Sunday Serial – Dying to be Roman XII

Dying to be Roman by Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook is a whodunit set in a modern day Britain where the Roman Empire still rules. If you missed previous episodes you can start reading from the beginning. You can listen to this on YouTube.

The apartment was less opulent on the inside than it appeared from outside. There was fine furniture and a couple of pieces of wall art, but it all had a worn look about it. Only the small niche where the lares sat gleamed with what looked to be several gold items, and one penate holding a cornucopia with jewels pouring from it. Dai wondered if he had interrupted her private devotions; as there was a small offering bowl visible and the slight smell of incense.
Octavia must have seen the direction of his gaze, because she walked quickly over to the niche and closed the doors, pulling the beautifully embroidered hanging over them. Then she turned to face the men, standing with her hands clasped behind her, almost looking defiant, as if engaging in the worship of her own household gods in her own house was something less than acceptable.
“I know you’ll think it all silly superstition,” she said, lowering her gaze demurely, “but I find it very comforting.”
Dai felt Bryn stir behind him and give a soft cough of embarrassment.
“Not at all, domina,” Dai told her, wondering how such a naive innocent could have wound up with a cunnus like Urbanus Hostilius Rufus. “Perhaps you would sit down and we can talk, there is something we need to tell you about your husband.”
She smiled and moved to one of the couches, arranging her stola with an easy grace and reclining on it completely, cradling her head on one arm as she looked at them with sky blue eyes.
“He’s in trouble again?”
“I am afraid it is a bit more serious than that. Do you have any friends or family near by? Anyone you could ask to stay with you for a few days?”
Octavia’s eyes glanced involuntarily at one of the inner doors and then looked back to Dai. She had coloured very slightly.
Deo Damnatus, Dai thought and exchanged a brief look with Bryn, she has a lover in the bedroom.
“He’s been arrested?” she sounded surprised.
“No,” Dai said, his tone flat. “I’m afraid he’s been murdered.”
Her mouth opened and she uttered a low cry came which picked up in pitch and intensity until it was a full-blown scream.
Dai found himself beside her, unsure whether he should slap her or hold her. She made the decision for him, sitting up and pulling him close, her hands gripping into his tunic as she almost stifled his face in her bosom.
“My Roo-Roo! My poor Roo-Roo!” she wailed.
With some difficulty, Dai disentangled himself and managed to hand her off to Bryn, who was not at all averse to having a beautiful young woman pressing herself against him as she sobbed.
“I’ll find you some tissues,” Dai said vaguely and moved to the door that Octavia had glanced at before. He was about to open it when she squealed.
“No! Not in there.”
Trusting Bryn to keep her from getting in the way, Dai opened the door to what he fully expected to be a lavish bedroom and a naked young man. Instead it was an undecorated room, with a simple double bed and cardboard boxes stacked up with clothes visible neatly folded in them. On the bed sat an elegantly dressed woman, who got to her feet as soon as she saw Dai. Her designer stola was draped in soft folds of silk about her. It took him a moment to place her, to think where he had seen her before. Then he realised he hadn’t, but he had seen pictures of her and the odd moment on TV when the news was covering some swish event. She had been on the arm of Tribune Decimus Lucius Didero.
Instinctively he bowed his head.
“Domina.”

Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook

Death of the Dragon

Now comes the day of fire and a knight of courage rare
Who bears the blade of Dragon’s Bane and braves the dragon’s lair
Who fights upon the bones of all who’ve been devoured there
Who fights the ancient dragon, where none before would dare. 

The clouds above are sundered, shedding endless, saltless, tears
As lightning cleaves the sky across and strikes our very fears
And mighty roars the thunder, as the echo fills our ears
The dragon’s doom has come after a thousand tortured years.

The ocean deeps are riven as the chasms break apart
And lift the land that’s living forth from the seas that part
As massive waves are driven on far shores no one can chart
For Dragon’s Bane has sunk into the dragon’s very heart.

The earth itself bears witness to the moment of the deed
The gems and precious metals, plundered by draconic greed
Reclaimed by chthonic forces that had been made to cede
As on the stony ground, the dragon now doth bleed.

