• Tomorrow Man – Part IV

    “Steady your hands, for gods’ sake!”

    Harold tried to quell the shaking in his arms as he pulled the bow back a little further. He closed one eye, the better to aim. He tried to relax his heavy breathing, inhaled, and let the arrow fly. The wooden arrow soared across the training yard towards its quarry, missed the target by several feet and shattered on the rothstone wall behind.

    “Well,” Jostren, his watch lieutenant, replied. “We can thank the gods you never had to defend our keep in battle, with aim like that you’d as like to hit our men as theirs.”

    “I swear I was better than this.” Harold replied, frustrated. “I’ve never been very good with bows.”

    “Answer my prayers and tell me you’re better with a sword?”

    “Not really.” Harold admitted. “Truth be told I only became a castle guard because my father was one.”

    “And yet you, of all people, have somehow convinced the Guard Commander to let you escort the Lord to Nysilla.”

    “It should be safe enough.” Harold asserted.

    “Don’t count on it. The road is full of bandits and thieves, not to mention the sorcerers and mages, you do know you’re almost sure to need to be able to hit something with those arrows of yours.”

    “With hope I may only go as far as Morjia anyway.”

    “Oh, and why’s that?”

    “I’m going to visit the Temple of the Farseer.”

    “About those feelings of yours?”

    “I thought I might, I mean chances are we’ll stay in Morjia and hit the Godsroad to Nysilla the day after, so I’ll have time to see if I do have the sight.”

    “Funny feelings don’t mean you’ve got the sight, Harold.”

    “It’s not just feelings, though.” Harold said. “I mean, it started out as feelings, but I’ve been having… dreams.”

    “So you believe in dreams now, do you?”

    “I’ve dreamt things, before they happened.”

    “You didn’t have a dream where you shot an arrow through our Lord, by any chance?”

    “No! But you know when they captured those elves? I had a dream where I saw their heads but not their bodies.”

    Jostren regarded his subordinate, unsure whether to believed him or not. “Well, I don’t want to hear of it.”

    “And I thought, well, if the Temple of the Farseer thought I had the sight, they might take me into their Order, and if they do that they absolve any Oaths of Service you might have taken.”

    “So why haven’t you been before?”

    “I’m not an oath-breaker. My service has needed me here all these years, I thought if I could go and guard the Lord of the road, I could get to the Temple without deserting my duty.”

    “I always said you’d do better in a temple.”

    “But I do have the dreams. Not every night, but sometimes I see something and… I just know.”

    “I told you I don’t want to hear of it!” Jostren snapped. “The last time you said about your funny feelings the old Guard Commander got vanished by a wizard! And be careful who you speak of it to, around here they might think you mad, or worse, a mageblood.”

    “You don’t believe me, do you?”

    “I don’t want to think of it enough to decide if I believe you or not.”

    “I had a dream about you.”

    Jostren fixed him a look that made Harold unsure he wanted to continue.

    “About the castle, and everyone in it.” He ventured, seeing Jostrens expression remain unchanged.

    “I saw a shadow fall over this place, like something really bad was going to happen.”

    “And that’s a prophecy, is it? Something bad is going to happen?”

    “I don’t know, all I do know is that I had that dream four nights ago, and I haven’t been able to sleep a wink since.”

    “Huh, well you’d be more use in a dusty hall in Morjia than firing arrows into unsuspecting guards’ shoulders here.” Jostren said after what felt like an eternity of thought. “Come on, with luck we’ll have them thinking you’re half an archer.”

    ***

    It was three days ago, the day before his father had left the castle. Micharus had enjoyed this day, the castle had felt alive for the first time in his memory. People were everywhere, the forge fires deep beneath the castle had been roaring, sending torrents of boiling air through the nest of chutes and chimneys, warming the floors of the castle. Knights had ridden from across the realm, clad in shining armour and riding mighty steeds. They had looked just like the heroes from his stories when they rode to the castle from the eastern gate. The kitchens were full too, with the ocean of smells rising from them. The archers and soldiers had been training in the yards, and the stables were bursting with horses being tended to. Micharus had spent the entire day shut in one of the halls, having lessons with Maestrum Wierwood. Nothing had seemed more boring than star-charts when outside there was endless adventure to be had with men and women from across the city hard at work. Vigard had been unable to stay in his seat, much to the old apothecary’s annoyance, but Micharus had been more attentive. He was a strangely patient child compared to his brother, but then his brother believed that every day came only once.

    But now the young lord had the run of the castle, because as far as he was concerned, he was where he should have been, in lessons with Maestrum. Or rather, he had been three days ago, which now was today, and he had just come from three days from now, when he had been here three days ago. Thinking about it too much made his head hurt.

    He had spent the morning with Edrin the serving girl whilst she made his and his brother’s beds and scrubbed their floor. He had then run down to the kitchens to see Jarg, the baker’s son who had come up from the city to help make pies for the riding party. He was a short, round boy with a big round face. Micharus liked him because he was funny and let him taste the hot fillings before they went in the pies. He had grabbed a cooked pheasant leg on his way out of the kitchen and had sneaked into the garden to eat it for his lunch whilst he watched the archers practice. One of the archers wasn’t very good, which made him laugh.

    He spent the afternoon following the maids around and chasing the numerous stray cats that scurried about the castle. He was dashing headlong around a corner when an old and wrinkled hand grabbed him and pulled him firmly to the left, through a narrow passage and into shadow. He looked into the deep green eyes of an old man, with a soft wrinkled face partially hidden behind a large grey beard with strands of white in a mess of fractal curls. He was wearing deep green robes and a deep green wide-brimmed pointed wizards’ hat. He looked to Micharus just like he imagined the wizards from the stories looked. He watched in a mixture of childish fascination and fear as the old man put his finger to his lips, silencing the scream that was welling inside him. He watched the cracked grey lips part as the wizard spoke.

    “Great peril lies in past and future both, young Micharus.”

    He reached into his robes with his free hand and produced a small, narrow hourglass on a silver chain. He placed it in the boy’s palm and closed his fingers around it.

    “Keep this close, you will have need of it in the years to come.”

    Micharus looked at the small hourglass. It had no sand in either bulb, but instead a green energy. He watched it as it shimmered and twisted, as if it were trying to unknot itself. The hand released his arm, the green glow faded, and Micharus looked up. The wizard had vanished. He looked at the the hourglass for a few minutes, put it in his pocket and ran off back through the corridor he had been in. A few minutes later, he rounded another corner and almost crashed into Sir Allian walking across his path.

    “Micharus?” Sir Allian said, startled. “You should be taking lessons with the apothecary. Come.”

    He lead Micharus by the hand through the castle, down the stairs and deep into the stone beast’s belly. He reached the chambers in which they took their lessons and knocked upon the door.

    Micharus experienced a strange sensation, what transpired was something he both remembered, and was experiencing anew from a different perspective.

    He remembered Sir Allian knocking and coming through the door during their lessons. He remembered seeing the knight look at him, sat with his brother, with surprise. He remembered the conversation that the knight and the apothecary were now having.

    “Sir Allian, may I help you?” The Apothecary had said.

    Sir Allian brought Micharus behind him, so that the apothecary would not notice him.

    “I’m sorry, how long has Micharus been here?” The knight asked.

    “He’s been taking lessons with me since breakfast.”

    “Good. He definitely hasn’t left the room at all?”

    “I may be old, Sir, but I am not blind. Both the boys have had my full attention all day, neither have slipped my notice.”

    “Good, please continue, and forgive any interruption.”

    Micharus had been confused by Sir Allian’s interruption the first time he’d observed it, but seeing it again, his hand in Sir Allian’s, made it all clear. The knight closed the door and hurried the boy up and up, being careful not to be seen, until they had both reached his mother’s chambers. She was there, being seen to by her maids.

    “Sir Allian, what is the matter? Should my son not be taking lessons?”

    “He is, my Lady.” He replied. She understood, and sent her maids away.

    “You weren’t seen?” She asked him.

    “I was not,” he replied, “but I found him running around the castle, who knows who might have seen him. If anyone else had tried to return him to the Apothecary, they would have discovered him!”

    “Thank you again, for protecting him.”

    “I do so as my duty dictates, my Lady, but I must again urge that you make to secure the boy safely away from here. What has been happening is surely enough to make your husband suspect him of being mageblood, even if his blood bears no magic.”

    “I fear you may be right, but I cannot take such drastic action unless I am sure. Miteus rides for Nysilla on the morrow, and will be gone for at least a week. I shall keep a close eye on Micharus whilst he is gone.”

    “I hope that it is close enough, I do not know how he is doing this.”

