Coffee Break Read – True Britons

“I suppose there is a reason for this, Bard?” Bryn’s assessing gaze held accusation. His greying hair was kept back from his face by a simple thong. He looked so much more the true Briton than Dai although his blood was mixed with Roman and every corner of the Empire. “Up at the crack of dawn, dogs and full detail. Looking for a girl you have sleeping under your own roof?”
Dai tightened his lips into a straight line.
“Are we not all good men of Britannia?”
Bryn’s expression changed.
“So your pet praetorians…?”
“Should be doing their job – as you do yours, Investigator Cartivel.”
“That is merda,” Bryn spat in the grass. Beside him were three of his team piloting short-range drones to scan the surrounding area. It was their second stop and they had four more to make to cover the area Logan had suggested.
“I prefer to call it ‘the truth’,” Dai said, shielding his eyes against the autumnal sun to watch one of the drones.
“Ah, so we have sunk so low as that. Next it’ll be justice and then where will we be.” Bryn sucked in his cheeks as if something tasted sour. “It is strange, because I was thinking it is more about you dressing up lies in gladrags. I was also thinking it means you are walking into the line of fire without any back up because you don’t want to let anyone else take that kind of risk.”
Dai glanced at him, but Bryn was staring out over the bucolic landscape as if that was all that held his attention.
“You don’t know-”
“I know when you are being a stubborn, stiff-necked, pure-blooded Celtic spado.”
Dai shook his head and sighed.
“Do you think I could face your Gwen if anything happened to you through me?”
“She’d be sure to put a curse on you,” Bryn agreed and looked back at Dai. “But I didn’t move out here away from the bright lights of Londinium and into the wonders of rural Britannia just to watch roses growing and sip mead. And my Gwen knows that. Besides, she’d take it ill if I started hanging around the house and pruning just yet.”
For a moment, Dai tried to marshal all the arguments he had been rehearsing since the previous afternoon. But as he met Bryn’s gaze they all retreated, broke and ran for cover. So, instead, he smiled and felt a sudden deep gratitude, together with something that could even have been relief.
“Well, we are both good men and good Britons, it would not be fair of me to keep you from your chance to join the cause.”

From Dying for a Poppy by E.M. Swift-Hook and Jane Jago.

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

Everyone else had made their kill, but Campion looked at the creature in her hands and couldn’t bring herself to break its neck.

Instead, she returned it to the forest floor where it sat and looked at her.

Old Milkweed came out from behind a tree. She looked stern.

“Kill it.”

“No. I won’t.”

“Will you be outcast for the life of a bunwit?”

Campion nodded and felt a strangeness – self being drawn away from noise and blood to a place of quiet greenness.

“Welcome daughter.”

