Weekend Wind Down – Silver

…a door appeared in what looked like a blank wall. When she opened it the stench was appalling. She clicked her tongue disapprovingly.
‘Dirty slaves.’
For some reason that remark exacerbated my anger and I head butted her under one of her chins. She went down splat and I called for lights. To my surprise, two of the slatternly drones brought lanterns. I went into a long place, with a lot of figures chained to the walls.
‘Aascko’ I shouted. ‘Can you get Ambriel to open a Portal into our garden. I need my big medicine chest and the trunk of bandages. Plus water lots of hot water, and get our kitchen to prepare the biggest vat of warm sweetened milk they can manage. Also there’s a lot of people chained up. We need to release them.’
‘I’m on it love’ he shouted and as I turned back to the horribly foetid prison I felt the mind of Ambriel and heard his angry voice in my head. ‘Just look at the chains and they will fall off.’
I turned my gaze to the locks on the first prisoner, an emaciated green elf. As I looked, the chains fell from her arms and legs. Aanda appeared at my side with a cup of water which he put to her lips.
‘Gently little sister. Too much at once will make you ill.’
‘I know’ she whispered. ‘But we have had no water since yesterday morning.’ Then she reached for my arm. ‘Help the little one. The rest of us can wait. But she’s really sick.’
‘Where?’
‘In the far back corner.’
Aanma followed me with a light held high and we found a tiny imp with its arms around the neck of a woolly hound pup. Neither looked too good.
‘Aanma. Go through the portal and alert Owl. Owl, plus Cat with a bucket of raw meat scraps.’
He put down the lantern and ran as if his life depended on it. I looked at the chain around the two infants and as it fell apart I dropped to my knees in front of them. I held out my arms and the imp crawled shyly into them. I picked her up as gently as I could, but I couldn’t carry the pup as well. Aascko appeared at my shoulder and picked up the bag of bones and fur that was all the hound consisted of. We carried them out into the clean morning air, just as Owl and Cat hurried out of the Portal. Owl took the babe from my arms and opened her garment. ‘Don’t let her eat too much at once’ I instructed.
‘No. I know. Little by little.’
Cat crouched in front of the puppy and offered it a small bit of meat. It sniffed suspiciously before grabbing the meat and wolfing it.
‘Owl’ I said quietly ‘make sure you shade that little one’s eyes. She has been in the dark for overlong.’

Knowing we could leave Owl and Cat to it, Aascko and I hurried back into the grimness of the prison. It didn’t get any better and by the time I had seen every prisoner released I was on the verge of tears. But I pulled myself together and Aascko and I went through the Portal to our own garden where a pavilion had sprung up as if by magic and our drones were ensuring that every one was drinking warm honey-sweetened milk. My first concern was the imp, who was asleep in Owl’s arms. She looked a little better and I thought a gentle warm bath, with some herbs in the water, might help her breathing. I gave the orders for the water and left Owl to gently bathe the emaciated little body. Cat was nearby with the hound puppy asleep on her feet.
‘The imps want to come help’ she said.
‘Well. Let them. Owlet was very helpful to us when we were dealing with the captives from the cave.’