    “Or if he is doing it, I must heed your warning. I must convey a message to my uncle, Wise Christen, you know him?”

    “The psychic who serves your Lord father at Gania?”

    “He is a Wizard of the Psychic Tower in Otzia, if anyone would know what to do, it will be him. I must ask if you would deliver this message, there is no other man or means I trust.”

    “I shall go, my Lady. I can ride north with Lord Miteus, once we reach Morjiathwaine I can find a porting house and be in Gania well before the morrow’s end.”

    “Good. You must see my uncle at the utmost haste.”

    “I shall see it done, my Lady. I shall bring you quill and parchment.”

    “There is no need. When you see my uncle, tell him and tell him true, you will need no letter from me.”

    Sir Allian understood. “I must ready my horse and make preparation for the morrow, my Lady.”

    “You have my leave, brave Sir.”

    The knight bowed, turned and left the room, closing the door behind him. Jalice knelt down and spoke to her son.

    “My little Micharus. If I asked how you could be here and at your lessons both, could you answer me?”

    “Don’t worry, mother.” The boy replied. “Sir Allian will return, and he’ll bring the purple man too. I like the purple man. He said I was a wizard.”

    ***

    Miteus gazed at his reflection in Silver Wind, the ancestral sword that had been passed down to him through countless generations. The dragonsteel never lost its shine, and rarely its edge. Despite his distaste for the metal, as it was steel burnished in dragonfire and in many ways considered magical in nature, the blade had served his family well, so it was tradition to make allowances for it. He sheathed the blade as his armourer finished measuring him for adjustments to the ceremonial armour. He had not worn it in years, since he had last ventured beyond the realm. He turned his gaze to the large circular table before him, in the council hall a few steps from the ruling chamber. Around him lay a handful of maps and charts, along with letters scrawled both by his Master of Scroll and the messengers who had sent them word from far afield. His Master of Scroll, an elderly scribe by the name of Revered Olgarth Tull, was transcribing his commands to paper and passing the dried messages to him to be sealed with blue wax and the mark of the family crest.

    He had not been to court in many years, instead trusting matters of the Kingdom to his Appointed Seat, his youngest brother Treston. A summons by the King himself, however, could not easily be ignored, and so over the past days the castle was abuzz with the assembly of the riding party that would see him safely to the white-walled city of Nysilla.

    His Commander of the Fleet, Krasten Wetherhall, entered the hall behind him.

    “You summoned me, my Lord?” Krasten said.

    “Uncle, you may dispense with the formalities. I am sending word to all the Lords of the realm, that I have appointed you to rule in my stead until I return from Court.”

    “Nephew, I am honoured by your trust in me, but I was never born to rule. I am a man of the sword, born to be in battle. Allow me to serve you as I should, I can assemble the fleet and make sail within the day. We can navigate the river Lifa and arrive at Nysilla with ten thousand men at your command.”

    “Uncle, you have been in conflict too long I fear. As much as I would love to have you at my side and our sworn swords at our back, I am making for Court, not war. I have been summoned by our King, I will brave land and road rather than answer his summons with an army at his gates.”

    “You are right, nephew, I did not consider. I would make a poor Lord indeed, however I will try my best to serve you with honour until your return.”

    “Of that I have no doubt.”

    “But still, let me offer one ship, you can be taken safely to Nysilla without the need to brave the roads.”

    “Your ships are in the midst of a much-needed repair, and your men enjoying a well-earned rest. I will not see them troubled with this.”

    “My men will be drowning themselves with ale and tiring themselves with whores, they will not lament this task.”

    “As kind as your offer, Uncle, I need you and the ships here.”

    “As you command, my Lord.” Krasten said, bowing slightly to Miteus. The Armourer returned with Miteus’ breastplate, polished steel coloured blue with gold trim, over its centre bore the crest of House Wetherhall, a black axe-head crossed with a broken staff set against a turquoise-blue shield with two sea-serpents coiled behind. No mere sigil, the crest was an emblem signifying a Noble House with a seat at the King’s Court. Miteus held the piece of armour in his hands, it was a dreadful and heavy thing, despite it’s glamour and beauty it only reminded him of blood and the loss of old friends. He handed it back to the armourer.

    “To the fire-sea with this monstrous thing, and the man who makes me wear it.” Miteus said.

    “Have you had news from your brother at court?”

    “I have. Treston had heard nothing of this summons.”

    “That is unusual.”

    “Most.” Revered Olgarth interrupted. “Apologies for my intrusion, my Lord.”

    “Not at all.” Miteus replied. “Your wisdom is always welcome at this table.”

    “I have consulted the historical records kept by my predecessors.” Olgarth continued. “I have seen no mention of a Lord Protector being summoned by the King without the Appointed Seat’s knowledge. It is unprecedented.”

    “It does not bode well, does it, nephew?” Krasten said.

    “It does not. I hope it is my counsel he seeks, but only a fool pins his plans on hopes.” Miteus replied.

    “When do you leave?”

    “On the morrow, with the rising of the sun.”

    “Your Lady wife and children?”

    “They will remain here, where it is safe. The lands beyond our borders are rife with magic and treachery.”

    “They will be well protected.”

    “I know they shall, uncle.”

    “Do you have any other commands?”

    “It should be three days’ ride to Nysilla, four at most. I do not think I should be more than two days tending to the King’s business. If I am not back by next week’s end, call the banners, ready the ships, and come to find me.”

    “It shall be done.”

    ***

    Alexia sat at a table in the library, a cramped hall filled floor to ceiling with books held deep within the castle walls. She didn’t much like it here, it was dusty and smelled slightly of damp. The books were tended to by both the Apothecary and the Master of Scrolls, and so the entire library was in a constant state of war between two rather incompatible systems of organisation. At present, the front-line was well in the Apothecary’s favour, but a stubborn corner of the library held shelves that still conformed to the Master of Scrolls. The battlefield, however, was now being upset by a third power, that didn’t seem to conform to any system at all.

    Her teacher and minder, Madame Helga, had found four books on crests and lineages and pulled them from the maelstrom of words, dislodging piles and upsetting orders in the process. The books lay open between them, one bearing an image of a crest, a silver pickaxe above a gold-bearing ship, set against a shield of half brown and half scarlet. It was the crest of the Noble House of Signur, the Lords of Mestadathwaine. The other books were opened to lists of names, all relating to the history of the house. She had been learning the lineages, crests and sigils of all the Noble houses, along with the more important of the lesser houses, all the way back to the Founding Days after the Mage War, where King Strigarth the Unifier had sat the first court with his trusted men, and amid their toasts to victory he had raised their sigils to crests to signify their rightful place around his table. The centuries that had come after were a complex tapestry of noble sons wed to noble daughters, houses drifting towards and away from each other down the great river of time.

    “I don’t see the point in learning all this.” She said after failing to memorise the marriages of the thirteenth generation after what fel like hours of staring. Madame Helga responded in her usual manner, with a tone of indignant distaste bordering on fury.

    “The point, my Lady, is that one day soon you will be married to the son of another noble house, and when he becomes Lord and brings you to court you shall be expected to know the other noble houses.”

    “But I’m not going to marry a noble son. I want to marry a gallant knight like Sir Allian.”

    Madame Helga was not the least bit impressed. “To persist in such infantile fantasies is unbecoming of a Lady of noble blood. Whilst Sir Allian is a true knight and a fine man, he is of low birth and not fit to take your hand. You shall be married to a suitor of your fathers choosing.”

    “I don’t want to marry someone because my father chose them, I want to marry someone because I chose them.”

    Helga’s tone broke into a gentler one that reminded Alexia of her mother.

    “My dear, true love is a child’s notion. Would that a Lady could follow her heart and marry for love, but it is not the way of our world. If you have learnt nothing from these histories then at least try to remember that the strongest bonds between houses are forged through marriage. In truth, the choice of whom you marry is as important as your brother becoming the next Lord of the Realm; and it is important that you learn what is to be expected of you by your future husband, so that he be happy with you and you with he.”

    “But how do I know I’ll be happy with him? How do I know I will love him if I don’t choose him myself?”

    “My dear Alexia, you will marry a fine Lord, there will be much about him to love. And you will come to love each other through your mutual love for your children.”

    “I don’t think I want to have children.”

    The indignant tone returned. “I swear to all the Gods, my Lady, that you were born with both your mother’s fair looks and your father’s stubborn will!”

