Category Archives: Free Fiction

Star Wars Fan Fiction Experiment

One of the joys and hassles of writing speculative fiction is the world-building involved. I found that out recently when I started writing a new Science Fiction book. I’m at the stage in my writing at the moment where I just need to get on write and improve my storytelling skills (I think anyway) rather than focus on world-building, so that part of things can hold me back. So I had a think about Fan Fiction – as long as its not for profit then its allowed. So I thought I’d give it a go.

You can see my first effort and follow along with it as it progresses here at Wattpad. The story is called Into the Heart of the Empire. I don’t know what’s going to happen yet, so I’ll have as much fun as you will discovering the story too!

Here’s the start of it:

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far far away …

Following the Battle of Yavin and the destruction of the Death Star, a new hope has been kindled in the universe. The Evil Empire is not all powerful. The Rebel Alliance has shown that it is possible to stand up for freedom and against oppression. Across the galaxy there are stirrings of resistance to the Empire.

Even in the heart of the Empire’s industrial infrastructure there is unease and a willingness to question the word of the Emperor and his forces of oppression. One such place is the Imperial dockyard on Malykan, a system of the Inner Rim.

The ship shuddered as it came out of hyperspace. The battle damage it had sustained made handling difficult and it felt like at any moment the drives might fail.

Jana Yaku could think of simpler ways to die than taking on the mission the Rebel Alliance had assigned her. To be fair to them, she had volunteered and she was the only pilot (she thought) that could pull this off. But still … she regretted her decision now.

The mechs on Yavin had patched up the ship has best they could. The whole point was that it was supposed to be battle-damaged—that was her cover story, but Jana wished that the Rebels who’d knocked this ship out hadn’t been quite as thorough in their work. That’s ironic, as it was her, in a Y-Wing bomber who’d disabled the Imperial Reaper class Escort frigate. Two proton torpedoes had ripped large holes in the frigate—one just forward of the engines and one taking out the Frigate’s bridge. Twisted metal and plastiglass had been bent and welded back into shape by the Engineers on Yavin, but where Jana sat on the bridge was still an uncomfortable and unnatural place to be.

“Reaper-class Frigate, The Ravager, please acknowledge.”

She sighed. She knew it wouldn’t be long until she got a challenge from the Imperial Navy. After all Malkyan had to be one of the most intensely militaries parts of the Inner Rim, given the Imperials built a large number of ships and weapons there.

Jake Savage and the Field of Battle – New Flash Fiction

The field between the manor and the church had once held a crop of wheat, but all the yellow stalks were bent and trampled destined never to become bread. Instead they were weighed down by the bodies of the dead, the blood of French and English soldiers blending to blacken the crop and the soil.

Jake grasped a handful of wheat stalks and tried to pull himself to a sitting position. But he couldn’t. There was a weight on his stomach and legs. He levered himself on his elbows and regarded the obstruction—the heavily armoured corpse of a French knight was sprawled over him. With a jerk of his knees Jake was able to shift the armoured corpse enough to move it. The body rolled away. Jake didn’t want to look, but he couldn’t help seeing the face of the Frenchman—he’d worn an open bascinet, no visor to protect his face and he’d been paid back for his recklessness. The knight’s face was opened from top to bottom by a knife that had been jammed in there and twisted so hard that the face’s features were distorted like a lump of dough that had been kneaded by a baker.

And then Jake remembered that it had been his knife and that he had done the kneading. He felt his head. It was sore and tender. Someone must have hit him. But not hard enough. He had been lucky, unlike this knight he’d killed. If he’d been a knight and able to afford a bascinet with a visor, he’d have bought one. No matter what if you could get so terribly injured like this knight. But for an archer like him the cost was beyond his reach and besides the visor would get in way when drawing the bow.

Without the weight of the Frenchman on him he was able to stand. He did so and looked around. He wondered where the rest of the retinue were. He couldn’t see anyone around apart from the field littered with bodies.

That was Ralph de Chester there he realised—the decapitated head of his ventenar stared up at him. Poor Ralph, he’d not been a bad leader to the archers. And near him lay more in the colours of ??, Old Cob, John the Snake, Hugh, Richard. On and on the names came to Jake’s mind. He stalked across the field, using his sword to prod at the bodies and turn them if he couldn’t see their faces. They were all there. Even Sir Robert himself and his son, the young Robert. They were all dead. The whole retinue.

He was the only one living out of all of them. The French must have won. Jake went back to each body looking for signs in life, in case like him some of them had only knocked been knocked cold by a blow to the head. But no, the wounds were ghastly and all mortal—deep cuts from swords axes or skulls smashed by hammers and maces.

The fighting had been bloody, brutal, fast and violent when the two forces met. Jake thought that neither had known of the other in the vicinity until each one came across from the opposite side of the field—the English from the church side and the French from the manor.

There had been about forty of the French—and the English had numbered thirty two. Jake counted the bodies. He was careful not to count any twice. Sixty five. Could there have been any survivors apart from him?

He shuddered. The day was darkening. The sun had sunk behind the clouds over a wood in the West while he had been counting. Long shadows of the trees lurched across the field and Jake imagined that the spectres of the dead were getting up to walk—to leave their bodies in the night.

And who would they haunt? Who else would they pursue, but him, the only one who survived the encounter of the bloody field?

