Bird Talk is a short story about a young priest, Roger, living in a small medieval English town, who is trying to uncover what he believes are foul magical deeds. But instead he manages to implicate the women he loves in accusations of witchcraft. With only the town drunk to help him, Roger must work out a way of saving the woman he loves.
What do you do when you have accused the woman you love of necromancy?
Roger Draper suspects that a necromancer is at work in a small medieval English town. But rather than uncovering foul magical deeds he manages to implicate the women he desires in accusations of witchcraft. With only the town drunk to help him, Roger must untangle the mess he has created.
Be prepared for a heady concoction of gritty medieval life, humour and magic.
Bird Talk: A Tale of Medieval Magic is an Historical Fantasy short story.
“I am the last survivor of the noble family of Trigoff…This is my confession.”A tale of knights, castles, maidens and werewolves set in Medieval France. This short story is a retelling of Marie de France’s classic Medieval Romance.
“I am the last survivor of the noble family of Trigoff…This is my confession.” A tale of knights, castles, maidens and werewolves set in Medieval France at the height of the Hundred Years War.
What happens when the man you thought would protect you is more than a man? When another suitor comes calling would stand by your werewolf husband or be tempted to seek protection against the dangers of the wild forest elsewhere?
This historical fantasy short story is a retelling of Marie de France’s classic Medieval Romance Bisclavret.
What do you think are these better? Do you think they will help the short stories sell better?
With Bisclavret I wasn’t sure whether to keep the quotation in there or not?
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.
I’m just thinking that I should probably give this project a new name! The name of the main character isn’t that inspiring after all as a book title. Perhaps I will give that some thought soon.
I had a realisation last night on the train home that my plot had a major flaw. Basically the murders that prompt Roger’s investigations are pretty much solved by the beginning of Act 2, the rest of the book being taken up by how Roger can save Margery and himself from false accusations. Although that might mean revealing the real killer at the end, the mystery of who the killer is should be maintained until a climax in Act 3 as well. I hadn’t really considered that before. This prompted me to change the last couple of parts of the main plot. I also added in a major upheaval in the town and action sequences that allow Margery to take a larger part in the narrative, rather than just giving advice from her prison cell. I think overall this makes for a stronger plot now.
As far as the snowflake methodology is going, I can definitely see how this is benefitting the story. As I write each individual characters plot-line more complexity and intensity is added to the main plot itself. Before I leave this character stage I will need to go through each one and sort out inconsistencies between each and also between them and the main plot. The next stage of snowflake, stage 4, which is to expand the five sentence plot to 5 paragraphs, should actually be fairly straightforward to put together as a first draft as most of the material is in each character plotline now. However, I think I will then need to spend time reading through this synopsis to see how the plot as a whole hangs together.
I think I’ve worked out who my baddie is now in the Roger Draper story. It’s an amoral monk who acts as a necromancer for hire to the highest bidder. It has taken a bit of time to arrive at who the main evil character/antagonist in my story should be – who is actually doing all the killing, as the main plot is really about how the main character, Roger, gets himself and his loved ones into trouble through his investigations, and how his ideals change because of this. The killings that he is investigating were almost secondary. But I think I have this now, and best of all the necromancer antagonist has links to the love of Roger’s life, Margery Haukwake.
Still on stage 3 of the snowflake method, and have done three of the major characters so far, but I now have six major characters instead of five. I am thinking that I should include a major character as well for each of the groups hiring out the services of the freelance necromancer for hire, as their motivations are key to the murder plot as well.
I did about 30 rough html docs and may do some more today while watching the rugby – which should be a walkover for England, but you never know, could be embarrassing!
Getting the first version of the outline done for the Agincourt gamebook was quite exhausting, and I have been yearning to get back to the novel project featuring Roger Draper, demon-hunter. So I have started on the research for this again. I have found some interesting stuff on the borough organization of St Albans, on which my fictional town of St Seward’s will be based. I have also identified other areas that I need to research. This in a way is quite easy research compared to Stupor Mundi as there is a relatively large amount of stuff available in English. Also my setting at the end of the day is fictional. So while I want to get the setting genuine, the actual historical details of what happens is less important, as the story is more a mirror of what really happened or could have happened.
A bit more research about the abbey and the surrounding county should allow me to be in a position to map out the local history and factional/character background for my own fictional location. Should be fun!
I once reviewed Eco’s Baudalino for another blog and found its attempt at postmodern humour. I think Eco does much better when he’s being more serious, and there’s no better example of that than his classic medieval mystery story The Name of the Rose. I have recently started reading this again for my own research – see the Roger Draper project. I found it interesting how he uses a narrator who was actually present during the events to tell the story. This has a number of advantages, the character of the narrator is emotionally involved in the story and can give a vivid description of what happens, while also allowing the reader to get an insight into the medieval mind. However, by making the narrator a minor character and not one of the principles, it allows Eco to provide commentary on characters such as William of Baskerville and maintain some mystery about their thoughts and motives. As a reader therefore our respect for William’s deductions are enhanced. A bit like the way Conan Doyle used Watson to narrate the Sherlock Holmes stories.
Something worth bearing in mind perhaps for my own Roger Draper book. Who would be the narrator though – the bungline Roger, who is baffled by the intuition and deduction of his lowly sidekick Jake? Could be…
I have found a real wealth of source material regarding the medieval history of St Albans and the surrounding areas. It seems that a large amount of local history information is available at a publicly funded website: http://www.british-history.ac.uk. This includes a detailed history for St Albans, and also the surrounding parishes and the overarching hundred in which St Albans lay – the Cashio hundred. Now I just have to read it all!
I am also working on the Agincourt project. I have nearly finished Anne Curry’s book, and have begun listing the key events in the Novel writing software I use. Once I have the bare bones of events that happened, I will start thinking about the what-if options and determine how many extra events I need to include. Hopefully after that, actually writing it shouldn’t take too long.
As suggested during my last visit to the Verulam Writers Circle, I have started work on the novelisation of the Roger Draper story. The short story Bird Talk will remain a short story and I am still hoping to sell that somewhere. However, I will now also be working on a novel length piece that uses the same characters but expands the tale to explore what is going on in the medieval town of St Sewards. Who is responsible for the despicable dark acts of magic that are taking place? Will Roger, the niave priest, and his unwanted companion, Jake, the armless beggar/soldier, be able to solve the mystery that shrouds the abbey and town?
So far I have a rough outline for how the story will progress. Next steps so far are to find out more about the town that St Seward’s is based on, this is now largely done thanks to some very good websites, such as www.salbani.co.uk, although I will do some book research as well here. I am now sketching out the main factions competing in the town, so I can then drill down to the characters involved in the various political and magical machinations in the town. From there I should have enough material to sketch out a plot I think, and then work on a synopsis.