Just a Little Garlic

Paula carefully opened the door and gestured for Ian to step through. “Come in,” she said, shutting the door and locking it. “Would you like a tea or a coffee?”

“A tea would be nice,” Ian said, following Paula into the kitchen. “Are you okay?”

It was a reasonable question. Paula looking like a deep breath would break her and her elderly face was strained. She forced a smile. “I am a little concerned. That’s why I asked you here.”

Ian’s eyes narrowed. “You’re not keen on me, I know. I married your niece and you play nice, but you’ve never warmed up to me.”

Paula licked her dry lips as she filled the kettle. “You’ve always been good to Jeanette,” she said. “And I’m very grateful for it. And heaven knows that poor kid deserves some luck in life. Her mother is dreadful.” She flicked the kettle on and pulled out two mugs. “You said tea, didn’t you?”

“Yes, no sugar.” Ian watched Paula fumble with the teabags. “I treasure Jeanette, and I make no secret of it. I’m lucky to have met her. I’m even luckier that she will have me. And you know my family have welcomed her. You were at the wedding.”

Paula dropped the teabags. “I’ve never been to a happier wedding,” she said as she scrabbled around for the teabags. “But you’re a werewolf.”

“Yes,” Ian said. “And so are most of my family.”

Paula pulled a fresh box of teabags out of the cupboard and struggled with the wrapper. “Jeanette always looks so happy.”

Ian took the box from her and opened it before casually dropping the teabags into the mugs. “You didn’t ask me to come around just because I am a werewolf. You’re obviously terrified.” He frowned for a moment. “Well, you’re safe. Try and relax.” He fidgeted with the bowl on the kitchen counter, avoiding Paula’s eyes. “I’m not like that. I never have been.”

“That’s garlic,” Paula said, holding on to the edge of the counter.”

“Hmm?” Ian said, tossing a bulb and catching it. “I love garlic,” he said. “Jeanette always grows extra for me.” He shot a hard look at Paula. “It’s vampires that are affected by garlic, not werewolves.” He set the bulb back in the bowl and picked up the boiling kettle. “Let me. You’re a bag of nerves.”

Paula swallowed. “You like garlic?”

“You should have silver against werewolves,” Ian said impatiently as he made two mugs of tea. “Come on, Paula, what is it? I’ll always go the extra mile for you. Jeanette told me how good you were to her growing up, and she needed it. Just try not to treat me like a monster.” He pushed a mug into Paula’s cold hand. “What is it?”

“There’s something in the garden,” Paula said quietly. “I hear noises, but I can never see anything. I’ve looked as much as I’ve dared, but I’ve seen no-one.”

Ian looked at her and then out of the window. It was dark outside and the huge garden was hidden from the window. “You’re scared of me, but you’re more scared of what could be out there.”

“The garden is getting too much for me,” Paula said. “It’s quite overgrown at the end. I thought it could be something…” she trailed off. “I never used to quite believe in werewolves.”

“I’ll have a look,” Ian said.

“You will be careful, won’t you?” Paula said, catching hold of his arm. “If there’s something dreadful out there, I don’t want you to be hurt.”

Ian patted her hand. “I can take care of myself. But lock the door after me and watch out of the window, just in case.”

Paula watched the hard faced, hard muscled man disappear into the shadows at the bottom of the garden. Even if she didn’t know that he was a werewolf, she would have found him intimidating. There was an unforgiving air around him. But she had seen him with her niece and their kids and Ian doted on them. And Jeanette absolutely adored her husband, it was clear a mile off. Paula peered into the darkness. She had heard a few stories through the years and seen enough not to dismiss what she was told. Besides, there had been a lot more large, wolf-like dogs at the end of the wedding then there had been at the beginning. Some of them had had bowls of beer.

She picked up her tea and took a reassuring sip. Surely there would be nothing. A doubt gnawed at her. What if she had sent Jeanette’s husband into trouble? What if it was darker than he could deal with? What if things went wrong? She couldn’t really call the police if it was something worse than a werewolf.

There was a commotion in the darkness and Paula nearly dropped the tea. It splashed wildly on the counter as she jumped but Paula didn’t dare stop to wipe it up. Instead she stared through the window, wondering what was going on. Something was emerging from the darkness. It was Ian with two teenagers. Paula started to breathe again. The young lad had the start of a black eye and the young girl was scarlet faced as she hastily buttoned her top. Behind them, Ian’s face was carefully expressionless, but Paula could see a glint of amusement in his eyes as they got closer. She unlocked the door.

Ian gave the lad a small shove. “What are you going to say?”

