a Kindness

Photo by Lily Banse on Unsplash

You know how we have a murder of crows, a blessing of unicorns, and a cauldron of bats? What if, in a world where humans are space-orcs, a group of humans is called a kindness?

When the grey-haired human asked Xar’ell if zir was cold, zir answered yes. Xovas’ simply had base temperatures that were lower than most travelling species. It’s not like zir was uncomfortable, simply that zir wasn’t really comfortable either. That evening a kindness flocked the messhall, filling it with the sounds of their chatter and the clicking of wooden and metal needles. Now Xar’ell has garments made of ‘wool’ from a creature called ‘sheep’ in the exact colours of the Argodal nebula (zem favourite). Zir has never felt so warm, both inside and out.

When a freak storm wrecked her house Bahrya was in despair. What was she to do for shelter, for both herself and her brood of six? She’d never thought a kindness would show up, let alone two. One came with wood and tools and “don’t worry, it might not look great, but it will be sturdy. And you’ll have a roof over your head until we can rebuild the house”. The other with blankets and toys and “I baked you greshpen, from your homeworld. Now the recipe called for yakka root, which I didn’t have, but I think sweet potato comes pretty close”. Bahrya wouldn’t have been able to stop the chitter of pure emotion as she pulled the humans into her many arms, even if she’d wanted to.

Now, a kindness should not be underestimated. And neither is a kindness always kind to everyone. When Fysha’rrelle was wrongfully accused and arrested, he had but one moment to meet the eyes of their human friend, rage clear on her face. After all, Fysha’relle wasn’t the first innocent Haftarr to be taken away, and he doubted he would be the last. That night, in a cold jail cell, he could hear the kindness coming. Their repeated words ringing off of the stone walls, the grey being warmed to orange by the torchlight of the kindness. As he looked from the window saw his friend, standing in the front, a voice expander in one hand, a sign in the other. Most humans were holding signs, he saw, a call to justice. When the guards tried to use violence to disperse the kindness, they were met with force they had never expected. No, Fysha’relle thought, a kindness is not always kind to everyone, but seeing one fighting not only for him, but for his people, made the cold jail cell feel a lot warmer.

Finding Fantasy Names

— for D&D and writing.

It’s one of those things any writer or GM struggles with. Naming things. Characters, towns, magical doodads, everything needs a name. And not just a name, the perfect name. So today, I wanted to share some tips and sources that have really worked for me.

Keep a list

Inspiration can be found anywhere, at anytime. So I make sure I have lists where I can quickly jot things down if I come across anything I want to remember. In my dropbox I have a huge word document where I keep all my names. I also have a page dedicated to it in my bullet- and writer’s journals, as well as a quick reference guide in my GM’s journal. I keep my lists divided into sections, as well as some themed lists:

  • Town names
  • Male names
  • Female names
  • Gender neutral names
  • Surnames
  • Nature names (for EarthSong Forge: a city in my Averion D&D setting, where names are traditionally nature-inspired)
  • Colour names (for the Colours, the different branches of special forces in Averion)
  • Crystal names
  • Superhero names
  • Fairy names

In my GM’s journal I keep some of these lists as well, with names fitting my setting. Often I make a little note behind a name with which race I find it most fitting. Then, when my players interview a random NPC on the street, I can quickly pick out a name for them and make a note when and where it was used.
To prevent going back to the same names over and over, if I’ve used a name for a story, I will make it bold in my huge word document.

Forge your own

Something I like to do is take a modern name, and forge it into something a bit more suitable for fantasy. Usually I take a name as a base, then take off a few letters, change another, then add a few new ones and see what new and fun combinations I can come up with. For example: Melanie – Melnie – Melnia – Melniya. Or: Melanie – Melan – Melandra. Or: Melanie – Movanie – Movani – Mohvanii.

