Christine M Talley
Author of The Girl in the Bird: Romance and Alien Power in the Current Middle Ages
Free first chapter available below!
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The Girl in the Bird: Romance and Alien Power in the Current Middle Ages
author and son, Todd Stine
Official Site of Author & Poet
Free first chapter below
I went into this book not knowing quite what to expect. For a debut author I think Mrs. Talley has done a wonderful job, her characters are believable and full of life, and the plot takes some surprising turns. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and look forward to a possible follow-up. I got invested in the characters and would like to read more!
4 star review on Amazon
I thought this was a great story. I found myself laughing and crying with the charaters and the story. It held my interest. I have never been to Pennsic, but have heard stories and this felt like someone reliving their Penssic experiences. I do have to wonder if the characters were based off of real people both mundanely and in the SCA
5 star review on
I really enjoyed the whole story line with the weaving of romance, science fiction, the SCA, and Pennsic war. I have not been to Pennsic, but I have been to other wars and could relate to the setting. I am very much looking forward to her next book! I am very happy to have read it. In fact I really hated to have it end.
5 star review on
The author, Christine Talley, is a wife and mother of two sons. As Clotilda Warhammer of Mistwraithe Hall, she was a sword and shield fighter in the Society for Creative Anachronism for nine years. She participated in numerous battles, along with a thousand other fighters, during nine Pennsic Wars and other events, when she wasn't working as a registered nurse. Her hobbies have included caving, rock climbing, hiking, camping, heavy weapons fighting in the SCA, drawing and painting.
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It was August in that summer of 2003, and the unseen blue alien continued her fascinated study of these odd people. She watched from an invisible link to our planet, during a period of an intensive two week medieval reenactment called the Pennsic War. It was an annual event bringing together about ten thousand people from around the world, to a camping event of the Society for Creative Anachronism. She felt through the link that there was someone in the general area who might be important but until she could zero in on that person, she enjoyed the incredible variety of this vibrant group spending their vacation time in such an unusual way.
The Society for Creative Anachronism, or SCA for short, had always been an interesting mix of people, customs and talents, the alien thought, and seemed odd even for the peculiar humans. People came from almost every walk of life and had so many varied views of life in “The Current Middle Ages,” as most folk called the present time frame. There were folks who tried their best to use only materials and techniques that were available during their chosen time frame, or “period,” which generally spanned the Middle Ages and Renaissance eras of European history or earlier. A member developed their own “persona,” adopting a fictional medieval name of their choosing, of a country and century of their choosing. Even with that large and loose definition there were dissenters who preferred to cover Asian or African history and culture, and even, uncommonly, the New World.
Usually the purists would give a newcomer some slack, but even the newest attendee was strongly encouraged to make some attempt to dress in period garb, at least a simple tunic and black or brown pants. Newcomers quickly learned that blue jeans were “not period.”
The alien, Zee, observed a sweaty 12th century Celtic fighter in mismatched but serviceable armor gallantly step aside to let an equally sweaty but gorgeously attired 15th century lady carrying her fretful infant pass by on her way to a court function. At least the child was dressed in a lightweight linen tunic. Zee decided to concentrate her attention on the Celtic fighter and his general environs for the present.
The fighter, Rulf of Jersey, had field-tested some new loaner armor he had made in a practice skirmish with some of his fighting brethren, noting where it chafed and needed to be adjusted or where additional padding might be needed. He was generally pleased with its range of motion and knew, by long years of practice, that it was safe and not unreasonably heavy, despite the practical requirements of metal joint protection. He was very familiar with several of the local “Kingdoms’ ” armor requirements, having been an armorer as well as a heavy weapons sword and shield fighter for the last six years. He was also very competent in other fighting styles and so he felt comfortable in his role as fighting instructor.
Rulf wiped perspiration from his forehead with an already sweat-soaked corner of his tunic before it had a chance to get into his eyes. He walked up the dusty footpath toward his camp, and along the way he nodded politely to the occasional duchess or other lesser royalty he passed, and greeted fellow fighters and people he knew with his warm smile. When he got to the camp, he greeted the gate guards with a nod. He went to his tent and started getting out of the loaner armor, then got his ball peen hammer and used some practiced whacks to adjust the elbow cops to free up more room for padding. He appreciated the way even an inexperienced fighter could don or remove the chest and the upper arm and elbow protection without too much trouble.
