Jane Jago’s Drabbles – Four Hundred and Six

She had long ago stopped feeling her feet or fingers. A frozen-footed stumble took her into a ravine where the snow covered her in its cold embrace.

It was peaceful where she lay, and she found herself resentful of the hands that dug her out and roughly chafed her flesh.

“Wake up.” The voice was urgent. “Wake up little one. It is not yet your hour.”

She slotted open her eyes to see a bearded man looking down at her. He picked her up in his arms and the heat of his body slowly crept into her frozen soul.

©jane jago

Sunday Serial – Dying to be Roman XXVIII

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.

VII

It was the last day of The Games and the Augusta Arena was packed to the rafters with punters come to witness the final Game of the season. Dai and Julia sat in a box high up in the stadium roof. He looked at her with some concern. She was still bruised and battered and, to his eyes, looked as fragile as a flower. He knew that he needed to tread carefully so he spoke in elaborately casual tones.
“I’m guessing it’s not The Game we are here for?”
“No. Although even that would be preferable.”
“What then?”
“This is where Marcella meets her end. She is to be quartered. And I very much doubt that she will be accorded Mercy first. The parents of her two Roman victims aren’t the forgiving sort.”
Dai watched a muscle work in Julia’s throat and grasped the hand that was pleating the sleeve of her shirt in both of his. A glint of silver from his index finger caught the sun as he did so.
“I find I don’t much care what happens to that evil woman,” he admitted, aware he was for once condoning what he normally condemned – brutal Roman justice. “I haven’t forgotten what she would have done to you. I will never forget it – or forgive it.”
Julia squeezed his fingers.
“Me neither. And I do want her dead. It’s just the method…”
Maybe she would have said more, but a fanfare of brassy trumpets cut her short. Below them a group of praetorians was dragging a naked and screaming figure to the centre of the arena. Behind the praetorians came four shaven-headed charioteers, each of whom led a yoked pair of stallions. The horses were hitched to the sobbing woman, one team to each ankle and one to each wrist. The praetorians stepped back and the stadium fell silent, with the only sounds being the increasingly despairing screams of the spreadeagled woman. 
High upon the southern side of the terraces a figure in the imperial box stood up. The red kerchief in his hand could clearly be seen. He dropped the kerchief and the charioteers whipped up their horses. There was a dreadful wet tearing sound and Marcella was rent into four pieces. The stadium erupted as the horses dragged their gory trophies around the perimeter of the arena before galloping out via the stable entrance.
Dai glanced at Julia’s face, which looked as if it had been carved from ivory so still and fleshless was it. He squeezed her hand gently and she responded. The figure in the imperial box turned towards them and raised one fist. Julia stood up and bowed gravely across the arena. Dai could see her foster brother sitting in state next to Aurelius Galerius Valerius, Caesar of Galliae who stood in his salute to honour the justice done for Julia, while the crowd in the stadium howled and cheered.
Julia swayed on her feet, and Dai put out a hand to steady her but she was saved the embarrassment of falling by the deep-toned voice of a gong. She sat quickly, and Dai pushed her head down between her legs.
“Breathe, Julia.”
But it was too late, she started retching and all Dai could do was hold her head as she emptied her stomach.
Meanwhile, the arena filled with naked men. Men whose bodies were hard and scarred and tattooed. Men, each of whom stooped to put a thumb in the blood on the sand and imprint a bloody thumbprint on his own forehead. They resolved themselves into four teams, the finalists in this year’s Game, Caledonia with blue bands around each man’s left bicep, Germanica with green, Britannia Prima with red, and Iberia with yellow. Each team went to a corner of the stadium and stood in silence. This was what they would all have trained and fought for throughout most of their lives. This was their one chance and the grim faces all showed a determination that would brook no opposition. Here they each faced the possibility of maiming or death, but that was nothing when set against the precious prize of being lifted to the exalted status of Roman Citizen.
The gong sounded again and Caesar stood up in his box. This time he held a throwing stick in one hand and a golden ball in the other. As the gong ceased sounding Caesar placed the ball in the cup of the throwing stick and whipped it into the arena with vicious speed. A tall Iberian with a golden beard plucked the ball from the air.
And the pandemonium started.
Under the cover of the baying crowd, Dai wrung out his kerchief in water from his drinking bottle and used it to wipe Julia’s white face. She smiled her gratitude.
“I don’t think I want to be an inquisitor any more,” she whispered. “”I think I’d just like to retire to a little farm and grow olives.”
Dai looked at her and for a moment hesitated, his courage wavering, then he mustered a grin that he hoped seemed nonchalant.
“I can’t,” he said carefully, “offer you olives, but I happen to have recently come by a small orchard with apples, pears, plums and cherries that we could share if you wanted.”
Julia’s smile was so bright it all but dazzled him.
“I think I’d like that.”

