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In a world of broken dreams, we need to find the mythic in everyday life. Myths are meant to express truth, goodness and beauty where words fail.
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'Magical' Abilities in The Ironwood Staff

If you're interested in some background to the magical system of The Ironwood Staff world, please see my blog post, Magical Systems and the Problem of Evil,

Musical imaging
Lifelike images
Musical dance
Magical light
Arcane writing
Hidden calligraphy
Combat arts
Craft Augmentation
Inanimate lift
Inanimate reflex
Divination (water/metals)
Animal sympathy
Plant sympathy
Augmentation of life
All eladi have at least one ability, at worst incompletely developed. Araneladi are proportionally less likely to have them. Full-blooded men have only a 1 in 7 chance of being born with any Ability, but their dissatisfaction and restlessness leads them to desire more once they have it, leading them into dark paths. For this reason, human magi trained by eladi are not permitted to have students of their own - the weakness of human nature is too risky. All training in these art forms is done by eladon masters. Natural Abilities are all heritable, with the children of two magi getting gifts from both parents.

Discernment (first stage) – less than a month, where you find what you’re capable of under a master who can draw it out of you.

Disciple (second stage) – ideally, 40 months. The candidate becomes the servant of a master chosen for him by the one who found him. Ideally, someone related or at least of the same ethnic or linguistic background. They are given books to read, essays to write, and consultations with masters of the arts they are to train in. The candidate gets New Moons (three nights on either side of a new moon) off, where they are released to their families or set at large. 

Initiate (third stage) – as long as necessary. The candidate goes to live with the Master of an art they are to learn. They have regular meditation, daily practice, and weekly tutorials or consultations with the Master to ask any questions that come up. If the candidate is gifted in multiple arts, they stay with the master of their chosen discipline, but take a month at a time with the master of any others they may be studying.

Once the Initiate shows sufficient mastery of self and of their art, they are tested in it by a group of three masters. No-one takes the test without having a good chance of passing, and nearly all who take it, do. They are then granted the rank of Magus, and entitled to carry an ironwood staff as a badge of office (which also doubles as a weapon).

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Non-human species in the Ironwood Staff world

After a few questions from folks who read the book, perhaps some names or classes need to be defined.

Eladi - These are elves, practically immortal (though they may age very slowly); they are most gifted in physical ability, words and crafts. The oldest people are Moreladi, who settled the lands in remotest antiquity and built cities all over the Sunlands under the guidance of Prophets. The Prophets were spiritual leaders to whom the Powers, or the Lesser Gods, revealed the arts of civilisation, to prepare them for the arrival of the Others. With the coming of the Kchabani, they were beaten back by the superior technology of the Foul Folk, and for the most part they fled and settled in Greenland, across the sea to the south. Those who remained became a furtive, nomadic people, the Oreladi. Some time later came the Celadi, who came on great ships from other lands far away to the north. They settled first on the coasts and then further inland, and with the help of humans from the same northern lands, cleared the Southlands of kchabani, settling where they would. Their language was distantly related to that spoken by the Moreladi, but for the most part unintelligible to them. In time the Celadi came to dominate parts of the South, but they tended to look down on the Oreladi, who they found primitive and uncivilised, though there was no exploitation or conflict between them. The Moreladi in Greenland remained there for millenia, growing in wisdom and culture until a dynastic struggle led to internecine warfare that lasted for centuries. In the time of The Ironwood Staff, that conflict had comparatively recently ended with the accession of King Arandamundon.

Kchabani - These are goblins or orcs, who were created from a mixture of monkey, human and possibly Eladon stock by the filthy arts of the Unnamed Enemy in the dark of the world. They are such an abomination to some Eladi that it is considered a mercy to kill them. Their stock is similar in kind to dogs, in that breeding for certain characteristics produces separate types with differing appearances. Large fighting breeds, of man-size or even larger, are common, but there are also trackers, craftsmen, spies and engineers (among others), who tend to form underclasses in kchaban societies. Males and females are indistinguishable, and offspring mature very quickly in less than seven years, raised either in bands of their group, or in communal schools in the case of fighting kchabani. It has been documented that living beings of non-kchaban stock can be used as living incubators for gestating kchaban imps, in a dark magical process which invariably kills the host. If a kchaban (or even human) leader is sufficiently degenerate, he may arrange for cross-breeding between humans and kchabani, which produces Arkchabani, large, aggressive types with pasty white skin who can fight in the daylight, unlike normal kchabani. Fortunately arkchabani, like mules, are infertile. Kchaban societies tend to be small and isolated in the absence of a strong leader, because they are based on predatory warfare combined with hunting and gathering.

