Wednesday, 1 May 2019

The Seed

Once, there was a girl named Elhira and she was beautiful, so beautiful her mother hid her away in the darkest rooms of the house in fear that the forest wights would see her and curse her, or the Gods would steal her away for their own. She grew up in darkness, cared for by her family and doted upon by her mother who refused her nothing save her greatest wish; to go outside and feel the sun on her face.
Elhira’s mother taught her about the gods, the spirits in the forest, which was a wild, dangerous place; full of twisted ever changing pathways, just as it is today. It was easy to fall prey to the old Forest God and his children, or to the beasts that lived under the trees. People, foolish people, would go out into the forest and try to leave a trail so that they could find their way home.  But nothing worked. Trails of pebbles failed, marking the trees with charcoal and tying linen around the trunks failed, in fact all the ways the ancient people tried failed. The forest became a dark, forbidding place where they refused to tread.
But the forest would not leave the village alone, predators crept from the trees to hunt the villager’s; animals and packs of monkeys would run out and steal everything from food to beer to something else and sometimes they even made off with the villagers’ children, bearing them back to the trees. Those children never returned; but their spirits lingered on in the forest as wights bound in service to the forest god, haunting their loved ones.
Elhira’s mother told her all of this and how jealous the wights and the gods were; how they desired the things humans had. She told her stories of how Biranda the Sun Goddess hunted beautiful boys, taking them in her arms for a brief, fatal embrace; how Ontaro the Moon God had cursed the man who had stolen the secrets of fire, hounding him until he was insane because he was jealous of his power. She taught her ways to placate the Gods; the two would make offerings of their blood when the moon was right. With their men they would offer fruit and meat when the harvest came.
When Elhira became a woman, her mother knew she had no choice but to allow her to walk in the village. The years in darkness had not dimmed the girl’s beauty; she had only become lovelier as she aged with strong long legs and arms, and a tight waist. Her bosom was small, but pert. What stood out most about the girl though were her eyes, because whilst everybody else had dark brown eyes, hers were a brilliant green, verdant as the forest the villagers both feared and worshipped.
When the girl first stepped out of the house her mother accompanied her; her flinty gaze silenced most of the men before they could make the foolish comments they thought would impress her. After a few weeks the village had grown so used to Elhira, both women felt she would be safe if she went out into the village alone.
But the girl was not safe, eyes deep in the forest watched her. News filtered back to the Forest God that a young woman lived in the village; the loveliest woman ever seen near the forest. He stirred himself in the forest’s heart and slipped out to the edge to watch for her. He waited for days and then he saw her, walking tall and proud in the light of the Sun Goddess. As soon as the Forest God saw her,  desire grew in his breast. He could not sleep, or eat, or even think straight. He watched her for a whole season until finally it was not enough.
On the last day of summer he slipped out of the forest, taking the form of a handsome young man with big muscles and an easy smile. With a spear and a posy of fine flowers in hand he went to Elhira’s house knocking gingerly upon the door.
Elhira’s father, Tormid, answered the knock and stood in the doorway with his arms crossed, looking the Forest God up and down. He was a big man, the village blacksmith, arms and chest covered in muscle from forcing bronze and copper into new shapes, which they hate. That is why you use fire and a hammer to do it.
“Can I help you?”
“I have come for your daughter,” the Forest God told him, gesturing widely with the flowers. “I have heard of her beauty and come from twenty villages away to ask if you might permit me to take her as my bride.”
Tormid frowned and asked the young man, as he thought the Forest God was, to share a drink with him in the shade. The women lingered near the door, hiding in the house, eavesdropping on the men's conversation.
“What is it that you do that you would come so far?” He asked as the two sipped beer on the front step.
“I am a hunter,” the youth replied. “I can bring down the mightiest of beasts and track even the smallest for miles through the most difficult terrain. Nothing can escape my sight or my spear.” He patted it with satisfaction.
“Most impressive, what is the biggest thing you have killed?”
“I slew a great deer by the watering hole at the edge of the forest outside my village.” The hunter told him. “He stood twice as tall as me, his antlers were as wide as this.” He held his arms out to show how big they had been.
“That, again, is most impressive.” Elhira’s father conceded. “What is the smallest thing you have tracked?”
“I hunted a tiny mouse through the forest for several miles before I caught him. He was only as small as this but I found him.”
“So you hunt in the forest? Aren’t you scared of getting lost?” Tormid asked.
“Not I! I have never been lost in there. It is as if it were truly my home. I have run all the way to the forest’s heart and never once lost my way in order to bring these fine flowers for your daughter.”
“But that is impossible. Nobody can enter the forest safely. The creatures eat them, or the god claims them.” Tormid made a sign to ward away evil with his free hand.
The youth puffed out his chest. “I can. I know every inch of the forest like the back of my hand and every creature that lives within it from the lowliest grub and maggot to the most majestic of the crocodiles that live by the great lake.”
