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A Flat Affect

Eric Flint

On St. Anselm’s feast day in the Year of the Hedgehog, King Bertrand of Wollend was seized by a sudden caprice. True, he was given to such things, but this was an enthusiasm beyond the norm.

“According to the texts,” he announced to his privy council, “this year marks the millennium of the birth of Chefferax, greatest—by far!—of the generals of antiquity.”

“Ah . . . which texts, Your Majesty?” asked Hubert Reese, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. His tone was deferential, but cautious. King Bertrand’s whims were prone to make excessive charges upon the royal purse.

“I forget,” the king said, waving his hand dismissively. “But I’m sure it’s true. So let us have a season of revelry! A great pageant of ballads and poesy! Summon the minstrels and the troubadours and the bards!”

The mien of the chancellor grew dour. Minstrels were profligate in their demands; troubadours, worse; bards, worst of all. Where honest workmen were satisfied with unassuming wages and a modest bonus upon completion of their task, poets insisted upon perquisites and lagniappes at every turn—and lavish praise, to boot.

Hubert Reese would rather have applauded fishwives in the street. But his was not the deciding view when it came to these matters. For a moment, he thought to appeal to his colleagues on the council, but the thought was short-lived. They knew their monarch’s moods as well as he did; and, when all was said and done, enjoyed the benefits of their positions in the council. Arguing with King Bertrand when he was in the grip of one of his fancies was not, as the lowlifes in trade would put it, a good career move.

Several years back, the chancellor had heard a young poet proclaim his desire—no, his pressing need!—to speak truth to power. He grew no older. His bones moldered somewhere in the bottom of the royal moat.

There was nothing for it. “As you wish, Your Majesty.” Reese glanced at his fellows on the council, but none would meet his eye. “I’m sure we can have the services of the Crown and Scepter Theater at a reasonable price,” he added.

King Bertrand’s eyes widened and his mouth opened, as if he were uncertain whether to be shocked or outraged.

He settled for both.

“Preposterous!” he spluttered. “Are lays and ballads in praise of history’s finest strategos to be crabbed within the confines of a glorified shack?”

He stretched forth a royal hand, splayed wide in full decree. “I will not have it! An outdoor stadium must be built! Of solid wood and festooned with banners!”

The chancellor foresaw many hours in the future, when he himself would be crabbed over the kingdom’s books, confined within the king’s grandiosities and impractical disposition.

But he said nothing. Spoke neither truth to power nor caution to monarchy. Not even when the king piled on the final blow.

“And send for Garrick! We must have him! He’s the finest trouvère on the continent!”

He was nothing of the sort, in the chancellor’s opinion. The Garrick creature’s lays were given to neither lofty judgments nor refined sensitivities. They were coarse and crude in sentiment; stark in execution; sung—if the word could be used—in a voice any crow would be proud to call its own.

But he made no protest. The king doted on the fellow. They’d been friends in their youth. No doubt a misspent youth on the part of the minstrel. The king’s youth . . . Well, he was of royal blood.

The troubadour Garrick arrived three weeks later, by which time the new stadium was well underway. He was immediately ushered into the monarch’s presence.

“Welcome, old friend! Welcome!” King Bertrand even rose from his throne to give the bard an embrace. “I can’t tell you how much I’ve longed for your presence.”

As he resumed his seat, the king waved dismissively. “Wollend’s full of minnesingers now—but they’re rank amateurs! The whole lot!”

“Each and every one?” asked Garrick. He was slender to the point of being skeletal, though his physique was still sinewy. Deep-set eyes looked out from either side of a hatchet-blade nose. “That seems unlikely, on the face of it.”

Bertrand shrugged irritably. “Fussy as ever, I see. Fine, fine. Probably only the moitié are actual amateurs. But the rest might as well be.”

The king began an exaggerated pantomime of a man playing a lute. “Plunk-plink-plonk! And the words are still worse! Sugary prattle piled atop treacle and vapor. Would you believe one of the louts compared Chefferax to a plum pudding? I had him soundly thrashed, I’ll let you know!”

“Perhaps if you weren’t so quick with the knout and bastinado,” Garrick advised, “your minstrels would be more venturesome.”

“Bah. Do them good to limp about on properly cudgeled feet while they nurse their lumps and bruises.” The king now sprawled on the throne, his posture and countenance the very essence of disgruntlement. “You’ll sing for me tomorrow, I trust.”

