. If neither of these are available, a teapot or a large mug will do. This will be your sorrow pot. It is important to note that after performing this spell, you should wash and thoroughly cleanse the item to make sure that none of your sorrows remain before using it for mundane cooking or other magic.

Whisper your sorrows into the pot. Take as long as you like and be as sad or as angry or as vulgar as you feel you need to be. If you shed any tears, try to catch a few of them in the pot for additional potency.

Gather the following and place them in the pot:

  • A Palmful of Willow Bark
  • A Pinch of Dried Rosemary
  • A Pinch of Dried Marjoram
  • A Spoonful of Shavings from a Bayberry Candle

Stir the contents with a spoon until well combined, then tip the whole mixture into a fire-safe dish, carry it to a clear area without fire hazards, and set it alight. The candle shavings will help the herbs to burn more thoroughly, and you can add drippings from a bayberry or black wax candle if you wish to help it along.

Carefully sprinkle a generous pinch of Ground Allspice or Ground Cloves into the burning material. Let the herbs burn to ash, then cast the ashes into the wind.

If you stop there, the spell works to relieve sorrow and emotional pain, and to aid recovery and mental clarity. If you wish to go one step further and seek justice for the harm that caused your pain in the first place, add the following incantation as you sprinkle the Allspice or Cloves into the burning herbs.

Recite over the flames:

The pain I’ve suffered is your doing
This spell shall be the undoing of you
By sea-salt tear and burning flame
The harm you’ve done returns to you

Once the herbs are completely burned, take the ashes and cast them into the wind to carry the spell to its’ intended target.

Note: If you do not have the space for burning herbs or do not wish to use fire, the herbs may be poured into a bowl and placed in strong sunlight for an hour, with the word “sun” replacing “flame” in the incantation. Cast the herbs into running water or scatter them in the wind for the final step.

- From the forthcoming book, “The Sisters Grimmoire: Spells and Charms for Your Happily Ever After” by Bree NicGarran and Anna Zollinger

anonymous asked:

Top 5 fantasies Yuuri had about about Viktor before meeting him (and top 5 ways the reality diverged)

  1. that victor nikiforov is flawless and good at everything.  victor can’t boil a pot of water to save his life.  victor thinks that traffic lanes and lights are “suggestions” instead of “laws.”  victor, in theory, understands how a savings account works, but not in practice.  victor touches hot irons and stoves without thinking.  victor shrinks approximately 90% of their clothes the first time he’s within five feet of a washing machine.
  2. that victor nikiforov is a sex god.  victor fumbles a lot, worriedly asks, “is this okay?” sometimes yuuri has to shut him up with his mouth or his dick, because victor worries too much, and it’s kind of a turn off.  what’s better is when victor loses control, fucks him so earnestly they fall off the bed and laugh into each other’s mouths, scrambling to find the open and close of each other’s bodies on the floor. 
  3. that romantic dinners would be less of an ordeal–yuuri imagines him and victor nikiforov looking at each other across a candlelit table, sexual tension heavy, conversation minimal.  and it’s still sort of like that, except yuuri never gets to feed himself.  victor is constantly lifting wine to his lips, cutting small bites for him.  
  4. that having sex in a pool would ever be sexy.  it is the least sexy thing in the world.  sex in a pool is like having his colon lined in thick rubber and trying to fit a torpedo in his ass.  he finds mutual blowjobs in the shower are much, much, much more enjoyable.
  5. that victor is a hyper-intelligent being, wanting to stay up late at night debating durkheim and weber and foucault.  victor just wants to stay up late watching bad tv and making jokes, letting yuuri’s mind take a break as he rubs yuuri’s feet and bandages over blisters.  yuuri always expected he would be exhausted by victor nikiforov, man of the world.  instead he is comfortable, cozy, relaxes into him and his hands and their conversations. (he is angry that he took roughly four political theory classes in college just so he could carry a conversation with Dream Victor Nikiforov though). 

This could be one of the most remote ski sites in the world, hidden in the Caucuses mountains, Georgia

In times like these, in which man dominates nature so heavily, untouchedness, wilderness and loneliness are more and more rare. Thus the true values of freeriding also vanish. In times like these, real adventures threaten to be replaced by virtual experiences in front of computer- and TV-displays. But they still exist - the magical places. Winter landscapes of such extraordinary beauty and seclusion, which seemed to be lost. Places that show us what we have lost in the presence of civilization and consumption. A place with this extraordinary charm is the village of Bakhmaro in Georgia. Well hidden at 2,000 meters altitude in the small Caucasus. A village, which due to its inaccessibility rests every year in the deepest winter sleep. Due to a 15 kilometer long pass road and the lack of heavy machinery and snowblowers, this road can not be cleared of snow from October to May. And that in the midst of a region blessed by snowfalls of incredible proportions.

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How to donate food to Standing Rock

Sacred Stone Camp

  • With cold weather approaching, Sacred Stone Camp is in need of firewood, as well as woodstoves, propane and fire extinguishers. Because of lack of solar and wind energy at the camps, burning wood and gas will be the primary source of warmth (for both bodies and cooking) in the winter months. 
  • Supplies as well as donations can be sent to Sacred Stone Camp P.O. Box 1011, Fort Yates, ND 58538 and 202 Main Street, Fort Yates, ND 58538. 
  • Sacred Stone Camp has also created an Amazon wish list to assist you in your purchasing of supplies. A small cast iron logwood stove starts at about $317 (plus shipping), which is less than that new iPhone you’ve been fantasizing about.

Oceti Sakowin Camp

  • Bracing for winter, the Oceti Sakowin Camp has a similar need for propane, heating stoves and cold weather attire, as well as bulk food supplies to be stockpiled for winter, as their current stock of bulk food is dwindling or expiring. 
  • Pick up a few extra cartons of rice or preserved meats on your next Costco trip and ship them to Oceti Sakowin Camp, P.O. Box 298, Cannon Ball, ND 58528 or donate funds directly
  • This advocacy group has created a wish list of supplies, on which hundreds of packages of buffalo jerky are requested along with survival supplies and several camp stoves.

Red Warrior Camp

  • The Red Warrior Camp is fundraising $100,000 through a GoFundMe page that will be used for supplies on the ground for individuals protecting the sacred Mni Sose River in sovereign Lakota Territory.

Individual efforts

  • Individuals and businesses across the country are organizing fundraisers and food drives to donate supplies to Standing Rock. Washington resident Ben Sittingbull has set up a donation page to fill a trailer with thousands of pounds of donated organic food
  • Students and activists near Madison, Wisconsin, activists from Santa Cruz, California, San FranciscoLos Angeles and beyond, as well as Texas-based hot dog restaurant Frankand plenty more concerned people and businesses across the country have volunteered their time and services to collect food and deliver it or ship it to Standing Rock. 
  • All it takes is some time and organization to involve your community in a fundraiser and drive to collect supplies and express solidarity with Standing Rock en masse.