Then I began the serious work of dressing wounds, wounds caused by manacles and leg irons, wounds caused by whips and scourges. Wounds gone bad because of poor hygiene and lack of food and water. I worked for a very long time, with Aascko and Aaspen at my elbow, but eventually every creature had been seen. None seemed in danger except the imp and her puppy. I straightened my back and smiled wearily.
‘Nearly done. Just want to have another look at the imp and the hound.’
Aascko hugged me warmly. ‘That’s my girl.’
The babe had just awoken and was crying fretfully. I held out my arms and Owl passed her to me.
‘Her skin is very sore’ she whispered.
‘Oh. The poor little love. Aascko can you get the camomile oil please?’
He dashed off and I laid the mite in my lap. Her skin was, indeed, horribly inflamed and itchy.
‘Mostly dehydration’ I said sturdily. ‘I think she’ll pull through.’
Aascko returned and I signalled for him to pour some oil into the palm of my hand. He obliged and I anointed the babe’s skin before beginning to massage her gently.
‘Owl’ I said. ‘How much have you fed her?’
‘Three times. Just a very little at a time.’
‘Good. You can try her with a bit more in an hour. Until then, get a soft old sheet and we’ll wrap her loosely, and put her in Owlet’s nice soft bed. If one of the other imps will get in and cuddle her gently so much the better.’
Owl scooted off and I carried on gently rubbing oil into the baby’s skin. I felt something against my leg and I realised the puppy had crept over.
‘Lift the puppy up Aascko’ I said. ‘I think this babe needs to see that its only friend is OK.’
My Mate obliged and the imp’s eyes fluttered open.
‘Look’ I said. ‘Puppy is fine.’
The imp smiled and relaxed under my hands. Aascko stroked the ugly little pup.
‘It’s a scruffy little mutt and it niffs a bit, but it seems admirably faithful.’
‘Yeah. Can you give it a bath and dry it gently. I think the imp will only really relax with it beside her.’
‘You could be right.’ He scratched the pup’s ears and took it carefully away.
Owl came back with a soft linen sheet, Owlet’s bed, and Puma in tow. I wrapped the skinny little imp and laid her in the soft fluff. Puma climbed in with her and sat stroking her head and singing softly. I patted her crest.
‘Puma is a good imp.’
Going over to where Aascko was gently shampooing the puppy, I sat on the ground with a big soft towel in my lap.
‘It’s a girl hound’ he said, then put the wet mutt on the towel, and handed me another. I gently towelled the pathetically bony pup feeling for any injuries. I was so pleased to find that the creature was whole, if underweight and dehydrated.
‘You’ll do little one’ I said and when she was as dry as I could make her I fed her judiciously and allowed her to relieve herself before wrapping her loosely in another dry towel and putting her carefully in Owl’s bed beside Puma and the poorly imp. Puma put a small hand on her ugly head.
‘Hello Puppy’ she said softly. ‘You can go sleep now. Puma will watch over friend.’
I had to blink away a tear before I could carry on.
Ambriel beckoned me and I went and stood looking up into his face.
‘I have’ he said ‘witnessed the worst and the best today. And that imp singing to the sick one all but brought me to tears.’
‘Me too’ I admitted. ‘Do we know to whom the poorly little one belongs?’
He looked as if he was chewing something bad. ‘Oh yes. We know. Her Mother was a very young female of the People, who was gang raped by who knows who. That vermin Aasken decided the babe was unsaleable because of her light eyes and the Mother was too badly damaged by the rape and the birth to be of any value. So he threw them in the dungeon. The Mother died there. Now nobody wants the little one.’
‘Oh yes they do’ I said sturdily. ‘We want her. She can be part of our family.’
‘She can indeed’ Aascko spoke from just behind me. ‘We will welcome her. And love her. Her and her ugly canine friend.’
Ambriel smiled on us and for a moment I felt as if the sun was shining just for me. I pulled myself together and felt for my Mate’s hand.
‘I guess we now need to start sorting out the rest of the slaves. Not many are fit to go anywhere until they have at least had a good night’s sleep and a couple of nourishing meals. I just don’t know where we can put them.’
Then I had a thought.
‘Or perhaps I do.’ I looked into Aascko’s face. ‘How about next door?’
‘Why not indeed?’ Then he looked up at Ambriel. ‘A gateway in the wall over there would be an enormous help.’
The Angel gestured negligently and the wall grew a set of wide double gates.

