Weekend Wind Down – The Convent of Shal

The ride to the convent of Shal was not a long one but Hepsie set herself to use the time to restore her man from his bad mood and she was sure she had the ways and means.
“It is strange to think of Raya getting religion,” she said, trying hard to make it sound innocent.
“Oh aye. It is that.”
There was that sudden distant look and the ghost of a smile.
“You and she were…”
He looked at her sidelong, as if to say he knew what she was about. But if he did he played along just the same.
“Was a long time ago – and no – and in case you forgot, I chose you, love.”
That was not the way of it at all. Hepsy could remember clear as day how it had been.
“Pfft! T’was I did the choosing Pollogilt Whinsty, and don’t you forget it. I could have gone off with Galythin, he asked me to, but I said no and I chose you.”
“Really? I couldn’t see you living in a treehouse. All those ladders and steps? You’d never make it”
It was an old topic between them as familiar and comfortable as their chairs by the hearth and carried them along through the afternoon. By the time they reached their destination Poll was no longer under the cloud that seeing the state of Stref had pulled him into.
The convent itself was a fortified manor, not quite a castle but more than just a dwelling. Although it had been a long time since the last army of hobs had reached so far, Hepsy could see that the nuns still kept the watch beacon ready on the corner tower and the walls had been well maintained. Even now she could see a priestess in her workaday robes sitting in a sling seat lowered from a gantry on the tower, repairing the stone. Hepsy was not surprised. Those who had lived through that last attack would never have forgotten, nor would they allow others to forget.
Two young novices greeted them and asked their business. They had never heard of an avowed named Raya, but then they all took new names with their final vows, so perhaps the Registrar who kept the records could help. But, no man was allowed into the convent so the gentleman would need to wait in the guest room.
“Looks like it’s your turn, love. I’m sure you’ll be safe enough with these nuns,” Poll said, dropping a kiss on her cheek as one of the novices let their ponies away.
“Oh I’ll be just fine,” she assured him. “It’s you I’m worried about. No flirting and no asking them poor women endless questions about what they believe and why they believe it. I know what you’re like.”
He chuckled and gently pushed her towards the doors. “Go find Raya, I’ll be good.”
The novice rang the bell on the doors and they were only let in once the gatekeeper had looked through a small sliding spyhole to be sure who was seeking admittance. Then Hepsie followed the novice acoss a quadrangle, along a corridor, around a cloister and was about to head up a small set of stairs when a familiar voice stopped her.
“Hepsie Bellmaine?”
There she was, large as life and looking as elegant as ever. Her face was lined and her hair the same silver as the blade of Poll’s sword, but her eyes were vivid amethyst and her hands as she took Hepsies into them, were warm and gripped firmly.
“Linis. What in the name of…” Hepsie remembered where she was at the last moment and changed her words. “I mean, what are you doing here? Stref said…”
“Stref, as you well know, always said a lot of things. I’m here for the same reason you are, I suppose. To see Raya before… well, before.”
Hepsie felt a small frost claw close around her heart.
“I didn’t know,” she said quickly. “We came, Poll and me came, ‘cos there’s a dragon back on High Top.”
Linis had always been the clever one and Hepsie could have counted out less than the fingers of one hand before she spoke.
“I see. I’ll come. But Raya…”
Raya sat in a high backed chair in her cell, a codex open with it’s illuminated writing glowing in the thin sunlight that fought through the grilled window. She looked as frail as thistledown and as substantial as the mist in the mountains. Her voice though, as the two of them were shown in, was level and determined.
“I knew you would be coming today. Well, I knew someone would. I’ve been dreaming omens and I cast a Foresee.”
That was typical Raya. No moment of greeting, no warmth of welcome. Straight to the point, like a hammer hitting a nail.
“Your message said you had very little time, I took that to mean you wanted me to come and see you. Not sure you needed that Foresee spell.” Linis could be pretty blunt too when she chose. But for all the reaction she got she might not have spoken.
“You will all need to be careful. Last time it was the action of evil that summoned the dragon, this time it is a misplaced good.”
“A misplaced…?” Linis snorted. “What are you on about Raya, you’re sounding like some old oracle. All enigma and obfuscation. If you know something about what’s going on, just tell us. You know how frustrated you got with the Hag in the Hollow when she spoke like that.”
Raya gave a small sigh and tapped one finger on the margin of the page she had been reading.
“It isn’t quite as simple as you seem to think. Things sometimes work out quite other than the way we intended in life. I intended to marry and raise a family. That died with Col. Then I came to this place to escape my past and renounce my magic – and yet here I am giving you advice drawn from magic – and a gift.” She held out her empty hands, one to each of them.
Hepsie knew she must look as puzzled as Linis. “A gift?”
“I need to be with you, but I’m not going to make the journey all that way, I’m too weak. When you need me, join hands and call me. Now, take my hands.”
Without really thinking and still confused by the words that made little sense she gripped one of Raya’s hands.
“No. You mustn’t.” Linis looked horrified and pulled her hand away but Raya snatched at it with surprising speed.
Then, before Hepsie’s very gaze, Raya began to glow, the golden light a halo around her. To Hepsie’s horror the glow seemed to spread over her own hand and it felt like a thousand tiny spiders crawled over her skin. A moment later the glow was gone and so was Raya. Her hands slipped back to her lap, her head against the chair and her eyes open and vacant.
Hepsie recalled nothing of how she left the room and was shown out of the convent. Her next awareness was of being in Poll’s embrace, his face looking down at her with a worried frown.
“You alright now, love?”
Hepsie wondered if she was, but nodded anyhow.
“It was just Raya…”
“I know, love. Linis told me.” His voice caught and she could tell it was an effort for him to go on. He really had cared about Raya. But then they all had. “You seemed a bit out of it. I was worried.”
They were waiting in the stableyard, Linis had already claimed her mount, a fine looking chestnut mare. When the hill ponies were led out they looked small and shabby by comparison. She did not protest as Poll helped her on her pony, though normally she’d have batted him away for fussing.