    After her lessons she had been seen to her chambers to prepare for the last meal with her father before he rode for Court. She was aided by her maids into a fine dress of sky-blue silk, accompanied by a darker blue cloak to shield her from the cold. She gazed into the mirror whilst the maid made her flowing copper-red hair into a bun. Madame Helga had the right of it, she had to admit. She had always been told she had her mother’s fair looks, ever more the past few years as she grew into her womanhood. The question of her betrothal was one that had danced across many lips, and her father had promised her time and again that he was searching for a man worthy of her hand, but had yet to find one. She was also known for being immovable once her mind was made, a trait often compared to that of her father. She was the sort of person who liked to slip into the groove of certainty, to know what lay ahead and push on towards it. Right now her future was far from certain, and she hated it. She had been told her father would likely find a suitor on his visit to the capital city of Nysilla, which only served to fill the next days with even more apprehension.

    Part III | Contents | Part V


  • Tomorrow Man – Part III

    The city of Artella was hidden from the rays of the rising sun by the great drum of the castle that towered over it, and the city walls that ran away from it on either side. The first rays of the sun were hitting the ramparts atop the mighty harbour walls, three hundred feet above the water. The walls were built thick and strong, every block placed by hand and carved from rothstone. The walls had stood for over a millennium, raised after the first walls fell during the Mage War, defying the fury of nature and the will of armadas. It was said that the legendary Tychos the Bloodied, the last Pirate King of the Wild Isles, had sailed his fleet of ten thousand war galleys against Artella, only to be destroyed without scratching the harbour walls. Although they boasted the best defences in the Kingdom of Asamor, from within the city the only defences that could be seen were the Brothers; two mighty stone and steel trebuchets that sat at the end of each wall. Behind them, extending down the wall, were the cranes, winch-lifted boxes that could lift boulders to the top of the wall for the Brothers to fire at attacking ships.

    The great walls overlapped in the middle of the bay, forming a narrow entrance between them called the Channel. It was nearly fifteen hundred feet long, and wide enough for two fishing boats to pass, or one larger merchant ship to navigate with oars either side, for the winds could never be trusted within it. Navigating the Channel was something local fishers and merchants learned with practice, and those without experience or invaders often misjudged. It was not uncommon for ships to wreck between the walls.

    The larger fishing ships had made sail at the first light of dawn, passing through the Channel and out to the open sea, making for the distant water to fish for Singing Trout and other larger fish in the deep water. The smaller trawlers were sitting in the bay, the eyes of their captains fixed on the signal tower, its burning red pyre telling them it was not safe to pass. From the Channel, two great chains ran taught across the water to the winching house, nestled against the wall. Within, sixteen wheels manned by prisoners and slaves powered the winch that pulled on the chain. At the other end of the chain, a Longship, too wide to navigate the Channel with oars, was pulled slowly into harbour. Above the winching house, four greatbolts, immense mounted steel crossbows, tensioned and ready to fire their trunk-sized bolts, pointed down the Channel. If any attacking vessel made it into the Channel, the narrow corridor made them a sitting target for a greatbolt, where a single steel or fire-tipped bolt could shatter the hull and send it down beneath the waves.

    The Longships were known as the warriors of the sea. They sailed in great numbers and carried armies in their bellies in times of war, and hunted smugglers and pirates from the Wild Isles in times of peace. It was not often that the Longships made the treacherous journey through the Channel, only when their hulls and masts needed mending and their men needed rest. One Longship had already moored in the docks, a second was being guided into a neighbouring dock with oars and ropes. Around the harbour the commoners gathered to see the flagship of Artella’s fleet, Sea Dragon, emerge from the channel.

    The first part of the ship to emerge was the great Dragon’s Head, the shaped iron ram onto which the heavy chains had been locked. Above the head, mounted on the prow were the twin greatbolts, smaller than their land-mounted counterparts but fearsome nonetheless. Behind them, the mass of the Sea Dragon drifted slowly from the Channel, a great ship said to be able to carry four thousand strong men. Three thick and short masts sprouted along her length, amidst them scores of men worked with ropes and wooden poles, keeping her from venturing too close to the walls. When she was clear of the Channel, along her length on each side a hundred and fifty oars extended from port holes in her sides. The oars moved in perfect unison, manoeuvring the massive vessel into harbour. It was just as well, as she was certainly built too large to navigate the harbour with any less than precision rowing.

    As the Sea Dragon was being secured to the dock with rope and chain, the procession of the Castle Guard made its way towards it. At its heart, Lord Miteus and his Lady Jalice Wetherhall walked, accompanied by Sir Allian and Hesker Tallmast, the pot-bellied Harbour Master.

    Two sailors wheeled out the first gangway, and along it marched the Commander of the fleet. Commander Krasten Wetherhall, his body and heart strong and hard as the sea. He wore no armour, for plate and chain was ill-suited for fighting upon the ocean. He wore patches of leather kept together by wool, all coloured dark grey and black. Upon his chest was a simply woven sigil of a longsword bearing a sail, the symbol he had taken when he became a brother of the water, forsaking the Wetherhall family crest. His face was hard like salt and scarred with age. His one good eye was cold blue, his other hidden behind a simple black patch. His hair was long, unkempt and brown fading to deep grey, and his chin was hidden behind a beard of similar fashion and colour.

    “Permission to enter the Realm, my Lord?” He cried in a hoarse voice.

    “As always, dear uncle.” Miteus called back.

    The Commander stepped onto the dock and knelt before Miteus. The Lord gestured him to his feet, and they stood facing each other. Krasten was the youngest of his father’s brothers, but there was scarcely ten years between them.

    “Always good to see you, my Lord.” Krasten said as he got to his feet. “My Lady.”

    Lady Jalice repaid him with a courtesy.

    “It is always good to have our Longships back in harbour. How are the seas?” Miteus asked.

    “The summer brings us calm waters and bountiful harvests, but no shortage of privateers who sail beneath the blood-dipped banner.”

    “A successful campaign though, I trust.”

    “Indeed.” Krasten turned to his crew and cried. “First!”

    “Yes, Captain!” One of the men replied.

    “Bring the bounties for presentation!”

    “Aye Captain!”

    Krasten turned back to Miteus. “We made for harbour in order to unload cargo and make repairs, two of our greatbolts are damaged beyond function.”

    “Your ships shall be repaired and improved to the limit of our men’s ability, you can be assured.”

    The sailors began to drag a group of fourteen men, dressed in soiled rags and clad in chains, to the dock. Each of them was malnourished and many in need of a wash and clean clothes, and every one of them had a stump wrapped in blood-soaked rags in place of one of their hands. Krasten was handed a scroll of parchment from which he began to read.

    “I present to you, Lord Miteus, Protector of the Realm of Artellathwaine, fourteen captured men who sail under the blood-dipped banner and call themselves Captain. Their crews have been put to the sword, their vessels sent to the deep and where able their plunders confiscated.

    Captain Stark of the Craken’s Breath, Captain Reacher of the Bloodied Jewel, Captain Karth of the Fallen Eagle, Captain Harmel of the Smoking Whale, Captain Allen of the Lark’s Tooth, Captain Fawkes of the Iron Hand, Captain Robert of the Nine Nails, Captain Skarl of the Laster, Captain Fortrel of the Grey Fin, Captain Thorsten of the Rising Night, Captain Wilhelm of the Night’s Sail, Captain Jerome of the Mockingbird, Captain Hurst of the Black Dragon and Captain Norst of the Heart’s Lament.”

    Two sailors had carried and placed a locked chest in front of the captured pirates, and another chained man was being forced in chains down the gangplank. He was dressed in what once was finer linens and silks, but now were as soiled and torn as the rest. His face bore a festering gash across it, partially hidden behind a filth-soaked beard. He had both of his hands removed, and looked barely able to stand.

    “Also presenting the Dread-Captain Kava Sunh, commander of twelve known pirate captains, three captured, seven killed, two escaped and still at large. Self-proclaimed Lord of the Wild Isles and Prince of the Thieves Beneath the Sail. These men are presented into your custody to await your Lords’ Justice in exchange for the agreed bounties.”

    Krasten rolled the scroll on as a second chest was laid down before the captured men.

    “Also presenting three hundred seventy three sword-hands taken from men caught in the act of wilful piracy, sixty-seven chests, ninety-five barrels and two-hundred-and-four sacks of recovered plunder and confiscated contraband, to be exchanged into the custody of the Noble Lord of the Realm for agreed bounties and customs.”

    “Your men have been busy, uncle.” Miteus said after hearing the lengthy inventory.

    “We have had to be, my Lord.” Krasten replied. “As trade grows, so too do the opportunities for piracy, and in their bold ways the scoundrel captains sail their vessels closer and closer to Asamor.”

    “Beyond the Blessed Isles?”

    “Indeed, my Lord. The Blessed Isles do not offer the protection they once did, I fear.”

    “Then you need more ships, and good men to sail them.”

    “As always, my Lord.”

