Coffee Break Read – In The Sacred Grove

Raising a hand for the others to wait, the woman and her bearded companion kneed their horses gently forwards into the moonlight. The woman spoke, her voice light and contemptuous. ‘If it isn’t my old friend the Archdruid. One wonders what business is so fraught with peril that the chosen of the goddess needs the protection of a pair of Paladin knights.’
The bony old man didn’t choose to reply, but the Paladins bowed.
The younger one put up his visor and replied, his voice a pale copy of the ironic tones of the dark-haired woman. ‘One might also wonder what brings a lady warrior with an armed escort to the sacred grove on this of all nights. It is my hope that it means no evil to the Archdruid, as we have a contract to protect him.’
His companion put up his own visor and turned to look at the lady, his eyes burning red in the bloodless face of a golem. He bowed again, then turned to his companion. ‘Don’t be any stupider than you can help, my friend. This is not a lady to be spoken to with disrespect.’
‘Silence golem. Who is in charge of this detail?’
‘That depends on your perspective. According to your uncle, you are. But according to the Council, who rather outrank one knight, even if he is treasurer, I am. This was thought to be an easy job, and I’m supposed to make sure you do it properly, and return home safe.’
While he had been speaking the golem moved his horse closer to the Archdruid, and, moving with the superhuman speed of his kind, he reached over and bashed the bony old man over the head with one mailed fist. The Archdruid slumped over his horse’s neck, quite unconscious.
‘What are you doing?’ his companion almost screamed.
‘Saving the old fool’s life. He was building a forbidden spell and if I hadn’t stopped him, the elf over there in the darkness would have shot him dead.’
‘What elf? What spell? Who are these people?’
The golem looked at his companion with barely concealed irritation in his scarlet eyes. ‘What do you know of the Chaos Lords?’
The young knight closed his eyes, concentrated hard, then repeated as if learned by rote: ‘That they are set over the worlds in order to ensure that the fates of humankind pass according to certain rules, and that they come among us when dark forces seek to interfere with the course of history.’ He opened his eyes and looked at his companion in puzzlement. ‘But what does that have to do with meeting a woman in the sacred grove at Samhain?’
The golem groaned. ‘Use your eyes, fool. The woman you have just insulted is the High Lady of Chaos herself. She could obliterate you with a word. Beside her is her consort. In the shadows are their sons, called in this world Strength and Fortitude. Alongside them is an Elf Lord, with an arrow aimed at your stupid heart. And if you think your armour will protect you, then you are a bigger fool than even I thought. Your family may have paid for all sorts of charms of protection for your armour, but nothing is proof against an elf arrow.’
The young knight swallowed audibly, and when he spoke his voice had risen a couple of octaves, making him sound even younger. ‘Oh. I didn’t know that. What are we supposed to do now?’
The golem groaned again. Then it raised its sword high into the sky and muttered a few words. At once an irritable voice could be heard echoing around the clearing ‘Yes. What? This had better be urgent. It’s supper time.’
‘Golem D10/1 reporting. Have just encountered Chaos Lords in Sacred Grove. Orders?’
‘Cooperate with Chaos Lords, of course. Who is with you?’
‘Newly knighted Sir Amyas.’
‘Just the two of you?’
‘Yes my lord.’
‘Ah yes, I remember now. Well do your best D10/1, and try to keep the treasurer’s nephew alive if you possibly can.’ The voice disappeared as abruptly as it had started.

Jane Jago

Random Rumination – eighteen

The collected ‘wisdom’ of seven decades on this planet condensed into poetic form. Certainly not philosophy to live your life by…

When things profound 
Go round and round
Inside your fertile mind
And small ideas
Grow large and queer
There’s something you might find
A glass of booze
A little snooze
Will clear your worried head
Or someone thick
With a monster dick
You can entice to bed
The moral of this verse complex
Is everything’s better with booze. Or sex