Jake turned and ran.

Fast.

Jake and the Angel – A New Jake Savage Flash Fiction Story

Here’s a free flash fiction story featuring Jake Savage – the main character from Chivalry and Hell has its Demons. Hope you enjoy it!

Jake and the Angel

Jake groaned. His neck hurt. By God’s holy bones did it hurt. This was a new way of suffering from a hangover—it was usually the top and the sides of his head that hurt and of course his stomach that rebelled, turning against the rest of the body by trying to throw its contents onto the ground next to wherever Jake had slept the night before. Jake sat up and rubbed the back of his neck. Pale sunlight washed the alleyway. It was a drab January day two weeks after Christmas and mild for the time of the year, but after a night sleeping rough Jake still shivered. The insulating numbness of a night’s drinking was wearing thin. A rough woollen blanket covered him and he had been sheltered from the wind that nipped now at his face by a line of barrels placed across the alley. Had he thought to put them there last night? Where had he got the blanket from? He didn’t remember.

There had been a fight, he knew that. He raised his right hand and inspected the knuckles. They were red and bruised. But nothing else hurt apart from his neck. He guessed that he had come away the winner from the scrap.

A shadow blocked out the pale January sunlight. Jake looked up. A tall man dressed in a plain grey robe stood over him. There was something bulky on the man’s back, but Jake couldn’t make it out—a sack of some sort also covered in grey cloth. The man’s head was bald and his grey chin jutted un-bearded at the bottom of a craggy but handsome face. The man nodded.

“Good,” he said.

“What?” Jake scowled. His tongue felt like a it had been tied in knots by an ale-soaked badger. He coughed and spat phlegm onto the ground. It landed next to the dried vomit from earlier.

“You need water then,” the man said, rather than asked. A wooden cup was the next moment in his hand and he passed it towards Jake.

Jake glanced at the man not knowing what to think. Who was he, why was he offering him water?

“Is it poisoned? Were you in …” he nodded towards the wall of the tavern next to the tavern. “Did I hurt one of your friends last night in there and now you’ve come for your revenge?”

“I wasn’t, and it’s not poisoned. It’s clear, pure water. Just what you need. I know you’d hoped for more ale. But that wouldn’t be good for you. This will start to help clear your head. But you’ll need more of it and sleep and food when you can stomach it.”

Jake nodded. “Aye, I will that.” He took the cup and gulped down the water. For something so simple it had never tasted so good, so pure. He wanted more. The man took the cup that Jake offered him back.

“I will fetch more,” he said. For a moment Jake was dazzled by the light as the sun moved round to shine directly into the alley. The man was gone and returned in a matter of seconds. He held the cup towards Jake again and placed a small barrel of water beside Jake just away from the dried vomit and phlegm.

Jake drank greedily from the cup and then took the barrel in both hands and swilled the water down his throat. He wanted to sluice the fresh cold water off his head, but it seemed a pity to waste such vital fluid as that in such a way. He drank until he couldn’t drink anymore and then took some in both hands and glanced up at the man.

“Wash your face—water has many uses and it would be well for you to clear your head, for I have something to show you now for which you will need your full attention.”

Jake didn’t like the sound of that, but he splashed the water over his face anyway. He felt revived and almost sober.

“Come,” said the man holding out his hand. Jake reached to take it but the man withdrew his hand and turned walking purposefully towards the entrance to the alley. Jake stood up without his help and followed, compelled to go after him.

The man pointed into the market square. There was a wooden platform set-up—freshly built for the assize—those found guilty would be hanged there.

“If I had not come,” said the man, “that would have been your fate this morning.”

Jake shook his head. “What do you mean?”

“Take this as a warning, Jake—curb your habits before they curb you.”

Sunlight glinted from the new glass window of the guild-hall on the side of the marketplace. Jake raised his hand to block out the glare and turned his head. When he looked back, shading his eyes, the man had gone. Jake turned and turned again, looking for him. He was nowhere to be seen. But on the ground near his feet lay a strong white feather—from a goose or a swan even freshly brought to market, Jake guessed. He picked up the feather and turned it in his hand and wondered.

Chivalry – the first Jake Savage Adventure – eBook Now Free

Chivalry Cover - NewYou can now grab a copy of the short story Chivalry: A Jake Savage Adventure for free from most major eBook stores.

Chivalry is the first story I wrote featuring the character Jake Savage. Jake goes onto feature as one of the main characters in my novel Hell has its Demons and also in two other short stories: Bring on the Night and The King of Britain’s Head. I have another short story featuring him in the works and more to come.

Get Chivalry for free from:

Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | iBooks | Nook | Smashwords

Free Historical Fiction: Stonehearted 2: Chapter 7

First look at chapter 7 of the next volume of Stonehearted. The first volume is By the Sword’s Edge. The second volume doesn’t have a title yet, so I’m going to call it Stonehearted 2 for now. I started writing the second volume towards the end of last year and am making fairly good progress on it at the moment. I thought it would be fun to post here each completed chapter as I write them. They’re only drafts at the moment – no fancy editing, so probably riddled with typos and inconsistencies. Once I have finished this volume I’ll publish it in print and eBook format and announce it on this blog.

Other chapters from Stonehearted Volume 2 can be found by clicking here.