She left her useless body and became one with the spirit of the forest…

©️jj 2020

Coffee Break Read – Crash Site

They came across the first body before they had reached the edge of the blackened area. It was so badly burned that Caer could not even tell whether it had been truly human. There were others scattered around, all equally burned and very dead and as Caer had suspected there was nothing of any value left in that blackened zone. Even the metal was too brittle to be of use, shattering if hit hard. But when they reached the part of the hulk that lay beyond the devastation, it was a very different story.
The men left their ponies and clambered into the metal cavern, making echoes with their shouts of discovery. There were several undamaged crates, which they forced open to reveal such familiar offworld devices as flash-lights and power-cells, and a whole range of other strange items which none of them could identify.
Caer instructed Shevek to take one of the other men and ride out in an arc around the hulk away from the burned area, just in case anything else of any value had been thrown clear of it by the explosion. The rest of the Zoukai he set to collecting samples of the salvageable loot to take back to Alexa. Looking around, judging quantities and weights, he realised it would probably take the best part of the next day to remove all that was here. For all the richness of the haul, he could not help but feel a small bite of disappointment that there were no weapons – the kind that could fire many times from a single reloading or burned through flesh and bone with an invisible finger of fire. Caer consoled himself with the thought that the bonus he could expect from bringing this hoard into Alfor, would buy any such weapon that might be imported from Keran.
He had just finished selecting the samples to take back for Alexa, when he heard an excited yell. The Zoukai he had sent out with Shevek, was waving to him. He swung himself onto his pony and rode quickly towards the waving man, who shouted again as he got closer:
“Captain, you must see this.”
“See what, Zarul?”
He reined in his pony beside the young Zoukai.
“A man from the stars, Captain, an offworlder – and he’s alive.”
Caer looked at the younger man doubtfully. He could see no way anyone could have survived the explosion. Even if they had been able to get some distance from it the force alone would surely have been fatal.
“You are certain?”
“Well Shevek says he’s still breathing.” Zarul scratched at his bald scalp. “You can come and see for yourself.”
Caer pushed his pony into a fast trot, suddenly very curious. He might not trust Zarul, but Shevek had been riding with the caravans since before Caer had been born. Though when they reached the place where the old Zoukai was standing, the man on the ground beside him certainly looked dead. He was not burned as the other bodies had been, but he lay as still as a corpse and the side of his head was thick with blood.
Caer slid from his mount and crouched down, his fingers probing beneath the jaw. There was a pulse. For a moment Caer felt an odd sensation of excitement. Although he knew that people lived on other worlds which were out amongst the stars, it had never before seemed fully real, he had never actually seen anyone from offworld before. Curious now, he drew his knife and ripped through the cloth of the offworlder’s garments, surprised that such thin fabric resisted the blade. The other two Zoukai helped him cut and pull off the clothing, including a heavy belt, until they had stripped the man.
Caer’s breath hissed between his teeth. For some reason he had assumed that offworlders would be frail, with weak, puny bodies. From all he had heard they were feeble, using machines they had invented to do the work of their muscles. But this one was as strong as a Zoukai, and his body was built like any ordinary man. His flesh carried several old scars and his muscles were clean and compact beneath the skin. The thought struck him that this man would fetch a fortune in the Alfor slave pens. The castellans would be scrambling over each other to purchase something so rare and exotic as a genuine offworlder.
“See, he is a fighter, Captain. This and this – they were made by blades.” Zarul said, pointing at the scars.
Caer nodded.
“Well, if he lives, perhaps we shall find out what kind of fighter he is, this man from the stars.”

From Transgressor Trilogy: The Fated Sky by E.M. Swift-Hook, a Fortune’s Fools book.

Granny’s Third Pearl

Pearls of wisdom from an octogenarian who’s seen it all…

Gym Membership 

My grandson’s family got given a gym membership for Christmas two years ago. He proudly tells me they used it twice. He thinks pumping iron a dead bore. His wife said the pool was so chlorinated she came out pale green. And his teenage daughters insisted that the place stank.

This is an extreme case, but research (a straw poll taken at the Cat and Scrotum just before lockdown) suggests that only one gym member in twenty even knows precisely where the place is.

Advice then. Only buy gym membership if you are serious about getting fit.

Bet you aren’t…

Jane Jago’s Drabbles – Four Hundred and Forty-Six

They prayed to their cruel god, then threw her off the boat into the killing sea. She was numbed by the cold and the drag of her woollen garments, until some spurt of anger buoyed her and she threw off her sodden clothing, swimming strongly until she was out of the heartless darkness surrounding the boat.

Then, in the silver light of the moon, she turned on her back to float aimlessly choosing to fight no more. 

The sound of oars pulled her from her reverie and a pair of strong arms pulled her to safety.

“Welcome seawife,” he said.

©️jj 2020

Author Feature – The Last Witness: A Fantasy Legal Thriller by Richard Dalglish

The Last Witness: A Fantasy Legal Thriller by Richard Dalglish is the third in a series of fantasy mysteries and the first with a legal thriller element. 

