Coffee Break Read – A New Baby

Idibus Augustus MDCCLXXIX Anno Diocletiani

Julia Llewellyn was on her way home from the Asclepieion on Ynys Mon at last. She had been there, or thereabouts, for most of the last two months and hard as it was, she pushed down the turmoil of emotions which revolved in her stomach every time she thought about that and focused hard on the future.
 Firstly, she had endured a very difficult pregnancy from mid-term on, requiring extensive bedrest and the inevitable boredom and frustration that had meant. Despite all that, her son, Rhodri, had still been born six weeks early needing to be hailed off to an incubator. Then he was discovered to have a hole in his diaphragm requiring immediate surgery. Several sleepless nights followed with herself and her husband keeping watch over his tiny form, before he was declared on the mend. And then Julia had to wait for him to grow big enough to leave his incubator and come home…
She was glad for more than the obvious reasons. Her husband, Dai Llewellyn was a Submagistratus for the region of Demetae and Cornovii and she knew he was keeping something from her, holding back to protect her, as he would think. It was hard to pin him down in his brief visits, once home she was sure she would get to do so.
At last the great day had come and she was seated decorously in the back of a burly all-wheel being piloted by her friend and bodyguard, Edbert. If she had been an expecting sort of a woman, she would have expected Dai to be sitting beside her.  But he was conspicuous by his absence. She sighed a tiny sigh and kissed the downy head that rested on her breast.
“Not his fault.” Edbert’s unfeasibly deep voice broke gently into her reverie.
“What’s not who’s fault?” Julia kept her voice even for fear of waking Rhodri.
Edbert laughed softly. “It’s not Dai’s fault that he isn’t sitting beside you, you cross-grained little person.”
Julia found herself relaxing. “Catch a hot case did he?”
“Nope. Having refused to see or speak to Dai, or either of his Senior Investigators – Bryn or Gallus – for the best part of a month, Magistratus Sextus Catus Bestia called a meeting for this morning. Messaged just before we were setting out to fetch you.” His voice dripped sarcasm. “If I didn’t know better I’d think it was timed to cause maximum inconvenience.”
Julia sighed again. “He is such a petty man. I keep hoping things will improve. But it’s not likely.”
“Isn’t. And his attitude to ‘servants’ is beyond despicable.”
Julia held the baby carefully as she leaned forward and put her hand on his shoulder. 
“Bestia really is a piece of work, isn’t he? But he is just petty and that can’t hurt us.”
“I wouldn’t place any bets on that.”
“Me neither, honestly. But I can’t afford to think like that.”
“No. Nor you can. My bad. How is the little one standing up to the journey?”
“He’s fine. Had his prandium before we set out. Sleeping now. The medica said something to me just before you rolled up that was very comfortable. ‘Rhodri Ddu is a fighter and as tough as they come’. She says not to treat him any different to any other baby now. He’s all healed and a hundred percent fit.” One tear escaped and ran down her cheek, but it was a tear of thankfulness not sorrow. Her precious baby was well and could take his place in the nursery where he and his sister Aelwen would be in the care of the nursery maid Luned, who was as brave as a lioness and as tender as the touch of silk. All things considered, Julia thought today was a good day, even if the pinpricks from Dai’s boss were getting sharper and less disguised. She wondered if they were what was behind her beloved’s withdrawn mood.
The rest of the ride home passed in silence, save for Rhodri’s tiny snore. 
Just before they were due to turn onto the private road to the Villa Papaverus, Edbert stopped the car and screwed around in his seat to look at Julia with deep wisdom in his winter grey eyes. 
“A word of warning. There’s about half a hundred people waiting to greet you. If I was you I’d wait in the all-wheel and hand the little one off to Luned before you get out. What with dogs and in-laws, and that madwoman Domina Lavinia, it would be easy for you to take a tumble. Luned and me put our heads together and she has found a big old high-wheel baby carriage so everybody can see young Rhodri without crowding.”
For a moment, Julia didn’t know what to say and she felt her throat constricting. Edbert smiled and touched her cheek with the back of one huge hand.
“All a bit overwhelming ain’t it?”
“It is. And thank you my friend.” 
“Always got your back small stuff.”
“Always got yours, you big ape.”
With the shoals of emotion successfully navigated Edbert started the engine again.

From Dying to be Innocent the ninth Dai and Julia Mystery from Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook, a whodunit set in a modern day Britain where the Roman Empire still rules. You can listen to this on YouTube.