And, of course, you can donate funds directly to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, which will be allocated appropriately to support the on-the-ground efforts. Read more

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Where the World is in the Making, Chapter 2  [Kristanna Homesteader AU]

When homesteader Kristoff Bjorgman advertises for a wife, the woman who arrives is not what he expected. Rated K for now.

Chapter 1 by @upthenorthmountain

Kristoff glanced sideways at the girl—woman—on the wagon seat beside him. She was holding her hat onto her head with one hand and clinging to the bench with the other, squinting ahead as if she was trying to see something more than the wheel ruts of the track and the acres of flat, featureless prairie.

His wife.

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No Eyes, No Tongue, No Fingertips: Story of a Mother’s Love

A few years back, I worked as a nurse in the geriatric unit of the hospital in my hometown. There was one old woman there with pale blue eyes whose mind was still fantastically sharp, and her desire to socialize and make new friends set her apart from most others living in that wing of the facility. That woman and I soon became close for this reason. Her name was Yana, and I still miss her every day since she passed.

The strangest thing about Yana was not her accent (which I could only place vaguely as Eastern European), nor her disinclination to talk about her past (which means I never learned exactly where she had grown up.) No, what fascinated me the most was that a strange young man, badly mutilated and plainly blind and mute, would visit her every single day. His hands appeared deformed, seemingly eroded at each digit down to the first knuckle. But each evening, a little after dinnertime, he would visit and they would sit together. She would read to him, or sometimes sing in her frail, old voice. Sometimes they would just hold hands in silence. Finally, I gathered the courage to ask her about this man, and in a strange moment of openness, she agreed to tell me the story:

“My sister and I were the only surviving members of our family after our father passed away in 1964. These were very hard times for my old country, and Father had grown so sick that we were eventually forced to allow him to starve, rather than waste food to comfort him as he inevitably died. Sister had been losing her mind little-by-little before all this happened, but I could see in her eyes as we buried Father that she had finally gone somewhere far away inside herself. I remember the crows, perched in thick groups like clots of preening black movement, watching us in the cemetery from all of the rooftops. We moved to bury Father quickly, because the crows were as hungry as we were…

Sister took to begging in the streets, sometimes trading sex for rides into the city nearby in the hopes that her begging would be more profitable there. It was during these terrible times that she conceived a son – a bastard whose father was not known to her but who was certainly some manner of predatory monster. This was the only kind of man my sister knew in those days of her life. The child was delivered healthy, happy, and with a glowing spirit that broke my heart because I knew that soon the young boy’s eyes would look like mine, and like my sister’s. Even on the day he was born, I knew his beautiful, joyous innocence could not last.

Sister did not care for her son as she should have – as God and goodness alike demand that a mother should care for her child. She would not change the boy’s soiled diapers, leaving this to me instead, and would ‘forget’ to feed him even when his hungry wailing was ringing shrill and miserable through the whole house. Eventually she began to take him out begging, using the child as a prop with which to elicit the sympathy of strangers. She was most pleased when he looked his worst, and even complained to me once or twice that she could raise no money at all on days that he looked ‘too healthy.’

I can never forget her final act of cruelty against Vasily (I named him myself after Sister could not be bothered.) It was morning, and I had walked outside into our yard to smell the air. The child was lying motionless on the ground there, and seemed quite dead – smeared as he was with his own blood. His little fingers and toes were black with frostbite; Sister had not even bundled him in anything when she laid him down hours ago in the dark of night. The crows, which were as hungry as we were, had plucked his beautiful eyes and tongue from his still-living body. I grabbed him up with tears already pouring down my cheeks, thinking that I had claimed a corpse. It was only when he stirred against my breast that I realized he might be saved.

I swaddled him as warmly as I could, and fed him something before rushing him down to the home of the town’s only doctor. I nearly beat down the front door with my fist, and he answered with sleep still in his eyes because it was so early. I paid him with all of the heirloom jewelry from Mother that I had been able to hide from Sister over the years. An hour or so later, the doctor told me Vasily would live, but asked that he be allowed to monitor the child for the rest of the day. I told him that this would be fine, as today would be a busy day for me. And indeed it was. By evening I had smashed Sister’s head to a flattened pulp with the cast-iron skillet from our stove, obtained a train ticket for passage out of our home country, and made plans to give Vasily the best life that he could still yet have.

Vasily – my son now – knows nothing about any of this, of course. I told him only that he was adopted away from a situation which he was likely not to survive. The mirthful optimism I saw on his face when he was born survives to this day inside his heart. Sister, in all her malice, had only managed to suppress it for a while. And now, almost 50 years later, he still visits his elderly mother every single day.”

She beamed with pride as she finished her story, and would say no more. And she was right, Vasily loved her so much, and wore no resentment on his face for his injuries. He always seemed to be smiling pleasantly even though (in his blindness), he often didn’t know anyone was looking. He visited her every day until she died, and he was holding her hand when she passed. I knew from his interactions with hospital staff that he understood spoken English, and so at Yana’s funeral I told him that I had been a friend of his mother’s. I told him that she was the most amazing, wonderful woman I had ever met. His sad, grateful smile grew deeper, and he nodded his head. His response came in sign language.

“She was.”

Sherlolly Appreciation Week 2017 - Day Five

A/N:  With apologies to Laurie R. King and her book “The Beekeeper’s Apprentice”, from which I have shamelessly stolen the idea of traveling in a Vardo in pursuit of the bad guys.  I’m not completely happy with this, but I’ve run out of time and something is better than nothing, yes?  Also, still unbeta’d because hahaha who needs words to make sense?  Will go up on and Ao3 tomorrow.

ALSO - this is sort of a sequel to last year’s Sherlolly Appreciation Week fic “A Letter to Mary”.  You probably don’t need to read that one to figure out what is going on in this one, though.

Sherlolly Appreciation Week 2017 – Day Five (Canon Compliant – The Abominable Bride)

Another Letter to Mary

My Dearest Mary,

I do not know when this letter will reach you.  Holmes has forbidden me from posting any missives home for the time being. We are traveling incognito; and he does not wish to offer any indication to overly curious eyes that we are in any way connected to the well-known detective stories.  If ever there was a wife who would understand the need for such discretion, it is you, my love.  

As you are aware, Holmes, Hooper and I are on the trail of a small band of murderous men. Another corpse was located in a small hamlet less than half-a-day’s ride from the initial murder.  Holmes suspects the man was in league with the thieves and was deemed a liability for one reason or another.  He thinks the men have begun to turn on one another.  

