The new historical novel set in Elizabethan England by Bernard Cornwell now has a cover – two covers in fact – one for the UK and one for the US. You can pre-order Fools and Mortals here if you’re interested.
And the US Cover
The new historical novel set in Elizabethan England by Bernard Cornwell now has a cover – two covers in fact – one for the UK and one for the US. You can pre-order Fools and Mortals here if you’re interested.
And the US Cover
And here’s part 10 – go to Part 1 for the start of the story.
Drew slapped the dwarf on the shoulder. “Just move. We can sort this out later. We need to tidy up. Misunderstanding wasn’t it?”
The dwarf glared at him. He held a beer towel to his head trying to staunch the blood from a nasty looking head wound. His fellows has already exited the bar-room and were milling around in the courtyard—halflings rushed around with trays of ale cups to keep them distracted. But there were a few stubborn remainers, who simply didn’t know when to call a fight over.
“We were the aggrieved party,” muttered the dwarf. “Things need to be put right.”
Drew shrugged. “Get some air, have a pint and we’ll all talk in a minute or two once we’ve had a chance to clear up inside. We were all attacked—by those dog things and their naturist human friends.” Drew shook his head. A weird sight that had been. He shuddered to think what was going on upstairs—that’s where the intruders had gone, leaving a trail of carnage after themselves. Something to do with that nobleman and his retinue—had to be. But he’d not dared go up to see what had happened. Perhaps best to see what came out first?
The dwarf shrugged and limped out into to the courtyard. “We dwarves bear a grudge a long time—don’t you forget that—we’ll have our reckoning.”
Drew sighed. He knew that only too well. With the tourist appeal of the Orkranian mountains only stuttering into life, he was reliant on the surly custom of the dwarf miners. But every interaction with them seemed to lead to some argument or other. And Gundrun, their de facto leader, was the worst.
He looked round at the tap-room. It was a mess. There’d been fights in here before—mostly to do with dwarves. But never before had every item of furniture been smashed or shattered—some of it could be repaired, but most of it was only good for firewood. There would be a reckoning all right. And he knew just who was going to pay. He glanced out of the door at the crowd of bruised and battered dwarf miners. They had gold after all didn’t they. He waited a moment watching. Egbert and Lily both returned with their empty trays. Good. It was safe.
Drew slammed the door of the inn shut. Remarkably it had survived too much damage. It was a fine strong door. Reinforced with iron. Drew didn’t mind that it drew the attention of the dwarves.
“Hey! What’s going on?” shouted the stubborn one with a beer towel wrapped around his head.
Drew smiled and shrugged. “Drink your beer,” he shouted through the window. Most of them were, grumbling together in small groups—comparing bruises and cuts and stories of the fight. Most of them ignored the fact that a lot of the fighting had been dwarf on dwarf. Why let the truth get in the way of a good boast after all.
Drew beckoned Lily over. “Get more ale ready—should keep them calm a bit longer.”
“Yes, Drew,” she said. “I’ll get some barrels out of the cellar. But do you have the key?”
Drew glanced at the stairs. He’d left the key upstairs that morning. He didn’t fancy going up there at the moment, until he knew what was coming down. “Let’s see how it goes—we have some bottles of spirits and wine in the bar—they can have that—might knock them all out quicker!”
“Why are they drawing their weapons again?” quailed Lily. She pointed at the courtyard through the window. Drew looked. The dwarves were grasping axe and hammer handles and drawing swords in readiness for something. Two of them had climbed onto the narrow wooden walkway above the gate. They were moving in a weird way, Drew noticed as they looked over the wall, almost as if they were dancing. And then one of them stopped suddenly and fell backwards into the yard with a thud—an arrow was embedded in his shoulder. They had been trying to dodge arrows. But who? How?
Drew hesitated. Should he open the inn door and find out what was going on out there. Was it a ruse. The other dwarf on the walkway above the gate was crouched down—and peering over the wall—he was shouting at the other dwarves in the yard. To his disbelief, Drew saw that the dwarves were opening the gate—was that really such a good idea—let in whoever was shooting at you, so they could shoot at you some more?
In poured a group of dwarven miners—many holding shields to protect their heads and backs as they scurried inside—the shields were prickled with black-feathered arrows. They all rushed in and the gates were shut hurriedly again. Drew stood on a broken table to get a better view and could see that there were others outside the gate—not dwarves but armed humanoids with green skin and large teeth—orcs! And goblins Drew noticed—riding wolves—they were the ones shooting the arrows. He grabbed his blunderbuss and the bag of shot and powder, and rushed for the door.
Gundrun was standing before him when he came out into the courtyard. He wiped some black blood off his axe head as he looked up at Drew.