Glossary of Latin and Other Terms
Please note these are not always accurate translations, they are how these terms are used in Dai and Julia’s world.
Asclepieion – healing spa, hospital
Demetae and Cornovii – Wales and several English Midland counties including Shropshire
Ddu – dark, as in hair and/or skin
Domin-a/us – Ma’am/Sir. Used to superiors both in rank and social status
Magistratus – senior official with legal jurisdiction over an area
Medic-a/us – doctor
Prandium – brunch or lunch
Submagistratus – a more junior official with legal jurisdiction over an area, under the authority of a Magistratus
Villa Papaverus – Poppy House. Dai and Julia’s residence.
Ynys Mon –  or the Isle of Anglesey

Jane Jago’s Drabbles – Four Hundred and Ninety-Eight

The shadow of the moon crept over the face of the sun, and as the sky grew dark the birds fell silent in the garden.
“Has Mother Sun gone away forever?” Noodle whispered fearfully.
“Naw. She’ll be back in a minute.” Big Bertha was reassuring.
Nasty Wankel, though, whispered frightening rumours in Noodle’s pointy ear.
But the gold returned to the sky and a passing bird dropped a rock on his spiteful head.
“Take that as a warning, young Wankel. Mother sees all, and forgives nothing.”
Wankel felt the egg on his head and swore to be a better gnome.

©️jj 2021

Coffee Break Read – Tea and Sympathy

This, Carla realised, was what was meant by ‘tea and sympathy’. Only, in this case, it was coffee and sympathy – well latte to be exact – and some comfort-eating chocolate cake.
“So it’s over this time?” Her cup, broad and deep, clicked back on its saucer. “Really? Truly?”
Emmy gave a sad smile. Over the last hour and the chocolate cake, she had burdened Carla’s soul with a gory, forensic dissection of the breakdown of her relationship. Cut by painful cut, from the first misconstrued comment to the final brutal insult.
“Oh it’s over. Dead. Buried. Jake knows it, I know it.”
“You’re sure? Last time – ”
“Last time I was still half in love.”
“And now?”
“Now I’m not.”
“So what about Chris?”
Emmy’s blue eyes blinked once, stating clearly that the name was not relevant in her love life and never would be. “I heard from Miranda the other day. Sienna is starting school. Isn’t that incredible? It only seems like last week the three of us were sitting in these very chairs discussing baby names.”
“Emmy – you can’t pretend forever.”
The blue eyes clouded. Emmy grabbed her coffee cup from its brightly coloured saucer and hid behind it. The words ‘I Love Cappuccino’ danced around the rim in bold, red letters.
“Chris won’t just go away,” Carla spoke to the cup.
Emmy lowered the coffee, her face tightly resentful.
“Chris is not involved with this.” Then, suddenly appealing: “Let’s not go there today, Carla hun, please.”
Not for the first time, Carla felt herself being torn between loyalties. Emmy’s baby-blue eyes, pleading, and Chris – dependable Chris – bleeding from a dozen wounds he had never known were being inflicted. Carla shook her head slowly, as the waters of the Rubicon flowed away beneath her feet.
“He’s your husband, not a meal ticket. You have to – ”
Instantly Emmy was by the door, the cup still in her hand.
“I don’t ‘have to’ anything! Don’t you understand? I don’t care!”
The coffee cup arced across the room heading for shattering impact and landed at the moment the door slammed. It bounced on the carpet, with a little spray of coffee and rolled, until it stopped on its handle by Carla’s feet, still safe and in one piece.
Carla bent to pick it up, the words facing her read: ‘I Love…’. For a moment she clutched it close, then she placed it with extra care on its own saucer, where it belonged.

E.M. Swift-Hook

Author Feature. The Night Librarian by Jane Jago

The Night Librarian by Jane Jago is a collection of tales about the night librarian and what happens at night in the library when the books come to life…