Chapter 7

 

Wulf sniffed. He knelt from where they lay amongst the bracken on the edge of the wood and peered back into the trees. “I can smell piss,” he hissed. “Louis, go and tell them to stop pissing. If there’s someone standing next to a tree and tinkling then the English might see him. Or worse smell the bastard.”

Louis nodded and, leaving his heavy cross bow where he had been crouching next to Wulf, he made his way along the lines of French soldiers, keeping his body low trying not to raise it above the level of the abundant bracken on the edge of the woodland.

He could smell the piss as well, but he didn’t see any men standing. All of the men were crouched down as they had been ordered to, their weapons hidden. Piss wasn’t the only thing he could smell. There was fear there as well. These weren’t fighting men who were ready for what might happen in a battle.

The company of men that Wulf had been given to command were a motley collection. Mostly poorer men of the militia drawn from the town of Domont, and the rest were peasant’s levied from the Sire de Bognac’s manors that stood in the direct path of the English march on Paris. Perhaps eighty men at all, armed with sharp farm tools, scythes, pitchforks for the peasants, and poor spears and knives for the militia. The townsmen’s richer neighbours, those who could afford armour, swords and polearms had joined the Sire de Bognac and his retainers on the field before them.

As he caught his breath behind a tree, he noticed one of the militia glance at him. A young lad, probably an apprentice of only fourteen, not much more. Louis sniffed again. “You?” he whispered.

The lad blushed and looked away.

Louis crawled over to him and grabbed him by the arm. “Heh, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. All men feel scared before a fight.”

“But we don’t stand a chance,” said the lad. “Won’t we all die?”

“Where did you get that foolishness from?”

“Some of the lads that what they said. They said stay at the back, so you can stand a chance of running off as soon as you can. That’s the only way to live, they said.”

“Don’t listen to them. We have a plan.”

“But the English … There’s so many of them.”

“Don’t the English bleed as well? And don’t forget its them who will be attacking. Many will be killed by arrows, and then when they’re busy with the Sire de Bognac’s men, we’ll take them by surprise. It will be easy. Like killing dumb animals. It’s cruel almost.”

The lad looked up towards the field. “See how many there are, though. There’s hundreds of them.

Louis looked as well. It was time for him to get back to Wulf’s side, to load a bolt on his crossbow. A party of English were mounting up and forming into some sort of line to attack. Not all them, thank Christ, but perhaps a hundred or so at least. If only they had more archers. They could play havoc with the horses by shooting them from under the English. The same kind of trick that the English bowmen were fond of playing on French knights in the past.

It took him perhaps a minute to crawl to where Wulf was positioned at the centre of the hidden company. Wulf glared at him as he moved his crossbow aside to crouch down next to the big mercenary.

“You were gone a long time.”

“Raising the spirits of the lads,” Louis replied.

“As long as they at least raise their weapons to the enemy that will be good enough,” Wulf replied.

He’s getting talkative as this goes on, Louis thought. They hadn’t spoken much on their ride out of Montdidier, but Louis felt like he was getting to know, and even like, the gruff soldier.

The English were starting to move. The mounted men were urging their horses forward across the field, and Louis could also see some others on foot coming up behind them. Archers perhaps. Louis remembered his own crossbow and grabbed a bolt from his quiver and placed it in the groove for it. He’d have to stand or perhaps lie on his back with his leg and the crossbow in the air to pull the rope back.

Wulf glanced at him and shook his head. “Sword or axe better. If you shoot into the melee you could kill one of ours.

With reluctance, Louis put the crossbow to one side. He covered it with some bracken. He didn’t want anyone stealing it. Instead he took the axe from his belt and drew his sword. Two weapons were better that one, surely.

Wulf looked at him again and shook his head again, but he was smiling this time. “Quite the hero now,” he murmured, but didn’t offer any more advice. Wulf gripped his own weapon, a short spear with a wicked long curved blade and spike at its point, and a tough iron butt at the base. Louis had watched Wulf practicing with it the day before and had been impressed with the skill with which the mercenary handled it, using both ends to attack the stuffed dummy on which he trained.

The English horsemen were trotting now, and were couching their lances and pointing them at the French before them. They weren’t waiting for the men on foot behind them. There would be no deadly volley of arrows from the English war bows to soften up the French lines. Louis could see the French soldiers bracing themselves for the charge, their own spears and pole-arms being held to form a pin cushion of points to deflect the English attack. A few men with crossbows fired off their bolts as the English horsemen came in. They might get another round off, perhaps, if they loaded far enough. The English were still coming slowly at a trot, but when they came within perhaps fifty yards they spurred their horses into a gallop. The sight was impressive and terrifying.

“Old-style,” muttered Wulf. “Let’s see if it still works.”

“There’s more of the English,” said Louis. “They’ll come round the sides of the Sire de Bognac’s company.”

Wulf nodded. “And that’s when we’ll have at them. We’ll need to be quick though. It could be over quickly.”

But it didn’t work out like that. As the English charged, over the space of what seemed like ages, but was perhaps only a minute, one, then two and then three of the Sire de Bognac’s company dropped their spears and ran from the back of the formation. They were militia, not experienced in fighting. The Sire’s retainers in the front ranks held their ground, but realised what was happening behind them. Their rear ranks were melting away.

“God-damn!” grunted Wulf. “The charge is working. These were our best men, but still green as spring grass.”

