Of Maze and Mists Folk (July#BattleBlog- Hatch)

The Maze Folk

          Threll, Invigilator Civic to Prince Machthaber of  Dienlich, was a man who wielded calm patience as a weapon of fearful effectiveness. Nobody wanted to be the one who caused him to lose his temper; in his usual demeanour he left an efficient enough trail of woe upon any who suffered his professional displeasure.

          ‘This is most unfortunate,’

          He sounded as if an unforeseen weather event was causing cancellation of an afternoon’s repose in his garden. However the slight furrowing of his brow warned the two before him. One was trying to keep the word ‘grave’ out of their thoughts; it gave a prescient air to matters.

          Both knew not to serve excuses up to Threll. Reasons and self-criticism were your best hopes; no babbling either. Calm and composed, was the way

          ‘Very unfortunate,’ Surveyoress Bekwaam said, contrition in her voice, encouraging her colleague.

          ‘Quite so,’ Surveyor Ervaren agreed.

          Threll considered the two of his senior staff.

          ‘Indeed,’ he said ‘And have you formulated how the deep coded false message to the rebel group to act, thus showing their hand actually contained a warning they had been compromised? It should have been impossible considering our failsafe programmes,’

          Bekwamm straightened clutching the file into the crook of her arm.

          ‘Three separate layers of code, each with their own clerkes did not account for clerical errors being transposed,’ she swallowed ‘We should have considered this,’ and handed The Analysis to her superior.

 

          Some days before.

          ‘Time to unlatch the hatch, and sneak the catch,’ the fellow trilled.

          Ven being the professional thief of the duo gripped the fellow. Palavelle by name, being a rogue Mechanical. His talents enabled him to work through a quadruple lock with three sets of alarms, his lack of common sense allowed him to announce his success to the locality and would have had him march into the final, least subtle but most effect trap.

          Two axes swung down from the walls in a criss-cross motion.

          ‘An’t you lucky,’ Ven hissed ‘I know the classics. Now let’s get in before someone comes to find out who is singing damn silly songs, this far from a tavern,’

          Once they eased passed the still slightly swaying blades Ven had the man relock everything.

          ‘Ah latch the catch. There’s the thing,’

          Why, Ven mused to himself did these rogue Mechanicals have to been so artisy and showy? They didn’t impress nobody down the working end of the City. After this job was done he’d have quiet words with his Guv’nor, Old Fryd about this one. Even if a contract was a contract, and the whole job was for someone, who might be acting for another someone else, if fellows like Ven Jek was caught, the last conversation would be with a rope.

          Meanwhile, get the business done. Hope everyone in the town house of a lesser duke, one Sabatch, placed too much faith in that lock and assumed it was doing all the work. 

          ‘Stop humming. This is no social visit,’

          ‘You should be happy in your work,’

          ‘I save, Happy, for when the job is over. Save all your talents for third door up on the left,’

 

          ‘It’s not a bad piece of work Guv’nor,’ Ven said handing over the ornately carved lapis lazuli statuette. Old Fryd surveyed with work with a veteran’s eye, but nonetheless passed it to the gang’s own antique expert.

          ‘Actually, very nice,’ the fellow said examining details through magnifier ‘Well done young Ven for bringing such a delicate piece out intact. I’ve seen a thousand golds literally knocked off the value through carelessness,’

          Old Fryd winced at the memories.

          ‘How was our,’ he coughed dryly ‘Specialist,’

          ‘Typical talented risk from the Comfy Class, getting his thrills,’ Ven said sourly. ‘Lucky, we didn’t raid some sort of professional Antique collector, not so legal,’ 

          Their own expert pulled a face.

          ‘They do get very cross and usually have accurate ideas where to express their displeasure. Did he pick up anything of for his own collection, a souvenir?’

          Ven shrugged.

          ‘He fiddled and nosed with a few bits; that was all. Shouldn’t use him again Guv’nor. Him and his damn sing-song silly rhymes. As if everyone appreciates them,’  

          ‘I’ll take care of those words Ven. That I will,’        

 

          Around the same time.

          ‘Imagine how embarrassing it would be to have the name of Hatchapatch,’

          Fegdale tightened putting down his newspaper in a sharp movement. The club was a place where one was supposed to sit and enjoy silence.

          ‘The matter has never occurred to me, Wingsleyden. In fact, I would say I couldn’t care two straws on the subject,’

          ‘Even so,’ the man had continued as if the matter were of fundamental philosophical concern ‘It would be fairly hard going for the poor fellow. You could make all sorts of poor jokes at his expense,’

          Fegdale glowered at Wingsleyden, who seemed unconcerned by the sight.

          ‘Why this sudden morbid interest in such an unlikely name?’

          Wingsleyden waved his own newspaper in response.

          ‘Why? Because I encountered the name in this journal. He’s suffered a ballooning accident at a farm cottage. And the bally paper has made light of it,’ his voice took on an injured tone as he waved the broadsheet in Fegdale’s face, pointing to a small column set aside for trivia ‘Hatchapatch Catches The Thatch In An Inflated Despatch,’

          The irony that one of the biggest fatheads in town was inadvertently blurting out a significance message was not lost on Fegdale. There was no time to reflect on such synchronicity. At least the warning had reached him sooner than the usual network of bemused gossip arising from a seemingly random quirky newspapers items. He grunted his excuse for leaving.

          ‘It comes to something when a fellow cannot find peace and quiet at his club,’

          The bustle of night time mixed with the steady autumn rain would provide distractions and cover. As watchman this was one of his roles. Raise the alarm.

 

          ‘This is very thorough, and it has to be said honest work,’ Thrall said to the pair, at the next meeting. ‘Taking full responsibility for all of your region’s status,’

          Ervaren took the lead.

          ‘We should have been more vigilant with the codes. Both in their drafting and overseeing. Complex systems need constant surveillance,’

          ‘Always a problem,’ Thrall agreed ‘ Balancing a system’s theoretical composition not to be compromised with its efficiency in practice,’      

          ‘Mistakes have been made, I hope lessons learnt,’ Bekwamm added ‘At least the rebels should be relatively easy to trace, with their nascent unprofessional approach,’ 

          ‘Yes,’ agreed Thrall ‘As the old tag-line goes. Good luck, bad luck. Who can say?’

          And sighed.

          The duo laughed, lightly.

          Slightly relieved.

 

          Palavelle relaxed and then only slightly when the coastline slipped from view. Even in uncouth company, being a simple conveyor dropping a message tube into an indifferent vase had been a thrill. All the fuss afterwards though; folk vanishing, strangers come to spirit you out of town. Far too rich a diet for him. Exile it would have to be.

          ‘Do you think he ever knew who he was working for?’ Ven Jek asked from the alley shadows as the ship sailed on.

          ‘Doubt it,’ Wingsleyden drawled glad to be relieved of his public voice.

          ‘Fribbin’ Comfies thinking it’s game,’ Ven spat. ‘Speaking code without checking,’

          ‘You try being one, year in year out chum,’ Wingsleyden said in grim humour ‘Forget your own name in a while, you will,’

 

          Fegdale was carefully drafting his confession, making sure it was officially obvious he had actually been working for the princedom as a decoy agent within the Dukes’ rebellion. That was what he had been told to write. He confessed to being quite wrong, the prince’s administration was very efficient. And was that not what everyone wanted? From his cell window he could see the scaffold. He shuddered thinking on his narrow escape.

 

          Maid Bekwaam comforted by her last herbal tea, walked composed to the scaffold. There was no more to be said. She had been caught in acts of treason. At least Thrall had assured her, her mother would be protected from the threats which had forced Bekwaam into the rebels’ hands. How they had targeted her was still being investigated. She was glad it was autumn, she would hate to be seen sweating.

 

          Bekwaam could remember the rope, it was silken, then the brief tightness. Now she was blinking? Someone was peering into her face with a magnifier. And she was breathing?

          ‘Yes. She is recovering,’ the someone said, her focus returned, he was elderly and maybe familiar?

          Two pairs of women’s hands raised her gently, sweet clear water to her lips, she knew enough to sip, and wait for clarity.

 

          She knew this one; Franzet ‘Old Fryd’ Durchtrieben. In criminal terms equivalent to nobility, always careful in his playing of sides. Thus, not surprising to learn now his network had found out her fate, unbeknown to her smuggled a powerful narcotic into her tea; the resulting feigned death, her coffin switched with another. All an effective rescue. Further details she might know eventually. Until then, be guardedly grateful.

          ‘Hello Miss Bekwaam. I won’t repeat the explanations. Glad to see you looking well,’ he tutted ‘Hate to see good resources wasted. Can’t have that,’

          ‘Thank you for thinking so,’ she replied, still a little croaky.

          ‘We’ll be easing you elsewhere. Five hundred myles south and west to Elinid. I expect you have a working knowledge about how that city is run. We have an agreement with the Silc clan there. They could use someone of your deductive and organisational talents. You’ll like it. Not so stuffy. Still spry enough to start afresh,’ he winked ‘And we’ll arrange for you to keep in touch with your old Mum. We got tender folk are already explaining basic matters to her, so it won’t come as a shock,’

          Bekwaam had to admit, currently this was a better outcome. She could not help but wonder if Thrall had some idea about this. A much broader and deeper game maybe.

 

          Ervaren brooded into the into the glass. He should have helped Bekwaam and not been instrumental in laying her upon Strategy’s bloody altar, our sacrifice of gratitude for a bountiful harvest of the treacherous, all to ensure our prince slept well.