    Miteus stepped towards the Dread-Captain and looked the old man in the eyes.

    “Kava Sunh.” He said. “You’ve evaded the King’s Justice for far too long. Now you shall take your rightful place in the dungeons of Artella.”

    The old man spat at him.

    “Be careful with this one, Nephew.” Krasten said. “He is deft with a sword in either hand, so we took both. He was Dread-Captain for a reason, it seems. The Guild Masters of Sau offered a hefty prize for his head.”

    “Then you and your men shall be rewarded for your loyalty. Have them escort your haul and these prisoners to the castle, my Master of Coin will see to your customs and bounties, I will see to it that the Dread-Captain’s bounty is doubled.”

    “Great thanks, my Lord.”

    Miteus turned to his Harbour Master. “See to it that these men have their needs and wants seen to, they are heroes and should be treated as such. Also ensure that whatever my uncle needs done to his fleet that it is done with all haste.”

    He turned to one of his guards. “Make haste to the castle, inform the kitchens to put fire to the ovens, the Commander of the Fleet and his men are to be feasted this night.”

    The Lord, his Lady and his Commander began to walk towards the castle amid their host. Out in the harbour, the next Longship had been pulled through on the great chains, and the oars had reached into the water from a long gash in the side of the ship, the wood around it charred to a crisp. The foremast had been seared off to a stump and burned. As the damaged ship cleared the Channel, the sound of signalling bells could be heard echoing around the enclosed bay. Atop the signalling tower, the Signal Master rang his bell in reply, climbed down from his perch and grabbed the horizontal bar that jutted out from below the fire. With a great effort he pushed on the bar, turning the blackened iron cover around to obscure the signal fire from the ships waiting in the bay. One by one, the fishing boats began to turn into the Channel and head past the waiting Longships beyond the walls, carrying on out into the open sea.

    ***

    “Say ‘Ah’.”

    Micharus opened his mouth and did as he was told. He sat on the cold stone table in the healing chambers as the Apothecary, Maestrum Wierwood, took the glass stick from the bowl of ice-water and placed the bead under his tongue. The old man closed his mouth in a demonstration and Micharus closed his in return. The glass device in his mouth was cold.

    Maestrum peeled a patch of dried mud from his arm and examined it, thumbing through the pages of a book that was much older than he was. He ran his tongue around his remaining teeth inside his closed mouth as he looked up at the numerous jars, bottles and clay pots that sat on shelves and hung around the long room. He turned to Lady Jalice, who was standing in the doorway.

    “Are you sure there were no symptoms, my Lady?” He asked.

    “None that I can tell.”

    “For an ailment to present with no symptoms is rare indeed. For one to come to me with such an ailment, even rarer. I dare say I may cause offence if I suggest that this is merely a case of an over cautious mother?”

    “You do cause offence, Revered Wierwood. I would not bring him down here if he was not afflicted.”

    “Please, my Lady, Maestrum will suffice. I am by no means Revered. And my apologies for insulting your intelligence.”

    “Can’t you just check him for everything?”

    “Ha!” Maestrum coughed. “There are innumerable ailments, diseases and conditions with which the body or mind of a man may become afflicted, and those are just the natural ones, not to mention the affects and curses of a magical nature. Indeed, if I were to test your son even for the ones I know and that are described somewhere in these works, I would be long in my grave before my task was done!”

    “Can’t you test him for magical afflictions?”

    “My Lady, I admit I am merely a student of the natural arts, I have neither the equipment nor the expertise to perform a magical diagnosis. If it is a magical explanation you want, seek a wizard!”

    “There are no wizards in Artellathwaine.”

    “And whose fault is that, I wonder!”

    “You would do well to learn to hold your tongue.”

    “A learned man must never hold his tongue if the truth is on his lips.” Maestrum replied. Jalice did not look impressed.

    “If it brings you any comfort, my Lady, as far as I can tell your son is a perfectly healthy boy in his ninth year of age. You have to understand, of course, that all children have bumps and scrapes and come down with illness from time to time. Mostly there is nothing to worry about, especially not at this time of night!”

    “I’m sorry I disturbed you, but I felt it was urgent.”

    “No apology necessary, my Lady, just that an old man does need his rest. I am here to serve both you and your Lord Husband, whenever you require it.”

    “So there is nothing wrong with him?”

    “Nothing at all. Just a mother’s worry, and the best cure for that is my assurance that, as far as I can see, your son is in no immediate danger.”

    “Thank you, Maestrum. May I ask you one more thing?”

    “Of course, my Lady.”

    “Please tell no-one of this visit.”

    “What is to tell? You came to me with a worry of your son, your son is healthy. That is the end of it.”

    “Please.”

    “You have my oath that no word of this shall pass my lips.”

    “Thank you.” Jalice said, as she walked over to lead her son away. Maestrum turned to the boy.

    “I’ll see you on the morrow, young Master, we mustn’t forget our lessons!”

    Micharus waved in his tired state as his mother lead him out of the healing chambers.

    Sir Allian was waiting outside to escort them back to their chambers. As they climbed the deserted corridors they spoke, becoming quiet when they passed the occasional patrolling guard.

    “What did the Apothecary say?”

    “He could see nothing wrong with him.” Jalice said.

    “No effect of magic.”

    “He couldn’t be sure.”

    “Then we cannot discount the possibility that the boy is mageblood.”

    “You are right. My uncle was born mageblood, as was one of my cousins. It is likely that magic runs in our family.”

    “My Lady, if he is mageblood he cannot remain here. If he is discovered…”

    “My Husband will likely kill him.”

    “You’re certain that he would kill his own son?”

    “I know how deep his hatred of magic flows, I cannot say for sure if his love for his first-born would stay his hand.”

    “Then I beg you, permit me to see the boy away from here. I can take a fast horse and be beyond the borders and into Morjiathwaine by daybreak, there I can find a porting house and have him safely in Gania by the morrow’s end.”

    “You are gallant and brave, Sir…”

    “Or I can find a fast ship, stow away until she is clear of the channel and sail for Methda.”

    “I cannot take my husband’s son from him, not until I am sure he is in danger.”

    “While you delay someone could see him, someone who is more loyal to your husband in this matter.”

    “I will not have it, Sir.”

    “Very well, my lady. Then I shall stay and protect you both with my life.”

    “You are every word of your oath and more, brave Sir.”

    They reached a fork in the corridor.

    “See my son safely to his bed, I must go to my husband. Maybe I can calm his wrath enough that we need not take such drastic measures.”

    “As you command, my Lady.” Sir Allian said as he took her son and the torch down the corridor and around the side of the castle, out of sight. She continued up towards her husband’s bed chamber.

    She climbed the stairs in the dark, unguided by torchlight. She knew the steps so well she did not need to see them. When she finally reached the chamber at the top of the castle, she saw her husband stood near the window with a candle lit and placed upon a wooden desk beside it. He was reading a piece of parchment, and on the window ledge sat a dragon the size of a small hound. It perched on the window ledge, its wings folded and its tail slowly turning in the moonlight. It had scales of bright red, with patches and patterns of white and gold and a pair of glowing green eyes that swivelled in its head as they turned to observe her. The creature was unmistakable, and the message it had carried could only have one source.

    “My love, what is it?”

    Lord Miteus turned to her, holding the note.

    “It is written in the King’s own hand. I have been summoned to Court.”

    Part II | Contents | Part IV


  • Making progress

    So this will be fairly brief as I am writing at 11 p.m.

    I haven’t forgotten this blog! The past few weeks have been pretty hectic, including a lovely holiday to Italy in which I managed to get a lot of writing done. Aside from that and my recent fall sort-of-back in love with the piano, I haven’t had much time to post to the blog.

    So I’ve managed to make headway on both Tomorrow Man (The next part of that will be up on August 1st) and almost half way through the first draft of the second part of the Colossus story, From The Shadows.

    One of the best experiences I have found as a writer has been when I’ve almost felt like I’m merely the first person reading the story. Of course by the very nature of being a writer I will be the first person to read what I write, but there are times when the story seems to flow naturally, and whilst I am aware of what the future holds for the characters, the finer details are not usually filled in until the last minute, so there is a sense of discovery as to how the characters interact and advance their understanding of what is going on around them. I always feel that those are the times, infrequent and precious as they are, when the story can try to get ahead and pull you along with it as a passenger. Of course, when that happens you have to make sure you keep control of where its going, but it can be fun nonetheless.

    I’ve also experienced the tipping-point, where a story becomes “nearly done” enough to encourage you to keep going to just to get to the end. I think that From The Shadows is nearing that point now. Tomorrow Man is still a very open-ended project, but I’ve written a few more parts of that and I think it’s starting to get interesting.


