The Barbarian Bard

Tales and Musings by Michael A. Espinoza

Archive for the tag “Michael A. Espinoza”

The Gem Stone’s Folly

Hail readers,
As many of you likely already know, this month is Pride Month. A while ago, I wrote this poem—a darkly-themed fairy tale-esque piece—but I wasn’t sure if or when I’d share it. I’m not entirely sure what the poem is specifically about, and it’s certainly far from uplifting. I guess I just want to share it and say please embrace the diverse array of wonderful people in the world. Don’t discourage a person from being who they are just because it clashes with your concept of who they ought to be. We all shine in our own unique ways, and whether it’s orientation, presentation, or identification, the world has enough love for each and every one of us, but we have to choose to share that love. Don’t just talk tolerance, take actions of acceptance.

In a family of rocks, a stone was born,
of like-body, and like-mind.
Of dark and solid flesh was he,
in each way alike in kind.
“Sturdy and strong,” their friends would say,
“a worthy rock you’ve sired.”
And the new stone beamed with every word
of praise that he inspired.
A life of stone was a good life;
stalwart, day and night.
He gave no ground, he felt no fear,
he let shine no light.

But a reckless sunbeam struck the stone,
angled perfectly,
and a dazzling light reflected from
his face for all to see.
The young stone smiled and spread his light,
amazed at his own glow.
Glittering, glinting in the sun,
an unprecedented show.
“Oh parents,” thought the joyous stone,
knowing they’d be proud of him,
“what great news I bring to you:
your stone son is a gem.”

A gem, of all things; glorious!
He could not contain his pride.
He’d never known of his own form,
that a glow was sealed inside.
Stones and gems were of equal worth,
for each could be of use.
But so rare was it, a young rock’s fate
to be free for them to choose.
And so he sought his family out,
gathering them all ’round
to see his light. “But what is this?
Why must you glow?” they frowned.

“A gem,” they wept, “Oh son, but why
have you delivered us this curse?
All gems are stones, but never should
this order be reversed.”
“We raised you,” his parents sobbed,
“to know your rightful place.
By your choice, you shun your folk,
and spit into our face.”
“But parents,” the young gemstone pled,
“I can be both bright and strong.”
“You can,” they said with somber eyes,
“but such a life is wrong.”

Bereft, the gemstone left from home,
uncertain now of life.
He’d thought his glow would bring delight,
not familial strife.
“A gem is no less hard,” he thought,
“no less able to be
a thing of strength and beauty.
This glow is part of me.”
He was not corrupted, nor defiled,
not deviant or “bad.”
But it seemed that all his light could do
was make his forebears sad.

There was no joy in a gemstone’s life,
if it shone on only pain.
He could not hurt his loved ones so,
he was not so vile and vain.
If being what he’d grown to be
was a curse unto his kind,
he resolved to be a stone,
and leave his glow behind.
But how could he eschew the light
that sparkled on his skin?
How could he take the gleam without,
and bury it within?

First he tried a layer of earth
and hoped one coat would do,
but no matter how he layered it
his radiance shone through.
Next he tried a staining dye,
that soaked in every pore,
but rain washed clean this new disguise,
and he shined brighter than before.
At last, the truth he realized,
the only answer there could be:
light cannot reflect upon
that which it cannot see.

So he delved down to the depths
of the dark and sheltering Earth,
and surrounded himself with the stones
so alike him at his birth.
There no light could ever chance
upon the facets of his face.
There no eyes could see his glow,
and know of his disgrace.
He stood still, and he stood strong;
he made his loved ones proud.
But less proud were they of his self,
and more so of his shroud,
for he’d found a way to lose their shame,
to hide his grievous sin.
And now the gemstone’s only light
was but a memory within.


Independence for a Blind Man: Crowd-Funding Accessibility

Hail readers!
I am writing this post from my iPhone. Why, you might ask? Well, as some of you may know, I am blind in both eyes, due to a condition called LCA. I have been blind since birth, and rely on a device called a BrailleNote to read, write, interact with the internet, and so on and so forth. Unfortunately, the company that makes BrailleNotes (HumanWare) has a powerful hold on their niche market, and can thus make a device that is equal parts expensive and prone to breaking down. This is how I now find myself relying on my phone’s screenreader, which is useable, but not a long-term solution when it comes to my career as an English tutor. To that end, a dear friend of mine has started a crowd-funding campaign, which we are sharing along with the hashtag #Braille4ME. (My initials are ME, and I find this hashtag delightfully catchy. Kudos to my friend Kelsey for creating it!) We are over halfway to our goal, and now need less than 2,000 to help me get a new braille computer and retain my job, my blog, and my independence. If you can’t donate, it would still be a huge help if you’d share the link to the campaign page. Every share and every donation helps! Thank you all.