He was a big chested man with the shoulders and muscles of an amateur blacksmith, a hobby of his that had earned him a respectful following of clients even though he never advertised or even set up a shop at Merchants Row at Pennsic. He started by just making his own armor and chuckled every time he saw his first disastrous attempt at a simple pot helm, which he kept to keep him humble and remind himself that anyone who came to him for advice on how to start making their own armor needed patience and respect, not a know-it-all.
He was happy to have made it to the Pennsic War this year. For a while it had seemed unlikely that he’d be able to pull it off until almost the last minute. Then, his work bonus, long promised but very slow in arriving, finally came in just a scant week before his approved vacation time. This gave him the funds he’d need to make the eight hour drive to western Pennsylvania and still be able to pay the entrance fee and have money for meals, maybe not many of the good food court meals, but at least the basics, like cereal, coffee, and sandwiches. He had already noticed some of his friends, both from his local group and friends from all over the country that he’d made over the years from previous Society for Creative Anachronism events he had been able to make it to.
One of his fighting students, Albreda Morningstar, came into camp just then carrying her tent bag. He walked up to her, giving her a warm smile and offered her a hand setting up her tent. “Where’s Brom?” he asked her, referring to her ten year old son who had accompanied her to every annual Pennsic War of his life until now.
“Hi Rulf! My poor little guy is stuck home getting over the flu. My parents, God bless them, stepped up to take care of him so I could still come, but I feel so bad leaving him and being here without him.” She was very grateful for her parents’ understanding of her odd obsession with sword fighting, and their willingness to babysit.
“I know my mom and dad are taking great care of him and he’s been over the worst of it for a couple days. But I know how disappointed he is and I miss him already. It feels so funny being here without him. This is the first Pennsic War he has missed in his life. Talk about being born into the SCA, he was at his first event when he was only 2 months old!”
“Yeah, and he learned very quickly to stay out of the fire pit even if the fire looks like it’s out,” Rulf said, referring to the time when a three year old Brom had wandered too close to the central communal camp fire that was kept burning throughout most of the annual Pennsic War. Brom luckily wasn’t hurt when he got too close to the embers but he was shouted at, in strong parental warning tones by every adult in sight, even those who weren’t parents. This scared the dickens out of him and imprinted the intended lesson to stay clear of the fire pit. Of course, he still loved when the fire was stoked high and kids young and old got to toast marshmallows on a stick or sit at a safe distance and watch the ever changing primal beauty of the camp fire but he treated it with due respect.
“I’m glad he’s feeling a little better, tell him I said ‘Hello and we miss him.’ He’s a nice kid and doesn’t mind helping with little chores. That does get noticed around here and is appreciated. Here, let me hammer in the tent spikes since I’ve got my hammer right here. If it will work on armor, it will work on tent spikes. Is this the way you want the tent facing?” Albreda nodded and again thanked Rulf for his help. She was perfectly capable of setting it up herself, even at night and by flashlight, but it always went smoother with some help and meant less fussing and grumbling under her breath.
The tent went up smoothly, despite frequent breaks to wipe sweat from their eyes or foreheads, as Rulf filled in Albreda on recent camp meetings and told her who of their friends had shown up at War so far.
“Um, any word on Bess coming to this War?” Rulf asked, referring to Albreda’s best friend.
“I really hope so but you never know with Bess. She wasn’t sure she could swing the vacation time when I talked to her last week.”
“I understand. It was a close call for me, too. I hope she can, though. She brings a lot to camp,” he said and quickly ducked his head to give a tent peg another whack when he realized he was blushing. Albreda luckily missed the look and finished tightening a tent line.
“She really does. She always has a kind word to say to everyone, she’s a darn good cook, even under camping conditions, she’s a good nurse and chirurgeon.”
“I’ll vouch for that,” Rulf interjected. “Oops, sorry to interrupt. But she’s great to have around, especially if someone’s injured. I think she’s one of the best chirurgeons around and as a fighting instructor, I’ve seen a few in action.” The chirurgeons were SCA first aid volunteers and were often EMT's, nurses and doctors in mundane life. The odd name for them stemmed from the desire of people in the SCA to use medieval terms, even for familiar things. It was another way to remove themselves from the “mundane world” or “mundania,” terms used for the “ordinary life” of jobs, bills, phone calls and other stuff of modern day-to-day existence.