“We’ve got to help them,” hissed Louis.

“Do you think this lot have any chance at all against that?”

The English cavalry was now upon the French line and most of the militia and some of the Sire’s retinue had already broken. The rest were simply swallowed up by a sea of armoured English men-at-arms. The horses didn’t ride over the Frenchmen left—no horse however well trained would plunge itself straight onto a spear or spiked pole-arm—but instead went to the side of the small pockets and individuals left. The English jabbed lances at them and then drew swords, maces and axes to chop down at the French on the ground. It was not long before the Sire and his men yielded in surrender.

Those that had fled were ridden down by some of the more enthusiastic English, skewered in the back or knocked over by a warhorse. But for many the English didn’t bother to pursue. Those who fled were not nobility and they would fetch only a pitiful ransom. Instead the militia plunged through the woods where Wulf’s company hid. Wading through the bracken. “Save yourselves! Flee!” shouted one man as he came past.

Wulf stood. “I hate to agree, but he’s right. There’s nothing to do be done here. Let’s go.”

***

If you want to read the first volume of StoneheartedBy the Sword’s Edge, then click here.

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Read some Free Fiction – samples of Hell has its Demons and By the Sword’s Edge

If you would like to read some free fiction from me then the Prologue and first two chapters from Hell has its Demons are now available – see the links on the Free Fiction page, or go to the page for Hell has its Demons.

You can also read the first two chapters of By the Sword’s Edge for free as well – again check out the Free Fiction page or the page for By the Sword’s Edge.

Regular readers of this blog will also remember that I am posting early draft chapters of the second volume of Stonehearted online – the sequel to By the Sword’s Edge. You can find a link to those chapters on the Free Fiction page and also by clicking here.

 

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Free Historical Fiction: Stonehearted 2: Chapter 6

1537_Braunschweiger_Monogrammist_Bordellszene_anagoriaFirst look at chapter 6 of the next volume of Stonehearted. The first volume is By the Sword’s Edge. The second volume doesn’t have a title yet, so I’m going to call it Stonehearted 2 for now. I started writing the second volume towards the end of last year and am making fairly good progress on it at the moment. I thought it would be fun to post here each completed chapter as I write them. They’re only drafts at the moment – no fancy editing, so probably riddled with typos and inconsistencies. Once I have finished this volume I’ll publish it in print and eBook format and announce it on this blog.

Other chapters from Stonehearted Volume 2 can be found by clicking here.

Chapter 6

She knew that she probably only had a few days before someone would come looking for her. Word would spread that the daughter of Sir Henry d’Aubray had run away, and that word would be carried around England and taken overseas on ships from the Eastern ports, and end up in Calais soon enough. Calais being just an extension of the English kingdom.

But that suited her. If she could spend as little time as possible in the garrison port that would not disappoint her.

“How much?” she had said, startled, when she enquired the price of a room at one of the many inns in the town. The rates were double the amount one would pay in Lynn, and seemed higher than London even.

The tight-lipped Madam of the inn with whom she spoke merely crossed her arms and shrugged. “C’est le prix, à prendre ou à laisser.” That’s the price, take it or leave it.

Eolande had left it, hoping that other inns would be cheaper. Down the long street through Calais she walked. Carts of wool trundled past her, kicking up clouds of dust as they went, on their way to the Staple warehouses to be weighed and taxed by English customs officials, having been off-loaded from ships that morning. It was afternoon now, and she wanted to find somewhere soon so she could start asking around after her father. There were plenty of soldiers here who might have served with him on campaign or garrison duty.

But she didn’t like the way that she was leered at as she walked. There were too many men here. Many more men than women. The soldiers of the garrison accounted it seemed for half the male population, every other man she saw wore mail, carried some sort of weapon and had the badge of St. George on their clothing somewhere. And many of the others were sailors or traders from England linked to the wool trade who’s only legal export was through the port of Calais.

Each man who walked or rode past her looked at her. She tried to keep her eyes on the path in front of her, and sometimes looked up at the signs to see if there was another inn. But she could still hear their shouts and whistles. “Just a kiss, love. Heh, Beauty, I’m in love!” And worse than that, words that she didn’t even know.

None of the inns were any cheaper. Some of the prices were going up even. She was near the castle and the town hall and the larger houses of the town merchants. This was no good, she wouldn’t find a cheap room here.

Two women passed her. That was unusual. She had seen some women walking the streets. Servants, wives of shop-keepers on errands, women selling food and pies from stalls in the streets. Most of them middle-aged, older craggy  or saggy faced women. Not young. Not enough to draw the attention of the soldiers and sailors.

But these two who had walked past her were young, probably about her own age. They walked fast, their heads were covered like hers and they wore plain woollen clothes, but as they went on Eolande’s nostrils caught the smell of roses. These young women were wearing perfume. She turned and watched where they went. They turned down an alley. Eolande followed.

They walked perhaps half way along and then knocked at a door. After a few seconds the door was opened and they entered. Before the door swung shut again, Eolande could hear music and laughter spill out from within. And then all was quiet again. She walked on and approached the door. There were windows on either side of the door, both shuttered, but slivers of orange light seeped out between the cracks in the wood. Eolande gazed at the door. She tried to make out what kind of house this was. Who lived here? The women had looked modest enough. Were they craft-workers? Perhaps this was an artisan’s workshop? But the music?