End credits

Every once in a while I like to grab my notebook and pen and take a moment to watch the end credits of a movie or show that I was watching. It’s a great way to get some names you’ve never heard before, since most are international productions, or have more common names but with a unique spelling. For example, the end credits of WandaVision gave me Neraida, Khodai, Mayes, Vasilios, Tanis, Gaëtan, Nicanor, Solan, Phen, Inzinna and Praveen.

Last names as first names

Something I’ve noticed is that surnames usually make amazing first names, especially for a fantasy setting. In my job we always ask the surnames of our clients to put into the system, and I’ve taken a lot of amazing names from there already. Especially if it’s from a culture that is not your own, the last names work amazing. For example, Janssen is a very common Dutch last name, but in America Jensen is used as a first name. Some other ideas: Aarden (Dutch), Darzi (Persian), Solak (Turkish), Melnyk (Ukranian) and a few of the names from the End Credits-list are also surnames!

Name generators

There are many (fantasy) name generators online, which are a great resource for finding names. I use them often, and if I see a name that I like, but doesn’t fit the character I’m currently searching for, it goes on a list! By far the best and most extensive one is Fantasy Name Generators. Not only do they have names for *everything* – from magical swords to drugs to cyberpunk cities – they have everything sorted in a way that it’s super easy to navigate. And the more you use it, the more trees get planted! How amazing is that?

(Baby) Name sites

(Baby) name sites are also an amazing resource. Most let you search by gender, cultural origin, or theme. My favourite for this is Behind the Name and their sister pages Behind the Surname and Behind the Place Name. Often names from a different culture work amazingly for your fantasy setting. They are names you don’t hear often, which means they won’t look out of place. Also, they make great bases for forging your own names.

Graveyards and obituaries

Another great source for names, if perhaps a bit…dark. Both usually have a person’s full name noted, which means that it can be a treasuretrove for longer names. Here in the Netherlands we often see that middle names are more unique, so it’s a great source for the more “unusual, but still this realm” names. It’s also a great place to see many different versions of the same name, or to find names that tie to a specific period.

So there you have it, a few sources and tips that I like to work with while writing or planning a game session. Where do you get your names?

Story: Wolf Queen

Photo by Jr Korpa on Unsplash

A princess is a creature of grace, poise, decorum. They are soft, gentle, patient. I, however, was none of those things, much to my parents’ despair.

  They only brought that upon themselves, of course. A firstborn daughter, a royal invitation to greet the new monarch not sent, and therefore an insult perceived by a powerful magical being. You know how the story goes. I was cursed and, in my story, there were no blessings to gentle it. No other wishes for my future, or what little she left of it. Just a creature of shadow and talon which appeared, damned the bright vision my parents had of my life, and vanished.

   My childhood was a moderately happy one, even with the dark cloud of the curse hanging forever in my periphery. My parents loved me. My sisters, when they were born, did the same. And I of course love them with all that I am. My parents hired tutors, made sure I learned what it meant to be a monarch, made sure I was prepared for a future of rule. They simply made sure my sister learned as well.

   “Just in case.” My father would say, his gaze flitting across the empty hallways as if something unseen was always listening, always watching.

   And when I got too restless, when the green of the forest and the blue of the lake called to me and I couldn’t help but give in to the need to run, to chase, they took me riding. We’d make trips, have picnics, run around on the heather-filled fields and watch the sky change her colour with the setting sun. For the longest time, we were as happy as we could be.

   My eighteenth birthday was a beautiful and clear full moon night. The air rife with the scents of fresh bread and roasted meats of the feast held in honour of my coming of age. Gentle and joyful music filled the ballroom as people danced and laughed all night.

In an empty hallway, as far away from people as I could get, I screamed and cried as my body tore itself apart. As the wildness that had always lived inside of me wanted out. The howl that tore from my newly changed throat was loud enough to wake the entire city.

   I should have been terrified. I should be lamenting the turn my life had taken, all the things I now no longer could do. I should have felt all of those things. But when I made my way out of the castle and into the forest, the ground soft underneath my paws, the silver moonlight a gentle caress on my fur, I couldn’t help but think that his curse tasted a lot like freedom.

