Coffee Break Read – Toast, Jam and Family

From The Cracksman Code by Jane Jago

Once breakfast had reached the toast and jam stage, Anna smiled at Bill.
“I think you should tell Sam all about your family. So he can get them straight in his head before he meets them.”
“Yes. I should. If I don’t he may be so surprised by the twins that he runs away. I wouldn’t like that. I’ll start with Daddy. He is Uncle Rod’s twin brother, but he isn’t nearly so big. Grandma Cracksman says he is the runt of the litter. I think that’s rude, but Daddy laughs. He says he may not have the family brawn, but he did get all the brains. Is that right Anna?”
“It is, except that the smallness is relative. Jim’s a chunky six five as opposed to a rangy whatever Rod is.”
“Six nine. But we’re interrupting Bill.”
“Mummy next. She’s beautiful. Blonde and cuddly, and with the biggest blue eyes in the world. She sings when she’s happy and hearing her sing makes us happy too.”
Rod patted his head.
“She’s a belter and no mistake. But she’s a big girl with it, and there’s nobody can cuss a blue streak like Patsy Cracksman.”
Bill laughed.
“You are right. She does swear beautifully. My brother Jaimie is next oldest. He’s fourteen. I like him a lot, because he is patient and explains things when I don’t understand. He is very clever with computers. Just like Daddy. Then comes the twins. They are twelve-and-bit, and they are very difficult to explain. Sometimes I like them and other times I don’t. They are quite rough and quick-tempered, and they only really like each other and Mummy. Their proper names are Matthias and Cyrano, but mostly people call them Matt and Cy, or Twins. Except for Anna who calls them Dickhead and Shitface.”
Anna coloured.
“To my eternal shame. I called them it once when they were about seven and I was at my wits’ end. Since when they have tormented me by refusing to answer to anything else.”
Rod grinned.
“I call them ‘you pair of fuckers’, so I got no moral high ground there. They are just like me and Jim were at that age. Intolerable. Inseparable. They will be easier to handle, and easier to prise apart, when sex rears its ugly head.”
Bill looked from Anna to Rod, then shook his head wisely.
“If grown ups can’t deal with them, it’s no wonder me and Charlie mostly avoid them. Charlie is my little brother. He’s only five, but he’s very, very smart. He learns things so fast it frightens some of his teachers. But he is kindhearted and helps the others in his class when they don’t understand their work. His class teacher told Daddy that he was already better at teaching than anybody else in our school. But the head teacher don’t like it that he is so smart. He don’t care, though. The only reason he don’t tell her to feck off is that he promised Daddy he wouldn’t. Then there’s Gandalf and Eller, who are Mummy’s dogs, Daddy’s dog Benni, the cat who is just called Cat, and Jamie’s parrot Cap’n Flint. That’s all of us.”
Bill sat back in his chair, with the air of one who has done a good job. Rod clapped his hands softly.
“A masterful dissertation, young Cracksman. Now. Are we all finished. I’ll get the bill…”

Jane Jago

Jane Jago’s Daily Drabble – Three Hundred and Fifty-Three

The cobbled street shone in the light of the electric sun and all the little houses were perfect replications of a small town in the old world. We took turns peeping through the hole in the ‘sky’ at the tiny perfection under its glass dome.

We looked longingly, but it was too expensive a toy. 

Mama took us to the market, where we bought juicy fruits that we ate on the way home.

We forgot about the diorama. Except for Kitty, who went every day to stare. 

Then she didn’t come home.

Sometimes we see her playing on the cobbles. 

©jj 2019

Artwork by Cindy Tomamichel

Coffee Break Read – The County Show

You can listen to this on YouTube.