“What the hell are you doing now, Gundrun—your lot have caused enough damage to my establishment and now you bring a horde of goblins and orcs to finish the job?”
Gundrun spat an answer. “How dare you—we’ll save your runty hide for you and you should be grateful—or should we open the gate again and let the greenskin scum in—tell them you’ve invited them to a high tea of roast halfing?”
A black-fletched arrow thudded into the door frame above Drew’s head. The heat of his blood ran suddenly cold. He shook his head. He hated to do this, but he’d best make peace with the cantankerous old dwarf.
“No. No, of course not. It’s just been a hard day. Come, let’s talk. How many are out there? Where did they come from? You’ve stirred up a right hornet’s nest.”
“Us?” Gundrun huffed. “They came out of the trees—from the mountain. No idea what they want. Not supposed to be any orcs much in this hills anymore—they all went to ground. But I fancy this is different—must be the start of a full invasion, by my reckoning.”
Drew shook his head. “And we’re in the way. What can we do?”
Gundrun looked at the walls of the courtyard—they were high—over ten foot and built of solid wood logs, but there was no walkway or battlement that they could guard. “Not much we can do, but wait for them to try to get over the wall and then hack ‘em down as they come. That tower over the gate is too dangerous—there’s no cover, although it’s good for seeing what’s going on. We have some crossbows and you must have some short bows? Never known a clan of Halfling to be without half a dozen bows at least. We can put some of my lads and some of your keen-eyed youngsters upstairs to fire back at the gobboes.
Drew cast an apprehensive look at the first floor windows of the inn. “I’m not sure about that. There’s been some trouble up there.”
“Trouble?” asked Gundrun.
“Same trouble that caused the bar-room brawl—well some of it went upstairs—those dogs, naked men and women—something to do with one of my guests I think. I heard some fighting going on up there. Not sure if it’s safe.”
“Hmm, and I thought it was because you’d refused some of my hard-workings boys a drink. We need to go and take a look up there though—we need to see what’s going on.”
There was a shatter of glass in the window above the inn’s main door. A second later the figure of the aristocrat fell through, a bright, shining sword falling to the ground under him. He was clutching at the window sill. Drew and Gundrun heard shouting and the man let go and dropped to the floor only a few feet below. He stumbled away looking about him in a dazed way. He saw the sword and picked it up hurriedly. There was the barking of a dog and growling and then another man tumbled out of the window and crashed to the ground. Drew recognized him as one of the aristocrat’s men. He clutched a sword and was bleeding from a wound in his leg.
There was a roar from the gate—and Drew turned to see two vicious looking orcs clamber over the top and jump to the ground inside the inn’s courtyard. Each wielded a wicked curved sword in one hand and a dagger in the other.
“For Durin!” came the war-cry of the dwarf miners and a line of axe and hammer armed dwarves charged at the orcs. More were coming over the wall and the bolts of crossbows flew to knock them back.
There was a screech in the sky above, and Drew looked up. A huge winged beast circled above them. There was a rider on its back. He grabbed Gundrun’s arm. “They’re coming at us from all sides.”
“Get your lads upstairs now!”
“But what’s still up there?”
As they spoke, the large Doberman and a naked man burst out of the tavern door. The dog looked around the courtyard and stood pawing the ground and growling when it spotted the aristocrat and his man.
“I’m guessing it might be safe now,” said Gundrun. “Harald, Oglin, gather any of the boys with crossbows and get upstairs—make more arrowslits in the walls if you have to.”
“My walls!” exclaimed Drew. “No, you’re right,” he said as Gundrun’s brows beetled, “Tolly, Lily and Sam, get your boys and go with the dwarves upstairs—shoot anything with a greenskin!”
Part 9 of my Oldhammer Fiction novella – if you’ve not read any yet, head back to Part 1 for a synopsis and the opening part.
At last they were all upstairs on the trial of the Prince. Lola sniffed. Yes his scent was here definitely. She could smell it on the carpeted stairs and on the landing. Prince Hardlee had been here and it smelled like he was still here. But where?
They were on a landing with the stair well behind them, defended by Oscar in hunting hound form. To the left was a single door, and then a corridor stretching from this end of the inn to the other, with several door coming off it. But right in front of them looked like the best place to start. A large double door in fine wood. And there was even a painted sign above the door that read “The Prince’s Suite”.
Where else should they start?
Lola barked orders to the others. Poppy and Bella would check The Prince’s Suite first, while Lola and Alfie hung back to provide support. If Hardlee wasn’t there they would check the other rooms in the same pairs. Each pair would comprise one in human form and the other in dog form, that way they could maximise their senses of smell and other dog attributes, with the ability to open doors and handle deadly human weapons. Lola would stay in her Doberman form, while Alfie remained as a human. Poppy would transform back into a ??, while Bella kept the human form she had already assumed.
