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The Vulture – Chapter 4

Here’s the latest chapter of the novel I’m writing occasionally at the moment. It features a fantasy creature that you could say is rather old hat. Should I be creating my own creature do you think, or is it OK to use this one? Read on to find out what I’m talking about, and please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Chapter 4 


My initial reaction was to laugh at the contents of the letter and then scrunch it up and use it as kindling for my fire. If Alexia, the God-Queen of Realh Dorn was desperate enough to ask for my help, then either she was mad, or she was angling for revenge. Although I lived for fighting, I was enjoying the solitude of the mountains and I had no wish to end my sojourn to entertain some fancy of that insolent, wicked girl. I had once made the mistake of honesty with her, and I had no wish to make that mistake again. She knew the truth of my wanderings and my endless quest for blood. She knew it was a thirst I could not slake. Her mother had been the first person I had ever killed (by my own hand that is – I had ordered the killing of many from afar, bodies thrown on the pyre for their thoughts and words). I realised though that my refusal to abide by her request was not born out of arrogance, but from fear. And that is what excited me. That angry, sullen, tear-stained girl was what I feared most. Her grief erupting like a raw wound from the earth had sent shivers down me and turned my boiling rage to ice. I had fled when she came into her mother’s chamber and saw me standing over the body the bloody knife in my hand.

And now here I was sitting opposite her in a comfortable chair on a balcony overlooking the Madden valley, holding a golden wine cup that I clutched with white-knuckled hand, and a sweet cake becoming sticky in my other. At least I had something to hold, if I didn’t I might have either strangled her, or clutched at the balcony railing and vaulted out into space to be dashed hundreds of paces below on the rocks of the valley.

I had been sitting there for several minutes before she arrived. She came flanked by only a notary, who sat at a small bench and table just inside the chamber behind a curtain, but near enough to hear and record her words and commands. She glanced at me as she entered, but although I stood quickly and made to put down my drink and the cake, she did not acknowledge my efforts, but instead, sweeping her skirts to one side to sit more comfortably, sat herself, and crossed her bare legs. Beautiful legs they were, smooth and lightly tanned, with a freckle or mole or two to show that she was wonderfully human. She was her mother’s daughter in looks at least, although no more timid than a tiger compared to the mouse that her mother was.

I stuttered, but nothing came, and I sat again. She looked at me, but said nothing. She looked pleased with herself. She helped herself to a sip of wine from a cup, which a servant, appearing from nowhere, poured for her as soon as she reached for it, and then she took a bite from one of the cakes, cream and a red berry jam pushing themselves from the cake sandwich. She licked the residue from her lips. Her tongue taking its time to clean her red glossed lips.

‘You needed get excited, I haven’t brought you here to punish you,’ she said.

I didn’t have an answer for that. In a way I wish she had. A way to end the horror with honour was what I secretly hoped for.

‘My letter told you of my predicament and in general terms explained why I need you. I know I can rely on your loyalty, as you are the one who ultimately betrayed me, but also set me on my path to power. You have nothing to lose and nothing to gain, except the hope for redemption by serving me. No-one else in Realh Dorn has the same motivation of loyalty.’

I nodded at this, and I think I may have grunted something, but whether or not words could have been discerned I do not know.

‘Good. We understand each other. I won’t waste your time, and I can see that you fear to be in my presence greatly, or …’ and at this she leaned forward, the cut of her dress was revealing and when she put her hand on my upper thigh I could not help but …’Yes good, and you lust after me as well. Perfect.’

She withdrew swiftly into her chair and wrapped her skirt around the bare length of her legs, covering what I desired.

‘I have two simple tasks for you. One,’ and at this I could hear the notary start scribbling hurriedly from behind the curtain, ‘to form a cadre of men to lead my men. Not to act as officers, but I need an elite force that will inspire the others, that can break through the enemies lines, or seize a breakthrough in a siege. Men who will put their lives on the line to protect me. Men as much like you as it is possible to find.’

I uttered my first real words of our meeting. ‘I am no general, I am only a soldier, a sword for hire.’

‘Precisely. That is what I need, strong swords and the will to use them. Let me worry about the strategy.’

A woman leading an army, I had never heard of such a thing. My expression must have betrayed my thoughts. ‘You doubt my ability do you?’

