Field of Glory 2 – Ancient and Medieval Battle Game

I’m a big fan of Slitherine’s Field of Glory game that allows you to refight ancient and medieval battles – and recreates very nicely the look and feel of a miniatures wargame (I think in the original game the artwork were actual photos of miniatures!). So I was very excited to see that they have now released a Field of Glory 2!

The game follows on from their Battle Academy and Pike and Shotte games engines and replaces hex based movement with squares – and the graphics are 3d animations rather than 2d sprites, so visually it looks great. I also really like how they have changed some of the game dynamics and made things much simpler to control so as a player you can concentrate on strategy and tactics instead.

Field of Glory 2 starts off firmly in the ancients setting, and specifically with the Rise of Rome era, but I am sure they will be adding army as per Field of Glory 1 to add medieval battles and armies and also other areas of the ancient world. Here’s a great trailer from Slitherine for the game:

My Writing Projects – Short Story World Building and Revision

For those of you interested in my fiction writing, I thought I would post an update on what I am currently working on.

At the moment I am focusing a bit on short fiction. As you might have seen from a previous post, I have gone back to a story I started a while ago, but didn’t finish – and I’m trying to work out how to best revise that.

I am also working on the background of another short story – a fantasy piece about an old Wizard who has forgotten his spells. For this story, I decided to really invest in doing more world-building and character development than I might normally do for a short story. I am almost treating that side of as if it was a novel – although it won’t have as many characters as a novel and some aspects of the world don’t need to be as fully fleshed out – for instance I am only focusing on one country and two main cultures. A lot of the work so far has been working out the magic system – as that’s the main crux of the story.

That’s meant I have made much slower progress than I might normally when writing a short story – I’m probably spending about an hour a day on it and its taken me a few weeks so far just to get most of the world-building done! But I have enjoyed it and I am interested to see if the work I have done adds richness to the story – will it all have been worth it?

I also have to get on and edit the 3rd part of Stonehearted. Hopefully that should be out for the autumn. Check out  By the Sword’s Edge and By Fire and Sword for the first two installments. If you like medieval action and adventure, I think you’ll really like them.

That’s it from me – I’m also writing a one player D&D adventure for a friend – might post that online at some point too!

(The Picture above is Witchcraft (Allegory of Hercules)  by Dosso Dossi (1490-1542).

Lost Mine of Phandelver – a Critique 

First a disclaimer –this isn’t a detailed review of the Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure module that comes with the new D&D 5th Edition Starter Box set, but rather a bit of a critique of it based on my own expectations for new Dungeons & Dragons 

What I’m saying is that I won’t offer a detailed analysis of the adventure or go into a lot of the details of what it’s about – so you if you want that have a look elsewhere – but rather I’m going to offer some views on why the adventure, although well produced, doesn’t work as I wanted it to – and how I think it could do more.  

So a bit of a moan really! Here’s the problems I had with it: 

  • It’s still pretty much a Dungeon bash. Although there’s some links between the different locations – finding Gundrun and looking for his brothers, once there the PCs just move from room to room and fight whatever they come across. There’s no sense of something actually happening.
  • The plot is a bit weak – sure help out Gundrun and there’s someone who wants to do bad things. But actually what has the Black Spider got planned? What will he do if the PCs can’t defeat him? We don’t really know. If they knew he was going to destroy Phandalin or Neverwinter, then I think that would add to the sense of drama – and the motivation to do something about him. As it is, the plot revolves around helping some dwarves get stuff – just facilitating greed at the end of the day! The lack of plot driving and adventure has always been a problem with D&D from what I can see, and this adventure really enforces that feeling for me – Warhammer Fantasy Role Play has always done a much better job of making players feel like they’re part of an actual story – and encourage roleplaying. 