Tormid sipped his beer and thought for a while. “You are a man of great skill and bravery, that much is plain. You must think highly of my daughter to run all that way simply to find a gift. But tell me one thing.”
“What?” The God asked.
“Why are flowers growing up between your toes?”
In his arrogance the Forest God had completely forgotten he was pretending to be human and had allowed his power to flow naturally. A meadow of flowers bloomed around his feet. He sprang up and his spear took root, blossoming into a fine sapling as soon as it was planted.
In his surprise the God’s mask slipped; his eyes became as wild as the forest itself.
Elhira’s mother screamed and burst out of the house; the cleaver she used to chop up meat gripped in her hands. She swung the blade wildly. “He can’t take her, he can’t!” She howled. “She won’t go with you, I swear it, you monster!” She swung again and the god was forced to duck away, retreating from the house. A crowd started to gather, attracted by the woman’s cries. Their faces were hard and their eyes frightened for it was rare for something as powerful as a god to come to the village.
“Calm down,” Tormid cried out, seizing his wife, restraining her until the cleaver tumbled from her hands.
She twisted in his arms, lunging for the god with hands curled into talons, gouging at his face.
“Mother, Father please stop,” Elhira cried, running out of the house; her eyes wide, hands wringing. “Stop please.” She flung herself between her mother and the god, shielding him from her blows. Finally exhaustion overtook all of them. Her mother collapsed to the ground, clutching at Elhira, who cradled her close, cooing and stroking her hair.
When everything had died down Elhira rose to her feet. “Sir, you wanted to speak with me.”
The god looked embarrassed. “I wished to ask for your hand in marriage; you are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.” Reaching out a hand, he said, “Come to the forest; be my bride. I shall make you a crown of leaves and flowers; all the creatures will acknowledge you as their queen. They will bring you food and never try to harm you, even in the hungry season.” He held out his other hand revealing rich fruits in his palm. “Take this; tell me you’ll come with me.”
Elhira did not move to take the fruit. “You honour me greatly. Surely a girl such as I could not hope for so good a suitor, but may I have some time to consider your offer?”
“How long will you need?” The God asked.
“A few days at the least,” she replied. “And a little longer to say goodbye to everybody.”
“How will I know if you accept me?”
“I will walk to forest’s heart, trusting you to keep me safe upon my journey and I will call for you.”
“I shall await you then.” He gestured to the field of flowers that grew around them. Some of the plants were tall enough to reach their waists. The tree that had been his spear shaded Elhira’s house with its foliage. “I leave you this gift, as a token of my admiration.”
“Thank you great lord,” Elhira replied; taking a bronze arrowhead and looping it onto a thong which she hung about the god's neck.
They walked together to the forest’s edge, Elhira watched him enter the great mass of trees. As soon as he was out of sight she ran to her home and her parents. That night the villagers held a great feast, filling their bellies with as much food as they could, and plying them with wine. And the people ate and drank and were merry until they fell asleep, slumbering so deeply that even an elephants' stampede would not wake them, or the approach of a leopard stir them from their beds.
As the midnight hour struck, Elhira used the knowledge her mother had given her to lay a curse on the meadow. By morning it had withered away, nothing ever grew on that land again. Her parents shut her away in darkness again. They prayed the Forest God would forget all about her. They cast spells to hide themselves, foolishly thinking they were safe.
But the Forest God did not forget and once he realised he had been tricked a great roar erupted from the forest, shaking the trees and the ground.
That winter was hard, the Forest God sent his children to plunder the lands outside the forest; wild beasts killed the villager’s animals, herds and flocks were ravaged by hungry wolves and cats. The villagers' stores were raided until there was almost no food left. The next spring the crops would not grow and the remaining animals sickened and died. As the season progressed word spread that things were bad all along the forest’s edge, it was commonly known a girl had rejected the Forest God. Some of the villagers made nervous forays into the forest but none returned. Eventually, they began to mutter it was all Elhira’s fault and she should be punished.
On the last day of summer the people had had enough, they marched to Elhira’s house and broke it open, dragging the family out into the village square. They bound the girl, and dragged her into the forest, leaving her there. For five days the people waited, praying the god would relent.
On the fifth morning they woke to find the trees were full of fruit; the field shone with ripe grain. New animals stood at the forest’s edge waiting for the villagers to claim them.
The villagers fell upon the food, gorging until they were full. They found pleasure in each others’ arms and they were fruitful, for the Forest God blessed them in that regard. It was not until spring that word came from another village: a single baby girl had been born with deep green eyes.
Elhira had been reborn.
Ever since the people of the villages and cities along the forest's western edge have offered Elhira to the Forest God every twenty years so that the fields and animals stay healthy and bountiful, so our women have many strong children who will grow great. Her sacrifice secures the lives of so many people.