          Without the usual knock the door to his study opened. His servant, a solid veteran entered, three men followed him, stern. Ervaren was familiar with the type, those who did not need to be obvious. He managed a harsh laugh and swilled his wine.

          ‘And so, the covering of the traces. My turn then,’ he raised his glass in a sincere salutation. ‘Make it quick and dignified. And Lave here, I bear you no ill-will,’

          One man of iron-grey short hair afforded Ervaren a softening of his expression.

           ‘Surveyor Ervaren. Your remorse and the urge for self-chastisement are understandable. However, these are pragmatic times. The empire’s stability always paramount. Invigilator Civic Thrall is willing for your talents to be seconded,’

          ‘Seconded?’ the effects of the wine flushed out by professionalism.

          ‘Yes,’ the voice was now shielded ‘The Invigilator understands he is too close to be effective on one issue. There are concerns regarding Prince Machthaber. Being the subject of avaricious potential rebellions does not exclude a prince from suspicion on other issues. You will receive instructions on methods of reporting,’ a thin smile ‘All for the stability of the Empire,’

          Later, pondering, Ervaren could not help but feel it could just as easily have been Bekwaam receiving those words. Imperial Stability was such an amoral concept.

 

          Duke Sabatch was vexed. Another occasion of Court People trampling through his town house. He would vet his staff better.

 

          Thrall made fresh entries upon the map of relationships and alliances. It would not do to lose track of who was who and what was being hatched by all sides. At least Sabatch was consistent, The Useful Idiot.

 

And Another Thing Concerning Odd Motivations

This is subsequent to the post

From Unexpected Places (Something Concerning Odd Motivations)

Concerning the throw away ending “And I do believe I have inadvertently created a template for a book cover.”, this comment related to the image I had created for the post:

Inspiration and Themes

Occasionally one of the Muses nudges me off to Canva https://www.canva.com/en_gb/ to see what can be created from its free images and various tools. Of late when manoeuvring multiple images, I decided to experiment with its ‘Transparency’ facility (top right of the horizontal menu bar, look out for the square made up of squares, fading left to right). This allows you to click onto an image placed on top of another, then drawing the cursor from right to left reducing the depth of the image from 100%, until you have a suitable transparent effect. This allows you create a montage, as you will see above. With some careful twiddling (excuse the technological language) you can click from image to image nuancing the depths of each. Because Canva tends to give you geometric borders to each image using Transparency allows you to diminish or accentuate the borders as you see fit. And you can spend a quite fun-filled creative interlude exploring possibilities.

So, to elaborate on the theme of the previous post I called in Canva. Because the tale in question takes elements of SF with ten dimensions involved and one of those ‘palace’ plots beloved of High Fantasy, there are bound to twists and oddities in all direction, plus some mischief. I therefore wanted a montage, chaotic yet with some geometry involved (Quantum influence). The first image was paradoxically a fantasy castle but overlaid with a galactic scene to set the theme of drifting through realities. After this some pastoral, a smidge of steampunk, over on the top left the faint outline of a pixie/fairy and diagonally opposite another piece of starscape, for contrast. Then eyesEyes are always good to add ‘that air’. Finally in the bottom left corner the faint hint of mischief. I have to admit I was pleased.  There may be a little bit of tinkering, only a smidge though.

The great benefit being the influence images, physical, musical or mental have on my writing. It would not be the first time the book cover influenced my final draft. On this occasion the cover nearly preceded the plot, and now firmly set in my mind, the cover draws me on. For The Cover must have a book worthy of the image. Maybe not the most secure or highly recommended of approaches to drafting a novel, and yet one which is proving worthwhile for dragging me out of a bit of a ditch.  

Inspiration. You just have to love the unpredictability of Inspiration.  

Those Jagged Remedies (June#BlogBattle-Scar)

Scars

Intent: cold and raw. A precise mix sufficient to clear your senses. Visceral, held in check by the focus which in turn fed back on that which it supressed. All was balanced for the work ahead.

The figure finally moved out of its cover, slow, patient progress to the campsite, watching the two slouching, complacent guards. The figure did not take anything for granted though, only moving when the guards shuffled off away from the interloper’s planned route.

The plan was clear enough, its execution requiring enduring caution, stealth and concentration. Acceptance of a long night essential.

‘Medician.’

Eight years’ service, Principal Lieutenant Vragen by custom accepted an audible oath as the first sound to leave the lips of a soldier dragged out of sleep. Even dodging the small pillow, sent with some accuracy, considering the dispatcher’s eye were still closed. Eyes widened on seeing the target’s rank.

‘My apologies, Principal Lieutenant. Albeit deep in the first sleep after two days and nights of toil. That was indefensible. What are your orders sir?’

By the time the disciplined apology seasoned with an excuse had reached his ears the soldier was out of bed at an attention which despite the baggy nightgown would do credit to a parade ground. Remarkable recovery, but not swift enough to tame the twinkle in the eyes and the faint twist to the right corner of the mouth. Working the arts of interrogation and investigation gave you an edge in observation.

‘Place yourself at ease Medician. I shall overlook the pillow. Reflexes in the best traditions of the LifeGuard.’ there was a brief exchange of restrained grins ‘I am here to call upon your skills. We are required to supply a miracle. In this case the saving, not taking of a life,’

He was but half way through the opening of the explanation when she uncaring of his presence, pulled off her nightgown, and began to dress into uniform clothing. Her body marked with scars of service and personal shaves with death.

‘Somebody of note Principal Lieutenant?’ she asked.

‘Lord Lemp’s son Idjel,’

‘I thought,’ she said combing fair hair into order ‘he was out somewhere learning,’ -a sarcastic tone entered her voice- ‘a soldier’s trade?’

‘His father purchased a commission, in The Hounds Vigilant,’ their sarcastic exchanged continued, her next contribution a harsh bark of a laugh.

Dressed and gathering up her medical supplies, she continued.

‘Learning how to avoid proper combat and which are the best villages to terrorise and sack, all in the name of the Emperor,’

‘Still not deemed of official concern to the LifeGuard I fear,’ he said in finality.

Their arrival was greeted by a flustered Lord Lemp, the close presence of a LifeGuard outpost being a very mixed blessing to lesser nobles. To his due, Lemp currently embraced the blessing aspect with effusive thanks for their swiftness. Vragen was all diplomacy, any opportunity for investigation was to be grasped. His medician however was for grim efficiency. With a brief, civil request to ‘see the patient’ she set the lord and his senior officials scuttling off, she at their heels like a shepherding dog, her officer in their wake.

At the door of the bedroom, coat and hat removed, hair secured under a tight cap, while hands washed in an astringent of her own, and ignoring the initial goggling that there was a woman here, her emotionless interrogation of the circumstances began. Where had he been? When did this come to the attention of his father? Had they given him any treatments yet?

‘Hmm. Down in Hegohel. Yes. There are three strains of plague there. A day out from coming home with escort? Really? Staggered in by himself? Principal Lieutenant sir. The previous camp needs to be traced and eradicated sir. Expeditiously, sir,’

And having given that command to her commander, she entered the room. Alone.

Yes, a befouled mess, already. Facial skin reddened in patches. Lost in a delirium. Sweating. Threshing too. Not even the lowest of servants attending. The word Plague was enough to let The Fear out. Even mild ones which left the suffered scarred and thus marked. She hitched on her face mask and eased on her slender leather gloves. To work then.

Since there was no one around she dealt with the threshing by kneeling her full weight on his chest, in other situations a man would pay good money for such treatment. In a perfunctory manner she clutched his face, twisting it to right and left, leaned in, he inadvertently helped by screaming in pain, allowing her a good view of mouth and upper throat. In equally unsympathetic manner she examined other parts, his weakness stifling true resistance. Yes, definitely 

Outside she deftly removed cap and gloves, dropped them into a nearby ornamental urn and having washed her hands in astringent emptied some into the said receptacle. She regarded the assembled quartet.

‘Carmine Furusio,’ she announced and raised one hand to still panic ‘It does not travel by air, not even casual touch. Uncleanliness is the cause. It’s curable. The problem is with cadavers, other illnesses can fester. The camp and burn everything, Principal Lieutenant, especially bodies, no survivors. The Good Lord God knows what else mercenaries carry under their skin. Now please, Principal Lieutenant, sir,

Witnessing the prompt exit Lord Lemp, was taken a’ back at the authority these Medicians carried. He did not even question her peremptory tone when she addressed everyone as to what she would require for assist, nor confirmation she would attend to this alone. There was relief on that score.

First, the sight of the carrion birds, then the audible sound of flies, of course the stench and finally the stillness of the camp. Vragen did not have to command the party to halt. Taking a page from the Medician’s book, on dismounting he covered his face and hands, approached slowly, studied the first body. By the distance from the perimeter he guessed the fellow had tried to flee. Some of the horses had broken from tethering, others had survived by reducing the grass around them. No sign of plague. He let them loose, they made for a stream. He returned to the first body avoiding the others. All very sudden, this attack of plague.

He gave the order to collect the first kindling, to start an initial fire allowing safe ground to build a bigger base for another ring of fire,  moving over more scorched land, poking roasted bodies closer in, until the dead were piled into one place and the last great fire started. The Medician had trusted him with the overseeing. The men did too.

