September 17, 2014
(Note: This week’s entry in the "Spohn Challenge" project was written in the form of a historical text. The idea was to create a tale that combined elements of Tolkien-like fantasy with the legends of Robin Hood or Zorro. I don't know that the attempt has been particularly successful, but I had a swell time writing it anyway and in the end that's what matters, I think...)

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(HISTORICAL NOTE: The following is an excerpt from Book 5, Chapter 14, of The Saga Of The Fourth Age, by the famed historian Johla Tiokl. We would like to express our extreme gratitude to Madam Melna Dipeo, Historical Consultant to the Office of Governor Chaf Zimitua, for her assistance in making this important document – long believed to have been lost in the Great Revolt – available once again to the public for the first time in several generations.)

The saga of Isolia Uroniel’s life can be divided into two distinct eras: Before the pirates came, and after.

Before the pirates came, Isolia was proud, vain, spoiled, arrogant and condescending. To be as fair as humanly possible, it can be argued that such imperiousness was not entirely her fault; from the day she was born she had been told that she was special, so it was only natural that she should grow up not only believing it herself, but expecting everyone else to behave as if they believed it as well. The only girl in a family with six sons – and the baby of the family into the bargain – she spent her entire childhood being petted and pampered her parents and brothers... her every wish granted, her every waking hour filled with more gaiety and frivolity than any one person should have a right to expect, no matter what their station in life.

It did not help that her father was the ruler of their village, and the cousin of the future empress of the land. Although Prince Galen was for the most part a benevolent ruler, and indeed much loved by his subjects, he unfortunately held steadfast to the royalist’s conviction that he and his family rightly occupied a place in the universe much higher than that of those subjects. And he taught all of his children - and Isolia in particular - to hold this conviction as well.

Under the circumstances, then, the child Isolia might almost be forgiven for the way she – whether consciously or not – looked down her nose on the rest of the world.


But then the pirates came, and in a single night everything changed. At the age of fifteen, Isolia’s world came crashing down in a bloody firestorm of terror, punctuated by the horrific shrieks of those who fell victim to the hacking blades of the murderous marauders who had stormed the castle in search of treasure... and whatever else might be held for either a sizable ransom or their own odious and nefarious pleasures. 

The loyal guardsmen who had pledged to protect Isolia’s family with their very lives if necessary did exactly that. But their sacrifice was in vain. Isolia’s six brothers bravely took up arms in an effort to stave off the unexpected onslaught, but they were no match for the army of cruel, battle-hardened invaders and thus quickly fell. Prince Galen and his wife, the Lady Challysse, were captured and held captive by the bloodthirsty first mate of the pirate crew; Galen was placed in chains and forced to watch as Challysse was brutally and repeatedly ravaged by several members of his crew. 

The prince’s cries for mercy were finally answered by the firing a single bullet from one pirate’s flintlock pistol into Challysse’s head. Then, and only then, was the prince dispatched as well, his head severed from his body by a single slash of the same pirate’s blade. 

A chambermaid had whisked young Isolia away in an attempt to keep her safe, but the effort was to no avail. When their hiding place in the basement pantry was discovered, the poor chambermaid was forced to endure the same fate as the Lady Challysse before she, too, was put to death. Some of the pirates made known their desire to inflict the same treacherous treatment upon Isolia; but by then the pirate captain had arrived and, in what was more likely an eye toward future profit than a actual moment of genuine compassion, he would not allow those crew members to have their way. He threatened to personally kill any man who disobeyed that order and directly ran his sword through the heart of the first mate, who was foolish enough to not take the captain at his word and had made a move toward the girl anyway. The lesson had the desired effect; no other member of the crew made that same mistake.

The captain then took the girl into his personal custody and returned to his ship while the rest of his crew continued laying waste to the castle that had been their home. By sunrise they had returned as well, bearing as much ill-gotten treasures as they could carry amongst them, and within the hour the pirates set sail in preparation for their next villainous incursion. Thus did Isolia Uroniel, the youngest child of Prince Galen and Lady Challysse of Zaikon, become the unwitting ward of Gundar Dubec the Pirate King. 

She remained in his company for just over a year and a half, during which time he instructed her in the use of sword and flintlock. She proved a quick study as Dubec taught her to not merely defend herself, but to fight with all the savagery and determination of any member of his crew. 