And in the mists of evening, when once the blood is shed,
People come a dancing, who would have been dragon’s bread
Had Dragon’s Bane not pierced scale or severed dragon’s head
And now there is rejoicing for the dragon’s surely dead.

E.M. Swift-Hook

Weekend Wind Down – Blood Game

From Transgressor: Dues of Blood a Fortune’s Fools book by E.M. Swift-Hook. You can listen to this on YouTube.

The tattooed face broke into an ugly snarl, as the spearhead nearly grazed one shoulder of its owner’s powerful frame. He lunged forward, the double-headed axe swinging and the crowd yelled as he claimed his kill, severing the arm of the spear-wielding warrior at the shoulder in a fountain of scarlet and removing his head with a backswing, as effortlessly as a chef might slice through a soft cheese.
It was a very popular kill. This animal, who had the fighting-name ‘Therloon’, had been the new darling of the Alfor crowds since he had arrived in the arena a couple of moons after the Fair. He was of the nomadic folk from the Eastern Continent and had their renowned tenacity and powerful build combined with a flair for the theatrical and a spectacular viciousness that was all his own. Playing to the crowd like the professional he was, Therloon swung his axe around his head and roared, his face contoured into a hideous grin which must have been visible even to those who stood furthest from the edge of the arena. The crowd responded to his signature salute and roared his name.
The powerful Easterner turned to where one opponent remained facing him. The smaller man held his sturdy frame prepared, the curving sword he gripped in one hand looked as frail as a blade of grass against the life-harvesting scythe of Therloon’s whirling axe. But the crowd expected good sport before they had their final glut of blood. For this was no ordinary combat unfolding before them and the money that rode on the outcome of this single bout would have paid the wages of half the troops Qabal Vyazin had been mustering on the outskirts of Tabruth. This was the kind of match that men waited years to see and could only be provided by this, the most prestigious Arena in Temsevar – that of the city of Alfor.
It occurred to Torwyn, watching this display as he ran a hand through his short terracotta-coloured hair, that there were many places better to be than standing less than ten paces away from the axe-wielding maniac and on the wrong side of the high barricades which protected the crowd from the fighting-slaves within.
Facing Therloon, now alone, stood the one they called the Sabre, whom the crowd had just seen defeat his own previous opponent with a classic display of athletic grace and skill. Now, invisible to all except those in the audience closest to where he stood, he shifted his weight very slightly, as if knowing what to expect. The charge, when it came, made him move quickly aside and turn to duck under the axe whilst bringing his own, lighter, blade across to cut at the bigger man’s back. It was not sufficient to do any real damage to his opponent, but enough to gain an appreciative call or two from the crowd and Torwyn could tell it had angered the Easterner.
“Sabre! Sabre!” He evidently had supporters out in strength, probably as many as were there to cheer for Therloon, but then few fighting-slaves were as well-known as the Sabre because few survived six years in the Arena as he had. Few overcame for that long the ever more creative and dangerous demands made on a crowd-pleasing favourite which turned life and death combat into gore-fest theatre or blood-drenched farce.
If it had not been for the coming war this fight would never have been allowed so soon. To end deliberately, the career and crowd-pulling earning power of a top fighting-slave was not a decision made lightly by the lanista of an Arena. More especially when the lanista was well renowned for being a tight-fisted miser, who kept his fighting-slaves in the minimum conditions and invested all his money in crowd-pleasing exhibitions and expensive exotics.
The dance of death continued on the blood-stained sand of the stadium between the unwieldy axe, made agile and serpentine in the hands of the powerful Easterner, and the insubstantial blade of the sword weaving the will of the man who held it. From the first, it had been apparent that the sword was no real match for the heavier weapon with its much longer reach. It was only because the man who held it seemed to possess almost precognitive reactions and a creatively robust athleticism, that the inevitable end was being delayed so long. The tension became palpable and the focus of the two men was absolute. For them, the world had shrunk to the circle of sand and the sweep of feet, hands and weapons.