Coffee Break Read – Chosen

“Louwina, I – I can’t live without you,” Woul stuttered, his eyes holding an acre of desolation and his sharp fangs glinting in the moonlight as his six-pack flexed in his distress.
She backed away from the head of the shifter clan, eyes wide in disbelief. Why was he being so mean to her? She knew at sixteen she was nothing special with her stick like body and bulgy breasts. Her hair was never exactly fashionable as it set her distressingly even featured face in a halo of golden curls.
She backed into the tall, muscular figure of Girald, the new boy in town who all the popular girls yearned to date.
“No, Louwina, your secret heritage calls to me. We are meant for each other,” he said, looking down lovingly into her eyes, sprinkles of fairydust falling like dandruff from his hair.
“My – what?”
“Well, you know how your parents both vanished mysteriously on the day of the eclipse and how your granny has that weird book engraved with the words ‘My Family’s Book of Ultra-Secret Witchcraft’?”
“Yes, but that doesn’t mean anything. She never lets me read it.”
The gorgeous hunks looked at her with longing and desire, adoration clear on both faces.
“You are the Chosen One and my chosen one,” Woul murmured, smirking.
“You are my chosen one too,” Girald echoed, his eyes sparkling in the starlight.
Louwina stood stunned by the revelation.
She was the Chosen One?
So that explained why everyone at school hated her and why her life had been so miserable so far. And now she had to choose between these two, equally gorgeous, half-naked eighteen year olds, who made her feel all warm and tingly in places she had never thought much about before.
But which one?
Louwina rolled her eyes.
How was she meant to choose between a Vampire Weresheep and a Fae Weregiraffe?

E.M. Swift-Hook

EM-Drabbles – Thirty-Seven

The meeting finished and Erica found herself frustrated as usual.

“It’s like the blind men and the elephant,” she told Rosie, her cat as she served up a tin of sardines. “They all only see their own problem, not how it fits the whole.”

At the next meeting, she tried to explain this to her colleagues.

“It’s like you’re all holding onto part of an elephant and not realising they are all bits of the same thing.”

There was an odd silence then someone cleared their throat.

“So is this the elephant in the room – or is that another elephant?”

E.M. Swift-Hook

Coffee Break Read – A Worthy Mount

Caer intercepted him as he was crossing the Great Hall, his face wry. Durban treated the new Castellan to a cheerful smile.
“So what is the bad smell in your nostrils?” he asked blithely, although it was not that hard to guess the likely cause.
“That whoreson, slave-begotten, bastard Keshalgis,” Caer snarled. “He has given me rooms beside the midden.”
Durban suppressed the desire to laugh and schooled his reluctant features into something that was almost outrage. He stepped forward and took the other man’s arm in a reassuring way and walked with him towards the stairs that led to his own assigned rooms.
“Caer, my friend,” he said confidingly, “I promise you that you will be moved to fitting quarters before the day’s end and you will have Keshalgis grovelling at your feet.”
Caer looked at him sharply.
“You know something? You have something on him?”
“I know enough about Vavasor Keshalgis to destroy him completely with the Warlord if you wish. Enough that you could sheath your sword in his guts with no come back should you want, but you might find it of more value to have him trained to walk to your heel.” 
Caer was now looking at him speculatively.
“You can do this? You will do this, for me?”
Durban dazzled him with his sunniest smile.
“It is as good as done, my friend. Meanwhile, have your things taken to my rooms. I need to work.”

