What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? Wait, Aleta is Queen of the Witches? May – August 2020


Yeah, she said on Sunday that she’s Queen of the Witches. That she’s a witch hasn’t come up much lately. But when Valiant first saw her he was enchanted, and they teased a while about whether that was literal or figurative. And she’s done magic stuff lately. I don’t know if this Queen of the Witches thing is established or whether that’s a bluff, though. So that catches you up on Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant as of early August 2020. If you’re reading this after about November 2020 there’s likely a more up-to-date plot recap at this link.

Also on my other blog I’m explaining words from the mathematics glossary. No promise of comics there, but you might find something interesting. Thanks, and now back to the time of King Arthur.

Prince Valiant.

10 May – 2 August 2020.

Prince Valiant and team were just outside Camelot, dealing with local issues. Imbert, local landlord, died. His son Gareth died shortly after. The suspect: Afton and Audrey, with whom Imbert was quarreling about some land. Sir Gawain had arrived in the story to sort that out, but he hasn’t been much use to anyone. The locals figure Afton and Audrey are witches, what with how they have good crops and aren’t dead of the plague. Valiant’s son Nathan believes the women are good students of nature and learned how to farm.

Audrey lead Valiants and Nathan to the cave, key to the land dispute. Some say it contains eternal youth. What it mostly has is bats, loads of guano that are indeed good fertilizer. Valiant also notices it has a curious yellow ore, and he keeps a sample.

Audrey had brought Nathan and Val to the bats' cave, with the task of gathering fertilizer for her and Afton's gardens. As she and Nathan put their backs into shoveling the bat droppings, Val peels off to look farther along. He finds strata of tin ore running along the walls --- not uncommon in this part of Arthur's kingdom. And there is another stratum. This of a dull yellowish color, which angles down into the spring waters. The prince digs out a chunk of the yellowish ore and inspects it closely --- suddenly he believes he has found the answer to the mystery surrounding this place. He returns to assist the shoveling and the loading of the guano. When the wagon is full, the three begin their return ... while in the dark thickets outside Afton's cottage, menacing figures skulk forward. Next: The nightjar.
March Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 24th of May, 2020. This made me wonder whether guano is something you really have to gather at night. But then I guess at night most of the bats will be out, so you don’t have to worry about disturbing them? So I guess that’s an advantage? So anyway, if you somehow didn’t know what kind of person I am, now you know, it’s “person who wonders about the best guano-gathering practices because of reading a comic strip”.

Meanwhile the villagers have had enough of this, and attack Afton and Audrey’s cottage. Gawain tries to defend it, but he’s just one person, and not main cast(?) I guess(?). Afton escapes being feathered. But the mob burns her cottage. Valiant sees this and races to the scene. He bellows that the women are innocent and he can explain the deaths. As soon as they get back to Imbert’s estate, anyway.

The proof is in Imbert’s kitchen. The cook recognizes Valiant’s ore. It’s arsenic. This gives Schultz and Yeates the problem of having characters who think this is a good thing not advise newspaper readers to take poison. Valiant settles on saying how “it is rumored to aid good bodily health”. So Imbert was stealing ore from the cave, and taking it for his health. But Valiant knows arsenic is a poison, used “by assassins in the court of a distant land”. So Imbert arsenic-poisoned himself. Gareth, trying to have the same meals as Imbert, had the same poison.

With Val having solved the mystery of Imbert's death, Gawain announces his verdict to the gathered villagers: 'Matter the first: the royal archives prove Afton's claim on the land in question. Lord Imbert had no right to take possession of anything on Afton's land. Matter the second: Afton and Audrey are blameless in the deaths of Imbert and Gareth. Imbert's theft from Afton's land was responsible for his and Gareth's inadvertent deaths by poison. As the representative of the court of Camelot, I forbid any further persecution of these two women!' Then, unexpectedly, Aleta's voice rises above the crowd's murmuring 'You have accused Afton and Audrey of using witchcraft for evil purpose but I assure you, they are no more witches than are any of you! I know this because I am a witch! A witch queen from the far south! And these are my familiars, who will watch and assure that no harm comes to those I protect!' The crowd gasps as two huge creatures suddenly appear at her call! Next: the greater fear
March Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 26th of July, 2020. Aleta’s not a stupid woman. So we must ask, then. What are the experiences she has had which make her believe this is an effective way to protect women reputed to be witches?

Gawain reports that the royal records confirm Afton’s claims on the disputed land. Also, that Imbert and Gareth’s death was their own fault, and there’ll be no further persecution of Afton and Audrey. Aleta steps in to support Afton and Audrey against the claims of witchcraft. She declares their innocence and she would know, as she’s Queen of the Witches. She summons her raven familiars to put Afton and Audrey under her protection. Aleta thinks she’s helping. Our heroes leave. They trust Afton and Audrey will have a good time next week, when I look at Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy.