A young man is dead, and the look of terror etched on his face is the stuff of nightmares. A thirteen-year-old boy stands accused, but is he a dark sorcerer or an innocent whose unusual gift is being exploited by another? Defense advocate Killandrio Bludd thinks he knows the answer, but as the trial nears its shocking conclusion, he’s in a race against time to find the only witness who knows the full truth and can tell the whole story—the last witness.

The name Killandrio Bludd is well known among certain elements of society in the eastern realms of the known world. These realms include Rynland, where I was born and have lived for many years, as well as South Rynland, Migador, and the Hirple Realm. Further west, the people of Brythyn and Telna have most certainly picked up rumors associated with the name. And even in the far west, the Voths, Acrinites, and Wyndorans have at least caught the odd whisper. As for the Gurgeonites, I prefer not to think about them.
Among some groups, the name is rightly celebrated. These include the cutpurses, the highwaymen, the whores, the gamblers, the smugglers, the thieves, the brawlers, the swindlers, the hoaxers, and the occasional kidnappers and cutthroats. 
The name Killandrio Bludd is also famous—or perhaps I should say infamous—among various other segments of society. These are the lying sheriffs, bribe-taking constables, corrupt lord chief accusers, stone-hearted judges, dishonest nobles, and greedy landowners. Among this latter group I am decidedly less popular than I am among the former.
I’m an advocate at law, and my clients consist almost entirely of members of the first group, along with those accused of burglary and murder and the like but who are, in truth, innocent of any crime. Innocence, sadly, is no guarantee that the falsely accused will go free. In many cases, innocence is all but irrelevant.
As for defending the accused at trial, I care not whether they’re innocent or guilty. I’ll defend any of them in court with a fierceness that would do a wounded mother blayger proud. That aggressiveness and the actions that go with it have set the bribe-taking officials, corrupt lord chief accusers, dishonest sheriffs, heartless judges, and greedy landowners against me. In truth, nearly all the common folk despise me as well. Most of the fine, upstanding citizens of the known world would just as soon see me hang alongside those I defend.
I say, bugger them all. Give me whores and thieves and other wretches over petty officials, haughty nobles, smug lords of the manor, and merciless commoners.
My latest wretch—that is to say, my latest client—was a local man of meager intelligence and even skimpier means named Runce Peskin. Runce’s trial was taking place in Sarika, a town in the western part of Rynland. Since he had no wealth, the freykon of the local querl had promised to pay me for the privilege of defending him. The ulders and freykons of Rynland believe strongly in charity and forgiveness, bless them all, and I’m always happy to help them attain their noble ambitions. Most of the ulders and freykons of the other realms are just as corrupt and hypocritical as our dishonest sheriffs and scheming judges. 

A Bite Of… Richard Dalglish 

Why do you write? 

I enjoy using the language. I’m one of those people for whom essay questions hold no terrors. Writing is engrossing and challenging and often gratifying. It engages the brain and requires craftsmanship, which a writer can continue to improve. Every piece, from a letter to the editor to a 92,000-word novel, is unique. Each sentence (or the vast majority, anyway) is unique. No such sentence existed until I wrote it. To me that’s weirdly fascinating. 

You can have four guests at a dinner party. Name the four people living, dead or fictional you would invite.

I’d love to speak with Thomas Jefferson to chat about politics, government, education, wine, and pretty much anything else, and to hear what he has to say about Sally Hemings. Dian Fossey because I love gorillas and want to talk to someone who knew them well. Peter O’Toole because he would be massively entertaining and engaging and because I love his work. Ruth Bader Ginsberg because she’s led a remarkable life and because I’d like to learn more about the law from someone I respect.

What is worse, ignorance or stupidity? 

Ignorance because it’s so often wilful. If someone is genuinely stupid, I might pity them. And though we all make mistakes, occasionally act petty, and fall prey to confirmation bias, I find it difficult to forgive the kind of wilful, aggressive ignorance that so many people seem to enjoy wallowing in these days.

