Category Archives: Free Fiction

Holiday in Orkrania (Oldhammer Fiction) Part 5 – Lola’s Pack Attack

Part 5 of Holiday in Orkrania – my free Oldhammer style novella. For the start of it go back to Part 1. 

Drew gritted his teeth as he polished dry another flagon. The orders for beer and ale were coming thick and fast. The taproom and the common room were both full of dwarfs who seemed intent on emptying the inn’s supplies of anything liquid. They’d have to siphon off the stream soon enough and tell the miners that it was a new transparent type of beer—very high proof, and see if they noticed. Most of them were so drunk by now that Drew doubted they would.

“And they’re paying for all of this?” asked Rose, Drew’s wife as she pushed a tap into a new barrel that Jase, their son had just rolled up from the cellar.

“They will do,” said Drew, “they will do.”

“All on credit, again, Drew? What did I tell you. We can’t run a business on credit!”

Drew blushed. He knew she was right—he was worried about it too—that the dwarves would never pay, yet he’d made the decision, to he defended it. “There’s gold in those hills, Rose. Plenty of gold. So they’re good for it—of that I’m sure.”

“Even now that you’ve turfed them out—they are taking the proverbial if you ask me before they go. If you ask me…”

Drew never did get to ask his wife the question she so wanted him to ask her. Despite the noise of two dozen dwarf miners drinking and singing, the commotion that came from the door to the stables rose above that to draw Drew’s attention.

Drew saw a Dwarf looking angry on the far side of the tap-room as the door from the stables opened, nudging his arm and causing him to spill his pint. A large dog—black and brown, a doberman, burst through the door followed by two men and two women. Apart from the hikers he didn’t have any other human guests—and besides they usually wore clothes. One of the dwarves whistled as the naked women pushed past. They seemed intent on getting through the crowd of miners as quickly as possible. The dog was growling.

Drew got onto the higher step behind the bar—better to be seen. “What’s this then. Who are you—we don’t want any actors or whores here. Where are your bloody clothes?”

That drew a round of jeers and more whistles from the drinking miners.

“Everybody shut up,” snarled one of the naked men. A squat brute of a fellow—could have been a dwarf except he had no beard and was completely bald. “Let us through or else.”

“Else what?” grumbled a grey-bearded dwarf standing at his elbow. “Who do you think you are laddie?”

“Grr, no one calls me laddie,” the man snarled again, spittle shooting from his mouth as he turned on the old dwarf miner. The doberman was at the man’s heals and barking, what almost sounded like a warning.

The greybeard wiped the man’s spittle from his beart and glaring with eyes like candles in the depths of a deep mine drew back the fist holding his pewter flagon and smashed it into the face of the bald man. The man’s head reeled, but he seemed to have been expecting it and was prepared to take the hit in the face. The elbow connected to the forearm and hand holding his dagger pumped backwards like a mechanical piston and punched the sharp point of the dagger into the old dwarf. The longbeard groaned in pain as the blade stabbed into his guts and slumped to the ground, wailing like a babe.

The response of the dwarves around the bar was rapid if predictable—let no-one tell you that dwarves are slow. Once roused to anger their ferocity can stir them to hasty action. The taproom descended into a maelstrom of punching fists, slashing daggers and whirling dwarf picks. Several miners swung and grabbed at the bald man who had stabbed their, but he was very swift. So swift in fact that before the eyes of Drew he actually disappeared from view, and instead he could hear dogs—more than just the Doberman snapping and snarling at the legs of the dwarfs, several who yelped in pain as large canines sunk into their calves and thighs.

The two women did not stand watching, but instead slashed out with theirs knives, held in a reverse grip to rake the faces of the dwarves. That’s as much damage as they could do like that—a stabbing action was better, but now that battle was joined that required getting closer to the dwarves—dangerous work when hard fists and harder picks were being swung. In fact some of those fists and picks were a danger to other dwarves.

The other man, who hadn’t disappeared pushed over two nearby tables to hold back the surging mass of angry, drunken dwarves—creating a corridor next to the bar towards the stairs and then ran quickly past them and up the stairs. Drew took a swing at him with a flagon but missed by a country mile and nearly unbalanced himself to topple to the ground.