The small round tent with it’s stippled canvas sat under the spread of an oak tree on the edge of the showground. All around rural folk talked rural patter about lambing and brewing, the price of rape by the acre and the eroding of environmental subsidies.
I didn’t feel as though I could bear another hail-fellow-well-met conversation with another farmer, which would begin with a friendly smile and end with a polite one, painted on just as they beat a rapid retreat back to the beer tent or the show ring.
the conversations followed an unavoidable and inevitable pattern.
“So what you going to do with those acres up on Claw Moor now you’ve bought them? Farm sheep?”
“Farm wind.”
A moment of confusion which would change to a quickly hidden hostility.
“The Moor is a beauty spot you know.”
“So is the world.”
A puzzled frown.
“I don’t see -“
“No. Very few do. I quite understand.”
Then the choice between rancour and retreat. Retreat winning most often, to my relief.
So the fortune teller’s tent seemed to me as much a place of temporary respite from all that as a possible entertainment for a few minutes. Besides, I could do with the promise of a tall, dark stranger – especially one who didn’t run away as soon as I started talking about my farm.
Inside it was cool and dim, the scent of verdigris and myrrh gentling the air. The fortune teller was young, not the wise old woman I had expected. She said nothing, nodding regally to the chair opposite her and then lifting a crystal ball from the table between us and holding it in her hands. Silence spread into the sounds outside and absorbed them as my gaze became fixed on the young woman’s dark eyes.
Was it vision or speech? I will never now know, but for a moment reality was banished to the sidelines and something happened. I saw a barren earth devoured by her children, embraced beneath the sleeping flood of rising oceans and the moon riding the skies as sole witness to the coming of a time that did not know humanity.
Then I was standing under the oak tree in the shade that cast me apart from the sun soaked showground, the jollity of ice cream vans and warm real ale, listening to the announcer telling us the winner of the Waggiest Tail contest…

E.M. Swift-Hook

Jane Jago’s Daily Drabble – Three Hundred and Fifty-Two

Gareth was bathing. For the first time since he won his spurs he had a chance to be really clean and he revelled in the coolness of the lake.

The eyes that watched him from the reeds were interested in the lean muscular length of the young man, and in his mop of yellow hair.

She swam to his side and lifted her head out of the clear, brown water. 

Gareth’s dagger flew to his hand, and the nymph laughed.

The young knight dropped his weapon and dived beneath the water where his hands became tangled in her greenish hair. 

©jj 2019

Jane Jago’s Daily Drabble – Three Hundred and Fifty-One

Matilda Whitethroat was brought to bed with the landowner’s child on a brisk autumn morning. Lord Edric summoned the parish priest to Matilda’s bedchamber and legitimised the babe as soon as the women had washed off the sweat of childbirth.

Then he rode off to the wars. 

Matilda moved herself and her infant back to her father’s house. And watched.

When Edric rode home he brought a wealthy young wife with him. 

Within an hour, Matilda had left the town.

Twenty years later, Eudric was bested in the tourney by a handsome young man.

“Ill-met father.” Tors Edricssen snarled.

©jj 2019


Coffee Break Read – A Cup of Tea

From A Walking Shadow, the final book in Haruspex Trilogy of Fortune’s Fools by E.M. Swift-Hook. You can listen to this on YouTube.