   The wildness that had always lived inside of me, the parts that longed to shed the tight clothing and even tighter responsibilities of nobility, were torn from the inner shadow where I had hidden them and shoved into the light. The parts of me that wished to run, to hunt, to feast, finally had a chance to be free.

   Things changed after that.

   Now, people are wary, afraid. My parents try, they really do. To teach me to act normal, ladylike, human. It’s of no use. The wolf lurks under my skin, peering out of my eyes.

People whisper about how much of a waste it is, such a shame, that a curse has changed me so. They don’t see, they don’t understand. The wolf, the wildness, the hunger, has always been there. It is me, the deepest parts of my soul given physical form.

   Life goes on. My sister, perfect, composed, kind, steps into the limelight. Or is pushed, I should say. To placate those who question my place at Court. Meanwhile I am forced into the background. An animal in the shadows meant to be forgotten.

   My wolf balks at the idea of corsets, of rules, of restriction. Doesn’t understand the need for playing nice with nobles it doesn’t like. She’s a creature of instinct, simplicity, and therefore, so am I.

   I spend my days roaming the grounds, protecting what is mine. The people of the city avert their eyes as I go past. Whisper about curses and how they spread, about what it means for the Kingdom that their princess is now a different creature altogether.

My wolf claims the entirety kingdom as her territory and as I get older, I travel further. Checking in daily with the people on the far edges of the lands. The misfits and the outcasts. The ones with wisdom and magic who have been pushed towards the edges of the kingdom long before I was born. Hatred and fear pushed us all here, to the lands where the briar grows three men tall. Where the trees and the shadows move on their own and where the water of the lake is always smooth, no matter how fierce the storm.

I help where I can, chasing off the foxes for the farmers, climbing trees to hang fetches and talismans for protection, bringing food to those who need it most. Most time is spent drinking tea and discussing life with the old lady whom everyone calls ‘witch’. She teaches me all she knows. Things the tutors at the castle never knew to teach me. About the plants and trees that grow, the animals that roam deep within the forest. About life here, on the outskirts of society, and all the peoples and creatures that are part of it. Here, the people look me in the eye. They bow their heads in respect but never in fear. The bravest of the children ask to card their hands through my fur. The old woman laughingly gifts me a crown of twigs and burrs and rowanberries the colour of blood. Every time I’m in my human skin I wear that crown with pride.

   One day, deep within the forest at the edge of my territory, I meet her. The being who has brought all that was hidden within me to the front and then illuminated it. I shift back to human, standing before her, naked and open, but never vulnerable, thanks to her. I thank her for the gifts she has given me. For the freedom and power and strength. The look on her face when I name her fairy godmother is priceless.

   She smiles at me then, a flash of razor-sharp teeth. I bare my own fangs back at her. She asks me then, if I understand. How they are being treated. Those who do not fit in, those who are made of wildness and shadow and blood. How they are shunned because of what they are.

   She tells me this will change, once I am queen. When I tell her that I never will be, that my parents will never find a match for me, she simply laughs and tells me not to worry. After all, I have a fairy godmother now.

   She keeps close after that. Always watching, always near, but never interfering. Not unless I ask her to. So when war, inevitably, finds itself at our borders, I ask for her aid. I stand in the middle of the bloodied battlefield, staring at the incoming forces. The wolf in me is itching underneath my skin. She wishes to hunt, to kill, to feel flesh rip underneath her claws, blood filling her mouth as she tears them apart. So I call out to my fairy godmother, asking if she would join me for a hunt, before I shed my skin along with my humanity and charge forward.

   The battle is brutal and short. The enemy army is better trained, but not against the army of outcasts led by myself and my fairy godmother. Their swords and shields quickly fall against our teeth, claws and magic.

