Posted in Uncategorized

Penta the One-Handed: Part II

A week or two ago, I wrote about my D&D character, Penta. But the truth is, Penta went on several adventures, though several different fairytales before she ran into those she is traveling with now. So I’ve decided to continue her story here:

Before her brother could react, Penta fled through the halls of the castle to her private ship and set sail immediately. Many in the castle who saw the trail of blood behind her avoided her, for they thought she had contracted the same disease which had killed her brother’s wife. 

Once aboard the ship, she found some bandages, with which she staunched the blood flow and set sail to Amaunand, a smaller, nearby island kingdom which had long been an ally and trade-partner of Ilaennel. Penta was recognized at the dock as the princess of Ilaennel, and she demanded to see the king and queen of Amaunand, but was refused an audience. As she was setting sail again, a knight with a fox sigil approached her and offered to take her to a doctor on account of her hand. Then Penta told him her tale, and the knight gave her the true reason the king and queen would not see her.

“The princes and princess were on a diplomatic mission to Scoterar, but they left weeks ago and have not been heard from since. The king and queen suspect foul play, and though they do not blame Ilaennel specifically, they do not trust anyone who comes to see them.”

“Then I will find the princes and the princess and I shall bring them back to Amaunand.”

The knight eyed her. “By yourself?” he asked, “Do you believe you can?”

“I believe I must,” Penta said, “our countries have been allies for centuries. And I will not have it on my head that that partnership is lost.”

“Very well,” the knight said, “you will need a weapon.”

Penta told the knight about the scimitar she had taken from the guard, but the knight gave her a crossbow and quiver. “They are suited for a lady,” he told her, “for they belonged to my wife, who herself died in battle many years ago. For here, both men and women are known to fight.”

Penta accepted the crossbow. “Thank you for your kindness. I will not forget it.”

Penta did not know where the princes and the princess may have gone, but she sailed for the kingdom of Scoterar, on the mainland. Upon arriving, she asked around about the princes and princess of Amaunand, but no one has seen them. Even the king of Scoterar said they had never arrived. Finally, Penta came upon a farmer named Hans that told her her had seen the Prince Ignac.

“Where is her?” Penta asked.

“I will only tell you if you help me first.”

Penta lowered her crossbow at him. “How about you tell me or I shoot you dead.”

Hans only shrugged. “Either way you do not know where your prince is, so it is better if you just help me.”

Penta, unfortunately, saw the sense in this, and put away her crossbow and asked what Hans wanted. 

“There is a woman in the town,” Hans said, “who I would like to marry. But her father is covetous and refuses to consent to the marriage, as I am poor.”

So Penta asked where the young woman lived, and went to her home. When her father answered the door, Penta said, “I would like to speak with your daughter.” The father squinted at Penta for a moment, but seeing her fine gown and the golden circlet on her head, decided that his daughter must have taken favor with someone of noble blood, and thus called for her.

When the daughter arrived, Penta said, “I have met a young farmer nearby by the name of Hans who says he would like to marry you. Would you also like to marry him?”

The girl flushed. “Yes, but my father will never consent to the match.”

So Penta handed the girl a gold coin. “Go to Hans now. Tell him to put this in his purse, and then to take a ladder and climb up to his roof. I will take care of your father.”

The girl did not understand, but agreed, taking the coin, and going in the direction of Hans’ farm.

Penta waited until the girl’s father came looking for her, and then told him she had gone to see Hans.

“Foolish girl!” the father said, “You should have stopped her. I told her not to see that Hans. He has no fortune and cannot care for her.”

“On the contrary,” Penta said, “I have recently patronized him. Now he has gold in his purse and he’s moving up in the world. I will take you to him, so that you may see for yourself.”

The girl’s father stroked his chin. Then he said, “if it is as you say, then I will consent to their marriage.”

So Penta returned to Hans’ farm and told the couple the good news.

“Now,” she said to Hans, “I have helped you. You must help me. Where is Prince Ignac?”

“He washed ashore clinging to a piece of driftwood,” Hans told her. “He was kidnapped by bandits. I know where their hideout is, but she would wait until night to go.”

When night fell, Hans led Penta to cottage in the woods, which the bandits had taken over.

“They should all be asleep now,” he told Penta, “except for one, who will be keeping guard at the door.”

As he had told her, there was one bandit who was standing watch at the door. Penta shot him with her crossbow. Then she and Hans went into the house. The other bandits were all asleep in different parts of the house. In the corner, bound and gagged, but wide awake, was Prince Ignac. Penta put a finger to her lips and then tiptoed over to him, Hans following.

“Wow!” Hans marveled, “I didn’t realize just how much treasure they had stolen.” It was true. There were a number of trinkets scattered across the room, including a golden pot on a shelf above their heads.

Hans cut Prince Ignac free. “Thank you,” Ignac said, rubbing his wrists. “I thought I would never get away from them.” And he moved toward the door.

But Hans was still focused on the treasure. “Wait,” he hissed, “surely we shouldn’t leave all of this here.” And he reached his hand out for the golden pot.