From a fantasy tale by E.M. Swift-Hook

Granny’s opinion – not up for discussion: (Some) Authors

Why (some) authors get right on my tits

We all like to read. I’m up for cracking a book or slapping a finger on the kindle at almost any time of almost any day.
I mean. What could be finer than a thundering good book, a glass of something fortifying and a bag of fudge/chocolate/butterscotch/cubed cheese/or whatever you fancy?
Having established my credentials as a reader of some appetite, you may wonder why I have such a serious dislike of ‘authors’…
It’s not all authors by any means and I’m not having a pop at people who are genuinely trying to use fame to benefit mankind.
No. It’s the bloody attention seekers I have in the crosshairs.
This particular form of swamp life seems to fall into more than one camp.

Camp One
The novelist with a thirst for personal notoriety to go with the book fame. I have a few words of advice for those eejits. The fact that you have written a work of fiction does NOT make you an expert on real life. The world may have quite enjoyed your novel(s) but that doesn’t mean it needs to see your face, and hear your bloody half-baked opinions, all over everywhere.
Please do not:
Post pictures of your ‘celebrity lifestyle’ on Instagram
Pontificate on politics/philosophy/gender identification/immigration/vaccination/child rearing/W.H.Y.
Do the rounds of the low-budget chat shows bigging up your sad back story
Accept the fact that nobody cares, go back to your writing cave and attempt to be entertaining in the only way you can.

Camp Two
The lifestyle gherkin (sorry guru)
The world does not need: another crackpot diet, any more ways to self medicate, an even weirder exercise regimen, a cookbook for the sweepings from the granary floor, hints for the prolongation of sex (mostly we’d like it over so we can get back to the book), a candle that smells like any part of anybody’s anatomy… Need I say more!
We, ordinary women who have real life to contend with, are mostly just offended by some flighty bit who probably has people to do the orgasms for her….

Camp Three
The fey merchants of Celtic Twilight are sometimes amusing, but mostly make one want to throw baked beans at the telly.
If you think the characters you write talk to you, tell you their stories, or refuse to do what you say. Well. That’s your take on life. But it’s kinda squirmy when you say it out loud….