That was not all he taught her. In time Isolia not only shared his bed but did so willingly, having come to realize that she would have a better chance of living long enough to exact revenge for her family’s deaths if she were able to convince Dubec that she was amenable to his carnal inclinations. She forced herself to toss aside her pride along with her virginity, and was so convincing that Dubec had no reason to believe that Isolia had not truly come to reciprocate his passion. The charade became a bit easier to maintain with each night; as Isolia came to understand and appreciate the power her beauty held over the captain, she learned to wield that power as confidently and expertly as she did the weapons of battle he had taught her to use. Even so, Isolia eagerly anticipated the day when she would finally reveal the truth and repay the Pirate King and his crew in full for the existence they had stolen from her and the evil they had inflicted upon her parents and brothers.

But that day never came. While sailing to Tharn to stage a raid upon the seaport city of Naltese, Dubec’s crew mutinied and overtook the ship. The former Pirate King was tied to a spare anchor and thrown overboard, where he sank beneath the waves to never be seen again. The scoundrel Benthel Garvis, who had taken over as first mate following the pillaging of Zaikon, quickly declared himself to be the new captain and, upon claiming the former captain’s quarters as his own, made the mistake of attempting to do to Isolia what he and others had wanted to do to her that night in the pantry room of her family’s castle.

But Dubec had taught the girl well. After using a dagger to relieve the Pirate King’s would-be successor of a certain appendage, Isolia drove her sword directly through Garvis’ heart. But she was unable to fight off the rest of the crew single-handedly; no other made a lascivious advance against her, so unnerved were they by the fate that had befallen Garvis when he had tried, but Isolia was captured and confined to the cargo hold with no food and only a little water for a number of days. 

When the ship finally arrived at Naltese, Isolia was sold as a slave to the local Governor, Gen Urildur. Urildur kept her in his palace for three months before taking her to the capital city of Naksh, where he offered her as part of his annual tribute to Gwerif, the Lord Emperor of Tharn. 

Seemingly condemned by cruel fate to spend the rest of her life as a member of Gwerif’s harem, Isolia stubbornly and steadfastly refused to resign herself to such a destiny. With the same patience and determination that made bearable her time in the company of Gundar Dubec, the former princess set about the task of rising above her new station in hopes of eventually regaining her freedom. Having already learned to use her femininity to her own advantage during her time with Dubec, Isolia now developed both a quick wit and an ability to create intrigue without being suspected; she put all three talents to good use, overcoming the harsh and stringent hierarchy of the harem to rise through the ranks on her own terms. In the process, as had been the case with the Pirate King, she eventually captured the heart of the Lord Emperor and became the favorite of all his wives. In time Gwerif declared Isolia the adoptive mother of his son, Saowyn, who was nearly the same age as Isolia and who had come to care for her very much.

This greatly angered Marna, the Queen of the Harem, who was already displeased by the fact that Gwerif lavished more attention upon Isolia than upon herself. Marna conspired with two other members of the harem, Nyosha and Tenya, to have Isolia killed. But Nyosha had developed a friendship with Isolia, who had earlier helped protect her from the unsavory advances of one of the palace guards, and so warned Isolia of the plot against her. Together Isolia and Nyosha confronted the treacherous Queen, and in the ensuing struggle it was Marna who ultimately lost her life. Upon hearing of the plot against his favorite, Gwerif banished Tenya to spend the rest of her life exiled to the Great Wastelands. He named Isolia as the new Queen of the Harem, and rewarded Nyosha by allowing her to serve as Isolia’s chief attendant. 

As Queen of the Harem, Isolia enjoyed a greater sense of freedom than had previously been accorded to her. But still she was not truly free, and it was this that she coveted most of all. Even so, for a time her resolve wavered as she found unwittingly herself responding to the Lord Emperor’s declarations of love. Gwerif treated her with kindness, and even a degree of respect, and it became increasingly difficult for Isolia to withstand such devotion; eventually she succumbed to his ardor and bore him a son, whom she named Galen in memory of her murdered father. 

But the tenderness Gwerif displayed toward Isolia and their son belied the cruel tyranny with which he ruled over the land. He was deaf to the loud cries of the people for salvation and justice; but those cries did not escape Isolia’s ears,  and with renewed determination she began to act covertly on their behalf. Using her station as Queen of the Harem to its utmost advantage, Isolia positioned herself as Gwerif’s most trusted advisor but worked secretly to undermine his leadership and authority, with the ultimate goal of seeing him deposed as Lord Emperor. 

To do this she created a new guise for herself: that of an avenger fighting on behalf of the populace whose calls for freedom and justice had heretofore gone unheeded. Trading the silken finery and jewelry of her harem attire for the leather tunic and pantaloons of a warrior, and fashioning a leather cowl that hid her face from view, Isolia took up the sword and longbow and, thus disguised, launched a one-person crusade against Lord Emperor Gwerif and the soldiers who served as his enforcers. 