Normally, the element of drama would have featured far more in any performance by either man. The Easterner was famed for his love of blood and to watch him fight was to watch a butcher at work in a slaughterhouse – but a butcher with a malicious streak of sadism – and the crowd, never sated, loved that. By comparison, the Sabre was known for the humour and finesse he brought to his savagery, playing with his opponents in burlesque ways which would have the crowd fired up with laughter and then stunning them into silence by the breath-taking skill of his acrobatic agility.
Even now, apparently pressed to his limits, Sabre found time to dance a brief step or two with a flower in his teeth, thrown by one of the crowd. It proved to be an expensive crowd-pleaser as the Easterner seized the moment to strike and Sabre, ducking under the blow, raised his own weapon ineffectively to deflect the lethal weight of the axe. It barely turned the heavy slicing blade but at the price of being smashed away from its owner’s grip.
Disarmed, the Sabre dived into a desperate, ground-covering roll that brought him distance from the certain death of Therloon’s backswing, and a few more precious moments of life. But his move was accompanied by the groans and boos of the watching throng. Those who had placed their money on the Sabre were most vocal in their disappointment. The fight was lost and many who had bet on the old favourite knew they would go home the poorer. But the let-down was soon overlaid by a fresh building of anticipation. There remained the catharsis of the kill itself, and Therloon was a master of spectacular, messy killing. That was something to look forward to. The Sabre’s last show would be an essay in violent, agonising death and those he had just robbed of their winnings would enjoy that revenge.
Torwyn watched the Easterner as he advanced across the floor of the arena. Therloon was fully aware that this was his moment and the exaggerated grin that split the tattooed face was as much leer of derision as smile of victory. Only those nearest the edge of the arena heard the tattooed man’s words as he approached his unarmed foe.
“You want to take back what you said before?”
The Sabre backed off step by step as the other man advanced, his arms spread wide in a gesture of pacification or surrender and the roar of contempt from the crowd at this sign of cowardice swelled close to riot.
“Take it back? Why should I?” he said as if puzzled by the question.
“Because on that depends how fast you die.”
“I don’t see why.” The Sabre’s tone was soft. “No matter how quickly or slowly you kill me it is all still true, Gant. You are an imbecile, a laughably dumb brute. You have less intelligence than the beast they named you for.”
An animal growl in his throat, the Easterner shot forward, the long axe held lightly in his hands. Sabre stepped back in a nervous retreat and in doing so missed his footing and tripped, sprawling backwards over the body of Therloon’s previous victim. He fell on his back, arms wide, body spread open and helpless.
The Easterner charged the last few paces, his face congested by anger and hate and Torwyn knew he was going to make this kill one his audience would long remember. Then the fallen man moved. His body rolled suddenly backwards, looking for all the world like a street tumbler, legs disappearing over his head and he finished the movement smoothly on one knee, the spear he had rescued in the process of completing the roll, held in his hands and braced solidly against his foot.
Therloon could no more have shifted his course at that point than taken flight and his eyes barely had time to widen in horrified comprehension, before his stomach was impaled upon the spear.
Sabre was on his feet as the impact was carried through, driving the point home deeply, twisting it to bite into the spine as the Easterner went down. Standing above his fallen foe, the sturdy fighting-slave looked down, without compassion at the tattooed face which was broken now by a rictus of agony.
“How fast do you die?” he asked savagely, for once allowing the fury and disgust to boil up through his veins. But the Easterner was beyond words, lungs pierced by the ripping barbs on the side of the spear’s head and breathing only in wheezing grunts.
The adoring ululation of the crowd ran like a hurricane around the arena and a monsoon of flowers and ribbons rained down onto the blood-drenched sand.
“Sabre! Sabre! Sabre!”
Torwyn straightened up and looked around as if seeing the scene for the first time. Then, strangely impatient and with no more than the most perfunctory of gestures to acknowledge the adulation, he ran his hand through his short rust-coloured hair and strode back through the now open gates, into the dark tunnel beyond.