Next Week!

You know, I did get the Prince Valiant plot summary finished way ahead of deadline. I should be getting to work on the Dick Tracy plot recap like, four days ago. Well, shall try to have that for next week. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? What is a ‘Virgate’ and why would someone want it? November 2019 – February 2020


A ‘virgate’ is an Old English measure of land area. It’s about what a team of two oxen could plough in a year. Somewhere around thirty acres, give or take. (They didn’t have modern ideas of uniformity, especially about things like farmland, where some land might be there but unusable.) So if that’s all you wondered about Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant, thanks, and bye. Meanwhile if you’re looking to follow the plot, this will get you caught up to mid-February 2020. If you’re reading this after about May 2020, there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. Also any news about the comic strip that seems worth the mention. And, as ever, I look at other comic strips on my mathematics blog.

Prince Valiant.

24 November 2019 – 16 February 2020

Prince Valiant and company were heading home, last time, after adventures in Egypt. Here “Home” means the Misty Isles. Queen Bukota is furious with Ambelu, the last of her surviving advisors. Ambelu and his fellow nobles had tried to keep the young Ab’saba queen under control through Fewesi the Healer. That worked out great when Fewesi killed them, kidnapped the Queen, and fled to Egypt where his own people laughed him off as a dangerous incompetent loser. Her vengeance is fairly mild: she’s reassigning Ambelu to be her ambassador to Camelot. Bukota, the current ambassador, will take a post canoodling with her. Their first wedding — they plan to hold another back home — is a merry affair.

After two years in the Misty Isles, Val and family, escorted by the longship Skjalssdis, are bound north for Camelot. Crossing the Mediterranean, there is much reacquainting and catching up. Much time in the south was spent apart. Only the Ab'saban nobleman Ambelu stands alone, banished by Queen Makeda to serve as ambassador to King Arthur's Court. He moves uneasily over the deck, hobbled by a ruined leg, the result of his part in the plot that went horribly wrong. As he morosely struggles to understand his part in this awful, alien world, the ship heels suddenly, and his balance is lost. At this point, things could not seem worse for the proud man. Then he hears the sound of a footstep, followed by a thump, and Gundar Harl is beside him. [ Harl has a wooden leg. ] ``It took me some time to learn to dance with the ship,'' offers the shipmaster. ``We have something in common. Perhaps I can share some tricks.''
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 22nd of December, 2019. So recently I read a book that contained a lot of discussion of Prince Valiant, including summaries of every story done from the origin to the book’s publication around 2005. Among the surprises is that, after some initial work, Hal Foster settled on a specific time and, when it could refer to historic events, made them reasonably consistent with character ages and such. The coherence of this has varied over the years, but still, that’s some amazing work considering how few people would ever notice. Also, there was at least one story that Foster wanted to start aboard ship, but he didn’t want to set about getting everyone on board. So he had the story start with an explanation that the “ancient scrolls” from which the text of the strip is based had some gaps and here’s what comes after one of those gaps. I genuinely love that sort of meta-writing.

And then it’s time to go to Camelot, for the first time since I’ve been doing these What’s Going On In features. Valiant’s been focusing so on tromping around Asia, the Misty Isles, and North Africa so much I didn’t realize he even went to Camelot anymore. The strip says (on the 22nd of December) that Valiant’s spent two years in the Misty Isles, which I assume is character time.

And so, with 2020 dawning, Prince Valiant returns to Britain and his first adopted home. They run across a funeral procession for the local baron, and about how some witches summoned a demon to kill the baron. Valiant would rather leave this all alone. But Aleta asks questions. Gareth, the new baron and one of the mourners, explains the case: the Baron criticized these women, and then he died of demonic possession. In fairness, bats do swarm one of the women. Plus there’s a pox going around. Valiant would really like to just let this be. But then Sir Gawain, a day’s ride out of Camelot, arrives.

Valiant’s suspicious about this well-timed visit. Sir Gawain explains there was a request to the court to deal with a dispute about a parcel of land. And now here’s these women accused of witchcraft and sorcery. The woman with the bats argues that “the ignorant peasants” would destroy their bats’ home.