Upon returning he found Lord Lemp in a mixed state, agitated, relieved and concerned all at once. If there was not such an air of death about the sight might have seemed comic. Without waiting for the dismount he addressed Vragen.

‘My son lives,’ he said, although the joy was tempered with distraction ‘The Medician remained with him all the past day, night and this day too,’

A loud keening came from the room one flight above them, Lemp glanced upwards, his mouth working while his brain sought words.

‘It seems he must lose one leg. A pernicious infection, she told me. She is about the business now,’ a hope born of desperation into his voice ‘She assures me he will not feel too much pain, there are potions y’see,’

Smoke drifted across the courtyard.

‘She is most meticulous. Insists everything is burnt; to ashes. Says it will halt any progression. We all have to wash our hands too.’ A nervous laugh followed. She’d unsettled the man, Vragen was certain. A signature trait she forcefully employed when encountering negligible but unpleasant folk. The thin mouth, cold remote tone, and dark eyes, the unrelenting stare could curled you. Even more damned unsettling when you knew how cheerful, chatty and mischievous she could be with most folk.

The sound pitched to a sharp screech and as quickly into a moan, and silence. A small audience look upwards, expectant, waiting for the announcement. No doubt, Vragen reckoned, as ordered.

The window flew open, the face gaunt and severe looked down.

‘The leg has been successfully removed,’ she called out, clear and composed ‘Just above the knee, the area cauterised. Squire Idjel has lapsed into acceptable unconsciousness. I require assistance in cleaning and cleansing. The risk of Plague transference has ceased,’

And the window was closed.

The Medician stood before the Lord Vragen felt the rolls might be reversed. She presented two bottles of dark wine coloured mix.

‘Your son will live. Though, Lord, he will be without the vitality associated with a man of his age. This is Extract of Herstel. Ensure he has one quarter wine cup of this each day until both bottles are finished, this will aid his progress. Some would say you should give him a stronger dose. The LifeGuard does not recommend this.’

The duo rode away, they examined the ground scored by fire. The Medician grunted some acceptance. Vragen asked her if Idjel would truly live.

‘I cannot say for certain, Principal Lieutenant, sir. The fellow was weakened. It depends on the care he now receives. In body, heart and soul.’

Vragen was writing his report, based upon The Medician’s own brief, terse account. He was musing not just on the sparseness but her reply to his question of Idjel’s survival.

Vragen’s experience tapped at him. In this case, by her tone and expression she might as well have said ‘Don’t know. Don’t care,’

Some might have admired her composure and dedication dealing with any plague victim. Yet her actions did fit with her attitude, in particular to someone who had ridden with one of the most undisciplined and battle-shy mercenaries of the empire. Consider The LifeGuard’s institutional acceptance of medicians’ inclinations to be covert executioners of folk they judged unworthy to live. She had had ample expert opportunity to ensure the fellow died. No local would have suspected. Instead, she had left with gratitude about her.

Long enough in one area of expertise could leave you agitated as well as alert. Investigation work enabled you to know which references to go to.

Even an outpost of LifeGuard held a sufficiently basic reference library of works, political, cultural, religious and medical. The latter being of his current interest.

‘Carmine Furusio,’. The ailment was indeed one of the more modest afflictions; practitioners opinions seemed sanguine. The symptoms did remind him of encounters in his career. He moved to chapters on poisons. ‘Cremisi Astuto’. Both tuscatalian phrases alluding to red, the former plague, but the latter, no, translated to ‘astute’. Ideal name. Similar symptoms. Only always deadly. Made more sense. Plague camps had bodies lying in parody of repose; this one, they had been scattered, fallen, giving impressions of prior staggering.

Someone had struck, carefully at night. Cooking pots, wine barrels. Revenge upon one group or just a targeting of mercenaries. How had Idjel survived? Easiest part. His own supplies, the last victim when poison was running out. Fleeing in fear at the sudden deaths. Whoever could answer was long gone. A fair reasoning.

The Medician would have surmised the difference too. She covered for them adding her own nuances on the survivor. Had the amputation been necessary? What weaknesses had been left to pervade? A miserable fate. And her parting words, a LifeGuard caution on medication. Most nobility chaffed at LifeGuard strictures. Her words a positive dare to do so. A carefully planted verbal toxin; belated execution by circuitous default.

And evidence burnt.

Motive? Swift undressing had revealed four close, long, narrow pale scars down her arm. A woman’s nails. Medicians made light of small injuries unconsciously inflicted by patients in torment. Dying of multiple rapes, or sadistic injuries, driven mad at death of children..

One man’s prolonged torment both symbolic justice and a balm for scars to limb and soul? How many other applications? Before and to come?

https://bbprompt.com/2022/06/03/june-blogbattle-scar/

A Matter of Mixed Fortunes (May#BlogBattle-Pastoral)

Pastoral

Lord Preldehal scowled towards Lord Reivod’s construction.

The fellow wishing to break from widowhood and respectable poverty had entered in marriage negotiations with the wealthy mercantile family Beeinflusser, they seeking access into Gentry classes. They made things with sanctioned machines. Reivod had agreed to turn arable lands to something termed by his possible in-laws as Profitable Enterprise. Still in the early stage, all to show was a loss of woodlands, disgruntled farmers and smoke. Preldehal being competent in farm management did not see advantage to the region, only to the pockets of Reivod and his prospective in-laws.

Sanctioned machine? To his mind they skirted questionable areas which meant dabbling with Stommigheid otherwise named Ethereal. Dangerous stuff. Yet you raised such concerns at your own peril attracting the attention of The Custodians of The Lord God’s Word. Accuser and Accused both viewed with equal suspicion.  

But not satisfied to sit back Preldehal utilised his knowledge of the landscapes and his unfocused son. Weltfremd’s latest affectation to idyllic countrysides had been manoeuvred by his father by a gift of woodland, and its modest stream. Preldehal had suggested the stream could be utilised to make a pond. Weltfremd enthused on this venture.  His father was certain there would be minimal success but the resulting diversion of water would impact upon the flow and quality of the River Wichtig, itself vital to the running of Reivod’s machinery; hopefully ruining the profitability.

‘Good friends,’ Weltfremd announced loudly to friends, male to work, female to encourage. ‘To task,’ thus struck a shovel into the ground, while singing a work song. At once, more or less his group joined in. The initial fervour was worthy, however the organisation being based solely on digging a hole irrespective of other factors was not a sound one. The girls as the first careless showers of earth arrived retreated with servants but not so far as they could not observe the group of young males divest their upper clothing. There were giggles, not from the servants who would have to carry everything back again and found the singing irritating. A nearby unseen observer had their own concerns.    

Translator Pastoral ClnMyla was seated in his one comfy chair; one brief interlude of relaxation from supervising his three translators, ensuring the entire community of Lord Preldehal’s had at least nominal adherence to the Word of The Lord God thus avoiding the dyspeptically pedantic attentions of Custodians of the Word.  

‘Sorry to trouble your Interlude,’ the fellow said, back from observing ‘There’s something going on in Draybelle Woods. Not the usual ‘something’, even if it does involve young folk,’ the fellow pulled a face ‘Heir Lord Weltfremd is involved,’ this intelligence resulted in a long fatalistic sigh from the Translator Pastoral.

‘Since, those being one of his father’s own woods, that part would not be surprising. But judging by the troubled look upon your face Marthrik Healme there’d be woe you’re about to tell me. Sit yourself down and partake of the fresh coffee man. Unhappy tales are best told with refreshments,’ The invitation being gratefully received, the man began.

‘At your instructions I was patrolling the lords’ borderlands at the juncture of current potential disputes, when I espied numbers of privileged young with servants in tow by foot, horse or cart heading for Draybelle Woods. There to be greeted by Weltfremd and provisions. The purpose, to dig a pond, which the male part set about. Whether the result will be a pond, a mud hole or a swampy patch I couldn’t say. This was not my main concern,’

‘Enthusiastic young privileged folk with no idea what they are about is always cause for concern. Yours Marthik?’

‘It was the singing,’

‘The singing? I can anticipate the efforts might not be pleasing to the ear, but that would not be the problem now, would it?’

‘They were using tracts from the Second Holy Book, only they were wrongly sung,’       

‘Since we can dispense with the possible sin of being out of tune, there would be more to this yes?’

‘They were not using the officially sanctioned restrained celebrations of The Lord God’s Creation or the tastefully crafted appreciation of His Wonderous Works of Beauty. Not even one of the ten acceptable hymns of Natural Ways,’

ClnMyla often turned a literal deaf ear to the genuinely inadvertent transgressions which could arise when folk got caught up in the optimism and honesty of the one holy book which was about being Happy, within reason. Often a defence presented to his local Court of the Ecclesiastes began with ‘But in the Second Holy Book….’. He had been careful to school Marthrik in this difficult path which suggested the fellow had already sifted the evidence. The Translator Pastoral bade farewell to any chance of further relaxation.

‘And?’ he asked.

‘I reckon they’ve got hold of a proscribed version. However since none of them were dancing about undressed, waving branches or adorned with badly made animal masks it’s possibly accidental and not true heresy,’  

‘Accidental can be worse. Approach softly, we don’t want to alarm them and be setting off natural force,’

For the first time Marthrik looked startled.

‘Force?’ he echoed, twitching.

