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Free Historical Fiction – Stonehearted 2: Chapter 1

Readers of this blog may know that a while ago I published the first volume of a serialized novel, 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 1

Louis felt warm and comfortable with the sun on his skin and a few cups of wine inside of him it was a beautiful afternoon to take a nap in the orchard at the back of their house. If only Madelaine was lying next to him it would be just perfect. He could hear a gentle breeze swaying the apple trees behind him and somewhere he could smell bread being cooked for the evening meal. Above the sky was a perfect blue. Was it true that God lived there? Louis hoped idly that it wasn’t too warm in heaven nearer the sun. Those angel wings must get hot in the summer. And scratchy too. At least as a man he could strip down to his underpants, and he had done just that. Louis rubbed idly at the warm skin of his belly and twisted the small curls of hair that lay around his belly-button. He slapped the skin. A firm stomach, and he had some muscles too. This summer Madelaine would say yes, surely. He’d ask her to dance at the fête on Lammas Day and then …

Louis’s reverie was broken by the sound of trickling water and the strong smell of piss. Louis levered himself up on his elbows and looked over his shoulder. A man in a fur hat with a scarlet fur-trimmed cloak was urinating against one of the apple trees.

“Did I wake you?” said the man. It was his brother, Oliver.

“I wasn’t sleeping.”

“Oh of course not,” replied Oliver. The urinating came to a halt and Oliver shook his penis and replaced inside his pants and tied up his breaches. “There that’s all done. The cidre this year will have a fine taste to it I think. Mother will be proud of me. Don’t mind me though, go back to your dreams, little brother.”

“I wasn’t sleeping.”

“The watch never sleeps does it and that’s what we, the good citizens of Montdidier pay you for isn’t it.”

Louis shook his head and lay back down, hands behind his head. Perhaps Oliver would go away soon.

“Or perhaps,” continued Oliver, “you watch for enemies in the sky. Do the English sport wings now? I have heard wild tales that their king and his sons came like demons into our lands once upon a time. A nice fiction to tell for those who would waste the hard-won coin of honest working men.”

“Honest!?” Louis coughed out and shook his head. “You call usury and maintenance of unfair prices honesty?” Louis could feel himself getting angry. A common occurrence whenever he was within earshot of his elder brother these days. Oliver had returned a new man from his apprenticeship with a mercer of Rouen. Full of grand ideas of making the town and its people rich. Those people like himself, that was, who could afford to buy up in large quantities the pots, baked and glazed by others who had no access to the markets of the bigger cities. The town of Montdidier was blessed, as Oliver kept reminding them, with wonderful deposits of clay and over thirty householders who had their own pottery kilns, but they all competed against each other, and that drove down prices, and that, according to Oliver, was not good for business, not good at all.

The mercers of Rouen had certainly filled Oliver’s head with garbage and no mistake. Their family, the Cidrons as the name suggested were cider-makers by heritage, their farm stood on the edge of the town and just outside the walls now fallen into disrepair. They owned some land in the town – sold off fields to accommodate pottery workshops and their family homes – all in one constructions with the workshop below and the folk living above, all crammed in they were – they paid rent by the yard. That had been the Cidrons first mistake, Oliver had told them when he returned so grandly from Rouen, a new fur-hat on his head and that red cloak on his back. The land was an investment. They should have kept it and the rents that went with it. But now there were men who lived in Montdidier who lived just from the rents, and they lived very well indeed. They were the bourgeois and ran the town council for the most part, and made all the decisions. And what did the Cidrons get from the sales of their land. They paid for a new cider-press to be built, a new cart and horses to pull it. That was because their father was lazy, Oliver had said, and that’s when old père Cidron had said “enough is enough” and thrown him out of the house.

Père Cidron had died two months later. Oliver had come to the funeral and mère Cidron had rested her head on his shoulder afterwards and wept and had listened to all that he had to say and given her coin, their father’s coin, into his hands for his damned investments.

“And what work do you do?” said Oliver. “Do you call getting drunk on the your mother’s farm’s produce work?”

Louis licked the inside of his lips. Sharp tang of apples still lingered from the last cider he had drunk. He let out a belch that a bull-frog would have been proud of.