“I’m sorry, Miss, for trespassing in your garden,” the teenager blurted out.

“We won’t do it again,” the girl added.

“And why won’t you do it?” Ian said firmly.

“Because we realise that we were being disrespectful,” the lad said, glancing nervously back at him.

“And what are you going to do to apologise?” Ian prompted.

“We’ll come back tomorrow in the day to weed the front drive,” the lad said.

“We’re really sorry,” the girl added. “We didn’t think that you would realise we were there or that you would be worried.

“So, off you go and get back here around 10am, and no messing about,” Ian said with an almost paternal authority. His face stayed set in stern lines until the teenagers were well out of sight before he broke into a grin. “A little youthful romance,” he said. “They genuinely didn’t mean to scare you.” He chuckled. “The lad was accusing me of all sorts until I got his attention and explained. The lass was just about dead with embarrassment. But they’ll do something useful and that will be the end of it.” He frowned. “But I can’t have people thinking that no-one is bothered. I’ll come around tomorrow and get some tidying up done. Jeanette’s really the gardener, but I can at least get the worst of it cleared until she can come down here. Just make a list of what you want doing.”

“There’s no need,” Paula said.

“You were there for Jeanette when she needed you. That means that there’s every need,” Ian said firmly. “I’ll see you tomorrow – don’t forget to lock the door.”

Paula watched Ian stride away before carefully locking the door. She finished her tea and washed the mugs. Ian was intimidating, tough and relentless and looked like he was made of iron. But she remembered his grin after the teenagers had left, and the kindness he had shown her. Perhaps he was safe after all. She would have to make something for him as a snack tomorrow. Paula smiled. Perhaps she could make him garlic bread.

Do Werewolves Eat Dog Biscuits?

I need to consider the sites I subscribe to. I mean, I quite like knowing that today is (probably) an anniversary of the first Bible printed at Gutenberg in 1455 and that it’s also the anniversary of the siege of the Alamo. I just worry that I am too easily distracted. I also worry about my priorities as my attention has been mainly caught by the idea of National Dog Biscuit Day.

I don’t have a dog but I’ve occasionally bought hand baked, artisan treats or supermarket snacks for my brother’s dogs. I’m always bewildered by the choice. And then I start wondering – do werewolves eat dog treats.

I suppose it depends on the werewolf type. If it was a werewolf from something like An American Werewolf in London then I don’t suppose that they have much opportunity. They would be too busy ravening and rending to bother much with the supermarket own brand meaty snacks or hide chews. On the other hand, the werewolves from my world that you find in The White Hart are quite happy to snack on the good stuff, even in human form.

As an aside, I did have a quick internet search about whether humans could eat dog biscuits. On the whole, I don’t personally recommend it. Most of the sources said something along the lines of, ‘if you must then it probably won’t kill you’. There were far more articles about why dog biscuits are bad for dogs.

But going back to werewolves, would their shopping basket have washing up liquid, a bag of potatoes, some sausages and a family pack of kibble? Would they make the choice to have value brand soap so that they can get top of the range meaty bites? Or would it be something that they could knock up in their own kitchen between full moons?

I found a recipe for homemade dog biscuits here. I’m not sure about icing them, but they look inoffensive and would be okay for non-werewolves. But what about allergies? I know of at least one Alsatian that has a gluten intolerance. Would the werewolves have the same issue with chocolate that dogs have? That really would be a curse – every full moon, you grow hair, turn into a beast and can’t eat chocolate! And if the chocolate issue applied all of the time, regardless of the moon, then that would explain a lot about werewolves raging and ravening. People denied chocolate may not necessarily be reasonable.

Asking questions like, ‘do werewolves eat dog biscuits?’ can get some really interesting answers, and some of those answers turn up in my books, like Tales from the White Hart. So I suppose that I shall carry on with my subscriptions to those sites and see what else comes up.

I’d love to hear what you think about werewolves and dog biscuits, so feel free to leave a comment.

After the Dark Storm

“It’s getting quieter now,” Brother Aran said. “And it should be dawn soon.”

Father Dorian nodded. “Yes, it’s quiet.” He sighed and pushed himself up from the wooden settle. His old bones creaked. “They said that it would likely finish before dawn.” He pinched out the single candle. Faint light shone through the shutters. “The wind has stopped.”

“What happened last night?” Brother Aran asked. “It sounded like demons racing around the village.”

Father Dorian picked up the jug of water. “Would you like a drink, my son?”

“I will share some with you,” Brother Aran said. “And we should be able to go out and get more soon.”

