Coffee Break Read – Sea Child

Even on a crowded beach she brought her bone-chilling solitude with her. It wrapped her in its grey tendrils leaving her unable to feel the sun, or hear the sea or the children’s laughter. Instead, she sat with her thin arms wrapped about her shins and stared into the water.
It was as if by staring enough into the green depths she might see him laying on the shifting sands with his pockets weighted with lead and his pretty throat slit by the unkindness of a knife.
The weekend went on around her unseeing eyes and unhearing ears, and after a while her abstraction rendered her so insubstantial that the playing children ran over her and through her without either knowing she was there or disturbing her reverie. Day drew into night and still she sat watching as the sun fell and the moon rose, delineating a silver pathway from the breaking waves beside her cold, bare feet.
Called by some voice from who knew where, the woman rose and walked into the silvered water. It was, she found, surprisingly warm even as it grew deeper and her skirts began to float about her like the petals of a drowned flower.
“Where are you?” she whispered in a voice grown thin and pallid from lack of use.
For a moment, she thought she heard familiar laughter in the salt-laden air,  then she became sure this was just one more illusion. But it didn’t matter anyway. She was too tired for any of it to matter any more. It would, she thought, be a blessing when the waves closed over her head. The madness would pass then, and she might no longer be alone.
She pushed her face into the water, trying to suck the killing waves into her lungs, but she felt her face lifted by cold rough-skinned hands.
“Be brave,” the voice of her dead love spoke in her ears and that was the last thing she heard before the sea accepted her sacrifice and drew her thin, cold body into its heaving bosom.
And was her love awaiting her in the ever shifting deeps?
Who knows…

©️JaneJago

EM-Drabbles – Fifty-Two

They had come so far.

Anna carrying baby Nin while Caradoc had their few worldly goods and Gryff followed loyally. But now the way ahead was barred by a river they could see no way to cross.

Caradoc put his arm around Anna’s shoulders.

“We tried, lass. But life’s not a fairytale. Sometimes the bad people win.”

She buried her face in his shoulder to hide the tears that sprang into her eyes.

Gryff’s sharp bark made her look round.

There was a boat hidden in the reeds.

“So it was a fairytale after all,” Anna always told the grandchildren.

E.M. Swift-Hook

Coffee Break Read – The Walking Shadow

“How long you friend to Avilon?” In the flickering light from the fire, it was hard to see the other man’s face clearly, but there was genuine curiosity in his tone. It was odd, though, how he pronounced the name with the emphasis on the wrong syllable.
Jaz gave a slight shrug. “If you add it all up – including our time in the Specials I’d say around fourteen, fifteen years.”
The other man seemed thoughtful.
“Avilon have many?”
Friends, presumably. That was easy.
“No. I think I was about the only one for most of that time. Now – he has more. And a woman too.”
“He is – change? Not the same?”
There was clear concern in the question. Concern Jaz couldn’t lay to rest. He nodded briefly and felt his breath escape in a slight sigh.
“Yeah. Much changed. Not the same at all.”
“But – he is Avilon?”
Jaz had no idea how to answer that. It was something he struggled with himself over the past few years. There had to be something or he wouldn’t have kept with the grindingly thankless task of nurturing the empty shell he found in the Specials. But sometimes – and more often now than before – he was left wondering how much of that had been wishful thinking and how much had been real. How much he needed it to be Avilon as opposed to how much it actually was.
“Sometimes it’s like you can see a ghost of who he was,” he said, at last.
“Ghost?”
“Uh – yeah – like a shadow of who he was.” Jaz moved his arm so the firelight sent his own shadow reaching away and gestured to that with his other hand. “He’s like a walking shadow of the man he used to be.”
“Shadow – yes.” The Overlord nodded, moving his hand to match the shadow. Jaz noticed the triple line of scarring on the back of the hand, identical to the scarring Avilon had brought back from Temsevar. He put a finger towards it, running his hand through the air as if drawing three fast lines.
“What is that about? Avilon has it also.”
The Overlord looked at him as if he wasn’t sure that the question could be a serious one, but he must have seen from Jaz’s expression that it was. Then he nodded slowly and shrugged off his coat, pulling at the sleeve of his shirt so his shoulder was exposed. Jaz saw a crude raised mark that he took a moment to realise was caused by some kind of strike branding process. He knew Avilon was similarly scarred but not with the same design. The other man covered his shoulder again and pulled his coat back on. “Slave mark,” he said. Then closed his fist so the three scars on his hand stood out. “Fighting slave mark.”
Jaz had no idea what he could say to that, but the other man went on, hunting for words. Clearly struggling, but wanting Jaz to understand. His gaze intense with it.
“Avilon make him – made him -” The Overlord broke off and started again. “He made his choice. To be fighting slave – to find me. To free me.”
Something shifted in Jaz and he suddenly understood what this man must have meant to Avilon and had no doubt at all what Avilon was to him. He held the intense gaze and gave a slight nod, then reached out his hand. The other man took it, his grip strong.
“You’re my brother’s friend,” Jaz said, making each word clear so he could be sure he was understood. “That makes you my friend.”
The other man nodded.
“My friend.”