I beckoned to Cat, who was hovering.
‘We need a place for the rescued ones to sleep.’
She was quick on the uptake. ‘My old nest is built on the archaic model where all the walls can be rolled away. I’ll get the drones on it. And there are portable cots in store and many blankets and pillows.’
She bustled off and Aascko scratched his crest.
‘She looks so much better’ he said meditatively.
‘She can help somebody. Makes her feel needed. She is always going to be frail, but the more useful she can be to us the happier and stronger she will become.’
‘Very true, little Huntress’ Ambriel was expansive. ‘And now I must leave you. I am summoned to give an account of today’s happenings. It isn’t going to go down too well…’
I looked at him straitly. ‘Do you think you could manage to take off without overturning the cradle?’
‘I could.’
‘Well do so then…’
He actually laughed and patted my crest before lifting off with minimal disturbance. Aascko swatted my backside quite hard.
‘Will you at least warn me before you pick a fight with an Angel.’
‘Wasn’t picking a fight. He knows how I feel about excessive downdraught, but this time I really was thinking about the rescued ones and the babes.’
‘Oh. OK. I think.’
I laughed and went to check on the basket of sleeping imps. Puma was asleep now, but it was noticeable that she had a protective arm around the tiny imp and the other hand on the head of the pup. Tiger and Owlet sat beside the basket.
‘We keeping watch’ Owlet whispered.
‘Good imps.’
He pulled on my hand. ‘Mother. Do that baby one have a Mother or a Father?’
‘She didn’t. But she does now. She is your nest sister now.’
‘Good. Do she have a name?’
‘No love. Why?’
‘Me and Tiger and Puma wants to call her Silver because of her eyes.’
‘Very well, then. We shall.’
He and Tiger turned faces of shining joy towards me and I rubbed their crests. Owl arrived beside me and indicated she would like a private word.
‘What is it?’
‘That imp. Is she blind? I wondered because of how light her eyes are.’
‘No I’ve checked. She can see fine. I can understand your thought, but she isn’t an albino, just pale. By the way, Aascko and I have adopted her. Her name is Silver.’
Owl embraced me.
‘I hoped you would. The imps and I already love her. But why Silver?’
‘The imps named her for her eyes.’
Owl had recourse to her kerchief. ‘Sometimes those little sods amaze me.’
‘Me too. Me and the Angel Ambriel.’

From: Aaspa’s Eyes by Jane Jago

Nemeton

They spoke in whispers, the elders and wise ones of the tribe
To think to find the place where they could the gods cajole or bribe.
Some said it was just fit to build a temple on the briny ocean shore
But others then protested that the heart of the dark forest called them more
Or should they set the sanctuary within the highest of the mountain’s rocky kloofs?
Or mark the moorland with the symbols of their arcane divine truths?
But then the gods themselves did take a hand and from the thunderhead above
They marked a star upon the sacred ground as a sign that this place they would love…

E.M. Swift-Hook

One of the poems you will find in In Verse, a new collection of poems by Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook.

Protagonist in the Hotseat of Truth – Jenni The Sprite

Welcome to the Hotseat of Truth, a device in which your protagonist is trapped. The only way to escape is to answer five searching questions completely honestly or the Hotseat will consume them to ashes! Today’s victim is Jenni the sprite – created by Claire Buss in The Rose Thief and The Interspecies Poker Tournament. Jenny is a thief-catcher, second-in-command to the Chief, Ned Spinks and the most powerful magical creature around. She wears a filthy red coat, has pointy ears and straw-coloured hair. Her mum is Momma K, Queen of the Fae but Jenni prefers to live and work in the real world, in Roshaven.

Question 1. When did you first meet Ned?

It were a few years ago and we was down in fing. Wot you ‘ave to understand, right, is there wos a lot of stuffs going down and it weren’t like everyfing wos straight forward or nuffink. But it were good times. I’d tell youse all about it but me aufor won’t let me, she says I gotta wait a bit while she writes it all down and sorts it all out.  I ain’t ‘zactly good at story writing.

 Question 2. How does a sprite wind up in law enforcement?

It were a close fing, could’a gone eiver way if I’m ‘onest. We just didn’t know for sure if ‘e were gonna go for it or not. An’ then o’corse that ‘appened an’ it were a case of now or never sorta fing. You know, like that ‘ole rock and anovver rock? It were like that. Ana ‘o corse that ovver bloke weren’t gonna do anyfing so it were all down to ‘im and to be fair ‘e didn’t ‘ave a scooby so I ‘ung around for a bit. Then a bit more. Plus you know, it ain’t ‘ome. 

Question 3. Who are you most loyal to. Your people or your partner?

It ain’t that simple. 

Question 4. What is your favourite food?

I likes sugared ants an’ grass’opper brittle, slug jam an’ wasp ‘oney. Worm sausages an’ snail burgers but the bestest one of all is Momma K’s beetle cheesecake.

Question 5. When did you last take a bath?

Wot’s a baff?

51LQwvEnwYL

 

EM-Drabbles – Nineteen

Mo Ryan whacked the ball back over the net and then raised his arms high in victory as his opponent failed to return it. On the next court in the women’s championship finals, Emily Payne made an identical gesture as she won her match point.

The pictures went viral, but the comments were very different.

‘Tennis hunk Ryan celebrates victory’

‘Disgusting Payne shows up unshaved.’

Later, in their hotel bedroom, Mo shook his head in disbelief.

“So why is my pit hair sexy and yours disgusting?”

Emily shrugged.