Bella tried the door handle of the Suite. It opened without resistance and Poppy scampered in to see what was inside. Bella followed—knife in hand, peering around the doorway, her buttocks wobbled slightly as she leaned forward. She turned and shook her head. Nothing there. Poppy scampered out sniffing the ground and looked up at Lola and then glanced down the corridor. The scent of the prince was in that direction.
Lola stepped lightly across the landing murmuring quietly to the others in a low growl. She and Alfie would start at the end of the corridor and work down. Poppy and Bella would come from this end and meet in the middle. There was a door right at the end of the corridor, which Lola and Alfie would check first. But first she padded into The Prince’s Suite. The bed was unmade, and there were items strewn about—men’s clothes of a fine quality. Some books and bottles of wine and cups were littered haphazardly on the table. The Prince was an aspiring poet and a prodigious wine drinker. This looked like his room. Lola dug her nose into the bedsheets and the discarded clothes that littered the floor. She had his scent.
Lola left the room and met Alfie on the landing. They walked quietly down the corridor and approached the door at the end. Poppy and Bella went to the closest door on the corridor—a normal enough looking door on the left side and tried it. It was locked. Poppy began wedging her knife down the side of the door to see if she could locate. She’d try to open it quietly at first, but if need be they could break the door down.
They heard Oscar barking at the top of the stairs. And shouts from drunken dwarves. Oscar would have to keep them at bay while they searched. He was a vicious hunting dog in animal form, and was well equipped to do that.
But what none of them expected was for Oscar to be attacked. They had not checked the other door that opened onto the landing. A big mistake, for in there Shilby and three guardsman had lain hidden readying their swords for action. Now Shilby, having heard the dogs and people go past, opened the door quietly and saw Oscar in front of him facing away growling at the top of the stairs that lead down to the bar. Shilby wore iron-toed boots and used the right one to kick Oscar full in the flank, knocking the hound into the air for a moment and deposited him against the wall with a thud. There was a cheer or a jeer form the dwarves at the foot of the stairs. One of them started to climb the stairs, but stopped suddenly as Oscar the dog started to become Oscar the man. His body expanded suddenly, limbs and spine bending in strange ways. Oscar grunted and growled in pain as the transformation happened. Oscar slashed at him with his sword. The blade of it hacking a gash out of the shapeshifter’s neck. Oscar died with a dog-like whimper, half-way between man and dog. A short furred tale dropped from his back between his legs. The body of Oscar hunched over, blood gushing from the wound in the skin that was recognisably human but covered in a patchy fur. His nose and jaw extended oddly and large canine teeth poked out as blood and drool spat from his mouth.
Shilby turned to his three soldiers. “Get them—down the corridor. Protect the prince!
The three men didn’t pause and dashed around the corner. Poppy and Bella were trying to open a locked door—shaking the handle and hadn’t heard the death of Oscar. There was still a lot of noise coming from the brawl downstairs.
The three soldiers were surprised to see a naked woman holding a dagger trying to open the door of the prince’s room—not really his room, but the one where they had put him for his own safe keeping. Well surprised might be a bit too strong for it, as often there would be nothing unusual about seeing a naked or near-naked young woman coming and going from the prince’s chamber—if you were a household guard you got used to that kind of thing. But today in the middle of what Shilby had told them was an assassination attempt, with a fight going on downstairs it didn’t quite seem to be the time or place. Plus one of their mates was probably stuck somewhere in it—they assumed he was downstairs somewhere in the bar seeing as he hadn’t returned. And this young lady was carrying a dagger and had a busy looking dog—a terrier—at her feet. That wasn’t usual for the kind of young women that normally visited the prince.
Shilby had checked that Oscar was really dead and then turned to warn the dwarves off—“Nothing for you to see up here, get stuck into your own business or a beer—they’re on me.” He then went to check on how his men were getting on with the other assassins and turned the corner of the corridor to find his men ogling the naked behind of a young woman, who had a dog sniffing at the bottom of the door. At the end of the corridor he could see that the door to the halflings’ private rooms was open and there was a what sounded like a turning over in progress.
He shoved two of the men in the back. “Come on then get stuck in.” And there was no choice then because the naked woman and the dog heard them. The dog snarled and dived at one of the men’s ankles, trying to bite into it. The man was forced to strike at the dog with his sword. But at that moment the dog leapt away and the man’s sword bit into his own leather boot. He yelped in pain. The sword hadn’t cut through the leather, but he’d given himself a mighty good whack nevertheless.