“Everyone stop!” he shouted. “This instance.”

But no-one seemed to hear or care what he said. The he saw Jase, who had been collecting cups near the door, hit by a swinging dwarf pick. There was blood splashed up and Drew thought the worst.

Drew jumped behind the bar and pulled off the door of the cabinet underneath the bar—he could fix the lock later. He pulled out the blunderbuss that he kept there—loaded and primed, he just needed to light the fuse. He did so behind the bar and then clambered up again to face the brawling chaos of the bar.

He didn’t know where to aim it—the women and the dogs were intermingled amongst the dwarves in an ungainly fight which seemed to be going nowhere but was causing a lot of damage to the fixtures and fittings of the taproom. He didn’t have to worry about aiming though. The fuse on the blunderbuss burnt quicker than he planned and the thing fired with an explosion louder and firier thane could have imagined. Blowing a whole in the ceiling and causing a light fitting to crash to the floor—luckily no candles were lit—but everyone ducked and stopped fighting at least for a few seconds.

When the dust and smoke cleared the fighting broke out again—some of it was dwarf against naked human and dog, some of it was directed at other haflings, but sadly much of it seemed to be a squabble between dwarves.

Nevertheless, one young dwarf miner, so young that his facial hair was not much more than a tufty excuse for growth, was bundled out of the front door of the inn. “Go and get Gundrun,” he was told. “We need help down here.”

The young dwarf, who was also quite long-legged for a dwarf and thus a bit faster than most, dashed out of the inn door, through the gate of the wall that surrounded the courtyard. He turned right and around the corner of the wall began jogging up the slope of the valley towards Gundrun’s Exchange. There was a rough track that led up the slope and crossed the fast running stream that ran through Nstaad. A wooden bridge, built by dwarves spanned it, and there was a ford next to it—where the stream was shallower, but slippery rocks and the speed of the stream, fed on thawed ice, meant that crossing that way would be precarious at best.

But the young dwarf had no thought of that while he ran. Just that he was missing the fight and he wanted to do as he was told, give Gundrun the message, and then get right back to the inn as soon as he could.

Gundrun was in his element when he arrived. The old dwarf was in the front of the exchange building with a long line of miners standing queueing out of the door. These miners, who were all camped around the exchange building were newly down from the hills. They’d brought their finds with them—nuggets of gold, and now they wanted to know how much they were worth.

“Hurry it up,” grumbled one of them who was near the back of the line. “I want to get going before nightfall.”

“Why? Ready to retire are you?” grumbled another over his shoulder as he turned and glared at the impatient dwarf.

“Huh! Chance’d be a fine thing. No. These hills aren’t safe. Time to move on.”

“Nonsense …” the dwarf in front was about to continue the argument, but stopped when he saw the young, long-legged dwarf rush to the door of the exchange. Almost looked like a human he did. “Oi, where you going. There’s a line.”

The young dwarf, panting, ignored the complaints of the dwarves standing in line and pushed through to where Gundrun stood behind his counter, a small magnifying glass to wedged in one eye socket, appraising in detail the gold crystals in one quite large nugget of rock.

“Gundrun …” panted the dwarf. “Come … quick … a fight.”

Gundrun looked up the glass still in his eye and saw at extreme close up the scruffy thatch of the young dwarves beard, barely covering the lad’s acne. “Oooh,” he said and removed the magnifying glass in a hurry. “What’s that boy?”

“Fighting at the inn,” the dwarf gasped, bending over to catch his breath. “I was sent to get help.”

“What!” roared Gundrun. “Trying to evict our boys ahead of time are they? I won’t be having that.”

“Dogs and humans—no clothes on,” said the young dwarf.

“Eh? What’s that?”

“Dogs—biting at ankles, and naked women with knives.”

Several of the miners waiting in the queue had now huddled round to listen. “They’ve set dogs on our brothers have they—those bastard halflings!”

“What’s this about naked women?” said another.

“The actress perhaps—the elf girl from the temple—have you seen her…”

“OK lads, let’s not hang around fantasising,” snapped Gundrun. “Our brothers are in trouble. Grab your weapons—a helm and shield if you have one handy and let’s get down to the inn.”