When the ship finally opened up, Stin stood waiting with Panvia, who still held her tea and was sipping at it. He helped her to kick the blocks to the ramp in an ultra low-tech parody of the way a spaceship dock would normally autosecure.
The first person out seemed more as though he was expecting to meet an armed assault than a middle-aged maintenance technician sipping a cup of tea. He held an energy snub in one hand and looked more than willing to use it. He wore a slightly garish, military cut outfit and his black hair pulled back into a short ponytail, separating on one side around the slight lump of a skull implanted port.
Panvia completely ignored the weaponry and lifted her mug.
“If you want a cuppa, I’ve something warm and spiced on the brew. It’ll help get your innards used to the local micro-flora and fauna. Tastes pretty good too.”
The black haired man didn’t reply, he finished his visual check of the environment and apparently satisfied that there wasn’t a secret ambush waiting in the shadows, moved aside.
“Tea sounds good to me.” The reply came from a second man who emerged from the ship. This one was dressed like he was attending a debut event in Central, but with a shaggy mane of golden blond curly hair tempering the effect. “And your tea always tastes good, Pan.”
Panvia’s normally dour expression lightened to something that nearly approached a smile.
“You look like you could do with it, too. You been living on all that alien muck too long.”
Any reply the blond man might have made was cut short by a shout of unmitigated delight from the entrance to the dock.
“Durban,” Gernie called and strode over to the ship with a huge grin on his round face.” You know until I saw you just now I was only half-convinced it really was you. When you sailed out of here with that cargo I was thinking that was it. That you’d use it to set yourself up – somewhere nice in the Middle Worlds, maybe the ‘City. Or possibly, knowing you, even Central way. Why the hell would you want to come back here, man?”
He finished the speech as he reached the blond man and threw his arms around him in a close embrace which was returned with mutual back slapping. The man with the ponytail moved sharply, clearly worried and only relaxed when Gernie released his victim and stepped back, still smiling. “They still talk about you in Micha’s from when you were first here that winter we met. How long ago was that now?”
“Too many years, maybe even too many decades,” the blond man said, his own smile as warm as Gernie’s. Then he looked directly at Stin. “This a new member of your ground crew?”
Gernie followed his look, turning to see.
“Oh, that’s one of our waifs and strays. Stinian. His girlfriend dumped him and jumped out. He helps out to earn his passage one day.”
“Mostly, for sure. Aren’t you Stin?” Now what was he supposed to say to that?
“I guess,” he agreed.
Gernie had already turned away again, his back to Stin.
“This your latest boyfriend?” he was asking, nodding at the man with the black hair and the scalp port. The blond man, Durban, laughed.
“Jaz is a friend – a very good friend.”
The other man, Jaz, seemed unconcerned by Gernie’s assumption. He seemed to still be expecting some kind of trouble. Or maybe that was just his normal way of being.

E.M. Swift-Hook.

Jane Jago’s Daily Drabble – Three Hundred and Fifty

Archie just looked at her. His eyes were a peculiarly liquid brown and she could rarely resist their beseeching depths.

But this time she was determined.

“No Archie,” she said firmly, “I’m not listening to him. Araminta saw him with a whore on either arm. Why would she lie to me?”

Archie’s gaze grew even more fixed and she found herself squirming under his regard.

She stamped her foot.

“No Archie. Just no.”

An hour later she picked up the phone and called Paul. Once she heard his voice Araminta’s spite was forgotten.

Archie trotted off with his tail wagging.

©jj 2019

Author Feature ‘Tempest Blades: The Withered King’ by Ricardo Victoria

Tempest Blades: The Withered King by Ricardo Victoria, the first book in the Tempest Blades science fantasy series is out tomorrow!

The final minutes of the Battle of the Line.
Life is full of parallels.