Speed and stealth are paramount, for Holmes feels more deaths are imminent if the blackguards become aware of our pursuit.  He believes they will be going to ground until such time as it will be safe to fence the item.    

As such, we have abandoned our conspicuous carriage and driver.  Holmes has managed to procure a Vardo—a sort of traveling wagon—from a Romani gentleman, as well as a horse to pull it, and three sets of simple clothing in exchange for a hefty sum.  They have made arrangements for the return of the wagon once our current mission has been fulfilled.  In addition, the man advised Holmes as to the best roads to travel upon and what small villages would be the most accepting of three strange men passing through.    

When next we set off, we were disguised as a set of brothers in route to visit our dear mother some far distance away.

Keep reading

Proposed: Thedas is not a ‘medieval’ setting

I don’t know about you, but when I was first considering the overall state of Thedas, mostly for worldbuilding purposes, I was semi-consciously thinking of it as a fairly typical pseudo-medieval-Europe.  And that’s natural enough, because in Origins, Ferelden really did look like that.  Thatching, half-timbering, nobles in fortified castles, a fairly monolithic church around which much of society was built.

The further you go into the franchise, though, the more problems you encounter with this.  Kirkwall as a city doesn’t give off a particularly medieval vibe, nor does its government.  You have sailing ships that are more advanced than Europe saw in the middle ages, you have the Qunari with their mind-altering drugs and poison gases and explosives, you have a popular novelist.  A popular novelist requires printing presses, paper manufacture, relatively widespread literacy, and fairly complex shipping systems to exist.  The first European novels were published after the medieval period.  Come Inquisition, we have the almost Baroque Orlesians, broadsheet newspapers, and a lot of things most people probably didn’t notice, like cast iron cookstoves and Bianca Davri’s steam-powered thresher.

Here’s the thing.  Okay here’s a lot of things.  I once had pages of notes trying to work this out, and I’ve tried a dozen times to make a post about it, but it’s too much.  I give up being organized.  So here’s some of the things:

  • Ferelden is a poor backwater.  I know, I’m a rabid Fereldan too, but to the rest of Thedas, it is canonically the arse end of nowhere.  It is no more a good example of the overall technological state of Thedas than the hills of my Appalachian home (where people lived without power or indoor plumbing well into the 20th century) in the 19th century were a good indication of the state of things in 19th century Boston, even though they were only a few days’ ride apart.
  • Thedas’ history and development is in no way like the real world.  It’s a place where the world faces a potentially fatal apocalypse ever few hundred years.  Again, the first game is pretty misleading in this regard, because we neatly wrapped up that Blight in, supposedly, a year, without it ever escaping the borders of one country.  The First Blight lasted over a hundred years and ranged across all of Thedas.  Far and away the shortest Blight besides the fifth still lasted 12 years and destroyed entire kingdoms.  That’s five huge periods of world war and cultural destruction.
  • Magic.  I mean, obviously.  Now, the tangible existence of magic and demons in the Dragon Age arguably has a lot to do with the strength of the Chantry, which has set itself up as a protector from these evils, thus providing an excellent excuse to accumulate military power and suppress dissent.  It doesn’t really effect everyday life much for anyone but mages in the Dragon Age–most people have never seen a mage, and only the wealthy can afford enchanted items.  But of the five empires Thedas has seen, only two (dwarves and Qunari) put any emphasis on technology, and the earliest two (Elvhenan and Tevinter) relied very heavily on magic, and thus presumably had very little incentive to develop technology.
  • The Qunari deliberately suppress at least some technological innovations in the south.  Remember your friendly neighborhood dwarf who liked to blow shit up from Awakening?  His name is Dworkin Glavonak.  You meet his cousin Temmerin in DA2 during the Finding Nathaniel questline, and he tells you that Dworkin’s been driven into hiding by the Qunari. (video)  Certainly sheds new light on why no one outside of dwarves seems to have explosives or gunpowder in the south.  Orzammar dwarves may be the exception here because a) they use lyrium in their explosives, thus making them self-limiting due to the restricted access to lyrium, and b) since Orzammar is a closed society and you cannot come in from the outside, the Qun could not easily place spies in Orzammar society anyway.

So let’s look again, not starting from Origins but look back from Inquisition.  And this time when we look, we find a world that

  • has steam technology, albeit very new–steam-powered threshers were invented around the 1850′s
  • has cast iron stoves such as were not invented in our world until the 1850′s
  • has a canonical reason for lacking gunpowder–which, in turn, completely changes the nature of warfare (or more accurately, doesn’t change it, since it’s guns and cannons that put an end to armor and swords and siege weapons)
  • clearly has printing presses, even if we don’t see them, because there are popular, cheaply printed novels and broadsheet publications and banned book lists

And it’s not quite all from later games, either.  Branka was made a paragon for the invention of ‘smokeless coal’–which isn’t actually a thing in itself but rather a process which removes the impurities from the coal so that it then burns cleaner.  Which, as far as I can ascertain, is a process that was developed during, you guessed it, the 1800′s.

Now, I’m not trying to excuse all the inconsistencies in technology or claim that the devs did a good job of following through on all the implications of things they stuck into Thedas.  Frankly, I think it’s a weak point in their worldbuilding.  BUT it’s really going to keep not making any sense if you try to insist that the setting is more-or-less-medieval-Europe.  In fact, I think it’s futile to try to match Thedas up to any period of real-world development, partly because Thedas’ history is just too wildly different, and partly because a lot of the worldbuilding is done by sticking a bunch of cultures into a blender and picking out what they like.  But if you start thinking about it as a place where technology has continued to develop in places to something roughly congruent to the western world in the 1850′s, but with none of the socioeconomic conditions that created the Industrial Revolution, you might be a bit closer.

My brain in a nutshell
  • Brain: *Normal stuff*
  • Brain: You must have that fan on at night
  • Brain: HOT PEOPLE
  • Brain: *boring lectures repeating themselves*
  • Brain: What if your whole family died
  • Brain: Stab yourself? With that knife?
  • Brain: *seagull noises*
  • Brain: Everyone you love will die and so will you and you will be forgotten like you never existed and you make so many mistakes and you'll never succeed in your career because you're too ugly and pathetic and lose some weight you fatty and you have no clue why you were born and you're so fucked up but it's all in your head and your life means nothing because you will die in the close future and most of the time you wish you never existed and you can't physically cry because you're so fucked up you're used to it and you're an attention seeker and a liar and you have every reason to be self conscious you're ugly as fuck and everyone is judging you and you don't care about any of that because you will die anyway so what's the point of even living like a human being with emotions and you are extremely scared of when you'll die and you're wasting your life and you are so insignificant in the human race and the human race is a speck of nothingness in the universe and nothing really matters
  • Brain: Lol memes
  • Brain: Push that lady in front of a bus it'll be fun
  • Brain: *loses interest in all activities you like*
  • Brain: Now that you've touched it with your right hand you have to do your left hand too you just gotta
  • Brain: Kill someone
  • Brain: I wonder what Misha Collins is doing
  • Brain: Put your hand on that hot iron
  • Brain: Is the stove off? Is the door locked? Better check
  • Brain: No sleeping must stay up on Tumblr
  • Brain: BUT WHAT IF-
  • Me: What the fuck what the fuck what the fuck what the fuck what the fuck what the fuck what the fuck what the fuck what the fuck what the fuck what the fu
Chased by the Hunter, Saved by the Wolves ||closed||