Richard Dalglish is the former managing editor of Jewelers’ Circular Keystone, a business magazine covering the fine-jewelry industry. He has a degree in English from Franklin & Marshall College, Lancaster, Pa., and lives in Yardley, Pa., with his wife and cat. The Last Witness: A Fantasy Legal Thriller is his fourth novel. You can find him on Instagram, Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter.



Much Dithering in Little Botheringham – 10

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

It was Angela Pendle-Burton the owner of the village shop who enlightened Ginny as to what had been going on at the church the previous day.
“Bats,” she said, elbows on the counter clearly enjoying her role as passer-on-of-news. “You’ll see a piece on the telly about it today I expect. They’ve found some rare bats in the belfry of the church. So we had conservationists in, ringing.”
Ginny thought about that a moment. It sounded rather unlikely.
“Why would they be ringing the bells with the bats there? Wouldn’t that scare them away? And, besides, why not get in campanologists? I’m sure they’d do it better.”
She was just wondering if there was some special way of ringing bells to affect the bats when she realised Angela was struggling not to laugh.
“Ringing the bats,” she said, “not the bells.”
“Ringing the bats? But how…?” Then Ginny realised what she meant and felt the colour rush into her face. “Oh. Yes. Of course.” For a moment she wished the floor would open beneath her or she could just vanish into thin air. But neither option was available and Angela was looking at her with amusement, but backed with kindness not the secret malice the likes of Lucinda would have displayed.
Angela also suggested she might like to have a cleaner in once a week, something that hadn’t occurred to Ginny. In her London apartment the cost of hiring a professional through an agency was prohibitive.
“Oh everyone does it around here,” Angela said airily, making it sound as if Ginny would somehow be odd or letting the side down if she didn’t. “It’s only people from the village so you help boost the local economy too.”
So it was letting the side down if she didn’t. Not quite sure she really wanted to, but very sure she would lose social points if she refused, Ginny agreed to ‘interview’ someone Angela knew who would be perfect to work for her, that afternoon..
On the short walk home, Ginny passed the church and took the time to walk up to the door. To her surprise it was not locked and she let herself in to the cool and quiet of a very pretty typical English church.
Having looked around and admired the architecture, she tried the door to the belfry and found it was locked after all. Which was a shame as she would like to have seen the bats. One of the reasons she had moved into the countryside was so she might get a chance to see more wildlife. So that badgers and hedgehogs and – well, all those other animals, would stop being pictures in articles and start being real in her world.
She picked up a copy of the parish magazine which was for sale with a trust-tin at the back of the church, added a donation to the box for the restoration fund and let herself out, closing the heavy wooden door behind her. It was then she noticed a path that led from the church into the small wood that backed onto her own house.
Sure enough the path turned out to be a shortcut. She decided there and then that when it got on to the end of the afternoon she would take a thermos and a blanket and sit in the edge of the churchyard where she could observe the belfry and maybe catch the flight of the bats as they set out on their nightly hunt for – for whatever it was bats ate. 
She had just finished clearing away from lunch and was making herself a cup of tea, wondering idly if her vague plans to write the Great British Novel which would explore and explain the intricate weave of heritage and modernity, the rich palette of race, creed, sexual orientation, gender and ethnicity, yet embrace the undercurrents of alternative eco-aware counter-culture, needed to be amended to something a bit more prosaic.
The tap on the door distracted her, for which she felt oddly grateful.
“‘Ello, you Missus Cropper?”
It took Ginny a moment more than she liked to remember where she had previously seen this scrawny girl in leggings and a long T-shirt emblazoned with some cultural symbols of the USA. It was Chloe from the Ladies Association meeting, the one who had spoken of the evictions happening on her estate.
“Er, yes,” she admitted. “Can I help you?”
“Missus Pendlyburt  from the shop said you was looking for a cleaner.”
Ginny managed a smile.
“Come in, I’m just making tea.”
“Thanks. White no sugar please. I’m Chloe. You wus at the meetin’ last night too.”
Ginny was glad that since the initiation she had received at the hands of the removers she had taken to keeping the makings of what most people in Little Botheringham seemed to think was meant by tea.
“I was and I’m Ginny,” she responded automatically as she found the needed teabags. 
“Yes, Missus Cropper,” Chloe said brightly. “You just moved in?”
“A couple of weeks ago now.”
“You from London? You must miss it bad. Nothing here like that. Just fields.” She sounded almost wistful. Chloe looked to be in her early twenties. Few people of that age were going to see the benefits of living in a village.
“I love it here,” Ginny told her presenting the mug of tea. “It’s so peaceful. Makes me feel bucolic.”
Chloe had started to slurp at her tea but put it down quickly and stared at Ginny in horror.
“You need to see the doc about it then. My gran used to have to take tablets for that.”
Ginny smiled weakly and agreed she really should register with the local GP.
Chloe left a little later saying she would ‘do’ Ginny every Tuesday afternoon but she had to leave at half-two sharp to pick up Kanye from the primary school where he was in the reception class.
A gnawing certainty that she was being trained into the ways and expectations of the village by the other residents, Ginny felt almost rebellious when she grabbed a blanket, topped up her travel cup with a fresh brew of ginger root and lemon, then with ear-buds playing Vivaldi she set out to go bat-watching.