‘I know only too well how able you are, Dorachi Sen. Your ability to kill and lay waste is legendary. But my aim is not simply to lay waste and destroy. I need power, and, I will be honest with you, you and the men you gather together will be but one part of my plan. Important though. You will show how determined I am to win at all costs. Men will follow me because of you. And who these men are, how many, and how you go about gathering them is up to you, only I require that have them assembled on the Sundering Plains by the waning of the next moon.’

I could not argue with her. She was right on all counts. I was a blunt instrument and once wielded I had only one purpose. ‘I have no pretensions of command. I made my last bad decision long ago now and I care not to repeat it. But exactly what do you want my men to do?’

‘You need not concern yourself with that now. Just gather them.’

‘But for nearly a month you will be without protection except for your household guard and the local militia, are you not concerned for your safety.

‘Men are not the great protectors that they always think they are!’ She half-sneered, half-laughed as she said that. Her face was ugly as it grimaced. My lust for her had finally died away. ‘You know what my mother taught me, that was partly how you justified killing her wasn’t it?’

I thought my heart was going to stop when she said those words. ‘You don’t mean …’ I spluttered.

‘Yes, and it is already begun so do not think that you can stop me. The old tribes of the mountains are already awakening. Down below in the valley, where a minute ago you thought of throwing yourself, the old Kra-Nog Orcs are birthing their yunguns, and from their they are being marched into the caves and fed on blood and gristle to strengthen them. The spawn take only a week to grow to adolescence, and that is as old as I need them.’

Orcs. The name was something of legend. How could she have done this? Even I thought it was impossible, and even though her mother and her grandmother had spoken of discovering the lore to do such things, no-one had thought they were serious. These creatures were of myth only. I shook my head at her. She could evidently read my thoughts so I did not bother speaking. My emotions must be like an open book to her, if she told the truth and had access to the Power.

‘I can see that you need a little convincing,’ she said staring straight at me. ‘Your incredulity is amusing, especially as the spawning of Orcs is only a beginning. But you will soon believe.’

My senses must have been distracted since I did not even hear the heavy tread of the creature until it’s paw was on my shoulder. My flesh crawled and I leapt aside. It didn’t let go and instead swung me until my back was against the balcony railing, and half of my body was hanging over the steep drop to the rocky valley floor below. I stared into that grey skinned slavering, huge-teethed maw, and shivered. I, who thought I had seen it all, began to shake. The Orc, for I presume that was what it was, stood eight foot tall, and was as wide as two well-built men, its biceps were the size of my waist. This was a killing machine if ever I saw one. And to think she still wanted me and a band of hired killers too?

At a nod the creature released me and trod slowly back into the chamber behind me from whence it came.

I took a few moments to regain my composure.

‘Yes I still need you,’ she said, again predicting my question. ‘Men will not follow that thing, and it is men I want to control. Plus,’ her face softened for an instant I think, in some sort of sadness. ‘There is the second purpose I have for you. I want you to find my little brother and bring him home safe.’

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The Vulture – Chapter 3

Another chapter for The Vulture (provisional title), and another POV character.

Hope you like it.

Chapter 3


‘The stupid fool!’ I shouted. My ladies withdrew hurriedly and left me alone in the long audience chamber of the old family home of Castle Haut Pass, lined with portraits of old ancestors and scenes of happier times.

I had just heard the news from the capital and I was furious. Chabald’s mistake meant that I was now an exile in my own kingdom. How could he have let Phalon get free? Granted the man had died of his poisoned wound within a few hours. But that was long enough for the whole story to spread around court. It was lucky that I had made the contingency plan of being absent at the time, on a pious pilgrimage at the Convent of Haut Pass, which happened to be uncaringly loyal to my cause and also extremely defendable. I had told Chabald that the main reason for not being with the King was to avoid any possibly confusion if he called me to his chamber that night. I could hardly refuse – I survived by pretending to be a loyal wife – but if I was there when Chabald made his attempt then I might well get in the way – Chabald didn’t want to risk collateral damage after all.

Chabald is a sweet brother, as he is older than me by just two years he rather dotes on me and sees himself as my protector, but like all men, he is rather slow-witted. He probably thinks that I even love him. But what I really wanted is to be free of old Shabald, the once and now dead king, who though he was my eldest brother was also old enough to be my father. His personal cleanliness was somewhat lacking. All that hair! And all in the wrong places! Urggh! And the flabby belly, the wine-soaked breath and foul lecherous red face when he came to me after drinking with his cronies.