  • Tomorrow Man – Part II

    The simple block of granite marked the resting place of the Unknown Mage in resolute silence in the heart of the gardens the sheltered behind the castle. The castle itself was an embryo of what it would one day become, perched atop a cliff overlooking the cove where the small town nestled. The burial ceremony was small, attended only by the King, the apothecary and a few others. As the sun rolled over the sky, pulling the world onwards through the vast ocean of time, the grave was forgotten. Again and again the sun leapt from the land to the east and plunged into the ocean to the west, bringing light to the world as it soared through the air. The sun swept over the grave endless times, as the days became months the path of the sun swept south, bringing the ice and snow, before turning and travelling north again, bringing the summers. Storms rushed in from the open sea and threw their winds, rains and hails, before breaking into nothingness or moving off north or south. The grass and trees around the grave grew and were cut back time and again.

    As the months span into years the city of Artella became a living thing. The harbour walls swiftly rose to life, the wooden buildings multiplied and spread like moss across stone. Fires would rip pieces out of the city, as would the storms, and those wounds would heal and grow back stronger, the buildings built of stone. Castle Artella herself grew and strengthened, a new and thicker wall growing around her as new towers reached into the sky.

    As the years spread into decades the harbour wall grew to eventually surround the entire city, including the gardens. To the south the war between the world of man and the elven forest became apparent, as the thick growth of trees crept into Artellathwaine’s lands and were swiftly cut back. The first storm of war ripped into the city. The stone walls crumbled, their molten stones thrown to the ground. The castle split, its insides bursting into flame and spilling out like blood. The towers fell, the walls were torn. The harbour walls plunged into the sea and fire washed through the city as waves upon the ocean. A crack of violet lightning in the east signalled the end of the war, and slowly the city began to grow again.

    As the decades piled atop each other into centuries the city reformed itself with thick dark grey walls of rothstone. The harbour walls were higher and thicker before and reached around the entire city, closing it in. The castle became larger still, the walls of a great cylinder rising around the gardens and extending beyond the cliff edge, forming a new cliff built entirely by the hand of man. The walls of the castle closed the world off from the unmarked grave until all that could be seen from it were the sun, moon and stars revolving high above.

    As the years of man slid past around it the granite block lay there undisturbed by human hand, with only the elements to keep it company. The once straight edges had softened and rounded. The smooth surfaces had rippled and cracked, the cracks growing every winter. Slowly the shape pulled back into a rougher form as entropy and time took its toll until it was nothing more than a chunk of rock with only an old story to accompany it on its voyage.

    ***

    “Prepare to face my sword, wizard!” The young Micharus Wetherhall shouted as he stood unsteadily atop the gnarled block of stone brandishing a stick he had found in the gardens.

    “That’s not fair!” His younger brother, Vigard Wetherhall, complained. “You’re always the Lord.”

    “I was born first, that means I’ll be Lord before you.”

    “But can’t I be the Lord sometimes?”

    “No, it doesn’t work that way. Now play properly.”

    “I don’t want to be the wizard. I always get hurt.”

    “The wizard’s supposed to get hurt, father couldn’t have vanquished him without hurting him!”

    “I don’t want to play this game.”

    Micharus hopped down to the ground and leant on the stick as he looked his brother up and down.

    “What do you want to play then?”

    “Knights and princesses.”

    “We can’t play that without Alexia.”

    “Can’t we go and get her?”

    “No, she’s busy.”

    “She’s always busy.”

    “She’ll be leaving soon anyway, so you won’t be able to play with her.”

    “Where’s she going? Why?”

    “Don’t know, she just is. You’ll be going somewhere too.”

    “I don’t want to go anywhere. I want to stay here with mother and father.”

    Vigard turned and dashed down the garden towards Sir Justin Allian, a well-built broad-shouldered knight clad in iron plate, chain and the dark green cloak of the castle guard, who was standing watch over the boys.

    “Sir Allian!” Vigard cried.

    The knight knelt down to bring his twice-scarred square-jawed face down to the young noble’s level.

    “What is the matter, my little lord?” Sir Allian asked in a calming yet authoritative voice.

    “You wouldn’t let anyone take me away would you?”

    “Why would anyone want to do that, little lord?” Allian asked, laughing a little at the notion.

    “Micharus says they’re going to take me away.”

    Allian turned his sky-blue eyes to look at the elder brother who was sat atop the Unknown Grave watching them. He turned back to Vigard.

    “I would not listen to your brother’s tall tales so easily, young lord. And do not worry yourself, if any were to try and take you away, myself and ten thousand good men with swords would stop them.”

    “Is my son filling his brother’s head with stories again?” Asked Lady Jalice Wetherhall as she approached them. Sir Allian rose, turned and knelt before their mother.

    “Sir Allian, you do not need to observe the courtesies when we are alone.” Jalice said.

    “My Lady, if I did not observe the courtesies, I would not be worthy to serve you.” Sir Allian replied as he slowly rose again.

    “You are a good and honest man, Sir Allian. My father must truly have felt the loss of your service.”

    “My Lady, I serve your Lord Father as I serve you, with every hour of my duty, as do all the good and honest men in his guard.”

    Jalice turn her attention momentarily to her eldest son, still sitting on the rock.

    “Micharus, come down from there. It does not do to disrespect the dead.” She cried to her son.

    Micharus did as he was bid and rushed down to join his brother and mother.

    “Have my children been behaving themselves?”

    “Playing as children play, my Lady.”

    “My Lord Husband has commanded their presence in the Ruling Chamber.” Jalice informed him. “Would you walk with us?”

    “Of course, my Lady.” The knight replied and joined them as they walked towards the great sculpted archway that led between the castle and the enclosed gardens.

    “Is the sentencing done, my Lady?” Sir Allian asked.

    “Alas not, my husband is waiting for his sons to be in attendance, he wishes to teach them a lesson about justice.”

    “There is no justice in punishing a mage for helping another. Such things ought not be crimes.”

    “Be careful how you speak, Sir Allian.” Jalice responded, stopping in her tracks and checking for unfriendly ears. “We are not in the palace of Gania, my husband has had men rot in the dungeons for less.”

    “My apologies, my Lady. I did not mean to speak disrespect.”

    “You speak your mind, and there is truth in your words. I must admit it is a sad thing, but it is the law of these lands, and it is my husband’s law.”

    “You are bound by love and I by oath. I only hope his justice is lenient.”

    “As do I.”

     

    As they passed through the doors into the ruling chamber Vigard dashed off ahead towards Lord Miteus. Micharus began to run after his younger brother when Sir Allian grasped him by the shoulder and pulled him back.

    “Justin!” Lady Jalice whispered in shock.

    “I’m sorry, my Lady, but look to your husband.”

    She stepped forwards, speechless, and looked to her husband. He was sat in the wooden throne in the heart of the chamber, around him stood the sworn men of his palace guard and two of the lesser Lords of Artellathwaine. To his left, in her own seat, sat Micharus wearing different clothes. She looked back at her eldest son, still in the grasp of Sir Allian just outside the room, and also sat beside his father. She and Sir Allian exchanged a look, hers of dawning horror, his of grave concern, as her husband stood and spoke.

    “Bring them forwards.” Lord Miteus commanded.

    Jalice watched from the side entrance as the great oak doors opened and a host of guardsmen dragged two prisoners through into the hall and dumped them on the floor before the throne. The two men were elves, but their long hair and fair faces were messed and dirty, and their dark green robes were soiled. They remained on their knees before the Lord of the Realm.

    “You are accused of the use of magic within the lands of Artellathwaine. How do you plead?” The Lord asked.

    The elf who responded seemed the elder of the two, with waist-length black hair. He looked up to the Lord with bright green eyes.

    “We carry the gift of healing magic, my Lord.” He explained. “The child was dying, we decided to help.”

    “So you decided to contravene the law of this realm?”

    “The girl could only be healed by magic, she was beyond mortal means. What would you have us do? Let her die?”

    “I would have you respect the law! Magic is nothing but dark power, it is not permitted within these lands.”

    “With respect, my Lord, you allow your prejudice to burden your people.”

    “And you trust too much in a power that leads only to death and destruction. You knew the law of Artellathwaine when you travelled here, did you not?”

    “We did, but that law is unj…”

    “And you wilfully defied it.” Lord Miteus interrupted him. “Your kind are all the same. You depend on a power that will only serve to ruin you. I will not have it within my lands.”

    Miteus adjusted his stance to one of neutral authority.