The guard was distracted by his own pain. “Get your guard up,” Shilby roared. He swung his own sword between the two guards to deflect the blow, but the naked woman’s long knife thrust faster and quicker than he could manage. The guard grunted as the knife flashed back, red with blood, and he slumped to the floor. Shilby hacked again, pushing the falling body of the guard aside. The woman raised her knife in defence from the high blow. But she was not strong enough to stop Shilby’s sword knocking her to the ground. She slipped on the wooden floorboards of the corridor, now slick with the guard’s blood. Shilby drew back his blade quickly and hacked at the woman’s bare neck. She dodged quickly and would have avoided the worst of the blow against a slower man than Shilby. But Shilby could see what she going to do and directed his blow to where he thought she would move. Instead of her neck, the sword smashed with a crack like plates being smashed into her skull. The sword came back with a chunk of bone and hair, matted in blood. The naked woman was dead.
Meanwhile the other two guards who still lived had corned the ferocious dog, using their swords to prevent it from dodging past them they had scored hits on it as well and now the mangled body of the animal lay slumped and twisted by the wall of the corridor.
“Look alive lads, don’t get cocky,” hissed Shilby. “There’s more of them through that door at the end I reckon.
Shilby’s prediction was proved right. A bulky well muscled man with cropped hair and the face of a pit-fighter burst through the door, naked apart from the long serrated knife he held in front of him.
“Don’t these tossers ever where clothes,” muttered Shilby.
“You bastards,” he shouted as he saw the dead bodies on the ground.
A Doberman emerged growling at his heals and they both ran headlong down the corridor.
There was a moan from the door to the prince’s room, halfway between them and the onrushing man and dog. It was the prince’s voice calling for help.
Shilby pushed the guards in the back. “Hold the corridor, I’ll get the prince.”
But instead of running towards their enemies down the corridor, he turned and ran back to the guard’s room. He rushed in and raised his sword hacking at the thin wood and plaster wall that divided the guard room from the bedroom they had moved the prince to.
Shilby was through the wall in a matter of seconds, knocking a table over as he stepped through the mess of the destroyed wall. The prince was in the corner of the room, a sheet pulled over him, pretending he wasn’t there.
Shilby thought a moment about whether to leave him. Hardlee wasn’t much of a prince in truth. He had all the good looks and the posh bearing in public of a prince, but in reality as Shilby was finding out he was no more than a spoilt and a coward to boot. Hardly deserving of loyalty. Hmm, hardly. How appropriate.
But his training and his code took over. The prince was in his charge. He had served the royal family all his grown life. He would do his duty.
He ran to the corner of the room and whipped the sheet from Hardlee. The prince smiled a petrified smile at him when he realized he wasn’t going to be killed. He was curled in a little ball. Shilby grabbed him by the crook of an elbow and hauled him upright, unbending him like a wood louse. “Come with me now. We’ve got to get outta here.”
He pulled the prince through the hole in the wall and scrambled into the guard’s room. But as they emerged onto the landing, Shilby could tell something was wrong.
It was too quiet. He turned and saw the naked man, practically his whole body covered in blood. His serrated knife dripped. He thought he could see a chunk of flesh hanging from it. He glared at Shilby and Hardlee, hatred in his eyes. From behind him there was a low growling and the Doberman stepped forward—it’s jaws bright with blood.
Hardlee tugged at the sword at his side and with a clatter he drew his sword. It flashed with light even in the dimness of the landing. It was a special sword, just a shame that it was Hardlee using it.
“Break that window,” shouted Shilby, pushing his prince towards the window on the landing furthest away from the man and dog.
“Come on then!” he screamed at them, and slashing wildly with his sword he charged.
No matter how psychotic his enemies were, they didn’t want to come up against a strong man wielding a long sword with fury and skill and they retreated to the narrowness of the corridor, the man waving his dagger and the dog growling. That was all he needed. To give them pause so they could get away.
He turned. The prince had smashed the window.
With his lungs and legs bursting he sprinted at the window, knocking the prince off his feet and through the window. Even so the dog was fast. He felt sharp teeth sink into the leather of his boot and strong jaws clamp down—he was stuck on the window sill. The prince was dangling on the other side, holding on by one hand.
“Jump, it’s only one floor,” Shilby shouted.
He jammed his sword into the dogs maw and levered the mouth open. It squealed with pain and let go and he tumbled out of the window, rolling into a ball to break his fall. He bounced off the roof of the porch of the inn and down onto the muddy courtyard. Safe for a few moments at least.
I’m a big fan of historical fiction (as you might guess from the stories that I write and the content of this blog!) So I was interested to hear that there will be a new Bernard Cornwell book later in this year – and one that’s not part of his normal series – or on a subject that he would normally write about.
I really enjoy Cornwell’s action stories–he writes well and creates strong stories. You could argue that the books are a bit formulaic after a while, but they’re good reads nevertheless.