Afterwards, I greet my father on the battlefield. Bare and covered in blood. There is fear in his eyes, yes, but also respect. And, for the first time, trust.

   Things change once again. I am brought back into the castle, but nothing is the same. I spend most of my time in the forests, still, but I also find myself fighting. Training with weapons other than tooth and claw. Weathered old men, tutors, hired by my father to teach me all they know. I learn how much I don’t know, how much there is still to learn. I earn my scars, even if they never stay for long. I earn their respect, even if it is hard won. I am no longer alone, some of my people from the outskirts join me and never leave their princess’ side.

   It doesn’t take long before suitors come from all over the world, wishing to marry one of my sisters. Singing praises about the small kingdom that could so quickly put an end to war. That could tame monsters and wild things. Silly men, none of us were tamed, we simply chose to fight.

   My parents and sisters work hard to get the most advantageous matches. To make sure that both the kingdom and my sisters will continue to grow and prosper. Bargains are struck, feasts are had. One by one my sisters move away, happy with their chosen husbands. All of them are visited by a giant wolf at least once. They know to treat my sisters well, or one night feel the sharp tips of my fangs against their throat.

   Years later I am gifted another crown. It is a beautiful thing. Delicate golden flowers and bright shining gems. It feels uncomfortable to me the way all pretty things do. “It might not suit you,” my father tells me, “but you have earned it.”

“As you have earned your rest.” I tell him.

“You will be wonderful, my Queen.”

   Rumors start spreading, about the Wolfqueen, the Wild One, sitting upon a blood-red throne. About the Kingdom of monsters where beasts, fae and man live free. About the Queen with the Iron Heart, who turns away all who wish to court her, and kills all who dare more.

   It’s not that I do not want someone at my side. I do. I wish for the love that my parents share. That my sisters eventually found with their husbands. But all those who come for my hand, those who finally dare when I have no more free sisters left, come for just that. My hand but not my heart. They are all poised and polished. Perfect little princes who look towards the wealth of the castle but away from the wildness within me. They are afraid to meet my wolf’s cold, assessing gaze.

   Some even try to change me, to find the human underneath the wolf. They only try once.

   For years, I rule alone. Through another war, through a plague born of magic, through prosperity and abundance. My people always by my side but no one to claim my heart.

   But then, a commotion. A man, dressed in furs. No scars on his body, but plenty on his soul. His eyes glowing the same gold as mine in the gentle torchlight. A wildness in them that my wolf recognizes. A challenge that my wolf is eager to take, to rise up to.

   “Your Oracle told me to come here.” He tells me, “I asked for guidance, to find what my heart truly desires, and she sent me to you.”

   My fairy godmother steps up behind me, laying a hand on my shoulder. I can’t see her, but I know she is smiling a smile of sharp pointed teeth. No doubt the oracle he speaks of.

   “My Queen,” he continues, bowing deep, his eyes never leaving mine, “I came looking for connection, for freedom. I believe I will find it with your time and your company. Will you grant me it?”

   “And what, my prince,” for if my fairy godmother sent him, he can only be that, “will you grant me in return?” I lean forward, eager, hungry.

   “Loyalty,” he steps forward, onto the dais, “companionship and understanding.” He leans over me for a single, challenging moment, before kneeling before me, baring his throat. “Perhaps in time even love. But for now, the thrill of a hunt. Of a chase.” He grins, baring sharp fangs. A breath, and a beautiful black-furred wolf sits in front of me.

Oh – the hunt is on. A thrill goes through me as I shift, ready to run, to chase him down and claim him for my own. For if one thing is certain, it is that I am a wild thing, a Queen, a hunter, but never, ever, prey.

Poetry: Find me, sister

A poem inspired by the Goddess Baduhenna.