Father Dorian rubbed a weary hand over his face. “It will soon be time for the morning worship.” He watched Brother Aran pour the last of the water into two cups and drank gratefully as he listened carefully at the shutters. He took a deep breath and then opened them. Dawn sunlight streamed in.

Brother Aran sighed in relief. “Thank goodness. It sounded like the devils of the infernal pit were in the village this morning.” He looked past the old priest. “And I think that they may have been. There is quite a mess left behind.”

Father Dorian unbolted the door and removed the wooden bar. The courtyard was untouched, and the cottages and pens of the village that the priest and his apprentice had blessed were also safe. Beyond that was chaos. Branches and leaves were tumbled all around and scorch marks ran along the track to the forest. “Thank the Holy One Most High that the forest dwellers warned us.” He winced at the pain in his bones, then carried on. “

Brother Aran swallowed. “What are they like?”

“The forest dwellers?” Father Dorian limped across the courtyard and towards the chapel. He sighed. “I was younger than you when I first saw them. The old priest here was the first man that they met.” He looked sadly past the untouched bounds of the village to the battered meadow. “I forgot to bless the pasture. I blessed the fields, but I forgot the pasture.” He turned to Brother Aran. “They came at the same time as the goblins, but from the forest, not the mountains. When I first saw them, I thought that they were angels.” He shook his head. “They are not. Nor are they goblins or men. But there is such a light in them.” He limped up to the chapel door and rested for a moment. “I am failing, and I shall have to take you to meet them soon to pass on the duty. But you must never tell the lords about them. You must never tell the kings or the soldiers or the merchants. I fear that our good friends would be hunted like goblins, and they do not deserve that.”

“Why should they hunt them?” Brother Aran asked.

Father Dorian looked sad. “Great men fear what they cannot control. These strangers in the woods, they have such knowledge of the stars and the forest. They have a grace in them that shames us mere men. It would shame the lords and they would not tolerate it. And they are kindly to us, in this village. They warned us about this devil’s storm, and they share knowledge of healing. We cannot betray them.”

“They’re not demons, are they?” Brother Aran asked. “Because back in the city they said that it was dangerous to study the stars too much.”

“If they are demons, they are strange ones,” Father Dorian said, opening the chapel door and walking towards the high table. He bowed creakily. “They send for me to baptise their children, and they pay their tithe more readily than many villagers.” The old priest waited until Brother Aran had bowed respectfully. “And after the worship here on a Sabbath, I go to the forest and preach again to them. They listen better than all the villagers combined.” Father Dorian sank onto the bench in the corner. “They do not know who they are either. They study the stars to find out.” He stretched his bad leg out in front of him. “I fear that I will not live to see their answer. Say the prayers, my son, and read the passage of the day. Then, after we have eaten, I will take you into the forest with a gift. You can meet them and we can thank them for the warning.” Father Dorian ran a weary hand over his face. “Because without that warning, I suspect that we would all be in pieces. We owe them our lives, and perhaps our souls. We should take a good gift.”

Brother Aran’s hand trembled as he lit the candles on the high table. After the terror of the storm in the night, now he was going to meet the strangers in the forest. He opened the prayer book and found the right passage. It didn’t matter whether he was scared or whether he was eager. He had a duty. He couldn’t guess what waited in the forest. He had to go, regardless. He was called to bring the faith to whoever needed it. Yesterday he had said the last prayers over an old man in a dark hut and blessed a plough. Today he would go into the wild wood and pray with strange creatures that were not ruled by the king. The dark storm had passed and now they continued, just as they should. He took a breath and started to pray.

I’ve Improved

The Forgotten Village by [Lyssa Medana]

I got my first one star review today, or rather, I noticed it today. Someone had given an awesome rating to King’s Silver and had felt very disappointed after reading The Forgotten Village. To be honest, I’m not sure that I blame them. King’s Silver was written and published with Three Furies Press who absolutely rock, are really patient with me and great at sorting out erratic punctuation. They also are able to divide text into chapters, which is utterly beyond me. The Forgotten Village is a very different kettle of fish.

In fact, the story of The Forgotten Village is a perfect example of my life and how I seem to fall into things. I sort of self-published it by accident. I was not in a particularly brilliant place, my son was tiny, I felt very isolated and my family was having a hard time. My uncle was starting to fade and my elderly father was coming to live with us. I had always wanted to write, so started with an urban fantasy story that didn’t really come from anywhere. I was playing around while the story I really wanted to write (ironically enough, King’s Silver) simmered away on the back burner. I posted the story on a writing website, which I’ve long since forgotten, and got some good feedback.