There were twenty one of them all told. Gundrun gave the young lanky dwarf—Smartsch was his name—a spare axe and a shield, and grabbed his own trusty warhammer. He’d had time to slip on a coat of plates—leather with metal plates sown into the lining, and slapped a round helm on his head—that would have to do—but after all what armour and weaponry could Drew and his extended family muster—some knives and short bows at best. The dwarves would not take this lying down—oh no!

“Right then lads,” said Gundrun, looking at the motley crew of miners—most had just grabbed their picks for weapons, but some had axes as well—mostly used for chopping wood though rather than skulls—these were workers on the whole rather than warriors—although a few did have helms and swords that they’d grabbed from their tents. “Let’s not run—no point getting out of breath—need to save energies for hewing halflings, but let’s not hang about either. Let’s go!”

Holiday in Orkrania (Oldhammer Fiction) Part 4 – The Lola of the Pack

Part 4 of my Oldhammer Fiction novella – see Part 1 for the start of the story.

Lola watched as Max, Bella and Oscar trotted back from the front door of the inn. Behind her Alfie growled, barely restraining his aggression. She turned her neck and bared her sharp teeth at the pitbull. Be quiet.

The three dogs entered the edge of the forest and approached Lola, their tails between their legs, submissive. She stood up, towering over them on her long Doberman’s legs. She scolded them with some short sharp yaps. What happened? I told you to stay and find out where the men are.

Bella bounded forward, eager to please, and barked an answer. We did see the men—two of them, but we were chased off.

What? replied Lola. One simple thing …

It was his fault, butted in Oscar, curling his lip at Max, the dirty white poodle. Couldn’t keep his hunger to himself, went sniffing round the tables and the Halfling innkeep noticed us and sent us out.

Max shied away, lay down and put his head down between his paws. Lola stood over him, wondering what to do. They couldn’t afford mistakes like this.

Then Poppy emerged from the ferns. I was at the stables like you told me to, she yapped in her annoying Terrier voice. There’s six horses, that means Shilby, Hardlee and four others. The other four have the livery of the Royal Guard on the saddle cloths—not very well disguised but the men are dressed as normal travellers.

Well done Poppy, at least I can rely on you, barked Lola. Were the guards still at the stables?

No they were there just seeing to their horses. They went inside to eat and drink I think.

Anyone else in the stables?

Poppy shook her head, and let her tongue loll out to cool down. She’d run all the way back.

Good. I don’t think we’ll get back in through the front door, but maybe one of the servants has left a back door open. Each of you get your knife bundles out and drag them with you to the stables.

The dogs hurried around the clearing and produced small leather bundles that were hidden in the ferns. There were larger piles of bags underneath—containing clothes, boots, traveling capes and cooking utensils.

Not you Max.

Max turned and looked at Lola with big brown eyes. Silly pup, she thought. But she couldn’t help feel a pang of guilt for singling him out. Max was the youngest—an adolescent in human terms, and not quite fully grown in terms of a dog. He annoyed him in some ways, but she felt protective to him as well.

You’re going to stay here—look after our kit until we get back.

But Lola, he whined, you promised. My first kill …

Lola sniggered. A strange sound for a dog to make and came out like a growl. You’re along for the ride kid. I don’t expect you to do any killing—least of all assassinating the Crown Prince of Hyperia.

Max turned his back and went and sat near their bags hidden in the ferns. He didn’t look at Lola.

Whatever, she thought. I’ll deal with that later.

Lola and the other older dogs trotted up the hill towards the inn, but giving the front entrance a wide birth. Even so they had to enter the gate in the large courtyard wall that surrounded the buildings of the inn. The gate was large stout and wooden—big enough to allow a coach to come in, and the walls next to it were over ten feet high—a reminder that this always hadn’t been a holiday destination—there used to be trouble in the hills, Lola remembered—half-remembered tales of orcs, goblins, trolls even. But now the most dangerous things here were her and her pack. Their shapeshifting ability was a curse of birth and a blessing—not restricted like were-beasts to only changing at the full-moon, they could change from dog to human at will—but that made them outcasts as well if normal humans knew of their abilities—that’s why although none of them were related they stuck together like a family. And they made the best of their abilities. No one gave a second glance if it was sniffing round for scraps in a lord’s hall or an inn—it allowed a shapeshifter assassin easy entry, and then it could either attack in dog form if the chance presented itself, or change to a human if sheer savagery was not required—that was the usual method in fact—it allowed a quieter kill and then escape again as a dog, who couldn’t be blamed for the kill as there were no teeth marks were there?