It was a bitterly cold night in mid-December, and the underfloor heating in the Library groaned and belched as the hot water ran through the ancient channels. Most of the books were asleep, their dry papery snores filling the air with a somnolent refrain.
However, not everybody slept. Some books were out of their shelves on great, heavy, wheeled trolleys awaiting return to the places where they could rest. One such trolley was currently making its way towards the Dark Majicks stack, but it wasn’t running too well. It was almost as as if one of its wheels was locked – so that the ancient rubber of the tyre was making a toothache-inducing squeal as it dragged across the chequered marble of the Library floor. The squeal grew even louder as the trolley neared the shelves that held unchained grimoires.
“Who is making the trolley scream?” a firm voice demanded. “Whoever it is can just stop it now, or there will be consequences.”
There was a fair bit of subliminal mumbling and grumbling as the trolley rounded the final corner to the home of the grimoires, but the squeaking wheel fell silent. A dumpy young woman, with sandy hair and a lot of freckles, began shelving the books with brisk efficiency. She looked carefully at each volume before placing it in its accustomed position, examining covers and tutting gently when she found and smoothed pages that had been dogeared or crumpled.
One book felt suspiciously lumpy and she opened it to find a pressed mandrake root being used as a bookmark, or somewhat else. She removed the offending fetish and placed it in one of the sagging pockets of her tweedy cardigan. It immediately started screaming. The Night Librarian sighed.
“Be quiet. Or I will fetch the Holy Water.”
The root fell silent although it still squirmed like a landed eel.
Whilst it thought her attention elsewhere, the grimoire in her hands grew suspiciously warm. She slapped it firmly.
“No spells allowed in the Library.”
It snapped its covers at her before subsiding sulkily, but the mandrake continued to act like a frustrated toddler. The Librarian pulled what looked like a very knobbly twig from one of her other pockets and used it to tap the place where the mandrake wriggled and whined.
“Be still now.”
It obeyed, although she could feel its reluctance and anger.
The rest of the shelving of books of majick, dark lore and arcane philosophy went reasonably smoothly, although one grimoire had a tear in a page, where it looked as if somebody had been stupid enough to think they could cut out a spell, and the Librarian was furious to find a rasher of crisply fried bacon slipped between the covers of a priceless bestiary.
Once the trolley was emptied, the Librarian detoured to the imposing front desk where she opened a locked drawer and pushed the protesting mandrake into a lead-lined prison to be dealt with in daylight. If anybody bothered.
She shelved two more trolleyfuls with only minor disagreement from titles that were grumpy at being put next to volumes they disliked, and the usual scramble as travel resorted itself into proper geographic order.
Eventually all was returned to good order and it was time to begin inputting all those details of fines and damages the daytime staff were far to busy to enter into the computer.

A Bite of… Jane Jago

Do you see writing as an escape from the sorrows of existence, an exercise in futility, or an excuse to tell lies and get paid for it? Or is there another option…?

Writing is just the most fun thing you can do with your clothes on – except maybe getting exceedingly drunk and indulging in fisticuffs in the gutter on a Saturday night.

Is it important to include all shades of belief and sexual orientation in a book?

Probably not. What is important is to include the understanding that beliefs and sexual orientation are nobody’s business but one’s own. Unless of course these facets of your character induce you to behave unacceptably. As in (a) knocking on my door and endeavouring to browbeat me into accepting your definition of religion, (b) using money, force or social standing to make a reluctant person submit to your sexual desires, (c) generally being a pain in the ass about the rightness of your beliefs…. I could continue but I’m sure you get my drift.

Do you have any marketing tips for fellow writers? (Go on. Say do some!)

I have to answer this by saying I am absolutely the last person whose advice anybody should be following on any given topic. But particularly not the black art of marketing of which I wot not a single thing. My works generally bite their way out of their cages and become feral fiction – roaming the Amazon Jungle and howling derision at other books. When they have become sufficiently scruffy and malodorous they seem to acquire a certain sort of mad-eyed confidence, which encourages them to waylay unsuspecting passers-by and drag them into the mire of my imagination kicking and screaming…

Ex-cage fighter Jane Jago lives on a volcanic island in the middle of the Sea of Tranquility with her pet dog Dog, a hippogryff called Nando, a grumpy rhinoceros who doesn’t answer to any name, and a swarm of worker nanobots. When she is not creating purple prose her hobbies include sword dancing and lard sculpture. You can stalk her on Twitter or Facebook if you are so inclined…

Cover by Ian Bristow of Bristow Design.

Jane Jago’s Drabbles – Four Hundred and Ninety-Seven

When father walked her up the aisle, she had the idea that he was seeing her as a human for the first time in seventeen years. It didn’t matter, though, because he was still going to deliver her to her unwanted fate.
To a man who actually licked his lips when the priest pronounced them wed.
She endured the wedding breakfast with crawling skin, and when he handed her into his carriage her stomach threatened to rebel. The carriage was halfway up the pass when fate took a hand.
Her cuckolded husband still hunts the robber who stole his bride.

©️jj 2021

The Affair of the Dartymuir Dog. Part Nine

The adventures of Piglock Homes and his sidekick Doctor Bearson.