I also got someone who wanted to buy the rights to the book. For a moment I was dazzled. I imagined getting enough money for a new kitchen. Then I took stock, and realised that I would be lucky to get enough for a new toaster. I wasn’t sure about the person who asked, either. I couldn’t find any trace of them, and they would have bought all the rights. I already had a sequel in mind, which I wouldn’t have been able to write if I sold the first, and so I decided against it.

I had just started hearing about self publishing so I thought that I would have a go. I went on Amazon and Smashwords, uploaded the file and away I went. That was back in 2012.

I don’t feel qualified to advise people who would like to write. All I can suggest is do what I do – observe, daydream and write. Write lots. And keep nibbling away, even if it’s just a word or a line, and keep going. My personal life was absolute chaos for a few years after that, but I picked myself up around 2017 or 2018 and now I have three books with the Three Furies Press, a few more planned and some great ideas for my own stuff.

The one star review complained about poor editing (guilty as charged) and one dimensional characters (probably). Of course my instinctive reaction was to deny it. But really, it means I’ve got better. I’m a better writer now than I was ten or twelve years ago and I am getting better with every book. And that is awesome. If I wasn’t getting better, I would be doing it wrong.

I’m getting better thanks to the feedback and encouragement of Rebekah and Isa at the Three Furies, as well as loads of others, like Julia, along the way. I am still writing because of support and kindness from people on this blog and my mum blog, and people around me, and I’m very grateful. And I am sort of grateful for that one star review. It’s a reminder that I’m getting better. And that is not a bad thing.

Dreaming

As I sleep, my faerie lover

Curls against my back and sighs

Deep in slumber, resting with me

Dreaming of pearlescent skies

Matching me in dreaming’s dances

Stepping through my idling mind

Petals fall in springtime meadows

Winter’s cares are tossed behind

When I wake, I don’t remember

In the dirty light of day

My days are creeping through my autumn

But in my sleep, I dream of May.

It’s Today!

My first medieval fantasy novel is now out. I am so thrilled. This is an incredible step for me.

I first had the idea for this novel around 1995 or 1996. I put the ideas down, wrote scenes and ideas, but never got it off the ground.

I started practicing writing. I wrote responses to writing challenges, and I played around with short stories. I had always promised myself that I would not write anything set in the modern day world. So then I ended up accidentally self publishing The Forgotten Village which is set in the modern day, albeit with vampires, werewolves, boggarts and all. The Forgotten Village was followed by Digging up the Past, Dinner at Dark and the series set in the White Hart. You can find the details above.

I then found myself writing steampunk. I remember reading and re-reading The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne when I was a kid. I thought I could never write anything like that as I really didn’t understand science. Now there is the internet to check facts, there were a few coincidences, and I wrote Out of the London Mist and Under the Bright Saharan Sky. Keep watching for Into the Shropshire Dusk.

Now I am back to the first book I wanted to write, and here we are – King’s Silver. It is a story that is dear to my heart and I have a lot more stories to tell that are in that world. It is an incredibly important milestone to me, and I feel like I am finally an author. I hope that you feel able to dip in and enjoy it.

(For anyone interested, the other genre of fiction that I swore that I would never write is Romance. I don’t have any current plans, but please don’t quote me)

The Thing in the Night

Toran looked anxiously at the hillside. “Perhaps we should wait for Lord Deveric’s instructions. This is something new.” There was a murmur of agreement in the group of villagers surrounding them.

Sir Selwyn shook his head. “We can’t risk waiting. So far only cattle have been taken. It could be a child next.”

Toran closed his eyes against the thought. “Goblins come in numbers. We all know that. What if we are overrun?”

“There are only traces on one set of tracks,” Sir Selwyn said. “And it is unheard of for goblins to come down from the mountains before the snows. It may be just one.”

“Lord Deveric should be leading us instead of dancing in Aldberg,” one of the men muttered.

“None of that talk!” Sir Selwyn snapped. “I know you, Berun. You’re brave enough after a drink. I’m sure if you have a beer or two, you can keep up.”

There were a few quiet chuckles around the group but they fell quiet. Berun clenched his fist. “Pardon, Sir Selwyn, but it is the Lord who should protect his lands.”

“I don’t know what he is doing or why,” Sir Selwyn said, “But the tracks are now and we are here now and I can’t risk a real person being taken. It’s bad enough losing the cattle. Istan lost his best bull two nights ago, and Agatha lost half her flock of goats. I don’t know how she will manage. We cannot lose more this close to winter. So my squire, Toran, will go with me to the cave. The rest of you, stay close to the village, with plenty of light, and keep watch. Protect our own.”