How they were going to kill the prince, she hadn’t yet decided. First they needed to know where he was and then most likely they would wait until he was alone, or with just one or two of his companions, and then in human form they would strike while he slept. Lola wanted them to get into the inn first.

They reached the stables which were to the right of the main building where the taproom, the common room, kitchen and private rooms were located. There was no one there—just six horses occupying stalls in the row of a dozen that the inn had. There was a room for storing tack and a large covered area that would house a coach too if there was one there. A shut door lead into the main inn building. The horses were dopey and content when the entered the stable yard, but when they got there they started to become agitated.

Bella, a sheepdog began her transformation into a human. The horses immediately began to whinny and stamp.

The black and white hairs of Bella’s fur retracted into her body and her whole frame lengthened and straightened until she was standing on two legs, her dog’s snout retracted into her face in a few seconds leaving the smooth skin of a young woman. Her hair was black streaked with white. She stood there naked, shivering and pulling at the small bag that she had carried with her.

Lola growled. You fool. No clothes and you look like a fool now.

“We’re stronger like this,” said Alfie, who had also changed from a pitbull into a squat, muscular bald man. He was gripping his dagger already. “I’m ready to kill.”

Poppy was on all fours next to him changing more slowly. Her body writing as it did so, struggling against the change—that could happen sometimes, some found the transformation between species more difficult to handle than others. With a grunt the hairs retracted into her body and she restrained a yelp as her bones and muscles changed. She was a petite human with curly brunette hair, but she stayed on all fours panting as she recovered from her ordeal.

That’s when the man stumbled through the door that lead to the interior of the inn. He stumbled because he had been drinking, some formidable Halfling brew known as Knock Knees 7. His arm was around the diminutive shoulders of a Halfling barmaid, two and a half feet shorter than him. She was giggling and innefectually slapping away his hands which were trying to make their way under her dress.

The cheery expression on the man’s face disappeared as he saw the scene in the stableyard. “What is this place a brothel? Already at it I see?” He pointed at Poppy on her knees. “Did you force her?” he accused Alfie with slurring voice. “I don’t hold with that.”

Alfie shook his head. “Na. Not that. We’d rather have privacy though if you don’t mind.”

The man frowned and looked around. Probably wondering why there were dogs around as well as two naked women and a man. Then Oscar came loping into the yard—dragging his hind legs and tail behind him. He always liked to change in private as his transformation was by no means easy—only half his body changing at one time, the other half following up to several minutes later. The front part of him was a man, the rear half that of a hunting hound.

“What the …?” said the man. His last word would have been the act that he would perhaps have liked to have been doing when he died, but instead he just said it when Alfie plunged is dagger into his heart. The Halfling barmaid screamed. Lola bit at her leg and dragged her to ground and the others bundled on top of her to quieten her down. She soon stopped struggling and was still.

Lola raised her red fangs from the flesh of the halfling’s leg. The time for stealth is over then. Into the inn and find the prince! she barked.

Holiday in Orkrania (Oldhammer Fiction) Part 3 – Grim Bearit

A fairly short section here to follow on to Part 1 and Part 2 of Holiday in Orkrania. Introduces a key character though – the wyvern riding Orc chief Grim Bearit.

 

Grundyr pawed the mountain crag uneasily. Grim pulled back the iron chain that acted a rein and halter for the great wyvern and grunted. “Enough. Stay will ya.

The wyvern sighed moodily—two jets of exhaled breath condensed like smoke in the air in front of it, but it stopped moving.

“That’s my girl,” said Grim, punching the beast affectionately on the neck. He sat up in the saddle and peered down into the valley. Through a break in the clouds he could see the green valley below. The stunties, longshanks and midgets called it Nstaad. Grim chuckled to himself. Soon he would give it a new name: Slaughterhouse!