Unfortunately the only way to be free of him truly was to take power for myself. All my life I have been around powerful men, my father, my uncles, my mother, and seen women suffer. My mother is who I am thinking of, and of course myself. I don’t care about all those petty noblewomen, or the serving wenches, or peasant women and girls. They toil or try hard to please their men, without a thank-you, and more often or not their gratitude consists of the back of a hand, or an actual fist. But at least they weren’t unlucky enough to be born royal and female. For the first born female of the line is damned to carry on the incestuous blood-line. Oh because we represent the land, the nation, the country, the soul of the people.

That’s bullshit.

In truth it’s just a transparent way to try to maintain loyalty to the crown – by having the king symbolically marry the land, you can hardly rebel against the king without rebelling against your own country can you?

The sad thing is that this tradition which has lasted for over six hundred years has never resulted in peace with Realh Dorn for very long. Not since the time of the Magi they say. But those are legendary times, and who knows if the stories of a kingdom united against the dark forces of evil are true, or just another myth to promote national cohesion.

So rather than carrying on as normal, but with Chabald stepping into Shabald shoes and falling under my sway, like the older brother never would, I had to go to war, with Chabald merely a pretender to the throne. But what would the opposition do? The logical thing to do would be to declare Chabald outlaw and to seize me for my own protection and have me wedded to some other noble, but the opposition were hardly united – who would lead them. Phalan was dead. The Dukes and Earls would spend much of their time squabbling amongst themselves. The Lord High Chancellor and the Lord High Marshall of the realm had jointly written to each township and fort declaring Chabald murdered. But the Lord High Chancellor, Sigzmund, was a greedy bureaucrat, and Marshall Alzcar, old, pompous and forgetful. Apart from expressing a general outcry of horror at the fratricide, they could do little more without substantial support of a group of the senior noblemen.

This was our moment. And all I had to do was to seize it. I couldn’t wait for Chabald to appear. Was he hiding from me I wondered? He can’t have been captured, or we would know about it. Unless, some noble was offering him for sale to whoever most wanted the throne? If so why hadn’t they asked me? I felt a pang of hope, and a warm wetness around my eyes. All this time I had been looking at our family portrait, the Last Supper I called it, it showed us all a happy family gathered around a feasting table. My father, his two brothers, my brothers and me. Chabald’s handsome visage stared back at me, the wisp of hair almost hiding his eyes as he glanced down with boyish slyness.

I gripped my fists together until the finger-nails dug into my palms. I couldn’t let emotions enter into this. Any love for him I had was purely pre-conditioned. He was handsome yes, but also unimportant to me and expendable. If someone used him as a bargaining chip to win advantage over me they would be sorely disappointed.

In this game the winner would be the one who was more ruthless. The one who didn’t have anything to lose except herself. Men would call me foolish as I didn’t worry about the size of the armies at my disposal, the number of castles, or access to strategic resources. These things didn’t concern me. All I needed was the will to win whatever the cost.

I glanced at the rest of the portrait looking for a figure of a man. Not a family member. There he was. His visage had been scratched out. An inept attempt had been made by another painter to cover it with part of a tree branch (the feast was in a garden), but I remembered who was underneath. That despicable man. The one who had killed my mother. For love he had claimed.

If ever there was a definition of will to power and lack of honour then you would only need to say that man’s name.

My heart beat faster. Of course why didn’t I see it before? If I truly wanted to rule this kingdom then I needed that man.

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The Vulture – Chapter 1

I recently finished writing the first draft of Hell has its Demons and I have begun the process of revising that novel. At the moment I’m doing some extra research into areas that I know I’ll need to tighten up on the second draft, but while I’m doing that I thought I would experiment with a bit of completely unplanned fantasy writing. I wrote the following this morning – no planning apart from knowing that I want to write fairly short chapters from a first POV, with chapters alternating between different characters. The fantasy setting hasn’t been worked out so may well end up being quite a familiar copy of some standard fantasy tropes, but it will be bloody and full of war and violence, that I can guarantee.

Anyone hope you enjoy the experience. I’m planning to post what I write as I write it on the blog.

Here’s the first chapter of what I have provisionally entitled The Vulture.

Chapter One


They call me ‘The Vulture’. Wherever there is a battle in this godforsaken world then I am sure to be there. I used to be a soldier in the King’s army, but now I am a mercenary, a sword for hire. I follow the smell of blood and I glory in killing. The money is useful – whores, drink, more weapons – such things must be paid for. But I don’t do it for the money.

I do it for love.