Orvin nodded. “We’ve brought all the beasts to the Infield, and we’ve got the dogs as well.” He hesitated. “If there are a lot of goblins, you won’t be able to drive them back.”

“If there are more than three goblins I shall come back here and make better plans,” Sir Selwyn said. “But we need to know. If there is a troop of the goblins already down from the mountains, then we can send word to the king’s court and Lord Deveric will return. He is a good lord.”

“It may be that there is no trace tonight at all,” Toran added. “We blocked the entrance to the cave this morning. It may still hold, and we will be spared more raids.”

“Or we will find out how well they move stone,” Berun muttered. “My grandfather said there were no goblins when he was young, that they came out of nowhere. That it took years to learn how to protect ourselves. What if it is something else new?”

“Enough,” Sir Selwyn said. “It could just be bandits, and they have been around since the time of the ancients. We will deal with whatever we find. Take your posts and pray for a quiet night.”

Sir Selwyn and Toran trotted towards the waterfall in the woods. The moon was bright and the damp path gleamed. Toran found himself peering into the dark shadows. “It took ten men to get the boulder in position to block the cave,” he said. “Do you think that the goblins could have moved it.”

“I don’t know,” Sir Selwyn said, also scanning his surroundings. “Whenever I’ve faced goblins, I’ve always been aware of their numbers and speed, but not their strength. They’re scrawny little things.”

“Do they really carry poisoned knives?” Toran asked.

Sir Selwyn nodded. “Some of them, not all. It’s always the numbers, not the poison on their stone knives. Now, quiet, and keep alert. We’ll leave the horses by the boundary stone.”

The path was tricky in the dark, and it took longer than expected to reach the clearing. The moon was dipping behind clouds and it was getting harder to see the way.

“I don’t want to light the lantern,” Sir Selwyn muttered. “I don’t want to alert anyone, especially if it’s bandits that are raiding.” He stumbled over a tree root and bit back a curse. “But I don’t want to break my neck in the dark either.”

Toran stifled a yawn. “Won’t it be dawn soon?”

Sir Selwyn paused for a moment and thought about their travel. “We’ve got an hour or two yet, lad. And I don’t want to miss them.” He strained to see through the gloom. “This way, I think.”

Toran followed him. There was barely a gleam from the moon and only his familiarity with the path was keeping him steady. “I can hear water.” He murmured.

“I can hear something else as well,” Sir Selwyn whispered. “Light the lantern, but keep it hooded.”

They crept closer to the waterfall, the trickle slowly growing into the roar of a stream swollen by autumn rain. Sir Selwyn moved a little quicker, trusting that the sound of the water would hide their approach. Whoever was there was not trying to be quiet. They could hear the thrashing of branches even over the sound of the falls. “Get the lantern ready,” Sir Selwyn hissed.

Toran held the lantern out in his left hand away from him, his short sword in his right hand. Sir Selwyn had his sword out as well as they crept closer. The moon shone briefly over the clearing. Toran looked at Sir Selwyn. “The boulder has gone,” he breathed.

Sir Selwyn nodded and pointed near the pool. “Look.”

The carcass of a large cow had been dumped at the water’s edge, its broken neck at a grotesque angle. In the brief moonlight, the blood seeping into the water made a dark patch. Sir Selwyn touched Toran’s arm and pointed to the other side of the clearing. Broken ferns and branches made a gap in the woodland. Something had dragged the cow through there. Sir Selwyn eased towards the gap and pointed at some of the destruction. “They went that way,” he mouthed, pointing down the new track. “Follow me and keep the lantern ready.”

It was surprisingly easy to follow the tracks, even in the deep darkness between the trees. Enough moonlight was getting through to give a shape to the darkness, and whoever had gone this way had left a clear path. The going was still slow, though, and painstaking as the men picked their way through the woods in pursuit of the cattle thief.

“It will be dawn soon,” Toran said quietly. “It’s getting lighter. Whoever it is may be coming back this way soon to hide in the caves.”

Sir Selwyn nodded. “Well thought. Keep alert. We’ll hear them before we see them.”

“They’ve headed towards the Far Lea Farmstead,” Toran said. “But there’s no-one there. They’re staying in the village.”

“Then whoever it is will be back soon.” Sir Selwyn said. “We’ll wait here. They are likely to be coming back for the cow no matter what. Get the lantern ready. As soon as they approach, shine a beam right at them and I’ll attack.” He caught Toran’s doubtful look. “Or we’ll know to get back to the village as quickly as possibly to raise the alarm.”

“I can hear something,” Toran whispered.