Monday, 29 April 2019

Self Publishing, the Adventure Continues

So, the button has been pressed and the Kindle versions of the two books have been sent off to be fully processed and finally see 'print'. After that I'm going to get the paperback, print on demand, versions done so you can get them in dead tree versions.

My friend Emma created a wonderful pair of covers for me (and she's going to have a steady flow of work from me now - as long as I'm self publishing she'll be my cover artist), and you can see that below.

This is the cover for Forest Brides, a sort of Swords and Sorcery collection that focuses on the women dwelling in a huge forest, and the ways that they're free to grow and be who they want to be instead of being constrained by the rules of their society. I wrote this because I wanted to explore the various roles of women in myth, be that as mothers, monsters, witches, scapegoats, or psychopomps. I haven't quite finished with the area and there'll be a couple more books, at the very least, before I'm happy with that. At the very least I want to get some novels out of the setting and expand the world to make sure that I've explored it fully.

I'm really looking forward to doing that, I must admit, and want to pick up on the various strands that I've planted in the stories in Forest Brides, especially some of the elements in Hyena.  At present my plan for that is to write more about Tak and the way he never really escapes the influence of the Forest Brides in his own adventures.

There are some things I want to get written before I embark on that though, so while I hope you love the book and want to tell all your friends to buy it, you're going to have to wait for a bit before I get to work on the novel(s).

The other book, A Strange and Sudden Fury, is going to be out too!
It's hard to express how excited I am by that, and how much I'm looking forward to writing more of the characters' adventures. My protagonist, Armitage, in particular gets under my skin and I want to make him shine, by exploring who he is and what he's done in the past. And, of course, what happens when some of the chickens come home to roost.

I'm also fascinated by the city of Birmingham, and want to delve under its surface, both into it's history and into the accidental collisions of architecture, the occult, folklore and the like. I want the city to be a character on its own and to have readers recognise the place easily and quickly. This may be a bit harder than I make it sound because (spoilers) I did kill of the spiritus locus of the place in Fury (/spoilers).

Right, I have to get back to the day job, and set my brain to growing the next book.

Take care.

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg

Watching the events of the past couple of weeks has felt very strange. The Extinction Rebellion demonstrations have been heartfelt and passionate, and in a sense it's been great to see them. But...

You knew that was coming, didn't you? Especially the ellipsis.

