Category Archives: Mark Lord’s Writing

The Return of the Free – Revisiting my First Novel

The first full novel that I wrote and finished is an Epic Fantasy called The Return of the Free. Since then I have concentrated more on historical fiction and historical fantasy. The Return of the Free was in a way quite an ambitious book for me as I attempted to create a whole world for the characters to live in – the world of Ladmas grew around the book – a world where the fantasy elements are not quite what they seem, and there is a strong conflict between science and the metaphysical. The Return of the Free takes one small chunk of that world but plays with the theme of science vs the metaphysical (i.e. religion/supernatural) in quite a fundamental way–but also its a straightforward tale of a young man growing up and finding out who he should be.

If you like thoughtful Epic Fantasy then I would encourage you to take a further look.

You can buy a copy in print or eBook format from:

Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk

Barnes & Noble

Smashwords | Kobo | iBooks

Out of the steppe came a lone rider. A man of destiny whose prowess would change the world of the Bachyan nomads forever. He was not an enemy come to destroy the Bachyan, but a prodigal son returned to lead them to victory over those who would enslave them.

Taken by Nukush slavers when still a very young man, Jenraey has to learn fast to adapt to the civilisation of his new masters. He finds the ways of the Nukush strange – they worship no gods, but use a magic called science to power their weapons and drive their armies to conquest. Torn between his curiosity in the ways of this great Empire and his desire to return to his own, Jenraey knows that his people can only survive the onslaught of Nukush armies if they can change too.

The time of destiny is at hand and only a leader of legendary powers can prevail.

Will Jenraey be that man?

Writing Update – Stonehearted Plotting and Making a Fortress

I haven’t managed to post much recently – mostly because I’ve been pretty busy on stuff – which can only be good news right?

As well as editing part 3 of Stonehearted, I am also working on the plot for parts 4 and 5 and how the series will end – it’s exciting stuff and I’m really enjoying deciding what will happen with the characters. For most of the series I’ve just written it from the seat of my pants, but I’ve decided now that I need to tie everything together.

From a gaming/hobby point of view I have been working on a fortress for Hobbit Strategy Battle Game – using the templates from the LOTR rulebook. This is made out of foamboard, and I have pretty much finished the cutting out and sticking together phase. The fortress is going to feature in a mini-campaign about an attack on the Shire and a case of mistaken identity when orcs try to find Bilbo and the ring, but end up going after someone completely different. The fortress is an old Kingdom of Arnor construction that will be the centrepiece of the final battle of the campaign.

The picture above is the WIP so far.

And finally I have dug out some old Warhammer scenarios for the RP and Battle game that I wrote when I was a kid – some of them seem quite good! So I’m going to type them up and post on this site somewhere.

Hopefully will post something most substantive next week – possibly an article on Medieval Football I think.

For a Life Forgotten – Cover Image Reveal

I am working on editing and production of the 3rd volume of my Stonehearted series, which will be called For a Life Forgotten. The story will follow the fate of Eolande as she looks for her captured father in France. If you are new to the Stoneheared series then take a look at the first two volumes, By the Sword’s Edge and By Fire and Sword.

I have now found an image for the cover. See below. I’m looking forward to seeing this volume published – after that there should be another couple of volumes to complete the series.

Mystical portrait of meditative Knight with sword,selective focus, very creative color retouching and hard lighting to underline the ancient medieval time,vignetting and possible noise,low key

My Writing Projects – Short Story World Building and Revision

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fixing a Broken Story – Helix Intercalculator

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

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

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

Here’s what I did

1. I read the story again.

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

2. Thought about the story as a reader

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

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

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

What I decided was wrong with my story

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

One of the dwarves standing behind Gundrun nodded violently.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arfur Shilby was staring up into the sky.

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

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

“I can pay, pay you,” he stammered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shilby nodded.

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

Shilby shrugged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You killed?” he said, incredulous.