 

Lost mine of phandelver

Here’s what I Iiked about it: 

  • Great production values and art – lovely maps 
  • Good tips for new DMs and how to help players get started 
  • The pre-generated Player Characters are well balanced and have some good motivations that link to the locations in the adventure – but I think more could have been made of that in the actual adventure itself – as the DM might forget about the links and could be reminded by some help text in the adventure.  
  • The encounters, monsters and fights are fun for starting adventures – some classic monsters are included, which allows new players to enjoy D&D as it should be.

I hope this critique doesn’t put people off actually getting the D&D Starter set though – it’s a great set, has a wonderful summary of the rules. I just wish I’d taken the time to add a bit more to the adventure to make it more plot driven and exciting!

Fixing a Broken Story – Helix Intercalculator

I am sure most writers have stories kicking around that they have either not finished or are not happy with publishing. Something about those stories went a bit wrong – the premise was not exciting enough, the characters didn’t engage the writer, and the story just petered out – or if you struggled to the finish, you thought “hmm – this ain’t right – I’ll do something else”.

I have some stories like that. One short story that I was writing set in my fantasy world of Ladmas, had quite a few words written – over 5,000, so in theory should have been pretty much written, but in reality the first draft was far from complete. So I went back recently to take another look at it to see if I could just get it done, edited and then submitted for publication.

The story in question is called “Helix Intercalculator.” The weird title isn’t relevant to this post, nor is the detail of the story so I won’t explain it here – perhaps one day it will be available for publication!
But I thought it might be helpful for other writers for me to explain how I went about trying to fix the story – in fact I’m only in the early stages of that – so I think this will be part one of two or more posts looking at how that process went.

Here’s what I did

1. I read the story again.

Pretty simple! But how you read a story when editing is quite important. It really depends on what kind of editing you need to do. To start with I wanted to remind myself of what the story was about and try to work out what I needed to do to finish it. To start with I didn’t realise that it was a bit broken as it was.
I started making corrections of word-choice and typos as I read, but I decided that I actually wasn’t engaged in the story – there was something wrong with it. So I left the red pen for making other comments instead rather than replacing words.

2. Thought about the story as a reader

Once I got out of detailed editing mode this was a bit easier. I thought about the story from the point of view of a reader. Did the story make sense – what was missing? Did I engage with the characters? Was it boring or exciting? If so which bits of the story fell into those categories.

3. Making decisions on what’s wrong with the story

This is really all about judgment and I think quite important to getting revision right. Some people will say just write and don’t worry about revision. Others will apply lots of different methods to revising and editing a story – I think as a writer and editor you have to pretty decisive about what you feel does and doesn’t work in your story, and then figure out some simple ways to fix that. Sometimes if the solution is too complicated it might be better just to start again with a new story!

What I decided was wrong with my story

I picked up on a number of issues with my story:

• Slow start – the more exciting scenes were later in the story – perhaps I should start with those.
• Too didactic – the story was trying to make a point – which involved two characters talking over an issue – this in itself was a bit tedious – I decided to show not tell a bit more and make the theme more implicit in the story – although the characters would still have strong points of view on the subject.
• Too much background exposition – again use of show not tell, and also I should cut out irrelevant or long-winded background.
• Foreshadowing would help with background and also removing the need for too much boring discussion – hopefully I could weave this into my story.
• The structure was wrong – again the start was dull and there was too much chatting. I looked back at my notes and I hadn’t really outlined. I quite like writing without a plan as it’s fun, but when I do I tend to have problems finishing stories! Looks like a plan is needed with this one!

So next I am going to go back and look at the structure and try to rewrite the story – I think mostly it will be a radical rewrite, with perhaps some of the description of more exciting scenes left in. Hopefully that will work. I’ll aim to report back in a few weeks time on how I get on.

Holiday in Orkrania (Oldhammer Fiction) Part 12 – A Better Prize

The concluding part of my Oldhammer fiction novella – Holiday in Orkrania! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it. If you don’t know what I’m on about – go back to Part 1 to read more about the story and Part 1!