“Hucka-pucka.” It seemed to be coming from the iron pot that sat next to the golden one.

“Hucka-pucka what?” Penta asked the pot.

“Do not take the golden pot,” said the iron pot, “it will wake the bandits.”

“You heard it,” Penta said, and waved Hans toward the door. Then she leveled her crossbow at one of the sleeping bandits.

Again, the iron pot said, “hucka-pucka.”

Penta turned toward it.

“Don’t kill them,” the pot said, “tie them up and take the reward.” And the pot turned around on its three iron legs, nearly wobbling off the shelf. Penta grabbed it, and lowered it to the ground, to ensure it wouldn’t fall. As she did so, she saw that inside the pot there was a length of silken rope. She and Hans used the rope to tie up the bandits, leaving what they didn’t need in the pot.

As they left the house, the pot following behind them on its three iron legs, Penta said to Prince Ignac, “I’ve come from Amanaund. Your parents are looking for you.”

“Our ship was attacked by pirates and destroyed,” Prince Ignac told her, “my sister escaped in the row boat. She was going toward Hibopium. My brother and I both clung to pieces of the ship. He drifted towards Ormietya, and I washed ashore here. I found an inn that looked warm and inviting, but that was when the bandits captured me.”

“Go to the king,” Penta told him, “and tell him all that has happened to you, but do not mention me. Tell him it was clever Hans who rescued you. Hans, you go with him. Pot and I will stand guard to make sure that none of them escapes.”

Hans and Ignac did as Penta told them, and when the king suggested that Penta had been involved with the rescue of Prince Ignac, she insisted that she did nothing more than stand guard. And so the king gave Hans the reward for catching the robbers–including the golden singing pot–and Hans was a wealthy man on the day of his wedding.

The king of Scoterar also invited Prince Ignac to stay at his castle as his guest and sent an envoy to Amaurand in the meantime to tell the king and queen that the prince had safely arrived. The king also invited Penta to stay with him, but she refused.

“I must go on,” she said, “I am determined to find the prince’s brother and sister.”

“Very well,” said the king. Is there anything I can give you by way of thanks?”

“Merely that if I should return here, I should be welcome in your kingdom.”

“The one-handed princess of Ilannael shall be welcome in my kingdom and in my castle any time she comes.”

“Thank you your majesty.” Penta bowed to him and returned to her ship.

When Penta arrived, she found the pot was waiting for her on the dock.

“Hucka-pucka,” said the pot.

“And where will you hucka-pucka to?” Asked Penta.

“I shall join you on your ship to rescue the prince!”

And with that, Penta took the pot in one hand, and jumped upon her ship. “Welcome aboard, pot.”

Note: For the small number of people who will recognize it, the pot is from Patricia Combs absolutely wonderful (and sadly out of print) picture book The Magic Pot.

Posted in Uncategorized

Lesson Idea: Self Eulogy

I once heard the saying that good writers borrow and great writers steal. I suppose the same could be said of teachers, and this is a lesson I stole from a teacher I worked with several years ago.

The assignment is simple: the students give their own eulogy. They pretend that they are at their own funeral and write the eulogy from the point of view of someone who would be there–a sibling, a child, a friend. They explain in the eulogy how and when they died, as well as what they accomplished in their life and how they are remembered.

What I like about this assignment is that students have to think about what they want to accomplish over the course of their life. And, of course, you can tie in any additional writing or speaking related objectives you wish–have students outline their eulogies, write rough drafts, edit and revise. Judge their speeches on volume, tone, body language, creativity, or whatever else matches your class. And though you could really do it any time, I’m particularly fond of this one for the end of the year.

Posted in Poetry, Tabletop Poetry (and Other Artforms)

Tabletop Poetry: I am Atlas

One of my students’ favorite games is Dixit (review coming) which is a delightful fairytale of images. I say this because the game consists more or less entirely of over-sized cards with whimsical images on them. Things like this:

As a teacher and a writer, what I enjoy most about these cards is that they make great image prompts for writing. For example, this card eventually turned into this poem:

Video is a little funky. Still getting the hang of filming in this venue.
Posted in Favorite Teaching Moments

Favorite Teaching Moments: The Culmination of Teaching

 I often tell people that my job as an ESL teacher is to help students find their voices. February 6 was one of those moments that I truly felt like I had succeeded in this mission.

I started writing poetry in middle school, and I started performing in high school. It was something that has been a major part of my life for years, and I was lucky because there were adults in my life that encouraged me to do this and tried to cultivate my passion for writing. So when I moved to Arkansas and made friends with another poet who started hosting a local open mic, of course I attended. Several years later, I am now in the position of the adults who were around me when I was in high school. I have a student who loves to sing, and has a beautiful voice (even the choir teacher says so). He often sings in my class. And if we have five spare moments, he’ll pull out his guitar. It’s kind of soothing, actually, to be in the classroom with him playing and singing, and one day I thought, wait a minute, I know where this student can sing!