His latest is set in Elizabethan England and follows the life of one Richard Shakespeare – it’s not out until October and there’s not a great deal of information on it – not even a cover image at the moment – but it sounds intriguing – probably the most notable difference from most of his work is that it does not involve military matters.
Here’s what I have from the Amazon website:
A dramatic new departure for international bestselling author Bernard Cornwell, FOOLS AND MORTALS takes us into the heart of the Elizabethan era, long one of his favourite periods of British history.
Fools and Mortals follows the young Richard Shakespeare, an actor struggling to make his way in a company dominated by his estranged older brother, William. As the growth of theatre blooms, their rivalry – and that of the playhouses, playwrights and actors vying for acclaim and glory – propels a high-stakes story of conflict and betrayal.
Part 8 of my Oldhammer Fiction novella – go to Part 1 if you’ve not read any yet!
So far so good, mused Grim as he circled the valley of Nstaad on the wyvern. The Hard Core boyz had chased the dwarves away from the exchange—they hadn’t even put up a fight. Now if his own servants could get in there and find the gold even better.
The air was cold at this height above the mountains and the wyvern had to swoop in tight circles and flap its wings hard to keep in the air—Grim had once heard something about an elvish practice called Pisicks that claimed the flight of creatures such as dragons and wyverns was impossible and against nature, but one thing he did know what that to keep airborne the creature he rode had to flap its wings bloody hard. So the air stream rushed past his ears and the cold burnt the green skin of his face. He loved it. He exulted in his pain and superiority—from here he could see everything like a king—like a god!
But what was this? What were those flippin’ mercenaries doing—the whole unit of gobboes was driving fast down the slope of the valley in a large loop aimed at the road south of the inn. He’d said to Shur Burt that they were to send some wolf riders not the whole bloody lot of them. Where was his reserve now! Every good general should have a reserve—he’d heard that somewhere.
Was it too late to recall them? Maybe not. He could dive down and land in front of them—that would scare the shit out of them and no mistake. Send some of them back to the woods at least—perhaps just split them in two now—seize the road south to prevent any escapes and attack the inn from that side too. And hold the others back—under his command—waiting on the slope to see where they were needed. It looked like the dwarves were retreating to the inn, so they’d have to attack that place to get them all—maybe put a light to it, or smash it down. Shame his wyvern wasn’t a fire-breathing dragon—that would be well handy.
A wisp of cloud obscured his view for a moment. He pulled on the iron chains that were the wyvern’s reins and kicked her side with his spiked spurs.
“Down fell beast,” he grunted—the old orc who had bred this wyvern told him that she obeyed certain commands, but Grim wasn’t sure he believed that—it seemed pain and pushing and pulling were the main things that the beast understood.
The wyvern lost height as Grim had wished, but now he was further east over the valley, towards the glade of trees where rumour had it an elf witch dwelt. He looked down. The leaves of the trees below were a lighter green—elven trees perhaps when compared to the dour dark pines that covered much of the mountains. And something glinted down there. There was a small lake, a pool of glistening water. Grim bent over the neck of the wyvern to get a closer look. A pink figure was in the shining water. Grim took the wyvern down to get a closer look. Maybe this was a prize finer than gold.
Tears came to Grim’s eyes as the wyvern plunged through the clouds. A ray of sunshine though illuminated the lake in the glade once the wyvern was clear of the cloud. Grim pulled up on the chains and the wyvern levelled off and turned in a slow arc over the trees—perhaps a hundred paces above the lake. A female lay floating in the water—dark hair streaming like a fan from her head. And she was naked.
The Broken Hand orcs counted it a special right of their royalty to mix with other races—humans usually. They counted the mixture of bloods and pollution of the so called “good” races with their own a privilege above any other. De facto therefore Grim had probably some half-orc blood in him somewhere—it was difficult to find willing human females though—for some reason they were put off coupling with orcs. But here floated an elf ready to be taken. To be his mate perhaps and to enhance the next bloodline of the Broken Hand.
Grim spoke to the wyvern, hoping the creature would understand, “Pick up the floating elf, don’t kill it.” He thought about adding the word “gentle” but very much doubted the wyvern would understand. To his disbelief the winged creature began a shallow dive over the lake, skimming low over the trees. At the far end of the lake, Grim glimpsed a white domed building. A figure clothed in white stepped from the doorway and held up her hands towards the wyvern and Grim. Somehow Grim decided it best to duck at that moment. It was a wise choice as then he missed a bolt of blue light that screamed over his head.
The woman in white began running and shouting.