Louis felt a gust of air flicker the hair on his head as Oliver turned, pulling his cloak around himself in a great twirl. Ever the showman.

Louis smiled to himself. Words were Oliver’s only weapon. And what were they, only movements of the tongue and lips propelling sounds through the air to curl into the ears of foolish folk. Oliver’s words didn’t fool him. There was nothing to him. He was jealous most likely. Jealous of a real man like Louis, who owned a crossbow and a sword and knew how to use them (well the crossbow anyway).

A cloud appeared above in the sky and swept over the sun. Louis shivered. A few moments later he heard the slow, heavy clang of the tocsin bell.

Hot, sharp breath burnt at the back of his throat as he scrambled to his feet. He looked around expecting to see banners and lances approaching over the hedgerow of the orchards. But he could see nothing. Was it a false alarm? It sounded more like a funeral bell it was tolling so slowly. He could hear shouting from the other side of the farm, towards the centre of the town. Other men who had heard the bell and were hurrying to their posts, or hurrying to lock themselves indoors if they, like Oliver, were too cowardly to fight.

The Church of the friary of St. Michel was located not far from the farm. Located just off the main road that went from Amiens straight to Paris, any English army that approached would most likely come from this direction, but Albret d’Gascogne, the commander of the watch had also designated watchmen to be at all four parish churches to toll their bells as well in case word of raiders, or worse an army, was reported. So far, the only bell that Louis could hear was the single thrum of the friary church. Grabbing his cross bow in one hand and his sword-belt in the other, Louis jogged down the track from the farm to the main road. He could see the bell tower of the friary from here and the bell slowly moving back and forth. From the fields around the friary walls he could see men and women hurrying. They were servants of the friary, workers for their fields, or serfs of their lands, and anxious to get to the safety of her walls as quick as they could. Half a dozen came slowly down the road from the north on a two wheeled cart drawn by an oxen. The cart was half-full of hay they had been cutting and half-full of frightened peasants.

“What news?” Louis shouted as he came to the road and within shouting distance of the cart. The man leading the oxen shook his head. A dull expression of fear upon his face. Louis ran up to them. “What have you seen? Are the English here?”

The man looked at him and tugged on the rope of the oxen harder, trying to propel it to a faster pace. The peasants on the cart huddled together like fledglings in a nest, as if their shared body warmth could protect them. They looked as if they were shivering with cold, but it must have been the hottest day of the year, and Louis was sweating in just his shirt and braies. He looked past the cart. He wasn’t going to get any more sense out of them. There were no more peasants coming, they had all gone within the friary walls. And then he saw them, standing like tall pillars, two, no three, dark plumes of smoke reaching up into the blue sky, not half a mile away. It looked like they were near the friary’s farm and grange of St. Chappelle. The trinity of pillars of dark grey smoke rose up to form a single cloud high in the sky casting a shadow over the friary and Louis’s farm, blocking out the sun.

“The unholy trinity,” said a voice behind Louis. He turned. It was the mercenary. Wulf he called himself, and some said he was German, although Louis knew little of the man.

“The clouds of smoke?” asked Louis.

“Fire, death and the English,” Wulf replied in his heavily accented French.

“Where’s the rest of you?” asked Louis, thinking about the other dozen mercenaries the commune of Montdidier had hired a month ago when news of the English invasion had spread through the towns and villages of Picardy like the plague.

Wulf looked at Louis as if he was talking Moorish. “The smoke,” he began. “Where the smoke is, or half-way towards the town …”

Louis shook his head in confusion. “The other sellswords are at the grange of St. Chappelle already? But how did they know? Why wasn’t the alarm bell rung earlier?” And why aren’t you with them, wondered Louis.

Wulf grabbed Louis’s jaw and lifted him until he was on his toes. “Don’t even think any more on it, boy. Just forget what you heard me say, eh?” Wulf let go of Louis’s chin and brushed his hands against the front of his brigandine as if wiping them clean.

Are you drunk, was what he wanted to ask. But daren’t in case it provoke more erratic action from the old mercenary. Wulf was reckoned to be the best swordsmen of the men they had hired.

Wulf turned and started walking down to the road.

Louis hurried after him. “Where are you going?”