Durban sought out the Vavasor Keshalgis and found him in the stable yard considering the purchase of a new pony. It was, indeed, a magnificent beast. Even in full coat, the powerful lines of its musculature gave it a shape and grace most ponies could never aspire to. The Castellan’s nephew greeted Durban cheerfully enough and asked his opinion.
“I think it is a worthy mount for a Castellan,” Durban answered him, promptly. There was something in his tone that made Keshalgis look at him sharply.
“And for a Vavasor also,” he insisted.
“A Vavasor may do better to present gifts to their more fit setting and the more fit setting for a pony of this kind would be the stable of a Castellan.”
Keshalgis frowned now.
“My uncle is an old man who does not ride much and when he does it is on the most placid of ponies. Why should I purchase such a fine mount for him?”
“I was not thinking of your uncle,” Durban told him. Keshalgis stepped away from the pony then, his attention now totally upon Durban. But then Keshalgis was an intelligent man.
“What are you trying to say?” he asked almost angrily, but his tone pitched low enough only to reach Durban’s ears.
Durban smiled at him benignly.
“I was just thinking where the wealth to purchase such a fine mount came from,” he said smoothly and the Castellan’s nephew paled. “Oh, don’t get me wrong, I am all for private enterprise and taking the initiative in such matters, but not everyone is so appreciative. I think, for example, that should the Warlord find your family had withheld part of the purchase price Bazath paid you for the Kashlihk, he might not be so understanding. After all, it was supposed to be part of the indemnity you gave to keep Tabruth, was it not?”
The chill of realisation froze on the other man’s face, Durban let the intelligent mind unfreeze and start thinking again before he spoke further.
“This pony would be an excellent gift for the Castellan of Cressida,” he said cheerfully, “and I was thinking you could offer him your own suite of rooms in the castle as long as he is resident here. It would also be a good idea if you were to ensure that the Honoured One is well attended by you in whatever he might require.”
Keshalgis looked as though he was going to choke.
“You are a bastard, Chola,” he hissed coldly. “You should watch your back. Tabruth is not going to be a safe place for you after this.”
Durban met the venom with his sunniest smile.
“I am sure the streets of Tabruth will be well patrolled by the Warlord’s men,” he said, “if the men of Tabruth can’t keep their own streets safe.”

From Dues of Blood part three of Transgressor Trilogy by E.M. Swift-Hook

Author Feature: The Sprocket Sagas by Bryan Pentelow 

Bryan Pentelow writes the Sprocket Sagas, a series of (now) seven books for children.
The stories are based in and around the North of England in a town called Batherby Bridge and more exactly at 7 and 7A Pudding Founders Lane, these are stories about Dragons, Children, Dogs and Crows with a few grownups thrown in to do the heavy lifting. As the series goes on, each book is a little longer than its predecessor. And from number six the print is smaller  – because you have now grown up a bit and with more words per page it keeps the price down.
The latest title is Sprocket and the Dragon Empress. This has the wickedest villain yet and just to be even-handed this one is female. Let’s start at the beginning…

Chapter 1

The small glowing dot on the radar screen was approaching rapidly from just above the range of mountains that surrounded the remote desert plateau.
“I think its time we went outside to watch the demonstration,” the white-coated executive opened the door of the control centre and Quin Lee Mi stepped out into the stifling heat and trained the large binoculars on the horizon panning them across to catch any sign of movement. The dragon burst from the cloud base and dropped like a stone towards the target area that was covered with wrecked vehicles and groups of shop window dummies.
“It’s very quiet.” She said turning to the executive.
“That’s because it is travelling faster than the speed of sound. The sonic boom will follow it in a few seconds,” he explained. It flashed towards them barely twenty feet above the ground then bat-like wings shot out and it swooped up shedding most of its forward momentum. As it reached the zenith the drive flame cut just as the sonic boom arrived and the ground shook with the thunderclap. The wings folded back and it swooped across the target, a jet of scintillating gas and liquid shooting from its nose. As it levelled out a blue-white flash ignited the vapour cloud which engulfed the area in ravening fire. When the smoke and flying ash cleared very little remained of the wrecked trucks and cars and there was no sign of the dummy people. There was also no sign of the dragon either.
“Satisfactory, Most satisfying.”  Qin Lee Mi clapped her small gloved hands and beamed at the executive. “My wish is that the machine would be more dragon-like to be recognised as the fabled beast. When it is deployed I want the world to know that dragons have returned.” The executive bowed and muttered that her wishes would be met as she stalked away to the waiting helicopter.   
Qin Lee Mi sat in her vast office turning her huge, black leather, swivel chair from side to side as she scanned the panoramic view through the floor to ceiling windows which formed half of the wall of the circular room. The view would have caused anyone with a fear of heights to cling to the ornate, carved wood frame which surrounded the sliding doors of the entrance to the lift which was the only access to this nerve centre of the huge Quin-T-Sential communications, cosmetics and health food empire. Lee frowned as her gaze passed over the crowds thronging the streets far below. This should all be under her control. Her family had been rulers of China and many of the surrounding lands had paid tribute to their might and the strength of their armies. Tribal chiefs had grovelled at the base of the steps leading to the Imperial Throne and lives had hung by a thread at the whim of her ancestor’s’ word. Legend had it that her forefathers had ridden the skies on the backs of dragons and rained fire and death on their enemies.