Araneladi - these are halfelves, or eladi with some human ancestry. The word comes from Celadon Aran (Man)-Elado. They have been common in some places at some times, but not always tolerated by eladi. Humans, with their easily corruptible minds and bodies, short time horizons and lack of learning, are not thought of as suitable matches, but trysts, affairs or even marriages were not very rare where the races have mingled in the past. The offspring have at times been the majority population of some territories, and the Southland Men are thought to have large proportions of eladon ancestry, even as their language contains a large portion of Celadon words. The Moreladi of Greenland actively dislike Araneladi, because they settled in the lands from which they had been driven in antiquity. As the Southlands became corrupt and unjust with the long peace after the Third Foul War, their dislike hardened into prejudice. 

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The Retribution of Thengon

The sequel to The Ironwood Staff is The Retribution of Thengon. It tells the story of the quest of Thengon Tomasson to rescue his sister, who was abducted from their home in Greystone. Compared to the first book, there's a lot more action and violence, substantially less metaphysical speculations and very little of the 'magic' system (come to think of it, I should probably explain that somewhere along the line!).
It's also shorter. This book was mostly written longhand while waiting for laundry to get done in a laundromat! We were without a washing machine for a month or two, and the bulk of the writing was done during long evenings or Saturday afternoons. Ironwood Staff was written in coffee-shops during a long spell of unemployment, a longer one of underemployment, and revised in breaks during full-time work, so there's a lot more of it!
Anyhow, the action of the sequel takes place in Greystone and in the lands of the Seven Cities, also known as the Greenstone Country. The time is some sixty years after the events of The Ironwood Staff, when the eladi of the South are within reach of re-conquering the Seven Cities, which they had had to abandon a few thousand years previously when the kchabani first appeared. How they come to be in the position of being able to re-take those territories is another subject, which I'll delve into in another post.
For now, here is a map of the Seven Cities.

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Review/s for The Ironwood Staff

Here are some favourable reviews some nice folks have been good enough to put up:

L. Jagi Lamplighter, authoress of a thumpingly deep and detailed school-of-magic series, the Rachel Griffin books

This is a Superversive book. The story is like a high fantasy set in Africa with Zen elves, but the progressive ideas of the villains and the way in which evil corrupts and spreads, as well as what the hero must do to fight it, lends a Superversive thread to this simple fantasy.

And of course assorted sympathetic comments on the book's Amazon page, and on Goodreads, where a user named Cat posted the following:

I love a good fantasy novel. I knew nothing about the book's genre when I started reading it so that was a pleasant surprise. I found the african-ness of some of the wildlife and situations a lovely unique touch. A classic tale of good vs evil. I loved it.
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Cosmology of the world of the Ironwood Staff

The Celadi of the South have little written lore concerning the Powers. Most of it is in the form of the Great Songs, and those yet live who knew the Prophets. What follows is the account of the Southlander men.

In the beginning was the One Who Is, the only Light That Kindled the All, who created time and space, matter and energy. In the Heavens He created the Lesser Gods, as the Prophets told of old. Though created beings, the lesser gods are refracted colours of the One Light, and have attributes that transmit an aspect of His Wisdom, Skill and Care for Speaking Beings. These are the Powers.


She is dearest to the One, or at least the closest. Shown as a woman of beauty and modesty, sometimes pregnant and sometimes holding a child on her lap, she wears green. She rules the moon and is the protectress of mothers, miners, family life, of child bearing and rearing. She is the patroness of agriculture, medicine, clerks, housekeepers, holy people and hermits. Her favourite virtue is love, and she is a matchmaker. Her totem is the Elephant.