Find me, sister
In marsh-filled forest
In sacred grove
The places which are wild and raw and free
Filled with magic and power

Find me, sister
Through ties of blood
Through bonds of spirit
See me in the faces of your kindred,
Connected and rooted to all life

Find me, sister
In spring’s green delight
In summer’s bright splendour
For, like you, nature grows and blooms
It perseveres through all adversity

Find me, sister
In the call of the crow
In the howl of the wolf
Join the frenzied roar of thousands,
And fight for those who are oppressed

Find me, sister
With fangs bared
With claws curled
Head held high and strength in your spine
Never giving in nor giving ground

Find me, sister
Crowned in iron
Crowned in madness
With shadows twisting behind my rooted throne
Whispering of all your deepest fears

Find me, sister
In darkened forest
In the depth of night
When you are wounded and bleeding
Open and vulnerable for all to see

Find me, sister
Through your tears
Through your rage
Bruised but never weak nor defeated
Bending but never, ever broken

Find me, sister
Within your heart
Within yourself
You, who are mettle-tested and battle-worn
Wear your scars with dignity

Find me, sister
Within your eyes
Within your bearing
Stand in your power without reservation
With pride in all that you are

Poetry: Wings

Photo by Evie Shaffer (free stock image)
Poem by Marjolijn Ashara (me!)

When they granted me wings
they wished for white feathers
But I painted them black
with the ash of bridges burned
Dyed them blood red
with the embers of my rising

They thought me an angel
pure in careful gentleness
They are wrong
I am a Valkyrie
choosing the slain
on the battlefield
of all that I once was.

Art Journal: Elen of the Ways

Sometimes the divine speak to – and through – you in unexpected ways. This was supposed to be a practice of painting fantasy faces. But when the redhead was done it felt like something missing. I painted the branches/antlers and there she was, Elen of the Ways.

I was still missing something so I grabbed my golden paintmarker and simply started writing, the words flowing with such ease. They aren’t my words, they are Hers.

Come join me, oh wild one
running free through the woods
I will guide you on your path
show you the way to go
follow my Way; the sound of pounding drums
the sound of your own heartbeat
hear the song of your soul
and happily find out where it takes you
know that wherever you are
no matter what path you are on
you are not alone, oh wild one
for I am in the ground under your feet
the birds soaring above you in the sky
the stars lighting your way
I am right here besides you
walking next to you

Elen of the Ways

Writing fiction as shadow work

Amanda Ylva, a writer who is also on Tumblr posted a reply earlier about how writing fiction helped her through some pretty tough times and deal with some pretty intense emotions. Because it is so personal and contained some triggering subjects I didn’t want to reblog it directly, but it did get me thinking.

She speaks about how she wrote with her depression as the antagonist in the form shadowy creatures. And that is just so amazing to me. It’s a tool that lets you confront your feelings in a direct way without being overwhelmed. You have a degree of separation between you and your depression, namely a character, or at the very least, a pen and paper. And like she says, you can have conversations with your shadowy antagonists, which will probably give you a lot of answers that you didn’t even knew you had.

She also says that she will give dialogue that has been painful for her in the past to her characters. Things said to her that were painful, or thoughts that she’s had about herself. Then other characters react to that in a very healing way. (”I am not worthy, do I even deserve to have desires”) (”your life is your own, you are worthy simply for being alive”). And that is such a good way to deal with that. I have had therapy (and am on the waiting-list to go back) where these techniques were used, but then as a visualisation, where you see yourself as you are now, saying these things to the self you were when this dialogue was born. But with writing it as a different character, you will get different, but no less meaningful, things that will be said.

I’ve had some realizations about my own fiction writing and trauma recently, but that had to do more with certain recurring themes. Certain plotpoints that I keep injecting into my writing in various ways. Some subtle, some less so, but all of them have some themes the same. Using the writing of fiction in this way would be a more direct approach to working through certain thoughts and emotions and yes, shadows as well. I could see this as a technique to “speak” to your shadows, to get them to show themselves and to integrate them.

Thank you, Amanda for giving me something to think deeply on.

(First posted to Tumblr, revised for the blog)