“As you wish.”

Garrick took the stage a little before noon of the following day. By then, word of his arrival had spread through the capital and the half-finished stands were full.

Initially, full of striplings drawn by the minstrel’s fame. But they were soon cuffed and elbowed aside in the front rows by veterans of the royal army. Garrick was considered by them to be their poet. Others could listen; but they were merely tolerated and could damn well take the back seats.

Chancellor Reese sat in the royal box to be left and just behind the king. He would have preferred not to attend at all, but rank hath its detriments as well as its privileges. Stoutly, he braced himself for the ordeal.

And ordeal it certainly was. Garrick’s verses dealt with war and war alone. Of the finer and more delicate human endeavors, there was not a trace.

Nor was there a trace of martial refinement. In Garrick’s lays, swords hacked meat and bone, scattering body parts with as much abandon as bodily fluids. Spears pierced brains; axes spilled entrails; entrails tripped advancing troops and cowards in retreat alike.

Blood was everywhere, along with any word that rhymed. Mud seemed a particular favorite of the bard.

Had his voice been muddy as well, it wouldn’t have been so bad. Hubert could have let the words blend into meaningless mush. But, no. Garrick’s voice was clear and sharp, if not in the least melodious.

Not in the least poignant or impassioned, either. The poet was as grizzled as the veterans who watched and listened. He favored a flat affect, his somewhat high-pitched voice spilling out the verses the way a rice merchant spills his grain. Each the same; each uninflected; each as flavorless as the sunrise on a winter day.

Blood. Brains. An arm here; a foot there; a loop of gut over yonder. Death, destruction and mayhem, ubiquitous. But the affect . . . flat. Always flat.

For their part, the veterans listened intently, their gnarly big-knuckled hands often cupped above a cane. They applauded rarely, and then sparely. But throughout they nodded their appreciation and issued occasional grunts of approval.

When it was all over, many of them were heard to say: So it was.

The striplings crowded into the back rows were less favorable. Some made derisory comments concerning the sparse intonations; others deprecated the lean and scanty meter; still more deplored the unrefined subject matter. But they were soon sent to flight by irate veterans clambering their way up the stands.

Fortunately for the striplings, the veterans were doughty but arthritic. Their forward progress had little of the élan of their youth. Inexorable, surely; lightning-fast, not so much.

For his part, Garrick took no notice of the altercation. For the opinion of striplings, he cared not a whit. And while the same could not be said of the opinion of veterans, the troubadour was not given to gauging himself by the plaudits of others. In this as in his poesy, he favored a flat affect.

No ladies were seen to swoon.

King Bertrand heaped praise upon Garrick—praise and a considerable amount of gold, to the despair and disgust of Chancellor Reese. But within a short time after the poet’s performance, the royal humor grew sour.

“I’m bored,” the king complained. “It’s always the same. The great Chefferax did this, the incomparable tactician did that, the matchless strategist did the other. I’ve heard it all. I’m bored, I say, bored.”

Listening to the complaint, Garrick grew concerned. He well knew the king’s temperament from long acquaintance. Nothing good was likely to come of this.

“Perhaps I could alter a key,” he suggested.

“Bah. This key, that key, what does it matter? It’s the substance of the great general’s life that’s the problem.”

The poet definitely didn’t like the way this was going. “What can one do? The past is fixed, inalterable.”

“Is it?” demanded Bertrand. “In life, certainty. But we deal with poesy here, man! Which is to say, fable—which is itself but a stifling term for fancy. And I fancy something different. So.”

Garrick greatly distrusted that “so.” But he said nothing. There was still a chance—faint chance, but a chance—that the king’s mood would pass.


“So let’s have a new epic!” Bertrand exclaimed. “A tale no longer bound by the cramped confines of time and space. Perhaps—yes! A great enemy from the future! Sent back in time to ravage the ancient world! Only Chefferax can save the day. With nothing more—I leave this entirely to your discretion and sensibility—than the aide of a deaf-mute from that same woeful future.”

“How so is this my discretion?”

“Well, you’ll have to devise the tale, of course. Who else could do it justice?”

Garrick gazed at the king from lowered brows. “I am quite busy,” he pointed out. “As you should know—being the source of most of my commissions.”