From A Walking Shadow, the final book in Haruspex Trilogy of Fortune’s Fools by E.M. Swift-Hook.

Granny’s Eleventh Pearl

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

Sushi

Rice. Rice with vinegar. Rice with vinegar and seaweed and (often) raw fish.

What the feck is that all about?

Yeah, fish and vinegar. That’s all good. But we’ll have the fish wrapped in batter and served with chips shall we?

Okay. 

Sushi, and all the other stuff, comes from another culture and I accept that. 

I just don’t want to eat it.

The texture is strange. The taste is odd.

And then there are chopsticks – for which uses are limited. You can use them to eat with.

Or

Stab the fucking idiot who brought you to a sushi restaurant 

Author Feature: Tallis Steelyard Speaks

An Interview with Tallis Steelyard 

Facing your demons? How much of what you write could be classed as therapy?

Please, no author should be troubled by facing his or her demons. Most demons are stupid, lumpen creatures, obsessed with their own physical prowess. Any writer worth their salt can control them with sarcasm or shafts of barbed wit. 
It is possible that you might come across a demon with more subtlety, but in that case treat the creature as a potential muse, pick out of the being’s ramblings any choice nuggets you can use and ignore the rest. After all, demons cannot accuse you of plagiarism, at least not at society functions.

Would you rather be a hero or a villain?

As a poet I rise above such distinctions. I act as art and conscience direct.

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

I write about people. People are defined far more subtly. If a lady has three beautifully behaved children and is almost inseparable from her pretty maid, how is it relevant to her opinions on the proper way to recompense her poet? Similarly does it have an impact on the way she tips sedan chairmen or the way she instructs her cook to quietly provide a breakfast for half a dozen street children on a daily basis?
It is the duty of the artist to bring to the fore the things which matter. Judge people by their actions, not by arbitrary labels applied to them for the convenience of others.

Why do you write? Money is an acceptable answer.

Money is always an acceptable answer. I have always claimed that I abandoned writing for money, instead I write because I crave eternal fame and the adulation of the masses. In all candour I haven’t seen any of this, but to be equally candid there was damn all money either. On the other hand, as a measure of success, money has the disadvantage of being uniquely quantifiable. Fame, being more nebulous, lacks this handicap.

Chocolate cake or coffee cake? And give reasons

Let us be frank here. If a hostess, (or perhaps her cook) has a gift for chocolate cake, coffee cake or even lemon drizzle, then that is the one the discerning poet reaches for as the plates are circulated. Otherwise I confess I tend to go for the one that is the moistest.
Also let us not rush our definitions here. Chocolate cake reaches perfection with a coffee cream filling. Still, I am not too proud to agree that a good chocolate cake with blackcurrent jam as the filling takes a lot of beating.
Let a hundred cooks bloom, let a hundred cakes contend.

What is worse, ignorance or stupidity?

Ignorance. Stupidity is a sad accident of fate, ignorance is a decision.

Have you ever written somebody you dislike into a book, just so you could make them suffer?