I’m planning to turn this into an eBook – just need to edit it and find a suitable cover image, but for now here’s the concluding section of the story:

 

“Let them in?” spluttered Drew. “Are you mad?”

One of the dwarves standing behind Gundrun nodded violently.

“Not mad—experienced. They’ll hack down the doors sooner than later. But if we time it right and surprise them—we’ll have the upper hand.”

Drew nodded. He could see the wisdom in the old dwarf’s words. “OK—let’s do it.”

The dwarf archers that had been picking off goblins and orcs from the upper windows came down to the courtyard again. The halflings stayed where there were and tried to pick off enemies whenever they could—no sense giving them a respite or cause for suspicion.

There were eight of them. They all loaded their crossbows and stood waiting just inside the gate. On either side the rest of the miners—forty in all stood ready with axe, pick and hammer.

Thud, thud went the axes of the orcs. The door was strong and the progress of the orcs was slows, but they would get there in the end—they’d already stopped sending their boyz over the wall—each time they were simply fodder for the dwarves axes as the clambered over.

Gundrun nodded to the two dwarves who held the heavy wooden bolt in place behind the gate. They heaved on it, pushing it up from below and then leapt back as the gate sprung open. Two large orcs, stripped to the waist stood looking surprised with axes raised high above their heads as the doors opened. Their green skin was slick with sweat.

Behind them stood a mob of heavily armed orcs—dressed in chainmail and carrying shields. But they didn’t expect to be hit by a volley of crossbows. The dwarves let fly. Both of the semi-naked axe orcs went down and at least four behind them sank to the ground as the bolts went home. Helpers passed the dwarves each another loaded crossbow and a second volley hit the orcs—barely giving them any time to get over their shock and raise their shields. Another six went down. The dwarf miners shouted their war-cry and rushed out of the gates attacking the decimated ranks of the orcs. The fight was brutal, and a number of dwarves died, but after a few short minutes it was brutal. The orcs were fleeing, leaving at least thirty—half their number on the field dead. Their long limbs carried them further and quicker than their pursuers and some discarded their armour to make their flight swifter.

A huddle of goblins on foot and a scattering of wolf-riders gave the dwarves pause, but Gundrun ordered them to close ranks and brought up his crossbows again. Two swift volleys broke the goblins as well and the wolf-riders covered their rout.

“That’s enough,” said Gundrun. “They won’t come back in a hurry, and besides we’d never catch them.”

“Well done,” said the tall aristocratic human. Two large dogs were at his side.

Gundrun’s lip curled—they were those shapeshifters—the cause of part of the dwarves trouble. He had no idea who this man was, and didn’t care to know.

Gundrun turned away. “Time to bury our dead,” he muttered and strode away to look at the bodies of his fellows—hoping to find some of the fallen still alive.

“Hmm, a bit rude wasn’t he,” said Hardlee to the large Doberman at his side. “I think it would be time to leave though—never know—they might come back. Where’s Shilby anway—he was the man you bit on the leg. Not like him, running off.”

The Doberman shook her head, but then the ears pricked alert. It looked back towards the inn and growled low. Hardlee turned to look. A large orc, helmeted and bearing a huge axe was striding towards them. In the distance on a rocky crag above the inn a man and a female figure stood embracing next to the body of a large winged creature. Hardlee wondered who they were—that thing, the wyvern had been clutching Meagana in its claws, and then Shilby had run off hadn’t he. Was it them?

But there were more pressing concerns. The large orc was closing on them, and at his back a mob of goblins scurried to keep up with him. The dwarves were reforming their ranks and marching back to the inn. There would be a final engagement—the orcs and goblins were not done yet.

“We should go, fast, don’t you think,” said Hardlee. “Never mind Shilby.”