The king waved the matter away. “Yes, yes, I am aware of all that. But you needn’t take on the time-consuming and petty business of actually choosing the notes and rhymes. You need only limn the broad outlines of the story. I’ll find some promising newcomer to do the scut work.”

The minstrel’s eyes were even more deep-set than usual. “We tried this once before. As you may recall, it went quite badly. The newcomer you found on that occasion refused to do the needed preparations. The end result was deplorable. The more so since you insisted on attaching my name to the shambles.”

King Bertrand glared. But said nothing. Truth to tell, he was a bit intimidated by his nominal subordinate. They had been friends in their youth, and such histories often undermine the natural order of things.

“Well,” he said. “Well.”

Again, the king waved his hand, this time with more irritation than insouciance. “Oh, fine—fine. If you don’t like the end result, you can extinguish your formal association with it. But I still insist that it be done!”

Garrick kept a rough silence. “For a suitable fee, naturally,” the king added.

The chancellor’s own brows were now lowered. Garrick’s notion of “a suitable fee” was sure to be as profligate as that of any bard.

Unluckily for Hubert, Bertrand spotted his dour countenance. “Let’s have no officious quibbling!” he commanded. “Always remember the great philosopher’s dictum: whatever is, is right.

In response, though he considered the statement preposterous, Garrick said nothing. He saw no point in disputing philosophy with a monarch. Especially one with an open purse.

Weeks passed, and Garrick eventually half-forgot the arrangement. But the day came when he was summoned once again before the throne.

“I’ve found him!” said Bertrand. The king seemed oddly gleeful, as if he were a child about to play a prank. “And would you believe, in his province he’s considered a notorious malcontent! I’d have him chopped, but he’s something of a droll fellow. Besides, he says he’s given up his reprobate ways.”

Garrick cared little of such matters. “Can he sing? Play the lute? Most of all, follow the dramatic logic in order to develop it properly?”

“Splendidly, to the first.” The king waggled his hand. “Well enough, to the second—his fretwork could use some improvement. As for the third . . . well . . .”

The poet’s brows came down. It might be said he glowered.

“Who’s to say? Who’s to say?” demanded Bertrand. Cheerfully: “Let’s put him to the test!”

Garrick began to balk. To Chancellor Reese’s great distress, the king increased his remuneration. In the end, the poet yielded. Not gracefully, perhaps, but neither with any disrespect to the royal person.

Always one to make his preparations ahead of time, Garrick had already detailed the ribs and sinews of the epic-to-be. Chords, meter, rhyme—those he left to the minstrel who would put it to song. His concern was that the tale be coherent; logical; the end flowing from the beginning in a graceful and sturdy arch; all triumphs and calamities in their proper place.

He met the king’s chosen minnesinger—Fulchard, the fellow’s name—in a nearby tavern.

“I am told you are a disruptor and a dissident.” So he began, as he handed over his notes to the round and ruddy-faced fellow already seated at the table. “For my part, I care little about the public tranquility. More often than not, it’s simply the peace of cows chewing their cud. Agitate all you will. But take care of my notes, and be true to the tale embedded therein.”

Smiling cheerily, Fulchard took the notes. “Oh, that business is all behind me now. Mind you, I haven’t recanted a single tenet or precept of my creed. Which may be summarized as: whatever is, is wrong.

In response, though he considered the statement preposterous, Garrick said nothing. He saw no point in disputing philosophy with an anarchist. Especially one who might yet be of service.

More weeks passed. Eventually, Fulchard began private rehearsals in a rented loft, to which Garrick was invited. Partly out of civility and partly because he was curious, the poet often attended.

As the king had said, Fulchard’s voice was accomplished; at times, even superb. His skills with the lute were . . . passable, but no better. Given the fellow’s invariant courtesy and high spirits, however, Garrick lent him his advice. Even, from time to time, practiced with him directly.

As for the novice troubadour’s ability to grasp the logic of a tale . . .

Here, the blessings were mixed.

On the one hand, Fulchard was no slacker. He studied the material assiduously; delved into ancient manuals and modern handbooks alike; questioned any and all who might shed light on anything of relevance. In this respect, Garrick was quite pleased.

On the other hand . . .

As might be expected of one with such a history, Fulchard was given to grandiose gestures and magniloquent turns of phrase. As time passed, his embellishments upon Garrick’s taut narrative threatened to collapse the epic under its own weight.