“Your commander of the watch set the town square outside the church of St. Sauveur as the muster point, so now we’re going to muster. It’s also next to the tavern of the Three Hearts, where we might find my fellows, whom you wanted to locate. Are you coming?”

Louis looked over his shoulder at the clouds of smoke. “I’m coming,” he said.


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

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Tricky to give away eBooks on Amazon – and getting trickier

144/365 - Free Stuff
144/365 – Free Stuff (Photo credit: Loimere)

Sometimes giving stuff away for free can be a good way of getting publicity for something. We see it all around us as a common promotional tool. In the field of publishing its a common ploy – some authors have done well building up a fan base in the past by giving away free content, and free previews of content are a key way for readers to decide if they like something before they buy from an online retailer.

With eBooks, a lot of self-publishers have used Amazon’s Kindle Select programme to promote their books. The strategy being that if you get lots of downloads you’re going to get some reviews and also more “Others also bought/viewed” type related sales after the free promotion has finished. There is evidence out there that this strategy can work, but it seems that it’s getting more difficult.

Amazon only allows you to give 5 days free content for your book over a 3 month period (during which you can’t distribute your eBook with anyone else). In the past you could get a good number of downloads without really having to do anything – I’ve done this in the past and as soon as the free promotion period starts the free downloads start tallying up. However, I tried this with Hell has its Demons recently and hardly anything happened until I started unleashing some pretty serious promotion of my own – blog posts, email campaigns etc. Having read a bit more about this now online it seems that as a bare minimum you have to start using promotional sites like Bookbub and others to get your book out there.

What’s going on? Are Amazon simply trying to hush up free content on their site in order to get people to buy things? Is there such a large micro-market of publicity services available that Amazon feels they don’t need to to it.

In contrast if you want to give away free eBooks you can still do this in fairly good numbers on other retailers and get some stats on how many – such as Barnes & Noble and Sony for instance. I use Smashwords to distribute to these retailers and they provide monthly stats usually. Unfortunately you don’t get starts from Apple’s iBookstore or from Kobo – but your book is still free there as long as you want it to be.

Seems like a lot of things in self-publishing are changing – it’s actually getting harder to promote and get your work out there – and potentially more costly if you need to pay for advertising so that anyone notices. You can’t even give it away unless you pay!

Is self-publishing still a nirvana for the aspiring writer, or a money-making opportunity for the middlemen?

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The Honour of Rome now available from a range of eBook Retailers

I have finally managed to get my short story The Honour of Rome distributed through a wide range of eBook retailers – previously it was just on Amazon. So if you like reading books on the Nook, iPad or any other device – see Smashwords – then you now have no excuse not to read The Honour of Rome!

You can now buy The Honour of Rome from these retailers:


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I am Joining the Queue for the New iPhone 4S and Infinity Blade II

Despite the fact that many commentators have been quite negative about the new iPhone 4S announcement, I’m actually quite excited! I’ve had my old iPhone 3 for what seems like a century now, the case is battered and scarred, and the innards are as sluggish as my brain on a dark morning! I’m not usually one to get caught up in the hype of Apple’s new launches, but this time I am – but more out of necessity than anything else!

So I’m looking forward to it!

And that Infinity Blade II game looks pretty cool as well – might just be tempted.

Mr Jobs and co., looks like I’ll be first in line come October 14th (virtually on my PC that is I think – never did like Mac computers).

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Bird Talk: A Tale of Medieval Magic Now Available as Individual ebook

I have now made “Bird Talk” available as an individual short story ebook if you’re interested in downloading this to whatever e-reading device you might use. The story is also available as part of Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #33, but I thought I’d like to give readers of this blog an option to just get “Bird Talk” on its own.

You can get it either via Smashwords, where you get half of it for free (the whole story is $0.99) or via Amazon’s Kindle Store, where I believe part of the story is free, and then again you pay $0.99, or a little more if there are local taxes to add on. It should also be available via Apple’s iBook Store.

Here’s the opening scene to the story. I hope you enjoy it.

Roger followed Constable Will as he pushed his heavy frame through the weeds that choked the muddy alley. The constable turned to whisper to Roger, “The bird-catcher said he delivered to number twelve didn’t he?” An unpleasant smell of stale alcohol and spicy sausage wafted from the constable’s mouth to lay siege to Roger’s nostrils. He tried to ignore the foul smell of the man’s breath. He disliked being in the constable’s company, but any hardship today would be worthwhile if they caught a necromancer.