Then she spotted it. It was right before her, carved all over the wood of the door, and now she realised on the wooden shutters as well. A goose in elaborate and finely worked carving deep in the wood. It had covered such a large area that she hadn’t spotted it at first. Without thinking she took a step back and fingered the ring on her finger that acted as pretend wedding band. She’d never seen such a place, but she knew they existed. There were some in Lynn, she thought, and in London the whole of Southwark was full of stews owned by the Bishop of Winchester. The Bishop’s Geese they called the whores there. Such a place was not illegal, but the good burghers of any town would not want a brothel on their doorstep, so in London they were away from the city across the great river, and in Lynn and here, the establishment was hidden away, disguised, but less than a bowshot away from the respectability of the richest in the town.

She looked up and down the alley. There was no one else about at this time. No doubt in the evening when men had more drink in them they would be coming in groups to take their pleasure here. There would probably be some of the same type of men who’d been leering at her on the street inside now, unable to control their lusts and with spare coin to pay for their relief. The thought made her heart pound. These men would be soldiers. Perhaps some of them were back from campaign or raiding and might have heard word of her father. Where else would they be more at ease and perhaps willing to talk than when their trousers were round their legs and their pathetic member would lead them to do anything.

Eolande slipped the ring off her finger and put it in her bag. She pulled her shoulders back and pushed up her bosom, held in her stomach, practiced a smile and knocked on the door.

***

If you want to read the first volume of StoneheartedBy the Sword’s Edge, then click here.

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Free Historical Fiction: Stonehearted 2: Chapter 5

A close-up of an artisan's representation of a...
A close-up of an artisan’s representation of a knight and his horse hangs on the wall by one of the first floor staircases. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First look at chapter 5 of the next volume of Stonehearted. The first volume is By the Sword’s Edge. The second volume doesn’t have a title yet, so I’m going to call it Stonehearted 2 for now. I started writing the second volume towards the end of last year and am making fairly good progress on it at the moment. I thought it would be fun to post here each completed chapter as I write them. They’re only drafts at the moment – no fancy editing, so probably riddled with typos and inconsistencies. Once I have finished this volume I’ll publish it in print and eBook format and announce it on this blog.

Other chapters from Stonehearted Volume 2 can be found by clicking here.

Chapter 5

 

It looked so easy. No more than fifty French men-at-arms lined up on foot on a flat field in front of a wood, their horses tethered by a lone tree to their right flank with servants holding the skittish mounts. To the French left flank ran the road that the English vanguard had hoped would take them to the gates of Paris.

“I don’t like it,” said Knolles. “We’ll ignore them and go south away from the wood.”

“Across open farmland?” said Minsterworth. “That’s going to take us a lot longer. All day for the carts if there’s hedges and ditches. We could sweep them aside in a few winks of an eye. We have two hundred men-at-arms, and the same number of archers. On the blood of the holy virgin, a flight of two hundred arrows would scatter them!”

Richard was a few paces back from where the two English captains stood looking at the French force. The rest of the vanguard was in a column of march, dismounted however, along the road they had travelled from Amiens. Knolles and Minsterworth were staring across the wheat field, shielding their eyes against the powerful August sun. Richard hadn’t noticed the heat, but when Minsterworth blasphemed he felt he skin prickle with what felt like fire. God was telling him that he was angry. He crossed himself to ward off the evil of his master’s words.

Knolles turned to Minsterworth and smiled. “Well, sir, if you want to take men of your own retinue from the vanguard and try your luck against them then that is your concern, but I am taking the army away to the south.”

“And split the army?” Minsterworth replied. “Would you leave us behind?”

“Yes, if you disobey my commands for the purpose of seeking your own glory.”

Minsterworth turned to Richard. “How many men of my retinue are here? If you don’t know then ask that damned cur, Hugh, to count the bastards.”

“I know the number, sir,” Richard replied. “Twenty men-at-arms, and thirty mounted archers.” He crossed himself again to ward off the evil of Minsterworth’s continual swearing.

Minsterworth didn’t notice and swung on his heel and looked again at the French forces where they were positioned.

“Richard,” said Knolles smiling not unkindly at the young man, “you have served your master well, and if he neglects to then I thank you for informing him that the odds are in perfect balance.”

“You know that’s not true,” said Minsterworth, a piece of spit flying from his mouth. “You wouldn’t take them! The odds are never equal if one force is in a prepared defensive position. You wouldn’t take odds of eight to one. I know you, you’re no gambling man. Ever!”

“But you are,” chided Knolles. “You want this campaign to give you glory and wealth. You think because the king named you co-captain with I and the others, that means that you command. Then if that is the case take on that duty, but you will not waste my men and those of the other captains on it.”

“They would take the bet as well,” said Minsterworth. “If they were here, they would charge without hesitation at the enemy and run them down in seconds. The truth is it’s you who are getting in the way. We all command this army and will not suffer from your tyranny any longer.”

Knolles looked unconcerned by Minsterworth’s outburst, but Richard noticed that he was now gripping the pommel of his sword in case. “When the army arrives at Paris then we can discuss this with all the captains, but until then I rule. You can’t run an army like a republic.”

Richard nodded his head in agreement to that, and Minsterworth stared at him. “Do you want to say something? Or would you rather go and go and polish my armour?”