I hate this, Fionn thought. He looked at the battlefield spread across Longhorn Valley and sighed. Two more of the enemy were running towards him, swords aloft. Black Fang, his own sword with its graceful and sharply curved blade, was gripped in his hand, the blade dripping blood from his last kill. Black Fang emitted an otherworldly green glow that contrasted with its silvery surface. Around him lay a dozen bodies, either unconscious or dead. These two approaching enemies were the last of that squad.
Dodging a sword blow aimed at his head, Fionn tackled the soldier, impacting with his left shoulder. He rolled his attacker over his back and threw him onto the ground, then kicked him in the head, while parrying a slicing cut by the second attacker with Black Fang. With his free hand, he punched the second man in the face, breaking his nose, before kicking him away.
The first man had recovered enough to try attacking from behind, but Fionn caught the movement, reversed his hold on the grip of his sword and stabbed back with Black Fang. Spinning to the side so the sword could gain momentum, he sliced the second man, stepping aside as entrails spilled onto the ground. No more of the enemy remained in range so he took a moment to catch his breath and relax his muscles, already tired from the long fight.
When it came to the reputed fighters of the decade long Great War, Fionn was not the kind of warrior that came to mind. Contrary to the archetype of a war hero –musclebound, charismatic, shinning smile, fancy signature moves and strength that can sunder a mountain – Fionn had both human and freefolk ancestry. This made him slender, taller than average and with a preference for speed and precision over brute strength. A white shirt covered a light chainmail beneath, the brown trousers and brown combat boots he wore matched his long brown hair. He was twenty-two, although he managed to look younger, even after six years of fighting. Only the lines around his big and expressive green-grey eyes, showed anybody familiar with him how haggard and tired he was of the war. Even with his reputation.
Reputation is such a weird thing to earn during a war. When it came to fighting in battle, Fionn avoided fancy moves. Experience had taught him that in all-out frays, the most efficient moves are the ones that were straight and clean. No sword twirling, not a free-for-all, and no spectacular flips or somersaults. Those would only get you killed. And he wasn’t planning to die, at least not today. As a result, he had earned a reputation for being an efficient fighter. So efficient that the name of his freefolk clan had become his own nickname: The Greywolf, the famous warrior with the fabled sword that had helped the Free Alliance to stem the tide of the Blood Horde during the Great War.
At first, the Greywolf thing had been a badge of honor for him. The problem was it had led to the associated belief that he was a one-man army. He wasn’t. He wasn’t a weapon that Prince Byron, or any other lord or commander, could point and release at an enemy. Nor were any of the other Twelve Swords for that matter, not at Byron’s whims in any case, even if the Prince was also his friend.
There was another problem with his reputation. It meant that he now had to face wave after wave of enemy warriors, all of them wanting to prove themselves against him. And he had to do it while evading the barrage of energy attacks from the Horde’s giant source of power, currently sitting well protected within the main enemy camp: The Onyx Orb.
It was as if the thought had conjured the reality. Fionn saw the incoming green energy bolt at the last moment and jumped away.
I really, really hate that thing.

Tempest Blades: The Withered King, is Ricado Victoria’s first novel published by Shadow Dragon Press.

A Bite of... Ricardo Victoria
Q1: If you woke up tomorrow as one of the characters in Tempest Blades which would you choose to be and why?

Alex, most probably. In a fit of ego, he is the one that’s more like me or at least is inspired more on my life experiences and tastes. It would be easier to fit right in. And I love his skill set and powers.

Q2: What motivates your antagonist and how does that affect how they work to achieve their ends?

Without being too spoilery, he has a massive chip in his shoulder and is the kind of person that feels like is entitled to things, so when he didn’t get them, it made him make deals with things that prey on human weakness. Now he wants what he thinks is his and will stop at nothing to do it. Only his ego can be an obstacle for him.

Q3: Apart from your own, which three fictional characters would you most like to invite to dinner and why?

Providing I can take my wife with us to share the meal:
Tyrion Lannister (TV show version): good talk, smart guy, lots of things to discuss and share. We have very similar views on how the world actually works.
Duncan McLeod: C’mon! It would be awesome to ask him so many questions about history. Plus the guy is a gourmand, he will know where to get superb food.
Tony Stark: my wife already says that I have a crush on him, so it makes sense. Also, me having a degree in product design, the design interface used in the movies to develop his armors, would be a dream to use.

Born in the frozen landscape of Toluca, Mexico, Ricardo Victoria dreamed of being a writer. But needing a job that could pay the rent while writing, he studied Industrial Design and later obtained a PhD in Sustainable Design, while living in the United Kingdom and working in a comic book store to pay for his board game & toy addiction. He is back now in Toluca, living with his wife and his two dogs where he works as an academic at the local university. He has short stories featured in anthologies by Inklings Press and Rivenstone Press, and he was nominated for a Sidewise Award 2016 for the short story Twilight of the Mesozoic Moon, co-written with his arch-nemesis, Brent A. Harris. He also won a local contest for a fantasy short story during college. But hey! That one doesn’t count, does it?