Consort and husband to the Earth-Mother, he is shown as a bearded man in blue, or standing in the sea. He rules the rain, running water and lakes and lagoons, and the sea. He is the protector of fathers, all those who work on or in boats, of labourers, judges and lawyers, of the King and Crown Prince, and of all sovereign authority. His travels around the earth cause the cycles of rainfall, as the rain falls diligently only where he is. In the lands that he leaves behind, there may be drought. His favourite virtue is Truth. His honesty and his wife’s love together produce Straight Living, personified as The Innocent Child. The Heavenly Family is a favourite image in the homes of speaking beings. The rulers of old codified as much of the Straight Path as they could in the Law of the Kings. Where there is untruth in a region, nation or family, he punishes it by means of droughts and floods, cold and livestock disease. If he is especially angry, there may be fatal lightning. His totem is the Eagle.
The Heavenly Family

Shown as a young man crowned with a sun-disc, his images are golden or yellow. He is the patron of scholars, philosophers and teachers and of arts of all kinds, and helps young men find their calling in life. He is the inventor of humour, music, sports, games and alcohol, and uses these things to prevent discord, hatred, sloth and strife among all speaking beings. However, there is always a time for war, and his acolytes are always consulted as to the right time to engage in armed force. He is the protector of young men and boys, of apprentices, entertainers of all kinds, brewers and vintners, inventors, poets and scribes. His favourite virtue is Joy, and he loves a good party. He is often shown with a Lion.


Shown as a beautiful young woman in white and grey. She rules the wind, and can be capricious, causing hurricanes, tornadoes or cold snaps. She amuses herself in open spaces by creating dust-devils. If she’s moody, as all girls can be, thunderstorms can be dry, with heavy cloud but no rain, or there could be sand-storms in arid regions. When her father is away from a place and the land is dry, her wind-weaving can be dangerous, if fire starts. When she’s being a dutiful daughter to the Rain-Father, she helps her father distribute the rain, and her mother is glad. She is the patroness of young women and virgins, of weavers, tailors, perfumers and teachers, medicinal plants and potions, of Magi and Prophets. She protects babies, domestic animals and crops. Her favourite virtue is Passion, and is often shown with a zebra, swift and untiring as the wind.


Shown as a heavily-built man in red, he is the patron of all craftsmen, of engineers, artisans and architects. He invented mathematics, helped the fathers of Men and Eladi discover iron, and inspires inventors. He loves order and good form, and his prime virtue is Diligence. His totem is the buffalo.


Always shown bare-chested, the hunter’s colour is copper or bronze. He is the protector of soldiers, hunters, trappers, snake-bite victims and war animals. He loves wild places and can be heard in empty lands where no men live. He sends honey-guides and dolphins to help men and eladi, and is also the patron of watchmen, animal handlers, drovers, cowboys and shepherds. If a person is favoured by him, they will find food in the wild and survive armed conflict. His favourite virtue is Courage, and he is always shown with a leopard.


She is always shown as an old woman in purple. She is the one who calls men to judgement and eladi to death. She is quiet, dignified, solemn and stern, but with her heavenly clerks she records the prayers of the bereaved and relays them to the One, adding her own skill to the prayer, that the deceased may find sympathy at Judgement. Judges and Magisters pray to her for wisdom and discernment, and always ask for her forgiveness when passing a death sentence, that the guilt of blood will not fall on them. A person in good favour with her will die happily and peacefully (or bravely, if in conflict), with all their affairs in order, though the decision of the hour of their death is not hers to rule. She is the patroness of grandparents, the bereaved, of the sick and the dying and of undertakers, of grave-diggers, executioners and the condemned. She is invoked before battles, hunts for dangerous animals or any kind of surgery. Her favourite virtue is Mercy, and all merciful acts committed by a person during their life are written down by her and her angelic clerks, and read out to the One at his judgement of the deceased.

Then there was one other, the brightest of the Powers, who strayed in the beginning, weaving his own domination into the fabric of creation. He fell from grace by his own pride, and is locked away in the Abyss. Being unable to die, he haunts a hell made for him by He Who Is. There go all immortal spirits who act with evil in their hearts. Alas, this Enemy, burned black by the fire of the love he would not accept, still has ways of influencing the world. His were the trolls, dragons and the undead, and especially the kchabani, animals made in mocking likeness of Speaking Beings; his are the Dark Arts, where powers forbidden to Speaking Beings are granted as a fee for acts of evil; his are the dark deeds of Speaking Beings, inspired by evil dripped into the world by their own weakness. Have a care to act with love of goodness, beauty and truth in all things, for love alone builds and sustains. The Enemy has no love in him, save love of himself, and all his works are of decay and destruction.