Modern life was impossible to avoid completely and modern conveniences were accepted as improvements to heartily embrace, hence people drove their cars or motorcycles to events, used phones, and often cooked on modern camping stoves. Even port-a-potties and flush toilets were recognized as the blessings to life they are but were referred to jokingly as “port-a-castles.” Nevertheless, SCA events celebrated an earlier, if not necessarily simpler, time when craftsmanship and face-to-face gatherings were the norm instead of mass-production, telephones, and answering machines. People in the Society liked to refer to what they did as, “reenacting the Middle Ages without the plagues and rats.”
Albreda Morningstar wore a red top closed by a drawstring, commonly called a “peasant blouse” tucked into black baggy trousers, also closed by a drawstring, with gathered ankles, also known in the SCA as Mongol pants for their origin. It was simple clothing, loose and comfortable for hot summer days but she thought it looked reasonably authentic on her trim, medium build body. At least, no one ever complained about her outfits and she saw plenty of other SCAdians dressed in a similar manner. She accessorized the outfit with a couple chunky amber bead necklaces and a longer necklace consisting of a chain with a large primitive-looking pendant.
She looked over her camping site and figured all seemed set up to her usual rough and tumble style of camping. She kept her cooler in the shade of her tent, although the shadows were short this time of day. It already had been stocked with a bag of ice, sandwiches in zipper-lock plastic bags, extra lunch meat, milk, a block of cheddar cheese, juice, and a bottle of sweet commercial strawberry wine. She knew she might get teased about the last item and she could drink her share of hard liquors and Guinness stout, but heck, she liked sweet strawberry wine and no one else was likely to bring it. She was grateful that this part of Pennsic had started out so smoothly and hoped it was an omen of a great time, although she always loved coming to SCA events, particularly Pennsic and seeing friends she usually only saw annually was an added pleasure.
She brought herself back to the moment and dug into her drawstring pouch, which she had fastened to a simple cord around her waist, found her car keys and set them next to the cooler. She thanked Rulf again for his help and offered him a ham and cheese sandwich, pulling out a couple of paper cups for a glass of grape juice. She didn’t use more authentic gear at lunch, saving her feast gear, which comprised of a couple wooden bowls, pretty blue and white porcelain plates and a couple horn spoons and forks that she had bought at prior Pennsics, for dinnertime. He accepted her offer and she sat comfortably on the top of the plastic cooler and Rulf sat on a small wooden camp stool eating lunch while chatting.
They finished the simple fare and Albreda and Rulf said goodbyes. Rulf headed back to his campsite and Albreda grabbed her car keys. Then she started her car, which had been temporarily parked in the grass outside of the campsite, and slowly worked her way through the marked lanes in the well-trampled grass between individual camp groups.
Every year there was a “land grab” prior to each Pennsic, in which groups from geographic or cultural areas posted their intentions for parcels of the available acreage at the Cooper’s Lake campground in western Pennsylvania. It was parceled out according to the numbers of SCAdians who had registered prior to Pennsic, with maybe a bit extra for people who showed up late in the registration process or showed up at the last minute. People who registered early got preferential camping over the last minute folks, who got less desirable spots, sometimes on slightly (or even not-so-slightly) sloping or uneven ground.
Each year it was known where groups would camp. It often fell to very traditional areas so there was little variation from the layout from year-to-year for areas where one could find the East Kingdom’s and Middle Kingdom’s groups or the Atlantia Kingdom’s different groups or the Great Dark Horde, among many others. Even other countries such as Canada and Germany were represented. Large geographic areas were Kingdoms, which were further subdivided into smaller areas such as Shires and Baronies, with the Great Dark Horde just claiming the entire world and setting up their own subdivisions.
Albreda was pretty familiar with the general lay of the land, although her knowledge was more complete closer to her own and neighboring groups and got sketchier further away from her own camp group. She had to stop frequently for pedestrians and since everyone had to park their vehicles in the designated parking areas, that meant a lot of stops. It was a much slower pace being at SCA events and she didn’t mind the slow crawl that worked its way around campsites. People, including children, were walking along, sometimes pulling wagons, and they usually stepped aside to let cars pass but there was no way to hurry in a campground that housed people in the thousands.
She finally made it to the huge designated parking area and now came the part she wasn’t so fond of, trying to find a parking spot that wasn’t acres away from camp. She counted herself pretty lucky when she found a spot that someone left open way near the end of a row which would only make her need to walk up and down the first hill. She figured it had been occupied but the other person had probably had to leave it for a “town run,” the expression used at Pennsic for leaving the Cooper’s Lake campsite altogether to stock up on more groceries that weren’t available for sale at the camp store or for the occasional necessary item that someone forgot to pack.