Knolles smiled. “The boy is bright, let him speak. It seems that he is even wiser for his years than I thought.”

Richard bowed his head swiftly to the old captain’s praise, and replied. “My lord, thank you for letting me speak. I just could not help but agree with your words explaining the nature of things to my master, Sir John.”

“Oh, for Christ’s sake,” spat Minsterworth, “this whelp should be back in his grammar school!”

“Go on,” said Knolles to Richard.

“God, our Father, does not share his dominion with any others, but rules heaven like a king. So on earth it is natural for men to be ruled by a king in imitation of the pattern set by our Creator.”

Knolles nodded. “You see, John, I was right and this boy’s lesson proved it.”

Minsterworth shook his head. Both captains smiled, and Richard knew that they shared a moment of mockery at his words.

“I am glad that you are able to see the way of God’s will, my lord,” said Richard to Knolles. “It pains me that my master here is an ungodly man, and takes the name of Christ and the Holy Virgin in vain. I will pray for him, and trust in God’s judgment for his soul.”

Both captains were struggling to hold back their laughter.

“Yet I believe it is God’s will that we fight the French wherever we find them. King Edward is by right of God the King of France, and these men stand in the way of God’s will. They must be set right, and if needs must the sword will show them the truth.”

“It looks like you have found a paladin to lead your charge, John,” said Knolles.

“He’ll be out there on his own.”

Richard took a step forward and gripped Minsterworth by the shoulder. “You’re wrong. There are many others in the army who feel the same as I. They will do God’s will.”

Minsterworth shrugged off Richard’s hand as if it were poisonous. “I told you to stop that damn preaching.”

Knolles though came closer to Richard and took his hand in both of his. “How many of the vanguard behind us would follow you, young man.”

“None!” laughed Minsterworth.

“Hundreds gathered in the camp to hear me speak before you banned it, perhaps a hundred of the men here would follow me if God is willing.”

Knolles nodded. “Let this be a trial for you then Richard. If you lead well and win, then you can command men in my army.”

“He’s my man,” said Minsterworth.

“We will see about that,” replied Knolles. “Now go, Richard. Select your men for the attack.”

Richard left the two captains.

“If you raise this boy up then I want compensation,” said Minsterworth.

“You will have it,” said Knolles. “I know how your mind works. I have an instinct about this one. He’s different.”

“He’s burdened with guilt for killing his brother. All he desires is to do penance through death. Probably his own soon enough.”

“There’s something more to it than that, John. This boy has turned. The Stones are no more God-fearing than you or I, but something has happened to this boy. It’s like a fire burns in his soul.”

“Fires burn themselves out.”

“But you can’t help watch them,” Knolles replied. “Tell me are you not going to join the attack? It was your idea.”

“You have chosen your commander for the assault, and besides I would prefer to watch the flames burn.”

***

If you want to read the first volume of StoneheartedBy the Sword’s Edge, then click here.

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Free Historical Fiction: Stonehearted 2: Chapter 4

First look at chapter 4 of the next volume of Stonehearted. The first volume is By the Sword’s Edge. The second volume doesn’t have a title yet, so I’m going to call it Stonehearted 2 for now. I started writing the second volume towards the end of last year and am making fairly good progress on it at the moment. I thought it would be fun to post here each completed chapter as I write them. They’re only drafts at the moment – no fancy editing, so probably riddled with typos and inconsistencies. Once I have finished this volume I’ll publish it in print and eBook format and announce it on this blog.

Other chapters from Stonehearted Volume 2 can be found by clicking here.

Chapter 4

Eolande clutched the wooden rail of the ship that was named the Dame of Good Chance by its crew, and steadied herself against the deepening swell. A gust of wind tugged at her wimple and threatened to pull of the woollen cap that sat on top of her head. She pulled the cap down hurriedly. What lay beneath was worth hiding.

The winds had been erratic, and after two days at sea out of Lynn, it had only been that morning that the poor scamp of a boy they kept at the top of the mast in a small wooden open box had cried out “Land ho!” The boy had shouted down repeatedly after that telling the captain of the Dame and her crew everything he could see. The land was green, but there were snow capped mountains in the distance. Eolande had listened in amazement as the boy told of the dark purple peaks of hills that he could see. Until that was the captain sent two men up in the rigging to pry the boy from his perch.

“First time out and already touched in the head,” muttered the captain’s mate, and old shipman with a thick but close cut silver beard by the name of John Scot, “Jock” to the others, who spoke with a deep burr and seemed to have made it his main job to follow Eolande around the ship to make sure she kept out of trouble and that she didn’t get knocked overboard.

Despite their rough manners the crew of the Dame had treated her well. The captain had respected the purse of money enough to ask no questions of a lone young woman dressed like a woodsman, but with the manners of a gentlewoman.

Now, coming into view, was the harbour of Calais, England’s toe-hold on the north coast of France, a friendly port for any English ships. Eolande could make out the bay of the harbour and the smudge of buildings bumping up to break up the flat coast-line. Other wooden cogs, like the Dame, bobbed in the bay like a clutch of corks in a bucket.

“You’ll be a’right when you step ashore, will ye?” asked Jock. “Got somewhere to go, like. I expect, you got a fine young man waitin’ for ye?”