Camp Four
The writers of ‘literary (unsuccessful) fiction’ who spend their lives being snotty about anyone who writes anything that sells.
This shower, and the telly pundits with bad hair who encourage them, need a swift reality check.
Or a kick up the ass…

In a nutshell.
Authors need to write and make their points with the pen – because TBH most of them are shite at communicating like a normal human beings.

I am now so distressed that I need a pint of Drambuie, a pound of whole nut chocolate, and a good book

It doesn’t matter what you think – this is Granny’s opinion and it’s not up for discussion!

EM-Drabbles – One Hundred & Twelve

A big wedding was important to Laura. Ever since she had been a flower-girl for her cousin Amelia’s wedding when she was five, she had been obsessed with the idea. She filled pages with plans and designs for dresses, cakes, flower arrangements.

So it was probably nor surprising when she grew up she decided she wanted to be a wedding planner.

Tim was a gardener for one of the big estates where she had a job. It was love at first sight. 

They married in a drive-through in Los Angeles and Laura thought it the best wedding in the world.

E.M. Swift-Hook

Coffee Break Read – For Life and Beyond

True mating is for life: and beyond

The golden queen dragon stretched her talons and moved sensuously against the green scales of the male who had just pleasured her.
“In certain cultures I would eat you now,” she murmured.
He winced and blew a small gout of flame out of his left nostril. She laughed.
“Trick flaming?”
“No. A nervous tic. It’s the thought of being eaten.”
“Oh you are safe enough. It would be a waste to eat you.”
“A waste?”
“Yes. You are far too pleasurable to kill. But leave me now before I get hungry.”
The male scuttled away leaving the queen somnolent and amused.
She slept, and in her sleep she dreamed.
She was making her first mating flight and the dragon who caught her was an entity she had never encountered outside her dreams, his scales were as golden as her own and his eyes as green as the emeralds in the master dragon’s sword hilt. He was magnificent, and her soul yearned towards him. Even as they mated high in the sky, with the lack of oxygen making their eyesight grow dim, she knew this was about more than fertilising eggs, this dragon was the other side of herself but her fear was that she might never meet him in this life.
As always, she awoke with tears running down her aristocratic snout and she sniffed indelicately.
A quiet tap in the door of her chamber brought her back to herself.
“Who knocks?”
“N’a’mma and mine new friend.”
“Come in my darling,” the golden queen’s love for her only female child was evident in the cadences of her voice.
The door opened to admit the still childlike dragonet who was dragging another hatchling along in her wake.
“Mamma, this is S’a’rthyr and he is my friend.”
The queen made welcoming noises whilst studying the young male.
His scales were a peculiar yellowish colour, but this was balanced by a strong symmetrical body and iridescent green-gold wings. He looked up at her, and she was immediately pulled into the sorrowful depths of his grass green eyes. Those eyes had already seen too much of bullying and belittlement, the queen thought, and the hurt that lurked in their limpid greenness made her want to clasp him to her breast and croon a soothing song.
“See,” N’a’mma crowed. “Mamma don’t think you are wrong because your scales is yellow.”
S’a’rthyr bowed his head.
N’a’mma opened her mouth to say somewhat else, but her mother shushed her gently.
“Quietly now, you must let S’a’rthyr speak for himself.”
The young male found his voice.
“I am of the clan of Queen A’u’nti. Sent with the young males for breeding. Sent as a servant. Because of my colour. The Lady N’a’mma seeks me out, but I will understand if you deem me not suitable as a friend for a young queen.”
“Not unsuitable at all, my son. Not at all.”
She nodded to N’a’mma who raised a chubby claw.
“N’a’mma gives her oath to S’a’rthyr. Friends while there is still blood in my body.”
For a moment the youngling was too stunned to move, but he gathered himself together and placed his own taloned extremity against N’a’mma’s upraised claw.
“S’a’rthyr gives his oath to N’a’mma. Friends while there is still blood in my body.”
The queen placed her huge front paw atop both of theirs.
“Oaths witnessed.’
For a moment, the air itself seemed to be still then a single silver note chimed.
The queen smiled at the two hatchlings who stood before her.
“You need to sleep off your emotions,” she said kindly.
N’a’mma led her oathsworn friend to a sleeping platform at the back of the room and they curled around each other before dropping into a deep slumber.
Their mother watched with a single tear running down her snout. She had recognised S’a’rthyr as soon as she looked into his eyes. Her dream lover. Now sworn to her daughter. Why was life never easy?
But she straightened her spine and swiped that tear away with an impatient claw. Her dream of a true mating of mind and heart and soul wasn’t to be for her.
But for her darling N’a’mma there was hope…

