Northern Beholder

Where history and gaming collide.

Category: General

In Memoriam

This is Scotty.

He is a 14-year-old Newfoundland/Labrador mix and my best friend. He is dying.

My family adopted him thirteen years ago from the humane society. I was a snotty teen at the time and didn’t appreciate him at first, but we bonded quickly. He has been a wonderful pet and companion; intelligent, affectionate, playful, and just disobedient enough to be endearing without becoming annoying. He has always been a lovable goofball, getting himself into compromising positions or situations in his pursuit of food, toys, or simply attention.

Scotty at the cottage, 2012.

Over the last year he has begun to lose the use of his hind legs due to arthritis. His condition has been slowly deteriorating despite multiple and expensive therapies, all of which have managed only to offer him comfort during his decline. He can no longer stand unaided and is only capable of short walks before exhaustion and pain compel him to turn for home, and he occasionally loses strength in one or both hind legs and falls.

Despite a regular diet of painkillers and other prescriptions over the last week he has begun exhibiting signs that he is in constant pain. A trip to the vet today confirmed that his arthritis had become critical and that he had a torn ligament in his left hind knee, likely caused by one of his falls. She has offered to increase his pain medication but will not perform surgery on him at his age – he would not recover.

I have been expecting this since January when he started having difficulties, but hoping with all my heart that he would last long enough to visit the family cottage on the east coast one last time. It has always been his favourite place, the highlight of his year, to go on the long car ride to Nova Scotia, run unleashed through the grassy fields, sprint across the sand, play mountain goat on the rocky bluffs and swim, swim, swim himself to exhaustion in the Atlantic.

This is not to be. The vet has said the stress and physical strain of the two-day journey would severely aggravate his condition, and even if he made it to the cottage, would be unable to stand, let alone walk or run, on the beach, nor would he be able to swim. He would not even be able to go down the stairs to the shore, or likely the steep steps to the deck and front door.

She offered to prescribe more powerful pain medication, and I was tempted so strongly I cannot put it into words. But I know that would be selfish, and I would only be prolonging his suffering because I don’t want to let go. Scotty has given me thirteen years of unconditional, uncompromising love and companionship; I can ask for no more from my loyal, amazing friend.

He is being put down next week.

I love you, Scotty.



Merry Christmas!

Or your culture’s equivalent holiday greeting (if any)!  Enjoy the spirit of the season and, if you’re lucky, free vacation day or two!

Northern Beholder returns on Friday.


Northern Beholder is sick. Again.  Death of the Templars wrap-up on Wednesday, hopefully.

Our Story in 1 Minute

Our Story in 1 Minute is a beautifully composited short of the history of the planet, to the best of our knowledge, from big bang to present day.  It’s a stark reminder that even though human history can seem long and sweeping, our recorded history is but a fraction of the time our species has been around, our species has been around for a fraction of the time this planet has, and this planet has been here for only a blink of an eye in interstellar reckoning.  And yet in such a short time, we have accomplished so much, built so much, destroyed so much.

Imagine what our descendants will think, another thousand years from now.  Imagine what we might have accomplished.  I may study only a fraction of the past, but myself and others like me do our best to preserve that knowledge, so that those who come after us know where they came from.

With Apologies …

I’ve got the mother of all colds, and a headache so intense I can barely think, let alone write.  Alexander will be along on Monday.

A Brief History of the Levant

A friend showed me something interesting yesterday.  A cartoonist, Nina Paley, has created an animated film to accompany the song “This Land is Mine” from the 1960 film Exodus, showing a brief history of the inhabitants of a certain region.  It does not take sides in the modern conflict, rather choosing simply to portray (satirically) the long history of violence the region has suffered.

I quite like it.  As far as the sequence of events go, it’s fairly accurate (although she neglects to include the Achaemenid Persian Empire between Babylon and Alexander, and the Greeks/Macedonians really ought to be using spears).  I’m particularly enamoured by the utter lack of subtlety with which she approaches the issue.  It’s refreshingly direct; one of the commenters on her site compared it, not inaccurately, with the way modern-day South Park engages with social and political issues.  Rather than looking at who has a right to what and which side sparked the most recent round of fighting, it shows caricatures of every state and people to have laid claim to the land over the past 5,00o+ years, each one killing the previous and picking up singing the song where their predecessor left off without missing a note.  The climax reveals the only true victor of the millennia of bloodshed – Death.  It’s potent stuff, stripping away the politics to lay bare the reality: People are dying for this.  They’ve died for it long ago and they’re likely going to keep dying for it in the future, each one convinced that they are in the right. It’s sobering to think about.

The video itself can be found here, complete with all its cartoon violence. I realize some people have very strong feelings regarding that region, but please, no political rants in the comments. Again, the video is not taking one side or another, and neither am I.

In other news, I have a twitter!  It’s probably going to be fantastically underused. I’m no good with all this social media business.  And yes, the Alexander series is still coming. He’ll be here soon, honest.

Byzantium, the Underappreciated Empire V: Further Reading

If you enjoyed the short series on Byzantium, and would like to know more, I strongly recommend The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire, by Edward N. Luttwak.  Luttwak’s work is thorough and engaging, and contains far more detail regarding the Byzantine methods of diplomacy and misdirection than the scant overview I have provided.

Those more interested in military history I would point towards the Strategikon, which is a straightforward primer on military tactics and strategy created for officers in the Byzantine armies. I personally use the translation provided by George T. Dennis, though there are many to choose from.

Finally, if you want to read more on the Crusader reactions to the Byzantine tactics they saw on display, I suggest The Crusades: A History, by Jonathan Riley-Smith, and The Crusades: A Reader, a collection of translated primary documents (that is, documents written during the time of the event itself) edited by S.J. Allen and Emilie Amt which also includes an insightful look into the Byzantine perception of events as written by the daughter of the reigning Byzantine Emperor during the time of the First Crusade.

Thank you very much for joining me during the telling of “An Underappreciated Empire”.  We will return to Byzantium in the future, for as I said, it is a favourite topic of mine.  For now, however, it’s time to take a break from pure history and talk about a game.  On Wednesday:  Rome, Total War.

Posting Schedule

Just a small announcement.  I’ve figured out rather quickly that binging on posts and then going silent until inspiration strikes is a poor way to run a blog, so from here on out, Northern Beholder updates on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule!  Check back in tomorrow at noon EST for part III of ‘Byzantium, the Underappreciated Empire’.  Thanks for reading!


History is everywhere, and affects us every day.  Decisions made thousands of years ago by people that neither you or perhaps even your ancestors ever met have reverberated through time to impact our decisions today.  The world was shaped by those that came before us, and we live in their shadow, just as those that come after us will live in ours.

History, in short, is fascinating, whether you study what happened, why it happened, how it happened, or who it happened to.  And that’s just history itself; there are whole fields of study devoted to examining how history is viewed, claimed, manipulated and exploited by the descendants of those who made it.  There are a million million stories to be found in humanity’s rise from the caves to the stars, all of them worth hearing.

I have a few I want to tell.