So I invited him to open mic. I told him he would have to drive himself, but he could follow me there, and he was welcome to invite anyone else to come. It’s a free event, two towns over, which is not a lot when you live in a rural area. The students were talking about it all week leading up to the event–he was going to sing, his friends were going to come watch. He even convinced another student to do a duet with him. We made an arrangement to meet at the school 30 minutes before the open mic. I pulled up about 15 minutes early and they were already there–four students, excited faces waving to me through the window. And I got out and did the adult thing. I checked that they had a licensed driver and gave them my phone number, so if anything happened on the way over, they could reach me. And I warned them that it might be tricky to find parking. It didn’t even feel like the responsible thing. It just felt like the normal everyday, looking after your friends sorta thing. Basically, I was pretty much treating them the same way I would treat adults. And, when you think about it, that’s what high school students want, more than anything.

We arrived at the venue. I introduced them to my friend who was hosting. Open mic was small because it had been raining, and like the Assimov short story “Rain, Rain, Go Away,” folks around here disappear when it rains. I read some fiction. My friend read a poem. Another guy read several short humorous poems, which my students seem to enjoy quite a bit. Another man read from his blog. And then my students sang. The two of them together. And the small crowd liked them enough that they asked for an encore. And my student sang another song, even though he was worried he didn’t know it very well. Then we ate pretzels and chatted, and went home. But watching my kids up there on stage, I thought, I am watching them use their voices. And I guess they enjoyed it because they told me I should have them sing at my wedding. And honestly? I would enjoy that.

It was nice to spend time with my students outside of school–for us to see each other as more than just teacher and students. I hope we get to do this again. And I hope that they continue to see that their voices are worth sharing with the world.

Posted in fiction, Tabletop Poetry (and Other Artforms)

Penta the One-Handed

I recently joined a D&D campaign with some friends, and when building my character, asked if I could base her off the fairytale of Penta. The DM consented, and I got a lot of pleasure out of introducing my friends to this bizarre fairytale (though it is normal enough to have it’s own Aarne-Thompson classification.) The major change we made to the character was to have her lose only one hand, as I wasn’t sure I was knowledgeable enough to play a character with no hands. But as such, I re-wrote the fairytale to match this new variation:

Many years ago, the king and queen of Ilaennel thought they would not have another child. They already had a son as their heir, but the queen had nearly died giving birth to him, and so she believed that she would never give birth again. But one day, she became unexpectedly pregnant, and nine months later, a baby girl was born. They named her Penta. Her entire family doted on her, and she was beloved by all the kingdom, for she was the miracle no one expected. Even when her brother married, his new wife loved her as her own sister. And when her parents died, and her brother took the throne, he grew even closer to her, and she helped him make decisions in the kingdom. And thus the girl grew into a beautiful woman, the most beloved princess of Ilaennel.

But a few years after the death of her parents, an epidemic swept through the kingdom. Soon, the new queen, her brother’s wife, fell ill and perished. Penta’s brother was thrown into such despair he lost his mind. For weeks, he mourned and rarely left his room, though Penta brought him his supper every night and found herself making decisions on his behalf.

At last, her brother grew strong again and returned to his duties. And the next morning, he summoned Penta to his office. The guard at the door let her in. Her brother sat at his desk, pouring over paperwork, but he leapt up with joy when he saw Penta.

“My sweet sister!” he said, “So happy am I to see you.” And he embraced her.

“It is good to see you well again, brother. I miss my sister-in-law as well, but I am happy to see I have regained one sibling today.”

Her brother. “You have not lost me, my dear. For I have been planning your marriage.”

“Oh?” Penta asked. She knew it was her responsibility to one day marry for the good of the kingdom, as her brother had, but she had hoped that day would not come so soon.

“As you know, our parents chose a wife for me, and as they are gone, it is my duty to choose a husband for you. I have done so.”

“Pray tell, who is this man? And when shall I meet him?”

“Why you have already met him.” Penta’s brother took both her hands in his and looked into her eyes. “For it is I.”

Penta recoiled at this. “You must be joking. I cannot marry you. We’re brother and sister.”

Even as she moved away, her brother advanced toward her. “And this union will only serve to make us closer.”

“Why do you want to marry me?” Penta asked, “when there are so many other women in the kingdom?”

“None so beautiful as you!”

“Then find someone outside of the kingdom!”

“But no woman from outside the kingdom would be able to understand our people as you do.”

Penta returned to her brother, taking his hands again. “And because I know our people so well, I know that they would never consent to this union.”

“They do not have to consent, my sister. For we would be king and queen.”

“No.” Penta dropped his hands, and with them, all hope that he would understand his folly. “You have gone mad, and I cannot marry you.”

“Then you shall be my captive until you agree.” And with that, her brother summoned the guard by the door.

Now, other princesses in this situation might try to think their way out of it. They might agree to his face, and then flee in the night in disguise, only to return after they have wooed the prince of another kingdom. But Penta was always a person of action. She pulled the guard’s scimitar from his belt, and laying her left arm on her brother’s desk, cut off her hand at the wrist. “You cannot marry me,” she said, “for I have no finger on which to place a ring.”