To keep reading you can find the rest of the book here.

A Bite of… Bryan Pentelow

1.     Would you rather live in this world or the one you create in your books?

Definitely the world of my books. The time difference between Human World and Dragon World means I could have lots of adventurers and still be back in time for tea. I like to travel but hate the time it takes to get there. I loathe airports with all the queuing and hoards of people. I have no patience with idiots who bring on hand luggage so large they can’t lift it into the overhead lockers. If only I could afford a private jet. I can’t, so Portals would be my ideal way to get from one place to another. Most of all, because I’m getting old I could really do with a cup of the water from the spring of the Heart of the North to rejuvenate both mind and body. Getting old is not just a pain in the posterior but an increasing number of other places.

2.     Why do you write? Money is an acceptable answer.

 I would love Money to be the answer but I have the feeling that I would need to live several lifetimes to get enough royalties for my bank manager to take notice. I wrote Sprocket one while on holiday in Mallorca, in the shade while my wife roasted in the sun and turned the same colour as well-tanned leather. I wrote it for my first granddaughter, Sophie, (Victoria) in the books and she was not impressed by an E-book. Only when it came out in paperback did she consider it to be a real book. Since then she has nagged me constantly about my inability to produce at least a new book every week. Our offspring have provided us with three more grandchildren so the pressure for more books has quadrupled. No peace for the wicked they say. I must have lead a hell of a life in a previous existence.

3.     You can have four guests at a dinner party. Name the four people living, dead or fictional you would most like to entertain.

I picked this question first because it had to be easy to answer. How wrong I was. Who to choose? Surely some of my author friends, but I can only have four so I’m bound to offend someone. So no friends.
Well, it had better be from the ranks of the dead at least they shouldn’t object to being resurrected for a good meal and plenty of booze of their choice. First at the table would be Terry Pratchett. His ridiculous sense of humour and sideways perspective on the human condition would be endlessly amusing. Bring to the table Isac Asimov, the man who first took me outside of the everyday and kicked my brain into coping with ‘What if?’ The complexities of his laws of robotics and the problems of human/robot relationships which we are now having to face up to.
Then Jody Taylor. Ok she, like me is not dead. Her St Marys series have whiled away many an amusing hour when I should probably have been writing. Like Terry, she has a wonderful ability to write entertaining characters and dump them into one crisis after another from which they eventually manage to arise with humour and ingenuity.
My final choice has to be Jasper Fford. The Aire Affair and its sequels have provided me with hours of enjoyment. As you can see these are, if not comedy writers, people who have fashioned an alternative view of humankind and caused their readers to think again about what surrounds us. In other words WHAT IF. So if you’re joining our gathering pour the wine, bring on the starters and prepare to be well fed up and agreeably drunk, to quote the immortal Gerard Hoffnung.

Having worked your way through my meanderings, don’t stop now. There are mountains of books out there so read on and if you have enjoyed the experience please leave us a review or two. All authors are basically attention seekers.

Bryan Pentelow was born (in Northamptonshire) grew up (now lives in Leeds) and is not dead yet. He wrote the Sprocket books with adults in mind. They are books for adults and children to read together.  Bryan hopes they are not embarrassing or too boring for grownups to plough through at bedtime. Let’s face it, it’s a pain if Mum or Dad dozes off while reading to you. You can find him on Goodreads and Facebook.

The Sprocket Sagas so far:

1.     Sprocket and the Great Northern Forest
2.     Sprocket and the Great Museum Scam
3.     Sprocket and the Poison Portal
4.     Sprocket and the Heart of the North
5.     Sprocket and the Pax Dracus
6.     Sprocket and the Time Vortex
7.     Sprocket and the Dragon Empress

All are available from Amazon in E-Book (quite inexpensive) and paperback (cost more but you don’t get moaned at for constantly staring at a screen).

EM-Drabbles – Thirty-Six

The problem Kyle found with being a necromancer, was that it ruined his love life.