“And then, you see—would he not attempt the feat?—the great Chefferax will lead his army across the Harichaca Desert! All of it! All hundreds upon hundreds of leagues! Guided only by the stars and his sure—”

“What would they drink?” queried Garrick, in a spare tone of voice. “There are no wells of record in the Harichaca and only two oases.”

Fulchard was taken aback. He had not, admittedly, considered that problem. Poets rarely do. In this, Garrick was much the exception than the rule.

“Ah,” he said.

“And how much time would this exploit take?” queried Garrick, his tone of voice becoming thinner still. “You may recall that my notes would have the general surprising his foes at Drumble Pass, early in summer. Yet you would have him emerging from the Harichaca halfway across the continent no sooner than mid-April.”

“Ah,” said Fulchard, beginning to look downcast. He had not considered the rigorous matters of calendar. Poets rarely do. In this also, Garrick was anomalous.

Garrick rose from the table where they’d been conversing. “Do as you will,” he said. “My advice, however, is to hue more closely to the notes.”

In the end, Fulchard chose to accept his mentor’s counsel. Privately, Garrick was pleased. But he said nothing, either way. Praise and criticism both, he preferred leaving to others. Favoring, in this as in so many things, a flat affect.

King Bertrand was not so reticent.

“He’s taking too long,” he complained. “And I don’t like his frills and hyperbole. Do something!”

“He’s progressing,” Garrick said mildly. “We must be patient. This is a grand epic, you know, not a sonnet.”

“Bah.” The king glared at Hubert Reese. “Why is the royal purse so lean these days, Chancellor?”

Reese looked much put upon. As well he might.

In the end, the epic was finished and Fulchard began its performance in the same open-air stadium that Bertrand had constructed for Garrick. But as time passed, the king grew fatigued and querulous. “It’s too damn long,” he complained to his favored poet. “You would have completed it by now. The veterans will grow disgruntled. Look! Not a one of them has yet stamped his feet on the stands in praise.”

“Minstrels differ in their styles,” Garrick said. “Lays and ballads do not lend themselves to simple measures and cuts. The veterans seem well enough pleased. Several ladies have swooned. Best of all, the striplings are complaining.”


Eventually, King Bertrand stopped coming altogether. A few veterans did likewise, but most remained. A few more ladies swooned.

When the epic was finished, there was considerable applause. Several more ladies swooned and one or two veterans even stamped their feet.

The striplings were dissatisfied, of course. But Fulchard gave them no more notice that would Garrick himself.

“So, what do you think?” he asked his mentor. There was a grin on his ruddy-cheeked face. “Perhaps whatever is, is not always wrong, eh?”

Garrick smiled. “It was adequate, certainly.”

A year passed, and then another. A third, a fourth. Then, just before St. Anselm’s feast day in the Year of the Marmot, King Bertrand collapsed on his throne. He was rushed to his bed, but never awoke. A fortnight later, he joined his illustrious predecessors.

The ceremony was held in the cemetery attached to St. Mansel’s cathedral. The speeches of the dignitaries were long, ornate, full of plaudits and acclaim. Their oratory was fulsome and declamatory.

Chancellor Hubert Reese was particularly oleaginous, repaying the pecuniary largesse of the king he’d served with rhetoric that was more lavish still. There seemed no reason not to, words being the cheapest of coins.

Fulchard attended the service, but said nothing. As was proper, given the modest position of bards in a well-managed realm.

Sadly, the same was not true of Garrick. By Bertrand’s express command—he’d gone so far as to put it in writing, and affixed the royal seal—the final speech was to be given by the king’s favorite poet.

The dignitaries braced themselves. The sun was long past the zenith and their bellies were now suffering from the excesses of their lungs. Lungs which did not begin to have the capacity of a man who’d been a troubadour for decades.

In the back row, Fulchard grinned. “After all this time,” he murmured to himself, “you’d think the silly buggers would know better.”

As he expected, Garrick was terse. He would expose in public his private philosophy, but in death as in life he maintained the same stance. Always, a flat affect.

“What is, is sometimes adequate,” the poet stated. He gazed down for a moment upon the urn holding the royal ashes. “My liege and my friend Bertrand’s life was quite adequate, I believe.”

He stepped aside, his task complete. The dignitaries stared, dumbfounded. The veterans in the back pounded their canes on the ground with approval. Fulchard applauded vigorously.

