Posted: January 16, 2014 in Uncategorized

I can’t recall when I wrote this. I didn’t date it.

This is not part of my normal mode of poetry. This is not meant to be performed on a slam stage, that is for certain.

Let’s back up.

When I was young, I wanted to be a writer. (Wait, am I starting to perform Just Start now? No.)

Like many young people, the writing that really enchanted me was fantasy. Tolkien was my first muse. He was followed by many others, and my early attempts at fiction were all in that genre, but I grew to believe… well, like most things in my life while growing up, I grew to believe that I wasn’t any good.

Jump forward by years.

I had taken a shot at writing comics when I lived in Calgary and even the ‘nearly’ success that I had (which involved a phone call from Terry Kavanagh, an editor at Marvel) made me think that I was on a fool’s errand.

I gave it up again.

Jump forward more years.

Now in Ottawa, I had started playing a game called Legend of the Five Rings. For those who don’t know, L5R is a card game (among other things) that has a story that is very importantly woven through the game. People PLAYING the game can actually effect the official story. I loved it.

The writer of the fiction that made the game so much better than an everage card game at that time was Ree Soesbee.

L5R was created by a company called AEG. Through a very convoluted process that I won’t go into here, they created it, sold it, kept creating it, stopped creating it and then bought it back again in order to keep creating it.

The important part of that for this narrative is when the temporary owner of the game, Wizards of the Coast, decided to bring L5R ‘in-house’, thus ending AEG’s run as creators of the game.

AEG decided to create a new game to replace L5R in its ‘stable’.

All I knew at that point was that Ree Soesbee came onto the L5R mailing list and announced that she was taking submissions for a new writing team. She asked for generic fantasy of a certain length, blah, blah, blah.

I decided to write something and send it in. I literally hadn’t written creatively in years and hadn’t written a fantasy story since high school (and I was in my late 20’s or so). I wrote a story about a thief and a remote temple. It was simple. It had only internal dialogue and very little action. (I also think it is no lost to time…)

Then I forgot all about it.

Until Ree sent me message asking me to join the team for the brand-new AEG Game, Warlord: Saga of the Storm. It later turned out that I was only one of a couple of people who came out of that casting call… chosen out of over a hundred entries. Other people on the team were ‘known’ to Ree already. I was ‘nobody’. (That would be why when they decided to publish a Warlord Short Story volume, I wasn’t included. My print publications had to wait a little longer.)

This was the point I became a writer again – which I have been, in one form or another, ever since.

I wrote for Warlord for five years, before given the opportunity to cross over and write for L5R instead. That was a big ‘promotion’, as L5R had returned to AEG and was definitely the ‘crown jewel’. I wrote for L5R for another five years before resigning to focus my creative efforts on my peotry. I regret that sometimes, but not usually. I am a lot better at performance poetry than I was at fantasy fiction.

Still though…

I don’t want to talk here about my great times working on L5R with Shawn Carman and the team. What I want to talk about is working on Warlord.

Thing were a lot tougher on Warlord. We weren’t given nearly the same respect that the L5R folks were afforded. (I REALLY saw that once I switched.) Most of the time there was under Andrew Getting, he was VERY important in my development as a writer, but the process was often strained. I wasn’t ready for an editor yet. I learned a lot but pushed our relationship to the breaking point at times while doing so. (Sorry Andrew!) At the end I was co-lead with Laura Scott, but I was only one for one set before leaving for L5R.

Coming back to the point of this post, in a round-a-bout way, I need to go back to Ree. When she formed the Warlord team, the first set was already in the can. Our first instruction was to choose a character from the first set and ‘adopt’ it. Write a fiction about that character.
I can’t recall which character was my first choice, but the same character was picked by someone else. I readily gave it up because I had another choice that I liked just as much: Baqbou Umbala.

Baqbou was an interesting character for me. For one, he was black, complete with dreads. He wasn’t some sort of bad stereotype, though. He just was drawn to look like this cool black guy with dreads. The point was, he was the only one. Every other human character was white.
He also had some interesting traits on his card. It said he was a Seer. It also said he was a Priest of Amoudosi. It also said Narawat, whatever that meant.

Ree shared a map with us. Here was the map of the world we were writing stories about and right at the very bottom of the map was land marked as Narawat. It was just poking from off the edge.

When I told Ree I wanted to use Baqbou she informed me that she had created nothing about Narawat yet. The Priest of Amoudosi thing was just flavour and neither it nor Narawat had any substance whatsoever. She seemed to be saying that to try and discourage me.

Yeah, that’s not what happened.