The orc broke into a run. The Doberman and the pitbull barked at him as he came. Hardlee trembled. There were no dwarves nearby—they were about to close with the goblins. The sword was still at his side. He drew it—it flashed even though the sunlight was dimmed now by the clouds. It was an old sword-magical they said and always worn by the heir of Hyperia ever since the orcs were driven from the kingdom.

For a moment the orc chief paused. He pointed at the sword and shouted—“that’ll be mine,” and charged now down the hill at Hardlee, his axe raised above his head.

Hardlee held out the sword—hoping that it would protect him. He raised it to parry as the orc swung down at him. He actually closed his eyes at that moment. There was a barking and growling, and swearing in orcish and then a whimpering of canine pain. Hardlee opened his eyes to see the orc with the one dog biting at each leg. He hacked at the pit-bull with his axe, snapping its spine, and then produced a cruel, serrated dagger and lashed at the Doberman, cutting her deeply on the shoulder. She let go her jaws’ grip and wimpered away.

The orc turned on the dog and raised his axe. The dog was too injured to move fast out of the way. But then there was a noisy yapping and from the forest a dirty haired poodle ran onto the field. It flung itself at the orc’s mid-riff and caused him to stumble and let go his axe as he swung it—it flew about twenty paces away. The orc batted the poodle away from him. The dog scampered over to the Doberman and the two animals made their way to the woods. Hardlee held out his sword. He wanted to run as well.

Grim Bearit looked at the man holding the ancient sword of Shinee, something that he had dreamed of owning since ?? and looked at his own dagger. “Not a fair fight is it. Let me get my axe.”

But then there was a blast of a horn. And up the road came marching a unit of royal guard all in shining mail with halberds shouldered and a banner flying.

“What’s this?” shouted the orc. He turned back to the inn to see how his gobboes were doing. The answer was that they were done. The dwarves had killed a few with no loss and now the goblins were running to the hills—joining the rest of Grim’s army.

He roared into the sky. “A wyvern, a wyvern, my kingdom for a wyvern.” But nothing answered his call.

Holiday in Orkrania (Oldhammer Fiction) Part 11 – Beauty and the Beast

The penultimate part of my Oldhammer fiction novella – hope you have been enjoying it! Go back to Part 1 if you haven’t read any before.

Hardlee took a step back as the fierce Doberman growled. “Shilby, I need you. There’s two of them. I’m sure you can finish them. Look one of them hasn’t even got any clothes on. Shilby?”

Arfur Shilby was staring up into the sky.

“Shilby!” shouted Hardlee. The naked man sprang towards him and waved his knives at him. Hardlee stumbled backwards and fell over a bench that had been left out in the courtyard. Dazed for a moment he heard the screeching of bones and flesh and the whimpering of a dog. He opened his eyes and lifted himself to a crouch. The naked thug pushed him hard and he fell to the floor. The man stood over him. Hardlee for some reason couldn’t get his eyes off what was dangling over him. He gulped, not sure if he was more afraid of being killed or the man’s well-developed appendage.

A tall long-haired woman joined the man. Hardlee with relief turned his full attention to her. She also had no problem with nudity and her form was lithe and muscular and very attractive.

“I can pay, pay you,” he stammered.

“We know,” said the woman. “How much?”

“What?” Hardlee replied. Surprised that his offer might work. “Anything. Well within reason. I am sure my father will pay. And I have my own estates. Jewels. Name your price.”

“Hmm, yes all of that. An estate would be good—we like our privacy. But also money. Jewels are an efficient way to carry wealth so we’ll have those. In return, we’ll make sure you get out of here alive.” She looked around. “There seems to be a few complications with this job.”

She offered her hand to Hardlee, and after a moment’s hesitation he took it and she pulled him to his feet—her grasp was powerful and strong—he felt himself pulled towards her as he stood and for a moment his clothed body toucher her naked one. He sprung back quickly, but she kept a tight grip on his hand.

“We have an agreement?” she said. Her strong brown eyes fixed his. She was nearly as tall as him.