    “Of your guilt, I was certain.” He began to address the entire room. “Upon the severity of your sentence I have now decided. I, Lord Miteus Wetherhall, Warden and Protector of the Realm of Artellathwaine, Seat of the Royal Court of Nysilla, Guardian of the Southern Seas and Arbitrator of the King’s Justice, in the name of King Piscius of the Line of Generos, Ruler of Asamor and Lord of all Mankind…”

    Lady Jalice gasped. There was, she knew, only one sentence that required her husband to invoke the authority of the name of the King.

    “… do sentence you to die.”

    The brief silence in the room was broken by the pleas of the elder elf.

    “Please, my Lord, take my life in penance, let the boy live.”

    “My sentence is decreed.” Miteus said as he turned to walk back to his throne. “Commander, take them to the Red Court and prepare them. I will observe the sentence with my sons.”

    Jalice turned back to Sir Allian, who was already keeping her son behind him and out of sight.

    “Take him to my chambers.” She commanded as quietly as she could. “Make sure no-one sees him.”

    Sir Allian nodded to show his understanding, and within moments he was gone, her son with him.

    ***

    The Red Court was one of the five courtyards within the castle, situated in such a way that it overlooked the city and the ocean beyond the harbour walls. It was situated at the top of the castle, with only the watchtower rising above it. It was a two-tier terrace that ran all the way to the edge of the castle wall on the ocean-facing side. It could be seen from every part of the city, so it was where the Lord of Artellathwaine would address his people, and where executions took place. A row of chopping blocks lay near the edge, where those who had been sentenced to death were beheaded, their warm blood would run down the wall of the castle, giving the courtyard its name.

    In the few hours since the sentence was passed word had spread quickly. The lesser Lords who had been within the city had made their way to the Red Court, and in the city below thousands of spectators had gathered to witness the execution of the two elves and to see mageblood flow down the wall.

    Lady Jalice hated this place, she had seen enough good men and women meet their deaths for such little cause here. Her husbands justice was more often than not disproportionate in her view, especially when magic was concerned, but she was bound by love and oath not to speak of it. She stood in the arched doorway where the central staircase opened out onto the roof of the castle, and eventually found her courage to step out. As she joined her husband, she saw the two elves knelt facing the ocean. They were still bound and badly beaten and bloodied, the guards had seen fit to injure them and exhaust their healing magic and had, as they always did, taken the job too far. Her husband was at least permitting them to make peace with their gods before the last sight they would ever see.

    “My Lady.” Lord Miteus said as he noticed her by his side. “My love, you do not need to be here for this.”

    “I know, my Lord, but if my children are to see this terrible thing then I shall see it with them.”

    “Micharus must learn the true face of justice, as must Vigard.”

    “I know, my love, I just wish he had been older before he saw death.”

    “He must know the severity of death if he is ever to sentence it.” Her husbands voice had the low, grave tone that had come to reside permanently within him these last few years.

    Lord Miteus signalled to those around him that it was time. The quiet conversations were silenced.

    The executioner stood to attention. He had the broadest shoulders of any in Lord Miteus’ guard, and was built stronger than an ox. His face was concealed by the black hood he wore as part of the duty, but everyone knew that beneath it was Jak Long, a man loyal as he was strong. Her husband had more than once remarked that there was no man more worthy of wielding Midnight’s Kiss, the two-handed great-axe that Rikaard Wetherhall, the first Lord of Artellathwaine, had carried into battle during the Mage War. When the blade split the skull of Lord Jartos Farmage, the last of the mageblood nobles, the steel was stained black and never again lost its edge. It had become the ceremonial weapon of House Wetherhall, and the only blade permitted for executions. Jak hefted the axe in one hand as the first of the elves was forced down over the block, his long hair kept off the back of his neck. The large man took his stance and gripped Midnight’s Kiss with both hands. He looked to his Lord, as was the custom. Miteus kept his stern brown eyes fixed on Jak as he nodded his head.

    The axehead swung behind and swept overhead in a single motion almost too fast to see. There was a sickening crunch as Midnight’s Kiss dug a fresh red gash into the heavily scarred stone block. The head fell and rolled a few feet forwards, the body slumped sideways and down, coming to rest on the floor amid an expanding ocean of scarlet. The second elf had clamped his eyes shut and looked away. He almost collapsed when he heard the sound, but was lifted to his feet by the guards and placed over the adjacent block. Jak Long placed his foot on the block and grasped the great-axe near its head, and with a show of considerable effort pulled it out of the stone. He stepped backwards and took up position ready to enact the second sentence, and again looked to his Lord. The axe swung, the second block marked, the younger elf’s head came to rest close to the elder’s.

    Lord Miteus, his wife and their two sons watched without breaking their gaze as the last blood and life left the two elves. Their ears heard the breaking of waves against the harbour walls. Below the castle, in the city of Artella, life resumed, whilst fingers of blood reached down the wall towards them.

    Part I | Contents | Part III


  • Building the World

    It never occurred to me how much can go into building the world in which you set your stories.

    With a story like Colossus, which is set in a contemporary world similar to our own, most of the geography, the people, the history is set. The flip-side is, obviously, that you have to either do the research or establish that whatever differences there are between the world you depict and the world we know is due to some notion of an Alternate Reality. (Which just so happens to be the explanation behind the obvious geographical and other fabrications that go into Colossus, but thus is the nature of fiction.)

    With a pure fantasy story like Tomorrow Man, set in an entirely fictional world, the slate is clean. You have to draw the map, you have to decide where the settlements are, you have to build the towns and cities, fill them with buildings and fill them with people. A world has to live and breathe if it’s to be believable, and the nature of the World is that it is fractal. It can have as much detail as you are willing to pour into it.

    The bigger you make the canvas, the more paint you need to fill the gaps. The Kingdom of Asamor is a large canvas to fill; whilst at the moment only vaguer details are written down and more details held within my mind, there has to be a tapestry of interconnected parts, each growing and changing throughout history. Nothing can truly stand still, with every passing year towns will grow, sons and daughters will be raised and inherit the nation from their parents, knowledge and beliefs will change. Asamor is intended to be large and complex, with generations of history and generations of future yet to happen. It’s not the only nation in the world it inhabits, and even within itself there are numerous dynamics that have to be considered. I have determined what lies in the vicinity of Asamor, but I have not ruled out what lies beyond oceans. There’s an entire planet to wrap.

    Holding an entire world in your mind feels impossible, which is why I have a great respect for authors like George R. R. Martin (Whose Song of Ice and Fire I am still in the process of reading.) The world of the Seven Kingdoms feels large and, more importantly, alive. And, like any nation or world, it lives through its people. The characters come across as well-developed, three-dimensional and real. You can envisage and describe the most beautiful world you want, but it’s only a backdrop to the story at the end of the day.

    Which is why I am trying to think through my characters more, to find out who and how they fit into the world. To do that, I need to know the shape of the world I’m trying to fit them into. The intended path of Tomorrow Man may well cover a lot of the bigger-picture stuff, the overarching history of Asamor, so I need to work out exactly what that history is. (Or which one, when you consider that there’s more than one path history can take.)

    But one part per month should be slow enough to fill in the details as I go. I intend to start on the next part of Tomorrow Man this weekend, looking at publishing on the 1st of July.


  • Tomorrow Man – Part I

    The Gods were angry. Their anger filled the sky and pulled at the sea. Storms like the one that beset the coastal city of Artella were rare, and the people believed they only happened when the Gods saw fit to set their fury down upon them. Powerful winds caught the rain and carried it across the surface of the sea, up and over the walls of the city. The clouds lit up as lightning rolled from one horizon to another, occasionally lashing down at the surface. The harbour walls of Artella, built thick and tall centuries ago, defied the power of the ocean as the mighty waves crashed against them. They hugged the harbour, leaving a small channel between them through which the ships could pass. The waves forced their way through, losing much of their power until they broke more gently against the docks. The city had weathered worse storms than this, but there was an air of ferocity about this weather that had everyone on edge.

    A single raindrop fell above the bay along with millions of its brothers. A flash of lightning refracted and reflected within the minuscule sphere of water as it raced down to the great rolling ocean, ready to be swallowed up and cease to exist. It almost reached the ocean surface when a torrent of wind hurtled in from the open sea, rose from the waves and caught the droplet. It stopped falling and began to fly. It rose over the wall, fell towards the harbour and was caught again as the wind hit the ground and rose up from it. It sailed past wooden houses, shuttered windows rattling as the wind that bore it tried to pull them open. Glints of fire and candle light danced within it as it again rose above the rooftops and narrowly avoided a wooden plank that had broken free. The wind followed the contours of the city, rushing up the hill, carrying the droplet with it. The buildings here were stone, the shutters held in place by iron bars and hinges. Up and up the wind curved, carrying the droplet higher and higher, until the great shadow of the Castle of Artella, standing high above the city loomed before it. A great wall of solid stone, pocked with dim firelight reaching out from narrow slits. One of those illuminated slits grew in size, coming closer and closer as the droplet charged towards it. In the last moments of its short life, the droplet sailed through the narrow gap in the wall, past two pairs of hardened eyes, and buried itself in the fire of a burning torch, where it turned to steam and drifted into the air, accompanied by sooty smoke as the torch went out.