When he woke early one morning, when the dew still dotted the glass on his window and the sun had barely peeked through the trees, he had no idea the life as he knew it would change forever in a few short hours. He sat up in bed, stretched his arms widely and slid onto the floor of the quaint and small wooden cabin. His clothes lay over the worn wooden chair next to the even more worn wooden desk and he was quick to change from his night clothes into his greet tunic, laced with brown leather straps and black trousers which tucked into his boots.

The door creaked as he opened it into the modest main room of the home, where Ada stood tirelessly at the cast iron stove, the smell of rabbit stew filling the air. Helden was nowhere to be found.

“Morning, child,” The blonde-haired elf greeted pleasantly. Noticing his attire, she remarked, “Leaving already?”

He nodded, with a small smile. “I saw a thicket of berry bushes about a mile away yesterday when me and Helden were out gathering wood. I figured I’d go pick some.”

Ada frowned a bit. “Alright. Just don’t go too far.” She said, concern on her voice. “I’ll save you some food for when you get back.”

She leaned over and kissed his head, earning a smile, before he grabbed his rucksack and headed out, through the small farm’s fields and into the woods.

He would never see Ada or Helden again.


The shout of the afternoon drunkards was only silence by the god-awful screeching of a fiddle and tone-deafness of a pub singer in the corner. Gornan chugged at his beer as he waited for his client to arrive. It wasn’t an easy life, being a spy. One needed to cut through all the drivel and dregs of normal, everyday conversation about crop tending and which king had seized what power to find the really good stuff. But he was confident he had found something worth a heavy price.

He finally saw his client enter. He never discovered his name. Names were not important to him as long as he got paid. He flagged the scruffed, travel worn man down, sliding the half-empty bottle of cheap ale across to him.

“Got a nice lil bit o’ new for ye,” He slurred, halfway there to being an afternoon drunk himself. “A lil birdie told me tha’ our friends out in t’e Hunt are mighty restless these passed few days. Stormin through a forest nearby, lookin’ for somethin’. Or rather, someone.” He baited his hook, now all he had to do was wait for the bite.

Sometimes Nico looks at their house appliances as if they have personally insulted him. He’ll grumble and decide not to use them all the sudden. Will used to think it was just him not understanding the microwave, but he soon realized that they were memories. Of a time with no microwaves but big iron stoves.

He sometimes talks about what little he remembers. How the whole house would smell like dinner hours before it was served. How the vacuum cleaner made so much noise Bianca would use it to scare him. How the water was always freezing whenever he bathed.

Their little town in Italy was not a big city, and the comforts of electric stoves and regular plumbing didn’t reach them before they fled to the states. So now, surrounded by so many comforts he can’t help but feel like he exchanged his mother’s and Bianca’s lives for a microwave.

When Will figured it out he decided a change was in order, and he managed to find a rural vacation house right in the middle of nowhere: with deficitary plumbing and pots and pans probably older than Nico himself.

Nico laughed, teared up and finally kissed him. They spent the next week burning food, freezing their asses off when they went for firewood and cuddling in front of the fireplace.


 The Interior of 27 rue de Fleurus   (images: +

“It was easy to get into the habit of stopping in at 27 rue de Fleurus for warmth and the great pictures and the conversation.”  

 ~Ernest Hemingway - A Movable Feast


Description from Wiki:  "27 rue de Fleurus is the location of the former home of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas on the Left Bank of Paris. It was also the home of Leo Stein for a time in the early nineteen-hundreds. It was a renowned Saturday evening gathering place for both expatriate American artists and writers and others noteworthy in the world of vanguard arts and letters, most notably Pablo Picasso. In the early decades of the century, hundreds of visitors flocked to the display of vanguard modern art, many came to scoff, but several went away converted.

Entrée into the Stein salon was a sought-after validation, and Stein became combination mentor, critic, and guru to those who gathered around her, including Ernest Hemingway, who described the salon in A Moveable Feast. The principal attraction was the collection of Paul Cézanne oils and watercolors and the early pictures by Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso which Gertrude and Leo had had the funds and the foresight to buy. The walls of their atelier at 27 rue de Fleurus were hung to the ceiling with now-famous paintings, the double doors of the dining room were lined with Picasso sketches. On a typical Saturday evening one would have found Gertrude Stein at her post in the atelier, garbed in brown corduroy, sitting in a high-backed Renaissance chair, her legs dangling, next to the big cast-iron stove that heated the chilly room. A few feet away, Leo Stein would expound to a group of visitors his views on modern art.

In 1933, Stein published a kind of memoir of her Paris years, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, written in the voice of Toklas, her life partner. The book became a literary bestseller and vaulted Stein from the relative obscurity of cult literary figure into the light of mainstream attention.

The gatherings in the Stein home “brought together confluences of talent and thinking that would help define modernism in literature and art.” Dedicated attendees included Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Guillaume Apollinaire, Sinclair Lewis, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Thornton Wilder, Juan Gris, Sherwood Anderson, Francis Cyril Rose, René Crevel, Élisabeth de Gramont, Francis Picabia, Claribel Cone, Mildred Aldrich, Carl Van Vechten and Henri Matisse. Saturday evenings had been set as the fixed day and time for formal congregation so Stein could work at her writing uninterrupted by impromptu visitors. It was Stein’s partner Alice who became the de facto hostess for the wives and girlfriends of the artists in attendance, who met in a separate room.

Gertrude herself attributed the beginnings of the Saturday evening salons to Matisse, as

 "[m]ore and more frequently, people began visiting to see the Matisse paintings—and the Cézannes: “Matisse brought people, everybody brought somebody, and they came at any time and it began to be a nuisance, and it was in this way that Saturday evenings began.”

Among Picasso’s acquaintances who frequented the Saturday evenings were: Fernande Olivier (Picasso’s mistress), Georges Braque (artist), André Derain (artist), Max Jacob(poet), Guillaume Apollinaire (poet), Marie Laurencin (artist, and Apollinaire’s mistress), Henri Rousseau (painter), and Joseph Stella.“  via: wiki

See high-res.   Imagine.  :)


Barbie Doll
This girlchild was born as usual
and presented dolls that did pee-pee
and miniature GE stoves and irons
and wee lipsticks the color of cherry candy.
Then in the magic of puberty, a classmate said:
You have a great big nose and fat legs.