I would like to say that this is my story, but I am a modest and an honest man, so in truth this tale is like a window open for a short time before the wind blows it in. You wouldn’t want to see it all. It would be like staring into the face of evil itself.




Realh Dorn was a country always at war. When it couldn’t find a neighbour to fight then its inhabitants fought amongst themselves. Names of wars such as the Eight, the Twenty, the Fifteen Years Wars had no meaning in a country like Realh Dorn. There was, long ago, a time known as the Seven Month Truce, but many people now consider that to be a tale told by old women to scare young children.

Even I found the number of battles in Realh Dorn tiresome, so in the summer of the Year of our Denial (Y.D.) 568, I decided to take a leave of absence from Realh Dorn, where I had been reaving, killing, pillaging, burning, and ravaging for three years without a break. I was tired and I needed to rest. My arm was tired. I think I had developed a sprain in it. The physician I spoke to before I burned down his house told me that the tendons in it were strained for overuse caused by the repetition of certain movements of the arm in a continuous fashion. I think he meant that I had been killing too much with my sword, and perhaps he hoped that I would save him. He was old and I respect the opinion of my elders, so I did listen to him. Instead of my sword I gutted him with a dagger that I had in my left hand. His wife and daughters were none too happy to see how I repaid him for his consultation. So they paid as well with their lives. I treated them well though. I killed them quickly and without pain, and I raped none of them. The so called regular troops of the King’s army would have treated them worse. They would have screwed their brains out and left them cut and bleeding for thieves and wolves to pick over. I may be called The Vulture, but I don’t like to pick over carrion.

I spent the summer in the mountains of Sevethlen, away from the heat of the plain. I had found myself an empty shepherd’s hut, with access to a stream, hunting, and a village not far away where I could buy bread and a little wine. I could walk in the mountains, watch the clouds roll in and raptors circle on the air currents. In the evening I would play my pipe and sink into a contented sleep when the sun went down.

So I was surprised when one day the birds I was watching suddenly stopped their graceful circling. They flapped their heavy wings in what I thought seemed like fright. Desperate to be away. And then I saw what they were afraid of. It wasn’t a bird. A flying lizard you might call it. No bigger than a hawk but I presume with an evil reputation amongst the avian community. It was flying straight for me. I could see its long head looking this way and that it’s long pointed mouth of razor sharp teeth opening and closing as if talking to itself. And then it spotted me where I stood outside my hut. I started to move back carefully, not wanting to fall over a rock, but not prepared to take my eyes of it either. I was nearly at the doorway of my hut when the thing was with me. I raised my arm to protect myself but all that happened was that I heard the heavy leathery sound of flapping wings and the thing was over me and had flown past. I looked to see if it was coming back, but it was already flying high up the slope of the mountain, and I soon lost sight of it against the grey rocks of the high cliff-face. I wondered if it nested there. I had never seen one of these creatures before, although I had heard tell of them. Some men said that the royalty of Realh Dorn and other nations in Westent kept the things as pets, and would hunt with them for amusement, although I had never seen evidence of such a thing.

I was about to enter my hut, to fetch my stick and water-bottle as I was thinking of taking a walk up the mountainside to see if I could spot the beast again, when I saw, directly at my feet a wooden tube, no bigger than my hand. I knelt and opened the tube, which was tied with red ribbon at one end. A small folded piece of parchment was coiled tightly inside the tube. I pulled it out eventually, my fingers are not made for nimble work, and unfolded the item. It was a letter, and it was addressed to me.

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The Easy River to Success Available for Free

You can now download a free copy of my short story The Easy River to Success for free from either Feedbooks or Smashwords.

Set in a fantasy world of dark magic, Benetus, the King’s chancellor, fears the return of a rival he had thought banished from court. Benetus turns to the help of demons to rid himself of his enemy. But things are not always as they seem in the spirit world.

I have posted a number of times previously about this story since it was originally published in Planet Magazine. See below for some additional links to more information about the story. Let me know what you think.

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Comparing Smashwords and Feedbooks

So far in my Smashwords and Feedbooks adventures I have published three stories on Feedbooks and two on Smaswords. I found it quite interesting to compare the two. Of the two stories on Smashwords, one I am charging for, Bisclavret (The Werewolf), and one, The Human Factor, I have made free. On Feedbooks I have three stories (all free as that is the nature of Feedbooks), which are: The Human Factor (again), The Honor of Rome and Tale of Tiel.