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Landscapes of The Ironwood Staff

Hi, all. I thought it would be good to give a few examples of the landscapes that inspired The Ironwood Staff. These are real-world locations (and royalty-free photos!), but they form the background to the travels of Tomas.

The Highlands


The Drylands

The Southland Kingdom

The Forest of Greenland

Shout out to!
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The Ironwood Staff

As part of my efforts to give everyone a break from the insanity that passes for daily life, I've created my own epic fantasy story, The Ironwood Staff. The biggest difference between my stuff and the usual efforts is that this one is set in southern Africa, where the blurred line between myth and history, and between man and monster, can be seen in surprising places.
For an introduction, I went rooting around for some royalty-free photos (shout out to Shutterstock!) for some images of the landscapes that inspired the story.
However, I can't show them here right now, but they are at my blog. The map (every good epic needs a map!) is this:

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Race with a rhino
Believe it or not, this is based on a dream I once had...

It was a bright, sunny morning, cool before the heat of the day. The sky was an aching, dark blue. I was on horseback, riding in a group of other guys, spread out wide to search for something (Lost cows? Hijackers on the run? Who knows?). We rode in a flat space edged in the distance by tall, green trees, through grass that was bright gold, and so tall that it came up to the horses' withers. It looked like the horses were swimming in a sea of grass.

All at once, I surprised something in the grass: it was a young rhino calf, the pointy-lipped ('black') kind. The little calf, already the size of a large dog, stopped dead and sniffed at me and my horse. My horse also stopped suddenly, as surprised as I was. The calf didn't like this strange new creature. It gave a mewing moan, somewhere between a bleat and a scream.

My first thought was, 'Where's the mother?' quickly followed by, 'That's a black rhino, its mother is the chargey kind!' Frantically, I spun around, looking for mama. There she was, a dull brown hunched back coming towards me through the long grass. How had I missed her? The mother suddenly broke through to a clear patch, and saw me and my horse – between her and her calf.

My horse knew what was coming. With a lurch that almost unseated me, he took off. The mother wasn't buying it. She lowered her head, and charged!

Horses take a short while to build up speed. Fortunately, so do rhinos. In my fear, I searched for some facts:
'How fast do rhinos run?'
'Forty kilometres an hour, I think.'
'OK – how fast do horses run?'
I had no idea.
Freeing my feet from the stirrups, I gripped for dear life with my legs. My horse's movement smoothed from a canter to a full gallop, as my wide-brimmed, shady hat went bowling off. I gave my horse his head, praying that horses could outrun rhinos. And, that there weren't any rabbit holes or warthog burrows in this floodplain.

If you grow up in Africa, you learn from a young age that rhinos have excellent hearing and smell, but are very short-sighted. You can (theoretically) wait in front of a large tree, and then dodge the beast at the last second. The rhino won't be able to stop his charge, and he'll stun himself hitting the tree, giving you precious time to escape. But, it has to be a tree – they charge through thickets of finger-length thorns without noticing them.

I managed to direct my horse towards the trees at the edge of the plain, hoping to lose my pursuer there. I could hear the concerned shouts of my buddies, but they could do nothing to help me, and were too far away now, anyway.

There! Not a big tree, but a pair of decent-sized Camelthorn trees, leaning close together. I could fit between them, but a rhino couldn't. I carefully directed my horse's gallop between the trunks. He was a canny beast, hopefully he could get the idea if I thought it hard enough.

Leaning low on the horse's back, I risked a look behind. The rhino cow was still there, her horribly sharp horn heaving up and down as she ran. How could something that huge move so fast? Was she getting closer? I couldn't afford to work it out.

The trees were suddenly close. It suddenly occurred that there might not be enough clearance for both horse and rider. Was there? Wasn't there? Too late! I laid my face hard against my horse's neck. If there wasn't, I would soon be beyond all pain anyway. The horse, picking up on my anxiety, slowed down slightly as he ran between the trees. I felt the breeze of a near miss, and we were through! Raising my head and looking back, I saw the rhino crash into the trees. She wedged herself between them, with a crash that shook every leaf. There was a sullen crack from one of the trunks, and she stopped! Perhaps hurting, perhaps satisfied that I had been well and truly scared off, she backed away as my horse slowed to a canter, then jolted into a trot.

I turned him around, breathing almost as hard as he was. The rhino trotted back to her calf. I walked the horse parallel to the tree-line until my buddies caught up with me, laughing and jeering about Jim's race with a rhino.

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