Jane Jago’s Daily Drabble – One Hundred and Sixty-Seven

The garden was full of stone people – reminders of the perils attached to disrespecting the witch.

Charissa learned herbal lore from Mistress Effie. And assiduously avoided looking at the garden ornaments. 

When a spate of rumour arose, traceable to the fat woman who ran the inn and sold patent medicines, Charissa worried.

Effie took to her laptop.

Two nights later a tap on the back door heralded the arrival of a heavy parcel. 

The two women wrestled the stone figure of a fat aproned woman into a prominent place in the garden.

“What? How?”

Effie grinned her crocodile grin. “Amazon…”

©️jj 2019

Coffee Break Read – Dying to be Found

Dying to be Found - or the Wolfhounds of Lupercalia -is a Dai and Julia Mystery for Valentine's Day.

Lupercalia MDCCLXXVIII Anno Diocletiani

It was Lupercalia, the day when everyone celebrated romance – and it’s close friend fertility. The shops were full of silly cards and chocolate wolves, and the flower sellers all had sudden hikes in their prices. Dai Llewellyn sat opposite his diminutive wife at the breakfast table and inwardly debated whether she had truly forgotten the date, or she was playing a deep game of her own. Whichever way Julia went on this one, he was convinced he had the situation covered and he carefully camouflaged an inner smile.
He finished his porridge and leaned over to kiss Julia’s pink mouth. She responded with her usual flattering ardour and he put up a hand to ruffle her dark curls.
“Work calls. I won’t be back until supper time. Is there anything you want from Viriconium?”
“I don’t think so. See you later.”
He kissed her again and went out to where his personal all-wheel awaited him. To his surprise, Julia’s bodyguard, Edbert, was leaning casually against the vehicle. The great wolfhounds Canis and Lupo stood with him, waiting for their morning walk.
“You haven’t forgotten what day it is, I hope.”
“No. You’re all right. I have it covered.”
The huge northerner mimed mopping his brow and sloped off. Dai got into the driving seat and allowed himself a smug grin.

He pulled up outside Bryn’s square stone-walled house and tooted cheerily. His friend and second-in-command ambled out with a grin from ear to ear, greying hair tied back and a doorstep of bread and honey in one hand. He climbed aboard and favoured Dai with a straight look.
“I hope you have remembered what day it is?”
“Why does everybody think I need reminding of an over-commercialised randomly-chosen date? Surely my wife knows I love her without some sort of overpriced gift?”
Bryn eyed him narrowly.
“I hope for your sake you’re winding me up, Bard.”
“I am. Here. Look.”
Dai took a red velvet pouch out of his tunic pocket and spilled the contents onto the palm of his hand. Bryn barely looked, instead he stuck his head out of the vehicle window and whistled shrilly. His wife opened the front door and trotted out.
“Show it to Gwen. I was told if it was jewellery she needed to make sure you got it right.”
Dai laughed and leaned out to display a silver chain bracelet from which there hung three charms.
“See,” he said, “there’s a golden ball for when I asked her to come and be my love, the disk has the date of our marriage, and there’s a wolf for Lupercalia. I can add more charms as the years go by.”
“That’s perfect,” Gwen stood on tiptoe to kiss his cheek before returning to her house.
Dai put the bracelet back in its pouch and the pouch in his pocket before starting the engine and engaging drive.

They were about halfway to Viriconium when both men’s wristphones bleeped simultaneously. Bryn answered.
“SI Cartivel. What’s the panic?”
“Missing child. Cadell Glaw. The kid’s up in the hills somewhere. Parents are sheep farmers and he must have slipped out during the night. He’s three years old and the temperature is well below freezing.”
“You don’t need to ask me, man, get the tracker dogs out!”
“No can do. They are on their way back from Eboracum where there was that big jailbreak. Won’t be here until tomorrow morning. We can’t wait that long.”
“No. We can’t.” Bryn looked at Dai questioningly.
“Alright. Get the address and then call Edbert. Canis and Lupo would appear to be our only chance. Julia will lend them gladly in these circumstances.”