Once away from the smoky orange lights of the station, the beauty of a cloudless night sky could be appreciated. The moon painted the landscape blue and silver and Bearson leaned back to better enjoy the glory of the stars. It was chilly and he pulled his Ulster closer about his throat.
“It’s a fine night for stargazing,” he said.
“It is indeed, my friend. And I fancy Sirius shines brightly on our endeavours.”
Homes chuckled at his own joke and Yore interjected sourly.
“We aren’t out here to stargaze.”
Homes barely spared him a glance. “We might as well be,” he explained with barely concealed impatience, “as there is little we can profitably do until we reach the place where the old gentleman was attacked. And even then we can only test a theory.”
Your subsided into a foetid sulk, while Bearson composed himself to while away the tedium of the ride by lifting his face to the cold beauty of the heavens.
It must have been the better part of an hour later when he was recalled to his surroundings by the gig being drawn to a halt. They were in the bottom of a deep defile where the moonlight hardly reached.
Their driver was speaking in her low, rather beautiful voice. “This was the place where Lord Sleepytown was found. He was lying at the side of the road, like a pile of discarded sacks.”
Homes jumped down and was almost at once lost to view. Bearson knew he would be sniffing the ground with his trufflish snout – a proceeding the good doctor found disturbing enough to be relieved not to have to see it.
Of a sudden, Homes sneezed loudly, thrice.
“I say, Bearson, give a chap a hand will you?”
Bearson leaned out of the vehicle and hauled his small friend aboard. As the great detective’s feet touched the carriage floor, Bearson looked at his face.
“Homes,” he hissed, “your snout is all over mud.”
Homes grinned and rubbed the grubby sleeve of his greatcoat across his nose. He took something from his pocket and blew into it. Bearson was aware that some sound had been made because the hair on his fat tummy bristled briefly, though his ears registered nothing.
After a moment of two his ears just caught a peculiar ululating sound on the stiff night breeze.
Homes looked truly smug.
“Drive on, if you please, ma’am.”
Their driver shook the reins, and the horse set this considerable strength to the task of pulling the gig back up onto the ridge that carried the main road – if one was to be so charitable as to call it that – across the expanse of the muir.
On the skyline, Bearson could see lights twinkling and he prodded Homes in the belly.
“Would that be our destination, old chap?”
“Aye. It would. And we can hope for an hour or two of rest before we have to be out here again.”

Piglock Homes and his sidekick Doctor Bearson will continue their investigation into The Affair of the Dartymuir Dog next week

Jane Jago

Don’t Drown

There never is enough wine in the world
To drown the worst of the sorrow
There never is enough time in the world
So make the best of tomorrow.

If you make a ‘stand gainst the evils of the world
You make a stand ‘gainst that sorrow.
Don’t think you’re alone ‘gainst the woes of the world
You’ll find there are others to follow.

You carry your share of the weight of the world
No need more of trouble to borrow
You have your share and your stake in the world
That’s quite enough to swallow.