    “Light it again, Harold, please.” Said an old, gravelled voice.

    Harold heaved his leather and furs from the stone bench he had been sitting on and grabbed a small iron case from one of his pockets. He rested his longbow next to the quiver of arrows resting against the wall and plodded over to the smouldering torch. Another gust of wind clawed at his back as he picked the flint and steel from the iron case with frozen fingers and set about relighting the torch.

    “Don’t know why we have to be down here.” Harold began. “Ain’t nobody’s going to attack the castle in this. Not that they ever do.”

    “Oi.” The older voice snapped at him. “We have a duty, as does everyone else manning this wall. I won’t have any more words out of you.”

    The owner of the older voice, a short man with greying black hair and wearing similar leathers and furs to Harold, tightened his grip on his own longbow and turned his attention back to peering out over the city. After a few attempts the fire reluctantly caught on the torch and Harold sat back down, picking up his bow as he did so.

    “It’s not right, anyway. Being up here on a night like this.”

    “Someone’s got to do it, lad.”

    “But I mean, big castle like this, on a night like tonight. Things happen, don’t they?”

    “Oh really, what things?”

    “You know, bad things. Omens and that.”

    “You’ve been listening to too many of your mother’s stories.”

    “My grandmother’s, actually.”

    “Ha! Stories of dark rituals and groblins and orcs that come and steal bad little children away in the dead of night?”

    Harold nodded.

    “You actually believe that? Gods help us, we’ve got babes guarding the castle now!”

    “I know they’re just stories.” Harold replied, indignant. “But they’ve got to have some truth to them, else how would they get told?”

    “Heh, you’re in the wrong line of work. You should have been a priest.”

    “All I’m saying is that, if there’s a big castle like this, then stuff what’s bad has got to happen here sometimes, right?”

    “Aye.”

    “And, what I’m saying, is that this would be the perfect night for those bad things to, you know, happen.”

    “We’ve had worse storms than this.”

    “But this storm’s different.”

    “How?”

    “It doesn’t feel right.”

    “What in the hells do you mean, ‘Doesn’t feel right’?”

    “I get… bad feelings… sometimes, like something bad’s going to happen.”

    The older man raised a sceptical eyebrow.

    “Of all the people to bestow the Sight on, Harold, I don’t think you rank highly on the Gods’ list.”

    “But last time I had bad feelings was back when Carrow Rill fell of the wall.”

    “Should have been a priest. You’d have been more useful in a temple than here.”

    “But…”

    “Shut it! We’re staying here until our Lord has no further need of us, is that understood?”

    “Yes Sir.” Harold replied, shrinking into his warm clothing.

    Boom.

    Boom.

    Boom.

    The three knocks echoed through the corridors and halls of the castle with a far deeper resonance than either of the men could ever recall. Outside a fork of lightning accompanied another gust of wind, and the torch once again went out.

    “What was that?”

     

    Lord Miteus Wetherhall, Noble Lord and Protector of the Realm of Artellathwaine rose from the wooden throne as the knocks echoed between the towering walls of the ruling chamber of Castle Artella. His black bearskin cloak fell to his ankles as he placed his hand on the hilt of his sheathed sword. To his left, his wife Lady Jalice clutched their infant son to her breast. To his right his younger brother Viscarus straightened his stance, the steel plating of his armour chinking together as he placed both hands in a tight grip around the hilt of his greatsword. Around them the castle guard did likewise, unsheathing their blades and drawing back their bows. The great oak doors at the end of the ruling chamber opened slowly with their characteristic resonant thud. From the narrow gap between the doors a small old man hobbled as fast as his weary legs could carry him. He wore deep green robes and a pointed hat, and his face was hidden behind a long mess of white beard. The wizard seemed exhausted, and he was soaked from head to toe.

    “Lord Vigard Wetherhall! I must speak with you!” The wizard shouted between gasps of breath as he knelt down before Miteus.

    “What is the meaning of this?” Miteus demanded. “There is no Lord Vigard here.”

    The wizard looked up at the Lord stood above him, the expression on his face turning to sudden realised horror. He mouthed something to himself before he spoke again.

    “Lord Miteus, I beg an audience with your son.”

    “My only son is here, Wizard, and he is an infant. If you have something to say, you will say it to me, and be gone from my lands before I have you thrown in the dungeons.”

    “With respect, my Lord, what words I have are for your son and him alone.”

    “I will not tolerate this any further. Your words are not welcome here, nor is your kind. Go now, whilst my patience lasts.”

    The wizard rose from his feet.

    “My Lord, you do not understand! I bear grave warnings about his future.”

    “Enough!” Miteus screamed. “My Lady, take Micharus and leave here, I will not have this mageblood’s lies poison your ears.”

    The Lady stood and began to carry their son towards the rear entrance to the hall. The wizard took a step forwards.

    “No, you must listen to me!”

    Viscarus hefted his blade and stepped between the wizard and his lord.

    “Step back, mageblood, or I’ll take your…”

    The wizard’s hand had reached out towards him, and the armoured man became surrounded in a shimmering green light. He did not have time to finish his sentence before there was a blinding green flash and he was gone. The wizard looked at his open hand and muttered under his breath.

    “Oh no.”

    The tension in the hall shattered as the next seconds became flooded with commotion. The Lady clutched her infant child more tightly and began to run. The Lord unsheathed the ancestral blade and screamed.

    “Viscarus!”

    The castle guard broke from their posts and came towards the wizard, their weapons rising to strike. The Lord raised his own sword and pointed it towards the wizard.

    “Bring him back!” His voice ripped out, carrying both anger and pain.

    “I don’t…” The wizard spoke the first words before he felt the pain explode from his back through his whole body. He collapsed down onto his hands and knees. He tried to speak, but he choked and coughed, fresh blood splattering on the newly-laid floor. He managed to drag himself to his feet and looked around.

    He was alone, the commotion around him having never seemed to have happened. The torches were unlit, the ruling chamber dimly illuminated by moonlight. The two seats in front of him on the raised platform had been replaced by a single golden throne. The tiled floor around him was free of imperfection, unspoiled and new. Behind him there were rows of wooden benches and seats, arranged to look up to where the throne was placed. He heard the large oak doors behind him open, and he turned to see two guards running down the isles between the seats.

    “Tell me.” The wizard asked. “What day is this?”

    The guards did not answer him.

    “Who is he?” One of the guards asked.

    “Don’t know.” The other replied.

    “Where did he come from?”

    “No idea.”

    “Please, I must know the date!” The wizard asked again.

    “Get the apothecary, now!” The second guard instructed the first, who obeyed and ran off.

    The wizard noticed then that the guards had not been looking at him, but rather at his feet. He looked down and saw, sprawled before him, his own body, with three arrows stuck in his back. He took a step backwards in horror, and looked at his own hands. They seemed solid to him, but he knew they were only a memory of his hands now. He staggered back and sat down in one of the seats as his whole self became numb.

    Minutes went by and he eventually saw the apothecary, a small man dressed in plain white robes, come running down the isle towards his corpse. The apothecary knelt down and ran his hands over the body, a faint green glow emanating from them.

    “He is beyond my power to heal.” The apothecary said. “He’s gone.”

    “Who is he?” The first guard asked again.

    “I do not know. You say he did not come in through the doors?”

    “No, he just appeared out of thin air. We checked the chamber a few minutes before.”

    “He may be a mage.” The apothecary said, before watching the hairs on the back of his hand stand on end. “It is a bad omen, that is to be sure. Awaken the King at once!”

    The guards ran for the entrance as the wizard, still sat staring at his body across the room, heard the toll of a single bell. The sound carried a feeling of inevitability, and brought the wizard’s attention to the golden throne. Sat upon the throne was a being of silent terror, a skeletal form wrapped in a tattered cloak that seemed to be made of shadows. Beneath its cowl the bleached bone of a skull almost shone, one skeletal hand raked its fingers across the gilded arm of the throne, whilst the other clutched the blackened branch of a long-dead tree, at the top of which hung a single bell formed of pitch black metal. It drew breath slowly before speaking with a voice that sounded as if it had been formed in deep and long forgotten tombs.

    “Wise Micharus.”