Some two hours later, and it was perishingly cold out on the hill. The farming couple were small dark-haired folk, who quickly understood what Dai had in mind. The man shut his own dogs in the barn and his wife went for a favourite toy to give Canis and Lupo the child’s scent.
“We tried our sheepdogs,” the man said quietly, “but they couldn’t grasp what we wanted.”
“I don’t suppose they could, but these boys are trained to seek.”
Edbert was bundled up, looking for all the world to Dai’s eyes like a multicoloured version of one of the bears that hunted his native forests. Clad in a thick plaid winter coat, with a fur hood pulled close over his head, Edbert seemed oblivious to the cold as he put long leather leashes on the wolfhounds. When they had sniffed the stuffed sheep he snapped his fingers.
“Seek,” he said firmly. “Seek.”
The dogs cast about the farmyard quartering the ground with care, but for a tense few minutes, they could find nothing. Then Lupo’s tail went up and he gave an excited whimper. Seconds later Canis caught the same scent. Then they were off, all but dragging Edbert in their wake. Dai and Bryn got in the all-wheel and followed, leaving the farmer and his wife to wait and hope.

It was an uphill trek, and even Edbert’s formidable fitness was being tried by the rough terrain. After nearly three quarters of an hour of sinew-stretching running and careful driving,  Dai was about to call a rest halt when the dogs lost the scent in the bottom of a rocky valley. Bryn looked stricken, but Dai had more faith in the dogs who cast carefully about the scree-covered valley bottom before drawing a blank. The dogs whined and Edbert encouraged them up to the slope to where they obediently ran around seeking the elusive trail. Dai was beginning to think his faith in the hounds might have been misplaced when Canis lifted his head and gave an excited whine.
“They’ve only found it,” Bryn whispered, “they’ve only gone and found it”.
Before Dai could think of a suitable response the dogs and Edbert had breasted the rise and the hunt was on again.

They seemed to have reached the apex of the hills and the trail led across the tops now where the wind whistled unforgivingly around the stunted trees. Bryn looked increasingly grim, and Dai himself wondered how a small child dressed only in his nightshirt and dressing gown would cope with such cold or indeed, could have travelled so far on his own. Before his imagination could go any further the dogs stopped again, but this time they stood stock still pointing, with their tongues lolling and their eyes sparkling. Edbert beckoned, and Dai stopped the all-wheeler. He and Bryn jumped down.

Once they were out, it was obvious why Edbert wouldn’t take Canis and Lupo any closer. The small sleeping figure was curled up between the woolly bodies of two sheep, with his booted feet sticking out, and a lamb clutched to his chest. Bryn looked at Dai and his eyes were suspiciously bright.
“I really thought we might be looking for a body,” he said.
“Me too,” Edbert admitted in his slow, deep voice.
Dai didn’t waste time talking, he crossed to the sleeping child and put a gentle hand on the head of rough, dark curls.
“Cadell,” he said quietly, “time to go home”.
The little boy sat up and studied Dai through round black eyes.
Ewythr,” he said and held up his arms.

It was hours later when the medicus had examined Cadell and declared him none the worse for his ordeal, and Edbert and the dogs had made their own way home, that Dai and Bryn climbed back into their transport.
“No point in heading for Viriconium, now,” Dai said genially. “We may as well knock off a bit early and go home to our wives.”
He put his hand into the pocket where his Lupercalia gift for Julia lay, only to find the pocket empty. For a moment the cold of the mountains reached in to touch his soul. He searched with increasing desperation, but it was nowhere to be found.
“Bryn,” he said in a tense thread of a voice. “I’ve lost Julia’s present. It must have fallen out of my pocket somewhere.”
Bryn smiled wryly.
“It did, Bard. Out on the hill. When you bent to pick up young Cadell.”
“What? Did you pick it up?”
“No. I didn’t even see it fall…”
Dai was sure he looked as puzzled and irritated as he felt. “What are you telling me you spado? Is it still up there on the hillside?”
“No.” Bryn put a hand in his own pocket and grinned. “It’s here. Lupo must have seen you drop it and he retrieved. He fetched it to Edbert, who gave it to me because you were busy.”
Dai took the pouch and dusted it off with a trembling hand.
“I owe that dog a great big bone.”

©E.M. Swift-Hook and Jane Jago February 2018

Glossary of Non-English Terms
Please note these are not always accurate translations, they are how these terms are used in Dai and Julia’s world.
Eboracum – we would call it York.
Ewythr – uncle
Lupercalia – once celebrated with raucous rabbles running through the street, by Dai and Julia’s day it is much more like our own Valentine’s Day.
Spado – literally ‘eunuch’, metaphorically ‘stupid fool’.
Viriconium – we would call it Wroxeter.

You can collect the Dai and Julia Mysteries as individual novellas or snag The First Dai and Julia Omnibus and The Second Dai and Julia Omnibus by E.M. Swift-Hook and Jane Jago.