Dear Carly Rae Jepsen

Dear Carly Rae Jepsen,

     I am writing this letter with the full knowledge that you may, in all likelihood, never read it. Let me start by saying: Thank you. Thank you for the music, the charming interviews, and everything else you have shared with all of us. If you take anything away from this letter, may it be the knowledge that your work and personality are truly appreciated.

     I was born, and still am, blind in both eyes. Not 100% blind, more like 95% blind, but that’s still pretty blind. Music has always been a huge part of my life, an outlet for my creativity, whether I’m listening or creating my own. Chiefly, I listen to and write heavy metal music; something about the loud, bombastic punch of metal has always spoken to me. As I say to my friends: There are two types of music on my iPod, heavy metal and Carly Rae Jepsen. What lead me to appreciate your work is a phenomenon I find hard to express in words. To put it as succinctly as I can: I like the fact that, when you sing, it truly sounds like you are smiling. Not a forced smile or a false sense of exuberance, but a genuine, warm smile. There is something about your inflection on certain words that conjures the auditory image of a small smile, just the most subtle upturning of the corners of the mouth, which yields such an honest, cheerful timbre to your voice. In a world where so many people struggle with expressing their true emotions, that authentic gesture speaks volumes to my listening ears.

     My life has been a good one overall, but I have experienced some unfortunate events, things that sometimes keep me awake at night, or rouse me from my sleep in an alarmed state of mind. For years, I did not have a cure for such circumstances, until I stumbled upon your music. When I lie awake, my nerves on edge and my mind racing, I know I can turn on any of your songs and feel almost instantly calm. Suddenly, the world is not so intimidating, and I am not so alone or powerless. My pulse stops hammering, my thoughts coalesce into a less jumbled mass, and I realize that the world can’t be so bad as long as there is one genuine smile amidst the chaos of life’s innumerable obstacles.

     Now, I’ve written and rewritten this letter a dozen times. Still, I’m not satisfied that I’m adequately conveying to you how grateful I am for your music. It has uplifted me during my darkest times, and beamed down on me like sunshine during the brightest days of my life. I truly hope that, by the providence of good fortune, this letter will find its way to you. So, I leave you with these final words: Thank you, Carly Rae Jepsen. Thank you for the heartfelt songs, thank you for all the good you do, and thank you for sharing your smiling voice with the world.

Arrival of the Blades

At long last, my novel is complete. With cover art hand-drawn by my friend Jewel Jones, and an endless list of friends to thank for editing and beta reading, I am genuinely excited to bring “Blades of Cairndale” to the reading world.</p

“Three warriors, one perilous quest, and a realm teetering on the brink of chaos. Expert swordsman Urunzai Zuna, half-nymph Esmera Atlia, and fresh recruit Garyn Valenthir must journey into the wild lands to the west of Cairndale at the behest of their ruler, Azyriana the Witch-Queen. As unprecedented rebellion and insidious political deception gnaw at the foundations of their homeland, the trio must race to unearth the source of haunting dreams that assail their queen before her father, Thurzir the Demon-King, returns from the Abyss to reclaim his throne.

“Blades of Cairndale” reads like a broadsword’s swing: fast, hard, and straight to the point. The swift-moving narrative recounts a timeless tale of politics, persecution, and persevering friendship in the face of what may seem insurmountable odds. This first novel by Texan author Michael A. Espinoza is available as an eBook as of September 1, 2015. Get your copy today!

Click here to see other material Michael has posted relating to “Blades of Cairndale”.

The Blades of Cairndale Are On the March

Hail readers,

You may recall some time ago that I posted a synopsis of my forthcoming novel, Blades of Cairndale. There is also an interview with me regarding the contents of this eBook. Well, my friends, I can now proudly say that “Blades of Cairndale”‘s cover art is complete. I will be posting it, along with pre-order information as soon as possible. In the meantime, if you have been enjoying what I’ve offered here on this blog, I beseech thee, loyal readers, to share this post with your friends. (If you hate what I’ve offered, share this with your enemies.) Like this post, comment on it, or do something else to let me know you’re excited for this fantastical adventure. (I let myself know I was excited by getting a “Blades of Cairndale”-themed tattoo, but you don’t have to do that.) Who knows, someone may end up with a free copy of “Blades”.

Commission A Short Horror Story

Hail, dear readers,
I’ve been away for far too long, but now I intend to make up for it. If you have ever wanted to star in a short, horror story before, but never found the time to whip up a tale of your own gruesome adventures, then I have quite the opportunity for you. For just $5, I will write you (or a character of your choosing) into a short piece of horror fiction all your own. This tale, featuring my unique style of word-craft, may be anything from a zombie apocalypse to a terrifying alien invasion. Or perhaps a desperate struggle to escape the hunting ground of a ferocious werewolf. Whatever the tale, you’ll be lucky if you survive physically and mentally in tact. If this offer interests you, head to the link below and pick up your $5 custom terror tale today!