It wasn’t so easy to impress the local lasses when you smelt of rotting corpses and kept zombies. He might be able to command the undead, but he could not command the love of a single living woman.

Indeed, Kyle had resigned himself to a life alone.

Until late one night, sitting by the crossroads to perform his baleful work, he saw a slender figure burying something there.

The chance encounter led to marriage.

After all, it wasn’t easy finding love as an abortionist either…

E.M. Swift-Hook

Much Dithering in Little Botheringham – 4

‘Much Dithering in Little Botheringham’ is an everyday tale of village life and vampires, from Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook.

Wednesday lunchtime meant a meeting of the committee of the Ladies’ Association and even more than the usual amount of irritatingly halfwitted ‘ideas’ to attract ‘new blood’. Em had, in the end, just vetoed the lot – which hadn’t done much for her personal popularity, but at least it headed off any of the possible complications that any sort of blood would bring to the equation.
However, the meeting had ended with a bucketload of bitchiness and backbiting, and Em actually felt tired enough that Agnes’ Parthian shot on leaving had made more impression than it would have done on a better day.
“Anyway Emmeline Vanderbilt, we aren’t quorate any more. How can we be a seven when there are only six of us? It’s been more than a year since Florence passed. And you’ve yet to do your duty.”
Em had replied with a spectacularly rude gesture she would probably regret if she thought about it. So she drove home deliberately thinking only about the dilatoriness of the council in the matter of the bats in the belfry. It was, she thought, time for a ‘gentle reminder’.
But when she got to her house there was a far more pressing problem blocking the driveway. It was her supermarket delivery. On the wrong day. At the wrong time. The delivery driver, who knew her of old, cringed as the Citroen missed the back of his van by about three centimetres.
Em leapt from the driving seat like a scalded cat. “You are here today because?”
“Because I’m delivering your groceries.” he essayed a smile that sort of slid off his face as Em placed her hands on her skinny hips.
“I can see that. But why today?”
“Somebody cocked up?” the driver hazarded.
“Indeed somebody did. And it wasn’t me.”
“I’m sure it wasn’t. Will I take this lot away then?”
“What? And have the next available delivery slot be three weeks Thursday at five am? No. Bring it in and I’ll check it off my list.”
The driver winced but began unloading. By the time he had the second box out of the van Em had in front of her incontrovertible proof he should’ve been at her house at eight am. Tomorrow. She ground her teeth and went straight for live chat. 
“You might as well put the kettle on as you are going nowhere until I get this sorted.”
The driver shrunk even further into his skin, making him look like a pissed-off tortoise, but he moved the kettle onto the hot plate before stoically carrying on with his unloading. When he finished, Em handed him a printed list.
“You want to check my delivery for me, while I explain to Morag in Edinburgh why it’s not acceptable to move my delivery slot without telling me. Oh and make a pot of tea while you are at it.”
Being aware that he wasn’t going to get away before Em was satisfied, he obliged. Once the  tea was properly brewed, he poured two mugs, handing one to his ‘hostess’ and burying his own nose in the other before getting on with checking the goods against the order.
He had just about finished his check when Em gave a satisfied chuckle. “I thought she’d see it my way in the end. Now. How much of the delivery is wrong?”
The driver indicated a neat pile at the end of the table.
“That much.”
“And how much of that is sensible replacement?”
“Ummm. About none.”
“Right, scoot it this way and grab yourself a biscuit. Brown tin on the dresser.”
He grabbed the tin and sat down, morosely eating ginger biscuits while he tried to calculate how far behind this little fracas was likely to have made him. He reckoned it’d be the best part of two hours before he escaped and his mind’s eye saw the darts match and a buxom barmaid he very much admired disappearing over the horizon. He sighed gustily and Em flicked a hand at him. He subsided into injured silence, whilst Em carried on castigating the unfortunate Morag.
Twenty-five minutes later she sat back in her chair.
“Are you still here, man?”
“Until you move your car from behind the van here is where I’ll remain.”
“Oh yes. I’d forgotten that.”