Jane Jago’s Valentine’s Day Drabble

Her unknown admirer sent her flowers every day. Simple garden flowers simply arranged, but as freshly lovely as the dawn.

On Valentines Day she searched through the extravagant bouquets until she found her admirer’s card on a hand tied bunch of anemones. 

They made her smile and she chose them over orchids and forced roses. She carried them to the ball that night, selecting a dress that echoed their subtle colours.

Perhaps he watched as she held his flowers to her peachy cheek. Perhaps she danced with him that night. Perhaps he even stole a kiss.

She would never know.

©️jj 2019

Coffee Break Read – Drone Attack!

The whole thing rolled on for another cycle, with its own momentum, setting their agenda, pushing them further into places they didn’t want to be and forcing them to fight to hold ground they had never wanted to conquer. But whilst Jaz was aware that he and Blondie could see some purpose in it all, knowing why they were gridlocked into the ‘City, Avilon was just getting restless.
“We got that stake yet?” he asked, as they walked to the doors of one of the upmarket casinos now under the dominion of Durban Chola. “The one we were going to earn so we could leave? Or are we staying here — doing this — until, whenever?”
Jaz mustered a grin of sorts. He could wish Avilon would choose his moments better. This visit to Tolly Hagen was long overdue and they had a few important matters to discuss regarding some missing back payments from his upmarket nightclub. They needed to be focused on that.
“We’re getting there, but right now I need —”
The mini-drone shot burned into Avilon’s shoulder. Even as he went down, Jaz had the thing sited and fired to clip it out of the air.  A classic Special’s technique, the kind where you either learned to do things the low-tech way or you died trying. Then he was moving for the cover Avilon had already rolled into, a small alcove in the decorative collonaded facade around the main doors into the building.
“If they have more of them —” Avilon started.
“Then we’ll have a busy time, brother,” Jaz told him. “How’s the shoulder?”
“Not good.”
Jaz made his decision.
“Let’s get out of here. We’ll sort this bastard another time.”
No one tried to stop them leaving and Jaz linked to the man they had been going to talk to as soon as they were heading back to the mansion and it’s small clinic.
“Jaz, my friend, You were supposed to be here by now. Where are you?”
“Your drone missed, Tolly. But I won’t.”
“Drone? That wasn’t me, Jaz.” The other man was suddenly sounding frightened. “Why would I set you up for something?”
“It was on your doorstep Tolly, don’t pretend you knew nothing about it ’til I just told you. Your security would have seen it and should have shot it out the air long before it got near me.”
“Jaz — you have got to believe me. I didn’t know. Give me a couple of days I’ll find out what happened — please, Jaz. This is not my doing.” He was close to tears from terror.
Jaz thought a moment.
“This time tomorrow Tolly. And that’s the biggest favour anyone ever loaned you.”
“I know. Thank you, my friend, you will not regr —”
Jaz cut the link.
“What is that about?” Avilon asked.
“I don’t know. But I’m not going to play games around it. I’m getting us in some military quality hardware. Armament belts. Weapons. If people want to get in my sandbox they can start paying the price on the door to do so.”

From Haruspex: Edge of Doom by E.M. Swift-Hook a Fortune’s Fool book. 

Jane Jago’s Daily Drabble – One Hundred and Sixty-Five

“We’re in space. There cannot be water dripping.”

“No. What’s that smegging noise then?”

“There is no noise.”

But Zammo knew there was noise. He also knew nobody was gonna do smeg. So he suited up. Getting one of the more reliable drones to man the airlock he went out. He turned his face to the direction from which the noise had come, and his jaw dropped so fast it cracked against the plexiglass of his helmet. His feet were on solid ground, and there was vegetation around him. He took off his helmet and walked away from the ship.