‘Call it Stommigheid, call it Ethereal. Our Higher Translators Extraordinaire and Council of The Custodian’s Conclave may deny, but there is everywhere a natural smidge of these most evasive of elementals. Even the dullest of us can set this off by a combination of circumstances. Without intentional summonings,’

‘Thank you for seeing me My Lord,’ ClnMyla said in his conversational tone, he had left Marthrik to continue observation ‘I was out on one of my rare constitutional rides, past those lovely Draybelle Woods. It was remarkable to hear your son and his friends singing as they went about some honest work,’

‘Singing?’  Preldehal asked, his concern stilled because of the word ‘remarkable’ was spoken generously.

‘That they were. And from the Second Holy book, itself ,’

He let the words hang, the absence of an immediate response suggested a lordly dither. His worries concerning the potentiality of unpleasantness between Lords Preldehal and Reivod began to solidify.  

‘My Lord. I wonder, do you think it might be of encouragement if I were to present myself there and give a formal blessing. They’re your woods and it would not be fitting to just go tramping in there,’

As ClnMyla anticipated the lord was only to happy to agree, relieved The Ecclesiastes was content with the effort, a defence against any outrage Reivod would raise.  

He reckoned arrival on the second day when enthusiasm would be waning and various aches, concerns about dresses and general discomfiture would be settling in would suit. 

Translator Pastoral ClnMyla was caught off guard at the sight of the lad standing on a rock addressing a captivated gathering of youthful folk and servants, all a lot more dirty than he had expected. Held aloft indeed was copy of The Second Holy Book green edging to the pages.

‘Your mentorship,’ enthused Weltfremd ‘You find us at break from our efforts,’ he gestured to the rather irregular, wide but shallow hole. ‘I have taken the liberty of addressing everyone to lift our spirits,’

‘We have made a little dam,’ a bright eyed muddy young woman joyfully announced ‘To hold and channel the waters,’

At this point as they all broke into a spontaneous song to do with rain, ClnMyla politely took the copy of The Second Holy Book, seemingly to allow Weltfremd to lead the singing. A brief thumbing through the said tome commenced. Deeply worried the Translator Pastoral was as the skies suddenly thickened with rain clouds; surprised he was not. There were Ethereal forces at work.

Breaking up a volatile crowd even a small one in this situation was not wise, lest unforeseen lightening bolts occur. Instead as the first thick rain drops fell ClnMyla tucked the book into the folds of his cloak. He managed to get his hood up before a herald of the deluge arrived. In his dignified but purposeful flight he met Marthrik.

‘Thank Lord God you have left Translator Pastoral,’ he said ‘They built a dam,’

‘I heard,’

‘In the shape of the discouraged symbol of the Generous Otter. It was not a structurally sound or artistically worthwhile representation,’

‘I would have thought the Graven River Badger would have suited better. Anyway let’s away,’ he produced the book ‘Things will calm down, eventually,’

With the torrential rain the intention to produce a steady, directed flow into the hole meant to be a pond of course failed, much water with one or two of the smaller stones burst upon the clearing, to reinforce the celestial inundation. Folk were transported in all directions. By good fortune the hole impeded some of the impetus pitching them only into muddy puddles, although some being cracked in the ankles or shins, hopped about a bit first to end seating in undignified postures. By then the singing had given way to wails, pleas for assistance and as is the mentality of mobs accusations upon Weltfremd, of which some were thrown back at the accusers in forms of handfuls of mud. It appeared the alleged spirit of the Generous Otter was not taken with the image of him as a dam.

Unto River Wichtig the resulting mix flowed  

The rain turned into a steady drizzle which followed the sorry party to the nearest village where irrespective of status they were shoved into a barn, until by various means everyone was transported to their homes, each with a tale to tell.

ClnMyla addressed a perplexed and guilty looking Lord Preldehal.

‘This My Lord, is not a version of The Second Holy Book you should be having about the place. This was crafted by folk who took the message of tending to Nature’s Bounty slightly too far. They meddled with forces not to be meddled with by the well-meaning innocents. Now you’ll not to worry about your son, he will return sadder, whether wiser I cannot say. In the meantime I will be examining your library and you should take arrangements with your sheriff’s office and captain of your retinue to prepare for some minor upsets and spats between families,’

The fuss lasted forty days with some pre-emptive weddings involved. Lord Reivod was amused, particularly as the extra water provided greater industry. His prospective in-laws would be pleased on their inspection.

They arrived with a guildsman of the Mechanicals, experts in machinery and its tenuous link with Ethereal influences. Reivod’s anticipation faded when the fellow returned from inspection shaking his head and sucking breath between his teeth.

‘Got trouble here squire,’ he said, Mechanicals used that term to everyone irrespective of rank ‘You got flowers growing in your pipes, nasty case of Yellow Flag. You been meddling with Ethereal?’

‘The very idea!’ the lord spluttered.

‘Anyways,’ the fellow addressed to the prospective-in-laws ‘I can’t sanction this. Oh dearie no. Not with such infestation,’

Reivod was left with a location filling with Yellow Flag and no prospect of marriage or wealth. Later, thanks to mediation by the genial Translator Pastoral across the border did find consolation in a young widow recently relieved of a choleric farmer.

The Yellow Flag proved to be a popular ornamental plant, while Maybelle Wood became a place of many sought after blooms, which spread. Both men settled their issues and entered into a most profitable floral supply. Weltfremd expunged from polite local society left to acquire status by his unexplainably found talent of dredging distant waterlogged locations. By good happenstance the expected pregnancy within the Reivod household and the surprise one in the established Preldehal marriage led to births of daughter and son, whose amiable relationship over the years resulted in the union of the households.

Custodian of the Word Marthrik Healme renowned for his more philosophical approach was fond of citing this one as an example of The Lord God’s Ways being mysterious and wonderous to behold. Usually said with a wry grin.      

Motivations, Inspirations, Imaginations…And Characters. A Journey Care Less and Content

Strolling

Foreword

You know how it goes. You have this idea for a topic, and you start off. Then some allied aspect else occurs to you, which begs to be added on, which in turn leads you off down an interesting lane and somehow the original topic is behind you, round a bend somewhere and you are there, scratching you’re head wondering ‘So?… How did I get here?’

The intention was to write about World Building and how the one which formed out of my work was a place I liked to revisit, just to be there. Then the theme became something else. Here was another writer wandering through This, That and The Other. For no other reason than ‘Just Because’….

The books which are part of the post are not mentioned because there is no intention to publicise them. You’ll find enough information in earlier posts. The subjects of this post are creativity, inspiration and motivations. Anyway back to that start…

The Beginning

Sometime ago I promised myself ‘Tone down on the politics. Concentrate on the writing. Be at one with your creativity,’………………..

The next day……

Back on the soapbox or picking fights on Facebook. Will I ever learn?

Learn what? To desensitise myself against thing which get under my skin? Remove some part of me?

Well, maybe not picking on an easy FB target and ridiculing them. Maybe ‘They had it coming. Taste of their own medicine. See how they like it,’ Are not worthy and mature reasons, perhaps those sentiments border on excuses. Weighing down someone’s ‘one liner’ with three paragraphs of International Relations Theory and History? Maybe that’s showing off a bit. Overkill much?

I tell myself my political and social comments should be addressed to Word Press where generally the standard of debate is higher.

The fact, though, the political part of me, is one reason why I write fiction as I do; the challenge being to try and tone down the preachiness. A character sounding off on some political issue in the middle of an action episode sounds ‘odd’. A lesser character taking up half a chapter on observations on an injustice just spoils the narrative and detracts from the plot.

Yet there is nothing wrong with placing your opinions or views in a narrative, the characters will let you know if they think you’ve been too wordy. Those lesser characters’ two or three lines of conversation will suit just as well.

On reflection my views were one of the driving forces and at the same time a bit of a challenge to fit in neatly. I loathe the latent misogyny trying to slither back into our cultures. Thus was more than happy with Three Strong Women characters appearing. Prejudices on the grounds of race, religion, adult consensual choices tend to be a red flag, so those who embrace any or all of these prejudices would truly hate my trilogy. Sometimes a mischievous part of me nurtured on Facebook would snigger while whispering ‘If anyone hates this part. Good…they got it coming,’.

Another motivation and this is not criticism just personal taste, I did not wish to read anymore grimdark or ‘gritty’. The real world had enough of that for me. Happy endings and good folk running rings around bad folk was my intention.

In addition is a little fantasy of the whole trilogy being on a public forum where I would wait for the inevitable feeble whinge that is it is all ‘woke’, whose users are such easy targets…. (Ah but there I go again. Looking for confrontation)

Yet as I go treading into more dangerous and delicate yet related ground; it has been an observation that there is more than one way to receive criticism or even ire for portrayals of characters outside of your own social, ethnic, political, belief system grouping. This observation, and the word is stressed comes from reading commentary from those whose group is portrayed, in a sympathetic or positive light and yet is perceived by the commentator as not being the correct portrayal. My own conclusion is in this fraught world where colonialism, in the European sense has died out and the old Cold War alignments disintegrated and social norms are altering it is for many people or peoples essential their group are portrayed accurately and in a balanced, mature context. Of course my get out clause being; ‘These books take place in a Fantasy World. Not this one,’, though human natures being what they are it is unlikely this response would be seen as satisfactory. Never mind… ‘You can’t win them all,’ . And anyway folks this is a world of my characters and they led me through allowing me to explore (or was that witness?) all manner of the possibilities.

Characters eh?