Not for nothing had he assembled the largest tribe of orcs to come out of the Orkranian mountains in a generation. He knew what was down there and so did his boyz. Most of them were from the granites of course like himself—only weedy cowards still dwelt in Orkrania—too scared and snivelling to show their faces above ground. But the granites were overcrowed—no good loot or tasty man-flesh to eat their—it was an orc eat orc existence alright—hard as—and his teeth and gums weren’t getting any younger. He’d seen the writing on the wall last year (not that he could read or write though) and brought a hundred like minded orcs from his tribe with him—to take advantage of opportunities elsewhere. Those opportunities were made more urgent when the Broken Hand tribe had turned in on itself in a bitter fight for leadership. Grim knew he was best off out of that—well he had lost as well and would have been killed if he hadn’t fled with the core of his own bodyguard and those others loyal and foolish enough to back him against his brother—Snaarit.

It looked very green in the valley of Nstaad, but Grim knew there was gold down there as well—that’s what the stunties had been spending the last year digging up. Some of the boyz had said let’s get it now—break into their mines, but Grim knew better. Why fight over a few nuggets when the stunties would do them the favour of gathering it all together for them in one place, and then they could go down and take it all for themselves.

One of the little gobboes had sneaked in—done some recce work. The news he brought back was all good—the place where they kept the gold wad almost unguarded—just a few stunties in tents outside and old stunty who was probably the one in charge—the gobbo had seen him with a large key round his neck a few times—Grim would need that key. Then there was the old inn—it had walls, so could be defended, but there was not much to worry about there—it was run by a few fat halflings—they’d be easy pickings.

Grim grinned. He’d be feeding on fat halfling roast and drinking their ale by nightfall. He couldn’t wait.

Holiday in Orkrania (Oldhammer Fiction) – Part 2 – Drew Complains to Gundrun

Second part of my Oldhammer style novella, Holiday in Orkrania. If you missed part 1 – why not go back and read it! 

Holiday in Orkrania Part 2 – Drew Complains to Gundrun

Six pence and 2 farthings a night was perfectly reasonable as far as Drew Hafepenny was concerned. After all his name was Hafepenny was it not, and as his old gramps had always said, “Look after the hafepenny’s and the rest will look after themselves,” no one knew exactly what was meant by this—whether it referred to budgeting matters or an attitude to the rest of the world outside the family was never quite established—after all old gramps Hafepenny usually disappeared behind a fug of pipe-smoke after giving this sage pronouncement.

These dwarves were certainly good for it. Hacking bits of gold out of the Orkranian hills as they had been for the last year certainly wasn’t going to make them any poorer. But, their “leader” Gundrun Rocksplitter, didn’t see it the same way. Drew would much rather be stirring tonight’s rabbit stew and checking it had enough salt than arguing over the cost of boarding per dirty dwarf prospecter.

“It’s daylight robbery, that’s what it is,” grumbled Gundrun, gulping the ale, his grey moustache coming away from frothy as he looked up at Drew across the table.

The cheek of the dwarf, thought Drew, to sit drinking my ale and say that—I don’t think I said on the house did I—he’s going to pay for that pint if he keeps arguing this.

Containing his anger, Drew twiddled his thumbs as he always did when he was agitated, and said, “It’s always been six pennies and a farthing for a pallet in the common room. I can’t start giving preferential rates—besides your lot aren’t always the easiest of guests.”

Gundrun harrumphed loudly at this. “If it weren’t for the mining boys there’d be no other guests in the common room—besides dwarfs who else is even staying at the inn!”

Drew scowled. Gundrun had a point—they were in the back of nowhere, like an old cupboard someone had forgotten about—but Drew knew that Nstaad was just waiting for boom time—not as a gold town, but as a destination for the rich of Hyperia who were all abuzz with the new fad of “holiday-making”. He’d bought the old coaching inn to take advantage of that—the old Orkranian hills were particularly picturesque and no one worried about the threat of orcs and goblins now—just legends they were.