He knew she wasn’t the type of female to forget anything, but he also understood that anything other than absolute obedience wasn’t going to get him released to finish his deliveries in time to at least get a pint before last orders. This being the case he ducked his head.
“Am I taking this lot back?” He indicated the pile of incorrect goods with a thumb.
Em showed two rows of excellent teeth in a wolfish grin. “No. You’re leaving them. I’m just not paying for them. Now. Where’s my cold stuff?”
“Fridge and freezer. I don’t like to see waste.”
“Oh. Thank you.” Em looked at the unprepossessing driver whose uniform fleece and steel-toe-capped boots only served to emphasise his skinny wrinkled frame. She felt unusual stirrings of guilt and scrabbled in her handbag for a tip. She rooted out a twenty and shoved it at him. 
“Here. Get yourself a pint  and a pasty.”
She whisked out of the kitchen and was backing the Citroen out of the drive by the time he managed to gather his scattered wits…
Once he was gone, Em found herself unaccountably depressed and not even the prospect of a battle of wills with the laodicean council employee tasked with the collection of data on protected species offered any prospect of joy. She was just wondering whether or not to phone Agnes and offer an olive branch when the cheerful pipping of a car horn lifted her from her lethargy. 
It was Agnes.
Of course it was.
Agnes and a box of fresh doughnuts. Dumping the doughnuts on the table Em’s oldest friend pulled the kettle onto the hot plate.
“Sorry Em. I was bang out of order.”
“Me too. I’m just a bit out of sorts right now. And I’m not entirely sure why.”
“Me too and me neither.”
“There’s something isn’t there?”
“Yes. There is. Ruby says she has been feeling irritable in her skin ever since this vicar came to the parish. Reckons there is something not right about him.”
“What? Even more not right than being very well aware that he’s wet dream material for every impressionable female for miles around? And not above making use of it!”
“Apparently. And she is very far from being an imaginative type. If it had been Petunia…”
Em became aware of a thought that had been itching away in the back of her head for days. Maybe Erasmus would help. But she kept that thought to herself as Agnes wasn’t really a bat person. Instead of giving voice to a very nebulous idea she helped herself to a large jam doughnut and made two tall mugs of the special tea that she and her sisters used to sustain themselves.
An hour later Agnes set off home and Em felt very much better. So much so that she reached out a hand for the phone intending to sort out the council once and for all. But before she could pick it up it uttered its shrill command for her attention. Leaving it to ring five times she looked at the number and for a moment she thought it was Florence Maybush calling her from beyond the grave. Em mentally admonished herself before picking up the receiver in a not entirely steady hand.
“Em Vanderbilt speaking.”
The voice at the other end of the line was fussy and wispy and bore traces of London hidden under its careful middle-class modulation.
“Good afternoon Ms Vanderbilt, my name is Virginia Cropper and I have recently moved into Maybush Cottage.”
That explained the number and Em felt a surge of relief. She injected cautious bonhomie into her voice.
“Welcome to Little Botheringham, Mrs Cropper.”
There was a verbal buzzing noise from the phone.
“I’m sorry?”
“I said ‘Mzzz’. I’m not married. Well, not anymore and even when I was I wasn’t Mrs. Cropper that’s my… Oh well, I’m sure you aren’t interested in all that. I’m wittering. Don’t mind me.”
Em was glad she was on the phone and her smile wouldn’t show.
“Then welcome to Little Botheringham, Ms. Cropper,” she corrected.
“Oh. Thank you. It seems a beautiful place and I’m sure I’m settling in well. I was calling because I understand that you are the person to speak to about joining the Ladies’ Society.”
A small voice in Em’s head laughed sardonically at the thought of another ‘lady’ from that address, but she kept her voice neutral.
“New members are always welcome. Our next meeting is on the first of the month in the village hall at seven pm. Just pop along and I’ll be delighted to sign you up.”
“Oh. Right. Thank you.”
“We will look forward to seeing you.”
Em put the phone down and suppressed an inward sigh. This female didn’t sound a bit her sort, but the society needed new membership. Consigning the woman to the back of her mind Em geared herself up for an enjoyable verbal punch-up with the county council as represented by the dragon who woman-ed the switchboard and the lazy sods in animal protection.

Part 5 of Much Dithering in Little Botheringham by Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook, will be here next week.

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