She was healthy, tested intelligent,
possessed strong arms and back,
abundant sexual drive and manual dexterity.
She went to and fro apologizing.
Everyone saw a fat nose on thick legs.

She was advised to play coy,
exhorted to come on hearty,
exercise, diet, smile and wheedle.
Her good nature wore out
like a fan belt.
So she cut off her nose and her legs
and offered them up.

In the casket displayed on satin she lay
with the undertaker’s cosmetics painted on,
a turned-up putty nose,
dressed in a pink and white nightie.
Doesn’t she look pretty? everyone said.
Consummation at last.
To every woman a happy ending.

Marge Piercy :

A Life Revealed

Along Afghanistan’s War-torn Frontier
National Geographic magazine, June 1985

By Debra Denker
Photographs by Steve McCurry

I WILL NEVER KNOW THIS WOMAN’S NAME. Among Afghan villagers it is the custom for women not to tell their names to strangers. On this cold November night she is busily preparing food for the six mujahidin, Afghan freedom fighters, who have escorted me across the Pakistani border to Afghanistan’s embattled Paktia Province and into this small village in the Jaji region.

But in the darkness and snows of December, sometime around the fifth anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, she will give birth to her tenth child. If the child comes in the safety of the night, it will be born here, in this earthen house warmed by an iron stove. If her baby comes in the day, she is likely to be in the damp bomb shelter hewn into the ground under the fields outside the village, her birth pangs accompanied, perhaps, by the roar of jets and bombs.

She pauses to pour me a glass of steaming black tea. “When the planes come, I can’t run very fast to the bomb shelter any more,” she says. “I am too big and heavy. What can I do?” She speaks in a lilting accent, the rhythms of her native Pashtu carrying over into the Dari, or Afghan Persian, that she learned in Kabul before the war.

Few families remain in this region, where frequent bombings have destroyed both villages and crops as the Russians attempt to close this important route to the interior. Most of those who remain share food and shelter with the mujahidin (“holy warriors”) who pass through, many from across the frontier in Pakistan.

When an April 1978 coup brought a Marxist regime to power in Kabul, armed resistance began within months. The conflict was both nationalistic and religious, but devout Muslims regarded it as a jihad, or holy war. By December 1979 the central government was in danger of collapse, and in a three-day operation beginning on Christmas Eve, thousands of Soviet troops invaded the country, claiming to have been invited under the terms of a 1978 friendship treaty. While the invasion was still in press, President Hafizullah Amin was executed and replaced by Babrak Karmal, a political rival Moscow summoned back from Czechoslovakia, where he had been sent as Afghan ambassador.

Soviet troops, estimated at about 80,000 in 1980, now number more than 100,000. They have mounted frequent offensives to stamp out resistance, at great cost in lives to Afghan civilians. The economy has also been damaged. The 1984 harvest in eastern Afghanistan was less than half that of 1978, and prices of many staple foods have tripled.

BUT THE MOST VISIBLE effect of the war has been the flight of the Afghan people, a multilingual population of mixed tribes and ethnic groups, from their homeland. One-quarter of Afghanistan’s prewar population of about 15 million has been forced into exile in neighboring Pakistan and Iran. At least another million are “internal refugees,” driven from their homes by bombing and other military action. An unknown number have been killed or wounded.

After more than five years the war remains in a violent stalemate. The mujahidin claim to control as much as 80 percent of the countryside, while Soviet troops and an army of Afghan conscripts defend parts of major cities, a few main roads, and fortified posts in some rural areas.

Abdul Wahed (not his real name), husband of the pregnant woman in this Jaji village, comes in out of the cold and darkness, letting in a gust of icy wind. The light of his lantern reveals the graceful geometric designs his children have daubed on the walls with the red earth of the mountains.

“This house we have built new in the past two years, after our other house was bombed,” Abdul Wahed explains. “This area is free as far as the Communist post at Ali Khel, but the planes come and bomb the villages nearly every day. They are trying to drive us all to Pakistan, so no one is left to feed the mujahidin.” Rolling up the sleeve of his long shirt, he shows me a deep puckered scar on his upper arm: “I was wounded two years ago and was three months in a hospital in Pakistan. By the grace of God I recovered, and now my brother and I take turns going out to fight.”

After dinner Abdul Wahed’s wife sits down next to me, adjusts her veil over her shiny dark braids, and pours me another glass of tea. She is happy to talk to me, as it has been a long time since the family has had a female guest. Around me the children prepare for the night. A fluffy gray kitten slumbers under the stove, and for a moment I forget that we are in a land at war.

JUST AFTER DAWN the rumble of distant artillery fire shatters the frosted crystal morning. To my surprise, no one reacts. They have grown used to the sounds of war. But Abdul Wahed’s eldest son, a handsome quick-minded boy of about 12, begins drawing on the side of the black metal stove with apiece of chalk: a jet, looking rather like a paper plane, and short dashes representing the bombs it drops.

My escorts take a chance, and we cross the open valley by day. Walking through the wide, flat valley is like walking in a bad dream of a deserted land. At this time of year the land is all gray and brown, except where odd patches of snow lie, and the trees are bare but for a few limp yellow leaves. Large bomb craters pock fields that this year bore no harvest. In deserted villages a few houses stand among heaps of rubble.

I walk with the two men who have been specially detailed to accompany me by Syed Ishaq Gailani, a mujahidin commander who has for several years been a close friend of my family. One of the fighters, Bahram Jan, is perhaps 40, a big man with a commanding voice who used to buy cars in Kabul and sell them in Jaji. He is a font of war stories: These ruins were an Afghan government post till the mujahidin took it last year. Over there, in the field, are three tanks the mujahidin destroyed. And don’t step back for that photograph, the area is mined!

His friend Mustafa’s manner is quieter, though at 29 he has been a fighter for six years. He is a Tajik from Jalalabad, a city on the road from Kabul to Pakistan. Until he joined the mujahidin, he was a clerk in a government ministry in Kabul.

On this dusty dirt road, one of the main supply routes of the mujahidin, we pass several parties of men coming from distant fronts. They exchange greetings with my companions and stop for a few moments to tell news of Kabul, or Kunduz in the north. Near the battlefields the mujahidin seem relaxed, unconcerned with the rivalries and disunity that plague Afghan parties in exile in Pakistan. Later Bahram Jan will tell me the story of Commander Mohammed Naim, from the nearby village of Ali Khel, who one week before had been severely wounded while leading an attack that had resulted in the capture of 50 Afghan government soldiers. Naim belongs to a different party, but, says Bahram Jan, everyone loves the legendary young hero who began fighting when he did not yet have a beard.