Spectator Sport

My ticket bought, I stand in line,
on the empty, teeming street.
Alone I fight the silent crowd
and am ushered to my seat.
The lights go down, I shield my eyes,
the curtain’s fall away.
I join the roar of no applause;
it’s time to see the play.

In this show I see a man,
born as all others are.
In the first act he sets his sights
on vistas wide and far.
His dreams are vast, ambition high,
his wings have come unfurled.
He’ll grow into a mighty man
and spread those pinions across the world.

The crowd and I watch others join
this young man in his cause.
They help shape his words and build his thoughts
so none will give them pause.
His greatest friends, they turn this man’s
dream into reality.
Yet for all the agents in his life,
it’s lived with no agency.

His dreams now shaped to worthy form,
his wings clipped so they appeal
to those beloved guardians of his will,
who traded dreams for constructs real.
The successful man finds brief delight
in stepping briefly from his cage,
so he may be an audience of one,
and see his life acted on the stage.

He buys his ticket and stands alone
an empty face on an empty street.
He joins and is himself the crowd.
He takes the only seat.
The lights go down and he shields his eyes
to hide the tears that start,
for he knows when this play reaches its end,
his own act again must start.


If you enjoyed this post, please consider donating to help fund the publication of my novel.

The Hero’s Return

The wind blows up from western dales
to churn the glassy sea.
The mists of morning drift upon
the fog enshrouded lea.
A raven rides the murky sky,
its wings the shade of night,
and the denizens of darksome depths
retreat at morning’s light.

I tilt my eyes to the sky above
and catch the raven’s eye.
Though no man walks along my path,
alone never am I.
Fingers of fog tug at my cloak,
but ever I stride on.
Through darkness grim I’ve made my way,
at last to the break of dawn.

From the fell vales of the southern hills
to the frozen northern keeps,
I’ve hunted darkness and its brood,
where e’er it crawls and creeps.
Silver in my glimmering blade
has played a deadly tune,
for fiends and demons who laugh and reel,
beneath the weeping moon.

Years I’ve walked and years I’ve fought,
all light I did defend.
But old am I, my bones are weak,
my song is at its end.
The song of steel is a young man’s air,
too fast and cruel for me.
But my soul shall e’er keep up the fight,
though my body joins the sea.


If you enjoyed this post, please consider donating to help fund the publication of my novel.

Guest Post: Remembering Skadhi in Texas, by Jessica Glasebrook

Hail readers,
Today, we have a real treat, a guest post, courtesy of my sister, Jessica Glasebrook. Jessica is a brilliant woman, and it is a true privilege to have her write a post for the Barbarian Bard. She is a seminary graduate, holding her Master’s degree in theology. Her historical, cultural, and theological knowledge will never cease to amaze me. When I at last came to the religion of heathenry (also known as Asatru), my sibling’s immediate reaction was a boundless curiosity, a desire to learn and understand the faith her brother had found. Her love of (and devotion to) interfaith dialog sparked many a conversation regarding heathenry’s lore, morality, and numerous other facets. Never once was her curiosity tinged with anything other than a profound yearning to broaden her already prodigious knowledge of the world and its cultures, never judging, belittling, or any other negative stereotype of that sort. Jessica has a genuine enthusiasm for interfaith coexistence that I find admirable. And now, I present her post.


The other day, I told my brother that whoever first told the tale of Skadhi and Njord must have lived in Texas. We Texans are both intrigued and intimidated by winter, chiefly because we don’t experience it very often. Some would say we don’t experience it at all. My college roommate, a no-nonsense Michigan native, was constantly amused by our swaddled, begloved response to any drop in temperature. In the same way that we’re at a loss for what to do with the encroaching cold, the sea-god Njord was at a loss as to what to do with his winter bride Skadhi. Skadhi, like many of the Norse goddesses, is no wilting flower. In fact, she’s a bit tough even by divine standards. She loves the winter wilds, hunting solitary and fending for herself with a bow and a pair of snowshoes. She’s a survivor, who personifies the wilderness in winter.