Grim looked over the neck of the wyvern. The female elf in the water was still floating. Well you couldn’t hear that well if your ears were submerged could you, but as they came closer she must have realised that something was wrong. There was a splash and suddenly the naked elf was flailing around with her arms trying to swim away. She glanced over her shoulder, just as the wyvern stuck out its claws to pick her up. Grim smiled as she looked at him. She was more beautiful than anything he had seen (although admittedly she didn’t have much competition, given the company Grim kept).
The elf now dived suddenly, her slender pale legs tipping into the air as she tried to push herself down into the water. But the wyvern was fine with that. She grabbed the elf’s ankles in her claws and plucked her out of the water like an osprey takes a fish from the sea.
I was doing some research recently into which historical fiction novels are recognized as being the best of all time – the books that every budding historical fiction author and reader should have read. Of course there is no definitive list – such a thing can and should only ever be a matter of opinion. I found lists on the Telegraph site, Publisher’s Weekly, and of course Goodreads has several reader-curated list- as well.
The most reference one however seemed to be a list published by the Guardian/Observer back in 2012. Here’s what they have:
I have to confess that I have only read War and Peace, Wolf Hall, I, Claudius and the first of The Regeneration Trilogy – so no idea about the others. I think given that this is the Guardian its quite a literary fiction based list. I’d agree with these 4 titles that I know being on the list for sure, but I think for pure entertainment value I would have to add The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas well. But also what about Tale of Two Cities by Dickens?
What about you? What else should be on the list – please comment below – I’d love to hear what you think.
Battle is joined in the foothills of Orkrania! If you’re new here go back to Part 1 for the start of the novella and to find out what it’s all about.
So the battle of Nstaad began. What had started as a tavern brawl, would now become a battle fought with steel, claw and blood. Grim Bearit’s Broken Hand orcs emerged from the wooded slopes of the mountain above Nstaad with the Hard Core Boyz to the fore—hungry for blood and loot. Grim himself had his wyvern harnessed and his war lances and javelins prepared. He took to the air to survey the battlefield leaving orders to Shur Burt the shaman and his personal orcish servants to give instructions to the hobgoblin mercenaries to hold back the goblin slave-warriors until needed. Much was lost in the rush to ready for combat. And perhaps all of Grim’s intentions to use the force as a strategic reserve were not quite passed on properly. There was something about sending a force to cut off the road south of the inn for instance. The fact that Grim meant just some of the wolf-rider scouts might have been lost.
The Hard Core Boyz poured from the woods in no particular order, blinking in the sunshine that they counted as their enemy, and pretty soon the doughty band of dwarven miners under the command of Gundrun Rocksplitter heard the whooping battle cries and excited grunts of the orcs as they jogged towards the gold exchange. The dwarves paused, dressed their ranks and about turned to march steadily back up the hill intent on engaging their arch enemies, but the sharp-eyed youngster of a dwarf, who had brought the message from the inn, also saw that a veritable horde of goblins and wolf-riders were also streaming out of the woods further to the east. He stopped Gundrun to tell him and the old dwarf leader surmised that the orc and goblin army was playing one of their damned tricks and using greater numbers to envelop his own force. The death of him and all of his fellows was not going to help to either preserve the honour of dwarves in their dispute with the halflings at the inn, or preserve the gold at the exchance, which besides consisted of just a few nuggets on the counters and tables inside the exchange—pickings not being that good recently. The largest consignment that Gundrun had at the exchange was well hidden and protected inside a safe protected by runes that Gundrun was confident that no orc could open.
So Gundrun’s greater experience won over the hotheads in the party and the dwarves turned again and rushed headlong towards the inn, not even having time to destroy the bridge over the rushing stream as they did so. Not a retreat, but a tactical withdraw, Gundrun thought in his own mind.
And what of events at the inn?
You may remember that the whole cause of the barroom brawl that had developed at the inn was because of the shapeshifting dogs that burst into the tap room looking for Prince Hardlee. Well those shapeshifters had now left the dwarves behind to brawl amongst themselves and a few unlucky haflings. They’d made it to the first floor where a long uneven corridor that went the length of the inn provided access to private chambers for those guests who could afford to pay. That meant Prince Hardlee, Arfur and the retinue of four men-at-arms, all in disguise, they had taken three of the rooms between them—Hardlee and Arfur having their own rooms and the four men-at-arms (now three after the death of one in the stables courtyard) sharing another room. Their were eight rooms in total though, so the shapeshifters had to search for their prey first, sniffing at the doors to see if any human was inside. Even in human form they had a well developed sense of smell.
Prince Hardlee was enjoying a slumber after the excitement of seeing his beloved that morning. But Arfur had already heard the disturbance and was sitting with the men-at-arms waiting with weapons ready. But more of that soon.