Drew’s silence just prompted another verbal assault from Gundrun—he was unstoppable—”and what do you mean by ‘the easiest of guests.’”

Drew wouldn’t let this one go unanswered. “Hah well—I would call dragging in lots of dirt not particularly easy, and also there’s the brawling and the breaking of chairs …”

“All paid for and settled on account,” cut in Gundrun, beetling his eyebrows at Drew in a deep frown.

“And worse of all,” countered Drew, “they hardly ever eat our meals—always off cooking on their own fires—I even caught a couple of them using the hearth to spit-roast a couple of coneys the other week—the cheek of it.”

“These are hard-working dwarves—not made of money—they’re here to work hard to support their families—most of what they make goes back home.”

Drew was about to respond when there was a yip-yap from around his ankles. A small dog with tight white curly fur was sniffing around under the table looking for food. Drew frowned and then noticed a couple more dogs lolling around near the hearth of the common room.

Drew bellowed to the barkeep—his cousin Odo, “Who let the dogs in?!”

One of the dogs near the hearth started barking gruffly and loud—the poodle sprang away from under the table and all three of them exited from the front door or the inn.

Odo shook his head. “Dunno. Gone now though. Almost as if they could hear you Drew.” The Halfling jumped off the step that ran behind the bar and came round to shut the front door. “There. That’ll keep ‘em out.”

Drew shook his head. That was odd. Now he just had to get rid of these penny pinching dwarves. “As bad as dogs,” he muttered.

“What was that,” snapped Gundrun, putting down his tankard with a slam.

Drew took a deep breath. “Your lot need to clean up your act and start paying your way, or you’re out as well.”

The dwarf’s face started turning red above the grey of his beard. He punched the table with a fist. “You want to send away paying customers then that’s your choice, but don’t expect us to protect your midget backsides.”

“Protect? From what?”

Gundrun curled his lip, revealing a set of larger than expected yellowing teeth. “There’s more in these hills than gold and goats you know.”

Drew shook his head. “The goblins all disappeared down their holes years ago. They’re not in the Orkranian hills any longer, cleared off to the Granite Mountains long ago.”

Gundrun shook his head. “That’s the story the King and the Duke might spin—that we’re all safe and nothing to worry about, but my boys they can tell there’s something not right. We can smell them.”

Drew barked a laugh in Gundrun’s face. “Smell your own stinking armpits more like! Go on. Enough of this. Unless I get the rent I’m owned for all the miners by tomorrow then that’s it—they can find somewhere else to stay.”

Gundrun stood up and straightened his leather jack and smoothed down his beard over the key that he always wore around his neck. “They’ll be gone by this evening. We have tents enough up at the Exchange and Mart.”

Drew stood up as well, but regretted it. At least sitting across from Gundrun he didn’t feel his lack of stature compared to the dwarf who now had nearly two foot of height on him.

The front door opened. “Don’t let any dogs in,” shouted Odo. But it was just two of the human hikers that entered. The tall posh one with floaty hair and what looked like an expensive longsword at his side and the one that had the appearance of a bodyguard or a bouncer. Drew wondered idly if he’d like a job at the inn—collecting debts from non-paying dwarves perhaps?

The tall one smiled. “No dogs, just us. A glass of red I think would suit me. Shilby?”

“Ale,” the other said.

Gundrun turned on his heal. “Last you’ll be seeing of me, then,” he said, his back to Drew as he walked towards the door, grabbing it from the man called it Shilby, who gave him a nasty look. “The boys will be gone by nightfall, I’ll spread the word.”

“There’s bar tabs to settle,” shouted Drew as Gundrun walked through the doorway.

The tall man smiled. “Hmmm, the little people are arguing, how quaint.”

Drew said nothing, but turned and went to polish some glasses. He didn’t know who was worse tight-fisted dwarves, or arrogant humans. At least the humans had paid in advance.

Holiday in Orkrania (Oldhammer Fiction) – Part 1

So in my last post I said that I’d given up on my recent experimentation with Oldhammer fiction. Well this morning, I was thinking maybe that was a bit premature. So instead I am going to persist and finish the thing!