    Micharus’ spirit rose to his feet as the form of Death made itself known to him.

    “I didn’t expect this day to be my last.” Micharus said with a strange calm.

    “None do.”

    “Is my death the price for delivering my warning?”

    “No. Your warning will never be known to living men.”

    “Then all this was in vain?”

    “You cast your dice against Fate, and he seldom takes prisoners.”

    “Are you… him, then?”

    “I work for him.”

    “So you’re a Shade, then?”

    The Shade of Death rose from the throne. “My master did intend to be here himself, but he was unavoidably detained.”

    Around the two spirits the world of the living moved on. The King, still in his night robes and accompanied by more guards, strode quickly yet gracefully into the ruling chamber. Micharus recognised the face of the King.

    “King Scothrin the Third?” He said, before he burst out in laughter.

    “What could possibly be so funny?” The Shade of Death asked as he stepped forwards, the bell that rang only for the dead letting out another hollowing ring.

    “I suppose you were right.” Micharus said from between bouts of dying laughter. “I couldn’t best Fate.”

    “Indeed.”

    “I don’t suppose I could hang around for a bit, haunt the castle for a few hundred years?”

    “I’m afraid not.”

    “I didn’t think so. What happens now?”

    The bony hand of the Shade reached below his robes and brought forth a key black as the sky between the stars. He walked over to the side of the chamber and knelt down, inserting the key into a non-existent lock. A door of impossibly black obsidian ripped into the world like a wound, light refusing to touch its surface. The air chilled and ice formed around it, and in its centre a single eye spun to look at Micharus’ soul. The Shade turned the key and the door swung inwards, revealing a different, dark place behind it. A single hand gestured Micharus to go through the door, and he felt powerless to resist. He stepped out of the living world, and the Shade of Death followed him. At last the door of Death closed and disappeared from the world.

    The chill that had run down the spine of the apothecary finally subsided as he listened to his King’s command.

    “Prepare him for burial. Have the stonemasons prepare a tomb in the castle gardens, we will bury him properly.”

    “We do not even know his name, my Liege.”

    “Then the tomb shall be unmarked until we find his name.”

    “As you command, my Liege.”

    The King said a silent prayer and turned to return to his chambers.

    Below the castle the town slept as the gentle waves of the ocean crashed against the freshly laid foundations of the harbour wall.

    Contents | Part II


  • Blog Fiction: Tomorrow Man

    So I always try to remember that I write primarily for the enjoyment of writing, of taking a story from my mind and giving it structure on the page. Whilst I have self-published my first (what I would consider finished) short story, the reason I have done so is that I hope that someone will read it and enjoy the experience as much as I enjoyed writing it.

    Whilst I am focusing on several projects at the moment, I will want to get them finished and edited before I release them to the world, and it may take a long time to get them up to that standard. But I thought that I could have another side-project, something on-the-go that I simply published here to my blog on what I plan to be a regular basis.

    I’ve been formulating a story that I felt could fit in to this idea, which I am currently referring to as “Tomorrow Man”. In general terms, it’s a story set in a different universe to the one where Colossus resides, a version of Earth where there exist forms of magic known as Shards. I don’t want to go into more detail just yet, I hope that I can do so within the story. It will be in multiple parts, I don’t know how many yet as I’m still working out the details of the plot as I go along.

    The plan is to post each part of the story on the first of the month, thereby giving me a month to write each part which hopefully will not eat up too much of my writing time from other projects. The first part is written and ready to go up on June 1st, so watch this space.

    To those who do manage to read it, feedback is always welcome. It’s one of the rare chances I’ll get at good, honest feedback. I know that I’m not the best writer I can be, so knowing where I can improve will be very helpful.


  • Scattered

    So far in my endeavours as a writer I have learned a fair amount. I wouldn’t say I have learned a lot, as I am sure what I have learned pales in comparison to what I am yet to learn. I have a tendency to consider this hobby of mine to have started about one and a half years ago, but that number is not entirely accurate.

    I first had ideas for stories I felt worth writing down years before that, and in fact I had made two attempts at writing a novel which had not gone anywhere. The first lesson I learned was that I needed structure to succeed. My first two tries had failed because I knew the destination, but had not planned the journey. This particular project was somewhat larger and more challenging than Colossus, with a lot of possible distractions along the way. I found myself meandering, to the point where I just stopped because I had got myself lost. When I had planned everything out and broken the story down into chapters, it was much easier to navigate piece-by-piece.

    I assume this lesson is a no-brainer, but I’d like to think that it is something that other writers and authors have discovered, either by being flat-out told it or discovering it for themselves.

    Another thing that became evident to me is the subject of this post, being scattered. I don’t know if others have a similar issue, but I find that I am writing multiple stories simultaneously. It is all too easy for me to spread myself too thin, I only have so much time to spend each week at the keyboard, dividing it over five or six projects would mean I’d never actually get anything finished.

    I’ve always been able to juggle multiple stories in my mind, which for the simpler tasks like planning is excellent, I’ve already got about 20 ideas stowed away on my computer ready to be developed. But when it comes to actually writing them, I will often jump between them. I tend to find myself in different moods, and different moods match different projects. It would be very easy for me to end up with 20 unfinished messes instead of any one coherent thing.

    Again I believe the answer to this is in structure and planning. I wrote Colossus initially in the space of a month or so, in the middle of writing the longer project (currently in draft form and in serious need of revisiting and editing) and I found for those two projects that sitting down and creating a to-do list of which chapters to write in what order made it easier for me to prioritise and focus. I am trying that again, although more ambitiously this time. I’m going to attempt to juggle four projects at once (which I have been doing in an unstructured way for about two months now) and see if I get anywhere. If I manage to do one item on the list a week (which is probably an optimistic estimate) I’ll be going for more than a year. I hope that, after a few months, one of the projects will break away from the others and I will know which one to prioritise a few months down the line.

    Hopefully I’ll let you know how it goes.


  • The Colossus

    So a little about the title character of Colossus.

    The character began life as a simple concept, little more than a physical description and an idea of exactly where he fit in the grand scheme of the Multiverse. But characters are people, and no person just pops into existence fully formed. They have a past, events, conflicts, mistakes and triumphs that each forge some element of the character as you envisaged them. In my limited experience as a writer, I have had characters who I created at the start of their journey, and so I have yet to see how they will develop until I write their stories. But others, like Colossus, I have initially glimpsed quite far into their development. When I had created the initial concept, I began to explore the questions that surrounded him. What was he? Why was he at this place? What had sent him down the path that lead him here?

    The answers to those questions formed the skeleton of his story, and once I had that it was just a matter of putting the flesh on the bones. Colossus is the first part of the story, addressing his origins and the first events that will utlimately lead him to the destination I have in mind. I wrote it purely because I wanted to explore the story of this character myself.

    The main aspect of this character is the fact he is not human. The Colossi have similarities to humans, but they have key differences. The main difference is simply a matter of scale. They are much larger than we are, and they live on a much longer, geologic timescale. They have a sleeping and waking cycle that spans tens of thousands of years, which serves as a mechanism to isolate Colossus from his people, and allow him to emerge into a world that is, by and large, unaware of their existence. It also presents an interesting challenge for me as a writer. The Colossus is still a child by the standards of his people, but he is already in excess of tens of thousands of years old. He remembers the first kindling of human civilization is if it were yesterday because, to him, it was. The challenge is in trying to convey an ancient child character, and I hope that, in Colossus and the parts to follow, I convey that as well as I intend to.


  • Welcome from a Would-be Author

    Greetings,

    I’ve created this blog initially as a place-holder to go with the various things I may or may not publish in the future. The idea is that, in the unlikely event that my writings garner the interest of others, this blog may be one format through which I can post about the numerous ideas floating around in my head.

    At the moment I am unknown, completely obscure, and I take it as a virtual certainty that that fact will never change. The world is full of very talented writers who spin worlds that truly capture us. I would be presuming a great deal to count myself among them, and I honestly cannot presume that much. I can however state that it is an aspiration of mine, as it is doubtless an aspiration of many people. I really am just starting out, I only took up the proverbial pen eighteen months ago, and in that time I’ve written one short story (Colossus), a draught of a longer novel and about thirty other ideas that I plan to get around to some day.

    For me, writing is a hobby. I do it because I enjoy the process, exploring the story as the words form on the page. I only truly write to please one person. I chose to self-publish Colossus because I’d rather have it out there, where people can see it and tell me where I went wrong than sitting gathering dust on my hard drive. Self-publishing has made it easy and inexpensive to do so, so why not?

    I count myself as a Would-be Author. I’d like to consider myself an author one day. But I don’t know how good an author I’ll be. I guess time will tell.