She parked her car on the grassy spot, glad that it wasn’t at the bottom of the hill in case it rained and turned into a mud pit. Then she walked to the end of her row to the central “road,” which was also tramped down grass, and memorized her location. She had never forgotten where she had parked, well at least the ball park, but it was a concern in a parking area for about ten thousand people. She decided her parking spot was pretty great when she looked at the nearly endless rows behind her and she started the long walk back. It was pretty hot but she didn’t mind walking.
She let her mind wander, thinking of Leofrick her current boyfriend. This one was special but she shied away from the thought, still hurting, even years after a bitter divorce. Nevertheless her thoughts strayed back to Leo, wondering how soon they would meet each other in camp and thinking of the happy times they shared together at Pennsic, and especially how good Leo was with her son. She still felt a twinge of guilt about leaving her recuperating son behind with her wonderful parents but knew he was fine there. Still, she knew Leo would miss Brom, too. They were just so very good together and she smiled at the thought.
She started meeting more people coming and going now that she was out of the parking area. Even though she had been in the SCA for years, it still interested her to see the many styles of clothing from so many different time periods and countries that were displayed even if camp garb, especially hot weather camp garb wasn’t always as special as what you’d see at a one day event. It just never ceased being “cool” seeing people in sometimes intricate court garb passing people in the garb of commoners, which often had a flair of its own. She never could figure out why cloaks ever went out of style for cooler weather. Garb just looked so “right” on people, especially some yummy looking barbarian types who wore not much more than loincloths when it was hot.
She weaved her way expertly through the crowded pathways, stepping aside for the occasional car or person in a hurry, until she got back to her camping area. She stopped to chat with the camp guards, George and a newcomer whose name she forgot. It was nice to have finally made the long trip back to camp and she went in to see some of her friends who were in camp. She was always ashamed of how bad her memory was with names, especially at Pennsic but some folks she only ever saw during the days there each year. It still didn’t make her feel better when she passed familiar faces and struck up conversations while avoiding names when she said hello. She saw her friends Delilah Ysmay and Hadrian the Bold and walked over to catch up since the last event they’d been to, a more local one in the area known as Settmore Swamp.
“Greetings Delilah, Hadrian! How are you? How was your trip out here?” Albreda asked.
“Long, as always, about seven and a half hours with rest stops but at least we didn’t run into any road construction so the traffic wasn’t bad most of the way. We’re fine, right honey?” Delilah shifted the last to her husband Hadrian.
“Yeah, nothing much is up since we saw you last at Mudthaw. We’ve both been going to fighter’s practice pretty faithfully and we brought all our gear so we’re really looking forward to fighting again this Pennsic. How about you? How’s Brom and where is the little guy?”
“I’m fine and I’m going to fight again this War, too. Poor little guy is with my parents, getting over the flu. He’s really bummed out about missing Pennsic this year, too. This is the first War he’s missed in his life. I know they’re taking good care of him but I still feel a little guilty going without him.”
“You shouldn’t feel too bad, Albreda. Your mom and dad are great people and they shouldn’t have any trouble. Brom always loves visiting them,” Delilah said.
“I know. He’s getting better, too but I can’t help feeling bad and it’s so strange to be here without him. He always looks forward to the War as much as I do. Hey, if you happen to see something really cool you think he might like, let me know which merchant it is and I’ll try to bring something back home to him as a ‘consolation prize’.”
They agreed to keep a look out for something a ten year old might like. They settled into a comfortable conversation about work and mundane life and about SCA events they’d been to. After a while Albreda decided to check out some of the many vendors situated near “the Barn” and the camp store so she said her “see you laters” and started her on her way.
She stopped on the way to talk with some friends and walked down the slight hill where her campsite was situated toward the Barn. She stepped aside for other pedestrians and occasionally stepped off the trampled grass “road” between camps to let a car go by.
She got to the first spread of merchants in areas set up before the Barn and looked at the quality photograph stand. She considered, not for the first Pennsic, getting a photo of herself in some of her best garb taken by them but resisted the urge due to finances. She planned on spending some at the food court and at different merchants but wanted to wait until something “sang” to her. Although it would be cool to have a photo taken of herself done in the sepia-tones of some of their pictures, she had to watch her budget.