You can read  Dai and Julia’s subsequent adventures together in the Dai and Julia Mysteries by Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook.

 

Weekend Wind Down – A Flash of Red

   Being the ‘Undead Liaison Officer’ of the city police isn’t exactly how I had planned to spend my year of Community Service. I only got the gig because I’m a mixed-blood – and because nobody else wanted it. Be that as it may, I hadn’t made to bad a fist of it. Until now. Two weeks of my secondment left an I hafta cop for this.
    What did I ever do? But I digress…
    The Chief called me into his office and stood looking down his impressive nose at me. When he thought I had squirmed enough spoke.
    “Ah. Cadman. Got a job for you. Woman dead. Up there,” he indicated the posh end of town with jerk of one thick thumb. “Her family is screaming murder, but she died alone in a locked room. You cut along and look into it.”
    Which left me walking up streets that got steeper and steeper, past houses that got bigger and bigger. I glanced at the ageing, and wooden-faced constable they had sent with me to see that even he was beginning to look concerned.
    “Fraggit,” he mumbled. “What’re we doing here.”
    “Praying,” I said shortly.
    He grinned tautly. “On it.”
    There were two smartly uniformed watchmen outside our destination. They knew my companion, and let us in without hindrance.
    “Watch the son,” one murmured out of the corner of his mouth. “He’s an asshole with attitude.”
    We had barely got into the house when a tall guy, whose handsome hawklike countenance was marred by a sulky pout, bore down on us with his brocaded soutane flapping behind him like a sail. He pointed a dramatic finger.
    “I demanded the best that the city has to offer, and this is what they send me!”
    “Undead Liaison,” I kept my tone neutral, “they have to send me, then I  call out the big guns. It’s procedure.”
    “Oh well. If it’s procedure.” His voice just about dripped sarcasm. “Come this way then.”
    He stalked ahead of us, and I had to run to keep up. Being half-dwarf and half-elf, I ain’t the longest in the leg. But we got to the room. Also guarded. 
    “Thank you maestre.” I’m always scrupulously polite to assholes.
    He didn’t deign to reply.
    “Nice,” one of the door guards muttered.
    I shrugged and opened the door, finding myself in what was obviously the boudoir of a very wealthy and spoilt woman. It was all done out in shades of pink, from the palest mother of pearl to screaming fuchsia. The only false note came in the form of a vase of flowers on a side table. They were roses, red as blood, and as out of place as myself and the constable in this room of decadent beauty, and as soon as I saw the roses, I knew who did it. Or I thought I did. I stuck my head out of the door. 
    “Does anybody know who was responsible for the floral decorations in here?”
    “No.”
    Fortunately for the state of my temper the second door guard was either brighter or just less lazy. “I’ll just go find out.”
    He was back pretty quick. “The deceased ordered them her own self from Mattie’s in the Pantheon.”
    I gave him the thumb, before shutting the door and sitting down, plump, on the floor.
    “Oh fraggit,” I said bitterly.
    “What?”
    “I know who killed her. The kicker is gonna be finding the proof.”
    “So. Who? And. Howja know?”
    “She done herself. And the clue is in that vase over there.”
    He looked at me like I’d flipped, but I kept my cool.
    “You notice anything odd about them flowers?”
    He scratched his head. “Well. I guess they are the wrong colour. But so what?”
    “Well. Did you know roses have names?”
    “What. Like Eric and Sid?”
    “No.  Not quite. Them roses is a variety called ‘Suicide’. Seems telling to me.”
    “You sure about the name?”
    “Ninety per cent. But I guess I should check.”
    I dragged out my telecaster and called father. He answered as grumpily as ever. 
    “What do you want, child?”
    “Can you identify a rose for me?”
    He pricked up his ears. “Show me.”
    I panned over to the vase.
    “Suicide,” he snapped. “Where?”
    “From Mattie’s in the Pantheon.”
    “Okay.”
    He cut the connection.
    “That’s my dear old dad.” I managed to hide the hurt under a jaunty grin. Or so I thought. 
    The middle-aged constable patted my head. “Now what?”
    I had one of them thunderbolt inspirations.
    “Search the room for roses.”
    I’ll give it to him, he was a better searcher than me. I’d have never even thought of the marquetry roses on the table that held the vase. But he lifted the cut glass and looked down.
    “I seen one of these tables once before. It had a hidden drawer.”
    “So does my mother’s table.” It was mister sarcastic. He strolled over and pressed three rose petals simultaneously. A tiny drawer flew open disclosing a cream parchment envelope. He opened it with one overlong fingernail. When he had finished reading his face was the colour of old ivory. To do him justice he pulled himself together and bowed to me.
    “My thanks. Liaison Officer. This explains much.”
    Me and the Constable buggered off quick, but the financial bonus, when it come through, was enough to set both of us up for life. Me? I’m a housewife now and my partner is a retired City Constable of phlegmatic temperament and quiet humour. 
    And all because my absent father breeds roses.