I have a bit of a problem with any sort of demonstration, because I don't believe they actually achieve anything. I've seen too many good causes crash against the shore only to be stranded by the tide, achieving nothing because of the state's intransigence. A million people marched against the Iraq War, a similar number marched against Brexit, and nothing changed. Putting it bluntly, it seems to me that demonstrating is a futile exercise, one that may make the participants feel good about themselves but generally speaking has about as much affect in the real world as a fart in an empty lift.

Putting my cards on the table, I agree with what Extinction Rebellion represent, and their aims (though I would appreciate more focus on how they intend to achieve them, and how they intend to minimise the fall out if they ever do, in part because the UK is only ever three meals away from starvation thanks to just in time supply chains). I think they're noble, incredibly so, but ultimately doomed.

Part of the reason for that is the way politics has historically worked in the UK. Green issues has always been relegated to 'student politics', one of those things you'll grow out of when you have a family or a car, or a house. Once you have responsibilities (and can't afford to fight against the powers that be anymore), then you'll understand that, to quote David Cameron, all the 'green crap' doesn't matter and you should be entirely focused on your family and providing for them. A similar line is often spun around vegetarianism, and veganism, they're seen as faddy nonsense that young people will grow out of, even though people have been going veggie for over fifty years now.

I guess it's just another sign of how stuck in the past the UK can be at times, lunging forward in terms of technology but not in any other way. After all, we still make comments about Hitler being a vegetarian whenever the subject comes up, even though he wasn't and its pretty facile anyway (you know who was vegetarian, the poet Percy Shelley - who most people have probably never heard of even though his wife, Mary, wrote Frankenstein). 

Returning to today, I wouldn't imagine that anything will really change once the protests are over, instead, things will go back to normal and even in the face of adversity, Westminster will act as a facilitator of pollution, rather than a cleaner economy. Partly, this is because the state has spent forty odd years divesting itself of any influence in the real world, preferring to cosy up to big firms and let them run loose. As with so many things they've modelled their actions on Harold Macmillan's old trick of marching left while staring resolutely right, talking green while acting blue. Only Brexit has threatened to break up that party, and that hasn't been because of green issues.

Disrupting politics for a wee while has worked in Extinction Rebellion's favour, but let's be realistic. Their influence ends when the demonstration is over. They've got the theatre of it down pat, and are attracting myriads of fresh supporters but that doesn't equal policy change, or even government lifting its head from the mire of Brexit to squint at the crisis before it. It's fair to say that it's more likely that the environment will be brushed aside once again so that profits and investment aren't effected. I don't even think that will be malicious, its far more likely to simply be the nature of neo-liberalism, the way business and government work hand in hand - even if government has historically been the loser, the krill to business' blue whale. To evoke another animal, we know what we're dealing with, are we really going to complain when the scorpion stings us?

The other problem is what XR want. While their demands are made with the noblest of intentions, it's hard to envisage how they can be made into reality without causing a panic, or people going without. They're laudable, but without the 'how' acquiescing to them will only cause harm. They aren't things that can be brought in overnight - which unfortunately is how the pressure group has phrased them. Parliament takes time to do things, no matter how simple, and any changes, if they are going to fundamentally alter the course of climate change, will have to be whipped through the house most stringently. Does the planet (in this cycle of life at least) have that time? Do the activists have the patience to see the course through or will they give in to British cynicism? At present it's hard to say, but I suspect they will.

Twitter has brought class into the equation too, and there have been accusations that the Middle Classes of not wanting things to change, but until recently green politics wasn't just for the young, but the affluent as well. Bourgeois families could 'afford' to think about the planet, while other, poorer, families were just making do, with no time to lift their heads from the grindstone and all that sort of stuff. The truth that XR want so much will have to bring home to everyone how much of a problem they are, and what can be done to change. This is one area where nobody in the West is innocent, and it's pretty foolish to pretend that we are. Sadly, I think the current moralism we see on display will only result in finer hair splitting as various groups scramble for the moral high ground.