E.M. Swift-Hook

Weekend Wind Down – Roald

           “Well, you know what they say, don’t you pet? What don’t kill you, will make you stronger.”
           Jessica felt her teeth dig into her tongue with the effort of not snapping back. It was one of those glib sayings people trotted out every time they realised there was harm done they couldn’t heal. She wanted to snarl that what didn’t kill you could just as easily leave you broken and bloody, weakened and vulnerable and much less strong than you were before. It could also leave you changed as well as damaged, struggling to know who this stranger was that you had become – the one who jumped at shadows and whose heart started racing when a car engine started up.
           It was not a good look for a woman who had once been decorated for valour.
           She forced a smile and did not cringe at the hand pat that went with the words of wisdom, delivered from the place of someone whose worst nightmares were about being caught on Scarborough seafront without her make-up on.
           “Your aunt means well, Jess.”
           The voice came from the door of the lounge, which was being pushed open. There was a smell of fresh coffee as Uncle David carried in a tray with a samovar and tiny cups.
           “Oh don’t be so daft, Dave. She knows I mean well, don’t you pet?”
           Jessica nodded and managed a half-smile, then busied herself moving the newspaper, and a couple of magazines about horoscopes and tarot cards, from the table in front of the paisley-patterned settee. Her uncle set the tray down with care then served the coffee as he always did – strong, black and sweet.
           His eyes were not patronising when he looked at her. But then he had fought at Goose Green and brought home his own ghosts to roost in the rafters of the perfect life his wife devised for them both. No children of their own, but then they had Jess.
           “So are you off to Whitby again to see that young man?” Aunt Susan peered over both the top of her cup and her bifocals.
           For a moment, just hearing someone naming the place sent a shiver through Jessica’s spine, and her imagination bridged the miles to place her on top of the cliffs, screaming gulls wheeling overhead, the wind that never slept and Roald, the image of a modern-day viking, hair blowing over his face, shoulders half-hunched in a fleece, face animated, telling her the history of the ruined abbey as if he had been there at the time.
           “It was all started by a woman – Hild. She was an amazing woman and not one you would want to cross. A princess of sorts. And for all she was an abbess eventually, she didn’t decide to become a nun until she was  in her thirties and she’d done one heck of a lot of living by then.’ He paused and made a really broad gesture with one arm as if including the ruins and all the headland where they stood. “She loved this place. Would stand up on the cliffs, by the beacon that was here then and look out over the sea, and upbraid her hair so the wind could play with it. And, you know, when she established that first abbey it was nothing like you would think of a monastery today. It was more like a community – both men and women.”
           It was easy to picture Hild in her Saxon dress, facing out over the waves. Jessica thought of that actress she’d seen playing Rowena in ‘Ivanhoe’.
           “No,” Roald sounded almost angry, “Hild was of Anglic blood – not Saxon. The ones Pope Gregory famously spoke about when he saw some being sold as slaves: ‘Non Angli, sed angeli’.
           Jessica looked at him her mouth very slightly agape. He did that a lot. It was very unsettling.
           “Non angerlee – what?”
           Roald grinned and gave an exaggerated mock wince, as if her pronunciation caused him pain.
           “Non Angli, sed angeli – ‘These are not Angles, they are angels.’ “
           She had still been on crutches then and he had helped her back to the car park soon after then they had found a small pub in Robin Hood Bay, where they could look out of the window over the tumble of cottages and tourist shops. Picture postcard stuff, except the sky had been an obstinate slate-grey all afternoon.
           “So what has this to do with anything?” she asked at last, when the small talk dried up over their beer.
           “Your dream,” he said, “the one you keep having about a glowing necklace of strange pearls.”
           Jess nodded, she had told him of it when he asked her if she ever remembered her dreams.
           “I’m not sure they were pearls, just the kind of odd light they gave off made them seem like it. They were pearls shaped in ridged spirals.”
           In the dream she had seen something glowing under her uniform blouse, shining and everyone staring until she had run away and been standing on a cliff edge, then ripping open her blouse to see the strange necklace lying there on her naked breasts. The image came into her mind clear as a photograph and she heard Roald draw a small, sharp breath, which brought her back to the pub.
           “Uh, yeah,” he said, his expression slipping into an odd smile, “that’s the one.”
           For some reason, she felt uncomfortable and looked out of the window to escape the moment.
           “It’s only been since the – the accident. I’ve never had that kind of dream before.”
           Standing naked on the cliff-edge, her hair so long it ran the full length of her back and blew out around her, sparking with energy, and feeling so whole, so complete – so powerful.
           “I know.”
           The way he said it, made her blush. She started pulling herself to her feet, leaning on the crutches.
           “I need to get back – I promised I’d take my aunt to the talk on astrology. She loves all that kind of stuff.’
           Roald rose too.
           “And you don’t?”
           “I never used to,” she admitted, as he helped her ease back into her coat.
           “And now?”
           She tried to shrug, but it was not so easy with the crutches.
           “Maybe, believing in fate helps make this all seem less meaningless. Maybe it helps make sense of the senseless. Even if all I’m doing is seeing patterns in the stars by joining the dots with random lines.”
           He stopped on the way back up the hill to the car. Asking her to wait as he dived into a tourist shop, full of costlier craft items. She studied the window but could not see what had caught his eye. When he came out he pushed a small flat box into her hand.
           “Just something to remember today by,” he said. The leaned forward to kiss her, lightly, one hand running up over the curve of her breast, lingering as he whispered: “You look beautiful naked.”
           She had been so stunned that she had frozen, her whole body stiff, paralysed. Just as it had been when she woke up to find herself in hospital. So she had not said a word as he turned his broad back away and strode off into the crowds of tourists, lost to sight the moment he did so.

From Maybe by E.M. Swift-Hook and Jane Jago

Unlocked

I kinda liked the lockdown
It was easy on my mind
Didn’t have to socialise
Which suited me just fine
I could be solitary and
Nobody came to call
But now that folks are out again
I’m climbing up the walls
I really liked the quietude
Enjoyed my company
But now there’s people everywhere
It’s not so nice for me
I kinda liked the lockdown
And I think I’m now quite feral
Unless you’re bearing sweets and booze
Approach me at your peril
I’m happy if your mental health
Is served by friends about
I’d just be happier if your plans
Could please include me out

©jj 2021

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