Part 11 of Much Dithering in Little Botheringham by Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook, will be here next week.

Weekend Wind Down – The Dragon Hunter: Part The First

It was hot enough to fry eggs on the street. Willet and Badger were sharing an extra-large ice-cream when the wave of pheromones hit. It was so strong that Willet swayed on his feet and Badger growled deep in his chest.
“What in tarnation is that?” Even to his own ears Willet’s voice sounded pitchy and fretful.
Badger scratched an ear. “If I’m not mistaken we have a dragon hunter hereabouts.”
Willet swore. “Isn’t dragon hunting illegal.”
“Since when did legality matter much in this city?”
“Point taken. I’d better call it in though.”
“You do that, but call your lady wife first and warn her to stay indoors. This situation is even more dangerous than a queen dragon in heat.”
At first Wenda was inclined to be uncooperative, that being her nature. But then she got hit by the pheromones and conceded that her husband might have a point. She generously promised to stay inside until he could get to her and Willet breathed a sigh of relief before calling headquarters. Seemed every officer on the streets was calling in with a similar message.
Something along the lines of ‘help’.
As nobody had the first vestige of an idea what to do, Willet did want he always did when he faced a problem beyond his experience. He asked Badger.
The winged German Shepherd grinned a canine grin.
“You aren’t going to like this.”
“What I like isn’t really the point right now. So just stop grinning and tell me.”
“You need to talk to A’a’shanto. And he isn’t going to be amused. Dragonheart takes dragon hunters quite seriously.”
Willet sighed, and bespoke the Master Dragon. Unamused turned out to have been a masterly understatement, as A’a’shanto blistered Willet’s ears with boiling curses. Quite how long it would have taken the black dragon to get control of himself is open to conjecture, but he was stopped in his tracks by a female voice that acted like a douche of cold water. Silently blessing all the small gods for the cool intellect of the Master Dragon’s mate, Willet waited in silence. After a short interval of blessed quiet, T’i’asharath bespoke him.
“Apologies for the immoderate language of our mate, dragon friend. He is disturbed.”
Willet forced down the insane desire to giggle at the female’s dismissal of her mate’s tumultuous rage. “He is right to be disturbed. But what may we do?”
T’i’asharath spoke with profound formality. “I will attend myself, bringing such sensible female dragons as I may call to my side immediately. Timewhiles, wilt thou ask thy partner if he and his brethren may track this evildoer through your stony streets.”
And she was gone, leaving Willet to stare at Badger.
“Did you hear that?”
Badger nodded. “I did. Should’ve thought of it myself. Dogs to track and dragons to dispense justice.”
Willet shuddered. “I’m not all that keen on dragon justice.”
“Me neither. But what a dragon hunter will do to any fire drake or queen he catches is even more barbaric.”
Willet must have looked puzzled because Badger actually growled.
“Have you not wondered where he is getting the pheromones from? Have you no idea how much gold he can command for dragon blood?” His hackles lifted and he shook his head angrily. “And I just thought of something else. You wouldn’t be safe neither. Dried centaur heart is thought to cure many human ills.”
Willet did something so unusual as to shock both himself and the normally phlegmatic Badger. He put out a hand and tangled his fingers in the dog’s thick hair. “Wenda. You must go to Wenda. Protect her. Please.”