A short story from The Dragonheart Stories: Fairytales for Grownups by Jane Jago. You can listen to this on YouTube.

The Chronicles of Nanny Bee – Columbine and Harebell

The flower fairies were at it again, and Nanny’s precious garden was littered with torn petals. The beautiful red ballerina poppies under the kitchen window were all but bald, and even the roses that grew over a rustic arch were beginning to show wear.
Nanny went out at midnight and stood barefoot with the scent of crushed camomile drifting up to her impressive nostrils.
“Whoever is responsible for the desecration of my garden had better come forward now. Because if I have to come looking.”
A sound of rustling petticoats and tinkling laughter heralded the arrival of the crew. To be honest they weren’t looking their best and Nanny laughed.
“Whatever is the matter with you? You look like a set of twopenny halfpenny bawds from a low market cathouse.”
Daisy piped up. “The winner gets to bloom all year.”
“Says who?”
There was a bit of foot shuffling then: “Columbine and Harebell done a Ouija.”
The fairies laughed and chattered with real malice.
Nanny concentrated hard and He came – the Lord of Growing things, with his strangely jointed limbs and his yellow caprine eyes. He clapped his hands three times – the fairies fell silent and Nanny’s garden bloomed anew.
He bowed to Nanny before he faded until all that was left were his eyes and horns.


Coffee Break Read – An Ugly Garden

The all-wheel drew up at the back gate, the front gate being perpetually manned by a guard who would be very likely to inform Bestia of their visit even if he could not refuse access to the lady of the house. Vassenia ignored the speaker-phone and stuck out an arm to input some numbers into the digital pad on the gatepost. The gates swung open, squeaking horribly as they did so. Gerel winced, and Edbert hunched his shoulders in disapproval at such evidence of poor maintenance. The back gate being for staff was surprisingly close to the residence. Surprisingly because the main one, with which Julia was more familiar, stood at the far end of a long meandering driveway in order to show off the sumptuous grounds to visitors of status. 
Edbert parked the all-wheel on the raked gravel and handed the three women out. “Col, Bran. Please stay with the vehicle.”
The brothers bulked their muscles and Col went so far as to wink.
Vassenia smiled grimly. “Okay. Let’s do this.”
A uniformed steward stood at the front door. He looked deeply unhappy.
“Dominus Sextus says you are to be denied entry Domina.”
Vassenia looked coldly at the embarrassed servant.
“Whose house is this?”
“Yours, domina.”
“And whose money pays your wages?”
“Yours, domina.”
“So, just get out of my way.”
For a moment it was a toss-up who the unfortunate man was most afraid of, but in the end Vassenia was in front of him and Bestia was nowhere to be seen. He stepped back and the three women walked into the gloomy splendour of the over-decorated entrance. The steward tried to step in front of Edbert and the hounds, but found himself gently put aside by the blond giant.
Julia gave him her best flashing smile. “Don’t annoy my bodyguard. It’s not sensible.”
If it was possible for a person of such immense dignity to be said to run away then that was what the steward did, through the echoing corridors of leprous marble to escape from the frighteningly grim-faced quartet and their devil dogs.
Vassenia led the way through the comfortless modernity and the conspicuous displays of wealth to a surprisingly cozy sitting room.
“This is my boudoir. You can wait here while I find my stuff. And Sextus’ little secrets. No one is allowed in here but me—and that means no one.” 
Julia found the decor, which was rather disorderly in a comfortable way, somehow preferable to the much more formal look of the cenaculum where Vassenia had held her prandia before she had been compelled to withdraw from that social circle. Gerel sat in the window seat looking out over the strange topiary formations and spindly exotic plants of the villa’s formal garden.
“I did not know,” Gerel said quietly, “that it was possible for a garden to be ugly.”
“Anything can be ugly if it’s made without love and is all for show.” 
Edbert, who lounged in the doorway, grunted his agreement. “This whole place is a showpiece of wealth and ugly tastelessness. Except maybe this room.”
Vassenia padded back into the sitting room with two small leather cases in her hands.
“Now for Sextus’ books. They are in his suite. Through here.” She tapped what seemed at first glance to be the wall beside her. “Can somebody come with me and watch my back?”
Gerel followed her through a cleverly hidden doorway painted with trompe l’oeil panelling. They left the door open and Julia could see Vassenia pull out a cunningly fashioned set of steps and mount them with care. She seemed to be certain in her movements and Julia heard her give a small grunt of satisfaction just before Edbert’s wristphone bleeped.
Faex. Bestia’s home.”
“Right. You grab the cases and get through that door. Shut it behind you and get the girls and the stuff out to the all-wheel. Beep me when you are out.”
“But. Julia.”
Julia set her teeth and showed Edbert the business end of her professional-quality nerve whip. “Me and the dogs can deal with that spado. And no, before you ask, I won’t have any hesitation in hurting him badly if he gets too close.”
Edbert looked as if he would like to argue but he must have recognised Julia’s determination. He picked up the bags in one huge hand and slipped through the door shutting it quietly behind him. Julia snapped her fingers and Canis and Lupo came to her side. Once the dogs were at her knees she turned her eyes back to the ugly garden.