One advantage, or salutary warning is once you let your characters in on the act and they start to influence you, the pace of writing picks up until the creative or speculative processes reach a velocity which leaves all caution behind. In a very paradoxical, maybe cussed mood, the lack of sales encouraged me and them onwards. We reached the ‘What The Heck’ Stage, followed by ‘C’mon Rog’. We just have to go this way, you know parts of the back story have been building to this. Remember the sub-text kiddo,’. This of course led to other directions for taking the main narratives too.

Maybe the final result would seem to some a vainglorious mash-up of genres, sub-genres and styles. And there would be no argument from me. In my defence this is what happens when the driving forces within you set the imagination in movement and in turn you feel confident enough to let the narrative take control.

Should the whole work come to public attention and there is consequential criticism of the plot line, characters and result, let it be so.

For I had far too much fun putting the whole together to regret. (apart from those stupid persistent typos and a few instances of getting the names wrong- sometimes you can be too indie).

And now I am learning restraint and economy on a monthly Blog Battle*, which is as much fun being very instructive, while keeping my interaction of Face Book to a minimum.

*

BlogBattle

https://bbprompt.com/

Places of Resolve

Awaiting

‘My poor darling,’ her hand touched his forehead ‘What a dreadful cut. I do wish you would wear your helmet,’

‘My sweet,’ he replied with warmth taking her hand and kissing it ‘There was only a brush of steel against skin. You know how I feel about helmets, they do impede the vision,’

There came the endearing little pout as she set to scolding him.

‘Your vision will be lot more impeded if your silly head was cut off,’ she tugged his nose for emphasis ‘Now let me clean that gash up properly The Good Lord God knows where that rag pretending to be a bandage has been,’

Thus he did sit patiently by the log fire of their apartment as she tended to the wound with her own astringent, following with application of the clean linen bandage. He thought himself the most fortunate man in the Empire to have found this beautiful, caring, able woman who had consented to be his wife, doubly so her being willing to share his lodgings at the outpost while the campaign against the stubborn clan continued.  

Once she was satisfied with her ministrations, a simple evening meal was partaken of and as was their custom, they sat before the fire, she curled up on his lap, head and one hand resting on his chest, each savouring the closeness of the other.

‘I worry for you so,’ she whispered ‘Out there upon those bleak fields and slopes. The risks are so great, and for what? A piece of ground an emperor does not even know about much less care for,’ her breath caught and she looked up at him, deep brown eyes pleading ‘You have rank and some say in the matter. They might listen to you,’

His frustration was shaped as a sigh with a groan.

‘Lord Frygem still wishes to raise his profile with Duke Mereth who remains the favoured advisor of Prince Nahdel who……’

‘…..wishes to prove to the Emperor that he too has his princedom completely under his sway,’ her completion of the litany ended with her own sigh ‘While the troublesome Clan K’ith Sondours refuse to trust the word of known Oath Breakers,’

‘It seems the only Oaths which count are those to The Emperor, know ones dares cross a strong emperor who also has the confidence of The LifeGuard. Everyone else thus scrabbles for their joint or separate favours,’

The frequently visited topic discussed, they sat in silence holding each other, until he said, kissing russet hair ‘Away with our gloom for this night. Let’s read the play: ‘The Adventure of Stefan and Alosia,’

‘This time I’ll be Stefan and you be Alosia,’ she announced, the previous plaintive sadness replaced by a rather appealing nuance in tone and glance. By the time he had returned with the bottle of wine to aid their intended comical narration she was curled up peeking over the script of the popular comedy. They had, a while back agreed the tale of a couple facing an arranged marriage turning the tables on the arrangers to suit the couple was a theme in which they found certain strands of empathy. Their efforts at acting this slightly bawdy theatre always raised their spirits.

She awoke tender with memories of the night. He had, of course risen before her, for duties and profile elsewhere called. As was his practice he had left breakfast dishes laid out, oatmeal and water for coffee bubbling in pots hung over the fire, while there as always a dainty vase of dew damp small star petalled flowers, she held them up and breathed in the freshness. As she drank her coffee she would read her copy of ‘Varow and Betherelle’s Encounter’, based on another factual couple, and the first of a series of verses recording their rather controversial deeds, popular amongst folk at the lower end of society. Good for resolve, she thought in the dawn still a measure away.

Lord Frygem, a stocky man of nearing middle years believed himself to know something of warfare, yet was possessed of enough basic sense to appreciate advice and experience, so was glad to see the outline, albeit hunched, almost furtive. Mercenaries were a variable crew, he would thank Duke Mereth for this one. Checking the large clan raiding force, holding them and pushing them back. Frygem ruefully had to admit his border troops liked the man and his skill. Also he had kept to his ducal contract, some might have given up on the task, particularly with a pretty and shy little wife in tow. That was a puzzle. Risking her safety in The Wilds. Still a man needed his comforts.

What did rankle Frygrem and touched on a raw spot was having the damn LifeGuard here. Observing. Five of them, long dark green coats, wide brimmed black hats. Their officer a hard faced major intoning ‘Imperial Stability’ at him. The Clan was a local problem. Did LifeGuard not have better things to do? He scowled in the direction of the far off group. Beneath their dignity to take part.   

‘Captain Leiding,’ he hailed ‘Surveying the ground I trust?’

‘From dawn Lord Frygrem,’ the mercenary said ‘The Clan has quit the hill and removed themselves. They have given up on the incursion. We can take back the hill and await re-enforcements. The crisis has passed,’

Emboldened by the encouraging news Frygrem’s irritation at Imperial Supervision took hold.

‘A retreat?’ his eagerness unsettling the mercenary captain  ‘We might pursue them,’

‘If we had a larger reserve,’ Leiding said, intending to bring neutrality into the conversation. ‘Our current force needs rest and recuperation,’

‘Whereas I can appreciate your caution captain, as your profession values conservation of resources, in my world, political demonstration is equally as weighty,’ this was accompanied by a brief twitch of his head towards the LifeGuard. ‘I would like to consider the ground myself. Accompany me,’

Since there was no evidence of Clan numbers Leiding saw little point in arguing here and hoped he could dissuade Frygrem during the ride. He gestured to four men selected for skill with crossbow to accompany the lord’s small entourage.

‘This is Lord Frygrem’s idea. Keen eyes,’ he said to his own ‘Bows loaded, but aloft to avoid accidents,’

The approach was not the issue, the slope and the sparse cover would be a risky place for an ambush. Leiding insisted his group reached the crest first, sharp eyed they scanned, dismounting, to avoid being an easy target.

‘Captain,’ the lord called out impatient after the slow climb ‘I would advance,’ Leiding surveyed the grasses, heathers, gorse  and small outcrops; the only true cover a copse in the far distance. The land  appeared safe, though ‘Appeared’ was never a word he trusted.

His pause obviously did not suit Frygrem, the man advanced his horse at a swift trot, until he was amongst Leiding’s group, disrupting their watch.

‘My Lord,’ Leiding said, command in his voice ‘Dismount,’ Frygrem having briefly looked ahead turned his attention back to the LifeGuard.

The brief warning was the gorse bush twitching against the direction of the breeze, too fast though for the message to go from eye to head to hand. The figure rose already losing off their own bolt, before starting to duck. By the time even the swiftest of the party at the crest was physically reacting Frygrem was tipping back from his mount, either it was the bolt in his chest or the fall from his horse, killing him.

Whether he was dead by the time three crossbow bolts flew towards the gorse, one hitting the ambusher it was of no consequence.

Against the backdrop of clamour from the entourage Leiding and his men viewed the body, caution staying them.

‘High Holy,’ breathed one ‘He was swift,’

‘Little,’ added another ‘That’s how he hid,’

‘Patient,’  said the third

‘Steady,’ concluded the fourth, adding, alarmed ‘Captain?’

He was uncaring of the warnings from his men and the indignation from the entourage, drawn to brief view of russet hair loosened as the ambusher fell backwards. There should be anger, anguish, at least confusion. Why was there admiration, laced with hope, melding with confusion?

Voices were but sounds as he reached the body, eyes flickering, the grimace of triumph softening to a smile.

‘It was a lovely breakfast,’ she said, raising her cap ‘Look I wore your posey,’

Her accent was no longer regional encompassing three princedoms, there was the distinctive rolling lilt of these clan folk, an urgency caused a cough, blood running from her mouth.

‘I taught you too well,’ he said.

‘I did not play thee, dear husband. There was no long plan. It was only when your contract drew you here. I had prayed there would just be scraping like wee dogs, then going away,’

He stroked her hair. A lord’s death. Who cared?

‘You do not hold Clan deaths against me?’

‘They should have stayed in our own lands,’ she slurred ‘My father, always counselled  The Chief to stop raiding. Yet, Frygrem had to go, a warning,’

‘It was deftly done,’

‘While you boys were out brawling I learnt the exits,’

 ‘There’ll be reprisals,’

A pained little laugh.

‘With The LifeGuard hovering around. Them and their adherence to Stability? Look not surprised, a Clan Chief’s niece learns a much of politics,’

A tearful chuckle was his response.

‘That was the marriage you were running from,’

‘I think I saw him die yesterday,’

‘What in the Second Hell is he doing?’ someone on the crest demanded.

One of the crossbowmen shrugged. The arrival of the LifeGuard Colonel stilled all conversation.

Their shared laughter stopped, his face grave as he placed the knife in her hand.