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

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

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

Holiday in Orkrania (Oldhammer Fiction) Part 7 – Battle Joined

Battle is joined in the foothills of Orkrania! If you’re new here go back to Part 1 for the start of the novella and to find out what it’s all about.

So the battle of Nstaad began. What had started as a tavern brawl, would now become a battle fought with steel, claw and blood. Grim Bearit’s Broken Hand orcs emerged from the wooded slopes of the mountain above Nstaad with the Hard Core Boyz to the fore—hungry for blood and loot. Grim himself had his wyvern harnessed and his war lances and javelins prepared. He took to the air to survey the battlefield leaving orders to Shur Burt the shaman and his personal orcish servants to give instructions to the hobgoblin mercenaries to hold back the goblin slave-warriors until needed. Much was lost in the rush to ready for combat. And perhaps all of Grim’s intentions to use the force as a strategic reserve were not quite passed on properly. There was something about sending a force to cut off the road south of the inn for instance. The fact that Grim meant just some of the wolf-rider scouts might have been lost.

The Hard Core Boyz poured from the woods in no particular order, blinking in the sunshine that they counted as their enemy, and pretty soon the doughty band of dwarven miners under the command of Gundrun Rocksplitter heard the whooping battle cries and excited grunts of the orcs as they jogged towards the gold exchange. The dwarves paused, dressed their ranks and about turned to march steadily back up the hill intent on engaging their arch enemies, but the sharp-eyed youngster of a dwarf, who had brought the message from the inn, also saw that a veritable horde of goblins and wolf-riders were also streaming out of the woods further to the east. He stopped Gundrun to tell him and the old dwarf leader surmised that the orc and goblin army was playing one of their damned tricks and using greater numbers to envelop his own force. The death of him and all of his fellows was not going to help to either preserve the honour of dwarves in their dispute with the halflings at the inn, or preserve the gold at the exchance, which besides consisted of just a few nuggets on the counters and tables inside the exchange—pickings not being that good recently. The largest consignment that Gundrun had at the exchange was well hidden and protected inside a safe protected by runes that Gundrun was confident that no orc could open.

So Gundrun’s greater experience won over the hotheads in the party and the dwarves turned again and rushed headlong towards the inn, not even having time to destroy the bridge over the rushing stream as they did so. Not a retreat, but a tactical withdraw, Gundrun thought in his own mind.

And what of events at the inn?

You may remember that the whole cause of the barroom brawl that had developed at the inn was because of the shapeshifting dogs that burst into the tap room looking for Prince Hardlee. Well those shapeshifters had now left the dwarves behind to brawl amongst themselves and a few unlucky haflings. They’d made it to the first floor where a long uneven corridor that went the length of the inn provided access to private chambers for those guests who could afford to pay. That meant Prince Hardlee, Arfur and the retinue of four men-at-arms, all in disguise, they had taken three of the rooms between them—Hardlee and Arfur having their own rooms and the four men-at-arms (now three after the death of one in the stables courtyard) sharing another room. Their were eight rooms in total though, so the shapeshifters had to search for their prey first, sniffing at the doors to see if any human was inside. Even in human form they had a well developed sense of smell.

Prince Hardlee was enjoying a slumber after the excitement of seeing his beloved that morning. But Arfur had already heard the disturbance and was sitting with the men-at-arms waiting with weapons ready. But more of that soon.

Gundrun’s miners and the orcs of the Hard Core Boyz exchanged some arrows and crossbow bolts—across the stream as they approached the inn—the dwarves with crossbows turning to fire once they had loaded and running ahead to load again, their friends covering them with shields as they went – there were just a few so armed, but they were good shots and took down some orcs—enough to make them wary about a pursuit that was too close. But Gundrun could see the unit of goblins marching resoulely on their left flank, driven on by hobgoblins with whips, and he feared being caught in the open between the orcs and goblins. He like most dwarves felt far more comfortable with a good stone wall between him and the enemy. So he told the lads to stop their skimrishing fire and march double quick to the inn. Once there they bared the gates and set about working out how to defend the place.