I created Narawat from whole cloth. I created a land of fire and desert. I created a pantheon of gods for them to worship. I created a system of knowledge and education. I created EVERYTHING to do with Narawat (with a couple of minor off-hand mentions by Ree as jumping off points occasionally. In addition to the name of the country and Baqbou’s chose deity, Ree also created the first Havat-lahn, but with no real explanation of what that meant, other than the person being a weapon’s master of some time).

The whole thing was received very well by the fans to the point where the designers created a whole game expansion to focus on the ‘Southern Kingdoms’ (which meant creating a bunch of other kingdoms for different factions, because only Narawat was really developed).

Along the way I created Baqbou’s brother, Rustiq (yeah, yeah… I know. I wouldn’t do that now, but I was really new to all of this back then). I had a very long storyline for the Brothers Umbala… one that ended up running for the full five years I worked for the game. Rustiq died and came back as an undead Warlord (important figures in the game). Eventually the two brothers and faced each other on the battle field.

They died.

At one point I collected all my stories in the Brothers Umbala saga and bound them into a book (with AEG’s permission). I can hardly even look at it, because I found the writing so clunky, but the IDEAS there are something I still really am proud of.

Let’s jump now to a different time. Now I am a poet. The kind of poetry I do is very different than anything I spoke about above. It is very personal. Sometimes raw. Political at times. Emotional always. I slam.
Meanwhile, a young woman I had known since she was a teenager (she and my wife shared an employer at one point and later worked together on a Fringe show) had become quite an accomplished poet and writer. Her name is Amal el-Mohtar and if you are a fan of fantasy writing (or anything that even hints of fantasy writing) you should seek her out. Her work is incredible. (And for my poet friends, read ‘The Honey Month’. Then read it again.)

Well Amal is also the editor of an on-line poetry magazine called Goblin Fruit. I read it and realized that I still had that old calling – the feel and love for fantasy. The question was, could I write it?

So, I wrote a poem. This poem is from the point of you of Baqbou Umbala, right AFTER he died. I asked Amal is she would take a look at it and she kindly did so… and kindly was honest in her appraisal of it.

So, yeah, this was not my entry into the world of fantasy poetry. 

But, wow, do I miss these characters… this land. Warlord is now a dead game, and both AEG and the company that took it over as a license had dropped the Narawat storylines anyway. It has lain fallow now for… ten years, maybe?

I wonder if AEG would let me have Narawat back. Not to write for games, but a land for me to play in. A place to try to see if I COULD write fantasy fiction.
I created so much there that was really, really good, though my writing may not have been up to the challenge.

But I am better now.

Anyway, here is the poem, as written. Amal’s criticism were all just, but it sits here, unaltered. It is more a record of my love for these characters than any high art. So be it.


I don’t remember how I got here
But this is the here that I remember.
Gone are the hilly grasses and
Aged trees that change only
At their own pace
And not the pace of
The fire.
I see hard-packed earth
Baked to the colour of
Mellaceus – between honey and skin –
cracked and worn.
The fire has been here,
But it has gone and it is the
Time of travel.
I listen to the ground and
Find no sign, as expected.
The Northmen believed we could
Call the flame,
Not realizing it was the flame that
Called us.

The flame called me.

The land moves beneath me.
The hard land gives way to
Shoots of green, then taller stalks,
Then harvests of green and gold.
I see the adepts of Vuno,
Of Urashrasha.
I see the three-sided energy
Bringing life to our land.

I see the land of
My people –
The Chosen People –
Who were given this land
To protect the Gods
Who then protect us.

I cross the land without walking.
I have been far,
Far from my land – my home.
This home, my city
Erupts from the land with
Walls of rock and ash.
It is older than the People,
Built by the Gods below –
Their second gift to us
After life.

The fire is strong here.
It runs beneath our feet and
Threatens to emerge,
But it will not.
It could pull the rock apart
At its roots
And leave no sign of its Chosen,
But it will not.

For there is life here.
There is music here.
It is always present,
Even when no musician can be found.
It flits through the temples
And homes. It flits through
Ears and hearts.
It envelops and teases.
It is soft amongst the stone
And shale.
It is peaceful between
The fire and sky.

I see the temples.
The glow of Kizazi
Flows through the streets.
Sanaa sits in
Beauty and contentment.
Mauti waits and Kinamisa
Stands alone.

I see Djarat, where my brother sits.
I do not go in, though I wish it.
Somehow, I know he is not there.

Then Amoudosi. My home.
The fire that surrounds us
And defines us.
I see gold and copper
Capturing the sun
And joining the flame below.

I do not enter again.
I know this is my last visit.

The light of the morning
Removes the white of mourning.

The light strikes the temple
And I smile.

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