‘Also as I taught you,’ he said ‘It makes sense, for I let a lord die on my watch, grave mistake. More to the point, I can’t spend time on this realm without you,’

Her eyes were losing focus, breath ragged.

‘I could not leave you alone,’ she said and plunged in the blade.

Only the Colonel of LifeGuard did not seemed surprised.

The Colonel of LifeGuard bore the tirades of the Duke and Prince with an impassive disinterest. They owed more to the Oakhostian Empire than it did to them. They knew full well. When they ran out of ire, he spoke.

‘You were fortunate The LifeGuard was there to return the young woman’s body to the Clan, the whole business could have spread from Clan to Clan like a gorse fire. Never mind this Clan was an inveterate nuisance, Clans rally when Princes push their luck. The LifeGuard will have to attend to this,’ he let the words hang, the warning, LifeGuard were arbiters of this Emperor. ‘Captain Leiding was obviously being generous in tending her last religious rites. Being confused she stabbed him. Unfortunate. I will tender my report on the matter, both to The Grand Oaken Throne and my Commanders. You should await the Emperor’s Word. Do not venture beyond that crest. It is his wife I feel sorry for, secretly fleeing in distress,’

He left.

The winds blew across the freshly raised twin mounds. Four men crossbowmen, and four Clansmen had stood watch all the day. The sun settled, the quartets nodded to each other, and returned  to their own ranks.

Newly planted flowers quivered in the wind.

The tenth draft might be the foundation for the official report. Only LifeGuard’ s grim fortress Drygnest would know the captain was their own, despatched to act as mercenary, mining fertile battlefields for nobility’s indiscretions. Dangerous road, sometimes a LifeGuard went in so deep they lost perception. Usually going hard rogue taking lives like tankards of ale, conspiring for thrills. Instead here a fellow had stepped off the road, onto softer pastures, tripped when he came back onto the road. Tendered his way out with dignity, and it seemed love.

The Colonel looked to the copies of play and verse. Romance. Just as likely to kill.  

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Those Varying Borderlands of Gloom and Light

The Gloom

Working in the gloom was not uncommon. All mediums came with advantages and drawbacks, seldom were they unconditionally generous.

Here, there was Dankness of the dripping sort which had soon put an end to his torch. He never had cared for lamps with their greasy or oily fumes and cumbersome inclinations. Far better to enhance limited vision with your other senses, and of course caution. Arguably you might be better off without a torch anyway, for then you could wield your sword easier without the glare impeding your vision. Find your way by steady step and one hand gliding over the nearest wall. And always remember the watcher whatever or whoever they were had the first advantage, some sort of advantage of your own.

This would be a poor and humiliating place to find luck had finally expired. No grand venture for some noble close to the Imperial Throne, who desired something but whose rank required discretion. Instead in a remote squalid location, simply to make good on an error, a salve to a petty lord with far more vanity and ill-conceived pride than character. A place where small, slithering base things dwelt, their deadliness paid out in sly, instinctive reactions, no sliver of comfort that they revelled in the kill; no roaring out a challenge and bellowing victory over your body. Not for you the bleached skull posted somewhere to mark your end, only the slow ugly decay as smaller things feasted on your flesh, chewed on your bones and what was left was rolled along by a fetid stream to be swallowed by swamp or mud. These were the places which usually claimed the inexperienced or the lost. The humiliation would be of someone finding out where The End had finally been met and for what reason.

He stopped to steady himself, intending to shake loose the creeping tendrils of Desolation such places and circumstances birthed. He had traversed sharper places. He should treat this as no more than groping around in a sewer for a misplaced purse. Time to gather in all the instincts and experiences, treat this as but a task to be done and no more.     

He wanted to move on, for there was no option. However all hard gained knowledge and perceptions warned him there was something else out there, aside from any small creature. Waiting, lurking, watching. Whatever this was had been very still and patient, until his closing proximity appeared to have unsettled this stance, there was a rising of breath, the barest of sounds of movement. He stilled the irrational relief at a possible challenge, there were always the creatures, one careless move could cause them to strike out from their deep, wet gloom, and there would be no contest.

‘Hey fellah,’ the traditional greeting to a stranger came in clear, slightly anxious words surprising him. A greeting by anything so female should be sultry, tempting, lowering your guard before the strike. The eyes not two person’s length away widened, as if to signal there was no threat; a good killer always kept their eyes hooded in darkness, eyes could reflect even the barest of light.

‘Hey yourself girl,’ he replied, also honouring tradition, he kept alert but spoke casually, good manners cost nothing ‘Are you lost or here with a purpose?’

Carefully viewing and measuring the shifting of the shades of gloom, he discerned the outline of someone seated against the wall, legs hunched up to avoid the dangerous pools and watery traces.

‘Never get lost,’ came the sulking reply ‘Don’t reckon on doing so neither,’

The drawl placed her from Hengestatia, a land he believed to be populated entirely by restless nonconformists.

‘How about you fellah? Come in out of the rain? Or,’ a mournful sigh issued ‘You intending to make a fool of yourself too?’  

‘Comments which suggest you know something more than I do,’

‘I wouldn’t say that. I’m hearing an experienced and cultured venturer coming to a soul-sucking forlorn and remote place for no more than a candlestick which would get the finder laughed at on most markets be they open or behind doors,’ a bitter laugh followed ‘Now why would that happen? Unless said venturer been so long in highly thought of quests they forgot to look down and tripped over their own reputation?’

Hengestatians, ever loquacious, even if they were astute. 

‘Very well. On taking a short cut I inadvertently insulted a local lord of low character and intellect when stopping his drunken obnoxious son from forcing his attentions on a tavern serving girl; fists and an introduction to a midden were involved. The lord required I look for this lost valuable family artifact, or he would burn down the tavern as he co-blamed the owner. You?’ the last word was pointed.

There followed the sound of something lightly striking the wall, he guessed it was the back of her head.

‘Nothing as noble as yours. Common enough stumbling amongst the ranks of us lesser venturers. Did start in a tavern though. Got to drinking with fellow scrabblers and we started to swap notions on which would be the most stupid of quests here abouts and someone came up with The Candelabrum of House Waardeloos; them being an object of derision in this princedom, so singularly useless and negligible, folk of your style would not have heard of them,’

‘I have now,’ he said bitterly ‘Go on, there must be more,’

‘C’mon over here classy venturer,’ he stiffened at the overture, relaxed at the sudden weariness causing a thickening of the accent ‘I don’t feel much like speakin’ this out loud,’ a cough of a laugh followed by an obscenity ‘Scraith. Don’t it get tiring?’

Caution his byword as he grew closer, there was a flick of a match and a faint geometric glow from a box she held. A young lined face, framed in pale hair, she was possibly a handspan taller than most women, dressed in travel hardened leathers and buckskins, a wide-brimmed hat flipped back, a tough smile.

‘My. An’t you a looker too,’ she patted the rock gesturing him to sit. He slumped down next to her ‘You’ll like the joke on this one. We got around to cards. I musta drunk a smidge too much. Kept playing the hands bad. Ended up betting my best sword, knife and gauntlets. Lost. At the time, seemed they were being kindly over it. Said if I could bring back that stupid-ass’d candle, it would make up for being so stupid as to lose my gear,’ she tailed off with a long sigh. ‘Least I had the sense to keep mechanical illumination,’

‘No disrespect, I have heard funnier endings to stories,’

‘An’t done yet,’ the sulking again. ‘Cause the punch-line only came to me when I got here. I’ve been down the tunnel a bit, comes to a sudden drop, my little gubbinz here only illuminates to gloom ten paces, so down goes a stone. Counted,’ she held up a hand ‘Six…damn six…. That’s like two hundred paces, ‘bout a hundred man drop. And’ she held up one finger to the gloom. There’s no going beyond that drop. S’ a wall,’ she bumped her head again ‘Set me thinking, those fellows knew it would end up here. No one carries two hundred paces of rope or clambers into nowhere for a market day selling candle. They set me up to fail, keeping really good quality weaponry,’

‘And I by honour bound was obliged to try,’ he said in empathy.

‘There was a splash too,’ she added ‘Frib’ knows what would be waiting down there,’

They looked at each other, the shared expression of two who should have known better, but had let one guard or another down and wandered into situations they had usually avoided.

‘Luck and sense run out with the best of us,’ she said, then suddenly extended a hand to him ‘Betherelle Gettis,’ by way of introduction.

‘Varow Dekyria,’ he replied and shook her hand.   

They lapsed back into silence.

Previously he had expected one day in battle, old injuries, age, over-confidence, poor judgement or some quirky event would be his downfall. Not just running out of confidence and the humiliation of being herded here like some farm animal, tethered by Honour and Reputation.

‘Unless I get that candlestick he will burn down the tavern,’ he said, hoping speaking out the words would give him resolve.

‘Sure Master Venturer Dekyria. You go and try, lose you grip and fall, into some deep ice cold water which’ll rip your breath out, stop you swimming to the plinth or whatever. Or trying to clamber up, cold, shivering, losing that grip again,’ a slight shrug ‘Me, I just lose good gear, walk away looking a fool. I can get good gear again, go to another part of the empire, piece together another ragged sort of a reputation,’

‘You must be short on resources,’

‘At my end of the business a little bit of light  thievery is not frowned upon,’

The word  landed lightly first as an observation, then settled.

‘What sort of light thievery Betherelle Gettis?’