Holiday in Orkrania (Oldhammer Fiction) Part 6 – Grim Bearit and Orcs Attack

Part 6 of my Oldhammer Fiction novella Holdiday in Orkrania. See Part 1 for the start and a synopsis.

The forested slopes of the mountain overlooking the village of Nstaad were quite—mostly. Apart from the sound of Grim’s wyvern snacking one of the runty goblin slaves, the place where Grim sat high in a tree watching the valley was peaceful. His army rested, waiting for the daylight and the cruel burning of the sun to pass. They planned to attack at night. So his army of orcs and goblins were down below in shelters on the forest floor, or tucked away in some of the small caves on the mountain slope. But Grim didn’t rest of sleep. He watched, always watching, to see what his enemy was doing. He had spent the last year watching the tribe of the Broken Hand from his refuge in the Orkranian mountains, waiting for an opening, an opportunity—and now one had come. The chance to seize the wealth of the miners of Nstaad and build an army to take back power over the Broken Hand tribe once more.

He stood up from the barrel on which he sat, and grabbing the trunk of the tree for support stepped towards the edge of the platform. A simple railing provided enough support for him to lean his weight on and gaze out.

Ra’zle and his goblin engineers had built him this wooden platform on his orders so that he could keep watch on Nstaad. Little seemed to be happening in the valley below—he could see the small encampment of tents outside the gold exchange. That would be their main target of course. Grim assumed that was where the gold must be, but if not they could torture the dwarves they captured until they gave up the secret of its location.

But how to best use his forces to make sure they seized what they needed—they would have the advantage of surprise and of numbers, but the dwarfs could be stubborn fighters—especially where gold was concerned.

There was a rustle of leaves behind Grim, it was Shur Burt, a shaman of Urk and self-appointed chief counsellor to the rightful king of the Broken Hand tribe.

“Whadya want?” growled Grim, not happy to be disturbed. He much preferred being alone with his own thoughts when working out a plan of battle.

Shur Burt bowed and scraped, pawing the ground ag Grim’s feet as he knelt before him. He seemed to make a speciality of grovelling, and Grim knew that he wanted something—most likely to push his own ideas.

“Oh great high king, I come to hear your words of wisdom on how we will be successful in the battle to come.”

Grim thought about asking Shur Burt for his thoughts, but paused—that would be a show of weakness that no Orc leader could afford.

“Why da ya wanta know? Just do what I telz you.”

“Of course master, never anything less, and sometimes more.”

“Uh?” Grim wasn’t sure what Shur Burt meant by that—probably the shaman’s attempt to fool him with his greater command of frilly words. The fool would suffer if he kept that up.

“As well as the sharp blades of your soldiers I can also provide much help when I call on mighty Urk to help us, but to do so I need to prepare and check that the portents allow it. Enlighten me oh mighty Grim.”

“Come here,” snapped Grim, losing his patience. He grabbed Shur Burt by the necklace of shrunken heads that he wore and dragged him to the rail of the platform that overlooked the valley below. Shur Burt gulped audibly as the force of Grim’s handling of him forced him into the rail and nearly toppled him over the edge. It was only a drop of thirty feet, but still enough to kill or seriously maim.

“There’s the valley of Nstaad. The gold exchange nearest to us on this side of the stream, and then the old coaching inn beyond the bridge, and to the far left of the inn the grove—they say an elven witch dwells there, so we’ll avoid that, but I’ll keep watch on it from above with my wyvern in case she emerges—and then,” Grim chuckled, “well you can deal wiv that can’t you?”

Shur Burt gulped and nodded. Grim relaxed his grip on the shaman and brought him back from the edge.