She operated primarily in the shadows of night, the better to instill a sense of fear and awe within the hearts and minds of the cowardly minions with whom she did battle. Soon this brave but unknown warrior became a champion to the citizenry, a beacon of hope for those who suffered so mightily under the oppression and tyranny of Gwerif and his followers. And it was one of the youngest of the citizenry for whom she fought - a girl child named Jian Tahar, who had been torn from her family and made a slave after her father had been wrongfully accused of withholding his monthly tariff to the Lord Emperor before being rescued in a daring midnight raid upon the Gwerif loyalist who had purchased her - who first bestowed upon Isolia the name by which her other self became known to friend and foe alike, and which remains a symbol of inspiration for all those today who continue to battle in the name of freedom and justice. 

This name that Jian Tahar gave her, in the ancient native patois of her people, was "Tesi Wanagi" - translated into the modern tongue as "the Night Angel."

Throughout this time Isolia continued to grow closer to Gwerif’s older son, sensing in Saowyn the capacity to be a wise and benevolent ruler. Unbeknownst even to him at first, Isolia began to groom Saowyn to one day assume the throne in place of his despotic father.  At the same time she continued her campaign against Gwerif and his minions, and with each new strike against the Lord Emperor the Night Angel’s support among the people of Tharn swelled. In time, others - inspired by stories of the Night Angel’s activities and swearing allegiance to her cause - stepped forward and began to act in opposition to the government as well. 

When word of the growing revolt reached Isolia, she arranged for a meeting between the Night Angel and those who had chosen to join her fight to free the people from Gwerif’s tyranny. Together they made plans for one final, all-out battle against Gwerif’s forces. Isolia’s folowers at first expressed unease with her plan to install Soawyn as Gwerif’s successor, arguing that because he was Gwerif’s son Soawyn could not be trusted. But together Soawyn and Isolia were able to convince the revolutionists of his loyalty to the cause of freedom.

On a moonlit night that would be remembered as the Night of the Fires, the Night Angel led her followers into battle. The fighting was fierce, and many of Isoliia’s warriors would lose their lives before it has concluded. Isolia herself was badly wounded during a battle with the head of Gwerif’s army, the ruthless warrior Twyne B'Shar. But during their fight B’Shar became distracted by Gwerif’s crazed ranting and Isolia ran her sword through B’Shar’s heart. She then captured Gwerif and revealed her true identity to her husband before turning him over to the revolutionists, who swiftly and savagely administered justice in the form of death.

With Gwerif’s reign ended Soawyn assumed the title of Lord Emperor and vowed to be the fair and just ruler that he believed Tharn and its people deserved. He also declared his love for Isolia and asked that she be his Queen; she happily accepted the proposal, and together they ruled with a firm but fair hand for many years. And their children...

(Here the fragment ends.)

(Copyright 2014 by John Allen Small)



September 8, 2014
(Note: Now that we're back on track, here is the latest entry in the weekly "Spohn Challenge" project...)

Jack Ramsey stirred in his hospital bed, opened his eyes and looked up into the face of the beautiful woman who - even though he knew he hadn't deserved it - had promised to love, honor and cherish nearly six decades before. 

It had been a long journey together, and he understood that for him that journey would soon be over. He understood it, but he didn't much like it. It wasn't the leav...

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September 5, 2014
And here we have the third and final set of "Spohn Challenge" stories that I was forced to post elsewhere while having issue with this site over the course of the summer. This set brings up up to this week's entry (No. 48), so barring any recurrence of the glitches that gave me such fits, next week we'll be picking up back on schedule as far as the stories being posted here as opposed to on my Facebook wall.

So let's get started, shall we...?

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September 5, 2014
Here is the second batch of the "Spohn Challenge" entries I wrote and posted on Facebook while I was having technical problems here:

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Five years ago, when a fellow named Jackson Talbot first moved into town and opened his Crimson Jack’s Naughty Nighties Emporium over on the west side of town, a few of the women in Jillian’s neighborhood took part in a series of demonstrations organized by a small group of well-meaning litt...

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September 5, 2014
Well, it seems that the technical problems that have kept me from posting updates since earlier this summer have finally been resolved. So I thought I'd better post the entries I'd written for the weekly "Spohn Challenge" project during that time so they'll all be here in one place. (During the duration I posted each new story on my Facebook wall in order to stay on schedule and not forfeit my participation in the project.) Some of the stories are longer than others, so I'm splitting this upd...
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"For Every Dream That Took Me High..."

June 18, 2014
(Photo: Me at Byrd Park in Kankakee, around 1977 or so.)