©️Jane Jago 2019

My Generation Revisted

People always put us down
Just because we’re st-still around
The things we did don’t get extolled
Hope I die when I’m v-very old

They want us to just f-f-fade away
Young folk blame us every day
We tried to make this world a b-better place
But we’re told we’re a disgrace

My generation, my generation’s still here today.

Why don’t you all f-f-face the truth?
We did our best with all the proof
Where we fucked up, so would’ve you
Now stop the blame game, you know it’s true.

We tried to make the world a b-better place
But now we’re told we’re a d-disgrace
The things we did don’t get extolled
Hope I die when I’m very old…

E.M. Swift-Hook

Jane Jago’s Drabbles – Four Hundred and Five

It wasn’t going to be enough. He had spent all his life creating the drugs that fought the superbugs, and had always told himself that he would win. Only now it seemed he was to be the victim of his own hubris.

He lay on the narrow hospital bed – determined not to toss and turn as his body waged a losing battle against the invasive bacterium that had already cost him his right arm.

The nurses watched him in pity.

Who would have thought that a paper cut could prove the undoing of the most famous scientist of his generation?

©jane jago

Protagonist in the Hotseat of Truth – Ling Sa

Welcome to the Hotseat of Truth a device in which your protagonist is trapped and the only way to escape is to answer six searching questions completely honestly or the Hotseat will consume them to ashes!

Ling Sa is a Taoist priest, living alone in a remote temple in Ancient China. He’s also been dead for hundreds of years. So why is Sam dreaming about him night after night? Is it because there’s something familiar about the hotel she’s staying at in Beijing? In Promise of the Opal by Lyra Shanti, we take a journey through time with Sam as she discovers the truth about her identity and the forbidden love she once promised never to forget.

Question 1: What is the most important principle you adhere to in life?

Ling Sa: Truth, or the pursuit of it, is the most valuable treasure there is. Without truth, both inner and outer, we are but lost souls in the ocean of despair.

Question 2:  Have you ever concealed a truth from a loved one? If so, what truth?

Ling Sa: Unfortunately, some truths are nearly impossible to share with those who do not want the burden of knowledge. For example, I was born different from others: my hair is white as snow, my eyes are uniquely green, and I have… gifts of the mind, which frighten many who do not understand. As a child, I was thrown out of my own village, forced to live in exile at the White Dragon temple. Luckily, I found a master to teach me in the ways of balance, which has helped me to keep my abilities a secret to the stray villagers who come to the temple to pray. But is keeping a secret the same as telling a lie? I am unsure.

Question 3: What decision do you most regret?

Ling Sa: I have many regrets. But my biggest regret is hurting the people I love, even if I didn’t intend to do so.

Question 4: If you could change one thing about your story would it be?

Ling Sa: I would hold onto the opal ring and never let it go. It is my responsibility to contain its power.

Question 5:  Who do you most need to apologise to for your actions?

Ling Sa: All those who were innocent when I… No, I cannot talk about that just yet. I suppose I should apologise to Li Gan, who simply wanted healing. Instead, I gave him my long suppressed desire. It was perhaps too much for him to bear.

Question 6: How does it feel to know your love story reverberates through the ages?

Ling Sa: I am quite surprised, to be honest. I thought I would remain a ghost – a forgotten priest whose philosophies never quite made it into the history books. I never suspected that my life, or my relationship with Gan, would be remembered at all, let alone reverberate with anyone. I can only hope that our story is a lesson about what it means to unconditionally love someone with all your heart.

 

Coffee Break Read – The Night Bus

The midnight bus across town. Nobody’s idea of fun. But beggars can’t be choosers and without her job Louise would have been a literal beggar as well as a metaphorical one. Accordingly, five nights a week found her crouched in a corner of the upper deck making herself as small and inconspicuous as possible.
Fridays were the worst. At the end of the week it was all an exhausted Louise could do to endure the scent of vomit and the sting of routine abuse from drunks and tired whores.
This particular Friday, the bus was full to groaning and she was squashed in next to a huge woman with pendulous breasts and galloping halitosis. Five youths in hoodies erupted up the stairs brandishing knives. Louise’s companion screamed before throwing herself to the ground and rolling around as if in a fit. The would-be steamers stared
“Woss wrong wiv ‘er?”
One stepped in for a closer look and the jerking woman set her teeth in his calf, gnawing on him as if he were a chicken drumstick. He screamed and dropped his knife, too shocked to even kick out at her. His mates stared round-eyed.
“I’d watch that if I was you,” Louise ventured. “She probably has rabies.”
They turned and ran, falling over each other in their haste to be elsewhere.
The fat woman sat up and winked at Louise.
“Well done, love. I usually has to bite at least two…”

© jane Jago 2017

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