“And then what else? Well the Hard Core Boyz, they’ll do the main attackin’ won’t they—always do and they won’t have it any other way—they can take on the dwarves in their little house full of gold. But some of my own boyz will be right behind them—they’ll make sure everyone stays honest and don’t try ta take any gold what isn’t there’s, coz it’s all mine see?”

Shur Burt nodded furiously at that, fearing another close view of the forest floor.

Grim drummed his stubby green fingers on the railing. “Wot elze, eh? The gobboes. How best to use them? They’re disciplined. The hobgob whips keep them in check. But they’re a bit feeble if they’ze come against some dwarves direct. But they’re quick and the wolf gobs can go on ahead quick as lightening.”

“Against the halflings?” wheeled Shur Burt, hoping that his suggestion didn’t cause enough displeasure for him to get slammed against the railing again.

“The inn?” grunted Grim. “The gobboes and the hobgobs fight for money and loot so maybe—they can loot the inn and take that as payment for this month. I’ll as much gold left over as we can getz.”

Shur Burt nodded. “Of course, master. To take back what is rightfully yours from King ??”

Grim slammed Shur Burt’s head into the railing and the shaman nearly passed out with the pain—he saw a bright light that could been a million explosions inside his head combining into one. “He’s no king, awright!”

Shur Burt was in too much pain to respond at first. He crouched on the floor, feeling his head. Something felt a bit sticky in the matted grease of hair. His fingers came back coated in a sticky black liquid when he touched it—his own blood.

“Understand?” asked Grim.

Shur Burt nodded. “Yes master, I’ll steer clear of that word again. So sorry.”

“Steer clear …” pondered Grim. “Yes that’s what the gobboes should do to start with—well at least until we seez how things go. We’ll keep ‘em back in the woods. Maybe send some wolf boyz round the inn to cut off an escape. Good idea, Shur.”

Grim raised a meaty fist again over Shur Burt’s head, and the shaman cowered beneath the expected blow.

“You’re a kidder,” said Grim as he patted Shur Burt gently on the head. “You wanna get that cut looked at—looks a bit nasty.”

Grim turned to go. He’d had enough on this windy platform for the moment, and he was hungry. But then some movement down in the valley caught his eye. While he’d been conversing with the shaman, things had been happening in the valley of Nstaad. A large group of dwarves were assembled in front of the gold exchange, and were even now marching down the path towards the bridge and beyond it the inn.

Grim stood there, his jaw hanging in amazement.

“Dey’re going! They’ll have the gold wiv them. We’ve gotta move quick boyz!” he shouted. “Everyone wake up. Time to kill stunties!”

If You Liked This Book Tell Your Friends – If You Didn’t Like This Book Tell No One

One of my favourite podcasts is The Geeks Guide to the Galaxy – it mostly features interviews with Science Fiction and Fantasy authors, or non-fiction authors writing about Geeky subjects – the history of D&D – that kind of thing. I recommend having a listen – if you don’t like it then at least fast forward to the end for the outro credits which encourage the listener to leave good feedback about the podcast and if they have anything bad to say, to say nothing – Tell No One!

It’s a bit of fun and a tongue in cheek way of encouraging listeners to leave reviews on iTunes, but it also illustrates the importance of reviews on social media and websites for today’s content creators. All podcasters want lots of 5 star reviews on iTunes, and all authors want 5 star reviews on Amazon. To such an extent even that some are prepared to cheat and pay for them. Recently Amazon has had to crack down on what amounted to fake reviews.

But why the stress about customer reviews? Well Amazon has created an ecosystem that is really driven by reviews and has encouraged customers to rely on reviews of other customers when making purchase decisions. Many people of course don’t bother leaving a review, so whether Amazon reviews reflect accurately the quality of a product is debatable. But in the world of Amazon, iTunes et al reviews are all important and drive products to the top of search lists and determine whether books get noticed and promoted or not.

So as The Geeks Guide to the Galaxy would say, “If You Liked One of My Books, Write a Review on Amazon – If You Didn’t Like Them, Tell No One”!!!