Category Archives: Free Fiction

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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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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