No ladies were seen to swoon, however.

Eric Flint’s writing career began with the novel Mother of Demons, published in 1997. With David Drake, he has collaborated on the six novels in the Belisarius series (An Oblique Approach, In the Heart of Darkness, Destiny’s Shield, Fortune’s Stroke, The Tide of Victory, and The Dance of Time), as well as a novel entitled The Tyrant. His alternate history novel 1632 was published in 2000, followed by many sequels, several of which made the New York Times’ extended bestselling list. In addition to the novels in the 1632 series, of which there will be nineteen by July of 2015, he has edited eleven anthologies of short fiction set in that universe. He also publishes the Grantville Gazette, a bi-monthly electronic magazine devoted to the series which has now produced almost sixty issues.

Flint has also co-authored SF adventure novels with the South African writer Dave Freer: Rats, Bats & Vats, The Rats, the Bats, and the Ugly, and Pyramid Scheme. His comic fantasy novels The Philosophical Strangler and Forward the Mage came out in May of 2001 and March of 2002. He is also working on a major fantasy series with Mercedes Lackey and Dave Freer, the first four volumes of which are The Shadow of the Lion, This Rough Magic, Much Fall of Blood, and Burdens of the Dead.

Flint is also working on several other ongoing projects:

• With David Weber on a series of novels set in Weber’s Honor Harrington universe. The first three of these, Crown of Slaves, Torch of Freedom, and Cauldron of Ghosts, have already appeared.

• A new alternate history series taking place in Jacksonian America, the first two volumes of which have already appeared: 1812: The Rivers of War and 1824: The Arkansas War.

• Further volumes in the Joe’s World series, which began with The Philosophical Strangler and Forward the Mage.

• Two new SF adventure novels with Ryk Spoor, set in the universe they created in the Bemmie trilogy (Boundary, Threshold, and Portal).

• Two SF adventure volumes with K.D. Wentworth, The Course of Empire and The Crucible of Empire. He is now working on the third volume in the series, The Span of Empire, with David Carrico.

In addition to his own writing, Flint is the editor of several series reissuing the works of past SF authors. These include James H. Schmitz, Keith Laumer, Christopher Anvil, Murray Leinster, Randall Garrett, Tom Godwin, and Howard L. Myers. He was also the editor of the online science fiction and fantasy magazine, Jim Baen’s Universe.

Flint graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of California at Los Angeles in 1968, and later received a Master’s degree in history from the same university. Despite his academic credentials, Flint spent the next quarter of a century as an activist in the American trade union movement, working as a longshoreman, truck driver, autoworker, steel worker, oil worker, meatpacker, glassblower, and machinist. He has lived at various times in California, Michigan, West Virginia, Alabama, Ohio, and Illinois. He currently lives in northwest Indiana with his wife Lucille.

At my request, he supplied the following afterword:

Writing this little story brought back to mind the years I spent working on the Belisarius series with David. I began writing the first novel, An Oblique Approach, sometime in either late 1996 or early 1997; I forget which. David had produced the outline a year earlier, thereabouts. I finished the sixth and last novel in the series, The Dance of Time, in July of 2005. It was published in February of the following year.

Eight or nine years to write six novels—a total of about 850,000 words. Of course, the Belisarius series wasn’t the only thing I was working on during that period. I wrote the first four novels one right after the other: An Oblique Approach was published in March of 1998; In the Heart of Darkness, in August of 1998; Destiny’s Shield, in July of 1999; and Fortune’s Stroke in June of 2000.

Four novels in a little over two years. That was a very fast pace, when you consider that I was still working a full-time job as a machinist. I didn’t start writing as my exclusive occupation until September of 1999, by which time the first four books in the series were finished.

Thereafter the pace slowed, mostly because I was starting to work on other projects. My novel, 1632, was published in February of 2000, followed shortly thereafter by the first of the many novels I would co-author with Dave Freer—Rats, Bats & Vats, which came out in September of the same year.

The fifth book in the Belisarius series, The Tide of Victory, came out in July of 2001—about the same roughly once-a-year pace the other four books had maintained. And then . . .

The series languished for several years. The final novel, The Dance of Time, wasn’t published until February of 2006, almost five years later. During that same stretch, I wrote and published eleven other novels. Those were: Pyramid Scheme, The Shadow of the Lion, Forward the Mage, The Tyrant, 1633, Crown of Slaves, The Course of Empire, This Rough Magic, 1634: The Galileo Affair, The Wizard of Karres, and The Rats, the Bats & the Ugly. Except for The Tyrant, none of these novels have any connection to the Belisarius series.