“Yes, of course,” she replied. “I’d better be getting my things together.” With that she turned and staggering, almost expertly now, to the rhythm of the sea’s swell, she made for the single passenger’s cabin under the Dame’s stern-castle.

When she was inside with the stiff wooden door shut behind her, she kicked out at the low wooden cot that had been her bed. Her boot made a satisfying thud against it. She should curse herself for a fool and a wretch. Jock had been nothing but courteous and kind to her for the whole voyage, and now one question that touched a nerve triggered her to rudeness. That was no way to win friends. And perhaps onshore she would need one.

She pulled of the cap and the wimple and rubbed her short chopped hair. She liked to do that when she was thinking. It could become a habit.

The truth was she had no idea what she would do in Calais. Where would she start looking for her father? She would have to leave Calais and venture into French territory, through hostile lands. Her French was passable; she was a noblewoman after all. But travelling on her own, on uncertain roads with little knowledge of where she should be searching would be difficult.

No, surely the quest she had set herself was impossible.

She picked up her travelling bag from the peg on which it hung and started stuffing the small amount of clothes she had brought into it. She wore a simple woollen dress now, but she had brought more boyish clothes with her. Clothes that she didn’t want the shipmen to see her in. To pass as a boy? How stupid she was. It would never work.

There was a knock on the door, and before she could react the door was opening, and in leant the Dame’s captain.

The captain was a normally quiet man. Eolande had been nervous of him during the voyage, always feeling that there was a brooding anger beneath the surface ready to boil over. But he had never given her any trouble. But that looked set to change.

He looked at her with puzzlement. “Your hair?”

Eolande resisted the temptation to cover her hair with the cap and wimple. He had seen her short boyish crop now, so what would it help if she denied it.

“What of it?”

The captain weighed his words before speaking. There was an uncomfortable knowingness in his expression. “Your hair is shorter than I expected from a lady. I have never seen hair so short on any woman, and did not expect it of the wife of a knight in the King’s pay, en route to visit her husband.”

The captain stepped into the small cabin, unconsciously ducking his head as he did so to avoid the low beams, he was a tall man to be skulking below the decks of a cramped vessel like the Dame, and Eolande wondered if that discomfort of posture did not impinge on any fellow feeling he might have for others.

“What did you say his name was again?” asked the captain. “Did you say he was a knight of the Calais garrison? I don’t remember his name being familiar to me.”

Eolande had made up a name to make her journey at least appear more possible. A young, unmarried, noblewoman, travelling on her own was just not believable. A married woman, whose treacherous servants had stolen her travelling belongings (but not her purse) and deserted her, at a stretch she had thought, might.

“Did, did, I give you a name?” she said. She backed away, until her legs met the side of the narrow cot, and as the ship swayed on the swell, she found herself sitting. “Do I need to justify myself to you, captain. You have received an honest payment for my passage to Calais, have you not?”

The captain, despite his height, had steady sea legs, and remained standing looking down from her from his crooked height. As she looked up, she could see black hairs jutting like a brush from his large nostrils. She gripped the sheet of the bed tightly in her left hand, and felt for her bag with the other where it lay near the pillow, not taking her eyes from the cruel face of the captain.

“Sir Richard Malfoy you said his name was. I’ve never heard of him. Who’s his lord?”

Eolande hesitated. She knew the game was up. She had no idea which lords or commanders were part of the garrison of Calais, a simple collection of facts, which surely the captain of the Dame would know.

“He has no lord. He is one of the King’s knights on a secret commission for the King only.” Her voice grew in power and certainty as she boldy worked her way into the lie. So outrageous that the captain might think twice. “Do you want to jeopardise the work of one of the King’s own knights by questioning more? Would you like me to tell my husband that the captain of the Dame of Good Chance asks too many questions?”

The captain grimaced. “This is nonsense. I smell a lie here.”

“And I smell a spy.” Eolande stood up and pushed the captain back in defiance, and this time he did lose his footing as the Dame jarred in the water, and he landed with a clatter in doorway of the cabin, bashing his elbow against the door. He winced in pain and scrambled to his feet.

Clutching his elbow he looked with what seemed close to hatred at Eolande. “We’re not finished yet. I have many friends in Calais, and be assured that I will be watching you, but don’t call me a spy. I am no traitor. I am not running away from anything.”

He left the door that had done such hurt to his eblow swinging, and Eolande rushed to shut it firmly and standing with her back against it unless anyone else tried to barge in on her, she stood there and breathed deeply, filling her lungs. She felt that she had been holding her breath ever since the captain had appeared in his cabin. He knew there was something wrong, and now she was even more caught in a lie that the captain could only disprove. But he was wrong about one thing. She wasn’t running away from anything, she was running to someone. Running to her father wherever he was.

 

***

If you want to read the first volume of StoneheartedBy the Sword’s Edge, then click here.

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Free Historical Fiction – Stonehearted 2: Chapter 3

First look at chapter 3 of the next volume of Stonehearted. The first volume is By the Sword’s Edge. The second volume doesn’t have a title yet, so I’m going to call it Stonehearted 2 for now. I started writing the second volume towards the end of last year and am making fairly good progress on it at the moment. I thought it would be fun to post here each completed chapter as I write them. They’re only drafts at the moment – no fancy editing, so probably riddled with typos and inconsistencies. Once I have finished this volume I’ll publish it in print and eBook format and announce it on this blog.