As Val and Aleta move between an angry mob and its intended victim, they are joined by a friend long unseen --- Sir Gawain! Once the intimidated crowd retreats, Gawain wastes no further time in ceremoniously greeting his companions. But Aleta's attention is fixed on the accused with-woman, who distractedly watches her cloud of bats flit away. 'All this commotion! These fools have disrupted the bats' behavior! They are very sensitive creatures!' Val is more interested in Gawain's unexpected appearance. Gawain explains: 'There was a supplication to the throne - someone here with claims to a parcel of land says she's being forced off her plot. Arn sent me to investigate - but I stumble upon this odd situation' The strange woman snarls at Gawain: 'Do not take this lightly, sir knight! These ignorant peasants would destroy the home of our bas! And I am very familiar with the facts in the behest to Camelot ... come ... I will take you to Afton.' And so, while the majority of Val's entourage is sent on to Camelot, Val, Aleta, and Nathan follow Gawain and the cryptic woman to a lonely cottage - and a dark mystery.
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 26th of January, 2020. Val fears that something is missing to make this puzzle sensible. “Would you by chance know of any meddling kids and their talking dog,” he inquires, “and perhaps whether there is an abandoned amusement park or perhaps candy manufactory hereabouts?”

To facts, though. Gawain confirms the grant of two virgates made to Afton, one of the locals. Nathan, who’s part of Valiant’s retinue, notices a clue in the house, though: a bat’s skeleton and a sketch of a bat. Afton petitions Gawain for protection from Lord Imbert, who’s the one who had just died. But part of Afton’s grant is a cave with a spring that allegedly restores youth. It doesn’t, but Imbert thought it does, and wanted the land for himself. Gawain consider that now that Imbert is conveniently dead, and there’s a rumor of Afton or the women summoning a demon to do it … that could be awkward.

Gawain, Valiant, and all go looking for lodging. And that’s where the story has gotten. Where is it going? We’ll have to see over the next few months.

Next Week!

Action! Adventure! Super-detection! People dressed as robots! It’s Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy, unless something demands more attention first.

Hey, did you know that in his travels Prince Valiant has been to North America at least twice? Like, all the way to Manhattan and stuff. Also he’s made it to South America. I don’t know that he’s ever set foot in Australia but that’s some amazing travels. I mean, we moderns forget that while people back in the day — much like today — were happy to stay where they were, some folks really got moving. (He lived in a time that made this considerably easier than Prince Valiant “did”, but do look up James Holman sometime.)

When Swords Dance And Porridge Explodes


Jerome Friedman’s The Battle Of The Frogs And Fairford’s Flies keeps being a source of just wonderful incidents and I had to share some more with you because you’ll just see at that. This one is drawn from the 1645 chapbook Strange And Fearful News From Plaisto In The Parish Of Westham, Plaisto being a totally real place and not the result of someone being challenged to say where it took place and bluffing, desperately, “Place … uh … to” and feeling bad for getting stuck with that answer. According to the Strange and Fearful News for one month Paul Fox, silk weaver, “a man of an honest life and conversation” suffered from a haunted house. I don’t know where his conversation enters into things.

The first problem was that a sword started dancing around the house. Fox handled by locking it up. I suppose if I saw a sword dancing around my house I’d try locking it out of the house altogether, but that strategy didn’t really work with a pretty determined mouse that kept getting into the kitchen last year. It didn’t work so well for Fox, though, because the sword came through the door and continued to dance.

The sword got joined by a cane, that hopped around the sword, and here I’m stumped. I can imagine putting an enchanted sword to some practical use, if it could refrain from dancing some. After all, 1645 was before documents had begun to protect themselves by warning not to fold, spindle, or mutilate them, so if you got, say, a phone bill you could chop it into tiny bits because it was obviously a scam, it being the mid-17th century and all. But a sword with a cane just seems one long dancing inanimate object too many to use. Maybe we aren’t getting the whole story. Maybe the sword, despite love of dance, was getting up in years and needed the cane for support. Or maybe the cane feared for its safety in the rough community of 1645 Plaisto.

But the sword and cane settled down — I bet they were friends and got into chatting about old times — and Fox seemed fine with all this until he started hearing a hollow voice banging on the door and demanding, “I must dwell here”. Told it could just go off and dwell somewhere else, it came back the next day and smashed his windows by hurling bricks, canes, oyster shells, pieces of bread, and “other things” at the house. I suspect the spirit didn’t quite know what it was doing. Breaking windows by using bricks is efficient enough, but, oyster shells? That’s a hard way to break a window, and pieces of bread? Was the spirit unable to find wads of kitten fur to throw instead? Or maybe bread meant something different back then, and throwing a “piece of bread” was slang for throwing a Roundhead or a Member of Parliament or something. Also, whose side was the dancing cane on?