I would advise against this. I hold up the sad tale of Mesdames Callthwine and Musseltone. The two ladies, both of private means due to the fortuitous disposal of husbands, were persons of considerable wit. Unfortunately for reasons I never entirely understood they loathed each other. This abhorrence ran so deep that they were forever writing pejorative verses about the other.
Now honesty compels me to admit that the verses were rarely more than doggerel, existing purely as a vehicle for insult. Eventually the inevitable happened. Madam Callthwine challenged Madam Musseltone to a duel. Alas for Madam Callthwine she overestimated not merely her skill with the blade, but also the protection afforded by her corsets.
I have discussed this matter with the Urlan. Urlan maidens reckon that if you use steel for your corset stays, then they ought to overlap the next stay by half their width. Thus there are no gaps between stays and any blade normally has to defeat two layers of metal. With bone they tend to be dismissive. The thickness of bone necessary to offer proper protection is such that it rather negates the point of wearing a corset in the first place. They would advocate a full breast plate worn under a high necked dress. Apparently a blacksmith can give a lady the perfect bosom.
As an aside, the Urlan ladies are somewhat casual about the term ‘maiden’ and an Urlan lady will probably have had at least two children before she regretfully admits she may more reasonably regarded as an Urlan Matron.
But back to Madam Musseltone. She had planned well. She had placed her property into a trust prior to the duel. She fled the city and three weeks later with a different haircut and a hint of Partann in her accent she returned claiming to be a distant kinswoman. Unfortunately the family of Madam Callthwaine disputed this and in the legal battle that followed, the estates of both ladies were divided between the lawyers.
The last I heard of Madam Musseltone she had managed to acquire the position of Lady’s companion. An elderly widow was declining into her dotage and the family hired a companion to look after her. This Madam Musseltone managed for twenty years. By the end she was not merely bathing and dressing the old woman but was washing soiled bedding and feeding her with a spoon. To be fair, the family was grateful and when the old woman died, they let Madam Musseltone remain in the house, rent free. They also paid her the same allowance that they’d given her when she had the old lady to look after.

 

Have you ever written somebody you love into a book?

Again, don’t ever do this. I point to the sad example of Wain Gallump. He, in a fit of madness, made the heroine of his story the young lady he was courting. Unfortunately when the book was published, five other ladies recognised themselves in the (admittedly flattering) description. If this wasn’t enough, three vengeful husbands and two aggrieved fathers pursued him with cruel intent. He was forced to flee the city. Needless to say, the object of his affections did not recognise herself and was hurt that he didn’t include her in the book.
If you wish to court a lady through verse, name her!

The book I want featured?

Well here I intend to be charitable. A good friend of mine, Jim Webster, has fallen upon hard times. When we meet, I have to buy the wine. Obviously this is unsupportable.
What do you need to know about him, he is a married man with three daughters. He must be old, his hair greys at his temples and he tells anecdotes of the time before I was first conceived. Of sturdy peasant stock he still lives and toils on the small farm which his ancestors farmed before him. In his desperation he has turned to writing books, compilations of tales from his past. One such is:

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There’s a lamb climbing out of the oven