“Yes. I have been counting the houses, it’s the next one.”

The constable looked worried. “If it’s magic, a witch like, will she know we’re coming? What if we’re set on by devils?”

“I don’t think it works like that,” said Roger.

“It doesn’t?” The constable shrugged. “Well, a priest like you should know.”

Truthfully, Roger worried that he didn’t really know how any of it worked. The books he had read only told part of the story and left him with questions that he couldn’t find an answer to. During his informal studies he had grasped some basic principles, and for a moment he even thought about explaining that they were looking not for a witch but for a necromancer, one who summoned evil spirits, and that not all magic was witchcraft. But looking at the constable’s squat thick skull he decided he would be wasting his breath.

Constable Will pointed up the alley. “There’s a crack in the fence here, let’s see if anything’s going on.” The constable shuffled his ungainly body along the wooden fence and beckoned for Roger to follow. The fence was in need of repair. It had a large crack where a board had fallen away through which they could get a view of the backyard.

They both tried to peer through the fence. The constable elbowed Roger sharply. “Let me look first, I’m an officer of the law.”

“Poop poop,” went something that sounded like a bird.

“What can you see?” asked Roger.

“There’s a woman and she’s got this funny orange bird in her hand, talking to it. Can you hear?” whispered the Constable.

Roger crouched behind him and stretched his neck towards the fence to listen. He heard the soft voice of a woman, speaking solemnly as if reciting a prayer:

“By Mary, mother of God, and all the angels I command you to obey me. Fly and sing your song to the one I love.”

Roger’s pulse leapt. “That’s sorcery alright,” he whispered. “What is she doing now, let me see.”

“No time for that,” said the constable. He shoved Roger aside, raised a heavily-shod foot and kicked down the flimsy fence that hid them.

“By the saints!” said the constable. “It’s Margery Haukwake. The Abbot is just going to love me when I bring you in.” As he laughed, his head rolled on his thick neck with pleasure.

With most of the fence gone, Roger could see the whole of the backyard. The woman had turned round, an expression of disbelief on her pretty soft face. The same face he had been admiring everyday for almost a year since he started as chantry priest at St. Peter’s church. On her hand perched a brightly-coloured orange bird, a fan shaped crest jutting from the top of its head. The bird looked at the newcomers with nervous enquiry.

“Get out of my yard,” shouted Margery. “You have no business here.”

“Your big house on the market square not good enough for you Margery?” said the constable. “Your father would be interested to know about this wouldn’t he? Do you bring men here?” The constable stepped towards Margery and tried to grab her arm. She spun on her heel and moved towards the back door of the house, the bird, still perched on her hand, fluttered its wings slightly but otherwise remained still.

“I’ll forget what I saw and heard though, if you give me a peck on the cheek,” said the constable.

“Get out, you disgusting oaf.” Margery indicated the gap in the fence as the constable’s best exit. As she did so she saw Roger. “Who’s that lurking in the alley? Tell him to piss off too.”

Roger stepped forward into the yard. Margery‘s red lips twisted in anger.

“You! What are you doing here? I thought I paid you to pray for my mother, not spy on me?”

Roger began to stutter an answer, but the constable spoke first and louder.

“You’re a witch this priest says. You’re conjuring that bird to do wickedness. All fits into place now, you dirty wench. No wonder you can’t get a man, and that your family is so rich. And you know what, I’m glad I didn’t have you when I had the chance. I’d have been nothing but a plaything of Satan by now, no doubt.”

Roger gulped down a chunk of vomit at the back of his throat, as he thought about gruesome Constable Will with his beloved Margery. He wanted to lash out at Will, but panic stopped him.

Now Margery turned her anger on him.

“What’s your game Roger Draper? Why have you brought the constable here? Do you think you’re not paid enough for the one mass you sing a day?”

“I made a mistake, I don’t mean to offend. This has all been a terrible mistake,” said Roger.