Outside a village, near a bomb crater, we talk to a group of battle-weary men from Kabul. The bombing is on the other side of Ali Khel today, one says stoically, but just two days ago this area was heavily bombed. Round a bend in the middle of the road are the fly-encrusted remains of a camel. “See, they are killing even the animals,” says Mustafa angrily, “everything that they see, everything that can feed the mujahidin or carry supplies for us.”

In the refugee camps of Pakistan I had heard reports of destruction of food supplies, and of fears of a famine in the spring. Refugees from the Panjsher Valley, a center of resistance, told me how their walnut and mulberry trees were systematically cut down by the enemy during Soviet offensives. Here in the unplanted fields of Jaji I see the confirmation of these stories.

Farther on, in another village, a gray and-white cat prowls delicately along the top of a ruined wall. In a roofless room a carved wooden chest lies askew on a tilted floor. Under our feet are bedposts, scattered grain, and a single shoe, very small.

The mujahidin climb up a rickety ladder to the upper floor of the ruined mosque. Though the back wall gapes and half the floor is missing, the mosque is still sacred, and someone has strewn fresh straw on the floor. In the shadow of carved wooden columns, the men turn away from the destruction behind them, face the niche that marks the direction of Mecca, and pray.

Later, in a field of grass stubble under an opalescent autumn sky, we find shattered pieces of dull green plastic, one with a detonator still attached. These are the remains of small mines shaped like butterflies, which can take off the hand or foot of an unwary person or injure livestock. Designed to maim, they are scattered from helicopters on inhabited areas and important routes. Many Afghans have learned to explode the mines, usually by throwing stones from a safe distance. But two weeks later, in a Pakistani border town, I will watch a doctor bandage the mangled hand of a scarlet-veiled woman from Jaji who had been unwary enough to pick up the strange green plastic object.

THE SUN is nearly on the edge of the sharp, snow-covered peaks and ridges that mark the far limits of the valley when Mustafa stops and points to a cluster of nondescript mud buildings on a hilltop about a kilometer away. The fort at Ali Khel appears deserted, but inside are Afghan government soldiers and some Soviet officers. Mustafa tells me to stay behind the wall, out of direct line of sight and fire. “Every night the mujahidin attack the post,” he says. “We will be in a rain of bullets. Do you want to go with us?”

After dark we make our way to the house of a man loyal to my friends’ party. Mustafa is relieved that the man’s family has not yet left for exile in Pakistan. At night, he says only half-jokingly, mujahidin factions are less trustful of one another.

A couple of hours later the attack on the government post begins, and Bahram Jan leads me up the stairs to the square tower with a picture-window view of fiery parabolas of tracer bullets arcing from the mountainsides toward the mud fort. The fighting goes on for hours in the frosty night, the mujahidin firing Kalashnikov automatic rifles and a heavy machine gun or two at the solid walls of the fort, the enemy post answering with machine guns, mortar fire, and occasional flares. The 120 rounds issued to each of my escorts will not last the night, and some must be conserved for the journey back to Pakistan. They cannot aim for victory, only for harassment.

Over the past five years 325 million dollars in covert U.S. aid has reportedly been channeled to the mujahidin, mostly in the form of smuggled Soviet-made small arms, along with a few antitank missiles and SAM-7 antiaircraft missiles. But there are questions as to how much of this aid has actually arrived inside Afghanistan. Commander Abdullah of Helmand Province said with more passion than realism: “We fight tanks with Kalashnikovs. Nowhere else in the world do they do this. Send us antiaircraft guns, and the mujahidin, with the help of God, would get the Russians out within one year.” Certainly there are few effective antiaircraft weapons. The surface-to-air missiles are notoriously unreliable. When asked about the SAM-7, Ishaq Gailani grimaced. He and other mujahidin representatives would prefer portable, lightweight British or Swedish missiles.

At 3 a.m. we leave the battle behind and by the light of a crescent moon file silently up a riverbed that cleaves the rugged mountains. At dawn the Muslim call to prayer sounds from the village, now well behind us. The gunfire, which had continued unabated, stops. The mujahidin, and perhaps the government soldiers inside the walls of the fort, are now at prayer.

In this narrow, uncultivated valley some of Afghanistan’s internal refugees have built crude houses of earth, wood, and stone. They live on what they have salvaged from their fields or imported from nearby Pakistan. It is still early when the roar of the first jet fills the sky. Though it is high overhead, we scatter, hiding under scrawny pine trees, covering our heads and bodies with pattu, camel-colored blankets that blend with the earth tones of the land. The noise of bombing echoes through the brown and snow-whitened hills. Beside me, Mustafa’s face is grim and set.

IN THE LATE AFTERNOON we reach a house high in the mountains. I am invited to sit with the men, and I join them in the nightly ritual of listening to the BBC World Service for news of the outside world and news of their own war. Entering the separate women’s world when it is time to sleep, I read, in Persian, a poem called “Autumn of Blood,” by Afghanistan’s Ustad Khalilullah Khalili:

Each red leaf in the meadow
Reminds me of those killed for
the homeland…

When I return to Pakistan, I learn that the United Nations General Assembly has passed yet another resolution calling for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan. The Soviet Union has ignored five previous resolutions, claiming that they constitute interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs.

In a refugee camp at Sateen, not far from the Afghan border, I find some of the last people to flee from Ali Sangi, the village where the gray-and-white cat walked along the ruined wall. Against the counterpoint of a nearby wedding, where women chant and bang hand drums, the survivors recount their stories.

Hazrat Bibi is probably in her 40s, but her face is thin and worn with grief and the trauma of her journey with six children into exile. She breaks into tears at the memory of her husband, killed only a month before.

As the men gather, she turns away toward the wall, hiding her face from them but always watching me. Akbar Khan, a middle-aged man who used to be a farmer and a driver in Kabul, speaks for himself and his village. “We came here about a month ago. Now there is not a single family living in Ali Sangi. Everything was destroyed, everything inside the houses, our clothes and possessions buried under the earth, our children buried under the earth.”

PESHAWAR, capital of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province, homeland of the Pashtun, or Pathan, tribes that inhabit the border areas of both Afghanistan and Pakistan, has two faces. The old face is that of an exotic crossroads, a wild frontier town near the foot of the Khyber Pass. The modern face is that of a noisy, congested, polluted city that is estimated to have doubled in size in five years since the Soviet invasion.

Some say that Peshawar is now the largest Afghan city outside Kabul. Most of Pakistan’s refugee population of about three million is concentrated in this province, though refugees are settled in a long crescent from Chitral in the rugged Hindu Kush range of northern Pakistan to the deserts of Baluchistan Province.