I suppose a lamb climbing out of the oven isn’t major problem for most households, and indeed it isn’t a problem for us either to be honest. I’d even see it as a sign of success.
Our Rayburn, like others of its kind, has a hot chamber below the oven. This is a useful facility, but especially at lambing time. The relative sizes of the oven and the lamb are such that a lamb placed on a flattened 750gm Kellogg’s Cornflake packet will just nicely slide into the hot chamber.
At this point you may be asking why? The answer is relatively simple. At lambing time, nature pretty well takes its course. A ewe will have one, ideally two, occasionally three, or far more rarely, four lambs. With singles, she’s normally on top of her game and they tend to be a biggish lamb anyway so there aren’t too many problems. Once you get to twins and triplets you can find that one or more of the lambs might be neglected or a bit slow.
So as soon as possible after they’re born, the lambs are checked out. Put a bit of iodine on the navel to stop infection creeping in and make sure they’ve got a feed of colostrum inside them.
Some lambs can just be a bit wet and cold; when you’re that size and born outside, exposure is an indisputable risk. For them there is a plastic tub with some straw bedding, placed under a lamp. This will warm them up nicely, and some might spend a day or more in there before they’re strong enough to unite with a hopefully doting mother.
For some, more drastic measures are called for. We’ve put lambs in warm water before now, (not too warm, about 105F is supposed to be the top temperature) just to warm them up in a hurry.
Finally for others, there’s the Rayburn. It tends to be first thing in the morning when the Rayburn isn’t ‘turned up’. So it is very pleasantly warm rather than getting ready to cook something.
Occasionally you have to take special measures. I remember one measure my father used when I was about eight or nine. When my parents were married back in the 1950s, amongst their wedding presents was a bottle of whisky, a bottle of rum and a bottle of gin. Well the gin went to make sloe gin. In Cumbria rum isn’t merely a drink, it is a major culinary ingredient. The rum bottle would disappear into rum butter and rum sauce in the first couple of years of their married life. But the whisky just sat there, unopened and unheeded.
Until after breakfast one morning, the lamb in the oven wasn’t responding. So my father opened the whisky bottle, put a tiny drop of whisky onto an apostle spoon and used that to pour the whisky into the lamb’s mouth in a last desperate attempt to save the little mite.
It shivered a bit, coughed and died.
A couple of years later, an aunt of mine trapped her hand in a car door, and my mother hurried her into our kitchen, sat her down, and sent me to get the bottle of whisky (unused since the lamb incident.)
I brought it and my mum poured her sister some in a glass with some water. As my aunt drank it, I watched, with the callous intent of an eight year old, to see if she coughed and died as well.
So back to our lamb, lying on its cornflake packet; if it sits up, that’s good. If it manages to somehow wiggle out and end up on the kitchen floor, that is also good (no matter what Jess, our elderly and three-legged Border Collie thinks). But the best sign of all is when, once on the floor, it stands up and totters off under its own steam to find somewhere more interesting.
Note. Before welcoming these ovine perambulations it’s as well to remember that the lamb is not in anyway toilet trained and one should not encourage it to venture into areas that might be carpeted.

The book is Sometimes I sits and thinksThere are three others And sometimes I just sits. Fancy meeting you here. Lambing almost live.  All are available for Kindle or in paperback. You can find them and all the books of Tallis Steelyard on Jim Webster‘s page. There are two blogs, obviously, one for Tallis Steelyard and Jim Webster’s blog.

 

 

EM-Drabbles – Fifty-One

Sometimes Janice struggled with being a children’s author.

Her series of Hippity-Hop and Bunnykin sold out to pre-schoolers’ parents as perfect for precious, developing young minds.

There was much excitement when she published the retelling of a favourite fairy tale.

Until the reading parents got to …they all lived happily ever after. The story continued:

..except they didn’t as no one lives forever. In fact, they all died. Some quite terribly of various agonising diseases and some in horrific accidents.

What the parents, and Janice, hadn’t expected was the delight with which most youngsters took to this dose of reality.