Other chapters from Stonehearted Volume 2 can be found by clicking here.

Chapter 3

Louis propped the arbalest against the wall of the stable, bent over and clutched his aching knees. His breath came in red gasps. Raw like a side of beef. He wanted to stop. To sink to the ground and sit or lie. Like he had in the orchard under the hot sun. But there was no time. As he pulled himself upright he looked across the fields towards the town of Montdidier. Smoke rose across the horizon and tongues of flame licked into the evening sky. It had been a long day and the English had not yet departed after finishing their business. They had burnt houses, set light to the dry wheat in the farms, and worst of all, uprooted Louis’s beloved apple trees and hacked the roots to pieces. Wheat could be sown again. Trees would take years to replace.

Louis felt hot moisture on his cheeks and tasted salt on his lips. He wiped the tears away and smeared dirt and ash and blood as he did so onto the back of his hand.

He didn’t weep for the trees, but for the people of Montdidier. You could not grow new family or friends of neighbours.

As he watched Montdidier burn there was a clatter of wood. He turned, his heart racing. His arbalest had been knocked to the floor and behind stood the mercenary, Wulf, his sword drawn.

“If you want to stay alive, if you want to get your revenge one day, then you need to be more careful. Always watch your back.”

The mercenary returned his sword to his scabbard and strode away. Two horses were tied to a wooden rail nearby.

“I have a horse for you,” he said as he mounted one of them, seemingly unbothered by the weight of his armour. “Will you ride with me?”

Louis nodded, picked up his arbalest, and followed Wulf.

They rode behind the main line of houses, leading their horses behind the gardens of the finer townhouses that had belonged to the merchants of Montdidier. Some of the English were in the town by now and they wanted to avoid them so they could get away. Louis felt like a coward creeping along like that, but he knew that bravery would only lead to his death.

They came to the end of the row of gardens. A narrow alley lead out onto another short street that went over a small stone bridge and then towards Paris. They were nearly out.

Wulf motioned him to stop and in a low voice murmured, “Mount your horse. We’ll need to write like demons when we hit the open.”

“What if there are English in the way?”

Wulf grinned. Louis noticed how white the man’s teeth were. Like pearls. “In that case, we do what God made us for. We fight, and then we die.”

Louis shivered. He wasn’t ready for this. He wanted to find a corner of a garden, soft hay or grass to curl up in and hide, like he had when playing hide and go seek with his brother, when he was a child, in the orchard.

An image came into his head of Oliver leering over him where he hid behind a stack of hay in the family barn, a wicked grin on his face, a fist raised to jab down at Louis’s shoulder. His smug older brother. Where was he?

Wulf lead the way down the alley. The mercenary leant over the neck of his horse, stroking the animal’s neck to calm it, to make sure it walked slowly, ever so slowly. If their horses gave them away they might be dead men. Louis copied Wulf and patted the neck of his horse, which at his touch snickered and bent its head back towards him, its teeth bared. Louis pulled sharply on the reins, and the horse let go a louder whinny of anger as the iron bit pulled back in its mouth.

Wulf’s head snapped back. “Quiet!” he hissed.

But it was too late, and Louis’s horse, panicked by the enclosed space of the alley and the clumsiness of Louis’s horsemanship, put its head down and bit the rump of Wulf’s horse. The surprise on Wulf’s face would have been funny if the situation hadn’t been so serious. Wulf’s horse leapt forwards, hooves skidding and the dry dusty earth of the alley as it bolted into the street in front of them. Wulf clutched the reins tightly and pushed his body weight forward to prevent flying off the back of his horse and Louis just followed. What else could he do? He thumped the horse’s flanks with the heels of his boots, the weight of the hit and the leather having to do the work as he wore no spurs, and he eased the pressure on the reins. With a guttural yell he urged his horse through the alley and onto the street where he could see Wulf’s horse already galloping to the left, towards the bridge, Paris and safety.

As man and horse entered the street, Louis could not resist a glance to his right, even though he knew the head of his horse might well be tugged to the right as well in case he kept careful control of the reins. He knew it was a mistake and that he wasn’t a good enough rider to control his horse unless he was fully determined on his direction. But he couldn’t help him. An impulse of curiosity drew him to look.

And there he saw a cart, and a man that was his brother, Oliver, supervising the loading of it with bales of flour, barrels of wine, sides of meat. Servants worked under his supervision next to a communal warehouse that belonged to the merchant guild of the town. And there were men in armour standing around, some with thin long wooden bows at their sides, laughing and drinking from an opened barrel of wine. They looked up at the sound of the horses down the street, and then Louis knew he must turn away before it was too late. But before he did his eyes, even at the distance of over fifty yards met those of Oliver. The first arrow that whizzed past made him turn. He could hear shouting. He saw it was Wulf. He had reined his horse in just before the bridge, and he was shouting at Louis. Louis dug his heels again into his horses flanks and drove the beast towards the bridge.

Wulf did not wait. He was across and galloping down the tree lined road to the south, to Paris. But Louis knew he would catch him up. The arrows fired at him were wild, and the English soldiers on the street didn’t have their horses.

And he knew that one day there would be a reckoning against the man who had betrayed their country. His brother.

***

If you want to read the first volume of StoneheartedBy the Sword’s Edge, then click here.