The social network has been home to the backlash against the 16 year old figurehead of a generational climate upheaval: Greta Thunberg, who astonished everyone over the age of 30 by calling for a children's strike to protest against the lack of action by their elders. Generation Z, rather than the Millennials, raising its own political voice to lash out at the Baby Boomers. It's been disheartening to see users saying that she should be humiliated or punished after her speech to the Houses of Parliament, simply for speaking the truth.

Leaving aside the fact that this feels very much like scapegoating a child, and one with Asperger's too, it also smacks of willful ignorance, something for which there should be no excuse now. To say you don't believe in climate change is to essentially act the ostrich. It's also to say you'd rather fight a stupid battle than actually effect change, for which I suppose we should all be grateful if only in Darwinian terms. Yes, I do mean that if you're going to threaten a child, you'd be better off out of the gene pool, in the same way that it would be better for the rest of us if you shut up and just got on with things.

Again though, it was a piece of theatre, it doesn't start to resolve the ways in which countries can make the steps to a carbon neutral economy, to not burning fossil fuels or rewilding. And perhaps it shouldn't. These are things that adults need to decide, and quickly too. I would love to see a rewilding bill in front of Parliament next week, or a proposal to shut down all the fossil fuel burning plants in the country, but that won't happen. It will take new ideas and the willingness to take risks to change the way things are, and I'm not sure that our politicians are capable of those things.

What needs to happen is a changing of the guard, old politicians being replaced by a new generation that understands what needs to happen and is willing to take the necessary steps. Only then will we see things changing.

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Self Publishing, the Start of an Odyssey

I don't really know where to start with this, to be honest. The short version of what I want to post is that I've decided to self publish my work for a while, in order to build a market for my books and get it out there, hopefully earning some money in the process. That feels like an awfully mercenary thing to write, but sadly money is necessary to live, and I think my work is good enough to be paid for (you may disagree).

So, I've decided to publish two large pieces, Forest Brides and A Strange and Sudden Fury in the near future. One, Forest Brides, is a book of short stories all about a magical group of women who dwell in a bonafide old forest and who share the energy of that place. The world thinks they're dead, and so they can come and go as they please and be whoever they want, free of the constraints that might be placed on them otherwise. Their world is a Bronze Age one, with large empires and tribes. I've tried hard to keep the stories focused on women and upon nature, and the world steps away from traditional fantasy in that regard. Join Noora, Tola, Teya, Eskylla and Ehla in their adventures, and discover the true identity of the mysterious Thornchild.

Later this year, I'll be trying to turn another Forest Brides piece, Daughters of the Moon, into a novel so I hope that will be published early next year. That's going to be an Arabian Nights inspired piece, in the Inner Sea. There'll be pirates, puzzles, sorcery and terrible secrets. Oh,and Nephilim, can't forget those. It'll also delve into the idea that the Forest Brides world has had a number of ages and doesn't really work like ours, once only the moon shone in the sky because the sun hadn't been born yet.

A Strange and Sudden Fury, in contrast, is an Urban Fantasy novel set in a divided occult Birmingham. It's the first in what I hope will be a series of books about 'Gutter Magi', wizards who use the magic they find on the streets, in hidden places, at markets and so on. When a spirit of rage and fury enters the city, a group of these outcasts mystics must find it, destroy it, and start to at least try to heal the city's wounds. My Birmingham is one of secrets, mysteries, and divisions. The city wants to rush into the future but under the chrome and glass, the bright shopping districts and consumer goods lurks something else. A city obsessed with keeping its mouth shut about so much of what's going on. Divided into Courts, the Magi carry their craft traditions through a world with no more use for them. As their magic shrivels, another power, one with a self declared crusade to transform Birmingham into Heaven on Earth, rises and they will follow their dream, no matter who it hurts.

Join Armitage, Spencer, Emily and Victoria as they try to beard the spirit in its den. We have such sights to show you.

I'm currently writing the second book, though I haven't finalised the title yet - at present I'm calling it Season of Fear, but that's going to change. It's about drugs, Faerie, fear (obviously), and how that shapes us as people, with a slight detour down into what we used to think about Faeries before the Victorians got their grubby mitts on them. They will do thee mischief in the woods.