 E.M. Swift-Hook

Madam Pendulica’s Indispensable Guide to the Ideal Vacation for Each Zodiacal Sign

The Working Title crew bring you the exclusive opportunity to enjoy more wisdom from the mysteriously enigmatic Madam Pendulica… You can listen to this on YouTube.

Aries

The ram needs excitement and isn’t sheepish about demanding it. The more extreme the better.

Ideal Vacation
Spearfishing in shark-infested waters.

Taurus

Taureans are stubborn, hard-working beasts. It is hard to persuade them to take any vacation at all. You are more likely to find them insisting on staying at home.

Ideal Vacation
That holiday village down the road that you keep hearing badly sung karaoke from when you go passed.

Gemini

The astrological twins need variety, the spice of life, to enjoy a vacation.

Ideal Vacation
A dual centre holiday in India or Mexico – city and mountains. Which, depends if they prefer to spice their life with curry or chilli.

Cancer

Trying to pry the crab out of its shell long enough to get a suntan is a challenge in an off itself. So make the destination hot and sunny enough for it not to matter if you can persuade them to disrobe or not.

Ideal Vacation
A beach holiday in the Bahamas or a sunbed in the attic with a stack of romance novels.

Leo

The lion needs to shake its mane and roar to let off steam and relax. So any vacation needs to be somewhere others won’t be disturbed.

Ideal Vacation
An African safari – or failing that a week at Disneyland where there is so much noise no one would hear them anyway.

Virgo

The over-organised Virgo is fixated on detail. They will have bags packed and passports ready months in advance and woe betide an errant spouse who forgets to pack the toddler.

Ideal Vacation
Any package holiday anywhere. That way Virgo will know precisely where they will be at any given moment of the vacation and be able to plan accordingly.

Libra

Libra enjoys balance in all things so when it comes to the work/vacation balance they will want to play as hard as they have worked.

Ideal Vacation
For most Libras, this need to balance effort at work exactly in the scales, will mean an afternoon on Blackpool Beach or sunning themselves in the garden if the weather is clement will be more than adequate annual leave.

Scorpio

The super-sexed sign of the zodiac will want a racey destination where they can take the sting out of the daily grind… by having a daily grind…

Ideal Vacation
Any city with a superior red light district

Sagittarius

The archer needs to hit the target at work and equally when on vacation. Kicking up heels on holiday is best done in interesting places.

Ideal Vacation
A well planned itinerary tour into the hinterlands of Mongolia.

Capricorn

Like every good goat, Capricorn loves to eat and any vacation must include plenty of interesting foodstuffs so Capricorn is not tempted to nibble on forbidden fruit.

Ideal Vacation
A whirlwind gastronomic tour of European capitals if our goat is a gourmet, but if it is quantity not quality that appeals, a similar tour of the fast-food outlets of the United States would be preferable.

Aquarius

The water bearer needs to be bourne on water to truly relax and unwind from the gruelling nine to five.

Ideal Vacation
Venice.

Pisces

For the fish the lure of the waves is irresistible. It is as vital to them as the air they breathe and they will be drawn to the sea on vacation like moths to a flame.

Ideal Vacation
Any cruise. But be sure the safety barriers are high – the lure of the ocean can be too strong for Pisces to resist…

Madame Pendulica predicts she will return…

Jane Jago’s Drabbles – Three Hundred and Seventy-Three

It was a pillow, in a rubbish bin. She thought nothing of it until the news report. 

She went for a walk. The pillow was still there, so she pulled out her iPhone.

A police car arrived six minutes later.

The detective came to her house later that day asked her why she thought the pillow suspicious.

“Honestly, I didn’t at first. It just stuck in my mind as being random. But then I read the report of the body in the ditch and something clicked.”

Sometimes you can be too clever.

She never expected the forensics to identify her…

©jj 2019

Coffee Break Read – The Stones

A flash fiction by Jane Jago. You can listen to this on YouTube.