When the gods killed her father, a notorious giant, Skadhi readied for the conflict ahead, strode into their hall, and demanded that they pay the weregild (compensatory price) for her father’s life. The price: Make Skadhi laugh. Anyone who’s ever tried to warm up an icy windshield with a rolled-up newspaper knows how impossible this is. I’ll spare you the details of what finally melted Skadhi’s heart and made her chuckle because this is a family-friendly blog, but suffice it to say it involved the trickster god and a goat. Another one of Skadhi’s stipulations was that she have her pick of the gods for a husband, but the gods threw in a caveat: she was only permitted to choose by looking at their legs. She was hoping to win the fair Balder, a warrior who wasn’t bad on the eyes. Instead, she scored the god of sailors and the sea, Njord. This is where the trouble started. After spending a week in Njord’s hall, amid the seagulls the the surf, Skadhi had had enough. It was too warm by the sea, too tame. She convinced Njord to move to her home in the mountains and, after a week, he had had enough. It was too cold, and the wolves howling kept him awake at night. Finally, they agreed to peacefully separate, and each return to the hall of their choice.

As I feel the wind whipping at my clothes and hair, I realize that a Texas winter is Skadhi’s marriage to Njord. We don’t get each other. When the winter strikes, we stare in admiration and the slightest tinge of fear. At first, we’re thrilled with visions of bonfires and pumpkin-spied confectionery. Then, about a month in, we start to realize how unsuited we are. We find ourselves sleeping too long, eating too much, coughing, and turning up the heater. We don’t know how to coexist with weather that isn’t either pleasant or blazing hot. Skadhi has a lot to teach us about ourselves. She leads us out of our comfort zones and into the wild. Her ability to thrive and live comfortably in an environment we don’t understand serves as a model for us to be flexible and strong. Instead of expecting nature to adjust to us, we must learn to adjust to nature. We did not create the world or set its seasons in motion. Our blessing is to live in it. That means appreciating the crisp taste of the air, the whipping of the wind, the warmth of hot cider, and the pattering of rain against the window. We absorb the fragrances of woodsmoke, peppermint, spices and, for some of us, soothing-center cough lozenges. We learn to savor the joy of drawing close to our loved ones for warmth, gathering in community to celebrate the year and all we’ve accomplished. Skadhi teaches us to embrace the flavors, scents, and sounds of the cold that we don’t always comprehend. Like Njord, we are equal parts intrigued and distressed by her strength and adaptability to environments that make us uncomfortable. We may never fully understand the biting air, but we are perfectly happy to let it take our breath away.


If you enjoyed this post, please consider donating to help fund the publication of my novel.

The Fall of Whiterun: A Skyrim Poem

Some background for this poem:
Inspired by the video game Skyrim, this poem chronicles the siege of the city of Whiterun by the Stormcloak army. During the era in which the game is set, the land of Skyrim is embroiled in many a turmoil, but one of the most gripping conflicts in the land is the civil war between the Imperials and those who support the governing of Skyrim by the empire based in Cyrodiil, and the Stormcloaks, Nords who want their land ruled by their own governing body. There is no clear “good guy” in this war. Some argue that Ulfric is right to fight the Empire that governs Skyrim with an iron fist, bans certain forms of worship, and is quick to declare sentences of death. Others hold that he is a racist egotist, wanting a land that would favor Nords above all other races. And some hold that he is an inadvertent puppet in the plan of a third faction who hopes to profit from strife between the Empire and the Stormcloaks. But debating that is not the point of this poem. This piece tells of one event the player’s character may encounter based upon their previous choice, that is, whether or not they chose to return the ancient Jagged Crown to Ulfric, an item he feels will validate his kingship of Skyrim. He then sends the player’s character to Whiterun, to offer the Jarl (lord/ruler), Balgruff, an axe, which serves as a symbolic question: If the Jarl accepts it, then he sides with Ulfric and will support him in fighting the Empire. Balgruff sends the axe back to the Stormcloak leader. His answer is clear…


Nords for generations to come,
when ancient stories they sit and tell,
will ’round the hearth-fire recount the tale
of the day that Whiterun fell.
The great walled city stood untouched
by foe from far afield.
In Dragonsreach the Jarl did sit,
his city as his shield.
Then Ulfric, of the Stormcloak line,
sent a message to Whiterun’s hall.
In silent words the message spoke,
“Side with me or fall.”

Balgruff sought to guard his keep,
to save his city from harm,
and so he sent a message back,
and formed up his men-at-arms.
The Whiterun forces held the walls
and barricaded roads.
The Stormcloaks made ballistas ready
to fire devastating loads.
Down came the barricades
the city streets ran red.
Mailed boot steps trampled over
the dying and the dead.
The Stormcloaks took the hold and keep,
though struck not the Jarl down,
but offered his seat to one more loyal
to Ulfric and his Jagged Crown.

Now times have changed and years gone by,
the world not as it was.
But still all Nords remember clear
the Stormcloaks and their cause.
And above all else they do recall
and on this memory dwell:
the day that Nord fought Nord for land,
the day that Whiterun fell…

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