©️jj 2019

Coffee Break Read – Starways Pathfinders

“Captain’s Log update. Further to the recent encounter with the last human colony in the Calamarti Sector, The Golden Strand is currently moving into uncharted space. We are following up on reports of the existence of a mythical and demonic alien race. The Kyruku.”
Captain Gervain’s elegant and poised outline could be seen silhouetted in profile against the receding planet as she finished recording her log.
“Do you believe the colonists, Captain?”
The youthful-looking science officer lacked expression in both her voice and her face. Despite the question, she displayed zero curiosity. It was as if the captain’s response, whatever it might be, was of no more than academic interest to her.
“I don’t know,” Gervain admitted after a moment of reflection. “Sub-Commander Stude seems to think the colonists have some genuine grounds to believe they do exist. He says the landing team he led met too many who had stories to tell about them for it to be a complete myth. But all I really heard from him was wild stories of the curse they are supposed to carry.”
“It is completely irrational to believe such accounts,” Science Officer Chay agreed, her tone clipped. “To accord any credence to the entire concept of a curse requires an irrational and superstitious mindset.”
The captain lifted one eyebrow and leaned closer to her colleague, lowering her voice so the rest of the crew wouldn’t hear. “Between you and me, I think you have Arlan Stude pinned, Xexe. You don’t get much more irrational and superstitious than he is.” She smiled knowingly at her science officer, who blinked and tilted her head.
“I am not sure I can agree with you, Captain. In my experience, Sub-Commander Stude makes highly rational decisions.”
The captain drew a sharp breath, but whatever she had been going to say next was silenced on her tongue. The lights on the flight deck suddenly flickered and a siren began blaring the “High Alert” warning. Both women turned and looked towards the huge viewing screen, just as a brick-shaped vessel shimmered into view against the backdrop of stars. It looked ugly, with the rusted colour of its hull and the alien technology appearing to human eyes like protruding pincers, needles and claw shapes.
“Will you look at that?” The expression on Captain Gervain’s face was a well-crafted blend of wonder and horror. Beside her, the deadpan of the science officer was a brilliant counterpoint. High emotion set against pure mentation.
“I see it, Captain. It is there. The Kyruku. Do. Exist.”
Two such different female faces, one shot. Perfect.

Joah Meer glanced from the monitor view back to the studio where the two women stood in an empty room staring, rapt, at a blank wall. They really were very good. She had them hold their pose for a few seconds longer than was strictly needed, stopped the recording and smiled.
“Nice work. Take five and then we’ll be setting up to get the fight scene recorded.”
Heila, whose role as captain of The Golden Strand had lasted three seasons so far, stretched slowly as if she had been cramped, and glared at Joah.
“I’m not doing that hurling myself around on the floor thing again, so don’t ask.”
“Never, darling,” Joah said, soothingly. “You might get another bruise, and you have a full-exposure publicity shoot tomorrow.”
Beside her, no longer stone-faced, Zarshay snorted and broke into a grin. Heila scowled at her.
“So funny?”
“Full exposure? Oh my, the life of a leading lady.”
Which was enough to send Heila stalking out in high dudgeon. Zarshay was still grinning as she navigated through the two tech-droids and their human keeper, Wilf, to reach Joah’s console. Joah opened her arms and hugged her tight, lifting her off her feet as they kissed.
“Seriously? You have booked Heila for a skin shoot?”
Joah shook her head.
“Of course not, it’s just a usual media thing, but she has been getting so precious recently, I’ve been tempted. It’s like she thinks we should change Starways Pathfinders to The Heila Camarthy Show.”
Zarshay made a rude noise and laughed.
But something of the tension was still there when they were adding the space-battle scenes.

From ‘Star Dust’ by E.M.Swift-Hook one of the stories set in The Last City a shared-world science fiction anthology from Dust Publishing

Jane Jago’s Daily Drabble – One Hundred and Sixty-Four

Before the world drove them apart he helped her to plant daffodils on her parents’ grave. 

When the green shoots poked their noses through the grass, the sight of them hurt so much she could barely draw breath. 

But today was Mum’s birthday, so she dragged herself to the cemetery moving like an automaton. The grave was covered with yellow, nodding daffodils and that was beyond bearing. She knelt on the cold ground weeping silently, when a voice she never thought to hear again spoke from behind her.

“I’m home. If you will have me…”

She turned into his embrace.

©️jj 2019

Author Feature: Into the Madness by Richard H Stephens

Into the Madness is out tomorrow and is the final instalment of the epic fantasy series, Soul Forge trilogy by Richard H Stephens.

The third book digs deeper into the lives and emotions of the main characters as they struggle to find a way to defeat a seemingly unconquerable foe. Just when they are about to make a difference, they suffer a crippling tragedy. Making matters worse, they discover the evil sorcerer has found the key to unlocking an ancient spell, that once enacted, will summon forth an obsidian nightmare and pitch the realm into the madness.