For those who want to start reading this story, below is the first part of it. Holiday in Orkrania is essentially a novella – 15-20,000 words – sitting in between a short story and a full novel, so rather than splitting into chapters I am going to call each section a Part instead. I’m going to post each Part of the story two or three times a week. This is not a finished product – so there maybe some typos and inconsistencies, but I hope you enjoy reading it.

Here’s what Holiday in Orkrania is about (the blurb/backcover copy):

Prince Hardlee thought a holiday in the Orkranian highlands would be lovely at this time of year – especially when his favourite actress, half-elven Maegana Vulpon was taking a break at the temple of eternal youth in Nstaad. But his father the King does not approve of the relationship choices of his only son and heir, so the Prince has travelled in disguise—yet there are traitors about—an uncle who has eyes on the throne has learnt of the Prince’s destination and despatched a band of cutthroats. Other dangers lurk in the Orkranian highlands as well – Orc raiders eye the wealth of the little village of Nstaad – the Dwarf miners who work there have uncovered deposits of gold, and the Orc chief Grim Bearit would take it from them. Can a mixed band of princely retainers, halfling inn-keepers, dwarven miners and elven priests and actors resist the Orc raid?

For lovers of old style fantasy and Oldhammer everywhere.

And here’s the first part entitled, Hardlee seeks out Meagana.

Arfur Shilby knew there was something unnatural about the grove of trees as soon as they walked underneath the branches of the carefully spaced trees. They were fair birches, elms and fine oaks, a contrast to the dour firs that had flanked the road to Nstaad for most of their journey. Instead of thick bracken to push through there was soft yielding grass underfoot.

“This is an elven wood,” he said.

“Of course, dear Arfur,” replied Prince Hardlee. “The Pool of Life is sacred to the Elves. Can’t remember the name of the goddess though—Aefwinna maybe?”

Arfur shook his head. He wasn’t going to correct the prince, not that he didn’t know the answer, or had any qualms with correcting his master, but he had no truck with elves, and the sooner they were gone from there the better.

“We should have brought the men,” he said.

Hardlee slapped Arfur on the shoulder and laughed. “Why ever for? Quite enough of you been nannying me on the journey so far. If you don’t mind I would like to visit my lady in private—once we get to the Temple you should go as well.”

Arfur scowled. He would see about that. His prince was already bewitched by the charms of that half-elven actress. What could a whole Temple of elves do to him?

Hardlee was striding ahead through the trees. Arfur could see the ground sloping down to the bank of a pool that looked like a mirror glass. He hurried to catch-up. He was a short man compared to the prince.

“You have duties back at court, sire, don’t forget,” he said hurriedly, a little out of breath. “Would not be good to linger here to long. Especially after the incident with the Duke. Can’t you just wait until she comes back from her … holidays or whate’er you folk call them?”

They were on the bank of the lake now—a narrow fine sanded beach lead gently into the water, which was broken only by the faintest of ripples. Across the far side of the lake—perhaps fifty paces a small domed temple sat, fine white columns like stems of a flower supporting the portico, all of the finest white stone, but so delicate and smooth that it appeared almost alive.

Hardlee punched Arfur on the arm. “Really Shilby, you think I should go back to the fustiness of court and wait …”

Hardlee gestured to the centre of the lake where the ripples spread from around a figure floating in the water, staring serenely up into the blue sky. Arfur gulped. She was naked. Long, brunette hair, spread out in the water from her head like a fan. Her breasts rose above the water like …” Arfur turned away. No, no, he wouldn’t let himself fall under the same spell. She was beautiful, he couldn’t deny that.

Hardlee skipped almost like a little boy to the water’s edge and pulled off his boots. He began wading into the water. “Halloo,” he shouted. “Meagana! It’s me!”

For the briefest moment the sky turned dark as if heavy rain clouds had appeared from nowhere, and a voice heavy with menace shrieked across the waters from the Temple. Arfur couldn’t distinguish the words spoken, but it didn’t sound very welcoming. A tall woman with robes of pale green covering her head and body strode from the Temple door and raised a hand in warning.

Hardlee froze and took a frantic step back and fell over, getting tangled up in his sword belt. Arfur pulled him back from the beach. They wouldn’t bewitch his master. He wouldn’t allow it.