Gundrun’s miners and the orcs of the Hard Core Boyz exchanged some arrows and crossbow bolts—across the stream as they approached the inn—the dwarves with crossbows turning to fire once they had loaded and running ahead to load again, their friends covering them with shields as they went – there were just a few so armed, but they were good shots and took down some orcs—enough to make them wary about a pursuit that was too close. But Gundrun could see the unit of goblins marching resoulely on their left flank, driven on by hobgoblins with whips, and he feared being caught in the open between the orcs and goblins. He like most dwarves felt far more comfortable with a good stone wall between him and the enemy. So he told the lads to stop their skimrishing fire and march double quick to the inn. Once there they bared the gates and set about working out how to defend the place.
Part 6 of my Oldhammer Fiction novella Holdiday in Orkrania. See Part 1 for the start and a synopsis.
The forested slopes of the mountain overlooking the village of Nstaad were quite—mostly. Apart from the sound of Grim’s wyvern snacking one of the runty goblin slaves, the place where Grim sat high in a tree watching the valley was peaceful. His army rested, waiting for the daylight and the cruel burning of the sun to pass. They planned to attack at night. So his army of orcs and goblins were down below in shelters on the forest floor, or tucked away in some of the small caves on the mountain slope. But Grim didn’t rest of sleep. He watched, always watching, to see what his enemy was doing. He had spent the last year watching the tribe of the Broken Hand from his refuge in the Orkranian mountains, waiting for an opening, an opportunity—and now one had come. The chance to seize the wealth of the miners of Nstaad and build an army to take back power over the Broken Hand tribe once more.
He stood up from the barrel on which he sat, and grabbing the trunk of the tree for support stepped towards the edge of the platform. A simple railing provided enough support for him to lean his weight on and gaze out.
Ra’zle and his goblin engineers had built him this wooden platform on his orders so that he could keep watch on Nstaad. Little seemed to be happening in the valley below—he could see the small encampment of tents outside the gold exchange. That would be their main target of course. Grim assumed that was where the gold must be, but if not they could torture the dwarves they captured until they gave up the secret of its location.
But how to best use his forces to make sure they seized what they needed—they would have the advantage of surprise and of numbers, but the dwarfs could be stubborn fighters—especially where gold was concerned.
There was a rustle of leaves behind Grim, it was Shur Burt, a shaman of Urk and self-appointed chief counsellor to the rightful king of the Broken Hand tribe.
“Whadya want?” growled Grim, not happy to be disturbed. He much preferred being alone with his own thoughts when working out a plan of battle.
Shur Burt bowed and scraped, pawing the ground ag Grim’s feet as he knelt before him. He seemed to make a speciality of grovelling, and Grim knew that he wanted something—most likely to push his own ideas.
“Oh great high king, I come to hear your words of wisdom on how we will be successful in the battle to come.”
Grim thought about asking Shur Burt for his thoughts, but paused—that would be a show of weakness that no Orc leader could afford.
“Why da ya wanta know? Just do what I telz you.”
“Of course master, never anything less, and sometimes more.”
“Uh?” Grim wasn’t sure what Shur Burt meant by that—probably the shaman’s attempt to fool him with his greater command of frilly words. The fool would suffer if he kept that up.
“As well as the sharp blades of your soldiers I can also provide much help when I call on mighty Urk to help us, but to do so I need to prepare and check that the portents allow it. Enlighten me oh mighty Grim.”
“Come here,” snapped Grim, losing his patience. He grabbed Shur Burt by the necklace of shrunken heads that he wore and dragged him to the rail of the platform that overlooked the valley below. Shur Burt gulped audibly as the force of Grim’s handling of him forced him into the rail and nearly toppled him over the edge. It was only a drop of thirty feet, but still enough to kill or seriously maim.
“There’s the valley of Nstaad. The gold exchange nearest to us on this side of the stream, and then the old coaching inn beyond the bridge, and to the far left of the inn the grove—they say an elven witch dwells there, so we’ll avoid that, but I’ll keep watch on it from above with my wyvern in case she emerges—and then,” Grim chuckled, “well you can deal wiv that can’t you?”
Shur Burt gulped and nodded. Grim relaxed his grip on the shaman and brought him back from the edge.
“And then what else? Well the Hard Core Boyz, they’ll do the main attackin’ won’t they—always do and they won’t have it any other way—they can take on the dwarves in their little house full of gold. But some of my own boyz will be right behind them—they’ll make sure everyone stays honest and don’t try ta take any gold what isn’t there’s, coz it’s all mine see?”
Shur Burt nodded furiously at that, fearing another close view of the forest floor.
Grim drummed his stubby green fingers on the railing. “Wot elze, eh? The gobboes. How best to use them? They’re disciplined. The hobgob whips keep them in check. But they’re a bit feeble if they’ze come against some dwarves direct. But they’re quick and the wolf gobs can go on ahead quick as lightening.”