Possibly the cane danced this one out, since a boulder weighing “half a hundred weight”, which if I know anything about English measures means it could weigh anything except fifty pounds, jumped out of the garden where it’d been content to all appearances for decades and tumbled up the stairs into the middle of the room. Fox had someone take it back out into the yard, but it just came right back up the stairs again. I assume the rock had just had enough with all the cane-dancing and bread-throwing and decided to pick a fight with scissors.

Fox stuck it out a while, suggesting you could just haunt a silk-weaver’s house for weeks before he’d get impatient with it. Or maybe he figured dancing swords were more interesting than the other pastimes of 1640s England, such as dying of plague or accusing people of being Anabaptists. But there’s limits to anyone’s patience, and his was reached sometime after a pot of porridge got splattered around the room and the spirits started pulling his family’s hair and knocking their heads. He eventually moved to a new house, where the spirit followed, and he moved back to the first place, figuring, I guess, why not?

By the time the pamphlet was written, Fox was still having trouble with house-haunting, but everyone was confident it wasn’t witchcraft. I don’t know what became of him or his house; maybe he came to appreciate having a bread-throwing ghost around. Hard to say.

Report on the Failure of the Turpid Moraine Moraine Project


It is difficult to identify the proximate and ultimate causes of the failed Turpid Moraine Moraine Project, as this complex and sinister web of factors can pretty much be blamed on the people getting this report, but the effort is worthwhile as it keeps the report-writer from having to unload the boxes of returned things or suffer physical retribution from the Moraine Moraine clients.

We must characterize communications as a primary failure cause and/or mode. For example, the client could directly ask the programmers to ask whether the demands on their servers would be lessened if the software development kits used a smaller typeface and maybe something in a Futura. Meanwhile the programmers were inadequately shy about writing back to ask whether the project had been approved for development as much as 34 months after the contract was signed.

A considerable volume of chat transcripts indicate that communications — internal, external, and whatever that grey area is in-between — were altogether too good and allowed everyone to know what kinds of people they were dealing with. In any modern organization traces of humanity must be suppressed, because humans are just terrible, and the more you hear from them the worse they are. Fortunately the failure of the Moraine Moraine Project bodes well for future work with them as there’s no one left on their staff or ours willing to speak to the other.

To underscore the excessiveness of our communication note that the client’s staffers who sent the typeface memo asserted they were merely being facetious, to bring all together in a sense of common cause against the general stupidity of the modern world. Our programmers responded that there is no reason to treat an ironical shopworn joke as superior to a sincerely shopworn joke. The ensuing debate on the signifiers and purposes of humor, and what did our programmers think that approved-for-development base-touching was exactly, enabled over seven persons in both organizations to earn their Masters of Literature. While we had no explicit responsibility many felt we ought to keep people safe from that sort of thing.

Despite too-good communications, the specifications for the project were still inadequately defined. Enclosed please find the final draft of the project requirements: the twelve Primary Objectives include (as item seven) an inventory of the broken vending machine, (item twelve) a ruling on whether to write “10” or “ten”, and (item nine) a call for international diplomacy by way of open covenants of peace, openly arrived at. Among the twenty Desirable Objectives are “fireproof kettles”, whatever those are, and a settlement on the way to spell “moustache”. The Marketing division was able to identify fourteen products which already meet all these specifications, none of which satisfied the clients, and two of which required the attention of three municipalities’ emergency medical technicians. Marketing asserts Moraine Moraine was being “fickle”.

The Training Department’s admirable refusal to communicate with Programming, Marketing, or the client, despite its de facto status as project coordinators, nevertheless failed us in some ways. Lacking other information, for example, both Marketing and Programming trusted that the West Silage physical plant was still owned by our company, or indeed any company. This was the direct cause of the humiliating site visit in which the attempt to the prototypes of our data-sampling and analysis tools resulted in being chased by binturongs wielding sticks. The Training Department wants it noted that the sticks were sharpened in line with the ISO-9000/OUCH procedure they developed for the Total Quality Management program which began in 1994, and that they will be ready for the 1998 Final Audit whenever we can provide them with six to eight years notice. They would.

While it is always dangerous to identify senior management as participants in the failure I must note that the boss’s decision to unnecessarily offend the foul witch Sycorax and thus get grown into some kind of hoop or something in a pine tree (her e-mails on this point were blissfully uncommunicative) until freed by a shipwrecked sailor, coming as the incident did in the middle of budgeting, left our staffing decisions badly affected for the following fiscal year.

Given the multifaceted nature of the Moraine Moraine failure it is difficult to recommend a single most important corrective action, so I recommend we just have everybody in charge of something read a bunch of Tom Peters books until they feel good about themselves again.