In addition, I've decided to publish some shorter pieces for free, to give readers a taster of the kind of thing I write, as well as a poetry folio, Under the Trees. This is as well as setting up on Patreon, which I'm slowly figuring my way around. I do want to stress that Patreon will have a hodgepodge of writing, gaming pieces, op ed and other bits and pieces while Amazon (for that is who I am publishing through) will only have fiction and poetry. You can find my Author Page on Amazon here:

At the moment I'm just waiting for my tax to be sorted out, and my lovely cover artist to get those sorted... and then we're go! I hope you'll come along with me on this journey and enjoy what I create.
You can follow me on Twitter, too, if that's your bag.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you'll stop by again.

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Article 50 Petition

Hi, long time no post.

Things are going well,  I'm glad to say.

There's a petition on the UK government's site to revoke Article 50 and remain in the UK which has garnered nearly six million votes. The government has said that it will have to top 17.4 million to be seriously considered,  which sounds like a challenge to me.

This is the link: If you haven't signed but want to keep the UK inside the biggest trading bloc on the planet,  and which has laws to ensure workers and human rights no matter how flawed, and which legislates to improve our environment,  therefore preserving our health please sign.

If you aren't fussed, that's fine, but please give it serious thought.

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Google Plus

So, I see that Google Plus is shutting down, which is a shame. I don't really do social media these days (I think I have a Twitter account but I don't really use it, and I'm on LinkedIn, which again, I don't really use. I wasn't really a prolific Google Plus user either but I liked what I saw and it felt a lot cleaner than other social media networks (SMNs). I liked the simplicity of it and, over time, it grew to feel a hell of a lot less creepy than Facebook.

I've grown to not really be a huge fan of social media, if only because I think it encourages oversharing (and that's what this blog is for... lol).

At present you can find me on Twitter and... that's pretty much it at present, though I am going to try and work up a website for almost everything I write.

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Game of Thrones Conjecture

 Image result for game of thrones heraldry

Having been beguiled (finally) into watching Game of Thrones and discovering that I've either grown up enough to want to watch it, or that being in a different place makes it more appealing, I am currently bounding through the series, late to the party, and find myself at the start of season 6. This post is a set of thoughts and feelings about some of what's going on, really just conjecture on my part, so if this has been addressed later on in the series, please don’t spoil it for me. Having got in trouble with my partner for looking up when Ramsey Bolton dies, I’m not going Googling about anything else… well except maybe a map because the way the world's displayed in the opening titles confuses me at to where a lot of things are.