Here are the stats to date for Smashwords:

Bisclavret (The Werewolf): 21 downloads, 0 sales since 8th July

The Human Factor: 74 downloads since 16th July

And for Feedbooks:

The Human Factor: 961 since 28th June

The Honor of Rome: 353 since 28th June

Tale of Tiel: 250 since 28th June

You can’t compare these figures exactly, but what I think is clear is that Feedbooks gets a lot more downloads. I suspect that’s because people know it only has free material, whereas as you have to pay for a fair amount of the content on Smashwords. What’s great for me as far as Feedbooks is concerned is that the downloads for The Human Factor aren’t dying down – it seems to have some legs yet! And for Smashwords, I think it’s more of a platform for trying to sell novel length material rather than short stories.

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Initial experiences of Feedbooks

Had some fun yesterday publishing two of my older short stories on Feedbooks. Both The Human Factor and The Honor of Rome never found publishing homes, so I decided there was no harm in publishing them via Feedbooks.

It’s quite interesting as you immediately get to see how many people have downloaded your titles, and if they are logged in, you even see who has them on their bookshelves. There is also an easy to use feature for providing comments. One of the things that is slightly frustrating about being published in online or print magazines is that you don’t really get an idea of how many people have read your piece or what they think. Feedbooks seems to offer this immediacy of feedback that many authors crave.

The site seems to be mainly geared towards short stories and therefore I think it can be a good platform for authors to get some initial reactions to their work from readers rather than other writers at critique groups. But for the moment I think I will continue to send my newer work out for publication by relevant fantasy and science fiction magazines.

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The World of The Easy River to Success

I thought it would be interesting to give some more background on my recently published short story The Easy River to Success. The story was published recently by Planet Magazine and is available there for free viewing. Please go over and take a look. I would be interested to know what you think of the story.

The world of the story is one that I have been working on for a while and is also the setting of two other short stories and a couple of novel ideas as well. My initial vision for the world was taken from a part of Gulliver’s Travels where Gulliver encounters people who live on islands that float in the air. I thought it would be amazing to have a fantasy world where one of the key cities was a flying island that orbited the world at a fairly low altitude of say a couple of thousand feet and that could be reached by flying carpets or unicorns. That’s the basis of one of the novel ideas.

This world-building developed further when I started thinking about religious and mythical background. I decided that I wanted the characters from my fiction to be able to interact with their gods in a meaningful way, and perhaps even to find that their idols were often just as fallible as they were – and in fact had once been human themselves too. The idea is similar to that used by Roger Zelazny in Lord of Light.

So I started on the process of creating my world and as a result came up with some interesting characters to populate and some story ideas outside the main novels came to the surface. One of these is The Easy River to Success.

This short story is set in a kingdom called Fei Usure, which is in conflict with the neighboroughing theocracy of Belgania. In a more recent iteration of my world these country names have  now been changed as I got more into developing the actual languages of the world into a more coherent pattern. The name of the world changed as well, from Neriador (too Tolkien I thought), to Ladmas (there’s a pun in there by the way).

Here’s the old version of the world, without all the cities and countries filled in. The new version has different names, but is the same size and shape.

I’ll write next time about the characters in the story and some of the politics they are involved in.


You can get an individual ebook copy of the story at SmashwordsFeedbooks, or if you would like to pay me for it viaAmazon’s Kindle Store.

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Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction 32 Now Published

Issue 32 of Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction is now available!

Here is the issue’s table of contents:


  • New Friends and Old! Stephen Theaker

Newton Braddell and His Inconclusive Researches into the Unknown: the Conclusion!

John Greenwood

  • Miss Lavender Goes It Alone
  • A Diabolical Persistence in Error
  • A Hard Bargain
  • Sembawang

The Quarterly Review


  • Doctor Who 124: Patient Zero 31
  • Doctor Who 125: Paper Cuts

This issue also features on its flipside one of the final issues of Pantechnicon, a fellow zine that ran out of steam.

My story Bird Talk should be appearing in issue 33 of Theaker’s, which will be out in April!

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Two Poems on Praeter Naturam

Poem About Writing Poetry
Image by Merry~Blues via Flickr

Just to let you know I have posted two poems – not exactly new, as I wrote them a while ago, but new to this site. Hope you enjoy them. I am hoping to add the occasional poem to the site on an ongoing basis.

I think that writing poetry is a great way for a fiction writer to think about words and their meaning in a more precise way.

Downers and Time Slips

Stoical Persistence

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