Sir Selwyn strained his ears, then nodded. “I hear it too,” he said. He worked his sword shoulder and took position behind a sturdy oak. “Get ready, lad.”

As the figure burst through a stand of birch, Toran raised the lantern and shone a beam straight into its eyes. It let out a pained screech and lurched towards Toran, who backed away.

“What in the Name of the Most Holy One is that?!”

Sir Selwyn swore loud, long and hard. “Run, lad, run for your life. Get to the village and warn them. Run!” He raced forward, his sword swinging.

“I’ll not leave my lord,” Toran shouted, but he felt sick. It wasn’t a goblin that they faced, nor was it a man, It was something else like he had never seen. Whatever it was stood a head and a half taller than Sir Selwyn, who was a tall man. But it wasn’t cleanly built and athletic, like the knight. Instead it was a lumpy figure, like handfuls of river clay squashed together by a child. Dull, small eyes gleamed in the light of the lantern and a half formed face snarled as it swung a thick fist towards Sir Selwyn.

Sir Selwyn jumped back and swung. The creature didn’t try to move out of the way and the sword sliced into its arm. But it didn’t get far. “It’s got a hide like boiled leather,” Sir Selwyn yelled. “Keep the light in its eyes.” He swung again.

The creature yowled. Slime trickled from the cut, but the thing still swung again at Sir Selwyn, flinching at the light. Sir Selwyn dodged back but slipped and lost his footing.

“Over here!” Toran yelled, desperately dancing back to distract the thing as it loomed over Sir Selwyn. It turned and lumbered towards him, before suddenly screaming in pain. Sir Selwyn rolled to his feet and took his chance. He sliced the sword across the back of its legs. This time he had got the aim and the power he needed. The thing toppled forward, hamstrung and howling.

“What is it? What is it?!” Toran cried.

“Stay clear of it,” Sir Selwyn said. “It’s not finished yet.”

Toran stumbled further back, directing the lantern at it. “This is no goblin.”

Sir Selwyn stepped away from the swinging arms. “It’s not even a big goblin,” he yelled over the cries of the creature. “It’s a different shape. I don’t know what it is.”

Torun stared at the thing, lumpen and huge, flailing around at them as it howled in pain and frustration. “What do we do?”

Sir Selwyn stared at it. “I’ll stay here,” he said. “You get the men up here with nets. If we can pin its arms, we can finish it off and take the carcass to Lord Deveric. He’ll know what to do.” He glanced at the tops of the nearby mountains, already gleaming gold. “But wait until the sun’s up. There’s no point in taking risks.” He stepped back quickly as the creature managed to lurch closer to him.

“I’m not leaving you,” Toran said. “I mean, I’m not leaving you, sire. They’ll hear the noise down in the village. They’ll come and see.” He skirted quickly away from the creature that had dragged itself to its feet and was hobbling painfully back towards the waterfall and its cave.

“Use the lantern in its eyes again,” Sir Selwyn dodged as the thing flailed madly, trying to get past and to its lair. “We can’t risk it getting underground. We’ll never be able to track it there.”

“The sun is almost up,” Toran said, twisting the horn panel on the lantern to direct a beam. “The light won’t work much longer.”

The creature flung up a thick arm to shield its face from the lantern but then slowed to a halt. Sunlight flooded down the slopes as the sun rose, the rays shining straight into the thing’s face. Sir Selwyn braced, ready to swing again and then stopped. He looked closer, and then leaned forward.

“Watch out!” Toran cried.

“It’s not moving,” Sir Selwyn said. He slowly reached forward with his sword and tapped the shape. It rang like iron on rock. The creature still didn’t move. Sir Selwyn moved closer still and rapped his mailed fist onto the creature’s arm. “It’s rock. It’s solid rock.”

Toran looked at the sunlight shining into the clearing and then back at the shape. “It was trying to get back to the cave before dawn. It couldn’t stand sunlight.” He touched the slashed leg. It was dry like a stone split for building.

Sir Selwyn stared for a few moments more, then turned to Toran. “Get back to the village. Bring back the priest to see what it is and to pray over it, and all the men of the village you can quickly find. Tell them to bring hammers. We’ll smash this thing to rubble before nightfall. And we use the rubble to block the damned cave.” He sank onto a fallen tree, his face set. “Go! And then we will send word to Lord Deveric, and he will know what to do.”

A little insight into the world of King’s Silver, out tomorrow.

I Still Remember

Photo by Mahfuzur Rahman on Unsplash

The plague came with a pedlar from over the mountains. First I buried my mother, then my wife. I buried my eldest son, then my father, then my youngest son. I buried my neighbours as their bodies lay in the street and even the crows stayed clear. I huddled at home with my daughter and we prayed and tried to keep our minds in the firelight.