From Dying to Find Proof the tenth 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.

EM-Drabbles – One Hundred & Eleven

Marcella scoffed at those who said art was about entertainment and escapism. She firmly believed that the purpose of art was to make people more aware of the facts of everyday life. Her first exhibition included such masterpieces as ‘shoe with dog turd’ and ‘pile of vomit beside a pub sign’. The art critics murmured obscurely about her ‘Dadaistic tendencies’. The general public were grossed out by the smell and stayed away.

Looking at the rent demand Marcella reconsidered realism.

Her next exhibition was a series of studies on unicorns and rainbows. She sold every piece on the first day.

E.M. Swift-Hook

Coffee Break Read – A Fable

The ant was a hard worker, spent every waking moment pretty much working hard to earn money to feed himself and his family and to save for retirement. He’d see the grasshopper getting all dressed up and going out with his friends every night and shake his head sadly, knowing what was to come.

Years went by. The ant worked ever harder and the grasshopper socialised and had a grand time.

Then one day the ant’s wife left him saying he never had any time for her and was so obsessed with work and money he had no idea how to relax and enjoy life. The grasshopper, however, had made so many friends that even when he fell on hard times they all rallied around to help him out.

Moral of the story: Always make time for your spouse.

E.M. Swift-Hook

The Chronicles of Nanny Bee – Chocolate Brownies

When eating brownies was first mentioned in the village, there was a certain amount of disquiet: cannibalism and all that. But when it was discovered that the brownies in question were delicious cakes that put an entirely different complexion on the whole thing.
The cake was delicious, dense and chewy and sweet, and the village embraced it with enthusiasm.
Nanny, however, was less enthusiastic and she found a surprising ally in the corpulent person of the vicar who came to air his disquiet.
“There’s no doubt the stuff’s beyond edible,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean it’s safe. It’s from the future and shouldn’t be here.”
“Agreed. But I don’t know how it gets here.”
“Neither did I until this morning. I went out for a fly because the dawn was calling and I saw him.”
“Saw who?”
“The baker. He’s found a wormhole and he’s swapping rocks from the spoil heap of the dwarf mine for trays of cake.”
He showed her and she had a word with the mine foreman. Who was unamused.
When the baker arrived at his wormhole the next morning he was driven back by knobbly dwarfish fists and his source of cake had been dynamited into oblivion.
It took a while, though, for the village to forget the forbidden savour of chocolate.


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