In August 1984 all mujahidin party offices were ordered out of Peshawar because of an escalating climate of violence, including bombings of the offices and attempted assassinations of prominent Afghans. Mujahidin and Pakistani intelligence sources blame much of the violence on the Afghan government intelligence service, but it is also true that there are ongoing feuds between mujahidin factions, some of which occasionally spill over onto the battlefield. Now based just outside the city limits are a number of political parties regarded by Western observers as moderate. Its leaders, though seeking an Islamic government for Afghanistan, have closer ties to the West than the opposing group of fundamentalist parties.

Many disillusioned mujahidin say that the parties fail either to supply arms or to achieve political unity. “I will join whatever party gives me arms,” said one fighter in Baluchistan. “I am here in this refugee camp only because no party will give me arms.” Some mujahidin look hopefully toward leadership evolving inside Afghanistan, such as the loose “internal alliance” of young regional commanders who communicate and coordinate by courier.

Beyond the refugee camps that fringe Peshawar is the Khyber Pass, the historic passage between the uplands of Central Asia and the plains of the Indo-Pakistani subcontinent. Today the Khyber, except for a strip 50 feet (15 meters) wide on either side of the road administered by the Pakistani government, remains under the control of local Pashtun tribes. Tribal areas are generally off-limits to foreigners, but photographer Steve McCurry and I get special permission from the governor. We are accompanied by two local officials and an escort of 15 khassadars, members of a tribal militia. The officials grow increasingly nervous as the afternoon wanes. They inform us that if we do not reach the settled districts by dusk, the government cannot answer for our safety.

On the way through the pass, on a winding dirt road beyond the limits of government control, a pickup truck bounces along in a cloud of dust, while a train of camels lopes on unconcerned. They may be smuggling cloth, untaxed cigarettes, whiskey, or raw opium to be processed into heroin. Pakistan, despite government efforts to reduce poppy growing, is among the world’s major exporters of heroin. Much of the opium, 400 metric tons in 1983, comes from beyond the border in Afghanistan, where it is the most profitable remaining cash crop. Before the Islamic revolution in Iran, most opium was exported to Iran. With that market restricted, growers have set up labs in Pakistan, and more recently inside Afghanistan, to make more profitable heroin for export to the West. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, most of it passes by the town of Landi Kotal, near the head of the Khyber Pass.

Poppy cultivation is a tradition in certain families, and a source of income tribesmen are reluctant to give up. In previous years, both in Afghanistan and in Pakistani tribal areas, I saw fields of poppies, which many here referred to jokingly as “tulips.”

THERE IS A CHANGE in the air in Peshawar this year, and I sense a turning point. Pakistan is saturated with refugees, and compassion is drying up. Pakistanis, who opened their country in the name of Muslim hospitality and the Pashtun tradition of panah, or asylum, are now faced with the largest refugee population in the world.

Despite the number of refugees and their length of stay, there has been little tension between refugees and locals. These refugees are the freest in the world. They are allowed to come and go, even to work and trade, as long as they own no immovable property. Nonetheless, there are anxieties about the long-term effect of so many refugees on the culture, economy, and security of Pakistan. The administration of 2.4 million registered refugees, at a cost of a million dollars a day, is an enormous undertaking. The Pakistani government says it pays nearly half the cost of refugee assistance, with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other countries and international agencies absorbing the rest. The United States is the largest contributor to the UNHCR program in Pakistan (some 20 million dollars in 1984).

Each refugee is supposed to receive a daily ration of 500 grams of wheat, 30 grams of edible oil, 30 grams of dried skim milk, 20 grams of sugar, and 3 grams of tea. Each family is allotted 20 liters of kerosene monthly. In theory, a cash allowance of 50 rupees (about four U.S. dollars) per person per month is also provided, though in fact it is rarely received.

Most who arrived before 1984 have been officially registered and receive close to their allotted rations. Older camps have become sprawling villages as refugees have built houses out of earth, as in their native villages. Though idleness still plagues the camps, where there are many farmers without land, shepherds without flocks, and shopkeepers without shops, some men have found work on the roads, in refugee-camp bazaars, or driving three-wheeled taxis leased from Pakistanis or buses and trucks brought from Afghanistan.

At the time of my visit, in late 1984, new arrivals typically faced delays of as long as four months in registration and issue of rations. The reason for the delay, according to Pakistani refugee officials, was the process of recounting previously registered refugees. For example, on the theory that children are too guileless to exaggerate the number of family members, teams of checkers questioned children from each family. They uncovered cases of double registration and instances in which more family members were claimed than actually exist.

New arrivals, hungry and dazed from their long and dangerous journey across the border, often could not comprehend the reason for the delay. A group of 150 families from Baghlan, in Afghanistan’s north, had walked for more than a month. Now they camped by the huge Kachaghari refugee camp outside Peshawar under makeshift tents made of blankets. For another month they waited until the provincial Commissionerate for Afghan Refugees sent them to a camp for newcomers. In Munda camp, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) from Peshawar, 380 families from Baghlan and Kunduz shared 180 tents. At Khapianga, on a desert hillside in Kurram Agency, 700 families from Jaji camped in borrowed tents or bought ragged ones, their only water source a tiny spring that was in danger of drying up.

Poverty does not diminish Afghan hospitality. In Munda, refugees offered to kill and roast a sheep for us; in Khapianga, I ate flat wheat bread and tasteless spinach with an impoverished woman, who then offered to cook me an egg; outside Peshawar, I drank weak, sugarless black tea with a group of women who had arrived from Kabul the night before and were camped on the bare ground among the mattresses, blankets, and pots that were their only remaining possessions.

THE GREAT MAJORITY of Afghan refugees in the North-West Frontier Province are Pashtuns, a robust, handsome people. In the camps of the north, near Chitral, are light-skinned Tajiks from Panjsher Valley, Badakhshis from the high Hindu Kush, and rugged, sharp-faced Nuristanis. In Baluchistan are more Pashtuns, the Baluch, and the Mongol-featured Hazara. In many camps one encounters Turkic-speaking Uzbeks and Turkomans from the north. One of the best places to see the variety of Afghans is Peshawar’s famous Qissa Khawani Bazaar, the “storytellers bazaar.” Here the tales were once of caravans and trade, of wandering saints, poets, and holy men, but now all the stories, among Afghans at least, are of war and survival.

Near Qissa Khawani, down the narrow lane of the gold bazaar and across from the delicate mosque of Mahabat Khan, is an even narrower lane that leads to Murad Market, the heart of the refugee bazaar. Perhaps half the shops here are rented by Afghans, mostly carpet sellers, silversmiths, and dealers in antique goods. Here young Syed Sher Agha sells antique silver jewelry from his tiny shop. On the wall is a small, framed, formal black-and-white portrait of a young man in a turban—Sher’s eldest brother, a mujahidin commander killed in battle near Jalalabad in 1982, at the age of 20.