As the cold nights crept in, the deaths stopped. I dug our vegetable patch, rethatched the roof and joined the rest of the village who survived in prayers at the church. Together we dragged together plans for the autumn ploughing and sowing. We organised the care of the orphans and the old. But the gaping loss continued. The new priest did his best and blessed our houses.

Then the dead moon came, the turn of the old year, the time the old priest warned us about and the new priest feared. The graves in the churchyard moved and shifted, like the blankets on a bed. We heard murmurs in the night and taps at the window. Dogs had to be chained up as they barked at shadows and cats went missing. Nanna Marie was found dead, savaged by something wild.

The new priest took charge and we scoured the village and he blessed our homes and fields. He blessed the small patches of herbs and roots we kept near our doors and the leaves stopped turning black. He held prayers just before sunset every evening. It wasn’t quite enough.

The graves were more disturbed. We took hunting dogs into the woods but found no wild beasts. Adela was found dead next to her gate, and her husband went mad with grief and hung himself. Rumours started about the dead returning.

I saw my wife, my darling wife, bloated and bloody, at the gate, right at the edge where the priest’s blessing ended, calling to me, calling that she was cold, that she was hungry, how could I turn my back on her love? I hid my daughter under the blankets and prayed by the fire. Nobody slept.

The priest called us together and persuaded us, ordered us and put us under a ban unless we dug up our recent dead. I sobbed as I obeyed. They were foul coloured and writhed in the sunlight. We burned them, all of them, and kept the fire going all that day and through the night and all the next day. We then knew peace and the village is safe now. The spring has come and the fields flourish. Too many of us still suffer and struggle with sleep, but it fades for the younger ones.

I will never forget the screams of those burned.

This was originally published on 24 September 2019, before I had heard of Covid. It was an echo of how people in the medieval mindset would see vampires, very differently from the Bram Stoker story, Dracula. I hesitated before reposting it. I’m revisiting my medieval stories as I get ready for King’s Silver to be released on 8th February, and perhaps now, after getting used to the troubles that have come with Covid, this is worth another look. I hope that everyone stays well and safe.

A Sad Memory

brown woven basket on brown concrete wall
Image from Unsplash, taken by Emma Dau

Lady Freydis sighed. Being an ageless elfen who had lived for millennia had its benefits but memories became clouded. You could remember things, but couldn’t hang them on a date. She could never remember whether it was the Battle of Trafalgar or the Battle of Waterloo that had happened first and it had caused quite a bit of bother in pub quizzes. Whole chunks of time seemed to slip out of her mind, unremembered. Other times, other happenings, slid to the back and fell behind the clutter of everyday and now. Lady Freydis would drift happily along, oblivious to any gaps until she was reminded by a picture or a place and the old memories would slide back into view.

She walked down Stonegate. York depended heavily on tourists and today it was nearly deserted. So many were wearing masks. So many looked strained or fearful. A few looked ill, to Lady Freydis’ experienced eye, but whether it was the latest sickness or something else, she didn’t know.

She remembered many plagues. They were always time of fear and pain. Elfen fed on the emotions of the people around them, and the fear, horror and despair of plagues were rich pickings. The one she remembered best was the Pestilence that struck York. The Minster was still being rebuilt and King Edward was on the throne, the third one, and people fell in the streets. And the good priests had died.

There had been a priest attached to St Mary’s, or perhaps St Olaves, called William. Lady Freydis thought it was William. The name was blurred by time but the feel him, the way his smile shone and his heart showed in his eyes remained vivid. He had known what she was but had still been kind as she sobbed on his shoulder over another of Lord Ragnar’s infidelities. He had been so scared as the sickness reached York. Lady Freydis had felt it rolling off him like waves. He may have been called Wilbur, or Wilfrid, but she remembered the tone of that fear and his courage as he pushed on to minister to the people of York. So many had died, Lady Freydis remembered. She had stepped over the bodies in the street. And Father Alwin – yes, that was his name – Father Alwin had caught the pestilence himself as he had not turned away from those who had needed him.

The bad priests fled, the good priests died. Father Alwin had never allowed Lady Freydis to nurse him properly but continued, in the few days he had left, hearing confessions from the wretches dying next to him. He heard the confessions of others on his own deathbed, confessing at last to Lady Fredis, as dispensation allowed, and had passed.