“Dual standards.”

“We’ll see.”

In his next match, Mo wore a skirt.

E.M. Swift-Hook

Coffee Break Read – A Sharp Dagger

The next morning, Julia set herself two tasks. The first involved waiting for Hywel to come up with the list of those whose insurance wasn’t going to pay out, but the second could only be accomplished under her own steam. After she fed Aelwen and they had some small conversation, she took herself to her office and firmly shut the door.
“I’m not to be disturbed,” she said, so fiercely that even the most forward notarus or adparitor would not dare to tap on the panels. “Take anything that matters that much to Manius.” She knew she could rely on the primus secretarius to handle whatever might need attention for one morning.
Using the full authority of her position as Magistratus she called up details of the life and times of Bevan Falx. It didn’t make pretty reading. He was a career thief, who capped a life of youthful follies by beating his mother so badly she was hospitalised for a month. And yet that mother still loved him. Julia bit her thumb while she thought through what she must do, before putting in a call to Gallus to ask him to come to her office. While she waited she printed off a picture of Bevan and stared unseeingly at the ugly, vicious expression that could so easily have been so different. How was it that people who clearly loved their children and tried to raise them well, still wound up with monsters sometimes?
Gallus arrived promptly.
“Shut the door.”
He obliged and Julia gestured him to a seat.
“I have a problem, the solution to which rests on a certain young man not surviving the raid planned on the factory ship. Thing is, I can’t tell you why, and I need you not to discuss this with Dai or Bryn. Or, basically, anybody. Ever.”
There was no discernible hesitation before he replied. “You don’t have to explain, domina. Just tell me who needs killing.”
Julia had the sudden knowledge that this was a man used to receiving unpleasant orders and never questioning their necessity. She showed him the photograph.
“Alright. He’s dead.”
“Thank you, my friend.”
Gallus maybe sensed how hard she was finding this because, in a gesture utterly unlike his usual gruff manner, he reached over the desk and briefly gripped her hand. Then he got up and turned away. Julia looked at the strong lines of his back and realised she owed him better.
“Gallus. Wait.”
He turned back.
“There’s a mother who loves that young man, though he doesn’t deserve it. Whose life is being poisoned by him, and to whom we probably owe Caudinus’ life. This is the only way I can think of to protect her from the very worst.”
Gallus smiled gently. “Sometimes,” he said, “compassion wears a sharp dagger. Leave it in my hands, cara.”
He was gone before Julia had chance to register the endearment. While she was still trying to get her head around it and whether it was patronising or supportive, her printer started to chatter. Hywel had come through.

From The Second Dai and Julia Omnibus  by Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook

Coffee Break Read – Mass Hysteria?

When people started seeing ghosts, everyone of a rational mind imagined it to be some sign of a new form of mass hysteria. Especially as there was no way to record the sightings. They seemed immune to any electronic method of photography. My social media feed was full of images of empty spaces and video clips of people running screaming from empty air. 

I saw my first ghost when I was eating my lunch sitting on a bench in the park outside my shop. It took me a few moments to realise it was a ghost. The outline looked like a normal person, but when you actually looked at it, the whole seemed translucent – as if there was some kind of projection. Apart from the eyes. They glowed with an eldritch red that made me almost choke on my avocado and three-bean sandwich.

I got back to my shop shaking, physically.

Now I understood why people were so afraid of these ghosts.

But how to prove they existed?

My shop sold old things. Things that were not really old enough to be antiques and were not really rare enough to be collectable. I called it the retro-shop. One thing I had a number of was old-style photographic cameras – including a couple of working polaroid’s that took instant pictures.

For the next week I went to lunch with one in my bag. But there was no ghost. I can’t say I’m sorry as it was not good for the digestion.

It was on the Friday when I was walking to the station having locked up the shop, that I heard a scream. Running I saw a teenager clutching a knife and stabbing at the ghost. The blade passing through. The lad dropped the knife and ran. 

My polaroid captured the moment – and the ghost. 

It went viral.

E.M. Swift-Hook

EM-Drabbles – Eighteen

Maisie panicked when Sheena collapsed.

For a moment she’d no idea how to get out to get help. Then Maisie remembered the dog door and pushed herself through it, her skin scraping painfully as she did so.

Then what?

The main road ran past the drive and she ran up it as fast as she could. But how to stop a car?

Only one way.