At fourteen, Melody had fled into the heights of Mount Cinder with Silurian to escape the fate of their parents. Her memory of her childhood before that day was of a simple, happy life. Her parents had kept to themselves, living off the land—growing enough to support their family with little else to spare.
Their only excitement used to come on the odd occasion a weary traveller found themselves in need of a place to stay for the night. Altirius Mountain trolls were not the type of creatures one dared leave themselves vulnerable to.
The sight of her brother’s reaction broke her heart as tears rolled down his cheeks.
She put a comforting hand on his thigh. “A sad homecoming, indeed.”
She spotted the charred remains of the big oak tree they climbed as children, their parents buried beneath its charred boughs. She said past the lump in her throat, “Come on. Let’s say hi.”
She dismounted and threw the reins around a shrivelled bush poking through the snow. Unlashing her staff, she spoke a few words, encouraging the hidden runes along the dark length of wood to life. “Get down here and I’ll warm us up.”
Silurian followed her lead. Arm in arm, with Melody’s staff glowing between them, they walked by the mound that had been their home.
They passed the ruined barn and stopped beneath the eerie remains of the oak tree.
Silurian knelt on one knee, brushing at the snow around its base. 
Melody helped him clear away fallen pieces of the burnt tree to uncover the slight irregularity in the ground marking the graves. Of the two wooden crosses Silurian had fashioned from branches all those years a go, there was no sign.
Knowing what she did of their heritage, Melody found herself full of unanswered questions about her mother. Why hadn’t she told them of their lineage? If the Grimward could be trusted, and she saw no reason why the old spirit would lie, Mase Storms End had descended from a long line of magic users. Sure, her mother had good reason to be discreet with that knowledge. Had she been found out, the family would have faced persecution from the ignorant, idol worshipping, peasantry.
Melody sniffled, wiping wet cheeks on her robe. In the end, what difference did it make? Death at the hands of the people, or being murdered by Helleden’s minions? Either way, her parents were dead. They had lived in exile from their own people.
“It’s not fair.”
Silurian stopped clearing the unmarked graves and looked her in the eyes. “No, it’s not, but I’m damn well going to make someone answer for their deaths. They never did anybody wrong. Mother’s only crime was being born a Storms End. Father’s only fault was loving her.” 
Melody put her arm around his shoulders and pulled him in close. His words sparked a feeling deep inside her she hadn’t known herself capable of.
Revenge.

A Bite of... Richard H Stephens
Q1: Why do you write? 

I started writing when I was 9. At the time, neither publication nor the promise of money was in my mind. Around 18 or 19, I began dreaming of publication, but back in the 1980’s, you either landed a publisher or you didn’t get published. That process was so daunting to me that I never pursued it.
A few years ago, I came to realization that the extreme stresses I faced daily during my job was going to put me in an early grave so, with the loving support of my wife, I resigned and set my mind to both publication and earning a living. 
I am about to publish my 5th title so I have achieved my goal of turning my fantasy into a reality. With regard to my passion bearing fruit, let’s just say, I have a few things to learn about marketing and promotion, but it’s coming. 

Q2: What time of day do you write best?

I used to write my best in the evening and late into the night but as I have grown older, and especially since I now write fulltime, I’m usually most productive between lunchtime and supper.

Q3: Have you ever written somebody you love into a book?

All the time. My loved ones sneak their way into my writing without my knowledge. The story of Silurian and Melody share many inferences of two of my children. I hadn’t really thought about it until someone pointed it out.
I named the main character in my next series by combining my daughter’s name with my wife’s. Rebecca and Caroline became Reecah.
I’ve already picked out other name combinations of family members but those might prove to be spoilers, so I’ll stop right here.

Richard H Stephens in his own words

I began writing circa 1974, a bored child looking for something to do. ​As my reading horizons broadened, so did my writing.
A trip to a local bookstore saw the proprietor introduce me to Stephen R. Donaldson and Terry Brooks. My writing life was forever changed.
I worked in a warehouse for 22 years, supporting my family, before I reattended school to complete my education. Graduating with honours, I joined our local Police Service.
In 2017, I resigned from the Police Service to pursue writing full-time. With the support of my family, I have finally realized my boyhood dream.

You can find Richard H Stephens on Facebook, YouTubeTwitter and his website.

 

Jane Jago’s Daily Drabble – One Hundred and Sixty-Three

I can’t stand bloody freesias. Had them in my wedding bouquet. They were white and pink and smelled like summer and happy ever after.

Only I ain’t gonna get neither by the looks.

I’m stuck here in perpetual winter, and the asshole I was stupid enough to marry has sashayed off back to his momma in sunny Florida.

Last week he sent me the divorce papers I been kind of expecting. I signed them and found myself smiling for the first time in months.

This morning my big bear of a neighbour brought me freesias. These ones smelled like hope.

©️jj 2019

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