Before I begin... 
Warning: I may be overthinking this.
Warning: this is pretty much full frontal nerdity
Warning: I may be working for the department of the bleeding obvious.
One thing I like about Game of Thrones is that it’s attempting to be the nerds’ fantasy series. By that I don’t mean that it is fantasy, because duh, of course it is. No, I mean that Martin, and the people handling the translation of his books into TV, has crafted a narrative that relies on the reader/viewer being a nerd. There are Easter eggs galore in the world he’s crafted, ranging from the names Joffrey almost gives his swords (I mean Stormbringer... come on - though Stormbringer probably would have wolfed down Joffrey's soul and gone for his parents for desert) to the house motto to the Greyjoys' sigil, which is a clear reference to Cthulhu from H.P. Lovecraft’s stories (that is not dead, which can eternal lie, and in strange aeons even death may die). It’s a very literate, self-aware series as a consequence, one that wears its geek affiliations as carefully as its historical ones.
 It's obvious too that this sort of referencing goes beyond nerdy genres and into general fiction. Surely I'm not the only one to watch the mutiny among the Night's Watch and think of Lord of the Flies? Sam's pretty much Piggy as it is, albeit a version of Piggy mixed with Samwise Gamgee from Lord of the Rings
As the TV show has progressed I’ve found myself pondering what Martin’s created more and more, picking at his world building, marvelling at the wizard behind the curtain, rather than the things that are out front. That’s not to say I’m not enjoying the battles, the fights and so on (and I’d almost certainly prefer to watch than to read them – hell I skipped over entire chapters of the Shadows of the Apt series because war’s so boring to read for me these days). But, I find authors interesting not only because of what they write, but because I like picking out the undercurrents, looking for the 'why' of it all. And as a result, I'm starting to find the composition and world building of the series very interesting. 
Image result for game of thrones heraldryIncreasingly, the world of Westeros and, um, Easteros? I think I'll just call it Valeria, seems to be built on a sort of dualism, the polar opposites of light and dark, winter and summer, ice and fire (gee, harking back to the first book’s title… well I never). The White Walkers are clearly the people of ice and death, ones I hope have a better reason for their actions than ‘because’ and I suspect the Valerians were the people of fire. Which means Westeros is the continent of ice and winter, and Valeria the continent of summer and fire, of course. Presumably at the last war’s height the Narrow Sea was nothing but a bank of rolling steam as the two forces clashed. The Valerians’ status as the Fire People, if you like, is suggested by their having dragons, the quality of their steel, their building, their civilisation and so on. It suggests they were masters of flame, and they harnessed that power to build better, bigger, and brighter, than the rest of the continents’ inhabitants. Add in the effect that Jon Snow’s sword Long Claw had on a White Walker and it seems likely to me that the Valerians aren’t simply a lost Empire, but were, in fact, the balancing force to their kin in the distant north (and yes I do think they’re likely to be kin because that’s how things work in most Fantasy stories).
I believe the Red Faith can be linked back to Valeria as well. If the ‘rite’, to use the word loosely, that Danaerys endured at the end of Season One awakened her true nature as a Valerian, it would make sense to me that the idea of purification through burning perhaps began as a way to sort the wheat from the chaff, to take children who perhaps weren’t of pure Valerian descent and establish which ones were truly part of the blood. This, in turn, might explain why the Targyrian family obsessively married within their own bloodline. As the last of the Valerians, they must have been desperate to keep their true power intact, even if that meant risking their sanity and skirting the issue of inbreeding in order to maintain it. What the Red Faith do, in its Gnostic grounding, is undoubtedly a perversion of the original rites intent, based on the idea that death is a better thing than life (which in an odd way means they work for the very force they despise). This perhaps is the split between the masters of fire and those who merely worship it. What one group maybe used as a tool to make sure of its lineage, the other treats as an attempt to offer escape, while never actually allowing that to happen. Perhaps at one point the was a control mechanism, one that's long outlasted its use. 

Image result for melniboneIn this wise, Valeria reminds me of Melnibone, from the Elric stories from Michael Moorcock. That place too fell, albeit with the help of Elric, it’s Emperor, and was the most advanced place in the world. They had dragons and warriors, and built taller and higher and all the rest of it. They had battled the forces of Chaos too, harnessing that power in the form of the rune swords that Elric and Yrkoon would come to wield centuries, or is it millennia?, later. There’s just something about that story and the story of the Valerians that seems to slot together into a nice parallel. What’s different, of course, is that Melnibone’s doom came in the form of Elric’s betrayal, while the Doom(!) of Valeria came in a far more mysterious fashion, and with almost Tolkienian overtones. They may have reached too far, delved too deeply and brought their end upon themselves, after all. Perhaps its’ for the best that we don’t know.

Image result for jon snow and daenerys targaryen
I also think that, ultimately, all the characters except Jon Snow and Danaerys are superfluous… or at least they’re secondary protagonists. The plot seems to hang on those two because… How can I put this? In a world of storybook characters they seem the most storybook. Both of them seem to accrue legends about themselves, in a manner that really befits protagonists. Dany is Mother of Dragons, Breaker of Chains, etc, etc. Her legend is proclaimed because she’s a Queen. Jon, on the other hand, seems woefully underqualified but at the same time, he’s the master of the white wolf and the wielder of Long Claw (which unlike all the other swords actually seems to merit a name), he’s the youngest Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, so far as I know,  he has Ghost – which perhaps isn’t such an accolade until you consider the dire wolf’s appearance and the fact that out of the litter whelped in the first episode there’s now only two left, and both seem to be attached to magical characters. Even his love of a Free Folk woman gives Jon that protagonist edge somehow (it reminds me of Aditu the Sithi woman in Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn and the way she spread the story of Seoman Snowlock and his Sithi wife).