The man who got out sounded disbelieving. “There’s a pig in the road. Just lying there.”

But he followed her and called an ambulance in time to save her owner Sheena from a heart attack.

E.M. Swift-Hook

Coffee Break Read – Mags

County Durham, England – 1642

“That was well enough done, my lord, aside that you allowed Mags his head. That one is a troublemaker. Too sure of himself and too popular with the men. He needs taking down a peg or two.” 
Nick instantly fell back through time to the days when Hoyle had been given the charge of educating the Tempest boys in the use of sword and firearms. But Nick was no longer twelve years old and he was no longer willing to allow himself to be dominated by Hoyle.
“Thank you, Sergeant, your views are – appreciated,” he said, cooly.
He might as well have not spoken. Hoyle merely nodded then carried on talking in the same overly familiar manner.
“I’ll be happy to see to it myself. Of course, you know why they call him Mags?”
Nick felt a stab of irritation. His eyes passed over Hoyle and he snapped:
“No, Sergeant. I will ask him myself.”
Hoyle turned, following Nick’s gaze. The man they called Mags was sauntering towards them in an unhurried way, a heavy wool cape flung back over one shoulder to show the well-worn leather buff he wore beneath. The faded sash tied around it held a pistol and a long-bladed sword banged against his legs slightly as he walked. Like the others in the troop he was wearing newly issued boots, rolled down from their protective length into bucket-tops so he could walk more easily when dismounted. Under a drooping brimmed hat, his light brown hair, flecked through with a peppering of grey, was long, tangled and greasy and his weather-beaten face was half-hidden by a crudely trimmed beard. 
As he reached them, Mags swept off his hat, revealing an ugly patch of scarred flesh on his scalp where the hair could no longer grow. He replaced his hat with a muttered apology and looked up at Nick waiting for permission to speak.
“So what is it you wish to tell me?”
“I know the lad – we fought together. I reckon if you want him found that badly, give me enough coin and I’ll find him for you.”
Nick bridled at the demand.
“You are well paid already and the prize money should you find him is more than enough.”
The older man sucked on his lips and shook his head. “You get me wrong, sir. I’m not asking more for myself, but if you want the people I could ask to give up what they know, they’ll need recompense.” He paused and spat in the grass then wiped his mouth with a grubby shirt sleeve. “You see, this isn’t like hunting a regular criminal. Half the county is terrified of him and the other half would as like as not burn in fire rather than give him up. Your hirelings’ll find no word – save misdirection, I promise you.”
It was likely true enough, Lord seemed to cast an enchantment over those he encountered. Nick’s father had said it was the power of the Devil himself. Still, true or not, the man standing in front of him now gave no appearance to inspire confidence.
“They call you ‘Mags’,” he said eventually.
“They do. It’s short for Magdeburg.”
Magdeburg?” Nick could not keep the surprise from his voice. Magdeburg, the city of Protestant martyrs, put to sword and fire by a Catholic army over ten years past. He recalled the outrage of his family when the news reached England’s shores. Even today the horror of it remained fresh. Protestant troops would offer their enemies ‘Magdeburg quarter’ – the chance to surrender and die.
“Yes, sir. I was at Magdeburg with Tilly and his butchers. I watched the Elbe run red with blood.”
“You fought for – ?”
“I were with the cavalry. We rode under the command of Graf von Pappenheim.  I could tell you the tale of the battle, it makes fine telling but not what you want to hear right now, I’ll warrant.”
“Before God,  you are telling me you fought for the Catholics?”  Nick was horrified.
“Right back then I’d have fought for Satan himself if he’d paid for my sword. Not that we got paid, mostly we just took what we could.” Mags hawked and spat again. “I met him there – the lad you’re looking for.”
“Philip Lord? He was fighting with the Emperor’s forces?”
“No. Funny thing that, he weren’t fighting at all, just wanting to get into Magdeburg, I ne’er did find out why.”
“You disliked him then?”
The older man shook his head and gave an impatient shrug. “I liked him well enough. Even if he were too pretty and too clever for his own good and still is I hear.”
“You like him but you’ll hunt him down?”
Mags looked nonplussed.
“It’s not as if he’s kin. You’re paying my wage and I’ve a good pair of new boots from you as well. I’ll hunt you down the Archangel Gabriel if you pay me.”

From ‘The Cat’s Head’ by E.M. Swift-Hook – a work in progress…

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