E.M. Swift-Hook

Much Dithering in Little Botheringham – 14

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

Em was half a churchyard in front of Agnes, and she heard Virginia Cropper making a brave attempt to save the bats. The woman might be a fool, Em thought, but at least her heart was in the right place. 
As she wrestled with the church door Erasmus landed on her shoulder and they burst in together, just in time to see a nightmare figure that didn’t seem to know whether it was a man or a rabbit point a gun at the unconscious woman on the flagstones. Why, Em wondered, would anybody point a rifle at an incapacitated foe. Then she found out why, as the mad creature laughed and shot Ginny in the neck. He seemed to be intent on filling his enemy’s body with lead, so Em took the only available option. She let forth a bloodcurdling scream and leapt onto the back of the out of control were.
Screwing up her face in distaste she bit hard, right about where the human jugular was to be found. Doug Turner dropped his gun and began clawing at her face. Em had never appreciated how sharp rabbit claws are until they were raking at her cheeks and eyes, but she held on for dear life and hoped for help.
Fortunately, it wasn’t too long arriving, and Agnes rugby tackled the man/rabbit to the floor. With them both sitting on him, he was finding it harder to move and his shifting from form to form became even more erratic. He jerked and twisted and foamed at the mouth alternately swearing and making high-pitched screeing noises that hurt Em’s head. Being a were, he was preternaturally strong and keeping him down on the ground was an uphill struggle. Just as Em was wondering whether or not two of them could manage to keep a hold, the cavalry charged in. Petunia leapt onto the flailing legs while Arnold gently elbowed Em aside and tidily rabbit punched the struggling were on the back of his neck. 
There was, Em thought, an irony there if one had time to think about it. But there was no time. While Arnold and Agnes trussed up the now limp form of the half-shifted wererabbit she turned her attention to the unconscious woman with the neck wound. Petunia was two steps in front of Em, and the face that normally heedless female lifted from the body was white with shock. She spoke with none of her usual girlish silliness, and Em was reminded that Petunia was a veterinary nurse by trade and the silliness was mostly a pose.
“Em. She’s nearly dead.”
“Don’t be silly. She can’t be. She’s bleeding. But not enough to cause permanent damage.”
“The reason she isn’t bleeding much is that her heart has just stopped. The pellet sliced her carotid artery. It should be pumping.”
“Why did her heart stop?”
“I don’t have the first idea. But it has. And as of right now she’s dead if we don’t do something.”
Em felt her own heart sink, and Agnes kicked the wererabbit in the genitals. Petunia looked Em steadily in the face. 
“It’s up to you. But the last thing we need is a murder investigation in the village and we are a Sister short.”
“So we are. And she couldn’t be much more trouble than the last occupant of her cottage. Hold her steady, Petunia. Agnes can you pry open her mouth.”
With her Sisters doing their part it only remained for Em to take the final step. She bit her own wrist and concentrated on the blood flow directing a scarlet stream into Ginny’s slack mouth. For a few seconds more nothing happened then Ginny’s throat worked and she began to swallow. The wound in her neck pumped briefly before the pellet was ejected with a pop and the wound closed over.
“Enough now,” Agnes said briskly and Em allowed the wound in her own wrist to close over. 
She laid one hand on either side of Ginny’s head and willed her to sleep while she healed.
“That went well, didn’t it,” she said a bit snappily and Agnes laughed.
“Let me clean your face before the scratches heal over. Rabbit claws are dirty things.”
An awful thought hit Em right between the eyes. “Petunia,” she said, “can you just have a look at Mzzz Cropper and make sure she isn’t growing any unwanted hair?”
“What? Why?”
Em sat down with a weary bump. “Because I just Fed her. And not five minutes before that I Bit a wererabbit.”
“Oh, bugger. So you did.”

Part 15 of Much Dithering in Little Botheringham by Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook, will be here next week.

Morgan le Fey

Seek the maiden if you dare
Walk the forest, but beware
The brairs and the nettles sting
Whist like Circe hear her sing
A song to make your heart feel glad
But listen not lest you be mad
Seek the maiden with your steel
Her song a cut that shall not heal
The forest knows where she is found
But leads the seeker round and round
Seek the maiden foolish mortal
Follow her to hellgates portal
Where her voice will mock your sorrow
Steal from you your bright tomorrow
Seek the maiden, fortune’s knife
Find the singer lose your life