He nodded. “Yes. Absolutely.” He grinned. “That’s a relief, Shilby, eh? Shilby where are you?”

But Shilby was not paying his prince the least bit of attention. He was staring up at the wyvern. He shaded his eyes and he could see more clearly than the others that the wyvern clutched a figure of a woman in its claws. It was the prince’s girlfriend, Meagana.

Hardlee came over to him and looked up as well. “By the gods, has that creature got Meagana?”

Shilby nodded.

“Hmm, well that’s sad. A shame, a real shame. She was a lovely girl, elf-girl, whatever. But all good things come to an end. Not much we can do, eh? Mama didn’t approve after all, she’d much rather I settle down with a homely duchess—and maybe she’s right. Much too much excitement just recently.”

Shilby shrugged.

“Now, these dogs/people, whatever they are. They’re not going to kill me. In face I think they may even protect me and help us escape. So how about you and they work out a way to get me to the safety of the woods or the road, and we can get out of here?”

But Shilby ignored his prince. Nearby there was a dwarven crossbow, dropped by a miner who’d been skewered by a goblin archer. Shilby picked it up and loaded it and made for the stables.

“Hey, Shilby. What are you doing?” called Hardlee. But Shilby ignored him.

He stood on a trough and clambered onto the roof of the stables. On that side of the inn there weren’t any orcs or goblins—yet anyway. A few wolf-riders stood in the distance forming a cordon—to stop anyone escaping, he assumed. He looked up. Still the wyvern circled. He could hear Meagana’s voice crying for help. He raised the crossbow and shot high at the wyvern. He saw the rider dodge out of the way as the bolt fizzed past. The wyvern stuttered in its flight as the rider pulled hard on the reins. Even though the wyvern was several hundred feet away, at that moment the orc rider and Shilby locked eyes. Shilby could see the rider’s rage. It was only matched by his own, and the sense of outrage he felt at Hardlee’s abandonment of his lover. She didn’t deserve that.

The wyvern descended in tight arcs and came to land on a small crag of rock a hundred yards to the north of the inn up the slope of the valley. Shilby had already jumped from the stable roof over the wall of the inn and was striding purposefully up the hill through soft springy tufts of grass.

The orc-rider jumped from the back of his beast and the thing released Meagana fro its clutches. She looked fairly unharmed. Shilby couldn’t see any blood. But as she scrambled to get away, the creature hissed at her and waved a huge claw at her. She shrank behind a boulder to avoid the attack.

But the orc, a large figure, with huge muscles and thick plate armour and a wicked helmet with cruel spikes adorning it was coming at a jog to meet Shilby. Shilby dodged the first attack from the orc’s two-handed axe. He jabbed with his sword, but it glanced harmlessly off the orc’s breastplate. The orc raised his axe again and brought it down hard. Shilby managed to dodge again, but this time he slipped and he was on the ground. The orc smiled a slavering evil smile and raised his axe again, confident that the human could not slip from his grasp again.

A rock slammed into his helmet from behind. He turned and roared towards where Meagana was standing behind a boulder. Another rock was in her hand—she threw it and it hit the orc on his nose, he stumbled and fell to his knees, there was blood. Shilby dashed away and towards Meagana. Next to her the wyvern lay on the ground, it’s head curled back next to its tummy.

“You killed?” he said, incredulous.

“An old Elvish charm,” she replied. “It sleeps only.”

“Let’s go,” said Shilby, “before it wakes.”

“Not yet,” she said. And she took his arm and pulled him towards her and kissed him.

Holiday in Orkrania (Oldhammer Fiction) Part 10 – Drew and Gundrun Work Together

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!”

Holiday in Orkrania (Oldhammer Fiction) Part 9 – Hardlee and Shilby escape from the inn

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.

New Historical Fiction Novel from Bernard Cornwell 2017

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:

Fools and Mortals Kindle
by Bernard Cornwell

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.

And the link to it on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk for pre-orders.