Dermot and his brothers had been diggers all their lives. They earned their living digging, but they also dug for fun. Thus it was that the summer solstice saw them underground on The Plain setting to rights some tunnelling that was in more than the usual disrepair. 
They were making good time so they stopped for a supper of doorstep sandwiches and ochre coloured tea with condensed milk from Erkie’s thermos. When they finished, Dermot, who was a being of few words, belched and cocked a thumb at the workings. 
It was a goodish while later when their pickaxes hit rock. Or, to be more accurate, they hit one rock that stood smack in their way. It was a big one and seemed to have been driven right through the workings. Erkie give it an experimental shove and it rocked slightly.
“It’s as loose as a rotten tooth,” he grunted. “Do us take ‘n out?”
They looked to Dermot who licked the rock and sniffed carefully around the soil at its base. For a minute he frowned, as if trying to call something to mind, then he shrugged his meaty shoulders and gave Erkie and the lads an upward pointing thumb.
They set to work, scrabbling and scrooging in the dirt. To the uninitiated their approach would have looked shambolic, but there must have been some science involved, as the stone slowly began to list to one side. 
“Aisy do it boys,” Erkie recommended, “us don’t want ‘n down here in the tunnel with we.”
The wisdom of this was generally acknowledged and the work slowed to a snail’s pace.
Above ground in the predawn darkness the men in white robes danced around the stones. The Henge had been there since before the ancestors of their ancestors, but the Druids still came there on certain nights to enact their rituals and pray for the souls of those who had already gone to the God. As the sun began to rise the dancers felt movement beneath their feet. This was not something they had ever known before and one by one they grew still and a little afraid. As the light reached the standing stones they watched, with a sense of horror that reached deep into their souls as the giant that was the king stone rocked on his foundations and began to tilt drunkenly. The High Druid would have rushed forward but his acolytes held him back by main force.
It was as well they did, because there came a sort of a sucking sound from the bowels of the earth and the stone that had stood proud for millennia fell to one side with an earth-shattering crash. As it hit one of the sarsen stones it cracked along its mighty length and dropped to the greensward in two sharp-edged pieces.
In the absolute silence that followed this disaster a brown face poked its way out of the earth beside where the stone had stood and a pair of bright, brown eyes blinked in the dawn light.
Dermot took in the scene of devastation, the broken stone, the weeping druids, and the rising sun that no longer lit the king stone in glory. He was so moved that he used up two days’ worth of words in one go.
“Oh bugger,” he said, before disappearing into the tunnel and signalling his crew to get back to work.

©️jane jago

Coffee Break Read – Destiny

A flash fiction by E.M. Swift-Hook. You can listen to this on YouTube.

“Come forward and face your destiny.”
The voice from beneath the stag’s head mask that addressed the two warriors was, surprisingly, female.
Tiach and Kungrun obeyed, both having to bow their heads to pass under the lintel of the door. They stepped together into the booth their friends had woven from strips of willow and yew, the day before, then decorated with ribbons of brightly coloured cloth.
The unfamiliar weight of the ceremonial amber beads newly around his wrist, Tiach faced the unblinking gaze of the obsidian-eyed stag. Was he was making the right choice? All the doubts he had suppressed before rose up like taunting demons. He knew he was not supposed to look, but from the corner of his eye he could see the bearded profile of Kungrun’s face and caught the determined set of his expression.
Yes.
It was too late now for doubts.
They were committed and had to see this through. Not for themselves alone, but for those who would follow. They were the first in the clan to claim this right, but he knew they would not be the last.
The shamen was chanting and her voice rose with the smoke from the small fire of scented woods that she had lit. Both filling the booth. Then she grasped each man by the wrist with startling strength, pulling them around to face each other at last.
Feeling the smoothness of ancient bone thrust between his fingers, Tiach held his hand very still.
This was the moment.
The fragile bone that came from the breast of a long dead bird. How many had stood here before them, resolve tested by this symbolism? Who knew? But for sure it had never been two men who did so.
Taich found himself profoundly grateful that the smoke gave him every excuse for the tears in his eyes as the shamen spoke the words that bound him to his soulmate in marriage.

E.M. Swift-Hook

Picture by L. Steinworth

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