Vettius and His Friends. Plus Savage Journal Entry 33.

I’ve encountered a few of David Drake’s Vettius and Dama stories in anthologies. But I’d not read them all. Happily, I picked up a copy of Vettius and His Friends and filled those gaps. I’m a fan of the tales. I like the dutiful, competent soldier Vettius and the learned, loyal, clever merchant Dama. They make a good team.

One of the stories I’ve read before is presented here in a different edition. The copyright indicia for Dragon’s Teeth contains this tantalizing comment: “…original version copyright 1975 by Karl Edward Wagner for MIDNIGHT SUN, v1, #2. A shorter version, copyedited by a moron, copyright 1977 by Andrew J. Offutt for SWORDS AGAINST DARKNESS. This version (based on the long version) is original to the volume.” I’ve read the SAD version. Now I’m curious about the long version.

I can, however, satisfy my curiosity about the (moron edited?) version. Opening up SAD volume I, I note in Offutt’s introduction that he rejected an earlier submission from Drake, which, judging from the description, was From the Dark Waters, eventually published in WAVES OF TERROR, though I first encountered it in ¬†ISAAC ASIMOV’S MAGICAL WORLDS OF FANTASY 5: GIANTS.

Moving past the introduction and comparing the two versions of Dragon’s Teeth, I can see that the SAD version is breezier, excising a couple of paragraphs near the end of the opening action sequence to create a sense of mystery (that I don’t think was really necessary.) Absent paragraphs from the next section eliminate some provincial Roman politics, historical color, character building, and some of the contributions of Dama to the story. While the cuts weren’t detrimental to the enjoyment of the story, as a writer I can sympathize with Drake. Those bits were in there because he wanted them there. That was the story he wanted to tell. The absent paragraphs diminish the tale and modify the total effect.

I hadn’t realized that the “And Friends” portion of the title referred to non-Vettius stories. So I was a bit startled to find myself reading a Nordic-style S&S story that Poul Anderson might have penned, The Barrow Troll. Though Anderson would have crafted it in rather more elegant prose. There is nothing wrong with Drake’s style; he merely employs a stripped down technique. It took me a few pages to realize that neither Vettius nor Dama would show up, that the tale was set at least a couple of centuries later. Following Barrow Troll we hop around in time (and space), visiting various portions of the Roman Empire, ancient Egypt (showing Drake’s interest in that era of history was operational long before he wrote Dagger) and joining the Tenth Cohort on another planet, the story that led to the novel Birds of Prey.

I had a good time with this collection. Of course I’ve always been a sucker for historical fantasies. I hope to announce a personal contribution to that genre, but it is woefully premature to do so at the moment. So instead, I’ll announce that book four of Semi-Autos and Sorcery will be released by Aethon Books on Tuesday. Please look for Silver and Bone on March 7th. There is no particular need to read the books in order, but if you’d like to, go ahead an order your copies of Blood and Jade, Santa Anna’s Sword, and Obsidian Owl. Remember, Crom may be indifferent whether or not you leave a review, but I will be grateful.

Now, on to Magnus Stoneslayer’s doings, following the destruction of the desert bandits he’d captained.

SAVAGE JOURNAL

ENTRY 33.

It is self-evident, dear diary, that a wandering barbarian does not get lonely. It stands to reason: if we were the sorts to require constant human contact we wouldn’t leave the bosom of the tribe in the first place.

I’ve known some savage heroes who appear to avoid lengthy solo excursions. Some travel with sidekicks. Not surprisingly, given the oft lethal nature of the barbarian swordsman’s avocation, some employ serial sidekicks, replacing the demised or maimed companion in short order. Some work with partners, equals, generally someone of opposite demeanor and background. They seem to perceive some sort of advantage in counterbalance.

None of these men adventure in tandem out of loneliness; they solo with aplomb when required. The team up for them is a choice, not a compulsion. The best of us perform just as efficiently, with the same combination of elemental savagery and cool competence, alone as we do paired.

I am quite content by myself. I am self-contained, self-sufficient. Leaving behind the defeated and scattered remnants of my desert reivers came, I now realize, as something of a relief. It was a pleasant change, trudging through the sands, to have only my own thoughts to attend to. The constant demands on my attention and the unceasing background hum of human conversation had begun to grow burdensome.

I no longer have a thousand lean and vicious warriors poised to strike at my whim and direction, dear diary. But I do have a moment to myself.

True happiness, I posit, is sustained contentment under changing circumstances. And I am content as I bid you good night, dear diary.

Magnus Stoneslayer

 

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