‘Don’t sound so censorious Master Venturer Dekyria. Finding unsecure windows and doors and tippy-toeing into places where folk can afford a small loss,’ a little hurt seeped into her voice ‘All beneath your status I am sure,’

‘I apologise. My curiosity took hold,’

‘You sound suddenly planful,’

A pause that stretched her nerves followed.

‘Much experience of combat with your lost sword and knife?’

‘An interesting question,’ she sat up ‘Since we’re down amongst the drainage as it were, no. Mostly fists and knees, or hilt of the sword on the nogging. Sharp end for defence before running off. Only served mild wounds and maybe two deaths to my name. My line is scouting, look-out, being an extra body to intimidate, relieving of fat purses by hard suggestion and,’ brittle cough ‘That light thievery. Good at it all too,’ her eyes glinted knowingly ‘Combat? You’d probably see me off in a count of five. If I was lucky to get the chance to flee, that is. What’re you scheming all of a sudden?’

‘My experience’ he chose his words ‘Is more in combat. I can moved deftly, but had the luxury of feeling if discovered I could fight my way out. You seem far better based for avoiding danger,’

‘Know your limits I say. What road are we treading? I’m guessing there’s a ‘We’ in this chat,’ 

‘I admit on realising the true extent of this wretched business I fell prey to despondency. Listening to your view of this work I am angry at being caught out by such a wretch and his worthless son. The candlestick is of no importance. The well being of the tavener, his family, staff and neighbours are. This lord is in the way,’

There was a long low whistle.

‘You gonna remove him and his progeny from this mortal world? That’s a turn around, heavy duty, no mistake,’

‘It would not be the first time I have been part of such an enterprise. I only need someone who is deft at finding their way into a place,’

A soft puff of an exclamation.

‘I dunno. I got no quarrel with this fellow. Killing lords hangs around you for a long time and distance,’

‘There again Betherelle Gettis. Success in such a venture also gives you a new sort of status to those higher than mere lords,’

‘Oh my. Here was I thinking you worked only noble causes,’ she fingered the box, light and shade moving across her face’ Mope in here, slouch out. Or?’

There was a  smirk.

‘I’ll see you in then and watch your back?’

‘One extra matter,’

‘Yeah?’ suspicion

‘Best we marry after. Husband and wife teams carry more value and oddly, dignity,’

‘Why, Master Venturer Dekyria. How could a girl refuse such an offer?’

Musings on an Aftermath of Writing.

Reflective(Allegorical image by the way)

Some of you will be familiar with the opening of this tale.

Commenced I suppose from 2015, maybe, (although there were myriad false starts) and completed end of 2021. A fantasy trilogy written without much respect for the apparent ‘Rules of Writing’. And that was that. Completed.  Like any writer there were all sorts of ideas, whispers of ideas and the like swirling about. The same characters a few years down the line? Maybe the next generation, their children? A few experimental paragraphs suggested; it wasn’t going to work, not now anyhow. The scene was as if I had spent some time with this varied group, recorded these parts of their individual and joint narratives and now a parting of the ways was taking place, all by mutual consent. There was this singular notion any further novels would be intrusive into their lives. The conclusion was almost as if I had indeed strayed upon another fragment of Creation and had been a mere observer. Time for us all to move on.

The obsession to craft three volumes had been, of course unobtrusive. At the time, simply three basic ideas with plots and sub-plots spinning out all weaving into a pattern of cause and effect. The warning how obsessive I had become was the evening I flew into a rage because Kindle would not accept the download of the final cover, normally the solution would have been quite simple, but when Obsession takes hold anything that gets in the way in a foe…right?….Well no, wrong. Toxic.

Anyway, with the whole project completed and ‘Out There’, a calm settled. The urge to read books rather than listen to audio versions returned. An experiment to paint emerged; by numbers I add, because my perception of colours is rather variable; seriously an adult paint-by-numbers is a challenge, with tiny, tiny patches and titchy, titchy numbers therein; fun though and to be worked on at a leisurely pace. Finally there was the focus to stop trying to take up Quantum Mechanics as a serious interest, the maths and the terminology are beyond my capabilities. Back to History reading and in consequence looking into International Relations and the attendant theories. (Yes there are graphs and data but only for those who have made it their Life’s Work or intending to do so, a working knowledge of what is what is sufficient).

Does that mean you have quit writing? Some may ask. No, comes the simple answer. The Muses still flutter around me (or poke me in the back, if thus inclined). The frenetic side has evaporated. There is an idea to work a series of posts from way-back into a neater format and set in the same realms of the trilogy
Aureyborealice, A Fable in Several Parts…Part I

And there is  https://bbprompt.com/

Which supplies a monthly prompt for short stories and is quite a buzz to join as well as read.

There is a weight lifted though, the notion it was all for fun and relaxation was a flaw in perception, I was in deep. Of course being in deep is something a serious writer should be to embrace, but when you start to live with the characters, muttering phrases of possible conversations to yourself, going over and over in your mind situations, not being able to truly focus on anything else other than the day-to-day living and ‘Your Book’. No, maybe not. It maybe necessary for the true professionals with a contract but for the rest of us; the rest of the world needs to come in.

Maybe therein is the true reason why I’ll not be going back there. Even though it was fun at the time.

Writing eh? You love it. You can’t leave it alone. But it is as well to have boundaries.

Places Which Whisper

Park

No one was wholly sure how long there had been The Park. When each earlier record was discovered, the account suggested four generations before held the true answer.

Stefan of Ingefahr took one last look at the thin curtains of early morning spring mists drifting over the water. A loud, wailing “kuk-kuk-kuk-kaow-kaow,” signalled a grebe had an opinion. He wanted to remain until the mid-morning sun had burnt off the light grey veil, affording him a better view; was the span of water was a very small lake or a distinctly large pond? In a park of many pleasant views this was his favoured of early morning; sunlight on water, dappling and dancing, temporary jewels on ripples. However duty called. Oh, to be like that lad in the distance, a simple garden worker.

Stefan  had accepted one day he would be prince, but not this early in his life. Still alive and generally healthy Stefan’s father Prince Heyrold had been elevated to the rank of Court Advisor to the Emperor. Even if was only to advise on porcelain art, the emperor’s latest interest, you did not refuse. You handed on your title and with your spouse set up residence in the vastness of the Imperial Estates. Leaving an young inexperienced lad as prince.

At least Stefan had his father’s Chancellor Scharfsinnig to advise and commiserate with him as he faced this crisis.

‘Well Chancellor. Do our Intelligence Services confirm, who plans advancement from this paternal elevation?’

Whereas the lands were dwarfed by the surrounding princedoms Ingefahr had by far the most astute, deft and loyal Intelligence Services.

‘Raffgierig of Drohend,’ inevitability in Scharfsinnig’s delivery. House Aufdringlich held its princely throne by dint of being a constructively obnoxious family in the unfortunate land. Drohend was a frequent cause of local ‘issues’.

‘Malignant, grasping fellow, but father ever placed faith in quiet diplomacy,’

‘Thus he was held in Fond Regard by most of our neighbours. He hosted some fine conferences to smooth out local issues and,’ there was a sad smile on the usually hard face ‘Always the visits to The Park. Everyone looked forward to those,’

‘Apart from Raffgierig who never got his way. Looking for even the score,’ Stefan scowled ‘Listig, his sly chancellor, is probably behind this. The  intelligent one. Arranging the singing of my father’s praises at the imperial court. Out-manoeuvred us this time. Leaving an unmarried son thus by imperial law in need of a wife. Raffgierig at the head of the line having a daughter of correct rank,

Aloisia, I saw her at a distance once, small passive thing in the wake of her father. She seemed to appreciate The Park. Raffgierig pays a dowry, which he can afford, while accordance with imperial protocol I must impart a nuptial gift,’ Stefan tapped an ominous rhythm on the arm of his chair ‘Thus we must wait for his princely suggestion, one detrimental,’

‘Likely he will request rite of passage through Ingefahr,’

‘As son-in-law I could hardly refuse. Even if it does remove our neutral status,’ Stefan looked pleadingly to his Chancellor ‘I don’t suppose Father’s new station will give us leeway of Imperial Benevolence,’

Scharfsinnig sighed.

‘There are bigger games being played at the Imperial Court than the well-being of Ingefahr. The regional stability crafted  by your father and grandfather is no longer the most important coin on the table,’

‘Thought so,’ Stefan sighed ‘Not much option only to wait and see,’

Scharfsinnig was sorry for Stefan. He had a good grasp of the situation, and was handling matters calmly. Intelligent, reflective and popular with the people. And he had The Park. Where he did the best of his thinking. The princes and wives had worked diligently to nurture the blend of wild and cultivated, while adding tasteful bridges over waters, attractive empathetic walk ways and small constructs from where to rest and ponder, or chat. A cause of national pride.

In a small princedom closeness to the population verged on personal, in consequence delegating was not an option. Therefore three days passed before Stefan could take a walk through one of The Park’s winding lanes into a glade at the western edge of the wood, affording him the gilded shades of late afternoon upon leaves and bark. He sat upon a simple rustic bench and to the background of birdsong pondered upon options political and even military.

He reasoned, if you started at the worst result you should be able to trace backwards and find out where to make the right turn. In theory.

‘You got the grumps too?’

To Stefan’s surprise a new arrival was leaning, then slowly slumping down a tree opposite him, the sizeable untidy woollen headgear was familiar, the gardening lad he had seen the other day.