“My feet,” wailed Hardlee, “it feels like they’re frozen.”

“We must flee this place, sire,” said Arfur, glancing frantically across the lake. The woman in the green robes was striding swiftly along the beach towards them.

Arfur stood up and drew his sword, and pulled his shoulders back. “If you come any closer,” he spat, “then …”

The woman kept walking. Her hand raised slowly from her side, and the sword flew from Arfur’s grip to pirouette harmlessly ten paces away point first into the sand. He felt like a great wind was forcing him backwards. He tried to resist it.

“You won’t get me with your …” he spluttered, but the force of the unseen power was too much for him and he was knocked to the beach where his master still laid sprawling rubbing his cold feet.

The green-robed woman stood over Arfur. She didn’t look like a witch, he had to say. Her face was beautiful in an aquiline way like many elves, but there was no cruelty or malice in the soft skin, and the deep blue eyes. A smile played on the woman’s lips. “I am Thania, priestess of the Pool of Life. State your identity and your purpose or begone for ever.”

“I am Arfur Shilby, equerry to the Prince—this here is the Prince—Prince Hardlee of Hyperia. Heir to the throne of Hyperia he is. But don’t tell anyone,” he bumbled, “we’re here secretly to see the floozy—the actress I mean. Meagana Vulpona. She’s his lady, you know. The Queen ain’t happy about it I can tell you—King don’t mind too much—as long as he gets me grandchildren I don’t care he says.” Why was he saying so much, he wondered. “But we got to be careful, you know—travel in secret. Assassins—threat to the prince’s life. I blame the uncle—the Duke Leerin. Have I said too much?”

The elven priestess, Thania, nodded. “Perhaps, but also you have said enough. Enough for you to be able to stay here a short while. Your master may greet his lover.” She held out a hand and with a stronger than expected grip hauled Arfur to his feet. She did the same for Hardlee, who stared at her sheepishly, not saying a word.

“Hardlee, you came,” called a voice from the water. Meagana Vulpon strode naked up the beach out of the lake. Arfur didn’t know where to look, but he couldn’t keep from staring this time.

“Meagana,” Hardlee stuttered. “My goodness, so could to see you—umm.”

“The lady could do with towel,” Thania suggested to Arfur.

“Uh yes, right away.” Arfur looked around—there was wicker chair—more of a couch and a soft, white towel that looked as deep as very fine fur. He picked it up and put out his hand to pass it to Meagana.

“Thank you,” she said as she took it and wrapped around herself. “I remember seeing you in Uparee—always hanging outside the theatre.”

“Uh, waiting for the prince, my lady,” Arfur said. He looked away from her staggering gorgeous face and began examining the dirt under his fingernails.

Hardlee recovered himself and pushed past Arfur. “Meagana I have been so lost without you—come kiss me.”

Meagana took a step back and put her hand to her lips. “No. Not until I have finished my worship to the goddess. She will give me new life and youth.”

Hardlee shook his head. “But you have such youthful vigour already, what could you do with more?”

Meagan laughed and Thania smiled knowingly. “I am older than you think, my prince. Twice your age, but I look …”

“Younger, no more than twenty.”

“But that will fade unless I am careful. No go. There is an inn.”

“Yes we’re staying there.”

“Wait there for me until I have finished my worshipping. Another day, is that right?” Meagan enquired of Thania, who nodded in affirmation.

“But Meg, Meagana. I can’t wait,” whined Hardlee, sounding like a school-boy rather than a grown man. Arfur winced.

“Good things come to those who do,” replied Meagan. “Now be off,” she laughed. A beautiful, tinkling laugh, and Arfur couldn’t help glancing at her. For a moment their eyes met, but he grabbed the prince’s arm.

“Now then, let’s do as the lady says. Back to the inn.”

Hardlee shrugged. “So be it, but then we will stay a whole week—we will go walking in the mountains and camp under the stars—and find waterfalls to swim in.”

“A week, sire?” said Arfur. “I don’t think that is wise. What about your uncle?”

“Uncle?” enquired Meagana.

“Nothing. Come sire, let us go.”

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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