Image result for tyrion lannisterI’m not dismissing the other characters as unimportant by the way, it’s just that in the grand scheme of things, I think it comes down to these two, one of whom is so obviously the main female protagonist you’d have to be blind to miss it, and the other, Jon, may as well have ‘plucky underdog’ stamped on his arse. Both seem to be waxing in strength as the story advances, and frankly I wouldn’t be surprised if Dany develops the Queen’s Touch at some point and starts healing Grey Scale sufferers because of the magic in her blood. Similarly, I wouldn’t at this point be surprised if Jon ends up summoning the ghosts of the Night’s Watch to aid him in battle… It just seems to fit the characters.

The other potential central protagonist in the narrative sense, for me, is Tyrion. Not just because of his legend, which is growing in a vastly different way to the others’ but because of his dwarfism, so often a sign of inbreeding which makes me wonder if he’s not what he seems.  Could he have Valerian blood?
Image result for Ned StarkYou see, the thing is… In Season One the Targyrians were evil and wicked people, they shouldn’t have been ruling Westeros at all, let alone being in charge for 300 years. Everything was fine, thank you very much, with the exception of the occasional odd duck like Varris who thought they’d unify the land (at that point they probably would have done, albeit against them). Now, well, we’re told that one of the Targyrian princes went out to sing in the streets and often gave away the money he earned… That seems like something out of a story to me, not a historical thing at all. And the characters I've mentioned are nobler than pretty much all the others (the late, lamented Ned Stark maybe comes close but only maybe). They're less attached to the world, motivated by love, duty, honour, and fairness far more than any of the others. Even the High Sparrow, which is one of those titles I can't take particularly seriously since it sounds like a stoned songbird, has less compassion in his characterisation than the other three. In a world where almost every other character seems more concerned with how to get ahead, they're the ones that stand up for the unwanted, be that in the form of slaves, 'savages', or whores.  I can't help but feel that that's somehow significant. Perhaps, rather than saying the world is ultimately flawed and full of evil, Martin is actually saying that something is out of balance and that if balance were restored it would be a better, nobler, place. Might Game of Thrones be a very subtle call to arms for us in the real world, and not 'Hello magazine does Fantasy', which I thought it was before I started to watch the series?
So, I can’t help but wonder if somehow the Valerians, generally, but more specifically the Targyrians were a more poetic, mystical people, more like characters from story, and if somehow the three characters I’ve mentioned actually have Valerian blood that’s pure enough for them to be considered a part of the Valerian race. I wonder if the trials and tribulations that subject the characters are somehow the parts that burn away either their other blood, or the imperfections of inbreeding. Despite my talking about dualism, I wonder if there are three dragon riders waiting to be united with their steeds.
 Lastly, there's something about this that reminds me of Hide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers. There, two great vampiric intelligences, so great they're part of the land are hatching a plan that if it comes to fruition will cause a terrifying earthquake. I find myself wondering if the forces at work in the Game of Thrones, the elements of Ice and Fire are like that, not things that are understandable by humans but elemental intelligences that only care about warring on each other. What that means for the rest of the series, I really don't know. 
To finish, I'm going to throw out some questions.

Are the Old Gods the White Walkers? 
If so, who the chuff are the New Gods - fictions or the presence of other powers in the land (and does this mean there a Djinn on the eastern continent?
Who is the Many Faced God, if the main event is between the powers of ice and fire? He/she doesn't seem to fit into what I've written above. 
Is Grey Scale somehow related to the fall of the Valerians, is it somehow related to dragons?
Who are the people Bran found - fairies? 
This may all be rubbish of course, I don’t know (and don’t spoil it for me! No spoilers!) I’ll just have to keep watching to find out… 
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