I have been a fan of the late Harry Chapin since the first time I heard his brother Tom singing songs that Harry wrote on the ABC-TV program "Make A Wish" when I was a kid back in the early 1970s. A few years later I heard songs like "Cat's In The Cradle" and "WOLD" on the radio, and I was hooked; I was one of those who unashamedly shed a tear when I heard the news of Harry's death about a month and a half after I graduated from high sch...

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June 16, 2014
(NOTE: This week's entry is another faux newspaper story...)

From the Sipokni West Dispatch, March 26 2009:

The Brownsberg Town Council has appointed a local resident to help the community overcome what some residents have reportedly described as its “inferiority complex” with regard to nearby larger communities.

Yvonne Gordon, a resident of Brownsberg since 1993, has been named to spearhead a town council initiative aimed at injecting a greater sense of style and sophistication into com...

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June 9, 2014
(NOTE: Here's another entry in the weekly "Spohn Challenge" project that reads like it should be part of a longer story. As Michael Nesmith once said: Someday, baby, someday...)

“Can I help you, ma’am?”

Evelyn Drake jumped in spite of herself. She hadn’t expected the stockboy to sneak up from behind her like that. Well, maybe he didn’t really “sneak”, exactly; not exactly fair to lay all the blame at his feet, not when she’d been the one whose thoughts had been elsewhere. 

Even s...

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June 4, 2014
(NOTE: This week's "Spohn Challenge" entry was inspired by a silly April Fool's Day article that ran in my old hometown newspaper years ago when I was a kid. That's why it is written in the form of a newspaper article.)

(From the Eureka Creek (OK) Weekly Pedestrian, May 30, 2014) 

In a move calculated to boost local tourism, industry and retail sales, neighboring Sipokni County may soon be divided into three time zones.

The Sipokni County Board of Commissioners announced the possible convers...

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May 29, 2014

(NOTE: This week's entry in the "Spohn Challenge" project is being posted a couple of days later than usual because of our newspaper deadline schedule over the Memorial Day weekend. This particular story, though fictionalized, is based on something that actually happened not long after Melissa and I moved from Illinois to Oklahoma back in the early 1990s.)

How The Missus And I Survived The Great Snake Scare Of 1993
(From The Memoirs Of Carson Trent)

You must understand at the outset that my wife...

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About Me

John Allen Small John A. Small is an award-winning newspaper journalist, columnist and broadcaster whose work has been honored by the Oklahoma Press Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the Associated Press, the National Newspaper Association, and the Oklahoma Education Association. He and his wife Melissa were married in 1986; they have two sons, Joshua Orrin (born 1991) and William Ian (born 1996). Mr. Small is the News Editor and columnist for the Johnston County Capital-Democrat, a weekly newspaper headquartered in Tishomingo, OK. He obtained his nickname, "Bard of the Lesser Boulevards," from a journalism colleague - the late Phil Byrum - in recognition of the success of his popular newspaper column, "Small Talk." (In addition to the many awards the column itself has received over the years, a radio version of "Small Talk" earned an award for "Best Small Market Commentary" from the Society of Professional Journalists in 1998.) John was born in Oklahoma City in 1963; lived in the Bradley-Bourbonnais-Kankakee area of Illinois for most of the next 28 years (with brief sojourns in Texas and Athens, Greece, thrown in to break up the monotony); then returned to his native state in 1991, where he currently resides in the Tishomingo/Ravia area. He graduated from Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School in 1981, and received his bachelor's degree in journalism from Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais in 1991. The years between high school and college were a period frought with numerous exploits and misadventures, some of which have become the stuff of legend; nobody was hurt along the way, however, which should count for something. In addition to his professional career as a journalist he has published two short story collections: "Days Gone By: Legends And Tales Of Sipokni West" (2007), a collection of western stories; and "Something In The Air" (2011), a more eclectic collection. He was also a contributor to the 2005 Locus Award-nominated science fiction anthology "Myths For The Modern Age: Philip Jose Farmer's Wold Newton Universe," edited by Win Scott Eckert. In additon he has written a stage play and a self-published cookbook; served as project editor for a book about the JFK assassination entitled "The Men On The Sixth Floor"; and has either published or posted on the Internet a number of essays, stories and poems. He has also won writing awards from the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the National Library of Poetry. He is a past president of the Johnston County Chamber of Commerce in Tishomingo; was a charter member and past president of the Johnston County Reading Council, the local literacy advocacy and "friends of the library" organization; served as Johnston County's first-ever Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator in 1994-95; served two terms as chairman of the Johnston County (OK) Democratic Party; and has taught journalism classes for local Boy Scout Merit Badge Fairs. He is a member of the New Wold Newton Meteorics Society.
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