You can find his rants and other work—both fiction and opinion pieces—on his own website/blog and follow him on Twitter.  


Sunday Serial – Dying to be Roman VII

Dying to be Roman by Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook is a whodunit set in a modern day Britain where the Roman Empire still rules. If you missed previous episodes you can start reading from the beginning. You can listen to this on YouTube.

As they left their vehicle Julia stopped suddenly.
“You have to understand how I see it, Dai. My thinking is that this is something that could kill more people if we don’t act fast – Britons and Romans both.” Her expression was a taut mix of appeal and demand. “We know that three bodies turned up in the arena and no one saw anything and there was nothing on the external security. The internal surveillance was offline both times and no one seems to know how or why that could come about. The one person who might have had some idea is now dead. To me that says there is something happening here.” She gestured to the Augusta Arena. “That means it would have been a complete waste of time searching that apartment.”
“But what if there is something there that -”
“Then the forensic people will find it. They will be over the place with a pixel by pixel search.”
“But we didn’t even log the murder, that is basic procedure. If my Prefect – “
“I will get Decimus to pull rank and silence her if she gives you any grief. I am sorry if that offends your integrity, but it is the best I can do.”
Dai stared at her, wondering why she couldn’t see how that was so wrong.
“It’s not about that – it’s not even about my integrity. It’s about the fact that all this – this magic, can happen for a Roman. But if it was only those poor bastards from the Game who had been killed, regular Britons, there would be no magic, and odds are it’d be filed as unsolved when my resource allocation and timesheet expired on it.”
She frowned for a moment then seemed to look at him as if she had just seen something there she had missed before.
“Dai, I didn’t make the rules and I don’t like them any more than you do. If you think I’m only in this to find out who killed some Senator’s spoiled brat, then you are missing the point. If I can use my ‘magic’ for your Britons too, then I’m going to do so. It’s called justice and that happens to be something I care about a lot.”
She did not wait to see his reaction and despite her shorter stride he didn’t catch up with her again until they went up the steps to the dramatic portico that fronted the building. Dai scanned the area for the security, both static and mobile, he had seen on the plans.
“I want to talk to their security guy again,” he said as the door slid open and a cool breeze washed over them from the perfectly conditioned air inside. Julia glanced up at him.
“Your report said he had no idea how it had happened,” she said. “And your own IT people reported it had been an internal virus. What more is there to ask? You changed your mind and think he might have done something?”
“I don’t think he had anything to do with it. But I think he might know who did – just not that he knows it. Or at least not yet.”
Julia’s face resolved from a frown into a smile.
“I would like to say that makes sense, but it doesn’t. So maybe we should talk to him after all.”
Torkel Njord was typical of his people. He was big boned, blond and bearded. He also had an attitude problem that Dai had found to be typical of his people too. It was easy enough to understand. The Gens Germanicus had been the last part of the continent to be drawn into the Roman Empire. The original resistance from the early Germanic tribes had coalesced in the far north where they succeeded in maintaining their ferocious independence until a little over a hundred years ago when, the rest of the world comfortably subdued, the then Emperor Aurelius Galerius Valerius Pravus had reneged on a centuries-old treaty and invaded. The northern lands had been created a new diocese, broken up into provinces and placed under the Prefecture of Gaul.
Which was no doubt why Torkel, who had been very willing to co-operate with Dai and Bryn, took one look at Julia and clammed up.
“The domina is welcome to look at my records. She will find they are all in order,” he said when she asked.
“The records are not of so much interest as your thoughts,” Julia told him and was rewarded by a glacial stare.
“I am sure my thoughts could never be anything of value to the most noble domina.”
“You might be surprised, I find most people very interesting and valuable.”
“If the domina says so.”

Part VIII will be here next Sunday. If you can’t wait to find what happens next you can snag the full novella here.

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