One day I accompany Sher and his younger brother to their camp, where I am welcomed by their mother and two young aunts. They have lived here for three years but have been unable to build a mud house because the camp lies on sand. Unable to satisfy the Afghan urge to build, they have satisfied the twin urge to beautify by planting gardens; tall reeds create an illusion of privacy, and marigolds and sweet basil color and scent the refugees’ small plot.

While his young wife cooks outside the tent, pulling her yellow-embroidered black veil over her face modestly, Sher tells me of his wedding, only three months ago, to this girl who lived in the tent next door. “There was no music,” says Sher, “because we are still in mourning for my brother.” Sher’s mother brings out a tattered copy of a mujahidin magazine and shows me a picture of her fallen son. I remember Sher’s words: “There is not one family that has not eaten the bitterness of this war.”

Abdul Ali, 12 went out to play one morning, stepped on a mine, and lost both his legs at the thigh. He sits in his wheelchair at the orthopedic center of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Peshawar, laughing and badgering me for a picture. Later I hear that he has learned to walk on the two small artificial limbs the center made for him and has returned to Afghanistan.

Simeen Musharaf, widowed mother of four children, is a teacher at a girls school in Nasir Bagh camp. When she was fleeing Afghanistan, she stepped on a mine and lost one leg. She was refused admission to Afghan hospitals on grounds that her husband, then in prison and later executed, was a “terrorist.”

Five teachers teach 350 girls, crowded under a large tent. The mud roof of the school building has fallen in because of heavy rain one night several months before. The colorful maps of Afghanistan and the world, which someone has carefully painted on the walls, are sadly mud-streaked.

AT THE NEARBY widows camp I visit with Noor Jehan, whom I had met the year before. On the orders of the provincial refugee commission, several men are busy building a high mud wall around the camp to screen the widows from the eyes of men. I ask the officials why these workmen are not rebuilding the roof of the girls school instead of a purdah wall, but my question is left unanswered.

Noor Jehan, a sprightly widow with bright eyes, expressive face, and hennaed gray hair, runs to embrace me. “Life is much more difficult this year,” she tells me. “Now my daughter is also a widow, and all her children are here. We are 16 people living on seven people’s rations.” She leads me to her tent and introduces me to Noor Taj, her eldest daughter. Eagerly the women make sweet milk tea for me and insist that I drink several cups. I know this is a sacrifice, using up their precious rations of dried skim milk and sugar, but in courtesy I may not refuse.

Noor Taj has her mother’s strong face and forthright manner: “What could we bring, coming on foot? Nothing but a few things we could carry on our heads. We were forced to come, because the unbelievers come into our houses to take away the boys, and open our cupboards, and take away little girls by the hair. How could we live like that?”

IN A HOSPITAL BED in Lahore, far, from the Afghan border, lies Commander Mohammed Naim, age 22. It is not hot on this late November day, but Naim is sweating with the effort of his body to fight off the effects of its injuries, and his voice is weak and halting. One side of his face is wounded by the artillery shell that took away his left leg and broke his right leg and left arm during an attack on the fort at Ali Khel. He was carried on horseback to Pakistan. “By the grace of God, I had no pain at all during the journey,” he tells me. “Everything I have done, I have done for our faith.”

A few days later I deliver a letter to Naim’s father, Khan Mohammed, who lives in a camp in Kohat District. We listen to a cassette of my interview with Naim, while men and children gather in the small oblong guesthouse. Someone brings in a pot of green tea and a bowl of walnuts. When it is time to go, Khan Mohammed insists I take a sackful of walnuts. “These are from our own trees, in the homeland.” Not long before Naim was wounded, he explains, his two mujahidin sons had gone to their home village and picked as many walnuts as they could, practically under the eyes of the Soviet and Afghan soldiers in the fort at Ali Khel. “When we taste these,” Khan Mohammed says, “we remember our home.”

In a mujahidin training camp near the border I meet two Soviet defectors. Like most of their mujahidin counterparts, Garik Moradovich Dzhamalbekov and Nikolai Vasilovich Balabanov are young, in their early- to mid-20s.

I do not at first recognize them as Russians, as they wear Afghan dress. A mujahidin commander orders them to come closer. I look into their wary faces and sense that they do not want this interview; they have seen too many journalists. They speak Persian but tell me they prefer to speak Russian through a mujahidin interpreter.

Both men were born in Soviet Central Asia. Garik, a light-complexioned, bearded man, is a Tajik from Dushanbe, the capital of the Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic; broad-featured Nikolai, half Kazakh and half Russian, is from Alma Ata, capital of the Kazakh S.S.R. Eyes downcast, they chain-smoke as they narrate their story. “They said we would fight Americans, Chinese, and Pakistanis,” says Nikolai.

After some months they began supplying weapons to the mujahidin, because it was “a bad war, a dirty war,” according to Garik. They were caught and jailed, but escaped and deserted to the mujahidin.

Under some willow trees by a stream, former enemies sit side by side with me, sharing an incongruous picnic lunch of unleavened bread and a tomato omelet. The two defectors, who speak to me in Persian when we are left alone, have heard that several Soviet soldiers have gone to England and the United States, and they are hoping Canada or the United States will accept them. They have made a cruel and difficult choice, from which there is no turning back. “We were happy as children,” Garik says, “but then we grew up.”

MOST OF THE TRAINEES in this camp are little more than boys. Enthusiastically they run through the dusty obstacle course, climb swinging ladders, rappel down cliffs, scale sheer walls, and run through fire, their plastic shoes falling off as they leap. They are laughing, enjoying this game, but in a moment of quiet they gather round to talk and become serious, speaking of families left behind in Afghanistan and of their commitment to the jihad.

On another occasion, I visit this rugged spot with Ishaq Gailani. At 32, this charismatic young leader is revered by his followers as much for his reputation for honesty and bravery in battle as for his membership in a family of hereditary religious leaders.

Ishaq Gailani has spent much time at many fronts and tells me he hopes to go back again soon. As we watch the men receiving instruction on captured Soviet weapons, I ask him the meaning of the black flag that flies over the camp.

“When the Prophet and his companions used to go to jihad, they carried black flags, because war is not a good thing,” he explains. “When we go to jihad today, it’s not because we want to fight, but because we are compelled to fight for the sake of Islam, and for the freedom of Afghanistan.”

As a heavy dusk deepens over the craggy hills, a muezzin’s voice calls the men to prayer, and once again the mujahidin put aside their study of war. The holy warriors, Ishaq among them, spread their pattu on the ground, their weapons before them, and stand and bow and stand again. In the silence I feel their strong and quiet faith, and wish only for a swift and happy end to the struggle forced upon them.