There were plague pits outside the walls, but Lady Freydis would not let the remains of Father Alwin go there. He had been a safe place for her when her heart was breaking. She would not let him be in a nameless grave jostled by many. Instead she took his remains through faerie paths and dug a grave deep in a churchyard in Stamford, unnoticed in the corner, and laid him to rest, saying the old prayers as she said goodbye.

There had been many plagues over the centuries, but none had taken someone she missed more. And every time, Lady Freydis took flowers to the dim corner of the graveyard and tormented a bad priest.

In the run up to the release of King’s Silver on 8 February, I’m revisiting previous flash fiction with a medieval tone, and I hope you like this.

Monster in the Forest

I actually took this picture myself and it’s the best one I managed all year!

“I told you to stay away from me.” Cana rolled away from him. There was plenty of room in the clearing and the fire was still bright.

“I thought we stayed close when camping in the woods,” Sion said. “To keep warm.”

“It’s past midsummer,” Cana said. “It’s not cold.” She rolled over and looked at the stars peeking through the canopy of leaves overhead. “The fire will keep away wolves and the horses will warn us if anything approaches. Get some sleep. We should reach the castle by noon tomorrow.”

“You won’t come into the castle with me?” Sion asked.

“I’ve been warned about monsters in the castle.” Cana said. “Besides, as you said, I’m just a girl.”

“Tomorrow I go to fight a monster,” Sion said. “This could be my last night on this earth. Won’t you at least make it a little warmer for me.”

“No,” Cana said, shifting her blanket a little further away from him.

“I could come back laden with jewels and gold,” Sion says. “The rumours say that there is treasure beyond counting.”

“And that is why you are going to the castle.” Cana said. “If there was no castle then the villagers could rot under monsters for all you cared.”

Sion laughed. “A man has to make his way in the world,” he said.

“I’m only here because of the steward’s orders,” Cana said. “You could turn back at any time.”

“I received no encouragement from village,” Sion said. “Don’t you fear monsters?”

“We fear them,” Cana said. “And we have learned to recognise them. You are going into this with a black eye because you couldn’t learn to take ‘no’ as an answer and the men of our village are protective.”

“And the women are no fun,” Sion said. “You are sleeping with a knife under your pillow. Don’t think I didn’t notice. Is that why the priest refused to bless me and my weapons?”

“It’s because you wouldn’t confess your sins first,” Cana said. “The whole village heard the argument.”

“Tomorrow I face a blood sucking, immortal creature that has powers that no-one can measure,” Sion said. “Won’t you warm my bedroll, to give me the comfort I need?”

Cana turned back and looked at the greasy, red face, predatory intent clear. “Save your strength. You’ll need it.” She looked coldly into his eyes. “And you’ll never make the castle if you try to force me.”

Sion laughed again. “It’s worth asking, at least.” He placed his sword in the clear ground between them. “There, do you feel safer?”

“The horses will warn of any movement,” Cana said. “Goodnight.”

Cana watched him leave the next morning and then tidied the campsite. Those who tracked the creature in the castle came at all times of year, so she stacked up firewood against the winter. She had lost count of those that she had brought here, seeking their fortune and, perhaps. fame. There had even been a few that had wanted to serve what they thought lived in the lonely fortress that was a short ride down the path. There were raspberries in the forest, and she picked a good basket full before the shadows lengthened. Then she made up the fire and waited.

She became aware of a presence. “You defeated him?”

Calixtus nodded and joined her near the fire. “To be truthful, he was a careless warrior. And he was avoiding me as he searched for the fabled treasure. I think he would have fed you to me to buy time if he could.”

“And you’re unhurt?” Cana asked.

“I can’t be hurt like you,” Calixtus said softly. “But no, he didn’t land a blow. The black eye didn’t help. Let me guess, he tried to flirt with Maria?”

“He tried more than flirting!” Cana said. “Fortunately for him, her husband reached them before she could do much.”

“How is Maria?” Calixtus asked.

“She’s well.” Cana said. “Rhia has had her baby, it’s a boy and they are calling him Calix, after you.” She frowned. “Father John’s joints are hurting him, I think, though he isn’t saying anything.”

“I’ll call in soon and see what I can do,” Calixtus said. “And I’ll have a look at the mill while I am there.”

Cana smiled. “You know so much. Perhaps you should take an apprentice.” She loosened her tunic.

“Perhaps I should,” Calixtus said. He held up his hand. “I won’t need blood for a while. The would-be warrior gave me plenty and there are many animals in the forest. But thank you.”

Cana shook her head. “You have saved us from so many monsters. Now, sit, share some raspberries and let me tell you all of the news.”

With King’s Silver being released on 8 February, I’m revisiting some of my medieval stories. I hope you enjoyed this.