“Against the halflings?” wheeled Shur Burt, hoping that his suggestion didn’t cause enough displeasure for him to get slammed against the railing again.
“The inn?” grunted Grim. “The gobboes and the hobgobs fight for money and loot so maybe—they can loot the inn and take that as payment for this month. I’ll as much gold left over as we can getz.”
Shur Burt nodded. “Of course, master. To take back what is rightfully yours from King ??”
Grim slammed Shur Burt’s head into the railing and the shaman nearly passed out with the pain—he saw a bright light that could been a million explosions inside his head combining into one. “He’s no king, awright!”
Shur Burt was in too much pain to respond at first. He crouched on the floor, feeling his head. Something felt a bit sticky in the matted grease of hair. His fingers came back coated in a sticky black liquid when he touched it—his own blood.
“Understand?” asked Grim.
Shur Burt nodded. “Yes master, I’ll steer clear of that word again. So sorry.”
“Steer clear …” pondered Grim. “Yes that’s what the gobboes should do to start with—well at least until we seez how things go. We’ll keep ‘em back in the woods. Maybe send some wolf boyz round the inn to cut off an escape. Good idea, Shur.”
Grim raised a meaty fist again over Shur Burt’s head, and the shaman cowered beneath the expected blow.
“You’re a kidder,” said Grim as he patted Shur Burt gently on the head. “You wanna get that cut looked at—looks a bit nasty.”
Grim turned to go. He’d had enough on this windy platform for the moment, and he was hungry. But then some movement down in the valley caught his eye. While he’d been conversing with the shaman, things had been happening in the valley of Nstaad. A large group of dwarves were assembled in front of the gold exchange, and were even now marching down the path towards the bridge and beyond it the inn.
Grim stood there, his jaw hanging in amazement.
“Dey’re going! They’ll have the gold wiv them. We’ve gotta move quick boyz!” he shouted. “Everyone wake up. Time to kill stunties!”
One of my favourite podcasts is The Geeks Guide to the Galaxy – it mostly features interviews with Science Fiction and Fantasy authors, or non-fiction authors writing about Geeky subjects – the history of D&D – that kind of thing. I recommend having a listen – if you don’t like it then at least fast forward to the end for the outro credits which encourage the listener to leave good feedback about the podcast and if they have anything bad to say, to say nothing – Tell No One!
It’s a bit of fun and a tongue in cheek way of encouraging listeners to leave reviews on iTunes, but it also illustrates the importance of reviews on social media and websites for today’s content creators. All podcasters want lots of 5 star reviews on iTunes, and all authors want 5 star reviews on Amazon. To such an extent even that some are prepared to cheat and pay for them. Recently Amazon has had to crack down on what amounted to fake reviews.
But why the stress about customer reviews? Well Amazon has created an ecosystem that is really driven by reviews and has encouraged customers to rely on reviews of other customers when making purchase decisions. Many people of course don’t bother leaving a review, so whether Amazon reviews reflect accurately the quality of a product is debatable. But in the world of Amazon, iTunes et al reviews are all important and drive products to the top of search lists and determine whether books get noticed and promoted or not.
So as The Geeks Guide to the Galaxy would say, “If You Liked One of My Books, Write a Review on Amazon – If You Didn’t Like Them, Tell No One”!!!
The first five minutes felt like an extended trailer and the next 20 was a British gangster film set in the mythical dark ages. There were quite a few jumps of style and I’m not sure if it worked, but as a viewer it certainly kept you on your toes. As a recreation of Arthurian myth it’s all over the place – Ritchie takes bits and pieces and weaves it into a story of his own making, but some of the ideas are quite refreshing – how the sword got in the stone being one of my favourites- and also the cost of magic power that Vortigern pays being another. Plus the channelling of Mordred’s magic through a coven of acolytes circled around him looked great and seemed to show that the makers of the film thought about how magic might work.
What I still can’t get over though are the giant elephants – the size of mountains. Where did that idea come from? Just crazy.
So what happens? In a nutshell – Arthur’s dad is killed by his own brother (Vortigern) who uses magic powers to defeat Arthur, who is unbeatable facing mortal men because of his magic sword. Arthur – a young boy escapes and grows up as a street kid in old Londinium town. He becomes the leader of a criminal gang. Vortigern grows in power but fears the legend that the true king will come – that true king is the one able to draw the sword from the stone. He tests everyone in the kingdom – eventually Arthur gets his turn …
The effects and style of the film are stunning. The humour you will have seen before in Guy Ritchie films – I’m not personally a fan, but the look of the film and the use it made of diverse myths carried it for me. The main actors were all pretty good, so I would say yes worth seeing – but be prepared for it to be a bit daft.