©️jj 2020

Weekend Wind Down – The Money Thing

When Anna had enthusiastically approved the house, even going so far as to purr when she saw the huge kitchen with its shiny red Aga, and Bonnie had given her seal of approval to the big rear garden with its tiny orchard, they moved Anna’s things in from the camper.
“You don’t have much stuff.”
“Got a bit more at Ted’s house. But not a lot. I’m not big on stuff.”
“Me neither, but all the women I’ve ever known have always wanted stuff.”
“Yeah. I can’t get my head around that. Plus, I never dared have stuff when mum was at home. She trashed it when she had a drink. By the time we got her into the care home, minimalism had become a habit. Now where can we put my china Bonnie?”
“There’s that cabinet in the hallway. I found it in one of the sheds I knocked down. It’d look well in there.”
“It would. Did you find much else?”
“Yeah. All the wood for the kitchen cabinetry, the big oak chair that’s also in the hallway, three very old Agas, and a lot of rats. The Agas were a lucky find, though, I exchanged them for the new one in the kitchen. Apparently there’s a booming market for reconditioned Agas of venerable years.”
“I love the one you have.”
“We have. The house is ours, nitwit.”
“Idiot. I haven’t been here ten minutes. You can’t go giving me half your house.”
“Can.”
She waved her arms in exasperation.
“Anyway is the Aga oil-fired.”
“Yeah. And fiendishly expensive to run.”
“I expect it is, but I can chip in there.”
“You don’t have to.”
“I do, Sam, for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that I’m not going to sponge on you.”
“I’m sure of that, but can you afford? I mean will you need to get a job? How long can you…”
He ran down and looked embarrassed. Anna laughed.
“Let’s go sit down. Then we can do the money thing.”
“I think we’d better.”
They got coffee and sat at the kitchen table.
“You first,” Anna said.
“Okay. I earn a thumping big salary. Plus my parents died in a road accident just before my marriage broke up. I was their only chick, so I inherited a lump. Enough to buy this place and do it up. Plus a bit to save for the future. You?”
“More complicated than your situation. I had a good job. There will be a fat pension when I’m fifty-five. Originally, I planned to run away when that happened, but in the end I didn’t have to wait that long. My mum had an aunt who the family didn’t talk about. She ran off to London and went on the stage. But then she found a better way to earn a living: wealthy men. My brother, Danny, and I thought it would be fun to get to know her, and Dad agreed. So we found her and she turned out to be a grand old girl, living in a gloomy great mansion flat in Chelsea with a lady companion. She welcomed us with open arms and we saw as much of her as we could. When Danny got a job in the smoke he wound up living with her and being totally spoilt by the lady companion. Incidentally, it was aunt Ruby who paid for my mother to be cared for in the home. She set up a trust fund that paid for mum’s care until she died, then the money went to the home so they could take on another dementia sufferer whose family was at the end of its tether. But I digress. When aunt Ruby died Danny inherited the flat, and I got a big chunk of money, which bought my house and paid to have an annexe built on for my dad to live in. Danny kept the flat, and did it up with his own hands, making a super-modern living space of it. He settled in happily, and lives with his partner in a state of connubial bliss – when they are in London that is. For some reason best known to themselves, those two bought me a lottery ticket – and the bloody thing only won the jackpot. I tried to share it with them, but they wouldn’t have it. I was firmly told to start enjoying life. The rest, as they say, is history.”
She stopped speaking and Sam pulled her onto his lap. “Does that mean you are a properly rich girl,” he teased.
“Oh yeah. I’m loaded. But you can’t exactly be on the breadline.”
“I ain’t. So aren’t we lucky.”
Then he cuddled her close.
“Is your dad still alive?”
“No. He died five years ago, just after mum. I don’t think he wanted to go on without her. I missed him a lot, but I was lucky enough to let the annexe to a young couple who are related to Mr Patel who runs the mini market around the corner from my house. They are the ones who are renting the whole house now and want to buy it. Maybe I’ll sell it to them.”
“You should. You won’t be needing it any more.”
“I hope I won’t. But you might get tired of me.”
“Not going to happen.”
She sat quietly in his arms for a few minutes then kissed his cheek.
“We need to go food shopping” she announced firmly. “Your store cupboard and your freezer are a disgrace. Frozen pizza. Ready meals. Not on my watch…”
He groaned.
“Do we have to?”
“Yup. And you get to push the trolley.”
“Okay. If you say so. But don’t I need to stay here with Bonnie?”
“No. Good try though. However, she has her bed and she’ll be fine.”
Sam tipped Anna off his lap and got up obligingly.
“Doesn’t that dog have any vices?” he asked plaintively.
“Umm. Only one. She chases cats. Especially cats on her patch.”
“Good. Because there is one bugger that comes in and shits on the flower beds.”
“There won’t be. She’ll see it off. Now. Supermarket.”

From The Cracksman Code by Jane Jago

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