Badger laid his chin against his partner’s forearm.
“No can do. But my brothers are on their way.”
Willet felt sick with relief. He was about to say something like ‘thanks’ when his wife’s voice filled his mind. 
“Will you thank Badger for me. Otter, Wolf, and Bear are here. They have explained. I didn’t understand.”
“Me neither. But I do now.”
He felt Wenda’s hand on his cheek. “Be careful my love. Please be careful.” 
Then she was gone. Willet looked at Badger who winked and then leaned companionably against his leg for a second before sitting back on his haunches.
“Okay. Now. Dogs. I’ve put out the word. Let’s see who turns up.”
Willet wondered if any canine would deem it worthwhile to help, but he did them a disservice. By the time a certain thickening in the atmosphere told him a portal was about to be opened he was surrounded by a pack of determined-looking dogs ranging in size from massively chested mastiffs to what Willet could only think of as powderpuffs. 
As he looked up, the sky became filled with dragons. Grim-looking female dragons. The golden queen was notable by her absence, as were the fighting males. The only male he could see was gagged and blindfolded and tightly bound between two burly female guard dragons. T’i’asharath favoured him with a grim smile.
“The drake is a volunteer. But he must stay with us until he can be deployed to the best advantage. Were he let free he would run straight into the arms of the dragon hunter. Who would bleed him dry and then sell his skin.”
Willet nodded and Badger took over the talking. “We have his scent. Not the pheromones he would use to trap those he hunts but his own human scent. My friend here,” he indicated a ball of white fluff, “lives at the house where he is lodging. She brought a sock. So we will track two ways. Half of us will follow the pheromones. Half the man smell. If they lead us to the same place, well and good. If not we will still have him and anything left alive at the place where he extracts the pheromones.”
T’i’asharath inclined her head. “A good plan dragonfriend. Who will lead?”
“I shall lead those who follow the man scent with my partner Willet. Those who follow the pheromones will be led by Killer and his humans.” 
A huge black and tan mastiff showed his teeth, and three equally large humans armed with clubs grinned too.
“We will have no dragon hunter here.” The biggest one spat a gobbet of mucus into the gutter.
Willet had a thought. “Do the people where he is lodging know what they are harbouring?”
The ball of white fluff snarled.
“They do,” Badger sounded as angry as Willet could ever remember him sounding.
Willet looked at the dragon mistress. “Will you set some sensible dragons on guard, my lady?”
She nodded. “I will.” Turning her attention to the tiny white dog she asked one question. “Where?” 
Willet didn’t hear the reply, but there must have been one as four muscular guard dragons winked out of sight.
Then there was no more to be said and Willet found himself at the head of a group of assorted humans, dwarves, and shifters, who followed a pack of dogs with a flight of dragons overhead.
The dogs set a fast pace, but not so fast that the bipeds behind them had any problem keeping up. As they headed through the city streets, Willet began to have a sinking feeling. The dogs appeared to be heading for the leafy suburb where he and many other shifters had their modestly comfortable homes. Badger spoke in his head.
“You have no need to worry about Wenda. My family has her.”
The knot in Willet’s chest eased and he felt able to concentrate on the job in hand.

to be concluded next week…

©️Jane Jago

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