Alphabet of Signs and Jade Generals by Ursula Whitcher

This episode of The Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast contains two short, original audio stories Alphabet of Signs and Jade Generals by Ursula Whitcher

Episode 32e with Heather Rose Jones

The first episode of the 2019 Fiction Series

In this episode we talk about:

Links to the Lesbian Historic Motif Project Online

Links to Heather Online

Links to Ursula Whitcher Online

Links to Jasmine Arch Online


Listen to the episode here 


please note this transcript has not been edited and is automatically generated meaning certain words will be incorrect

[Music] this is Heather Rose Jones with The Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast. This weekly podcast looks at lesbian themes in history and literature and historic research into gender and sexuality we talk about current historical fiction with queer female characters including fantastic versions of the past and have interviews with authors who write those stories and in months when we have a fifth show we’re proud to present new original lesbian historical fiction for your enjoyment for the first episode of our 2019 fiction series we have to flash fiction pieces by the same author establishing a historic setting and telling a story in that setting is challenging enough in short fiction of any length but flash fiction really shows an author’s skill when I thought about accepting very short pieces for the series I decided that I’d be happy to include more than one story in an episode as long as the overall length met my target this year I bought two excellent flash pieces in rarely seen settings both by the same author this recording is released under a Creative Commons Attribution non-commercial no derivatives 4.0 international public license you may share it in the full original form but you may not sell it you may not transcribe it and you may not adapt it original Witcher is a mathematician editor and poet her work has appeared in venues including the Cascadia subduction zone voice catcher the Journal of humanistic mathematics and goblin fruit that sort of combination of fields isn’t at all unusual among the people I know most recent times we’ve met in person have either been when she’s in town for a math conference or when were both at the same science fiction convention but we first met through the Society for Creative anachronism and doing medieval research and recreation Ursula can be found online at yarn theory dotnet and on twitter at super yarn I sense a theme here I’m delighted to present her fiction on the lesbian historic motif podcast our narrator for both stories is Jasmine arch who lives in a quiet corner of Belgium with four dogs three horses and a husband who knows better than to disturb her when she’s writing jasmine is a writer poet artist and narrator she works in health care and finds her creative outlets essential to recharge from facing trauma and disease on a daily basis her work has appeared in illumine magazine and she can be found online at jasmine art calm or on twitter as at J arch our first story is set in a Carol Liu Jian Abbey perhaps the Abbey of the Holy Cross founded by the Frankish Queen Saint radicand or one like it in the lesbian historic motif project blog I’ve covered two articles that talk about homoerotic imagery and texts from the abbey founded by st. Rettig ined ursula notes that the story was sparked by a conversation she had with someone in the society for creative anachronism who was researching the history of sign language there are 11th century records of systems of signs used by people living under Benedictine monastic rule for use when vows of silence were enforced Valery Garver’s book women and aristocratic culture in the Carolingian world was another source for thinking about the way Carolinian women’s lives were described and recorded this story comes to us in the voice of a woman in the convent where the Queen retired from secular life alphabets of signs by Ursula Witcher read by Jasmine arch I will tell you the Queen was shining her hair was shining and her dress was shining her sleeves banded in purple I will tell you my voice is a man’s voice chanting at court I will claim I made a copy of a copy of a verse which we are not permitted and go without my supper when the Queen came she was cold we are taught signs to hold the silence we cupped her hands as she pulled the pins from her hair let them clang on the stone pulled her braids taut snap the strands bit by bit with the knife at her belt and stuffed her fists in her sleeves when the Queen came they said she was wanton or a witch or a saint her nose was longer without the braid wrapped at her temples she walked in squares in the garden between prayer and prayer they gave her a lamp at night for being queen bitter olive smoke she walked when she thought we slept the shadow flickered under my or curved curtain Queens do not sleep alone in the cold they have kings or hand maidens if she was wantin the handmaidens shining standing in rows they knew it and was silent I learned science to hold in silence I held her traced her crooked nose and a smooth brow and burned like a fiend or a saint I will make her immortal without speaking without singing or chanting I write her name in red in every book she wore this red riding away when her son turned thirteen and a king [Music] our second story takes us to the other side of the world ursula says I wrote Jade generals as a present for a friend who asked for secret identities in high-end Japan the story references tariq abaya monogatari translated into English as the changelings a 12th century work of fiction about two siblings who swapped gender roles have various adventures in the Emperor’s Court and then swapped back in the plot of Tariq abaya monogatari involves a very naive bride I knew I wanted to tell the story where the bride has her own agenda when I realized that high-end weddings involved three virtual visits rather than a single wedding ceremony that gave me the story structure stories about gender disguise and same-sex marriage occur across many historic cultures side-by-side with similar stories that have more the shape of transgender identity I like versions like this one where both parties have the same understanding of the relationship and the attraction is not rooted in the illusion where the secret to be revealed is not about gender identity but about the deep roots of their desire Jade generals by ursula witcher read by Jasmin arch on the first night the Council of the second-ranked brings Shizuko sake in a greenish brown stoneware jar and picks a fight about the strategy of shogi they’re up till nearly dawn arguing and laughing at one point they try to estimate how many incense chariots an army actually needs later that morning the counselor sends Shizuka a poem about falling Maple Leafs and the inevitability of desire it’s conventional language but Shizuka giggles she’s thinking about how read her face must have turned between the wine and the incense argument she returns a poem about gold and jade generals by the same messenger on the second night Shizuko warms her room with sandalwood and cinnamon and plays a soft song on the court or the counselor compliments her lavishly but intelligently and asks whether this incense came by chariot it’s clear though that the previous late night is taking its toll and soon Shizuko is the only one awake the counselor twitches a little bit in sleep Shizuka sets her instrument aside and curls around her visitor as if she were holding a cat on the third night the counselor takes a soft rice cake from Shizuka’s hand and pulls it into pieces hesitating Shizuka watches the counselors mouth start to form an ungracious definite statement and says hurriedly I have secret the counselor pauses with the startled expression of a person who believes secrets are singular and hoarded treasures rather than donned in layers like one’s robes how strange it must be to be such a learned and skilled administrator and yet so unaware of other people’s minds you found out everything about my uncle Shizuka notes his illustrious position and his prospects you never asked about my parents I understood that they were dead the counselor asks my mother’s husband is dead my father that most honored Prince is very much alive though not so lively a courtier as he was in his younger days and as for my mother do you not remember a woman who spent the summer sitting by a lake painting pine trees covered in snow the counselor holds out a piece of the rice cake giving it back to Shizuka the cake is rather squashed but Shizuka eats it anyway there had been a small girl by the lake of course who wanted to catch a fish and a rather larger one who succeeded I have always admired you Jia the counselor gulps her own bit of rice cake now like a cup grabbing a fly or a person marrying into the imperial family Shizuka reaches out and hugs her properly this time she owes muscles start out taut but she relaxes suddenly and lays her cheek against Shizuka’s hair Shizuka has taken Jade general for her very own unlike in shogi this puts them on the same side I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of the lesbian historic motif podcast if you want to follow up on anything we’ve covered see the show notes for links and to contact me with questions book announcements or topic suggestions if you enjoyed this podcast please rate it and subscribe on iTunes stitcher or pod bean and consider supporting our patreon and if you’re on Facebook check out the lesbian talk show chat group [Music] you