To put it another way, it took about twice as long to produce the last novel in the series than it had to produce the first five.

There were two reasons for this odd situation. The first was that my career as an author really began taking off with the publication of 1632, and I had lots of other work at hand. The second and more important reason, however, was that by then Jim Baen had lost his interest in the Belisarius series and kept urging me to work on other projects.

Why did he lose interest? It’s hard to say for sure. I think what happened was that Jim got soured by the lousy sell-through of the hardcover edition of the third book in the series, Destiny’s Shield. And, truth be told, the sell-through was a bit dismal—not much better than forty percent. If you’re unclear on the term, “sell-through” refers to the percentage of books shipped which are actually sold. The average for fiction publishing is somewhere around fifty percent, but Baen Books generally does better than that—probably close to sixty percent or so—and it was something that Jim took a great deal of pride in.

On the other hand . . .

Destiny’s Shield was the first volume in the series that Baen published in hardcover. The first two novels only came out in a mass-market paperback edition, until the reissue of the entire series in a trilogy omnibus many years later. Readers tend to get disgruntled when a publisher switches from paperback to hardcover editions in the middle of a series, and it was my opinion—and David Drake’s—that that explained the problem.

Our assessment seemed to be substantiated by the sales and sell-through of the later volumes. In terms of sell-through, Destiny’s Shield marked the nadir of the series. By now, as the years have passed, the sell-through has slowly crept up to the industry average of fifty percent. But the fourth book, Fortune’s Stroke, had a sixty-three percent sell-through in hardcover—considerably above the average. The fifth book, The Tide of Victory, did still better, with a seventy-one percent sell-through in hardcover. The last novel, The Dance of Time, saw a drop in sell-through down to fifty-seven percent. But that’s still respectable and not too surprising given the long hiatus before it finally appeared.

But Jim didn’t seem to be paying attention any longer. For whatever reason, he’d lost his interest in the series. The final novel might never have been published at all, except than David and I finally insisted that it had to be written and Jim acquiesced.

For me, though, what I think of as “the Belisarius period” in my writing career will always be the two-and-a-half years when I wrote the first four novels. First, because that was all I worked on. To this day, despite now having forty-six novels in print, I have never again worked exclusively on one project for that long a stretch.

The other reason, however, is more important. That was the time when I went through what I think of as my apprenticeship as an author, and the man who was central to my development was David Drake. For all the many and obvious differences between us as writers, if you know where to look you can see the similar craftsmanship in the way we construct a story—the narrative architecture, if you will.

That’s hardly surprising, since I learned that architecture from David. Those people who’ve seen David’s original outlines for the Belisarius series generally think that the final outcome was radically different. That assessment is both right and wrong.

It’s right, inasmuch as David’s voice and mine are very different. But it’s quite wrong, if you focus on the logic of the narrative rather than what you might call the colorations and embellishments.

Yes, my final product was at least twice as long as anything David would have written himself. He is generally a terse writer; I am not. He generally favors a flat affect; I do not.

But while those things are not trivial, they have little to do with a story’s basic structure. That is to say, what is this story about? What is the central conflict; who are the key players and what are their motivations; and how does that conflict work itself out in the end according to the logic of those motivations. To put it more tersely, what is the narrative arch?

All that I learned from David. I added much to the Belisarius series in the way of colorations and embellishments—call them curlicues if you want, but show some respect; they’re damn good ones—but the fundamental logic of the story didn’t change a bit.

Trust me. I tried to change it, from time to time. And what I always found was that if I was embellishing the narrative logic, I had no trouble at all. But whenever I wandered away from the story arch, I ran into trouble. David was always very pleasant about it and never did more than advance mildly worded suggestions. As time passed, however, I learned to take those suggestions dead seriously.

That’s how I learned to write. If you’re wondering, yes, at one point I did plan to have Belisarius march his army across the Sahara, before the ridiculous notion collapsed under its own weight. Always a courteous fellow—to me, at any rate; I suspect there are a fair number of fools out there who’ve found themselves not suffered gladly—David never once said, “I told you so.”

Even though he had, of course. Many, many times.

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