She stopped a while at the glass blower’s booth and watched in fascination as a goblet took form from a blob of hot glass. Then she stopped to take a look at what they had for sale, admiring the plates, goblets and fanciful creatures made from glass. She loved shopping at Pennsic. You could always find such interesting and unique items for sale. She decided to treat herself to a small goblet and kept going back and forth between two of them, a light green one and an amber one with darker brown spots and decided on the amber one.
She worked her way along the booths under tents or canvas awnings. Sometimes she stopped to pick up a piece of multicolored jewelry and checked the price or passed by the booths she’d seen for years and wasn’t as interested in.
Her eye was drawn to a beautiful tunic in navy blue with a phoenix painted on the front in a bold design in gold. She looked at the price and was amazed that they only wanted $35 for it. She already felt like she’d spent a decent chunk of her spending cash on her first day at Pennsic but she knew it was a great price and just too pretty too pass up, especially since it was the right size for her. She looked at the other tunics and pants they had but kept coming back to the same tunic so she got the cash from her drawstring bag at her side and paid for it. Then she carefully folded it and put it with her new goblet in the big cloth bag she carried for her purchases.
She wiped the sweat from her eyes on her peasant blouse sleeve and continued her shopping, hoping to find something special for Brom.
Later she decided it was about time to get something to eat for supper so she headed over to the food court, which was busy as always. She saw a lot of the familiar food merchants who had come to previous Pennsics and decided on getting a bread bowl filled with beef stew. She saw many people already sitting at the large picnic tables and found an empty spot between a man in courtly garb and a woman in a blue tunic and long brown skirt with her baby in a stroller and asked if she could sit there. They politely consented and she dug into her stew, finding she was hungrier than she realized. The stew was delicious and the lemonade refreshingly cold. She finished and threw away her plastic spoon, plastic knife, paper plate and napkins.
Then she went back to the serious business of shopping, this time near the food merchants in the broad flat plain known as the “Serengeti” for its lack of shade in the hot summer sun. She was tickled pink when she found a cool looking blue dragon carefully sculpted from clay with nice details painted on. She thought it would be perfect for Brom since he was a dragon and dinosaur fan.
She decided to head back to camp with her treasures of the day, realizing that she’d have to watch her budget closely the rest of the War. She walked cheerful, if slowly due to the bustle of people, passing a few people she knew and exchanging pleasantries.
When she got back to camp she put her new purchases in her tent, planning to wear the new tunic the next day after one of the battles and a shower. That done, she walked to the central fire which hadn’t been stoked yet for the evening festivities. She noticed friends already starting to congregate on some camp stools and chairs and joined them. It was so nice to relax at the War, no time clocks to punch, appointments to go to or phones to answer except the folks who carried cell phones but even then, phone calls tended to be rare. Catching up with friends she often saw only during Pennsic was part and parcel of sitting or standing around the central fire. This was especially true in the evening, when people returned from fighting, archery, shopping, or one of the many educational and recreational classes that ran most of the War.
She realized it was later than she thought and saw that the sun was already hidden by the trees that formed part of the western edge of camp. People were starting to talk about the belly dancers that were part of tonight’s festivities. Someone put more wood on the fire and the flames started to lick up the new fuel, encouraging the younger crowd to start scavenging for sticks to roast marshmallows before it got too dark.
A friend of hers and Leofric’s, Brother Cedric, dressed like a 14th century friar, broke out his lute and started to play a lively tune from the early Renaissance. The fire was growing to a respectable size and children started roasting their marshmallows under the close supervision of the adults gathered around. She never seemed to get tired of staring at the camp fire, watching the flames dance and the tiny sparks rise up into the air above it.
It seemed to be about “o-dark thirty” and it wasn’t long before the belly dancers arrived. They started their intriguing, sinuous moves to the rhythmic beat of a doumbek, a goblet-shaped hand drum.
Different home-brewed and store bought bottles of different alcoholic drinks started making their way among the adults collected around the fire. Albreda went back to her tent and got her new goblet and her strawberry wine to share and stood by Brother Cedric. Rulf saw them and came up and they talked and passed alcohol to each other. Rulf teased Abdreda about her choice of alcohol to bring but she knew it was good-natured. Besides, Brother Cedric wasn’t above having some but then again, Brother Cedric was none too fussy when it came to alcohol.
The belly dancers eventually broke up and some people started singing. It started with a few serious ballads but as the night wore on and the children were shepherded to their tents and sleeping bags, the songs became decidedly rowdier and bawdier. Albreda and Brother Cedric were drinking decidedly more than Rulf who said he wanted to make sure he was ready for the first battle of the day next morning.
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