“Hold on there, priest, that’s not what you said previously,” said Constable Will. “You’ve been plaguing me for days with your funny ideas about witching and sorcery, all sorts of accusations flying around. Then, this morning you tell me you have evidence that’s on firm foundation. So I listened this time, I’m a fair man. You said there was a man selling birds in the market, and that he’d sold a particular type of bird that morning that’s only used by those that hold with the devilish kind. I reckon the bird in question is this here odd orange bird. Am I wrong?”

“Well…” Roger tried to think of what to say. The sale of a special creature like a hoopoe was the evidence that he had been hoping to come across for a long time. He had thought that at last someone in authority would take notice of the evil sorcery happening in St. Dunstan’s.

Then, at that moment, Margery raised her hand and threw the bird into the grey sky above. The bird, surprised at its sudden release, took a moment to open its wings, but then flapped them hard with slow deliberate strokes and propelled itself up into the air. The black and white stripes of its wings were soon high above the three people standing in the backyard of the house.

“What are you doing, that’s evidence!” shouted Constable Will.

“It just took off, I’m not its owner,” said Margery. “The bird must have escaped from somewhere and flown here. I was just feeding it. There’s no crime against that, is there constable?” Margery’s voice was less angry now. She smiled at Constable Will.

“Don’t think you’re getting away with this. We also heard you saying words of witchcraft to the bird, conjuring it like a demon. This priest, Roger Draper of St. Peter’s, confirmed that it was sorcery you were saying.”

Margery’s nostrils flared and she cast a hateful glance at Roger. He felt like his heart had caved in. How could he ever win her love now?

“Well there’s no bird here anymore Will Penny, so where’s your evidence?”

“My own eyes and my own recollections of what I saw and heard, Mistress Haukwake. You are going to hang for this and I’ll be glad to see it.”

“No, no this is all wrong,” said Roger. “What she said could have been a prayer I am sure of it.”

“A prayer to a bird? Is that what they teach new priests now?” Constable Will laughed. He took out the long heavy stick from the loop that hung off his belt. “Now Margery are you going to come quietly or are we going to have to cause you some pain first?”

Roger stepped between the constable and the woman, his arms raised defensively. “Stop, don’t hurt her.”

“You stupid soft puppy,” said the constable. He swung his club above his head hard and fast. Roger ducked to one side, but the hard wood still caught him a glancing blow on the shoulder knocking him sprawling to the ground. He was face down and he couldn’t lift himself up. Through ringing ears he could hear the constable speaking.

“Come along then Margery, you seen what happened to him, you should be a bit more clever. Still time you know, let’s go inside and I’ll show you what a real man’s like, then forget all…”

The constable’s words came to a stop with a dull thud. Roger looked up to see a man holding the constable’s body from behind and gently laying it down. The constable’s eyes flickered for a moment and then, giving up consciousness, shut.

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Experimenting with Smashwords

BisclavertAfter some positive experiences distributing free short stories with Feedbooks, I thought I should take a look at the other widely used option for self-publishing ebooks: Smashwords.

Smashwords is much more orientated to authors who want to get paid for their work. Therefore it seems to attract longer pieces as well – I guess it’s hard to convince readers to pay for individual short stories. It also seems to be a place where one might be able to distribute short story anthologies or even individual issues of magazines, something I think Beneath Ceaseless Skies do.

As with Feedbooks I decided to publish one of my older short stories with Smashwords. The experience is interesting – it’s a lot more complicated in some ways – you really are asked to make sure the formatting is spot on and to include things like copyright statements if you want your work published on Amazon or the Apple iBookstore. I think this is good in a way as it encourages you to be more professional about your work, but it does take longer than Feedbooks. Also for Apple and Sony you require an ISBN, which you can ask Smashwords to provide for you. Now I think if you were deadly serious about self-publishing being your future, you would be better off getting your own batch, as presumably you would also be organizing your own printed books then this would be a good idea. But for the purposes of my experiment I just went with Smashwords’ free ISBN option. After all I want to get my story distributed as widely as possible with as little fuss as possible.

What I found quite good was the author support provided by Smashwords. For instance they make revenue per sale quite clear for each distribution method, they also show you exactly how your book appears on search engines, and provide lots of Social Media buttons too. You can also submit your blog url and Twitter username to provide updates in your profile. All in all they seem committed to providing authors with a professional and positive experience.

The story I have published with them is called Bisclavert and you can buy it for $0.99 or sample the first 6 or so pages free.

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