‘Yes,’ Stefan admitted at ease with the casual attitude, presumably he was not recognisable in the shade, opportunity for a relaxing share of woes, guardingly ‘Your accent is not local. Missing home?’

The initial response was a common vulgar sound although the particular application of tongue to lips made it somewhat musical.

‘My uncaring parent farmed me out to be an apprentice. Horrible idea. I ran away,’

‘All the way from,’ he paused placing the accent ‘Drohend?’

‘I started not far from the border,’

‘You have hiding out in a royal park. It’s not a public place,’ he tried to sound friendly and helpful; the idea of a runaway seeking sanctuary in his Park was bemusing.

‘I know that,’ they retorted ‘It’s good place to hide. This wood particularly. You looked miserable enough to be hiding yourself,’

A perceptive runaway.

‘Close,’ he drawled ‘I work in the Castle, a type of clerke. A difficult busy time now. I come here for peace,’

Not actually a lie, simply short on details.

‘Is your prince horrible too?’ they asked.

‘No,’ this time his reply was defensive, only to be interrupted by an unmistakeable gurgling sound and the interloper squirmed. ‘Hungry then?’ Stefan asked, interest piqued by this arrival.

‘My supplies finally ran out,’ they complained, adding defiantly ‘I’ve not been stealing either,’

‘I didn’t say you had. You have an air of cynosure and probity about you,’

‘Thank you. I endeavoured to keep balanced. Not to cause problems,’

‘You chose well to stay here. The gardeners leave the wood to itself in summer. I will bring you sustenance at dusk. Here’

‘Again thank you. May I ask why this generosity?’

‘I would like to learn about your land. And your name?’

‘Call me Al,’

Stefan was doubly occupied. Musing on reasons for the absence of the expected approach by Raffgierig and nurturing this cautious refuge, whose appearance suggested regular washing in a stream. Conversation was stilted, you could give away facts about yourselves when asking questions of others. Thus each evening’s delivery of food involved a conversation about The Park, a shared enthusiasm it seemed. They talked of nothing but The Park. On a particularly warm breeze softened evening Stefan concluded they were sharing evasion.

‘At the risk of sounding a snob, a runaway apprentice when being told they have an air of cynosure and probity would normally say ‘Uh?. Not thank me. Nor sound eloquent,’

Their face crumpled into acceptance.

‘It took you long enough to admit to your suspicions and ploy,’ a smile quivered ‘Prince Stefan,’

A beam of late sunlight flickering through branches caused sparkles upon alert eyes, accompanied by a slow removal of the untidy head gear.

Recognition.

‘And you would be Princess Aloisia,’ his response was hardly a question, although the subsequent words were ‘Are you actually a runaway?’

‘Yes,’ she was quite frank ‘This would be the last place Prince Raffgierig would look,’

‘Quite so,’ Stefan struggled slightly as he attempted to thread the logic through a needle eye of circumstance ‘My information suggests he was intending to manufacture an unavoidable alliance through our marriage. However, you arrive of your own volition,’ pause to weave irony  ‘Al,’ which caused a giggle.

‘He can’t offer me, if he hasn’t got me,’ came a sing-song reply.

A cogent point. Emperors held strict laws over their princes, each prince aware fellow princes would take advantage of a transgression.

‘Al,’ the shortened name did suit this forward maid ‘Are you not afraid he will demand your return?’

‘It’s The Park, I do love it so,’ she hugged herself ‘Makes me feel safe,’

Although the reply should have been evasive, her words struck him as an affirmation of faith.

‘I saw you once in tow during a conference  The Park greatly impressed you at one brief visit?’

Aloisia blushed, simpered, this time the eyelashes lowered.

‘Two brief visits,’ she said, biting her top lip.

‘You’ve sneaked in before?’ fascinating girl.

‘In a way. My mother; entrapped in a cold marriage. And Chancellor Listig lonely in his demanding work. Attraction. My mother told me of an evening such as this, The Prince was out being boring, and you know the sweet little summer house at the river bend,’ a flicker of mischief ’There were other occasions, but my mother was quite sure,’ she spread out her arms ‘Raffgierig  not my father and this is my home,’

Stefan was sifting the politics and musing on what his chancellor would say, when Aloisia knelt forward batting her eyelashes brushing a kiss on his mouth, adding hopefully.

‘Will you marry me? Before Raffgierig finds me?’

With his emotional foot tripping over his political foot to regain a semblance of balance Stefan opted for the simple approach. He took her shoulders, kissed her back and said ‘Yes’. Naturally there was going to have to be some swift diplomatic dancing. Meanwhile against the background of a few nightingales, clarifications were needed.

‘You are remarkable Al,’ compliments were useful openers.

‘I have to admit my father, Chancellor Listig played a part. He sees Prince Raffgierig as an idiot who will bring down Drohend. My precipitate action will make public that trait. Listig has delicately tutored my nearer brother to replace him. My elder sibling is hopeless,’

‘This is all part of an overthrow strategy?’

She nodded cheerfully.

‘There are others facets. I only helped because there’s the benefit of nabbing,’ she emphasised the next words spicing them with allure ‘You as my husband,’ she tapped his  nose and in her sing-song style added ‘And having The Park,’

Answers bringing clutches of questions.

Uppermost at present. Why had not his Intelligence Services warned him? More to the point why would Listig take this audacious, paradoxical risk? A robin chirped up, Princess Aloisia pursued her lips. Matters became clearer for Prince Stefan.

Chancellor Scharfsinnig had finally reached bed, only to be summoned to Stefan’s council chamber, Stefan seated with Princess Aloisia at his side.

‘You do not look as surprised as you ought Chancellor,’ Stefan said ‘Please be seated, and meet my bride to be, who fled her,’ he coughed ‘Father’s domain. For two weeks she has resided in The Park. Did you know?’

‘I would have told you My Prince,’

In response Stefan addressed not him but Aloisia.

‘You will notice, dearest, no expression of frantic concern over Raffgierig’s possible responses,’

‘Yes my dearest. Chancellor Listig always spoke well of Chancellor Scharfsinnig,’

Holding the other’s hand, the couple rose.

‘My Chancellor, rest, busy times are ahead. Aside from the politics of weddings and neighbouring states, I would know whether my father was truly inveigled or simply positioned himself in a long game. I will arrange Princess Aloisia’s domestic comforts,’ he kissed her hand.

Scharfsinnig left, relieved. As Listig had suggested; here was a couple with potential.

Entwined they lay in the Summer House, respite from hectic days navigating the political storms. A respite with a impish edge.

‘Imperial Law insists we must marry now,’ she said moonlight playing on her eyes.

‘Anything you wish Al,’

They had been drawn in. Willingly, of course. Coercion never worked. They had embraced the ancient tides of placid continuity. The Park was content.

https://bbprompt.com/2022/01/07/january-blogbattle-park/

5 Days of Marketing… Well, That Was Interesting

Firstly, there was nothing new in the option, process, call it what you will. Books uploaded on Kindle and as a Promotion Option select a number of days…Free. I’ve taken that pathway before and notched up maybe 10, 15 tops on each occasion, and no reviews, the latter is understandable, more about that later.

This time I decided ‘What The Heck’ and put the whole trilogy up as Free, to summarise for those new hereabouts:

Of Patchwork WarriorsSkirmishersthe-gilrs-in-yermetz-in-finality

The results were, to repeat……interesting. Now maybe it was the chance to snap up an entire trilogy for nothing or maybe it was the stunning art work on Vol 2 & 3 by Matthew David Sharpe See FaceBook or Odiousrule on Instagram. It certainly was not my haphazard, chaotic, sometimes barely visible Marketing stratagems. Anyway as of today 1st November 2021 at 08:54 GMT the totals are 2 sold and 110 taken up for free. Well that was different. I’m not certain of the breakdowns because neither figure divide into 3, and there are various permutations: Taking up the whole trilogy; opting for Volume 1 as a tester; taking Volume 2 and/or 3 to get the full set. Who knows?

Of course there always have to be perspectives on these matters. A noticeable take-up on a free offer, does not signify the beginnings of a writing success; you have to be practical and consider the paring down. Not everyone who picks up a free book will read it, not everyone who intends to read a book free or purchased gets around to reading it straight away; (I have five sitting in my Kindle and have given myself strict orders to read them, no excuses); not everyone who reads a book even if they like it finds time to rate or review; not everyone who takes the time to place a review is going to complete the book and the review within but two weeks and finally not everyone who breaches those previous ‘nots’ is going to be kind about the business. To name but three Brandon Sanderson, George R. R. Martin and Joe Abercrombie may get 5,000 to 15,000 ratings with 80% 5 star and many positive reviews but not everyone is at their standard or has that sort of following. Thus the sense of perspective is vital to avoid any crashing disappointments, just file the whole event in the ‘Interesting’ category and see if anything else comes of ‘The October 2021 Initiative’.  

This, therefore, is not a post of the sort which suggests ‘A Way’ . No, this is nothing more than one writer recording an event which was, and it cannot be stressed enough, …’interesting’ (in a modest way of course). I will of course follow the progress, what author wouldn’t? But will only report back my findings at the end of 2021. Did this ‘interesting’ pick up have any profitable (not in terms of monetary gain) results? Who knows?

Meanwhile back to reading, jotting down notes for a Space Opera SF, which may or may not see the light of day. As maybe writing up more on the trilogy of its own little blog 

The Precipice Dominions

It does need up-dating.